Historical Fiction · Penguin Random House · Young Adult

[Blog Tour] Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Hey guys! So this might be my last blog tour for a while (unless I find another to participate in, lol) and I’m so glad that it’s for this book! This time this blog tour is being run by Friya from Penguin Random House. As for the reason I decided to check out this book, it sounded interesting and there was an art element. As an art major, I was super curious how the author would go about creating this story on Artemisia Gentileschi, who I had vaguely heard about in my art history classes (anyone know of Judith Slaying Holofernes? Yeah, that’s a really amazing painting). I had no idea what her story was or could be but the summary by itself pulled me in. And boy was I in for a ride!


Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough ● Publication Date: March 6, 2018 ● Publisher: Dutton Books

“When I finished this novel, I knew I would be haunted and empowered by Artemisia Gentileschi’s story for the rest of my life.” –Amanda Lovelace, award-winning author of the princess saves herself in this one

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.

Joy McCullough’s bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia’s heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia’s most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman’s timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.

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warning: sexual harassment, rape, violence, blood

So I know I said the reason for picking up this book was because the art and synopsis were interesting but also the cover is just so pretty. Have you guys seen that cover? It looks so nice! And really, having that art element also reflected on the cover made me want to read it even more.

In this story, we have Artemisia Gentileschi, Italian Baroque painter living in Rome in 1610. She’s lived with her father for most of her life, having only shared memories with her mother as a child before she died. And now as a “woman”, Artemisia is her father’s prisoner, forced to work on paintings that will never bare her name. And just when she thinks she’s found a way out of her prison, she finds herself deceived and used

From the very beginning, Artemisia is a bold character who is angry at the world and tells it how it is. She’s tired of how men control everything, how they don’t need to work for what they want, and how women are nothing but pretty decorations and tools for men to use as they please. There is a message here and both the author and Artemisia are not tiptoeing around this topic of gender inequality and exploitation. They are being explicit and forceful so that there is no mistaking what they want to say

I feel like after a while, a book like this might get tiring to read, especially if you’re like me and usually read a book for the story, but the author has gone ahead and written this book (specifically Artemisia’s POV) in poetry format, which places emphasis and power on her message but also softens it at the same time. I’ve only ever seen this format used successfully in Ellen Hopkin’s books, which I really like so when I opened the book and saw this, I was a bit skeptical. But the use of this format is so well done and Artemisia is a character that is easy to like and even relate to

The book also has a second part to this, which is more narrative and your typical story structure. In these sections, usually only about 2-3 pages long weaved between Artemisia’s POV, we have Artemisia as a child and the narrator is her mother who is telling her the story of Susanna and Judith

Susanna who had been threatened by two elders/leaders in her community when she was bathing. The story is that if she didn’t have sex with them then they would tell the village that she had been with another man while her husband had been away. The result of this would be her loss of reputation and a stoning. In Blood Water Paint, we learn that Susanna, even when she was about to be stoned, never wavered in telling the truth. As for Judith, we learn that her maidservant and she infiltrated the camp of enemy soldiers and killed the captain for what had been done to her people

We learned about two women who seemed to be complete opposites (Susanna more delicate, Judith bolder) but that both never wavered in their resolve. And Artemisia picks up on this and uses their experiences (their strength) to help herself after she’s raped, which is another aspect that I really appreciated. Artemisia found strength in the stories of these women, as they were told to her from her mother, and decided to voice her experience. Nobody (men) believed her but that didn’t stop her from recounting what had occurred and defending herself

It’s also these paintings that she is working on and we get to see how her rape influenced their creation. How previous paintings made by men never truly portrayed Susanna’s feelings or Judith’s boldness in their work, which I really enjoyed reading about because it’s like a mini art history lesson. 

Aside from the formatting and Artemisia’s character, I just really like how this book almost transcends time. It’s set in 1610 but it’s so easy to forget that this is supposed to be a historical fiction novel. It’s also very sad that these things still happen out in the world today. The only other book I’ve ever read dealing with rape and the aftermath was Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green and I had the same feelings here that I did then. This is just a really powerful account of a girl who is deceived by a man who she thinks she loves. A man that seemed like he understood her and offered her what she wanted but that also expected compensation and when she refused him, he decides to take it.

And the thing that makes me boil over is that Artemisia didn’t have anyone to help her. Her father was the one who told her to get close to her attacker for business purposes and even when she told him what happened, he didn’t really believe her. In the whole aftermath, she sustained the most damage, both physically and mentally. And I loved that the story tells that damage doesn’t go away magically but some wounds do heal to an extent. I mean, who hasn’t read a book or watched something with a rape victim just meeting someone new and the trauma magically goes away? Not. True. And this book addresses this if only slightly

Overall I just REALLY enjoyed this book and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to read it. I ended up giving it a 5/5 on Goodreads because I felt it did everything right. The imagery was spot on and I was able to relate to it, not just as a woman in a male dominant society, but as an artist. There is quite a bit of art terminology and tools, which are explained. Some are even playful and lend themselves to the greater message (perspective). Artemisia was also a relatable character and one I probably won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Her resolve in standing up for herself and (indirectly) for women was very admirable, even if that hadn’t been her intention. The suspense and power in every chapter leading up to her rape was done really well, especially when we see the parallels between her now and her childhood stories

It’s just a really good read (lol). All of it was great! Also, in the author’s note Joy let’s us know that the accounts of Artemisia’s rape and trial are available to anyone who is more curious and yeah, I want to know more.



Joy McCullough writes books and plays from her home in the Seattle area, where she lives with her husband and two children. She studied theater at Northwestern University, fell in love with her husband atop a Guatemalan volcano, and now spends her days surrounded by books and kids and chocolate. Blood Water Paint is her debut novel.

Website | Twitter | Instagram


Don’t forget to check out everyone else’s posts for this tour! Some people had some great Q&A questions and maybe I’m slightly regretting not having signed up for one of those now (lol). And I don’t usually pick favorites but definitely check out the reviews with (*) because I’m not very eloquent and I want you all to read this book

2/28 – Review by The Fox’s Hideaway
3/1 – Author Guest Post and Favorite Artemisia Painting over at Kaitbooktopia
3/2 – Review by JustAddaWord

3/5 – Review by Novel Ink
3/6 – Q&A over at Adventures in YA Publishing
3/7 – Q&A over at Bi Bookish Babe
3/8 – Q&A over at Megan Write Now
3/9 – Review by Howling Libraries**

3/12 – Review by Magical Reads
3/13 – Review by Crimson Talks Books, Mostly
3/14 – Author Guest Post over at The Fandom
3/15 – Review by Wanderer in Neverland

Thanks for stopping by! And like always, if you’ve read the book, what did you think? Let me know in the comments section! And I’m really curious, if you do know Artemisia’s story, what did you think about the book and the portrayal and the use of formatting to tell the story? As an artist in general, did you also connect with Artemisia’s musings?

And if you haven’t checked it out yet, do you plan to? Have my ramblings convinced you to?

Enjoy my content? Want to support me? Feel free to follow me on social media (FB, Twitter), like this post, share it, and/or leave some comments so I know I’m not just screaming into the void! You can also support me by buying me a coffee ^^


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