The Paint Brush


18×24″, oil on linen, 2008


Private collection


In 2008 this piece was awarded First place and People’s Choice Award at the Portrait Society of Canada Annual Portrait Competition. Also in 2008, it received a Certificate of Excellence from the Portrait Society of America.

I asked no other thing,

No other was denied.

I offered Being for it;

The mighty merchant smiled.


Brazil? he twirled a button,

Without a glance my way:

“But, Madam, is there nothing else

That we can show to-day?”


~Emily Dickinson

The speaker is bargaining with fate, personified as a merchant. She single-mindedly asks for just one thing, and is so determined to have it that she registers no other request. She offers her soul and her very existence for it, but in response, the merchant simply smiles. Is it a smile of acquiescence, or, more likely, a smile of incredulity? The merchant tries to tempt her with his other wares, and we are left not knowing whether the merchant will give in, or the speaker will give up.

The best explanation for the meaning of this painting and its significance to me is in the verse I quoted from Emily Dickinson. It is the first verse of a poem, the full version of which here is as noted.

I dubbed this piece “The Paintbrush” as a clue to what it was that I myself was bartering for. I painted this portrait right as I finished my studies and had barely begun to sell work. It was a look at myself, the uncertainty of my career, and the general incredulity that met my naivety for actually believing I could, and would, feed myself and pay my bills with my art.

I held onto this piece for a few years, during which I had some successes and some failures. It hung on my studio wall and looking back I think it was helpful in reminding me who I was and just what I was working for. I like to think that the sale of this piece answered the uncertainty expressed by the poem.

kate@katestoneart.com | 250-709-7441