Vincent's Yellow

a[n] [auto]biography and a love story.

First draft, first steps

One hundred and twenty five years later, the signature Vincent scratched off on a letter to his brother is engraved into my skin. It was my 28th birthday, I had finished the first draft of my book, and when the tattoo artist asked “you want it exactly the same as he wrote it, no?” I nodded with a knowing smile. His name marks the beginning of the end of a most incredible journey.

Two weeks ago when I finished my first draft, I realized that I was the same age as Vincent when he decided to become an artist. Suddenly, all the timing made sense to me, the many spinning cycles of the book were weaving themselves into a perfect close, and I knew that Vincent had delicately shepherded me into my first steps as an artist. The book is more of an artistic manifesto than I could have ever predicted, its foundations permanently set into my skin like his paint was absorbed into his canvas.

photo by Sean O'Brien

I am here to love the living in all times, to sing nature’s gospel, and reflect every buzzing beam of light into every dark and silent corner of the world. I have awakened to the shape of things, and now I ride Time’s ever-evolving gyre with beauty and history as my trusty trailblazers. And while I may doubt myself from time to time, it is impossible to doubt my path. Nothing can deter me from sharing Vincent’s yellow with the world, just as he shared it with me.

We need his yellow; the man proved it to me himself — through Time. For humanity cannot have enough of Vincent, we have recreated his story and his images millions of times in the century since his death, we make all nine hundred letters he wrote to his brother publicly available, and these days, it is a “once in a lifetime experience” to share a previously unknown painting of his with the world, a painting which he regarded as a failure. His studies become our treasures.

So when his painting escaped my locket one day not so long ago, I replaced it with my photograph of his yellow in his field of wheat in Auvers where he departed from this world. That light was his destiny. It is my destiny to share it.

Can I distill his soul, his colors, all he taught me, how he changed me, and the world, into a potent potion of words?

I whisper to you, dear reader, my greatest secret: I have all the ingredients.

Soon, you will be able to drink up yourself. For when I hold my first draft in my hands, it is heavy as a newborn, charged as a spell book, and eager to shine as the sun.

Soon you will be able to taste it, one orbit at a time, here at

Wed, September 11 2013 » Personal, Writing the Book » 2 Comments

Shapes Emerging

Dearest Reader,

I have been working hard on my book these past months and have finally begun to put it together! By that I mean, I have a stack of 88 pages of my first draft! I’ve dreamed my whole life of writing a book, and now it is becoming real between my fingers.

Right now I am focusing on the combination of Vincent’s narrative (excerpts from the newest translation of his letters printed in an amazing font based on his handwriting) and my narrative (journal entries about art and Vincent), and I will bring in my research in the second draft. Mostly because I am on a roll! I am finally putting my words next to his, and like a weaver, I watch the themes emerge from the entwined threads: doubt, depression, lost love, poverty — yes, but also faith in nature, distrust of society, an ardent desire to become a conduit of love, to spread beauty with our art and thus, discover the truth at humanity’s core.

Weaver, 1884

I am moving along our lifetimes chronologically: from 20 to 26 years old in my life, and from 27 to 37 years old in his life. It takes a lot of organization of over 700 hundred pages of text.

A mentor of mine pointed out years ago that I like to start big with my projects, and then edit, cut, and sculpt away the excess until I am left with what I was really pursuing. She was totally right, of course! This is happening on a grand scale for this book, however.

These are excerpts from Vincent's letters only, doesn't even include my writing!

I have seen the pages of my book in my head many times, but only now do I hold the pieces in my hands, only now do I hold my book in my hands.

But what’s your ultimate goal, you’ll say. That goal will become clearer, will take shape slowly and surely, as the croquis becomes a sketch and the sketch a painting, as one works more seriously, as one digs deeper into the originally vague idea, the first fugitive, passing thought, unless it becomes firm. (Between 22 and 24 or June 1880 to Theo)

This quote is from the first letter of Vincent’s that is in my book. He is around 27, and is just coming to understand that he is an artist. Like me, he resisted the idea at first. I contrast this letter with my first few journal entries about him, how I was wandering around Paris at 20, “falling in love with Van Gogh” as I called him then. I must admit it’s rather charming to reread my words as I fall deeper and deeper in love with his work, farther into the cavernous depths of my research, and creatively become ensorcelled with this project and its various iterations over the past six years.

One interesting stylistic element I have stumbled upon, was how to mark edits within a letter or entry. I remembered one scrapbooking tool I had come across months before, and well… I think it works damn beautifully.

And as I sift through his words and mine for the essence of our relationship, separating the wheat from the chaff with various tools and blades, I find I am once again reaping. Vincent planted the seeds over a century ago for me to find, and now they have blossomed and lured me to my task.

The most exciting news is that, looking at my pace, my book will be ready to send out to agents by the end of the year. I originally hoped to send out the first few chapters to agents now, but after reading up on some publishing advice it’s become clear I need to have a full draft I’m proud of before I start bothering agents. Either way, I’ve got a schedule now, and it’s conservative. I might even finish sooner!

I hope you’ll forgive me for my sporadic entries in the meantime, Reader. There is little I want more in my life right now than to finish this book. It drives me onward, endlessly, and chastises me when I work on anything else.

Art is jealous and demands all our time, all our strength… (6 June 1882 to artist and friend Anthon van Rappard)

Thu, June 7 2012 » Personal, Research, Writing the Book » No Comments

Editing and Envisioning the Book


I have been working away at my book, chopping up all the prints of scans for my journal (removing margins and unnecessary material) and it’s been quite time consuming! I kept wanting to update here, but also feeling the pressure of time. Here’s a view of my desk when I was in the middle of things.

You may notice my mentor sitting in the corner, making sure I’m doing good work… :) I had over 450 pages to edit and organize by date, including my personal journal from YellowEurope, which will be the backbone of my book.

I am realizing that this book will not look like anything normal whatsoever, but it will look good. Here’s how I’m organizing all my writing:

Now all this is just for my writing, but I also want to include as many quotes from Vincent’s letters as possible. Luckily, I’ve been reading his letters for years now and selecting favorite quotes to share via @Vincent_Says on Twitter and Vincent Gogh on Facebook. I have now started going through the painstaking process of organizing and selecting material from those documents, and also putting them in chronological order.

You might wonder, why organize all this material? The structure of the book will be such that it alternates between my journal excerpts (some in the form of letters addressed to Vincent) and excerpts from Vincent’s letters. I also want to throw in my research from various sources about him: biographical, art historical, scientific and mythological breakdowns of him and his work. One of my ambitions has always been to show all the sides of Vincent that I can, in order to look through that prism and perhaps get a glance at the truth of him.

All this means that Time will be the most complex element for the reader, as she or he bounces between periods as different as 2006 (when I first fell for Vincent), 1886 (when he first went to live in Paris), and 1936 (when his popularity began to explode). To allay any confusion, I am designing a dual timeline (almost like a double helix) with Vincent’s life and mine intertwining, yet echoing each other. The timeline will unfold in great detail at the back of the book, and there will also be a small timeline graphic on each page, marking the time from where that particular material is coming.

Why a timeline? Because Time is the land we are mapping.

Why a double helix? Because this project taught me that Time is cyclical.

Here’s my first draft (from October 2009!), where I graphed Vincent and my life side by side, time vs. personal fulfillment:

I know it’s small on this page, so click on the graphic (and then click on it again) and you will get the close-up version. Admittedly, all of Vincent’s mental collapses are not on this graph, but I did the best I could on the fly. Next up, I will take an updated version of this graph and turn it into a double spiral timeline for the book (vertical happiness will be translated into radial happiness). I don’t know how much all this will make sense to you Reader, but I had to at least try to tell you my plans, no?

Next week, I will start sending query letters to publishing houses. Gah! Wish me luck!

For now, I must return to the realm of words. Thus, as a parting gift: the sunflower in snow, only a few block from my apartment in Chicago.

Until next time…

Thu, February 23 2012 » Personal, Research, Writing the Book » No Comments