Updated: Jan 13
Hundreds of Reflections and Art as a Way to Create Belonging
I was born in tropical Liberia, West Africa, where I lived for 11 years, then moved to Lebanon in 1982 only to relocate again to subtropical Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, back to Lebanon, and finally to N. Dallas - Texas without my parents and siblings. Missing home and my parents drove me to look around for inspiration, but it was pretty disheartening, and I was disgruntled and resentful that I settled here. The truth is that I found it very challenging not to be surrounded by the nature that I had always taken for granted: mature trees, mountains, valleys, seas, sunsets.
Coming from a modest childhood, I became even more displeased with myself for wanting
something I didn't have. Change needed to take place within me. So, with that, I forced myself to learn to see beauty again. I would grab my viewfinder and scan any area for a place where light and color played together. Minute water spots on a narrow creek encompassed an entire world.
In search of clarity for setting roots away from my parents and family, the creek became a shrine to which I would run. With my birchwood viewfinder, I would search for a window into which to leap. For a professional artist, finding a good composition where lines intersect and draw the viewer into the subject where the visual elements communicate well is the technical core to a strong piece of art. All the elements should work in perfect harmony and cohesiveness. As a viewer, you might know something is off in a painting but cannot put your finger on what.
I ask myself two main composition questions:
What do I want to say? And how am I going to tell it?
Anchoring my ideas into why the spot attracted me in the first place helps me stay focused on the big picture. I'll give you an example; when being pulled into a mix of lines and colors on the creek, the answer to my first question is to capture glimmering contrast between the azure and sap green in the cool light and the interlocking lines of the reflective trees and branches diving into the water. Then, I answer my second question by ensuring I keep the primary colors separate, creating contrast, and simplifying the background's shadow colors to keep them muted while chopping in light and thick dark lines for the trees and branches.
When building a composition, professional artists watch for suggestive leading lines that direct attention in a painting: solid lines like those found on trees and branches or suggestive lines that don't exist, such as the line between two points found explicitly in between two trees.
Once my composition is established, I start sketching on the canvas using a charcoal pencil. The beauty of painting "en plein air" (painting outdoors) is that I am tuned in to the birds, the wind, the rustling of leaves, the bugs, and the sun. These external elements that no one sees or feels are integral to painting. Painting "en plein air" allows me to capture the emotional and sensory dimensions of that particular waterscape at that moment in time. Spontaneity and quick handwork as I race with the natural light and atmosphere change creating looser strokes and decisively applying colors.
Many great masters and professional artists seek painting with a limited palette, including John Singer Sargent and Claude Monet. With my limited palette, there is more harmony among the colors with fewer colors to mix, and it's easier to progress through my painting with clarity as I don't have to overthink what color to select. A limited palette allows me to delve in-depth into color theory and the relationship between colors.
With colors on my palette, it is now time to look at the color relationship as I observe the
subject. Because what we see is a perception of the eye and the translation from the brain, the colors are never what they appear. Therefore, I have to understand color in relationship to another color by comparing it with its surrounding values. Professional artists ask themselves at least three questions: what are the value, saturation, and hue of the element I am painting?
Value, Saturation, & Hue
The value is how light or dark, the saturation is how intense the color is, and the hue is the
position of a color on the color wheel (red, orange, green, blue, and so forth).
Throughout the painting process, I am comparing colors in relationship to each other, trying not to get in the noisiness of details by the numerous floating leaves and chaos of hairy twigs and branches that detract from the big picture or the original feeling that brought me here at first. Once that is determined, I am ready to mix that color and apply it to the canvas. I have to paint very fast because of the limited window before the light changes the colors.
Painting outdoors under the sun and nestled in nature brings me so much peace and
appreciation for all the details that make up that minute spot within my viewfinder. I find myself living in that window and, at times, losing myself to the view and dumping my racing thoughts.
This creek flows in my backyard; visiting it at different times in the day to observe what magic
the light has created inspires me. There are no two times alike its ever-renewing. It has
become my meditative spot that has helped me understand more about myself and my
surroundings over the decades. Discovery leads to another exploration with every
painting, and accidents often help recreate transformational work. It took me a long time to
accept my mistakes because the bar for mastery of paintings is high. Fear is the worst element for professional artists during the painting process because it inhibits free flow and prevents the hand and paint from executing freely. It's only through the many hours of painting, understanding that it's in the process of exploration and discovery that confidence starts building up.
When that happens, then it's all play. There's no limit to what I can do with just one subject. I have started with a palette knife and oils where the texture is choppy and thick on the canvas, creating a painterly feature where visible strokes within the finished painting are very
prominent. Influenced by professional artists like Monet for his choice of subject (Water Lilies), VaGogh's's impasto textures (viscid layers and buttery feel), anMatisse's's Fauvist colors (radical use of unnatural colors), I combine subjects, texture, and color when I paint.
Oil on canvas
Note. The choppy texture and complementary colors of a waterscape using a palette
Trying new textures to further the exploration allows me to learn more about the media and the many ways I can express this one spot. The sociopolitical environment around me also drives my textural response. During COVID-19, I searched for a softer medium to nullify the climatic atmosphere. Choosing soft pastels neutralized the coarse reality with smooth textures, smudgy lines, and intense color.
Soft Pastels on canvas
Note. This waterscape painting shows the soft texture during COVID-19
to counter the disturbing socio-political environment.
The journey of hundreds of Reflection painting series helped me contemplate my life, the true meaning of art, and how society regards art. The water reflection stillness helped me realize a profound reality about the importance of art in our lives. Unlike old beliefs where art is thought for the riches and only found in museums—professional artists use art to help us understand ourselves, tell stories, and empathize with others.