Going to the Fairy Ball

This is a photo my daughter Susan just took on her phone of her daughter Nora getting her costume ready to go to a "Fairy Ball" themed party with her little friends. Nora is totally into this Cinderella type fantasy of silks, ribbons, shiny stars and magic wands. She's just turned four and there's been a remarkable transformation. She's suddenly infatuated with the romance of these new "girlie" sorts of themes. Figurines, stickers, castles... the works. She's having a ball.

In a lot of ways, artists are really four year olds. We love nothing better than plunging into our private reveries and fantasies to see if they can be mined to make art. When I was exactly my grand daughter Nora's age, my family moved to a then remote forested hillside on the shore of Lake Ontario in New York State. To my young eyes, it seemed like we'd gone to live in some as yet undiscovered new world. It felt to me totally untamed and wild. At night I'd hear animal noises coming from the darkened trees and know there were more than ordinary creatures out there. This was more of a magic realm than an new neighborhood.

Now the trick is to honor the fact that I'm an adult. I've picked up a mountain of skills in my journey from being four to now. But I think for artists, one special skill has to be remaining in the thrall of your deepest enthusiasms. Like the ones that so captivated you when you were four.

Philip Koch, Mountain Forest, vine charcoal, 7 x 14", 2009

When I started going to Maine to paint, it reminded me ever so much of how the Lake Ontario home felt to me when I was little. Maine is the one place in the East where a lot of the wildness of the deep forest and the rocky shore is palpable.

Philip Koch, Monhegan, Morning, oil on panel, 9x 12", 2009

It's not that I take leave of my senses when I go to Maine. But something deep in my memory seems to rouse from slumber when I'm up there. The feelings of childhood with their inimitable freshness come closer to me.

Philip Koch, First Light, Deer Isle, vine charcoal, 7 x 14", 2009

When you're doing a painting or a drawing and it is going well, it seems to take on a life of its own. A certain spirit comes into it. It is just impossible to nail down with mere words .

Koch on Mount Desert Island, Maine September 2009

Here I am on an early morning on my most recent painting excursion in Maine. Considering I'd stayed up late the night before dancing with the other spirits at the Fairy Ball I felt pretty good and ready for more.


  1. Philip - love this post. I know exactly how you feel about Maine. This wild, pure, remote thing - its exactly why I moved here.

  2. Mary, you are envied by me (though the winters must test your resolve sometimes).

  3. Oh Philip! That expression on your granddaughter's face is priceless - you must paint that picture of her in her fairy costume!
    And I agree with the other Mary - I LOVE Maine!!


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