There are two things I absolutely love while creating a piece of art: achieving light or contrast in my work and experiencing the actual physical process of making the piece with paint, ink, pastel, pencil or other media.

To me, it’s all about light. Without light, the spark is often illusive, the energy lacking. But I look for unusual light, if possible: the sliver of sunlight on the horizon at the end of an otherwise gray day, the glint in an animal’s eye, the nuances of colors and values on a pale flower, lit, perhaps, from behind…

Through color, texture, and proper use of a medium, achieving high contrast in my paintings helps to make my work stand out from across a room. The motifs, carefully considered, often appear to almost jump off the surface and come to life. Light objects pop against dark backgrounds, and colorful, saturated ones pop against the dull, causing my paintings to be very high key. I am focused on light against dark, bright against dull, soft with hard edges, linear with non-linear…whenever I paint.

The painting process is very enjoyable to me, especially when working in watercolor. I absolutely love to let the wet paint “dance” on the wet paper, a stage where there is little or no control, but which only watercolor allows. Glazes, or subsequent layers of paint, on dry paper are later applied to define my subject, and from there it is like putting a puzzle together or building my subject up from its lightest elements through color and value.  While these stages are all fun, my favorite part still of the painting process is applying the darks as I finish, which I anticipate from the moment I set brush to paper.  I do not start a painting without first planning for them and deciding how they will relate to and enhance the lights. (When working on an animal portrait, I actually paint in the dark eyes last: I really don’t like the animal “staring” back at me while I work!)

Backgrounds are carefully planned, too, and they have to be so that they can relate to the subject. But when I work in the more tedious medium of scraperboard, I generally leave the inky, black ground of the scraperboard untouched, leaving the background simple and concentrating instead on scratching out the highlights of my subject from the white clay beneath the black ink.  With this medium one must work from dark to light, so the lightest areas are usually added last...very different from watercolor.

I am fascinated by the stark difference in application between watercolor and scraperboard because it forces me to see things differently, but the common thread is that in either medium, my focus is still on the light, and in pulling it out by working on the negative space. That is the excitement for me! If others can see the same spark, then I’ve succeeded.

-Bivenne Harvey Staiger