Symbolism and trees and art and noses on the feet and stuff

People underestimate how much red pigment Van Gogh actually used in his paintings. Over time, the red he used has been turning white. On the web page called,

“The Chemistry of Why Van Gogh’s Reds Are Going White”, this is said:

‘Van Gogh loved the vibrant lead pigment colors, and the red in “Wheat Stack” turned out to contain a rare mineral lead called plumbonacrite that through light exposure was gradually coated in carbonates that were causing the discoloration. Or, in less science speak, the paint particles are now like if you had a Gobstopper with the red core inside and a light blue layer and then gray layer on the outside of the particle mass.’

But this remarkable anomaly of the red and the white was discovered a few years ago.



Red is supposed to mean: passionate love, seduction, violence, danger, anger, and adventure… White means: purity, virginity, innocence, light, goodness, safety, and softness. This is interesting because now that Van Gogh’s reds have turned white, his painting means something else, if only symbolically and subliminally. I’ve done, over the years, my own depictions of Van Gogh’s and Monet’s work. But I didn’t know I ‘should’ve probably been using red where the white was…Here is one of them, one of my faux Van Gogh’s:


that reminds me-

In 2005, I was hired to do a  mural on a few walls inside the entrance at a day center for disabled adults. When I first toured the place, I questioned staff on what type of mural they’d like, because they’d be seeing it every day after all. One young man wanted me to do a ceiling-to-floor depiction of Van Gogh’s Starry Night-I was so excited! I was all for that, thinking…yes! that’s exactly what I’d love to do but then it was shot down along the thinking of “That’s not the look we want when people come to pick up their loved ones…kind of dark, not real cheery…” This is what won out: Path. Barn. Deer, Train, Animals, etc. I did talk them into letting me paint one of the residents doing a wheelie in his wheelchair however, and his mother was so thrilled with the likeness! I painted him next to the fence with the bird on it if I recall. Not many photos exist and I don’t know where that one is (pre-iPhone).

I don’t really enjoy being watched while I paint, although I’m getting better at this. Before I started the mural I was concerned that if people who worked there started coming over to stare at me, while I was working, I would freeze- proverbial 

deer in headlights. 

Imagine: people pulling up behind me like cars as I tried to paint, screeching to a halt, I’d hear them idling, would smell them, and feel their headlight eyes glaring. I’d freeze not unlike the deer -my mind would go fast and react like a cornered animal:


(hellaRudolphMemeGenerator below)


Being at the mural was a lesson in endurance. I am not keen on “public painting” but it turned out people didn’t really stare (too much). Getting up and down off the stool (really a padded hassock) I felt wobbly a few times but I didn’t fall. At least that. It was a facility where caregivers brought loved ones as an alternative to a group home. It’ was a clean place and everyone seemed well cared for. Most clients were in wheelchairs.

They supplied materials and gave me money for whatever else I needed. I mixed my paint colors in sealable empty plastic food tubs for easy storage and preservation of mixed colors, using cardboard as a disposable palette. I rinsed brushes in a Maxwell House Coffee blue plastic tub because they have a handle of sorts. Someone had the bright idea I’d need paint rollers to do the mural! I was well-meaningly given paint rollers, including a “textured” roller which would make a texture on the wall.


So anyway when all was quiet and no one was around I thought I should use the textured roller since I had applied paint to the whole wall and never even used my roller yet. It would only be polite to use a supply that was bought for me. So I couldn’t find the handle to screw into the roller…but I thought I could put paint on the padded part with a brush and roll the textured roller over the wall with my hands inside the holes on either end of the roller instead of using the handle.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, she said in retrospect.

Stiff fingers-me! I dropped the thing, splattering greenish paint in a shmear down the wall right over my lovely fence with the bird on it- and then my roller ROLLED (now it rolls, I think) across the stark white floor. I thought the lady in the office might’ve been onto me as the wall I was painting faced a plate glass window and I feared she could see my unintentional slapstick routine in the reflection. She didn’t come charging out of the office though. I cleaned up pretty quickly with my handy spray bottle and paper towels and I thought I can do this so I put even more paint on the roller with a brush and started rolling along the wall again. But it slipped again. …woo-hoo… Textured grass effects all over the floor in a line-the roller got clumsily away from me and painted the floor I’d just cleaned up.

I wadded the dam thing in a mass of newspaper and threw the messy roller in the trash.
I also had to spot-clean a paint dot- I believe of the color pinkish tan– (the color of my painted path) on the hassock’s seat upholstery. I was not pleased about that. No one seemed to notice though, as the hassock had a pattern.

One client in a wheelchair liked to throw his ball at my stool. He carried it everywhere on his lap. He’d roll up to me, using his good foot to push along, and throw that blue ball at me as I painted. I’d get down and hand it to him. Over and over. I never minded. That went on for days. This progressed to him laughing when I’d glance at him peripherally. Whenever I looked his way, he’d giggle behind his hand, (most of the residents had MR with a diagnosis of CP on top of it)… One middle aged man liked to sneak up on me and unaccompanied by staff, he’d touch me. There I was on my hassock, stretching up with my 1/2 inch brush to reach where the wall met the ceiling with my sky color (yeah I like small brushes, even on walls and I wasn’t paid by the hour so…Ok I had one larger brush but preferred the smaller, I digress).  He’d vigorously grasp my hand and pump it. He’d never stop is what I would think, but it always made me smile- he’d shake my free hand, touch my back, to see if I was soft I guess, the way one might pet a kitten. He was very gentle and he always smiled. But back to this person who would throw the ball at me.

One day a staff member whisked him away ball and all; and said he could never be alone with me again. She said that “only the staff was trained to handle him”… I assured staff he never bothered me and the paint was out of reach behind a door-on a windowsill…etc.
So the staff said no, they told me the man was a “violent individual” and we never played ball again. The man who liked to shake my hand never was allowed near me again either.

I missed both their company, I never minded being studied as I worked (by the residents anyway). I had to take their word for it when they told me about things like the ball throwing man who butted people with his head and rammed them with his wheelchair even though it seemed so implausable.

Well they all signed releases or something so I could use them as models and one staff member told me to shave off fifty lbs. for her depiction in the mural. I did not. Painting her like that would not get a likeness. I was extremely happy with my conifer trees in the mural. I painted them fast and freely and did little to touch them up afterwards. I  painted a clothesline with sheets snapping in the wind too.

Symbolism and Trees

You could say my fears and anxieties about freezing or fleeing did not come to pass at the mural. I bent a little so I wouldn’t break, and I’m glad for having had the experience. You know the saying: The willow tree bends to rough out the storm, and weathers the winds. Thus the adage, be willing to bend a little or you will break. So much symbolism in trees! You’ve got the Tree of Life. The Family Tree. In Jewish religion, the Kabbalah. The Tree of Knowledge is supposed to connect Heaven and the Underworld. There’s a Taoist story about a Tree of Immortality that produces a peach of immortality every 3 thousand years. The list goes on.

Speaking of trees, did you know there is such a thing as a Victorian Stumpery garden? It’s true, it dates back to at least the 19th century and it is exactly what it sounds like. Here are examples of stumps lining a path. I love the word stumperies.



The niches and notches of the stumps, usually placed root side-up, make handy little crevices to stick in ferns or moss or even flowers like Cosmos or Alyssum that attract butterflies. On the topic of butterflies, do you think of butterfly noses too, when you see butterflies flitting around? I always do. It seems so unlikely that butterfly noses are in their feet, (but they are indeed) and so the thought is never far from my mind. Well, technically there are chemical receptors on their feet that allow them to taste the flowers they land on. Sweet!

Here is an example or two or three of my own art, paintings and collage- and symbolism abounds. I mean, I think so. I don’t really think about that when I’m making things.





Most of these are unfinished and probably never will be finished. I’ll end this post with a refurbished birdhouse (An 11 year old boy, Nate, gave it to me to assemble, which was very thoughtful of him). I used pencils for the roof, and other wooden things to finish it and then I made a ladder. It’s kind of silly looking. It’s also fleeting, as glue doesn’t withstand the elements.


eh- maybe silly is the whole point. Or is fleeting the point?

Van Gogh’s works have been hanging up a long time. I’ve seen several in person. It’s an interesting part of his story, that his original intentions (red not white) which were revealed with high-tech scientific equipment, are suppressed because of the passage of time.

When you meet anyone – you usually never see the hidden colors until you really know them.

Even then, like Van Gogh’s paintings, people change as time passes and original passions and intention change into something else.

Always there is more than meets the eye, whether you are considering:

…Symbolism or trees or art or noses on butterfly feet or any kind of stuff…

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