egg tempera painting by Daniel Ambrose

Be Still and Know
egg tempera on panel
12 by 16 in.

Titling a painting has never been difficult for me. Oh, there have been a few that I drew blank brains on, but for the most part, they come easily. Often while working on a painting the perfect title will appear in my head out of the clear blue yonder, clear as glass. It may not be appropriate for the particular painting I’m working on, but it’s a good one so I add it to a list that I’ve kept for over twenty-five years.

It’s a long list.

I started this egg tempera painting in my North Carolina studio in the winter. Gray skies, brown slushy stuff and 20 degree temperatures left me longing for Florida sunshine. On the first go around, I painted it all in brown earth tones and it just wasn’t working for me. I brought it back to Florida and leaned it up against the studio wall behind other paintings. From time to time, I would take it out and study it. Sometimes you need a fresh eye on a problem to see it objectively. I once read Titian would begin a painting and then put it face to the wall and after a while turn it around to see it anew.

Recently I pulled this painting out and gave it a long, hard look, not as subject but only as a network of tiny patches of paint. They were ugly; I don’t know what I was thinking at the time. A painting is not beautiful because the subject matter is beautiful, but because the paint is beautiful.

While thinking upon beauty, I heard the first morning bird singing outside my window. Listening to its sweet melody my mind gradually became quiet, and I knew what to do. I focused on paint on the color of paint. For that is all a painter has, that is all a painter needs to sing their own sweet melody, every beautiful painting that ever stirred a human soul is only paint. Paint applied with knowledge and passion.

In the turmoil of life, it’s difficult at times not to get lost in the colors of modern events. False prophets, politicians, and pop culture distract us with endless amusements, attractions, and sing of enticing utopias. We do as were told until we forget what we were meant to do. Socrates said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

Sometimes we need to sit quietly and listen; listen to a bird singing in the garden, the wind rustling the pines, the cat snoring, or just the humming of the refrigerator. If we do this, medical studies have shown that our neural activity slows down, like a hard drive on a computer stops spinning. To sit quietly still and listen to a sound of the moment, our minds will become quiet and we will know what to do.

I break open an egg and make up a batch paint red, yellow, and blue. I quietly paint thinking only of beautiful color relationship and harmonies. In the stillness of the moment, the title came to me.

Be still and know.

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