Once Upon a Pistachio — and the What If Factor

by Susan G Holland

Snack time begot a stream of art experiments this week.

The snack did not last long; I love pistachios and watching a ballgame, whether saying yay or boo, is a very good time for pistachios.

Which left me with a bowl full of empty shells. And I then wondered what would happen if I put some watercolor and some gum-arabic infused water into each little shell half.

Would they become runny, and how would it look if they “ran over” onto a surface?

WHAT IFs have been at the heart of my motivation all my life. I think I would have become a complete recluse except for the What if? factor. And I’m glad for that.

And so I have played with pistachio shells all week, with painty ones, and with shells embedded in gesso. Shells flooded and then removed. Shells turned over into gesso. Shells removed from gesso to leave craters or gouges.

And gum arabic, an ingredient that is found in a lot of food, actually, but has also played a key factor in artmaking — lithography, for instance, where it makes water wetter so that oil based ink rolled on a stone surface will not make marks where a water/gum arabic solution has been washed over it.

The results of my many hours spent with these pistachio shells have ranged from the absurd to the sublime. Even funny, as in singing crocodiles! And gross, as in rows of decayed teeth! They have taken my textured two-dimensional experimentation to the mountains and to the sea!

I have gone to bed with stains under my fingernails that were made with gum arabic solution — that makes water wetter, as I said above, and makes stains get under the skin surface and make indelible greens and scarlets on my fingertips. Gesso sticks to things as well. Especially Hard, Sandable Gesso.


So what else did I get from my efforts? 
The jury is still out, but I have some serious encouragement from one seasoned artist friend who says I must stop NOW on the first experiment because it is finished and ready to show! (That surprised me, frankly. I am not entirely persuaded, but it is cooling its jets now on the easel.)

Left side: perhaps a building disintegrating in a city? Right side: perhaps a vase of something.

And the second experiment? It’s still drying, but I have had a great time fiddling with it, and then bringing it to the computer for some digital fun.

I think the one on the left looks confectionery, the middle looks like a brook, and the right is definitely a rock jetty with crashing waves.

Does this look like fun? It really is. It is like an indoor amusement park, in a way, taking the artist from aghast and fearful to relieved and happy.

I will never give up “What Ifs”… I think my life has been fueled by exactly this.
It might not have impressed some of my teachers, or my parents, or my puzzled practical-minded friends. But it invigorates me. I’m not quitting.

Art, photography, and story by Susan G Holland ©2017