While I'm somewhat disappointed that he still seems very remote (and maybe that is the real character of the man), a couple of things stand out. First, that as soon as he knew what painting was, he knew he had to do it. He kept painting even when he hated what he was being taught, even when he had no money and no overcoat in a frigid Paris winter. When he proposed to his wife, he told her that while he loved her dearly, he would always love painting more. Second, he painted what he saw, and refused to make it pretty by adding fashionable floral embellishments and fluttering cherubs. (I'm suddenly taken by the idea of plunking a couple of putti into one of his dark gray-green still lifes. We could call it "Matisse loses a bet to Bougereau") What he saw was so strongly influenced by the area where he grew up and by his instructors' perception that the grays and browns of that landscape comprised the only appropriate palette for an artist. It took years and years to begin to perceive things in color; being a romantic, I think that his wife's consistent love and admiration added much to the widening of his vision
The thing is, he couldn't just start slapping red and purple paint onto the familiar vases and crocks he painted over and over. We think that would be an easy thing, but that's because we've grown up seeing Matisse and Picasso and Pissarro and Cezanne. He had to start to see/think the color that other people could not. I'll learn more about this in the second volume, subtitled "The Conquest of Colour."
So now I'm trying to look more carefully and to describe what I see. It changes the process; I've often reacted to the materials in front of me rather than seeking out materials that reflect an idea. "What can I make out of this?" rather than "What fabric best shows how I feel about the ocean?" It's time-consuming. Fortunately, working with watercolor is way faster than fiber art and messing with color in this medium is infinitely more flexible. Also, there's this cool crossover--while it's difficult to render texture in paint, it's a snap with fiber! Preparing for the show next fall is starting to seem very exciting.