Join me....

I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Back to Basics & Beyond

Why is it that no matter what we do (tennis, paint, draw, pottery)
it takes a professional to remind us that
when we get stuck, the best course of action is to
return to the basics, those key pillars we
learned waaaaay back when we were
just beginning?

I had one of those "I've heard this before" moments when I spent 3 days in an Andy Braitman workshop this past month.  I love his work, his teaching style and what he is able to coax out of my
"stuck" brain.  And while we had been told to come prepared to paint clouds, in true Andy-fashion he changed up the entire syllabus (as such) while driving in.

Where did we start?  With tonal paintings, like notans in a sketch book only larger.  We spent a great deal of time discussing eye moment, the golden mean and all the old standbys but Andy added his special elements including a spiral inward, a progressing formation of rectangles proportionate to each other....and so much more.  But when paint came to the canvas we started with a basic 3 tone underpainting full of movement and texture.  The thickness and texture is hard to see in this photo, I was clearly too enthralled to remember to document my progress (heck, I can't even decipher some of the notes I took, I was so filled with info and excitement.)

But here are 3 beginnings, three values each.  The two pieces on the left and middle both started from the same photograph I had taken in for reference.  See how they change depending on the preceding discussion.  Note the shoreline on the right.  Thats the one I will show finished (or almost) below.

White, mixed black and mixed grey.  An underpainting which will serve as a roadmap for the next stages as well as a base of some texture which we pushed with rubber nibs, brushes, rollers....whatever floated our boat.

Then we chose 3 analogous colors (beside each other on the color wheel) and the complement to the middle color.  I had a deep purple, a deep blue and a pthalo blue with a yellowy orange.  We could also use a mixed black and a white.  Then we got to mixing color....that part was incredibly fun.  How many different colors could you get with your combo and how could you get at least three values of those colors.  For the first time in a long time I really enjoyed playing with the mixing...I am pretty sure it was because being forced to limit the palate at the start reins in the overwhelming feel of it being too much to deal with.

Here's my finished marsh piece.  Or at least finished while I decide what else it might need.  Andy kept emphasizing that we needed to spend twice as much time looking and mixing more as applying paint.  Thats an excellent rule of thumb for someone like me who tends to go just over the edge....ruining a painting quickly by acting in haste.  

So the Back to Basics was a very sound lesson....and leave it to Andy to push us Beyond.  I am having a great time working on my other starts.  I can't wait to share them.


Friday, August 11, 2017

When There's Nothing to Add

Sometimes I forget about the fact that 
 art needs to "add" to the
conversation...why make a copy of 
something unless there is more to say?

As artists we spend so much time learning how to render something, how to use the media to capture what we see that we forget about the creativity of saying something new.  I don't mean we have to reinvent a new type of wheel but we should be adding something new to the conversation about the wheel.  Does this resonate?

Andy Braitman was trying to make a similar point last week in a workshop I attended when he asked:  "How can you improve upon a beautiful photograph of a gorgeous woman? " and he answered succinctly "You can't.  So don't paint it." And then he added, "Unless you are going to tell us something new about that gorgeous woman."

I have pondered this all week and, as a result, am reexamining my interest in painting, with permission, my friend Gene's fabulous flower photographs.  Gene's ability to capture the NC wildflowers is extraordinary.  He does everything with a camera that I cannot.  It seemed a simple matter to let him do his magic and then ask if I could paint from the images that caught my attention.  (Gene is a generous fellow and always says yes.)

So I tried....
and tried....
and tried.

Here is one result, a Yellow Salsify flower and bee.

Cindy's version of "Salsified" oil, 10 x 0

It's not bad, but it is not memorable either.

Here is the original photo:

Gene Smith, photography

Now, to me, that is stunning, it is fresh and it stands on its own as art.
And look at this one:

photo by Gene Smith

What makes this photo exquisite are all the elements I would merely be copying: the way he captured the light on the edges of the bud and stem, the muted background and the stunning detail of the flower petals.  Not much more to add to that.  It was Gene who waited patiently in the itchy grass for the sun to catch the flower, not me. Had I been sitting alongside of him with my sketchbook or paints I somehow would have felt more legit.

I'm not saying that working from photos is a bad thing.  I just think I have come to the realization that the photo must be mine, I should have smelled and tasted and felt the location and have something of "cindy" to add to the image.  That's all.  I need to add to the conversation, start a new one or stay quiet.

Thanks Gene for your patience and understanding as I worked my way through this valuable lesson. 
At my urging Gene has made two calendars of his work, one on wildflowers and one of butterflies.  They are worth a look AND an order.  Check them out here. You may also contact Gene via email using the little envelope symbol on this page

Meanwhile, stay with me as I ponder this issue further.  What do you think?  Have you had a similar experience or revelation?

p.s. the post on finding painted rocks resulted in so many neat stories about folks participating. I really enjoyed the variety of places folks picked them up and how they added a little perfect something to their day.  So paint on, spread the joy and keep your eyes open! 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Art Rocks...or Not?!

Just sharing some fun...I'll leave the participation
(or not) up to you and your good sense.
Use your own creativity and judgement....

We were pulling the little airstream into the dump area to get water as we entered a State Park Campground in western NC.  Just as we were connecting and unconnecting and watering and so forth, I looked down and there on the ledge I found:

So cool.  I love rocks and this seemed like a good omen.  I flipped it over and read the back:

Well Miss Debby, I said to myself, you made my day!  As soon as I had internet I went to the Facebook page titled "RVing Rocks."  And learned that there was an entire community "out there" painting and hiding rocks in places that RV campers might find them.  Just under 5,000 strong, these folks of all ages were "hiding" rocks and recording the findings.  You know my interest was piqued.

I knew I had some suitable rocks at home to paint and leave during our next camping trip.

These were not taken from a national park, most I saw in a parking lot.  As I learned more about this rock painting "thing" I found some folks suggested going to the garden store or Walmart to obtain rocks.

I used Sharpie oil pens.  Acrylic paint works fine as well and sometimes you will need to start with a solid color on which to design.

Now....the RV FB group posted an article from the Texas State Parks discouraging people from participating in this project.  Their concern was protecting the natural state of parkland and I know that park lovers agree.  But many comments mentioned the fact that parking lots, bathrooms, campsites and gift shops had already disrupted some of the natural areas and if one stuck to these places no harm would come.  I agree.  Another writer (an embarrassed Texan) noted the State's goal of enticing children to come and enjoy the parks, so why didn't they embrace the idea and suggest areas (playgrounds, picnic areas, amphitheaters etc) to leave a stone or two.  Why does it have to be ALL or NOTHING?  Lets trust discretion.  (Some of you may remember the same fears expressed about the game of geocaching.)

A little further research and I found this began with "The Kindness Rocks" project in an effort to spread joy and smiles.  Read here to learn about the beach combing gal who had the idea and what she wanted to do.  In fact, her project website has a list of guidelines which explain things to think about in leaving a rock, they even suggest getting permission in certain cases.  In fact, in their words:
 "BE MINDFUL and BE RESPECTFUL of others, as that is what true kindness and peace is all about."

I did, only for a moment, wonder what would happen if too many rocks got out there all painted and unnatural.  Well, no fear.  It took me less than 5 minutes to return my rock to natural by rubbing it in the sand and on another rock ( I had decided I did not like the paint job).  I think Mother Nature will take care of any unfound rocks.

I'm going to finish my last rock and leave one at our next several stops (I will not leave in a national park however).  So you choose.  Maybe you have read of other spontaneous affirmations of kindness that folks have made and left for others to find.  If so, let me know in a reply.  Meanwhile, keep your eyes ready to find....a sign!


Friday, July 28, 2017

Mud Woman as Mother Earth

I had an entire day to spend by myself in the Denver Art Museum.
It was magical, informative, exhilarating and exhausting.
But it also felt worshipful when I rounded the 
corner and met "Mud Woman."

Mud Woman, Roxanne Swentzell, 2011

I was at the entrance to the permanent collection of American Indian art, just rounding the corner after getting off the elevator and thank goodness I was by myself.  I stopped dead still in awe of this (over 10 foot tall) mud structure and didn't move for many minutes.  Somehow I realized all the messages it offered instantaneously and yet yearned to slowly and carefully read everything I could about this piece.  

And I was not disappointed; Denver Art Museum has one of the best education delivery systems of any art museum I have ever been in.  They take every opportunity to offer (not force, not hide, not make you feel stupid for not knowing) information about each and every exhibit.  After a careful examination of Mud Woman I sat down to watch a video, read books and meet the wonderful woman who created her.  

If you can make the time, watch this (one minute) short time lapse video of her creation with straw and mud. A longer video with shots of the museum and Roxanne working with her husband is here.
The technique used is very similar to how adobe homes are made with straw and mud which then dries very hard.

Roxanne Swentzell has expressed herself in clay from a very young age.  As a child she had a speech impediment and was reluctant to talk to others. Working in clay became her default communication method.  As a result she has honed a remarkable talent for powerful messaging in her art.

in Roxanne's words...
Gives me shivers.  How have we gotten so far from the belief that we are of the Earth and will return to it?  How can we not show greater concern for her condition?  

If that is not enough meaning packed into one piece of art try this:  in researching more about Mud Mother's creation I came across a blog written by a friend of Roxanne's, Page Lambert,  who shares Roxanne's request of her to write something to go inside the sculpture.  While Lambert wrote a poem they also selected items with specific meanings to be placed inside the PVC pipe helping Mud Woman sit erect.  Her blog, linked above explains much of this.

So art speaks, it always has and it will continue to do so.  We need to take the time to listen.

In Earth Tones,

Friday, July 21, 2017

Tobacco Barns & Days Gone By

Sometimes I give myself a painting assignment
just to up the ante in my process.  This time
I chose to paint in two layers: the first
would be rendered in yellow, red and white; in the
second I could only use yellow, blue and white.

Tobacco barns are a familiar sight in the western North Carolina area.  No longer used for their intended purpose, many of them stand empty and sad, slowly disintegrating before our eyes.  The evils of tobacco notwithstanding, I have an affinity for these old structures and often pause wishing I could know the tales they hold in their old weathered boards.  Now and again I am able to get a decent photo...too many are located on fast moving roadways that preclude pulling off to explore.  But when I do get a pic, I have fun painting them in a variety of ways.

Limiting myself to a strict palate of only what I could mix with yellow, red (primary colors) and white if needed, I made my first pass at the scene with an acrylic underpainting.

I actually liked the feel this gave and left it for a few days as tribute to the warm and humid days when the tobacco hung.  I was also contemplating what I might do with my next selected colors.

So I switched to oil paints and put away the red adding the third primary blue.  Now I could mix these two for green and/or put glazes of blue on top of red for purples or on oranges I got to work.

I was tentative in the sky because I really liked the yellow overcast but worked on clouds while deciding just how blue to go.  I also wanted the attention to flow up the hill and thru the barn so did not want to provide too much distraction in the orangish foreground.  Restraint was called for even with so few colors to work with.  I had to rely on brush stroke, temperature and perspective to get my message across.  

My Father's World
oil, 24 x 24, on cradled board, $325

And even though my father's farm did not grown tobacco, this was of his era so the name felt appropriate.  I would give anything for an afternoon of stories from this barn, and even more so, from my Dad.  Meanwhile, the structure sits alone, a beacon of days (and economies) gone by.


Friday, July 14, 2017

More Flower Power

Sometimes I get on a jag...
better known as "painting a series," where a 
particular subject becomes of great interest
and I just can't seem to get enough.

I'm going to blame it on spring.  After months of grey skies and noble, naked trees we were suddenly treated to bits of color here and there.  A lone bloom became reason to pause and enjoy the sensation. I think that is what started my interest in painting flowers...and, much to my surprise, I am still enjoying them.  

A weekend in Charleston provide some photos of the quintessential southern bloom: the Magnolia.

I painted it twice, two different sizes and both were detailed studies of form and color.

Southern Comfort
oil, 16 x 12, gold floater frame, $250

Sweet Tea
oil, 7 x 5, gold frame, $185

Needing some flowers a bit less constrained, I opted next to paint a "mess of daisies" I found out in the woods.  They looked, and felt, every bit as southern as the magnolias but certainly not as proper or well heeled.  Two sides of spring: dignified and wild.  

On the Wild Side

oil, 7 x 5 painting, frame measures 13 x 11

I don't think I am done with of the many benefits of painting a subject consistently is that you begin to pick up on the small nuances of the subject matter.  In this case there is much to learn about stems and positions (like necks holding up heads), growth patterns, leaf patterns (and making the right leaf believable to the correct plant) and oh, about a thousand other small details that add up to the big picture.

I was advised once not to paint anything I am not intimately familiar with...or someone will call me out on a misplaced detail.  So while the sun is giving us long days and cool evenings I am out to get up close and personal with a lot more flowers.  Here's hoping you find blossoms in your day.

Blooming in Living Color,