I gave myself a rule of never using black in a painting.  I even cleared my closet of all my black clothes.  This made me happy.

So I was a bit distressed when on the first day of my recent art retreat/workshop we were asked to use only black and white.  My heart sank.  But I was determined to play by the rules, get uncomfortable and stretch my edges.  We worked with acrylic on 12″ x 12″ wood panels; somewhat foreign to my wax and torch chops.  

“Play.  Play.  Play.”

That was the instruction. Pay attention to value and contrast and see how it goes.  

I painted six of these freely and slowly I began to see the benefit of stripping a composition down to its bones.  In between black and white lives a huge range of value.  

How you pass from dark to light matters.  And it’s in your control.

Stripping the work of color felt like standing naked in front of the mirror.  No place to hide.  It’s the show not tell.  No explaining, no story, no accumulation of ho hum decisions.  Do or die.  I took it that seriously. 

Not sure why it felt like a matter of life or death.  I wanted to expand and already on the first day I was about to burst.  Fortunately I knew that clarity liberates and I hung on for the ride.

By the end of the week we were using color, collage, texture, mixed media and soul.  It didn’t really get any easier.  In fact, I got very frustrated and wasn’t satisfied with my work.  I’d go back to the beginning and look at design and value; close my sharpened eyes and see it in black and white.  How comfortable was I now standing naked?  Was there excitement, twists and turns and surprises in the journey?  If not, I’d ask myself “How can I make this more interesting?”  Back and forth went this dialogue.  

Eventually I could face the mirror and approve of the progress.  I could recognize my soul in the work.