Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Can the description of a painting be a story?

This goes out to everybody. The painting described below is not real. I imagined it. But I invite anyone who reads this to create what they see in the description. It can be a watercolor or oil painting. A sketch in charcoal, ink or pencil. You can draw stick figures in crayon. It can be a render, 3D image or ironic machinima screenshot. You can get your friends to pose for a reenactment photo. You can do whatever you like, omit any detail that gets in your way, so long as you send me a copy. E-mail it to With your permission, I’ll post your work. You can opt for me to not publish it or to be published anonymously if you please. Otherwise I'll give your name, whatever you title your piece, and a link to your blog, art account, or whatever charity you’d like to endorse. If you know a friend who draws or does anything in the visual arts, please share this with them. Submissions deadline is August 1st.

We're where the river meets the docks. The brick harbor takes up the right half of the painting, while a steamship disembarks on the left. It’s just departed, only three feet away.

There are a few men visible on the edge of the boat. All are wearing olive trench coats with brass buttons. All but one are holding rifles. They hold them idly, clearly not shooting anything right now. They're headed off to war.

One man is unarmed. He is at the very edge, hands clasping the railing. He's leaning as far over the side as he can, pelvis pressed to the rail. He's leaning overboard to kiss someone. All the armed soldiers aboard are staring at him in amusement or disbelief.

There are lots of people on the brick harbor. Old men and women dressed in dirty shirts and peasant blouses, possibly the parents of these young soldiers who are going off to war. There are a few children, including one boy in a striped shirt carrying a toy gun. We don't look at any of them immediately. We look where they are looking, and they are looking at the woman who is standing on the edge of the harbor, on the balls of her bare feet. She is leaning across the water to kiss our leaning unarmed soldier.

She wears a pale violet dress, pale from being worn and washed so many times. She also wears a violet mod hat, darker than her dress. They probably don’t wash hats. A few strands of black hair are falling out from under the hat, but most is fixed underneath.

One of her hands is on the unarmed soldier's helmet. He's the only one wearing a helmet. In fact, by the way she's fingering its straps, it looks like she's leaned out over the water to put the helmet on this lucky young man. And since they were both leaning out, faces forward, there was nothing else to do but kiss.

The second this ceases to be a painting and becomes life, both of them will fall into the river. That is how far out they lean. From what we see of their faces, they do not seem to think that far ahead. Their eyes are closed.

His hair is brown, where the helmet doesn't cover it.


  1. You've painted an impressive scene here with your words, John. It will be interesting to see if anyone can re-create this.

    I can picture it perfectly, but I've no talent with a brush or pencil.

  2. Too bad-- no Polaroid slot on the side of my head to let out the picture you've painted inside.
    Can't wait for the artwork.

    Giggles and Guns

  3. I wish I could paint so I could follow your magnificent lead here, but alas I can barely write..

  4. I recommend even amateur artists try it out. I will post work anonymously, so you won't be embarrassed if you really aren't proud of your production. But sometimes it's worth experimenting. If it's really not your thing and know someone who does work in the visual arts, please pass it on.

  5. Your description makes beautiful painting in my mind. I wish I could shape it into something other people would enjoy too.

    If I could draw, paint or do anything related I'd go for watercolor. Maybe some day? :)

    Can't wait to see what people are producing out of your exquisite imagery.

  6. Can't wait to see what people come up with, John... Interesting challenge of sorts

  7. I think I've seen this picture, somewhere.

  8. My drawing skills aren't up to this challenge. Too bad!

  9. This was so beautiful, the exact proof that a picture can say a thousand words... even if it's only an imagined picture!

  10. I"ll have to email you the idea that inmediatley popped into my mind. Ha! I can draw stick people, but I'm not sure that will work for the idea I have. Loved this image.

  11. Glad to see the first players e-mailing. Jodi, I'm interested in your idea. Stick figures are welcome, you know.

  12. John, did I miss the follow-up to this entry? I was thinking of posting that picture of a boat.

  13. Tony, I actually intend to post the art on Saturday. If you don't want to wait, though, it's your picture and you're free to share it on your blog early. Held out this long waiting for turnout and then because of my vacation.

  14. You painted such a vivid scene on your cyber-canvas verbally. Really could see it in my mind. Mark Twain said our imagination was the eye of the soul. Roland

  15. The image is beautiful. So evocative of love and loss. You captured the scene from several pov very quickly. Well done

  16. You know, the whole way through this, it was as if I was watching an old black-and-white war movie with scratches on the film and fuzziness in the audio. Then, suddenly, they fell into the river and everything burst into glorious light and color and sound.

    I think I got the picture.

    Well done, jolly well done.

  17. Hi,

    Fabulous period imagery!

    I love painting but words have taken precedence over the past few years, the brushstrokes somewhat ailing in magic of late.



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