It has been three years already since I first published Charlotte, a painting based on an historical novel. I republish this post for Throwback Thursday.
A novel inspired me to paint a portrait.
As I painted, I remembered events in After the War is Over, a novel I recently finished. I imagined Charlotte and she is the subject in this mixed media painting.
“She listened and waited, holding her breath, wishing against hope for a lightning bolt of truth to descend and reveal the path she ought to take.” (p.175) from After the War is Over, by Jennifer Robson.
I am often asked where I get ideas for my art. Truthfully, there isn’t really one answer.
However, “Charlotte” above, is an example of the coincidental way that art often happens.
In this case, a novel on one hand, and an old book of Ontario Statutes dated 1919, on the other, served as inspiration for this painting.
If you love historical novels, After the War is Over, by Torontonian Jennifer Robson, should definitely be on your list of books to read.
This gem had me reading into the early hours of the morning. I was sad to see the end of it.
What will happen to Charlotte in her new life?
Charlotte is a perfect example of strong British backbone. Aristocrats and commoners alike, including Charlotte, seek a meaning to life after witnessing the atrocities of WWI.
She finds herself employed in two quite different fields of work, each with its own challenges.
After the War is Over explores social status in Britain. Charlotte is torn between the life and career she is building for herself as an independent woman in Liverpool, and her feelings for the Earl of Cumberland, a battle bruised war hero.
By the end of the novel, Charlotte seizes an opportunity to change her life, and make her dreams come true.
Of all the novel’s characters, Charlotte was most endearing. This is a period in history that I will definitely revisit in future paintings.
Once I had the character sketched out on my wood panel, I needed a background.
Backgrounds are my Achilles’ heel. They must not overwhelm the painting all the while providing a suitable backdrop for the subject.
Last year, I bought an old book of Ontario Statutes from 1919 in a used book shop in my hometown.
The book was in the garage and I hadn’t touched it since I had bought it. I really couldn’t even remember the date, but luck was on my side, and the date coincided with the time period of the novel.
The legislation from more than a century ago grabbed my attention.
As a result, I was reluctant to rip the yellowed paper. However, since I had bought the book for my art, I tore one of the pages of Ontario Statutes and used it in the background of the painting.
In the top left hand corner of the painting you will see “April 1919” as well as the strips from the book all around Charlotte. She is reminiscing about all the events that took place in her life during that month.
The book has statutes for different cities in Ontario.
For example, there were by-laws that Ottawa could pass without seeking assent of the electors for “$5,000 to provide for additional expenditures upon the Soldiers’ Home, beyond those previously authorized” as well as “$35,000 to provide for altering and improving the pavement, walks and approaches of the Bank Street Subway”.
Another chapter specifies agreements that Counties in Ontario are authorized to enact for the “Settlement of Returned Soldiers and Sailors”.
And so this book of Statutes is an interesting piece of history. It outlines the ways Ontario managed the return of its men from the war.
In addition, there were laws enacted with respect to “Compulsory School Attendance”. “Every child between eight and fourteen years of age shall attend school for the full term […].
Although it is rather dry reading, this old water stained book is a look back in time. I was immersed in Ontario laws was dealing with issues of concern for its citizens including temperance, school attendance, managing growth in its cities…
History, literature, and art all came together quite naturally in my painting of Charlotte.
Since 2016, I have been inspired by other novels in my art. In 2018, I sketched a monochromatic series based on another favourite novel, The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace.
I love imagining what the characters might look like and having them come alive through my sketches. To see the characters as I imagined them, visit Novel ideas: Sketching fictional characters.