What’s Your Sign?

The Pond's Edge by Wendy Roberts
The Pond's Edge

Arts at Mark’s Garage has a fun show up right now all about the mythical, whimsical, astrological, and fantastic, and it is entitled “What’s Your Sign?” I have one painting in the show – it will be the only appearance of the piece in public, so if you want to see it and you are on Oahu, please do go by August 27, 2022. I am very excited about this piece because it was a strange and mystical experience to paint it.

I heard the theme of the show long before the show actually went up and I wanted to be part of it. I was thinking to myself each day, “What should I paint?” I was working on a different concept, but the particular piece I was planning was taking a lot of effort and not behaving itself at all. It just didn’t feel right. Later I cropped it down and it solved the issues, but it didn’t resolve until after the show had begun.

I fell asleep one night and had the most incredibly vivid dream. In it, I was viewing paintings. There was a large stack of prints, and I was browsing through the stack. The paintings in my dream were the work of “other people”. When this image came to the top of the pile, it was a sudden shock. It made me feel something akin to “I wish I had painted that!”. I really loved the image in the dream and I chose it as my favorite of the various offerings. Then I woke up.

Immediately, I realized this painting could be mine if I could just remember it. The dream started fading at the edges. I scrambled bleary-eyed for my sketchbook and started drawing the dream in pencil. My drawing was poor quality, but it caught the energy of the scene. Some artists have gorgeous sketches. That is not the way I am with my work. It took more than a half hour to draw the scene, patiently coaxing out the details so that I would be able to refer back to the terrible sketch later. I worked from imagination only – I did not look at anything while I was sketching so that the dream would stay vivid in my mind. Dreams are fragile and if you look at other images, especially reference photos, it makes it harder to remember.

The Pond's Edge by Wendy Roberts
The Pond’s Edge

Upon finishing my sketch, I struggled to recognize one of the faces. I knew it was John William Waterhouse – one of his nymphs was making a cameo. At first I thought it was his mermaid painting, but I got it sorted out by looking through his paintings of mythological water women and found the painting with my cameo redhead, “Hylas and the Nymphs”. The other faces had so much personality for the main water naiads – attitudes. I kept referring back to my terrible drawing to keep me tethered to the origin as I designed and painted the various naiads and faeryfolk. The shy and sympathetic naiad under the lilypad-hat, the wise and kind face of the other, the hand position of the main woman. The memory was all there in the sketch. Just drawing it helped affirm each detail. It didn’t matter what the sketch actually looked like.

Naiads were all emerging from the waters of a Giverny-like pond to listen – perhaps this dreamscape is also influenced by the Boston Commons Swan Pond and the Forestdale Cemetery Pond too. I used to live in Boston and was absolutely in love with the lily ponds and weeping willows there. There were all these interesting subliminal influences coming through and as I was painting it, I deciphered what the scene meant to me. It was profound and comforting.

I hope it carries a mysterious and calming energy to it for those who view it. This painting has a special ability. I don’t want to tell you what it means automatically. It is fine to ask, but I want you to have time with it first. Everyone who views it sees a different story. I have heard some of the stories. More than with any other painting, my friends assumed that it was a rather straightforward story taking place, and that everyone was seeing the same thing. They would tell me their version of the story as they helped critique or as they viewed it for the first time. None of the renditions I heard matched exactly, but some themes emerged. Each interpretation was valid to the phase of life and current thoughts of each person. I noticed immediately it was one of those painting that works like symbolic poetry or special song lyrics in which various people find highly specific meanings, but there are lots of variations. These personal interpretations are beautiful to me. Embracing nonverbal communication is particularly important for this painting. The visual message is somehow vague in a helpful way and yet imparts a highly specific narrative to every person. I feel this painting was meant to assist with a certain type of healing and acceptance. It is fluid. I feel it is particularly important that every person be able to have their own specific story unfold from this scene. Who is the woman at “The Pond’s Edge”? What is she saying and why? The naiads are listening. What happens next? If you feel like sharing what you felt or found there at the pond’s edge, please feel free to email me and tell me what you see.