In which I tell you more than you may ever have wanted to know about how my titles are chosen, and rhapsodize briefly about the joys of watercolor pencils...
Filment & Firmament III (detail): Before and after adding water.
O, the lovely watercolor pencil - is there anything more wonderful than the moment when a thin, muddy-brown line blooms into a fluid cascade of scarlet? I love painting, and I love drawing, and I love that watercolor pencils allow me to have the best of both worlds: the rapidity of drawing, and the lushness of paint.
Three watercolor pencil drawings will be up on the work page soon, and I've been musing for the past few hours on what title to give them. I rarely have a title in mind when I begin a piece, though sometimes it will come to me during the making. Most often, however, a drawing or painting will sit in my home for weeks or even months, unidentified & nameless.
Titles only became important to me, in a logistical sense, once I began posting images on my website and submitting pieces to shows. Never before had I found it necessary to label my work in this way; when I thought about it, if ever, I felt that paintings spoke for themselves in a visual language that didn't need any words to supplement it. But with the cursor blinking at me in the 'Title' box on a juried show submission form, I couldn't face the prospect of writing 'Untitled' (some interesting thoughts on that subject can be found here), and so I was forced to think a little more deeply.
With portrait paintings, it is always temptingly simple to use the subject's name as a title, but then it seems to me that the work becomes more about the portrayed than the portrayal - more about object than intention. In some cases (as in a commissioned portrait primarily meant to record a likeness) this is appropriate, but in others, I want the figure to say more than simply "I am who I am." The first piece I ever titled, "Pear & Magnolia," referred not only to the flowers the two girls were holding, but to their meaning in the Victorian Language of Flowers. Friendship, affection, dignity, and perseverance were all a part of the story that I wanted these two girls to help me tell, and calling the piece by their two names would, I think, have distracted from those qualities. "Warmth" is not only the sunlight on the woman's face, but a part of her character that I value, and "I Wear My Movement" was a fragment of a sentence, spoken by a friend, that gave me a glimpse what it was like to be in a dancer's body.
Giving a title to a whole series of paintings or drawings requires a different sort of consideration. I have no set method for titling individual pieces, but for my last three series I have followed the same process. It begins with making a list of words that come to mind when I think about all of the pieces together, although I'll occasionally include a word or phrase that is suggested by a single image from within the group (for example, 'key' appeared on my list for the "Studies & Daydreams" series, though a key only appears in one of the paintings). Sometimes I do this on paper, and sometimes I try to hold them all in my head.
For the latest series of drawings, of which three are completed with more to come, my list went something like this:
hair, hands, muscle, fluid, lines, planes, motion, holding, care, protection, pilus, pileated, Rapunzel, Delilah, flow, drip, tension, tensile, strand, filament, growth, warp & weft, heartstrings, nerves, veins, vein-braider, spare, quiet, light, white, warm & cool, vanity, vanitas, pride, inchoate, reverent, familiar, calming, benediction
When I get serious about a word, I look it up in a thesaurus, a dictionary, and at etymology online (I spend a probably unhealthy amount of time on this website, but it's just so interesting!) to see whether the definition or derivation spark any more thoughts. From this list, I drew out:
Rapunzel, inchoate, filament, vein-braider, fluid, lines & planes
I tried out "Rapunzel inchoate" for a little while, but decided that 1. inchoate causes pronunciation difficulties if you haven't heard the word before, and 2. it applied to one of the images more than the others. "Vein-braider" I decided against because it comes from a song, and I'm never sure what copyright laws apply in these cases, and anything to do with "planes" had to go, because although I do love the planes created by the different surfaces of the hand and how they contrast with the fluid lines of the hair, I dislike the mental image of airplanes that necessarily (for me, at least) comes along with the word.
Somewhere in the process I looked up 'hair' in the thesaurus and found 'filament,' a word that I've always loved the sound of. As I looked more deeply into the word, I found that it comes from the Latin filare, 'to draw out in a long line,' which seemed well-suited to the medium of the series. Beyond that, it suggests the filament of a light bulb, and 'light' had appeared on my initial list. From 'filament' my mind jumped to 'firmament,' which connected to light, and sky, and a sense of otherworldliness or ethereality, which is often at the center of my work. And, as the etymology dictionary then told me, 'firmament' comes from words meaning 'a support or strengthening,' and 'a firm or solid structure,' which fell right into place with the hands in my drawing, which act as support and scaffolding for the falling lines of the hair.
So there I had it: "Filament & Firmament" - the hair and the hands, the fluid and the solid, the lines and the planes, the light and the ethereal, all wrapped up in one nice alliterative package.
Now, off to add more drawings to the series...