At the Edge: A Painting in Words

Painting with words


I was recently challenged by a reader to describe one of my paintings with words. The idea was to convey the same meaning with words that I suggested through colors, textures and images. I was asked to place the reader within my “word painting’ and describe the sights, sounds, and smells; to articulate the feelings and emotions connected with the scene. In essence, I was charged with using words to make my painting come alive in a new way. I was intrigued by the idea and wondered if I was capable of meeting this challenge.

It was suggested that a landscape or seascape might be appropriate for this exercise, but I could not resist selecting a painting that included a person—a young man looking back in fear at something unseen. Rife with movement and emotion, it is perhaps too easily translated into words, but I will defend the selection in order to ensure the descriptions are sufficiently compelling. I painted in oils on a 4’ x 4’ canvas and titled the piece, “At the Edge.”


Oil Painting references and materials from Amazon.com

At the Edge

At the Edge  Oil on canvas.  By Mike Lickteig
At the Edge Oil on canvas. By Mike Lickteig
Conte crayon study for oil painting.  By Mike Lickteig
Conte crayon study for oil painting. By Mike Lickteig
At the Edge:  Detail
At the Edge: Detail

At the Edge: An Oil Painting


The Style

The composition takes the eye in a clockwise circular motion, starting with the central figure and moving down and to the left. The eyes move upward on the left side as the rocks from the cliff point toward the clouds and mountain range seen near the top of the of the painting. The mountains lead the eye directly to the right edge. The painting is predominantly filled with warm colors, and even the blues and grays of the water and skies contain hints of red and green.

The painting rejects realism in favor of an illustrative, cartoonish style. Motion is suggested in a style reminiscent of comic book characters leaping into action. Shapes and forms are conveyed through lines rather than color, light or texture. Black outlines are not utilized but would not seem out of place in this piece. The central figure is exaggerated and oddly proportioned, with unusually large hands and fingers. The face and head is also large and almost skeletal in appearance, with sunken eyes and pronounced cheekbones. The subject and painting style are in stark contrast; the mood and emotional intensity are incongruent with the comic-like style of the painting. A light-hearted viewing of the intense, fearful face and crouched figure is not possible and therefore viewers might not know how to appropriately interpret or respond to the dissimilar visual images.


The Locale

The point of view for this painting is the edge of a cliff. The rocks at the perimeter form a protective ring around the precipice. The stones are pointed but not sharp. Time has eroded their jagged edge; the rocks themselves no longer deal death, although they are still dangerous. The cliff itself is barren—it is devoid of grass, trees or any other living organism.

The skies are dark and turbulent, alive with purples, blues and reds. Storm clouds filled with rain are fast approaching on the horizon, represented with bulbous blue and gray circles. Beyond the cliff lies a vast expanse of water. The waters below are relatively calm, despite the turbulence in the skies. A mountain range looms on the horizon in silent witness to the events of the day.

A solitary figure dominates the composition. It is a long-limbed man with exaggerated features. He is tall and thin but clearly possesses a wiry strength. His hair is long and free-flowing, blown about by winds from the approaching storm. He is casually dressed in a pink tee-shirt and cut-off blue jeans, and he has traversed the rocky terrain without shoes or supplies. Perhaps his presence at the cliff was sudden and unplanned—he certainly isn’t dressed for a hike in the mountains.


The Situation

The young man crouches at the foot of a desolate precipice. Why is he there? The utter lack of plant or animal life suggests this is a place to meet death, but we do not know his true purpose. His body language suggests an intention to take action. Does his crouched position and tensed muscles foretell an intention to jump? Whatever the man’s purpose at the cliff, he has hesitated. He turns back in response to someone or something unseen. His eyes widen in fear and his jaw drops. Was he followed to the cliffs, or is he reacting to something inside himself? Are the storm clouds a metaphor for the pent-up emotions he feels so acutely?

The mountains stand in silent witness to what will happen next. How often has this scene been played out over time? Man has changed little throughout the centuries and there is nothing new in the universe. Whatever occurs next has happened before and will happen again.

Do the calm waters reflect the man’s desire to jump into a serene environment? Does he believe he will find peace at the bottom of the cliff, safe at last from the fears that have followed him to the brink? Will he be freed from what pursues him and causes so much fear and anguish?

If he has come to the cliff to jump, his demeanor suggests the decision is not yet finalized. He still struggles with the demons that have chased or followed him to the edge. His troubles offer no opportunity for introspection, and he remains undecided and anguished. There is nothing to suggest the serenity one might expect to accompany a final resolution. Whatever he has come to the cliff to find, it is not forthcoming.


What happened?


If this painting tells a story, it does not suggest a final outcome. I put the question to you: what happened? Was there a resolution to the young man’s dilemma? Did he jump, or did he turn to face his fears? Was this a seminal and transforming moment for him, or was this instant repeated over and over throughout the course of his “life”?

There are, of course, no answers. This is just a painting. The mountains, cliffs and the sea below are an artist’s imagination. The young man never existed.

Or did he?


Comments 48 comments

WildIris 6 years ago

What an interesting writing exercise. I am going to tuck this idea away for later use. So many possibilities here. What if you were a character in a story charged with describing a painting, this painting? What exactly does this edge smell like? I most especially like the situation you describe.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

Hi Mike,

That must have been an interesting exercise, putting your own work into words. I'm not sure why but I particularly like the crayon drawing...it reminds me of an Edvard Munch!

The man in the painting looks as though he has turned to the viewer in fear/despair, as all is revealed in his expression. At the same time he seems to be holding up his hand to forbid the leap into oblivion...his face says maybe but his hand says NO!

I don't think he'll jump.

Anyway...good job.


hathibelagal profile image

hathibelagal 6 years ago from A jungle inn

That gives an amazing perspective and insight into the painting.


SilentReed profile image

SilentReed 6 years ago from Philippines

Muted tones of indecision / colors the choice between life or death / Man stands on the edge each day / as God the unknown watch in silence. ~ my interpretation. :)


Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

I am convinced that words can paint feelings with the same intensity, or even more so than brushes; the power of suggestion allows the reader to fill in more emotions and relate better to the situation that remain open for interpretation. I have a poem called just that: "Painting feelings" that has been published about 10 days ago by "Eye of Life" magazine


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

I love the choice of colors they signify to me a calmness yet a fearlessness by the young man. He puts out his left hand as if to hold them back, yet with indecision.

He looks back in fear yet in curiosity as if thinking should I take this leap into the unknown? His right hand is also clinging tightly to possibly a rock. I believe there is a lot of uncertainty in this young man.

Should I jump or not? Nicely done Mike. I loved this painting by the way, you are not only a talented writer but surely and artist as well. I hope others are benefiting by your work.


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

Verrrry interesting, Mike, as that long ago character on the TV program, "Laugh-In" might say.

Your intriguing artwork could be the basis for a new-age Rorshach test. The viewer would be asked what does that locale suggest to you? What do you think the man is thinking? And why? Is he saying something? What will he do next?

All the answers provided would then indicate clues to the viewer's state of mind.

No charge for this analysis.


acaetnna profile image

acaetnna 6 years ago from Guildford

Beautiful and I just love anything to do with colour, they signify SO much. Great hub, thank you.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

WildIris, thanks for stopping by and reading. The idea came from someone who commented on one of my poems--he thought it would be intriguing to see how clearly a picture could be conveyed through words alone. I confess I cheated in a way--I offered a look at the painting I was describing, as well, but the article seemed incomplete without some reference to what I was talking about.

I like the notion of changing the context slightly. How would a character from a story describe this painting? It is an interesting idea.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment--I appreciate it greatly. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Jane, thanks for offering your insights. I agree, the facial expressions say one thing and the body language--in this case, the hands--say another. Perhaps he feels jumping is the only solution but still prefers not to--that would be logical.

I liked the conte crayon version of the painting also, although it didn't photograph well for this venue. I often find the preliminary sketches to be just as valuable as the finished product--the exploration of an idea often yields subtle creative gems.

Thanks again for stopping by, I enjoyed your comments a great deal.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Hathibelagal, thanks for reading. Your kind words are much appreciated. Stop by again any time.

Mike


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Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

SilentReed, thanks very much for your interpretation. It was quite poetic, and I am very much in agreement with your words. Thanks again, my friend. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Petra, thanks for stopping by. It is hard to say whether words or images can strike an emotional chord more efficiently, but both can reach for unsurpassed emotional highs (and lows) when utilized effectively. That is the joy and beauty of creating through words or pictures.

Thanks for the info about your poem, and congratulations on its publication. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Saddlerider, thanks for stopping by. I am always glad to see you've left a comment or two. The uncertainty in the young man was intended, and even when I painted it--long before I decided to write about this--I intended the outcome to be in doubt. What was really happening, and why? How did this incident conclude? These were all questions meant to be asked by the viewer. In this case, I asked them myself in the form of this hub.

I appreciate your kind words about my skills, both as a writer and an artist. Coming from one whose creative judgment I respect so very much, I am honored.

Thanks again for your comments and insights.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Drbj, thanks for your insights. I would be honored to be the inspiration for a new form of Rorshach test, although my name doesn't flow quite so lyrically as "Rorschach."

I will confess that even as a college student, I always explored the psychological aspects of painting--even before experimenting with the paint. The image was the thing, and paint was my tool for conveying it. I am now more taken by the things one can do with paint in creating textures than I once was, and in some respects the psychological aspects of my art has been de-emphasized. I will confess I still enjoy talking about it, though--every bit as much as I liked hearing my fellow art students speculate on what my paintings meant in a critique. Ah, to be young again.

Well, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comments. Let me know if the new Rorshach thing takes off, okay? Oh, and I appreciate the no-charge.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Acaetnna, thank you very much for stopping by. I'm glad you found something of interest in my work. Thanks again, and take care.

Mike


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

That was so interesting. Personally I think in any or at least most that something deep inside takes control and we often are amazed ourselves when it is completed and have to wonder if someone else or at least a part deep inside us has said more than we know to understand completely. Isn't that why we have to keep coming back to it? To see what needs shown or sad today? They become like children to us don't you think, or a love, a deep possession even.


Underworld-Craft profile image

Underworld-Craft 6 years ago

Your painting got me thinking. Its synonym in words.... Well, it's for the mood of your painting I greet you today. Thanks for easying my riotious beats!


vzen profile image

vzen 6 years ago

Well Done, I could have pictured the painting almost completely with out seeing it at all. You are a talented writer and artist.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 6 years ago from London, UK

Beautiful Pictures, Mike. I enjoyed reading the Illustrations too. Thanks.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Your words perfectly described the painting and it was nice to see both...the words and painting in one format. You are highly talented in executing both.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Polly, thanks for stopping by. I agree that we are often gripped by forces unknown and often unseen. They move and inspire us, and when all is said and done, they become part of us. Thanks so much for your insights--as always, they are greatly appreciated.

Mike


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Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Underworld-Craft, thanks for visiting my page and reading my words. I am pleased you found something in them you could relate to. Thanks again.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Vzen, thanks for visiting. If you could picture my painting through the words I chose, you accomplished exactly what I had hoped. Thanks as well for the kind words, they are greatly appreciated. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Elena, thanks for stopping by. I am always grateful for your comments. Thank you for the kind words about my work. Take care and have a great week.

Mike


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Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Peggy, thanks for stopping by and reading my latest work. I enjoyed writing this a great deal, and perhaps I might do something similar in the future. Thanks again, I'm glad you enjoyed my work.

Mike


Judicastro profile image

Judicastro 6 years ago from birmingham, Alabama

Hi mike,

I keep going back to how he is positioned. What comes to mind is a young man who has been driven to the cliff out of desperation, be it a love lost, despair due to his back is up the wall or perhaps something or someone has forced him there. Whatever the reason I see his position as if he has been down on his knees or "honches"(sp?). Almost a praying position, a last cry for direction, still in a small way clinging to a hope for deliverance. Something has startled him and he. begins to fall back and as he does he throws out his hand to catch himself. That when you see the fear, it's as if all that he was running from has found him.

Great painting mike, I am surrounded in my family by artists so I appreciate a true gift.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Judicastro, thanks for stopping by and offering your comments and insights. I enjoyed your analysis and confess that it is quite similar to what I imagined as I painted the painting.

Any painting with what could be labeled a "psychological content" is interesting. I gave great thought to the story the painting told when I conceived it--less so when it was time to start painting. There was a story in my mind when I made the original drawing. Your words capture its essence quite well. Thanks again for stopping by, I greatly appreciate it.

Mike


NikiiLeeReyes 6 years ago

Love this so many ideas; so Many things to work with here I love your workk it's absolutely woderful


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Nikii, thanks so much for stopping by. I am glad you enjoyed my writing and artwork. Take care.

Mike


prey profile image

prey 6 years ago from places you should hope we never meet

Hi Mike, what talent you have to do what you do. Thank you, really enjoyed it.

I like to think he turned and faced his fears as regardless the outcome, he did what was true to himself, and he will always know truth. Pride. Then, I really believe a true deep sense of serenity.

Very cool. Do Miss you [we all do]


mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 6 years ago from Florida

An absolutrly fascinating hub, Mike. While not a painter or poet myself, I have enjoyed teaching both. I loved seeing you combine the two.

Somehow, I am reminded of two painters--Dali and Van Gogh. I know that is a strange linking, but it is what popped into my feeble brain.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Prey, thank you for your comments. I appreciate both your kind words and your sensitivity. If the young man turned and faced his fears, hopefully the serenity and truth you mentioned followed.

I haven't been able to be around as much as I like recently, and I miss everyone here, also. I hope I will not be forgotten. Thanks again for your kindness.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Mysterylady, thanks for stopping by. Obviously, I am tremendously honored and flattered that anything about my work reminds you of Dali and/or Van Gogh. I will confess that their work inspired much of my early paintings, and perhaps this painting shows a bit of their influence. Both artists were terrific and I admired them very much. Dali's dream images were very important to me--they showed me that the images in my head were valid and that I wasn't crazy (lol)! Van Gogh demonstrated that it is okay to reach down into the depths of one's emotion and use that emotional energy for creative fuel. Both lessons were very important to me in the early days of my painting career.

Thanks again for reading and offering your comments. I am appreciative.

Mike


mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 6 years ago from Florida

When I taught Humanities, each year I would take my students on a field trip to the Dali museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. This involved a great deal of work -- getting permission slips, collecting money, arranging bus transportation, making lunch reservations. But giving them the opportunity to see that delightful museum was worth the effort. I love Dali. I own two signed and numbered lithographs of his, as well as several other prints. His double images are fascinating!

When I taught Van Gogh, I always played Don McLean's "Vincent," and I had to fight back the tears. Btw,I used Van Gogh for details in my hub on writing an expository essay. If you get a chance, please check it out.

I admire your talent, both as an artist and as a writer.


Amy Becherer profile image

Amy Becherer 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Dear Mike: I paint with oils also. In the process of painting or writing, I become equally engrossed. I stop for a "step back" while painting or writing. Watching a blank canvas come to life is part of the process for me. While I am in the act of painting, it is easy to lose sight of the whole picture. Stepping back and viewing the "life" you are creating is exhilarating and surprising. I find my paintings to be much better than I thought at close range. Perspective from a distance, shadows and variations combine to give me enormous pleasure. Writing, for me, is more subtle. I may try your exercise sometime, but I feel sure that the write will not be able to incorporate the life and vitality of paints on canvas. For me, a description cannot compete with the visuals of variations, expression, vivid colors, shadows, angles, impressions and depth in a painting. Your piece was well written, and a very interesting concept. I enjoyed it very much. Thank you


Khalysha profile image

Khalysha 6 years ago

I was searching for poetry writers when I found your work. I have a passion for poetry and also for painting and for me that piece is really beautiful. I will love to see more of your work and learn from you.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Mysterylady, thanks for returning. I will say that there is a power in seeing art "up close and live" that can't be duplicated by looking at art in books or online. There is a true beauty in seeing how big the canvas really is, and how the paint is applied. There is also a feeling of being a tiny bit closer to the artist--the painting is the link from our lives to that artist who might have lived hundreds of years ago. To offer this to your students must have been tremendously gratifying, even with all the work involved.

I am a huge fan of both Dali and Van Gogh. I have seen some of their art in galleries and I am continually amazed at the beauty of their work. I am a fan of so many artists, of course, but these two are truly special.

Thanks again for coming back. I appreciate it a great deal.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Amy, thanks so much for stopping by. Comments like yours are what every writer hopes for, and I thank you for such a thoughtful response. Creators make something from nothing, and it is a blessing and a joy to see it happen. As you suggest, sometimes we need to step back from our work to more fully appreciate and comprehend exactly what we have made. It is a joy to find something in our work that surprises us.

Writing is indeed an entirely different story. I wasn't certain how my effort to describe my art would turn out. As an early effort, I am comfortable with what I wrote. I will say it was far more challenging than I first imagined, and I confess that I probably did not devote sufficient time to describing the images and techniques. Eventually the writing became something else, and it seemed important to write something "readable". Part of the challenge, but perhaps a part I didn't see until later. It's one thing to describe a painting with words--quite another to make someone want to read it.

Thanks again for stopping by and offering your insights. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Khalysha, thanks for reading. I am gratified that you found my work to be of value and enjoyable. I am not confident yet as a poet, but I am trying. Thanks again for reading, and I hope you will read more of my work soon. Take care.

Mike


bellawritter23 profile image

bellawritter23 6 years ago from California

Very Creative! Can not wait to read another.

Bellawritter23


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Bellawritter, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your kind words. Come back again any time.

Mike


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

It's cool, brillant and yet is it real? I think it's an artist who's reaching to create a different sort of art other than that of the norm yet more into this current temperature of creation with the cutting edge cartoon venturing into the future and morphing between reality in historical art and merging into the future of what's to be or CAN be! Rated up! Peace :)


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Katie, thanks for reading. This painting was certainly an effort to stretch some boundaries, both in the cartoon-like style of drawing (which many considered inappropriate for a painting) and the intended psychological content of the piece. Writing about it was an effort to push the boundaries further yet, making it both more and less obvious. I admit that I was enormously pleased to find your comments, and references to cutting-edge work thrills me. I have always wanted to make what I did mean more than it would if I settled for more traditional painting styles or subjects. I am honored that you see what I was aiming for. Thank you so very much.

Mike


Voice 6 years ago

I really loved this painting. It expressed many things.

I too see the world in cartoon. Everytime I have attempted to capture what I see or feel on a medium it always comes out in some cartoon style.

Maybe this is how we deal with the real world...

As always your verbage is excellent. Always giving food for thought.

Hope you are well


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Voice, thanks for stopping by! It's nice to hear from you again! I am doing well, but work has overtaken me and limited my time here, and for most other things as well. Thanks for looking for me here. I appreciate the kind words about my painting. When I see others are able to see the world in ways similar to how I see it, it tells me I'm not crazy (lol)! So, it is always nice to know that my vision is shared on some level or other.

I hope you're getting along well. I have wondered how you were doing and hoped things were good (or at least improved). Thanks for taking a peek back in here, and feel free to stop by or email. Take care, and I hope you have a good Thanksgiving holiday.

Mike


BigSerious profile image

BigSerious 5 years ago from Harrisburg, PA

Hi, Mike! This was a great suggestion. It'd be fascinating to carry it on; ask somebody who hasn't read your own words to look at the painting and do exactly as you have here (preferably somebody who's writing you admire). The juxtaposition would give so much insight into how far-reaching your art can go when viewed by another person.

What I find so captivating are the slight differences in the oil and conte crayon pieces. The crayon piece says to me "I'm deathly afraid, and I'd rather take my chances in what I can't see below than truly turn to face the breath on my back" - yet the painting says, "I'm scared, but I'm also determined." Perhaps it's the slight differences in the mouth? The crayon has a mouth more open and ready to scream, while the other seems to be holding the scream back, saying, "I'm not THAT scared yet..."

I always wanted to paint and never have; instead, I got a million free art classes by being an art model at RIT in Rochester, NY. Studying each student's interpretation of the same model was fascinating. I'd sketch in my own notebook after paying careful attention to the teacher's instruction. I'd love to try again. Also, I'd love to see other writers' interpretation on this same painting - that's why ending your article with your question was a brilliant stroke! I then wanted to be sure to read them all...

Excellent work. Great talent. Thank you for sharing this!


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Christen, thank you. I appreciated your insights and your analysis a great deal. So much can be inferred from subtle details, as you have pointed out through your comparison of the painting and the conte crayon drawing. If it interested you and you were ever willing, I would be very tempted to ask you to write a hub analyzing some of my artwork in this manner. Your descriptions of the work above were very intriguing, and I would be fascinated to see what you might say about other work. I realize you doubtless have many, many ideas for articles without taking requests, but if the mood ever strikes..........

I would happily encourage you to take up drawing or painting if you ever get the urge. Like writing, it is an extremely satisfying means of expression, especially when things come together well. Your observations about the differences in each artist's interpretation of a model was good, and it makes me miss being in an environment with other artists, drawing in one room together and comparing what we had done. Those were fine days and a great learning environment.

Thanks for your comments, I greatly appreciate them.

Mike

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