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!


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