So I was in Seattle last month for the launch of this gorgeous anthology, The Better Bombshell, that I contributed to and that features 18 pairings between writers and visual artists answering the question who is the better bombshell? I worked with co-editor (along with Charlotte Austin) and artist Siolo Thompson to do a story/painting duet about an actual, real-life mermaid. “Break” is my fist story about a real-life mermaid, the kind I feature all the time on this illuminating blog, a modern-day woman who owns a mermaid tail and uses it to escape the drudgery of her every-day life. (I am quite sure that most of the mermaids I feature are a little happier than the woman in my story, but still.) I talk more about the story and what inspired it on the Better Bombshell blog a few days ago, and here’s a snippet from the story itself:
She looks at her tail that stretches down into an elaborate fluke, which she flips up and slaps down again on the cold, packed earth. The changing colors dazzle her.
And then she slips her tail in the water, scooches forward. It’s cold, but not as cold as she expected. Taking a breath, she slides in, pushing off the shallow bottom with her palms.
The water envelops her like a giant blanket, a pair of arms, a velvety chest she can lay her head on. Once Stephen had been like that to her: like a lake she could dive into. A warm bath. He’d run his hands over her body and remake her into something new.
She can’t imagine a man doing that for her now.
The world had been full of possibility once, she remembers. There’d been a time when everything had seemed within her grasp: she’d thought she might become an artist, an actress, a photographer. As a teenager it’d seemed like everything she tried was something she could be.
This is what she likes to imagine now: that she’s come from another place. That this life, here, is one she came to by accident, like a girl in a fairytale who’s lost her way in a dark wood. She knows this is how children think, imagining their real parents are kings and queens, fairies or other beings, with wings or tails or fur or sparkling antlers, rather than the regular, scolding people they’re stuck with, but in her case she knows she is right. That she was, once, something else.
Here is Siolo’s painting, both in-progress and finished:
Isn’t it beautiful? It turns out that Siolo’s drawn plenty of other mermaids in her time, too. Take a gander at these gems:
Below, I ask Siolo about her art, her mermaid art, and mermaids generally:
What inspires you as an artist? What are the subjects/themes of your painting?
As an artist I tend toward the fantastical, allegorical and whimsical. I love being able to imagine and create new worlds, tell stories, and re-fashion myself and others. As children we had this willingness to lay aside the ‘real’ world and live through our imaginations. It seems a great shame that people lose that sense of play as they get older. A lot of my work invites people to reconnect with the stories and myths and fantasy figures that captivated and inspired them as children.
How does a mermaid fit into this?
Mermaids are a perfect example of the kind of work I like to do. Mermaids are symbols of freedom, mystery, timelessness and beauty and they are also dangerous and a little dark – everything a good fantasy character should be! So many of us connect with mermaid imagery because it pulls on these primordial longings; our desires for freedom, power, beauty and the ability to escape the world. Carolyn, the story you wrote for The Better Bombshell illustrates my point really well. The character in the story found a much needed moment of escape from the disappointment and weight of her life by the simple act of putting on the mermaid tail and allowing herself to be a mermaid for a few precious minutes. I hope that my art can create that feeling for people—that they can look at something I have made and imagine themselves in a different world as a nymph or elf or faun or fairy or even a mermaid.
Have you ever painted a mermaid before?
I think my piece for The Better Bombshell is the first larger mermaid painting I have done but I draw a lot of mermaids. Looking through my files for mermaids and other mercreatures I found dozens of them. So yes, I guess I do draw a lot of mermaids!
How did you go about painting your mermaid for The Better Bombshell?
The mermaid painting for The Better Bombshell is very much a reflection of your story “Break.” I felt compelled to paint a mermaid that was close to the surface, looking down at the deep water as though pondering the divide between the two worlds. The character in the story is dealing with a lot of disappointment and the heavy burden of day to day drudgery. The water offers her an escape and the lovely weightlessness of being a mermaid. She has to go back up and face her life and take care of her responsibilities but there is a moment in
the story where as a reader I was not sure she was ever going to surface again. I wanted to paint that moment of tension.
For this painting I decided to work very loosely and without hard edges or heavy line work. I wanted to create the feeling of looking at the mermaid underwater. I did some watercolor sketches and then created the piece in oil paint so that I could blend and blur the work after I had things roughly drawn out.
Are you yourself susceptible to the mermaid’s allure? Do you have any advice for any aspiring mermaids and/or mermaid artistes?
Oh yes, I’m a mermaid for sure! I’ve always felt that given the choice between the gift of flight or water breathing, I would certainly choose the sea. The underwater world has always fascinated me. It’s a different universe just a slip away from ours, that is quite magical. As for advice for other mermaidly souls and artists perhaps it is this; don’t be too tied to “reality,” allow yourself to dream, allow yourself to imagine, swim free and always follow your heart.