Going BIG

There is a time for everything and this year was my time to go BIG.

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Sixteen foot wave, oil on aluminum panel

I’ve wanted to paint a life size wave for many years now and a number of things had to happen before that was possible.

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The first piece to fall in place happened 8 years ago when my husband hammered the last nail into my studio. It’s a splendid space and has room to work large.

Then a conversation with Save the Bay turned to the possibility of my work benefiting their work though a show about Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay.

Finally Donna Parsons, the gallery director at Dryden Gallery asked me to have a show in their Grand Gallery. Their Grand Gallery is certainly grand! The top floor of an old warehouse, it hosts 30-foot walls perfectly suited for 24-foot waves.

So last year all the pieces were in place to move those waves from my imagination to the canvas. Only I didn’t paint on canvas, I painted on aluminum panels.

I sketched waves at  beaches over the past two years.

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I took loads of photos and combed though my old wave reference file. I studied other artist’s waves. No wave went unturned. I designed my waves using this reference and then painted the small studies which worked as my blue prints for the large paintings.

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Small study for Sixteen foot wave

I have never had much of an interest in painting directly and exactly from photos. Even when I intend to, I veer off into my own invention. These paintings are about 80% my own design. The photo reference is the seed.

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Five panel study for Twenty Four foot wave

I’m not a wave expert, but I do swim in the ocean. I wanted these paintings to express the exhilaration of diving into a daunting wave. One of my students said they make her seasick! I guess that’s close enough!

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Twenty Four foot wave oil painting on five aluminum panels

The Waves, along with nearly 100 smaller paintings will be available at Dryden Gallery in Providence RI October 6th through December 1st.

Let me know if you would like an invitation to the show!

 

*My previous blog mentioned a track in the snow I couldn’t’ identify. A few weeks ago I heard David Brown, a wildlife track expert, on Boston’s NPR, so I contacted him. He thinks a River Otter made this track. How cool is that!

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Who goes there?

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The morning after this last big snowstorm, I headed over to the inlet I paint once a month. The inlet opens into a marshy area so the beach I was walking along is sandwiched between the bay and wetlands. On the way I noticed some bunny tracks. I love animal tracks in the snow. The quite reminder that all kinds of creatures are busy with their own lives feels strangely consoling to me. With bunnies on my mind and my paint supplies on my back I trudged on towards the inlet. The tide was so high I had to walk in the water for short stretches.  I was watching my footing rather carefully when I came across this track. It went from the bay to the marsh. The center area of the track was depressed about 2 inches deep and I’m guessing about 8 inches across. Foot prints straddled it.

IMG_8931At first I thought maybe a turtle, but then noticed how large the foot prints were and wondered if it could be a seal. Would a seal leave the bay and go into wetlands? Don’t they like rocks where they can quickly get back into the safety of the water?

I sent a photo off to Wenley Ferguson who is the director of habitat at Save the Bay. Maybe she would know. She guessed a beaver. I had neglected to tell her where I found the track, don’t beavers like fresh water? I read that beavers don’t have salt-excreting glands to get rid of excess salt. I don’t believe there is fresh water anywhere close by, so if it is a beaver they were out for an early morning adventure. To me the mystery remains unsolved. Any other suggestions or explanations would be great!

I continued on my way to paint the March rendering of my inlet series. I wanted to get to the site before the cold wind came up. It seems the winter wind is always blowing right in my face at this location.

 

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This March painting marks the half way point for this inlet series which I started in October. I am looking forward to painting in more merciful weather this spring and though the summer.

Love: The Art and Blessing of Observation

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Portrait of Andrea Quaratesi by Michelangelo

A couple days ago I had the great pleasure of seeing the Michelangelo show at the Metropolitan Museum with my artist friend Margie Ball and about two thousand other people. Entering the show was like entering a conga dance that snaked around each masterpiece. I lost Margie in the mob, but found the portrait Andrea Quaratesi. This exquisitely sensitive drawing is in contrast with the bold strength of Michelangelo’s other works.

 

 

Clearly Quaratesi was a special person to the Master. According to Vasari*, Michelangelo said that drawings, such as this one, “were carried out for love rather than duty.”

I have noticed that love can come from “duty” (such as a commission), as well. Most of the time during the act of painting I fall in love. It seems to have something to do with concentrated observation and is a wonderful perk of the job that I don’t often mention. While I’m painting, I look to my subject for guidance. What color, shape, value, texture and composition is it offering me? During that time I begin to feel the essence of the place or thing. Hopefully that essence translates into the painting. I don’t know how that happens, but I do know that when it does it feels like love.

Sometimes you paint something because you love it and sometimes you love something because you paint it.

This pet portrait was the latter

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“In a Heartbeat” 12″ x 30″ oil on canvas

And this Dress was the former

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“Memories” 60″ x 30″ oil on aluminum

Then there is Narragansett Bay, which perfectly dovetails both.

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“Chop”, 24 foot oil painting on 5 panels

So pay attention! As John Tarrant said, “Attention is the most basic form of love, though it we bless and are blessed.”

Happy Valentines Day!

 

*Vasari , born in 1511 was an Italian painter, architect, writer and historian. He was Michelangelo’s first biographer.

In Perpetual Pursuit of Perfection

I love this Narragansett Bay project. Through it, I have been honing my skills as a landscape painter. Each time I started a new bay painting I hoped it would be better than the last. Ultimately I hoped I would get to a place where I could call the painting PERFECT!

 

 

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Perfect! That word feels so good to me. Doesn’t it feel good to you? You look Perfect! Your work is Perfect! You are Perfect! It’s what I’ve been after in my art. It’s what most of us are after. A perfect family, a perfect car, a perfect body, a perfect blog post!

Apparently though, that’s not how things really work.   Peter Fleck writes in his book The Blessings of Imperfection that we are built to make mistakes. We learn by trial and error. In fact, the very basis of evolution is errors. A mutation becomes a miracle…until it isn’t anymore and then another mutation comes along.

imagesSo is anything actually ever perfect? Is anything ever completely beyond improving?

 

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “ Art is never finished, only abandoned.” What did he mean? Is he saying that an artist, even a great artist, cannot reach perfection with his work? To most people Leonardo’s work is a 10 out of 10. Can it be perfect even if he doesn’t think so?

Perhaps perfection is simply an invention of the imagination, and maybe we are a bit obsessed with it. Are we overlooking the sublimity of the commonplace in order to pursue the impossibility of perfection?

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Well I guess I do have fun and make messes sometimes : )

This inquiry has had me thinking recently about the personal cost of striving so hard with each new painting, for that nebulous supremacy. I realized that for all the years of striving for, and believing in some kind of perfection, I lost-out on some of the joy of creation, as well as on the freedom to make mistakes and messes. I also think that at times I have overlooked my own voice, my unique contribution. Perhaps in my stressful striving, I missed noticing little mutations in my work that could open up new vistas in my artistic evolution.

I think I will follow Sara Glenn of the Painter’s Keys advice and “Fire with impunity the constipating sin of perfection” and replace it with the liberating blessing of imperfection.

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Sixty Paintings in One Day

 

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If you have ever gone to a figure drawing class, chances are you have done a gesture drawing. As a warmup for longer poses, gesture drawings are like warming up before a run. You get your eyes, mind and hand on the same page literally and figuratively.

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This one to five minute sketch  introduces you to your subject and loosens you up. The best thing about a gesture drawing is that it forces you to look at the whole model at once, to capture the feel in a few strokes. When drawing or painting our attention often focuses on the details and, to our detriment, we don’t see the overall image. Our brains are actually wired to see detail, so to override our biological impulse to render the eyelashes first, we can impose a  brief time limit. Shorter times translate into drawings with more gesture, vitality, and authenticity.

 

Recently I transferred the idea of gesture drawing to plein air painting. I set out to paint sixty, five-minute paintings in one day using gouache. As you might know if you read my posts, I just turned sixty, so it seemed like a good idea… at the time.

 

It was

 

and it wasn’t.

It was good  because the exercise helped me see the whole image right away. The influential French painter Ingres once told his students, “When studying nature, firstly have eyes for nothing but the whole”. With such a rigorous time constraint to fill the page, I had no time to see anything but the “whole”.

 

However, doing sixty paintings is an endurance event. In my planning I had neglected to figure in enough time to get from one painting site to the next. Often it was only a few steps, but I needed to move my easel, water and paints each time. The wind was whipping and constantly threatened to knock my whole set-up over, and did 4 times. Also, partly due to the wind, the gouache was drying on my palette pretty fast and after a few paintings I needed to clean up and replace colors. The whole process took longer and was more arduous than I had planed. Fatigue and the sunset were upon me before I could finish.

 

I completed the last of my 60 paintings in the studio using whatever was there as models and shortened the time limit for each to 3 minutes. I had to get home! 

 

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Though some of the landscape paintings are pretty abstract, they do have the feel of the path, the beach and the marsh.  I am tempted to take them back out and do a more “finished” rendering of the areas, but won’t. They are my gesture paintings and I will include some of them in my show, “21 Months, 147 Miles, Painting the Bay” at Dryden Gallery this coming fall. And the price you ask? Why sixty dollars of course! ; )

Swimming to Dutch Island

Because of my Paint the Bay project, 21 Months-147 Miles-Painting the Bay, I have had the opportunity to dovetail two of my favorite pursuits into a single event, Think, Triathlon or the Nordic Biathlon. I decided to call it Swainting! Continue reading

The business of procrastination takes a lot of time!

Seriously, it can take me all day to avoid working on a painting that I find daunting.

Take my wave painting.
(this is the sketch)
Wave composite GapAbout a year ago I thought….”Wow, it would be so cool to paint a 24 foot wave for my Narragansett Bay Show.” It seemed like a great idea for the “future me” to do.

Dryden Gallery’s Grand Gallery is a huge space, perfect for a huge piece. I’m an open water swimmer so I know waves (right?). “This is going to be easy!” I thought. “Paint the wave in fog, keep the palette very limited, it will just flow off my brush” I thought.

Flash forward to reality. Waves are not easy to paint, even foggy waves. They are deceptive little buggers full of varying angles and forms that flow into or against each other. There is reflected light and translucency within the form light. There are wind, wave and foam patterns all dancing a complex choreography. Add to that the size of my endeavor. What was I thinking? 24 feet is…. well… t w e n t y-f o u r feet!

The planning part of working large has been kind of fun. For instance, check out this behemoth brush I bought!
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And these tremendous tubes!
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Then, there is the surface…
IMG_1750I am opting for 5 separate aluminum panels to make the piece more transportable. Even so, they are too large and heavy for my easels, and my studio was not designed for producing 24-foot paintings. How and where will I support and prep these bad boys for painting? This seems to be where planning has turned into procrastination.

The future “me”, who I had imagined singing a happy sea shanty while a 24-foot wave flowed off her brush, has turned into a present day “me” who needs to take a nap.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

Celebration to Conservation

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A painting of mine called “Perched” is currently showing at MEAM, the European Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona Spain. The show hosts winners of two international competitions for realistic fine art. I am thrilled to be included in a show representing contemporary realism at its best. Perched is a 36” x 48” oil painting of a pear, quite different from the many gouache and oil sketches I have been doing recently along the Rhode Island waterfront.

Perched,48 x 30, Oil-2Artists may become known for a particular subject matter at which they are adept, or they may have a unique and exquisite approach to their medium. Once an artist has achieved a certain level of mastery, it makes a lot of sense to continuing doing what works so well. What interests me, however, is discovering what I can take from that past success and use in a new area.

At one time I was known as an animal portrait artist. I mostly painted dogs and had a business selling limited prints of my paintings through my company, Purebred Editions.
rapturousI received a number of national and international awards for the paintings and prints and at the time, to some, I was considered one of the top artists in the field. I could have kept painting dogs, but I didn’t.

flameInstead, I became interested in organic form and translucency. For years now, the pear in a produce wrapper has been my muse. Like my dog paintings, these are essentially portraits. I find the pears to be a lovely way to paint sensuality and explore light. Happily, I have enjoyed a positive response to these works, as the recent show in Barcelona attests.

This year however, Narragansett Bay is teaching me to be a landscape painter. It feels so freeing to simply paint what is there in front of me, designed by the sun, wind and water.

I love our bay, and I love exploring and discovering ways to share my experience of this RI treasure.

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As wonderful as it is for me to show my work internationally, I feel it is just as important, perhaps more important, to have my paintings leverage some amount of appreciation and conservation for Narragansett Bay.

To reach that goal I hope to fill the Grand Gallery at Dryden Gallery in Providence with works that range from 4 inches long to 24 feet long. Part of the proceeds from sales will go to Save the Bay to help them continue the fantastic job they have been doing for decades.

Is your brain tricking you?

What we see and what we perceive are two different things.

According to Donald Hoffman, a cognitive scientist, our brains filter out everything unnecessary for our survival. The things we think we see are more like icons on your computer screen; representatives of things we have encoded in our brains. There is an interesting Ted Talk about this: Do we see reality as it is?

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I have been aware of this phenomena to a certain extent for years. As someone who paints realistically, I know that once my brain has labeled what I see, I can no longer see it without bias. If I know a chair, which is in shadow, has four legs for support, I might paint what I know to be true and not what I am actually seeing, which is part of only three legs that reflect some of the light. There is the need to identify  individual objects with clear delineation of form, even  when they are grouped in such a way that in reality, you can not distinguish them from their surrounding. Equally true are issues around perspective. We just want to paint that desk as a rectangle even though to our eyes it’s a trapezoid.

Artists use tricks to see more accurately what is in front of them. We blur our vision to see the values better. We look at our paintings in a mirror or turn the canvas upside down to see it fresh and new.  But I have found that the best way to render something correctly is to have no idea what it is that you are painting!  Simply observe the color shapes and the changes in the edges and the values of those shapes. If you record that accurately,  voila! a perfect painting!, or at least a painting that mirrors what your eyes are seeing.

You can try this without painting. Look at something near you or look at the whole room. If you can, pretend you were just beamed here from another planet. You have never seen it before. You have no idea what it is. Look at the colors, the values, the edges and let what you see just be, without any explanation or identification.

Were you able to do this? Did you see something new or something that had been unnoticed before? I’d love to hear back from you!

Maybe not knowing can get us closer to the truth.

Gouache can be Gauche, but also Great!

IMG_0745Last year I taught myself how to use gouache, which is an opaque watercolor. Unlike regular watercolor,  gouache will wipe off the paper if you get it wet. That means once you put your mark down, it is fairly difficult to rework. Muddy, messy and miserable is the consequence of an indecisive  gouache painter. Colors  also have the nasty habit of changing as they dry and they dry in seconds. I find the whites dry darker and more blue. Since white is  ubiquitous in paintings, this change effects the whole piece. Meanwhile, the darks appear to dry lighter. Working with this fickle medium is kind of like dancing;  you need to anticipate your partners moves in order to stay on your feet.

I picked it up with the hope that gouache  would bring a new facet to my oil painting.  With oils, I tend to work slowly in layers, glazing color over color. Working “indirectly”  is a methodical approach and requires planning and forethought. Bold or spontaneous  mark making has not been my way.  With gouache, you simply cannot glaze or refine as you can with oil. It needs a dictator, not a diplomate.  Practicing with gouache, I hoped, would translate into more expressive oil paintings.

Despite the inconveniences that I mentioned earlier, there are some real benefits to using this medium.  If you are painting outside, the gear is light and easy to set up. The paintings are completed quicker and clean up is a breeze.  I also believe gouache is much less toxic.

IMG_0741 I painted in gouache last fall, but when the paint started freezing on the palette I switched back to oils. Now it’s warmed up and the painting above is my reintroduction to gouache.  I’m surprised how excited I am to be using it again. I actually like that little dance you do with the colors and the authoritarian way I’m forced to make marks. Hopefully you will see many more of these as the summer progresses.

I’m even thinking of offering a workshop for other artists who might like to try their hand with something new and difficult…(oops) I mean different.