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Blood Water Paint

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Poetry (2018)
A debut novel based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father's paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome's most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

I will show you
what a woman can do.

298 pages, Hardcover

First published March 6, 2018

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Joy McCullough

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,802 reviews
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,743 reviews5,282 followers
March 10, 2022
Content warnings: sexual assault, misogyny, suicidal thoughts, violence, brief physical torture, victim-blaming, slut-shaming, murder, betrayal

I will show you what a woman can do.

When I was given the opportunity to participate in a blog tour for this book’s release, I was absolutely elated. I didn’t know much about the writing itself, but I knew that it was historical fiction (check), feminist (check), widely beloved by a slew of my favorite authors (check), and about an actual human being (check). Those were all of the traits that I was expecting, but what I wasn’t expecting was for the book to be written mostly in verse (incredible), partially in second-person narrative (haunting), one of the heaviest and most heart-breaking things I would ever read (devastated me), and one of the single most important works of literature to ever grace my shelf.

I wish men
would decide
if women are heavenly
angels on high,
or earthbound sculptures
for their gardens.
But either way we’re beauty
for consumption.

Artemisia’s words are beautiful, angry, passionate, and chilling—but if you already know where it’s headed, it’s a tough one to read. Have you ever watched two vehicles collide? It feels like time slows down right before it happens, and of course, you wish you could stop it before it begins, but you’ll never be quick enough. You’ll never manage to go back in time, to put yourself in exactly the right moment, the right space, to prevent these damages from occurring. That feeling—that utter helplessness—was precisely where I found myself through every page I turned.

She did not ask for the beauty that attracted him. She did not ask for gold and jewels. To you these might seem like unimaginable luxuries. But beauty is a heavy crown.
So is womanhood.

The painter isn’t some flawlessly happy protagonist: she’s angry, exhausted, and bitter, but in all the best ways. At such a young age, she’s already seen enough of the world to become jaded. We don’t have to watch Artemisia learn distrust—it’s already there, right where it’s been since the day of her birth. Right where it’s been since the day any baby girl is born into a world that wants to raise her like a lamb for the slaughter.

That’s just the way of things.
I beg and fight and scrape
for scraps while he just has to glance
upon a thing to make it

I adored Artemisia’s tenacity, her weariness with the world of men, because I related so strongly to it. After twenty-five years on this earth, I’ve seen and felt enough to nearly lose hope, and in the verses our painter weaves, there’s this beautiful, bittersweet sort of comfort. There’s a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, a voice saying, ”I know you’re angry. I know. Me, too.” It’s everything I wish I’d had as a little girl. It’s everything I want little girls to have, present and future. I want stories that tell young girls, already red-faced from the touches and gazes of society, that it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to want more, and better.

(Sometimes that’s all you need, my love—another woman’s faith in you.)

Alongside Artemisia’s poetry, we get brief glimpses of her late mother’s bedtime stories in prose. Her mother has passed on years before the story takes place, but the second-person narrative we’re given from her is so beautiful and fiery that it makes it impossible not to love her, despite never actually “meeting” her. We instantly see where Artemisia’s fire comes from. More than that, as a mother, I’m reminded of how easy that flame is to pass on when we nurture its spark.

(If you remember nothing else of Susanna, remember how she speaks her truth. She knows it will cost her something. She’s not aware yet quite how steep the cost will be, but still, she speaks her truth.)

And if you’re thinking to yourself that all of these words are empty insults flung at kindly, innocent victims, wrongfully attributed with malice where they meant only compliments and courting, Joy McCullough stops you there, too. Blood Water Paint isn’t just a story of anger and assault. Artemisia’s attacker isn’t just the handsome teacher with the roaming hands and hips—it’s the judge and jury, too. It’s the entire world of onlookers, literally torturing her in hopes that she will rescind her claims, accept the loss of what was ripped away from her and tuck herself away into a silent corner while the world spins on.

Is this all I get?

I wish I could say this was just a beautiful story, but what you have to know is that Artemisia was a real woman. This is her true, brutal story. These are her truths, taken from the chapters that will never make it into most history texts. More than just her truths, these are the truths of 1 in 6 American women (and 1 in 33 American men, with higher rates for trans women and trans men, respectively). These are the truths of individuals of all walks of life, all gender identities and sexual orientations, all nationalities and skin colors, all religions and ages, all wealth classes and educational statuses, worldwide, today. This book may be historical fiction, but nothing about what happened to Artemisia has been left in the past.

Not all stories have happy endings. I cannot promise this one will either. But I am certain you will be glad you stayed with Susanna to the end. She deserves that much—a witness, one who says I see you, hear you.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Blood Water Paint, though, is one I haven’t touched upon yet: how incredibly, desperately, unspeakably vital it is that we listen to victims and believe their stories.

When a woman risks
her place, her very life to speak
a truth the world despises?
Believe her. Always.

Through Artemisia’s story, and her mother’s bedtime tales of the biblical Susanna and Judith, we are reminded again and again that we—especially those of us identifying among the same groups who are at highest risk for assault—absolutely must support, love, and trust victims when they come to us. Whether we are survivors or not, it is so essential that we take the necessary steps to creating a world where we put rapists on trial, not victims.

“You would have done whatever you had to do to survive the moment. And you would have received no judgment from me either way.”

I think I could stretch this review on for days, with the way this book impacted me. Blood Water Paint is brutal. It will not kindly lead you into its metaphors and parables; it will leave you breathless from gut punches you didn’t see coming. As a survivor, there are phrases in this book that mirrored my own thoughts so profoundly that my own blood felt like ice in my veins. I implore you, please practice self-care while reading—but please pick up a copy of this book. Find it in a bookstore, ask your library to add it to their collections, borrow it from a friend. Get this story into your hands and let it break you open and remind you of how far we still have to come. Let it remind you of the actions you can take to help us get there.

If you or a person you love are a victim of sexual assault and need someone to talk to, please don’t stay silent. Please seek help. There are helplines and support systems in place. And whatever you do, never be afraid to speak your truths. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 800.656.HOPE (4673), or log on to the RAINN site at centers.rainn.org to find a local service provider who can help you with counseling, legal advocacy, healthcare, and more.

All quotes come from an unfinished ARC and may not match the final release. Thank you to Dutton Books for providing me with this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

You can find this review and more on my blog, or you can follow me on twitter, bookstagram, or facebook!
Profile Image for Kai Spellmeier.
Author 6 books13.7k followers
April 6, 2021
"Those men.
These women who dare
to judge
your heart
by your body
will never have
an ounce of your worth.

Okay, okay, hear me out: a feminist young adult historical novel written in verse. About a female painter who wins a trial against her rapist - in 1612.

This is the story of Artemisia Gentileschi, a young woman living in Rome with her family. Her father sells paintings signed with his name, even though it is Artemisia who does all the work. Her mother, long dead now, once told her goodnight-stories of strong women trying to survive in the world of men. Today she finds solace in these tales. When a handsome young artist comes into her home and promises to take her under his wing and free her from her malicious father, Artemisia falls in love with him - until he does not take a no for a no.
Now Artemisia faces a trial: she may lose the only thing she has left - her ability to paint - and no one might ever believe her. But with the help of the women from her mother's stories, she fights for truth and justice.

This was such a powerful and intense read. The first time I fell in love with this book was when I saw the cover, the second time when I read the first page. Most of this book is written in verse; however, there are a few chapters in usual, written form: the stories of Judith and Susanna. We see the hardships and choices these three women have to face and they are all equally terrifying and captivating.
What I love even more than a well-written young adult novel are books that talk about inequality and injustice; books that teach young readers that, even though all humans are equal, women continue to be overlooked and suppressed. These books point out the injustice done to girls and women around the world while they educate and empower their readers to do better, to make their voices heard, and to fight for the respect they deserve. Books like Blood Water Paint, The Female of the Species and Asking For It are rare but so very important and I will keep talking about them until everybody has read them.

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Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
November 18, 2018
this is a story
about a young girl
and her bravery to make a place
for herself
in a world of men.

with every stroke of her brush,
she created a mural of
her belonging;

rich with hues of purpose,
gradients of hope,
and pigments of resilience.

she knew that those men
who dare
to judge
her heart
by her body
will never have
an ounce of her worth.

and so she painted
a canvas filled with
the life
she desired.

the life
she deserved.

and it was as if the paint,
which created her masterpiece,
ran through her very blood.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews926 followers
July 5, 2018
I really wanted to love this book. I studied art history extensively in college, I love Artemisia Gentileschi, and the promise of a story from her perspective was so tantalizing that I ended up ignoring my suspicions that this book was going to be too young and too heavy-handed for me. I really should have listened to my gut on this one.

Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian Baroque painter, whose works are often overshadowed by the fact that she was raped by her mentor, Agostino Tassi. She and her father Orazio took him to trial and eventually won the case, though she was subjected to torture to verify her claims, and Tassi only served two years in prison before his release. Blood Water Paint is a novel in verse told from Artemisia's perspective, which focuses mainly on her rape and the subsequent trial, which explores the way she drew on the biblical figures Susanna and Judith for inspiration.

Look, I am a self-proclaimed feminist. I could not agree more with McCullough's indictment of the patriarchy, her lament of how women are treated in society, the parallels between Artemisia's circumstances and the #MeToo movement. The problem is, she sacrifices subtlety and authenticity at the altar of these ideas. This book is one of the most maddeningly simplistic, binary, melodramatic, and anachronistic things I've ever read. While the word 'feminism' never appears in this book (thankfully - not because I don't like the word feminism, but because it isn't a concept yet in in the seventeenth century), we do see a lot of hot-button issues that we'll all recognize, like:

(Why, though, does it take
a mother, daughter, sister
for men to take
a woman at her word?)


If I wait it out, he'll go.
I learned this as a child:

When boys pull your hair,
it means they like you.
Just ignore them.

... which, I'm sorry, but narrated from the perspective of a seventeen-year-old girl in 1610 just strike me as laughably unbelievable. Not because these aren't universal, timeless ideas, but because they're stated so eloquently by this character who I hesitate to even refer to as Artemisia because she is so transparently a mouthpiece for the author.

I'm not saying that it's impossible to write a historical novel that focuses mainly on themes which don't have an established vocabulary or some kind of developed social discourse at the time the book is set. I recently read and loved On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, which deals primarily with asexuality in a time before the term was coined, and the way McEwan handled the subject was done with subtlety and brilliance. I guess I was just looking for more of this here, I was hoping for a more nuanced and intellectually stimulating rumination on the themes in this book, rather than having everything stated so plainly and positively shoved down the reader's throat. (I mean, I guess it's also worth noting that Blood Water Paint is YA, so maybe I'm being unfair here, but I'd argue that it's even more unfair to posit that YA doesn't have the capacity to be more nuanced than this.)

There's also another element to this whole thing that admittedly grates on me. As I've said, I really love Artemisia Gentileschi. But the way she's become a cipher for contemporary feminism I think does a disservice to the complexity of her character, as well as to the sundry other groundbreaking female artists we tend to overlook in holding Artemisia up as this feminist poster child. So when I say that I wasn't impressed with the research and historical accuracy in this novel, I'm not trying to be some kind of academic purist. It just felt like the author had seen a tumblr post about how 'Artemisia Gentileschi painted herself as Judith and her rapist as Holofernes!!!1! Badass feminist ICON!!!!' and spun the novel out of this half-formed idea of who Artemisia actually was. The few times the art itself is referenced also suggests to me that McCullough is out of her depth. If you're looking for historical accuracy, please pick up one of the many brilliant biographies written about Artemisia, notably those by Mary Garrard.

So, to wrap up this novel length review (sorry, thanks for sticking with me): This is a book of (relevant, necessary) 21st century feminist concepts that try to masquerade themselves as Artemisia Gentileschi's story at the expense of narrative, character development, and subtlety, which I felt ultimately did a disservice to its protagonist. But clearly I do not hold the majority opinion about this book, and that is perfectly fine. There are many brilliant and eloquent reviews which discuss this book's virtues, if that's what you're looking for.
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
701 reviews3,353 followers
November 7, 2018
Artful, passionate, harrowing. This book consumed me.
I've grown accustomed
to the lack of light
inside our studio.
But from this angle
of fatigue a ray
slants through
the window
to bounce across the surface
of the foul, gelatinous
potion I've just brewed.

Beneath the light, it's a golden sea,
tranquil but for the slightest breeze.
A place where magic hums
beneath the surface, mermaids,
water sprites, and queens
of gleaming realms
Profile Image for Laura.
425 reviews1,253 followers
February 27, 2018
I wish men
would decide
if women are heavenly
angels on high,
or earthbound sculptures
for their gardens

But either way we’re beauty
for consumption.

This was really quite powerful and beautiful and devastating all at the same time. It is based on the true story of Artemisia Gentileschi, an iconic painter from the seventeenth century. Blood Water Paint is written in verse for the majority of the novel with the exception of the stories of Judith and Susanna which are told in prose by Artemisia's mother, who passed away when she was just twelve years old.
And you should realize, love, that even the simple act of a bath is potentially world-altering. But then, you never see the beast until he is upon you.

I'm going to withhold details of the plot, but if you know about Artemisia, you already know where this story will go. Fair warning that rape is unfortunately a part of her story. But damn if this isn't inspiring as hell. Between the stories of Susanna, Judith and Artemisia, there is just so much female strength. It is empowering.
Because this story is only for you. The boys have all the tales they need of brave warriors and army captains.

The writing is gorgeous and truly hooked me. It evoked emotion within me and even brought out such rage for these women and what it was to be a woman in the past. There are still issues today, but that doesn't mean I'm not thankful to be alive this century. I always love when I read a historical fiction novel and want to research everything I can after finishing. That's exactly what I did here. Artemisia's story is fascinating.
Something has shifted,
a glint in his eye,
a thing that makes him monstrous
but could flip around
and charm a queen.

There are beautiful moments showing the disparities between gender roles, the expectations that fall upon Artemisia and what her future can and cannot possibly hold, the fact that she herself is her father's property until she marries - in which case she'd be considered her husband's property.

To be honest, I had so many quote highlighted that it became hard to pick my favorites. The writing is definitely a star here alongside Artemisia's incredibly powerful story. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,095 reviews17.7k followers
September 28, 2018
This is a hard book to decently review. It's a verse novel, first of all. I think it's nigh-impossible to review a verse novel well. And this is not just a verse novel; it is a book that gets its chief power out of emotionality and importance.

If you've read the blurb, you know this follows the story of 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Or at least, the beginning of her story. When she was seventeen, Artemisia had taken on most of the duties at her father's studio and was preparing to marry a trusted teacher. Yet it was soon discovered that this teacher was far less than the fine man he seemed. She was raped and violated by him, and forced to undergo a trial for her honor that was violating and involved torture on her part.

After her full ordeal, the man who had raped her and destroyed the lives of multiple other women was given one year in prison. He was released after six months.

This book is a powerful exploration not only of Artemisia's strength, but also of the strength of Biblical heroines like Judith and Susanna. It's an exploration of the power we have and the power we take, and it is absolutely, completely necessary.

I don't necessarily think the prose was the best I've ever read, but it's certainly quite well-done. Verse novels can occasionally have a tendency to come off false, yet that is not at all a category this falls in to.

This book is powerful and important and worthwhile and I cannot recommend it enough.

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Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,404 reviews11.7k followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
June 22, 2018
I am all for feminism, but this novel is so blunt in its I-am-woman-oppressed-by-the-men-who-are-all-EVIL message, it hurts. I believe the feminist agenda can be brought across more effectively by tools other than woe-is-me-because-I-am-a-woman sentiment in every sentence.

Also, entirely anachronistic in its narrative voice. The language Artemisia uses is very contemporary and distracts even further from the historical context.

By all accounts Artemisia Gentileschi was a remarkable woman, I am excited to learn more about her elsewhere.
Profile Image for alice.
270 reviews335 followers
March 4, 2018
Simply put, BLOOD WATER PAINT is a stunning and heartbreaking novel. I finished this in one sitting, partly because it was in free verse so the pages went by incredibly quickly, and partly because the writing and plot were so captivating.

BLOOD WATER PAINT follows Artemisia, a young artist living in 17th century Italy, who lives to paint, paints to live. In the aftermath of rape, Artemisia tries to find solace in a couple of her painting’s subjects, Susanna and Judith, who ultimately brings an inner voice of strength to her during the trial. I couldn’t stop reading this novel, as it was so well thought out and harrowing.

Written in free verse, BLOOD WATER PAINT is an emotional and poignant historical read, based upon the real Artemisia. It’s written with feminist and empowering verses, themes of grief and anger towards a completely misogynistic society. Throughout the novel, there are also portions of other stories, following the Artemisia’s Susanna and Judith in their own struggles.

Overall, Joy McCullough’s debut novel is one of my favorite books of this year and one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you’re a feminist, like poetry, and enjoy historical fiction novels based on real people, this one is definitely for you.

Thank you to Penguin for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Dahlia.
Author 18 books2,498 followers
May 22, 2018
That was really incredibly done. It's so beautifully historical but thoroughly modern at the same time, and so skillful at its depiction and articulation of the male gaze vs. the female one. This made me want to go out and learn everything possible about Artemesia, which is my absolute favorite result of historical fiction based on real people. Just...so, so good.
Profile Image for Tucker  (TuckerTheReader).
908 reviews1,624 followers
May 24, 2020

Many thanks to Dutton Books for Young Readers for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

DNF - I think I'm gonna stay away from novels in verse. Let me just say that this DNF is not really a comment or review of this book. I just can't stand to finish it.

Poetry has never been my thing but when I discovered novels in verse, I hoped they would kinder a love for it but they really didn't. I just get so bored and almost irritated trying to read these. I guess they're just not for me.

Oh well. I still recommend you give this a try!

Happy reading!


This cover is beautiful. I'm sure the book is even beautiful-ler... (Now you see why I don't do poetry)

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Profile Image for KaleidoscopicCasey .
335 reviews163 followers
September 4, 2018

What you get out of this book, whether it speaks to you, is going to be entirely dependent upon who you are when you begin it.

That statement isn't a critique of reader or writer, it's just my assessment of the style chosen by the author and the message it presents to the reader. It's unlikely that any two people will have the same experience while reading it so to fill my review with how it made me feel seems almost pointless. Having said that, I will try to use my review space to try to better describe the contents in an attempt to help you decide if you want to try it.

So is it for you? Well... lets find out.

► Most of this book is written in verse. I don't have much experience with this style, but to me it comes across very choppy. Again, this isn't my area of expertise, so just a heads up that perhaps this is a book that you definitely want to give the free sample a try to make sure you are comfortable reading it. The chapters not written in verse form are the empowering af bedtime stories that Artemisia's mother tells her. Her mother's "voice" was my favorite part of this book.
“Not all stories have happy endings. I cannot promise this one will either. But I am certain you will be glad you stayed with Susanna to the end. She deserves that much - a witness, one who says I see you, hear you, I'm better for knowing your story”

► This book is not a biography. It is historical fiction based on the life of Artemisia Gentileschi. We really only get a tiny snapshot of her life so if you are expecting to learn facts about her life as an artist or her contribution to feminist history, look elsewhere. Oddly enough, if you are truly interested in factual details, her testimony provided during her rape trial is still available today. And from what I understand, it even includes a description of the torture they inflicted upon her as a means of determining if she was telling the truth. <- Yes, that really happened.
“And listen to me love, when a woman risks her place, her very life to speak a truth the world despises? Believe her. Always.”

► This book is not subtle in it's depiction of the patriarchy. If you were a #notallmen person, you should know going in that this book doesn't give a shit if you happen to feel that there were men during that time that didn't actively exploit the fragility of a women's position, Artemisia didn't know any of those men.
“Why, though, does it take a mother, daughter, sister for men to take a woman at her word?”

“Any man who breathes has more power than a woman in her world – and our world too.”

► This book does not include a graphic description of rape, but you should know that it does happen to Artemisia and that it is a crucial turning point in the book. There is significant lead-up to this event, and even though you KNOW that it's going to happen, it doesn't make it any easier to read. The author also does not shy away from acknowledging it or showing Artemisia's emotions after it happens including her depression, her anger, her feelings of betrayal... which, for me, were harder to read than briefly mentioned act itself.
“But that day's not now.
And even if this horror
becomes an accent color -
a smudge of lead white
to highlight a cheekbone,
a bit of yellow ochre
the glint on a sword -
sometimes those are the pigments
that change one's perecption
of an entire work of art.”

After reading this book I was inspired to learn more about Artemisia.
• What happened in her life after the brief view provided in this book?
• What does her art look like? And can I see a difference in perspective from the art of her male counterparts?
• Why have I never heard the stories of the women that inspired Artemisia?
^ This one I can answer easier than the rest because I am not a religious person so no version of this was on my radar.

It is now.

This is a book that will stick with you and make you want to know more. Some people may not like having an "ending" for the book so just know that this story ends shortly after the conclusion of her trial. That's all you're gonna get unless you decide to search out more on your own.

Overall, this book made my heart hurt and my pulse pound and anytime a book makes me feel then it has already overcome tremendous adversity, but to make me feel like I have gone through something with the character and become invested in their life to the point that I feel compelled to learn more, then regardless of any issues I may have had, it's going to get all my stars.

“I will show you
what a woman can do.”

*I would like to note that I am not a visual art aficionado, in fact, my limited knowledge is based almost exclusively on architecture and photography. I mention this because I feel ashamed to admit that prior to this book, I had no idea who Artemisia Gentileschi was. However, to be fair, I wouldn't be able to recognize the work of any of her male contemporaries either.
Profile Image for Puck.
670 reviews303 followers
September 16, 2018
Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Michelangelo: just a couple of famous painters who made masterpieces. But where are the amazing female painters? What are their stories, and why do we know so little about them?
Blood Water Paint responds to that by introducing us to Artemisia Gentileschi, a female Italian artist who did manage to become famous, but not wholly in the way she wished.

Judith, I don’t have a sword.
She reaches out,
Her hands bloodstained,
And wraps my fingers
Around the brush.

Joy McCullough’s memoir of Artemisia’s teenage life is told in verse, but expect no flowery words or lovely descriptions about paint. Talented Artemisia is bitter, knowing her father is selling the paintings she made under his name, but this is Rome, 1610, when women barely have any rights while male (artists) naturally get all the praise.
When surprisingly, a colleague of her father offers to teach her, Artemisia is thrilled to finally get some recognition. Yet this book has a rape warning, and so what happens isn’t a surprise, but still the painful scenes are intense and horrifying.

He touched everything.
I have to burn myself to ash
Before his touch could be erased.

But while the rape is terrible, it’s what happens after that’s maybe the hardest. Artemisia more than ever has to cling to her mother’s stories – about Judith killing Holofernes, Susanna speaking out against the spying old men – as she decides to share the truth with the world.
It literally made my blood boil to read her court case, and to realize that, despite the recent support in the #MeToo-affairs, so little has changed when it comes to these cases. Following Artemisia as she fights for herself and her art was so powerful that you couldn’t fall for her.

When a woman risks
her place, her very life to speak
a truth the world despises?
Believe her. Always.

Blood Water Paint therefore is a brutal, gut-punching novel in verse about a female artist whose life was marked by a terrible act, but not shaped by it. Look only at the paintings she made later on in life – no clean kill with Judith, no Susanna smiling to the Elders - and you see how she grew above her own pain to paint reality, bloody and all.
A definite recommendation to any reader – both fans of art history and people liking The Female of the Species & Asking For It – because this incredible artist deserves more fame. Move over Michelangelo, here is Artemisia.

I will show you
what a woman can do.
Profile Image for Karima chermiti.
825 reviews153 followers
July 2, 2021
Everything begins from here:
the viewing point,
the place where you stand,
your eye level.
That single point on the horizon
where all other lines

Sometimes it does not matter whether you loved a book or not, what matters more is what the book is trying to say or the themes the story is portraying. To say that I loved this book would be a lie because I liked it but did not love it. so the logic would say that I should give it three stars but that would’ve been a huge mistake on my part and that’s why I upped my rating and gave it four stars instead. This is a very important poetry collection with the depiction of many important issues. I think this is a must-read as long as you're not easily triggered by issues like Rape, Sexual assault, Victim blaming and slut-shaming as well as many other issues. This is really a hard and painful book to read with many traumatic elements but it's also thought-provoking and eye-opening.

But I’m holding back
until I think
my skills
can match
my heart.

There is an effortless blend of many genres in this book, it is historical but told through verses of poetry, it is also a Young-Adult book and it feels like a sort of a biography. It is also informative and educative. The story is centered on the Italian famous painter, Artemis Gentileschi who was born in Rome and lived under the thumb of her father until she was a young lady. Through her story, we are living the hardships that she went through as a woman, as a daughter, and as a painter in a time where women were considered lesser humans.

Even though her mother’s death was years ago, she is still reeling from that loss that affected her life in more than one way. She is struggling with her life with her father who is exploiting her talent and taking her art and accomplishments as his own. He is also negligent, verbally abusive, and does not care one way or another about the pain his daughter is enduring.

I wish men
would decide
if women are heavenly
angels on high,
or earthbound sculptures
for their gardens.
But either way we’re beauty
for consumption.

The book deals with a lot of sensitive issues like abuse, physical torture, rape, and misogyny. It also deals with victim-blaming and the corruption of the justice system when it comes especially to women and also the slut-shaming and the way women are perceived as something to own and to exploit, not as a person worthy of respect. I know that the story feels really bleak but our Artemis is a strong proud woman who fought like hell against the man who used her and she did not shy away from the truth. She found a refugee in her art and her talent and the way she evolved at the end was nothing short of admirable.

Not even voice
but breath upon my neck,
the slightest whisper
if I concentrate,
reach out in hopes
I’ll feel her reaching back.
Profile Image for ellie.
549 reviews161 followers
June 7, 2018
this book is about art is art itself.

how do i describe how much this means to me? what about this -

i learn about artemisia gentileschi in class last year; i am in awe.
i learn about artemisia gentileschi at 3am today; i am still in awe.

i felt the outrage, the shame, the love, the hatred that she must've felt, that i still feel, over 400 years later. i am stumbling over my rage today as she did back then. i find comfort from her that i can't explain. just as much as she uses the stories of fierce women to console her enough to live, she becomes a fierce woman who consoles me. for that, i am so grateful.

i knew i would love this the moment i heard her story last year, and the writing in this made relive every emotion i had when i heard her story for the first time last year. god, the way judith is written, beheading holofernes - i felt like i had as much blood on my hands as she did. and after all, is that such a bad thing?

here are the words that struck out to me most for now (there are countless more, but i must save them for when i buy my own copy, because i WILL do that):

I do not plan to drown.
I do, however, wish
the river would carry me away.

Lay my heart out bare
or let it devour me
from the inside.

It's going to grow so much worse
but if I keep my focus
on one constant bit of suffering
I might survive.

Judith survives. Remember this, my love, if nothing else: Judith survives what should destroy her.

You have
the terrible habit
of bursting in here
like a thunderclap.

Are thunderstorms not thrilling?

The world will tell you not to be outraged, love. They will tell you to sit quietly, be kind. Be a lady. And when they do? Be Judith instead.
Profile Image for Catherine.
406 reviews136 followers
November 10, 2019
"When a woman risks
her place, her very life to speak
a truth the world despises?
Believe her. Always."

Like everyone, I very often add books to my TBR list after reading a review that makes me think I'll like them. However, this is the first time that I ever bought a book right away after reading a review from a goodreads friend. This review I'm talking about was written by Destiny and you can read it here. After reading this, I knew I needed this book. Yet, when it came in the mail, I stayed away from it for a while, not knowing if I was ready for this. I finally read it last night in one sitting and God, I wish I could give it all the stars instead of just a five stars rating. No rating can express the mess that I was.

This is historical fiction based on the story of Artemisia Gentileschi. She's best known as a successful Italian female painter, some of her well known paintings being Susanna and the Elders or Judith Slaying Holofernes. Even if her name doesn't ring a bell for you, I'm pretty sure you must have seen (at least on the internet) one of her paintings. She was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno. I really recommend to do a quick search on Google to look at her paintings.

The second thing she's known for is the fact that, during the 17th century, she was involved in the trial of her rapist, the painter Agostino Tassi, after her father pressed charges against him... because he didn't marry her daughter. The judge tortured Artemisia during the trial to make sure she wasn't lying. While her father demanded compensation for the damage (poor him) and her rapist was sentenced to what could be considered a joke if we weren't talking about rape, Artemisia was dishonored in the eyes of society. You can see her suffering in the paintings she did of women who were abused, who were wronged, who were strong, like the two Biblical figures who are also in this book, Susanna and Judith, Mary Magdalene, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Lucretia (the wife of a Roman consul who killed herself after being raped)... The majority of her work is, in fact, focused on women. Besides being an amazing painter who influenced many after her, she's also considered a feminist figure since the late 20th century.

"Others will tell you Daniel saved Susanna's life. But hear this: Susanna used her voice. She spoke her truth. She could not expect her words to change a single heart, but neither could she be silent."

While this little book is mostly written in verse, which is Artemisia's voice, three other women are in this story. The parts written in prose are Artemisia's mother, Prudenzia, who died when she was 12 years old, telling the stories of two Biblical figures: Susanna and Judith, who were represented in Artemisia's work. In the Book of Daniel, Susanna is victim of two men watching her bathing and threatened to be accused of adultery (she was married) if she doesn't have sex with them. She refused, and is put on trial. The truth will come out and the two men will be sentenced to death. Artemisia represented her in Susanna and the Elders, who represents the two men watching her. In the Book of Judith, Judith goes with her maid to the camp of the enemy, Holofernes, who tries to conquer the city, and gain his trust in order to be able to kill him. Artemisia represented her in Judith and her Maidservant, Judith Slaying Holofernes and Judith and Maidservant with Head of Holofernes.

But this isn't just historical fiction and those verses aren't only Artemisia's voice being heard. It's also a love letter for every woman who's been abused, wronged in any way by the patriarchal society, and a request for everyone else to listen to us. If you can only read another book until next year, read this one. I don't care if you buy it or borrow it and in which format, just read it. And after you've finished this book, recommend it to someone else.
46 reviews4 followers
April 5, 2018
I really, truly, utterly hated this book. Despite being picky, I try not to be super mean in my reviews, but this book was not at all pleasant for me to read.

I was way excited for Blood Water Paint at first. I love Artemesia Gentileschi, and couldn't want to read this, even though I don't usually read lots of YA. I special-ordered it from the library, and thought I would definitely get a book I'd enjoy and maybe even learn from.

Oh boy, was I wrong.
The author took on an impressive task, in writing a book about visual art. But there were just
so many
line breaks.

Blood Water Paint is told primarily in stream-of consciousness verse, and it really didn't need to be. The verse was a whole lot like bits of ordinary prose, chopped up into smaller, less-appealing bits of prose. The novel would have been a lot better if we'd gotten a break from the line breaks, but those were few.

The moral of the story, basically, was
"But either way we're
beauty for consumption".

Which isn't an unreasonable indictment of the society portrayed, given the events of Gentileschi's life. It was, however, a lesson stated far too blandly and frequently for my liking.
There's lots of stating, in this book. The reader is told who is good, and who is bad, and which aspects of Gentileschi's life are bad.

There's a particular violent section that I felt was well-handled. It was gripping, and heart-wrenching, and everything I wished the rest of the story could have been.

This book reminded me of another least-favorite book called Book of Joan. That book was also rather over-forward with its message, and written in a style that just didn't grab me. Plenty of people liked it, so those people might like this one, too.

Off it goes back to the library, where I hope it will teach some more tolerant reader about this lovely artist.
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 7 books1,212 followers
May 10, 2018
Perfect for fans of Ruta Sepetys, McCullough's debut verse novel tells the story of Artemisia Gentileschi in the early 1600s. A young painter, apprenticed by her father -- who was, of course, profiting from her work -- she dreams of capturing the true essence of the women whose stories her deceased mother told her into her art. But when she is raped by a potential client, her life turns upside down and she turns to the strength of those women to find her voice and speak up and out about what happened to her.

Powerful, moving, and despite the setting, utterly contemporary, this is a book about women, about power, and about discovering the ways your voice, by virtue of being female, can change your life (for better or for worse). The writing is gorgeous and evocative, made more painful and raw by how this book could be set today and still resonate.

This is the second historical novel about women and power I've read recently -- Circe by Madeline Miller being the other -- which is far less about women's place in history and much more about women's place in contemporary society. For as much "progress" as we've made, we've barely moved.
Profile Image for Anna.
817 reviews553 followers
May 26, 2018
“And listen to me love, when a woman risks her place, her very life to speak a truth the world despises? Believe her. Always.”

Artemisia Gentileschi was the first woman ever admitted into the Accademia dell’Arte del Disegno in Florence, the first to live and paint at the court of Charles I of England, and the first sexual assault survivor to win a legal battle against her aggressor.

Blood Water Paint is a feminist historical novel written in verse that recounts that violent moment in the life of 17-years-old Artemisia, when men simply took whatever they wanted from women with basically no consequences whatsoever. Not much changed in the 400 years that passed, if we’re being cynical, but what Joy McCullough stresses throughout the novel is how important and ultimately how powerful and inspiring for other women is to tell one’s story and be heard.

“Others will tell you Daniel saved Susanna's life. But hear this: Susanna used her voice. She spoke her truth. She could not expect her words to change a single heart, but neither could she be silent.
Her words saved her life.”
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,064 reviews1,473 followers
February 22, 2019
remind me who the painter is.
It's funny how the painter's not:
the one with pigment smeared into her skin
the one whose body
is a permanent fixture
in this studio as stool, palette, easel.
the only one whose heart is flung across the canvas.

No: the painter merely signs his name.

and takes his gold.
Profile Image for Ella Heart.
91 reviews49 followers
June 14, 2019
I wish men
would decide
if women are heavenly
angels on high,
or earthbound sculptures
for their gardens

But either way we’re beauty
for consumption.

This was such a powerful read. I felt myself falling in love from the very first page.
A young adult historical novel written in verse; its about a female painter who wins a trial against her rapist in 1612. It was so raw, making it all the more beautiful and captivating because of it.

And you should realize, love, that even the simple act of a bath is potentially world-altering. But then, you never see the beast until he is upon you.

Most of this book is written in verse; however, there are a few chapters in usual, written form: those chapters consist of stories of two other women, Judith and Susanna. Throughout the book we see the hardships and choices these three women have to face which are all terrifying and captivating in equal measures.

Because this story is only for you. The boys have all the tales they need of brave warriors and army captains.

The story is gorgeously written and had me hooked from page one. The book created the perfect tempo that evoked staggering emotion within me and brought out rage for these women and what it was to be a woman in the past. Books like blood water paint, the female of the species and asking for it are so rare but so very important and we should keep talking about them until everybody has read them.

I would definitely, definitely recommend this book❤!
Profile Image for Faith Simon.
198 reviews163 followers
April 3, 2019
I finished this book over a week ago, so please forgive me for my brief review, some memories and therefore thoughts of the story are a bit fuzzy.
I've heard nothing but great things about this book since it's been released, by pretty much everybody and their mother who's read it. So going in, I expected to be blown away by this story. In the midsts of thousands of 5 star ratings, I find I could only give this one a 3.
I had no idea this book was written in verse until I had begun reading it. I really dislike books written in verse, though I love poetry, I find the flow of a story doesn't really work for me in the form of verse, or as I usually like to explain; my brain just doesn't like it. Thankfully, I read this book via audiobook, and so the verse wasn't nearly as prominent as it could have been, which I appreciated, and made it so I didn't stop reading this book halfway through. I feel that if I read this as a physical copy, the verse writing would have completely thrown me off.
That being said, I think that the verse really suits the story, and the timeline by which the story is being told, revolving around renaissance painting, this could be characterized as a prominent time for artistry, this including poetry and verse. So, the writing style suits the story well.
A lot of what I enjoyed about this book was the exploration of misogyny and the main character constantly reminding me how terrible men are, as if I could have forgotten in between the last few pages, but I do love me any sort of man-hating in books.
I got pretty confused during the story when other women's stories were being brought into the mix, I kept confusing when we were listening to a story and when the story was happening in real time. And I think these two things interchanged too much for me to be too invested in the story. And I found the ending supremely underwhelming. Learning that this book was based on a true person after finishing it, I found a new appreciation for the story, and could see where the ending was trying to lead, a mistiful ending that implies this person has so much more in history to achieve than just this book, however I just found that the story had wound me up into a tight coil and never released all of my tension by the end, just left me there.
This book, while important in its subject matter, and poignant in its storytelling, didn't really do it for me, maybe it was the hype, but I just found I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as everybody else has seemed to.
Profile Image for Danielle (Life of a Literary Nerd).
1,224 reviews257 followers
February 27, 2018
“I wish men would decide if women are heavenly angels on high, or earthbound sculptures for their gardens.”

Wow. This book was so heavy and powerful and important. Blood Water Paint is a historical novel told in verse following the life of 17th century painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, from the loss of her mother at an early age to her rape and the trial that followed. Blood Water Paint is a moving story about women and power and resolve and it can’t be praised enough.

Things I Liked
This was so character driven in the best possible way. I feel like novels told in verse are incredibly internal and that worked so beautifully here. I felt Artemisia’s fear, frustration, and drive. She was real, so I connected with her on a personal level and her story affected me on a personal level.

This entire story was a commentary on rape culture, agency, and power and I love how it was handled. Dissecting who’s believed, who’s valued, who’s punished through her art and her personal life was so raw and parallelled both beautifully and tragically.

Along with the heavier topics, I loved that the story highlighted the importance of female solidarity and having allies who will believe and support you. I loved seeing Artemisia beginning to explore her own beauty and being a painter and defying societal expectations. We see her her incredible bravery, even in the face of public shaming and hatred.

“My back aches not only from the weight of the child I bare, but from all I must carry as a woman.”
“But that’s the thing about perspective. The slightest shift transforms the subject.”

Things I Didn’t Like
I don’t know if it was because this story is so heavy or if it was that blended with the historical period, but I felt like the story was a little long. It didn’t drag and nothing felt like filler, but the story did feel long.

Blood Water Paint was a brilliant debut novel that explores and celebrates the bravery of a 17th painter who was not believed or valued because she was a woman, and is finally given her own voice. This was just a really important story and I’m so happy to have read it.

I received a copy of the book from Dutton BFYR via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Cindy.
Author 4 books325 followers
October 12, 2017
I just finished this heart-stopping debut and don't even quite have the words to describe it. Joy McCullough's verse is spare and evocative, and her rendering of Artemisia is compelling. But what really sets BLOOD WATER PAINT apart is the phenomenal exploration of women's stories and women's power (or lack thereof). The touches of surreal magic woven through add a depth and richness that turns this into the ultimate ode to a woman's incredible strength. Highly recommended! (This novel reads very much like a crossover adult story, too—not much like traditional YA. If you liked THE PASSION OF DOLSSA, you'll love BLOOD WATER PAINT!)
Profile Image for Amanda Rawson Hill.
Author 6 books67 followers
March 11, 2018
I read an early version of this and Wow! I've read a lot of verse novels in my life, the poetry in this was one of the absolute best. I couldn't put it down and it stayed with me for days. Honestly, it's been six months since I read and I still find myself thinking about it. This will haunt you in the best ways.
Profile Image for Jordan Davidson.
185 reviews8 followers
April 5, 2018
I buddy-read this with a close friend and fellow Goodreads user. Both of us were excited to pick this up; both of us were less excited when we finally did begin reading it and realized it was mostly in (poorly-written, by the way) verse; and both of us were left ultimately disappointed, to say the least.

The writing in this is just bad. It's unnecessarily written in a verse format, and while verse isn't my favorite thing to read it can be - and has been - done well. This is a prime example of verse format done badly. It felt like it was only written in verse format so the author could get away with "writing a book" without actually writing a book's worth of content. The poetry was simplistically-worded, and the line breaks were jarring rather than clean and smooth. Reading this felt like you were reading an entire book while in the middle of an asthma attack.

I was also put off by how obvious and black-and-white everything in this book was. I think a book like this would need a feminist message, especially since Artemisia has become a feminist icon in some ways, but the "women = GOOD, men = BAD" moral that permeated the story became grating somewhere around the first 10% of the novel. There was no room for nuance or complexity or critical thought; it's like readers are expected to go into this with their brains being empty vessels into which the most simplistic and binary of worldviews can be poured. I felt intellectually insulted by some of the views in this book and the heavy-handedness with which they were espoused. Subtlety, thy name is not this book, that's for sure.

I almost feel bad for writing this review because I'm sure it was a labor of love on the author's part, and it seems like a lot of Goodreads reviewers got something out of this. I'm glad for those people, and admire any author who cares enough about a real person and their real work to create a work in their honor. I am just not one of those people - not by a long shot - and wish this labor of love had reaped a better result.
Profile Image for Emily.
297 reviews1,551 followers
January 22, 2019
3.5 stars

This was quite good!

Some things I loved:
The story itself--Artemisia Gentileschi's life is fascinating, and I think McCullough did a fabulous job of picking just the right snapshots to focus on.

The family dynamics--we see some... not great (read: boderline if not outright abusive) behavior from Artemisia's family, and McCullough handles those dynamics with care and with nuance.

The female characters--beyond Artemisia and her family's servant, there are almost no real female characters in this book. That is important, as it highlights Artemisia's isolation from the world. However, McCullough gets around this by having Artemisia imagine conversations and interactions with the mythical and biblical female subjects of her paintings. It's a brilliant workaround, and the story is stronger for it.

Things I didn't love:
The verse. That's the only real negative I have for this, but given the fact that the book is entirely written in verse, that's a pretty big issue to have. I found the verse to be clunky and cliched at times (on a few occasions it had me rolling my eyes). Would the story have been better written in standard prose? Honestly, I'm not sure. But I found this particular style of verse not to my liking.
Profile Image for Astrid.
48 reviews12 followers
November 14, 2018
i will show you what a woman can do

the writing of this book is absolutely gorgeous, and i love how mccollough intertwined artemisia's story with that of susanna and judith.

this story is so passionate, stunning, inspirational and powerful. a female painter in the 1600s, insisting on going after her rapist, even if it will cost her everything
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