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In Praise of the Jigsaw Puzzle

August 6, 2010

Brown-eyed Girls - Monet's Garden, Giverny

I know that the title I gave for my next blog was “In Defense of the Jigsaw Puzzle”  but I decided to change it to “In Praise of the Jigsaw Puzzle”  because I feel that the word ‘praise’ is better suited for the subject of today.

At first glance you may feel that this posting is not for you but ‘read on MacDuff’.  For the painter this post might speak for itself  but hopefully it will speak to the rest of you creative souls out there as well.

It was about five years ago or so that I had the great good fortune of taking a ten week drawing class from one of our local teachers,  Rick McDiarmid.

This class drove home for me the rule of drawing:  forget the subject of what it is you are drawing and instead focus on drawing the shapes within and around the subject.  This class taught me that when drawing, shapes matter and I have since come to realize that this is also true when painting.

Around the same time that I took this drawing class, I had the opportunity to travel to France to paint.  While visiting Paris I was able to see, first hand, the use of coloured ‘shapes’ that the impressionists employed.  Cezanne stands out in my mind as one who ‘built’ his paintings by placing different coloured and valued shapes next to one another in a deliberate way.  It was sometime later that I realized that  this method of  ‘laying down paint’  was oddly familiar to building a jigsaw puzzle.

It just so happens that I love making  jigsaw puzzles, so this little realization intrigued me.  I began to use this method of  laying down paint  to ‘build’  my paintings, shape by shape, while looking carefully at my subject.  It didn’t matter whether it was a still life or a painting from a photograph, I could see marvelous shapes of colour, lights, darks, cool, warm, thin and thick.  The building blocks of a painting.

The following year we were in Giverny painting and low and behold in the gift shop there was a jigsaw puzzle of Monet’s La Pie.  I bought it.  Well, that puzzle was without a doubt the most difficult puzzle I have ever built.  My family even abandoned me and left me to finish it on my own.  As I puzzled away I realized that Monet, too, used this method of placing colour to create his scene, mood and all.  I learned so much from that experience that I now teach painting based in part on what I have observed from the building of the lowly jigsaw puzzle.

Something else comes to mind when I think of the piece by piece building of an image.  It applies to pretty much every creative pursuit.  Think of a quilt, a mosaic, a sweater, a novel, a lyric, a tune….a life!

A life is a series of pieces or events, interlocking to make a whole.  Not one piece should be disregarded, brushed under the rug, corners clipped,  for every piece is integral to the whole.

Just as a painter looks for contrast, strong compositional elements, value changes, strong evidence of  repetition and fabulous colour, so too, should we be looking for this in our lives.

Next time you have a chance to experience someones painting, look closely, check-out how it was ‘built’ and see if there is something personal you might take from what you see.

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