Story Behind the Painting: “Within/Without”

“Within/Without” (transparent watercolor on paper,15 x 22 in.)

“In response to a call for entries for a themed juried show earlier this year, I originally created the watercolor self-portrait Within/Without as one half of a diptych,” says Joanna Barnum. “The other half of thevdiptych (not seen here) was honestly a miserable failure. I finished up both pieces in a stressful flurry right before my original deadline and submitted them anyway. I was rejected from that particular show, and immediately lost the yucky  half of the project to the bottom of my flat file, never to be seen  again. However, I decided that I was pleased with this half of the pair and that it stood on its own as a single finished piece I could submit to future exhibits.

“To create this painting, I began with a preliminary drawing based on a reference photo I had taken of myself using a camera timer. Over this drawing, I applied textural abstract shapes of masking fluid using a big rough brush. They loosely followed the areas where I would later insert the plant imagery. I painted the figure and background mostly to completion, and then removed the masking fluid. Then I put in the raspberry brambles. The imagery of the plants intentionally did not precisely fit into the abstract white shapes I had preserved, adding a greater sense of chaos and painterliness to the final piece. I often use this method of rough application of masking fluid to combine imagery in my paintings and to add abstract, textural elements.

“Within/Without” in progress

“When I first started this piece, I thought the brambles symbolized  the difficulty of achieving meaningful connection with other people and the loneliness of introversion. But as I was working on the painting, I was also beginning a practice of mindfulness meditation.  By the time I was finished, I discovered that the painting seemed to be about finding a moment of peace and clarity within mental chaos.

“I am delighted and honored that my painting Within/Without was awarded the Gold Medal at this year’s Baltimore Watercolor Society Mid-Atlantic Regional Exhibition. The juror was David Lobenberg, and the show runs through July 13, 2019 at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown, Maryland.”


  1. Joanna, I find this self portrait to be one of the most arresting ones I’ve seen in a long time. Your descriptions of process and intent were also very intriguing and I think your goals were very well met. Both are the kind of effort that make me wish I could get to know you better. Very well done! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Wonderful painting Joanna and well deserved the award. I enjoyed each step, every image in the process separately and all together. There is a depth of imagery and content to this work all mixed with technical expertise. Bravo!

  3. Joanna, have met and admired David Lobenberg for many years. Your painting reminded me of him and I was thrilled to see it was he that awarded you first place. You have captured so much on this watercolor paper. Congratulations


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here