An Artist’s Prerogative
Kate Harper stared at the massive canvas leaning on the easel. She took a step away from the bold strokes of blues and whites, tried squinting and tapping her chin with her finger to take it all in. Something was wrong, yet she couldn’t pinpoint the flaw. Undoubtedly, she was biased.
Squinting, she tried to see the image as a stranger might. She set the brush on the paint-splattered table and picked up the mug of cold tea. Kate seldom drank hot tea. Each time the kettle whistled, she poured scalding water into the pot and then got carried away on the steam only to return when it was too late and the tea cold.
The painting was a commission. Her first paycheck and the pressure to get it right was immense. A month ago, when the person sent an email, deposited five-hundred dollars into her PayPal account to cover the expenses of canvas and paint, she’d been so eager. Whomever this patron was, somehow influential and associated with the Artist Guild, remained a mystery. The insignificant hints she gathered led to a dead end. Besides, what did she care? They paid. And mother had been so proud.
Kate printed the email and pinned it to her easel. “Dear Ms. Harper,” blah blah blah, platitudes which Kate had memorized, but, today, she skipped to the guts of the note. “My only stipulation hinges on the design. You must complete the painting in blues and whites. Complimentary hints of yellows and greens are acceptable. And please, it must be inspired and in the style of Monet.” Her specialty. She walked in the legend’s footprints for years, now it was time to test her skill.
Her friends teased her endlessly that the patron was a secret admirer. After graduating, she had been invited by the Guild to hold an exhibition. She sold three of her pieces to promises that fell flat after the event. People said things and didn’t follow through. The disappointment was immense and crippled her emotionally. Even today, the lingering effects crept like a fungus on the fortress of her fragile security system. Taking a long draft of the tea, Kate realized she was hungry. She hadn’t eaten since seven, and that had only been to swallow a mushy banana. And time had done that vanishing act again, it was now two o’clock. As an artist, she understood the strict rule of walking away from the work in progress to get an overview and clarity, but she’d been so obsessed with spreading the first layers on the canvas that she overruled her sense of wisdom. It had taken three weeks just to bring the painting to this stage.
From the kitchen, which was just an alcove in the wall, like a random afterthought, with just a small bank of cupboards and counter space, she had the optimal view. Her studio apartment wasn’t about size, instead, it was a stage production of light. But her stomach made demands. With her back to the easel, she rummaged in the small fridge and surfaced with an unopened package of cheese and an apple. Her favorite combination.
She hadn’t done the dishes since yesterday, and since she only had two of everything, she had to make do with a paper towel and a dirty knife. Skittish like a deer, she pranced around the easel, stirring the dustmotes into a waltz because she wouldn’t allow herself a sitdown lunch. Her eyes were loath to leave the woman, who clothed in volumes of summer gauze strode across the beach scene, the image that her inner artist was trying to capture. Kate wanted whoever was looking at the painting to feel the breeze, the gentle caress of the sun, and hear the squawk of a seagull, the surf breaking and falling apart on the sand.
The noise of a small ding on her cell phone alerted her to a message. Kate could go for hours and sometimes days without checking on the incoming texts. It was a habit her friends found annoying but Kate didn’t give a darn, she only cared about painting and getting the emotion and setting of her work as if she were composing an epic novel. She often thought she was building a character from scrap, as a novelist might, only she had just one shot to get it right. A writer had approximately three-hundred pages, and a delete function, for the reader to fall in love with their creation. With a painting, the artist had one shot.
She scrolled with her thumb, nibbling on the cheese, taking bites of the crisp apple. It was a text from her mother reminding her to surface. “Remember to eat!” it said, a smiley face and heart signed off. But who could under this sort of pressure? Staring at the painting, Kate knew she had done the unforgivable. She had fallen in love with the muse. It was a reflection of herself painted on the canvas. There was no mistaking the symmetry of the woman walking on the shore. Kate had unknowingly done it. “Shit! I’ve painted myself into the corner.”