The Color Purple

Leap of Faith, 30″ x 30″, 2014; Riverview II, 15.75″ x 15.75″, 2018; and Fight Song, 36″ x 24″,2017,©Patricia Steele Raible.

One of my favorite books in the 1980s was Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple,” and I was even more impressed by the movie. In this particular case though I am literally talking about Golden’s liquid violet dark. It isn’t a color I use very often, but I think perhaps I should.

Why Purple

What else can I say about say about the color purple? If it is dark, it is the color of eggplant. If it is pale it is the last wisp of sunlight on a summer evening. Besides the violet dark, you find both a light violet, a medium violet, and a pale (which I quite like). But as you know, it is just as easy to mix it.

So purple is a color that many believe is feminine. But I would counter that purple is also the color of bruises—bruises perhaps gained from athletic endeavors (and yes, plenty of women are athletes).  I would also counter that using purple requires a lot of imagination. 

The Advantages of Purple

Purple is becoming a color I turn to when I am not satisfied with what I see on my easel. When a painting’s too humdrum (For now, humdrum is still in the dictionary, still a word.) I also try to use purple when a painting starts to look too realistic. I am not criticizing realistic, I just don’t do it well. This is pushing me into a new habit: using purple in place of colors on what I call a “messed up painting.” If there is a dark brown or dark blue, I use dark violet. If it’s a neutral gray I mix an amethyst and if it is a light green or gray a light or pale violet.

Purple Has An Attitude

I believe it really helps to change to colors that you aren’t as comfortable using. After all, painting is about experimenting. For me, changing colors can mean that instead of an abstract landscape that leans toward realism (and not good realism), suddenly I will have a completely different painting, one that has a bit of an edge, a slight attitude. It’s smiling, wearing sunglasses, and also has a definite smirk.

Ah, the color purple.

What Being A Caregiver Has Taught Me About Art (Part III)

“Remembered,” 10″ x 8″, mixed media collage on board

Make Mistakes—It Means You’ve Tried

There are laws in every state designed to protect the elderly, especially in situations where their judgment may be impaired. I was grateful to learn this when I began this caregiving process 9 years ago. My mother needed help, mine and also the help of many others. Unfortunately, few people, especially attorneys and court clerks, knew much about dementia with Lewy Bodies (LBD or DLB) at that time. They understood memory loss and Alzheimer’s, but not LBD, which is defined by fluctuation in cognitive functioning, impaired comprehension and lack of judgment. Even many physicians and directors of assisted living facilities lumped all dementia together.

When my mother was first diagnosed with LBD in 2010, I was urged to seek guardianship. I began that process immediately, but soon found that her appointed guardian ad litem (GAL) was focused on whether my mother knew what day it was, whether she could identify who was president, and whether she could perform most daily living tasks. The GAL was not really interested in whether my mother understood her long-term care benefits, could prepare her taxes, or make appropriate investments to secure her future.

Work Hard and Be Prepared for Change

Realizing that my mother needed some protection, I convinced her to give me Power of Attorney (POA) and Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA)—but only after she had injured her leg and could not physically get out of her apartment for several weeks. What I didn’t understand (and what is the law in my particular jurisdiction) was that POA status only gave me some control. Even though documents were filed with the court, my mother could change it without warning. Also, if my mother disagreed with a decision and could identify herself, she could reverse that decision no matter how sound the decision and how risky her own might be. Yet there was little option at this early stage.

Luckily with art there are always options. Each day I work on my paintings, filling my tables with “wet work and markings” before I begin any reading, research, or writing. I am at my best early in the morning, and unless I am working on a specific piece I make every effort just to let the paint flow and to work in the moment. When I make a mistake, I am prepared to use my tools and my skills to change it. It’s also what you do in life

Make Connections That Are Meaningful

For five years, my mother and I just kept plodding along together for the most part. Most of her days were good, though because of her medication and diagnosis, she was limited in her activities. She did not look different, but she now had some awareness that something was wrong. She rarely wanted to go out. The Parkinsonian symptoms began to be more pronounced such as a flat expression and shuffling feet when she walked. When these symptoms occurred, I began to panic a bit. While current research does not indicate LBD is hereditary, my maternal grandmother had Parkinson’s Disease. At the very least I have a higher chance.

Everything that is happening, every worry, every concern, makes me glad for my art.  I believe there is a physical connection that happens: Whatever is in my subconscious thought passes through my mind and my hands, healing me and bringing richness to the paintings themselves. Once the paintings are dry, I add another layer (perhaps something I learned reading) that may be symbolic or literal. After all, it is human nature to attempt to impose order. We want to see a pattern. We want to make sense of things even when they don’t, even when we fear our own threads are not connecting, but unraveling instead.

So I work my back and forth process, putting on a layer, taking off part of another, adding a bit of drawing or sgraffito. I am building a painting. I am constructing and describing a life.


Studio Mysteries and Other Confessions

Studio mysteries and other confessions.

The beginnings of a mixed media painting—on the floor.

Actually, there are no mysteries in my studio. There are no special brushes, no perfect paints, no easel at just the right height. It’s not even a huge space. But I am grateful to have a dedicated space in what was once an attic. Still, I work any place I can— table, bench, or floor. And my back testifies to that.

On the Table

Most of my paintings start on the same Home Depot table you probably use at Thanksgiving. You know the fold-up, fold-out variety with the handy carrying strap. My own tables have been used at Christmas—minus the paintings of course. I have added wheels to a couple of them so they can move around easily. An easel that would hold 3-inch deep wood panels would be great, but I haven’t figured that one out yet (How do we accommodate the sides?). In the past couple of years I have been working a bit more on paper, building up texture with paraphernalia and gesso. Because I am often pressing in found objects to create texture, I still need a firm, hard surface.

Still not finished, but getting closer.

Beneath My Feet

My artwork is constantly moving— from table to either wall or floor for drying, viewing, and gaining perspective. So while I can hang a cradle to stare at it, I usually use the floor for my work on paper.

The faithful companion—sometimes.

If I leave a piece overnight, I must be careful: to be certain to first turn the light on the next morning to avoid stepping on artwork, but most importantly, to pick up all extraneous art materials to avoid enticing the cat (She is easily motivated.).

She will play with and has played with every thing I leave on the floor from paint brushes and charcoal pencils to tubes of paint and bits of fabric. And of course, her personal favorite is string.  It has not escaped my notice that a few of my pieces may have cat DNA attached.



Positive from Negative


Unfinished paintings making positives using negative space.

“What do you do with everything that is cut away?” she asked Tilman, thinking now about the negative space of stone sculpture, the stone that is discarded, thinking too about how she had thrown away huge pieces of her own early life…”
from The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart.

 With both my only parent and only sibling ill, there is a lot of sadness in my life right now, weighing me down, making it hard to focus on anything—even art. But because art keeps me sane, I have turned to it in bits and pieces, usually ending up in a mess of color and movement. For days I let these paintings on paper lay around, but this past week I decided to find out what if anything was important in these painted, collaged pieces.

So I started with grey paint and the basic rules of visual composition, reminding myself that positive space was the primary focus of a picture and the negative space was the background or the space between objects. I had always thought of negative space as quiet space, but obviously less important than the positive shapes.

But the more I painted, the more I wondered: Should there really be a difference between positive and negative space in importance? Can you have one without the other? In order to tell a complete story, don’t you need both? None of the pieces that are pictured are finished or may never be, but the exercise reinforced to me how critical negative space is in my paintings and how it can highlight the positive.




No Destination

“Untitled,” 16″ x 20,” mixed media collage on deep panel

The week has just started and I am tired. To say it has been difficult to concentrate on art the last few weeks is well…an understatement. Illness, my own upper respiratory infection and my elderly mother’s increasing anxiety, has consumed me.

Finding myself the bad guy is not a new role, just one that comes and goes. And no matter how you feel at the moment, you really don’t want it to return. You want all hatchets buried, all peace pipes smoked. But usually, life doesn’t work that way even with the most optimistic outlooks. To keep my own head about me, I paint.

Lately, I have been working on paper, which doesn’t create my usual amount of texture. But it still allows quite a bit, just more visual than tactile. And because there is less preparation, I can work in the moment. Luckily, most of the layers also dry a bit more quickly as well.

This one, as yet untitled, is likely part of a new series. I feel myself moving a brush, a pencil over the paper as if it is a landscape I want to explore—even though there is no definite destination.

Do we need one? Can’t we just begin a journey and see what will happen, where we will go if we follow a line?



Let Your Paintings Lead Another Life

On the left, a detail of my 4-sided painting “Seeing In A Different Light III,” in early 2016. On the right the same painting with a bit of “collage” paper created by an archival copy of another small painting.

What I’m doing today: using materials I already have to make an earlier painting better. I was cleaning up today, getting ready to work on another large piece when I spotted a color copy (archival) of a painting I had just completed. Looking at the colors, I realized I could use it to make another painting or when I looked across the room, another painting better. You know the feeling, that painting was one that was “finished,” but I wasn’t quite happy with it. Well, now I am because it has the perfect detail.

By using pieces of this “collage” paper, an image I had already created, I changed a painting. Of course, I added a couple other bits and pieces when I got going, but I’m finally happy with the painting months after “completing it.” The other alternative would have been to use that color copy as the “jumping off point” for a new piece.

So if you have paintings you love or portions of paintings you love, let them “dress up” and lead another life!


Disconnected from Time  12″ x 12″ x 2.5″, mixed media on deep wood panel

When I travel and wake up in a strange place, it sometimes takes a few seconds to realize where I am and to connect myself with my surroundings. Memories can be the same way. Often when we run into a friend from childhood or college, we can pick up right where we left off. There is a sense of the familiar.

Other times, not so much. Either we have changed or the other person has changed, but we feel disconnected and can’t seem to pick up where we left off. This piece depicts that estrangement. As Carly Simon once said, “One of us is changing or maybe we just stopped trying.”