A few months ago I was commissioned to put together a cover for the holiday edition of my hometown’s events and culture magazine (a publication I infrequently contribute to with an editorial column on the arts *ahem ahem ahem*).
When I got the e-mail from the editor explaining their intentions, my first instinct was to paint a big impressionistic wonderland of holiday lights in the snow and trees. Maybe something chasing after a Van Gogh nightscape; or like a postcard from the 60s full of lights just hovering on the edge of camera focus to widen the glow.
I was hoping to come up with something magical. Instead I produced a couple of head-scratchingly abstract drafts unsuitable for print (which formed the basis for my next landscape painting anyway).
With a deadline looming, I was faced with trying to put my back into this bigger concept or narrowing my focus to something more intimate. I’d already had a backup concept in mind, it was just a matter of switching my footing to go after it.
Indoors, not outdoors.
To me, Winter has two faces. One face is the oppressive, dark, and cold face; the rainy, snowy, wind-bitten face that keeps people bundled up inside popping vitamin D pills to save their souls.
The other face is the face hidden inside the bundles; curled up by the fire with a book watching the snow come down through a frosted pane.
The warm flicker of flames; the smell of wood smoke and baked goods; the noise of human conversation. It’s a turning inward we do as the days shorten, and it can have all the sense of that last languid turn in bed under the quilts before finally getting up to face the morning. That was something I wanted to capture.
I’m a firm believer, too, that the greatest joys are those shared with others. The simplest way to convey that here without including a cast of human figures was to paint a couple of mugs. No solitary scrooge-like hump of a person would pour out two mugs of hot whatever for themselves, would they? No! And certainly not with hearts on them.
As a technical aside, I also spent some time leaning into popping the greens and reds arguing for prominence. Not just in the flames and on the ground – but in the shadow and silhouette of the wood and metal. It’s something our eyes naturally do, and I enjoy emphasizing that.
I don’t know if it’s safe to put your mugs directly in the fireplace like that, but it sure looks cozy.