Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Whitework"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] curiosity. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. This is the third in the triptych beginning with "Blackwork" and "Redwork," so if you haven't already read those, go back and do that now.


Shiv decided that he liked
the chromatic exercises, working
with only one color at a time,
or a few related ones.

It helped him make sense of
the pile of art supplies, and pick out
just one feeling or memory to focus on.

Over time, he shifted between
different colors and concepts,
gradually working his way around
to explore them all in turn.

He had the faces game on his tablet, too,
so he could practice naming the emotions,
which he was getting better at all the while.
Shiv was surprised to find something he was
actually good at that didn't get him in trouble.

Sometimes he chose a random face
and then tried to draw a picture based
on that feeling. Since there were a lot
more unhappy faces than happy ones,
it wasn't too hard for him to do.

Envy was green and jealousy was yellow.
He'd read that somewhere, although
he wasn't sure why those colors were
supposed to match those feelings.

It made more sense that
sadness and depression were blue.
Shiv understood feeling blue, even though
he felt angry more often, and he tended
to draw that in red and black.

He liked blues because they
were so smooth and cool, like ice.
Sometimes when he felt angry,
he would get out the blues
and draw until the hot feeling
inside him cooled off some.

Besides, blues had landed him
in trouble less often than reds.

Shiv liked the other icy colors too,
the silver gel pen and the white one
and another that took him a while
to realize that the ink was clear,
leaving behind nothing but a line of
pearly glitter like the trail of a snail.

He looked through the colored paper
to find the midnight blue and the violet,
which made the silver and white inks
seem to pop off of the page.

He liked the pale blue paper, too,
the way he could feather frost-lines
across it like a windowpane
on a winter morning.

Thinking about winter gave
Shiv mixed feelings.

It was his favorite season,
even though he was always cold,
because he could slip outside to be
alone and nobody really wanted to come
looking for him. The ice and the snow
made the world all quiet, and it looked
soft but it wasn't. That ice could
cut you if you weren't careful.

The Finnlings kept asking him about
summer, and autumn, and winter,
and what were his plans then.

Shiv couldn't get it through their heads
that he didn't have plans, or at least
not the same way they did.

He was in prison, for one thing,
and in a gang, for another.
He was old, for a gang member,
almost twenty, and not many
made it much longer than that.

So Shiv didn't think about the future,
because he didn't have much of one,
and what there was of it was less his say
and more of someone else's anyhow.

That didn't stop Drew from asking
what Shiv was doing for vacation
("I don't get vacations.") or Edison
what he wanted for Christmas
("Clothes," said Shiv, which
was safe, and also true.)

Shiv couldn't quit thinking
about winter and whether
he'd ever see another one.

That reminded him of another thing
in art class that he used to get
in trouble for doing, and okay,
maybe it hadn't worked so great
with crayons but now he had
nice gel pens and that snail one.
They left glossy marks even on
white paper so it ought to work.

In fact it worked so well that
the next time Dr. G asked if Shiv had
anything to show him, Shiv said "Yes,"
and whipped it out to hand him.

"This is blank," Dr. G said, frowning.

"Nope," Shiv said with a smirk.
"Polar bear in a snowstorm."

"I've heard that joke before,"
Dr. G scolded gently.

Shiv reached out and
tilted the page in his hands,
waiting for the light to catch the ink.

"Oh!" exclaimed Dr. G. "You actually
drew one." He put his nose to the paper,
trying to find all of the faint lines.

Shiv had used the hardest of his charcoals
to draw the snowdrifts in barely-there gray,
and then -- following the advice from one of
the art handouts -- sketched circles for
the snow bear. (He'd gotten in trouble
for making one of those in the yard, too.
Shiv already knew he was disturbed.
They hadn't needed to yell it at him.)
The sky was no more than a few clouds
outlined in the lightest blue, the polar bear
done in white, and the blizzard winds
in curls of clear glitter ink.

"This is really clever," said Dr. G.
"I wonder what you were thinking
when you made this picture."

"Just that I could," Shiv said,
"and nobody would stop me now."

He looked a challenge at Dr. G
even as he said it, waiting for
the contradiction, but it never came.

Instead, Dr. G smiled at him,
wide and full of pride. "Good for you."

"So yeah, that's my thing," Shiv mumbled,
because Dr. G had thrown him off his stride.

"Do you think about snow a lot?"
Dr. G asked him then.

"I dunno," Shiv said. "I like snow.
But it's summer now, and I don't
think ahead any too much."

"Something got you thinking
about winter, though," said Dr. G.

"Ah, your kids won't shut up about it,"
Shiv grumbled. "What am I doing for
vacation, or Thanksgiving, or Christmas.
I don't even know where I'll be then, or if --"
He shook his head angrily, white bangs flying.

"Are they bothering you?" Dr. G asked,
tenting his hands on the table. "If they are,
just say the word, and I'll make them stop.
They don't even have to visit again,
if you don't want to see them."

"I don't want to get anyone in trouble,"
Shiv protested, waving his hands
as if to erase the idea.

"Not in trouble, just out of your hair,"
Dr. G said, "if that's what you want."

"Not what I want, just -- I don't know,"
Shiv said. He ran his fingers through
his hair, the moment he let go, it
flopped right back into place. "They
keep asking about my plans and
what I like and -- it's not stuff
I think about, is all!"

"Shiv, that's what friends do,"
Dr. G said gently. "They talk about
plans to see if they could get together.
They ask what you like, so as to figure out
what would be fun to do or what kinds
of gifts you might enjoy. I'm sorry
that's so unfamiliar to you."

"I've survived Edison hugging me,
I can survive this too," Shiv said.
He'd been through plenty worse, and
it wasn't like the questions hurt him
anyhow. They just ... confused him
in ways he couldn't name.

"I brought the pastels, if you want
to draw while we talk, or not talk,"
Dr. G offered, opening his art case.

"Yeah!" Shiv said, reaching eagerly
for the packet that held the supplies.

"There's white or colored paper,"
Dr. G offered. He spread out
the contents of the main pocket.

"This one," Shiv said, pulling out
a large sheet the color of eggshells.
"There's this other kind of embroidery
that's all white thread on white cloth,
and it's called whitework."

"I'm familiar with it," said Dr. G.
My wife likes it, and so does Molly.
They each have several blouses in
that style. Aida prefers redwork, though."

"Yeah, I can see that," Shiv said
as he set up the workspace and
gathered the palest pastels.

He smoothed the creamy colors
over the page, ivory and beige
and a vaporous gray. There
was a faint icy blue, too, but
Dr. G had taken that one.

It felt good just to swirl them
together, following patterns
more felt than seen, like when
he had smoothed the fork lines
out of his machete. Perfect.

"You know, you'll need to start
thinking about your future soon,"
Dr. G said. "Early release
changes a lot of things."

"I know, I know," Shiv said.
He hated trying to make plans,
though, because he always did it
wrong and then things turned out
differently anyway. "Just not today,
okay? I've already got Wacker on me
about training schedules, and Rosie
on emotional exercises and --
it's just too much."

"Okay," Dr. G said, instead of
pushing him, and damn, Shiv
was getting so spoiled from that.
"We can talk about plans and
goals some other time."

Shiv realized that he had
gone about as far as he could
with his whitework, even though
Dr. G was only about half finished
with his blue-and-gray picture.

Shiv peeled up the tape and
replaced the white page
with a black one.

"I hope I haven't brought
your mood down," Dr. G said.

"You haven't," Shiv said. "I just
need a change of perspective.
I figure if I can see what I'm
doing better, that might help."

"Good idea," said Dr. G, returning
his attention to his own picture.

Shiv dotted the page with white
and silver snowflakes, feathered in
wisps of clouds, and then drew
a thin sliver of moon in pearl.

He couldn't see much of the future,
not yet, just these tiny glimpses like
the wink and gleam of snowflakes
against a dark winter sky ...
but he was beginning to believe
that he might have one.

"I'm drawing uncertainty today,"
said Dr. G. "Any idea what
you're working on over there?"

The answer came to Shiv as he
gazed at the fragments of light
sprinkling the black page.

"Hope," he whispered.

* * *


Color theory explains how colors work together, including the use of limited palettes. Here's a lesson combining art and emotions. These exercises focus on different limited palettes.

Warm and cool colors most often refer to sets (red, orange, yellow vs. green, blue, purple) but can also refer to variations within a single color (warmer scarlet and cooler crimson). Here is an exercise contrasting warm and cool colors. This one uses warm and cool colors to contrast between land and sky. This worksheet explores color theory. T-American creme pastels, like oil pastels, come in sets of warm colors like this batch. Here is a review of cool tones and their pastels.

Analogous colors are adjacent on the color wheel. Here is an exercise in analogous colors for oil paint.

Values refer to light and dark in colors. This exercise in value drawing is for charcoals.

Monochromatic art uses a range of lighter and darker values within the same color. Here are some examples of monochromatic art and photography. Learn how to paint in monochrome. Check out this exercise for a monochromatic winter scene.

Emotional colors include green envy, yellow jealousy, blue depression, rose counterpoint, red and black anger.

I have a clear glitter pen. These things are awesome.

Colored paper makes an interesting base for drawings, especially very dark papers. There are tips for using pastels on dark paper.

Lighter colored paper is good for different things. You can test values and build up light to dark areas. Here are some lovely colored drawing papers and instructions for tinting your own paper.

Gang members have a very short life expectancy, which includes not thinking about the future because they don't expect to have one. However, don't blame gangs for this: it is the same for almost all poor people. They "make bad choices" because they are not permitted any good ones. Shiv's experience growing up was just like that. Furthermore, gang life often outcompetes socially approved alternatives such as churches simply by meeting people's needs better. Poor kids need money and crave acceptance; gangs provide that. In order to outcompete the gangs, outreach organizations must understand what people need and then deliver it, better than the gangs. Here are some effective strategies for assisting people in leaving gangs.

Here is an example of white ink on white paper. This works best with glossy gel ink on matte paper, white pencil/pastel on off-white paper, or some other subtle contrast.

Drawing with circles/ovals is a basic art skill, along with other simple shapes. You can construct a figure with these basic shapes, then add detail. Use blocking to compose a picture. See stages of art from sketch to color.

You can use ovals to draw a polar bear.

Learn how to make a polar bear from snow. Regrettably, when children make creative snow sculptures instead of ordinary ones, adults often disapprove and imply that something is wrong with the child. Their hard work and originality is rarely valued. Peer rejection is another problem. These images are typical of Shiv's experience with snow sculptures.

"Polar Bear in a Snow Storm" is a running gag in the art world. However, some people have actually done it, such as this lovely example by Bruce Shingledecker.

Steepling hands can indicate thought.

The body language of hair can reveal anxiety or withdrawal through touching or covering. These are examples of defensive body language. Exposing means confidence or aggression.

Floppy hairstyles may be unparted, center parted, or swept so as to cover one or both eyes. These styles facilitate hiding and revealing gestures. Learn how to style the emo hair.

Whitework embroidery customarily uses white thread on white cloth, as in this example. White thread on black cloth is another variation. Explore some techniques of whitework embroidery.

Whitework art typically refers to white on black pictures. Learn about drawing with white pencils on black paper, like this picture.

This set of pastels offers shades of gray between black and white. Another set offers the palest of pastels.

Boundaries in therapy can prove challenging, because different people need different things, and if you set them too loose OR too rigid, that causes problems. There are tips for therapists. Also clients should think about setting boundaries.

There are also metallic pastels. and pearl ones.

Hope is an important key to the future. It has many benefits. Here are some ways to cultivate hope.
Tags: art, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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