Monday, December 21, 2009

Candlelight Mass

 11.5 x 10.5" Soft Pastels on Wallis professional grade sanded paper

This painting began with a photo of Japanese Maple leaves back-lit by the bright November sun. I imagined I would paint a sunny salute to the winter blues. But I studied the reference, squinting and glancing for quite some time. I wanted to be sure I knew what this painting was about before I began. Christmas music played soothingly in the background. Soon I saw that the leaves looked like little red-robed fairy-angels hovering over a candle lit service in a large cathedral. The blue sky became the cathedral window, soft with the blue of an early evening sky. The little halos of light became distant candles. When I finally finished, I saw the Virgin Mary in silhouette with babe in arms, an entirely unintended likeness.

I liked the process for this painting. Figuring out the background was a trick, but after that I was not plagued by fears that I was toiling over a disaster. I love layering rich color with pastels.

Have a blessed holiday season, everyone!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ladies of the Court

7.5x13” on Wallis museum grade sanded paper

Rex Begonias sport some of nature's most beautiful foliage. Their leaves, like fancy court skirts are quilted, blistered, crimped, and ruffled. Their fiber optic-like stems can light the interior spaces with an appropriately sultry and spicy glow.

At first I felt that this subject was a bit ambitious for me, especially since I just spent a week working on an utterly lackluster piece that I buried with the other junk. But, this is where I want to go, sharing the intimate spaces of nature that have always seemed to be my secret treasures. I figured I had better start reaching for the hard stuff. With each of the many times I was ready to throw it away, something would go right and I would keep working. I was surprised at the end by the contribution of the final lower left leaf. Its strong design really suggested the 'courtliness' of this scene in a way entirely absent from the photo reference. I was finally able to describe the sense of whimsy that accompanied my admiration of these leaves and their interior spaces.

(I don't yet understand it, even years after this was painted. Whenever someone (so far that means 'anyone') see this painting for the first time, they have an instinctual and physical revulsion to it, as though they have been punched in the gut. I've seen a lot of ho-hum paintings in my life and none made me groan out loud. Very curious indeed.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sycamore Branches

9x9” (nearly) Wallis Museum Grade sanded paper, Soft Pastels.
This week’s effort has been applied to Sycamore Bark. I was browsing a nearby park one bright but rainy day. Looking from the diamond light windows of the covered bridge I found myself in the ‘arms’ of a large Sycamore. I knew they had mottled bark, but I never knew there were so many colorful layers!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pear in Green Bowl

 *11.22.09 Photo updated
This week I worked on Kitty Wallis sanded paper for the first time. I think I love it! For one thing, the color is much more vibrant from the first touch than it is on sued, which tends to resist the first layers of color. I used a watercolor under-painting, since I did not want the paper white to show through in this color scheme. I also spent a lot of time drawing the bowl and pear, trying to get it exactly right.The tabletop in reality was bright enough under the studio light to challenge the pear, so I invented the cloth with the perspective stripes to lend a bit of interest without detracting from the bowl and pear. Also, I was hoping it would quietly lead the eye into the pear, since I didn't have the traditional table edge with lush drapery seen in so many still lifes.

I like this one, even though as a subject it's not complex enough to be inspiring. I like the overall richness and warmth, the 'painterliness' of the rosy pear, and the lighting on the bowl.  I still struggle to understand why so many of the artists I try to follow paint fruit without any context or story at all. So this is my fruit painting. It's my second actually, the obligatory apple is above the kitchen cabinets.I think I miss the sense of story. That would be my real complaint. But-hey, I got practice rendering and working with a new ground.

Shed On Matt Road

For two weeks now I have successfully created two early morning hours for painting. For a non-morning person this is a shocking accomplishment.

Anyway, for week one I tackled the Shed on Matt Road. I just had to paint that red roof! It was also a simple enough picture for a beginner. I struggled with the composition in thumbnails, as the more foreground I included to make the dirt road the 'S' armature for the eye, the smaller the shed became and the more the whole composition looked like a Bavarian mural. So finally I left only a smidge of road as an entrance for the eye and focused on the shed with the encroaching shrubbery.

I've been living with this result for over a week now. Over all I'm not in love with it. It's a little cartoon-ish. The Princess tree, which really is a monster, looks a little too Dr. Seuss for what I had in mind.

Update: December 16, 2009
So I've been living with this one for five or six weeks now. I expected to like it less every day, but surprisingly, it's growing on me! Kind of has a simple charm about it. The Dr. Seuss trees (which look a great deal like the photo reference) allow me to take it with a bit of whimsy.

I do have a whimsical perspective sometimes. I just had no idea that it would creep into my work.

Ah, well. moving on to my first experience with Kitty Wallis sanded paper! I may revisit this shed to see if I can get a different 'look' from the same subject.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Earliest Work 1

As this blog will also become my own retrospective reference, I wanted to catch up on posting some early work. There is precious little of it, actually, so it won’t take long. Setting up for the photos and reclaiming images from frames I had hoped to never move is the toughest part!

Last Spring 2008 I attended some group art lessons under the eye of Pastel and Oil Painter, Rick Rennick here in town. Shown here is the second piece I ever painted. Beginners luck! It is a copy of an Alan Bloom garden photo from a spring 2008 issue of Garden Design magazine. I wanted an image that would make me learn how to get different shaped marks from my pastels, and how to get the darks really dark. (This photo is darker than reality, the victim of inadequate studio lighting and a poorly balanced monitor for digital color adjustment.) Rick likes working pastels on sued mat, so that’s what I have been using so far. Its advantages are in being nearly dustless, easy to carry around, and needing only the faintest of fixative sprays to hold the final layers still.

I was terrified to begin this painting. Because I was literally copying a photo, I rendered from top to bottom, left to right, so the image was 90% finished as I moved across the page. This did help boost my confidence to keep going, so maybe it was a good thing to copy a photo after all!  I realize now that this was a work flow not suited to actual painting. Still, I was quite pleased with the result. It’s a bit stylized, which was a surprise to me. Resembles embroidery perhaps, but I had fun and am not embarrassed to have it seen. Since it cannot be shown or sold, it lives on the foyer table under a lamp.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It Is Settled, Then.

When asked to describe who I am, I say that I see through the eyes of a poet. It’s a pretty neat way to experience the world. But I have believed this gift to be a trifle -- suitable only for art appreciation, thoughtful cards, and picture-taking. I dither with my pastels because I suspect it’s just another time-consuming hobby of no more contribution than Sudoku puzzles, and far more costly. Yet my spirit longs for profound expression and the satisfaction of successful sharing—the fulfillment of ‘being’ the Poet. 

This week in the mountains confirmed to my rational mind that I do have a valid and unique point of view that could be worthy of presentation. I confirmed that I need a mode of expression that will suit my favorite tools—my eyes and hands, and I still get to write. Writing about your work has become an essential for the modern artist (post Yr 2000) as art moves from the galleries to the internet. I have accepted that the work I was made to do must be done, even if it must be done on unpaid time. I am extraordinarily blessed, however, to have a paying job that neatly accommodates my needs as a budding artist. I must rush now to make the most of it.

Into The Lap of God

On one pivotal day in the mountains I found my path on a fabulous scenic drive up, up, up into the mountainous quilt of color and onto the ridge tops. For as much as six hours (on this fifth day of such beauty) my mind was flooded with stunning scenery. I became emotionally ecstatic. Every nook and cranny of my mind felt ablaze with awe at the perfect symphony of nature. I discovered I was grinning and that I was using facial muscles that I don’t normally use to smile. This smile was a different shape! My refreshed mind was literally expressing itself through my body, immediately.

In that moment it became clear to me that our mind is a creative organ that is shaped by the input it receives and that in turn shapes our lens on life.  It determines the way we respond to life, and thus the way life responds to us. I’ve ‘known’ this for a long time, of course, but this day I knew it for a physical fact. And that fact made another thought clear: Artists are essential to society. They capture and share moments that remind us that light, harmony, and grace is in constant flux around us. Essential art brings us hope, rest, reflection, refreshment, and inspiration. This day’s experience also demonstrated that beauty (or any activity that generates a moment of inspiration) can have a cumulative effect.

Prisoner of the Mind

As for many people, my window on the world is dominated by news media and life-like TV crime intrigue. I have noticed recently that it has become more difficult to see the world as other than crime-ridden and blighted with the crash of our exuberant consumerism. I try to look ahead at how to best prepare for my own future, but can see no realistic vision where my spirit is not ground to dust in poverty and dispirited labor as my earning power declines with age. I turn away and decide to enjoy while I can and hope I die before my financial and health world collapses. Good time for a vacation.

 Before I left, I heard a voice speak quite clearly to me:

“When your mind is filled with your own knowledge, you will become trapped by what you know. When you make a space for Spirit, you make a space for new and creative information to flow into your vision. The path ahead will enjoy many more opportunities for fortuitous branching because you will be looking beyond your own limitations. Spirit does work, when you invite it to.”

I accepted this. My dalliance with agnosticism had left me stark, calculating, and trapped by the limitations of ‘hard’ facts and probability.