Wrapping Things Up

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Never has time moved so fast.

Twenty-one months to paint the 147 miles of Narragansett Bay seemed like a good idea twenty months ago.  A better idea would have given me twenty-one years.

When Save the Bay, Dryden Gallery and I first planned this show, I intended to paint the highlights of our bay: the beaches, parks, towns and of course the light houses, bridges and historical spots. I soon reconsidered that list. It seemed too much like a boring illustration assignment. I have a personal relationship with the bay and I wanted to depict what I love about it. This actually increased my list!

Now after twenty months and 130 paintings the “to paint” list is still much longer than the “have painted” list.  Since Donna Parsons, the director of Dryden Gallery, is unwilling to postpone the show another ten years, and because there is only 300 linear feet of wall space in the gallery, the show will proceed as scheduled!

What you will see are moments in time that caught my attention. Paintings of life- sized waves that beg you to jump in or flee, depending on your disposition.

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Twenty Four foot wave oil painting on five aluminum panels

There are tiny sketches of swells that mesmerize beach-goers.

 

You will see how one inlet changed throughout the year.

 

There are portraits of wildlife inspired by the residents of Save the Bay’s aquarium.

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And of course, you will find plenty of landscapes.

 

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Speaking of the landscapes, each painting will be numbered and flagged on a map. If you don’t find a painting of your favorite spot, you can commission one! Part of the proceeds will still go to Save the Bay.

Of course we aren’t done until the fat lady sings. I bought a paddle-board in order to paint offshore, and I hope to do a small twilight piece from the water soon. I want to get to more islands as well, so if you have a boat and some time this month, please let me know!  A few more wildlife paintings would help round out the show as well.

Suffice it to say, I will keep working till the last minute. My garden has never been so overgrown, my house never so dusty. There are books collecting on my bedside table and friends awaiting outings. I have given this show my best effort and I hope you can celebrate it with me on October 6th at 7pm at 27 Dryden Lane, Providence RI.

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The Sound of Birds

IMG_9379Sitting on the side of a hilltop at dawn, I listened to the creatures wake up. Birds came first, then a cacophony of animals I could barely identify, all greeting the new day.

This is how I spent my mornings in France, listening while trying to capture that soft fleeting morning light falling broken along the far hillside.

I would set up in the dark, sometimes using a headlamp and wait.

Dawn comes fast.

I found it all so peaceful and beautiful but what I loved most were the sounds.

 

Here in Rhode Island animals greet the morning as well.

This morning egrets flew away squawking. They soon returned to their stealth fishing, ignoring my quite presence. I listened to the bay lapping on the beach and the variety of birds calling. Sometimes I heard a scuttle or a plop. All the while I tried to capture the changing colors and shapes before me. The tide moved fast filling the inlet, the shadows shortened, the sky brightened increasing the color intensity of all that I saw.

IMG_0411I try to hold an image in my mind and not chase the color changes. It takes concentration and commitment to this moment and to the moment just before, when I put down that first mark.

These are the things I love about plein air painting: the sounds, the sights and the intensity of focus.

Sometimes I paint outside later in the day, when people are about.

I love talking with people about my work and I love it when someone likes what they see. But I don’t love it when a person requires my attention while I’m working.

Imagine this: You are writing an essay on the sunset in front of you. You furiously write down your thoughts as they come with the changing scenery.

Then someone walks up from behind and asks to read what you are writing. They tell you how they too write and what a great writer their Aunt Sara is. Then they tell you they think you are doing a fine job, good work!

This won’t happen of course because when a person sees another person deep in concentration writing they would never interrupt or have the audacity to ask to read the work.

Oh, but the plein air painter is a whole different kettle of fish! Over and over I have people aggressively interrupting me. They ask if they can watch, or what kind of paint it is, or if I teach, or even if I offer a wine and paint night.

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To be honest most people are either too respectful or disinterested to interrupt me. But a few need to engage. Now, some artists are fine with that. Maybe they actually enjoy it. Perhaps they can easily regain their concentration, even with a slew of eyes watching from behind. But I think I’m correct that most artists stumble, the light changes, the tide goes out, they can’t get their focus back. The spell is broken.

Sometimes lately I just put my brush down and chat with my new friend. After an interruption, I might not be able to make the best choices, so it’s better to just stop. Maybe finish it back in the studio. I give the person my card and hope that somehow a sale will make up for the aborted painting.

Some artists wear headphones in an attempt to stave off intruders. The “I can’t hear you!” approach to privacy. My kids have suggested I do that but what would my painting look like without the sounds of the birds?IMG_E0430

Many Ways to Help Waterways

IMG_7934A year ago I met a woman during a swim in Bermuda. Chatting in beautiful water, we found we were so much alike! Our love of the water, our families, our priorities were all so similar. We prattled on and on, but people kept interrupting to ask for her autograph. Finally we retreated to a hot tub where I asked who she was. Her name is Mimi Hughs and at age 50 she swam the entire 2,880 kilometers of the Danube though 10 countries, some of which were communist, to raise environmental awareness. Her 19-year-old daughter Kelsey was her kayak support. Mimi needed all 10 countries to help support her swim thus illustrating the need to work internationally to protect our planet. Each day for 89 days she swam 20 to 30 kilometers. Sometimes the river was wildly dangerous, at times frigid and often so polluted that she fought infections almost daily.

At this point in the conversation I’m thinking, maybe we’re not so much alike.

Since then I have read her book about the experience and we have stayed in touch thanks to social media. A couple weeks ago this monumental star for environmental awareness told me she thinks I’m awesome! She was referring to my painting of course, not my athletic achievements. I would love to have the kind of bravery and body to make history like Mimi has (the Danube is not her only endurance achievement), but we do what we can right? My contribution is though painting and that’s good because Mimi has the endurance thing covered. Each person has his or her unique gift, talent, or interest and just like the ecosystem, our interdependence is more valuable than our independence.

I paint, Save the Bay protects and educates and Dryden Gallery supports us both.

Here is what I’ve done this month for my “Paint the Bay” project.

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I’m hoping this show will be a reminder to those of us in Rhode Island just how beautiful and diverse, yet vulnerable our bay is. Part of the proceeds will go to Save the Bay to support their great work. Save October 6th and come celebrate with us.

Meanwhile, check out Mimi’s book “Wider than a Mile: One River Two Women. It is truly a page-turner! https://www.amazon.com/Wider-Than-Mile-River-Women/dp/1490459480

Outside in the Spring!

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The weather is finally (and I mean FINALLY) warm enough for me to dust off my gouache tubes.  Gouache, being water soluble, isnIMG_1838’t fond of cold and has been patiently waiting since November when, you might recall, I painted 60 paintings in a day to celebrate my 60th birthday. Oils would never have managed such a feat.

It’s not that I prefer one to the other! Oil is my first love and continues to be my main squeeze, so to speak. Gouache, however, is so immediate, so light and so easy that I like going out with it during the warmer months.

I thought it might be fun in this post to show you all the components that go into producing these paintings.

Lets start with the surface. Watercolor paper works perfectly as gouache is watercolor, just opaque. Last summer I tried working on board and canvas

and I might try going larger later this summer, but for now, the 9″x7″ sketch pad is great.

Gouache needs to stay damp at all times. It will dry out on the palette in a heartbeat and be worthless. So there are tricks to keeping it wet. I know of one artist that wets paper towels and uses that as his palette. I haven’t tried that since I LOVE Weber Fusion’s airtight palette.

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I keep a damp sponge in it to keep things humid when it’s closed and I carry a tiny spray bottle with me to spritz the paint from time to time while I am working.

Being creative people, most artists take pride in how they set up their work-spaces, especially the traveling ones. I confess I am proud of this little lightweight set-up. The easel is both inexpensive and lightweight.

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My only issue is that it doesn’t go high enough for someone who is 5’7” tall and so I need to bring a chair and sit while painting. The chair is just one of those great little 3 legged camp chairs.

You can use any watercolor brush, but since I have an oil background I’m most comfortable painting with flats and these clear handled Creative Mark brushes are perfect.IMG_2306

Following the Scout motto of being prepared, I bring items that may not be used: clamps just in case it’s windy, a view finder to help me keep to the proper view, this cool ping pong ball on a stick that I heard can help with understanding how the light is falling (haven’t thought to use it yet), a mirror to get a fresh look at what I’m painting, a small watercolor set, brushes and watercolor pad for sketches, sunscreen, bug spray and water for me.  Oh and after my scare about being eaten by coyotes, I carry some pepper spray.  Finally, I have stowed some cards in the bag about my upcoming show to offer to people who are peaking over my shoulder.

Here is the whole set up.

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I keep my paint water in the bottle pouch attached to the bag. It hangs perfectly from the back of the easel. The palette sits in my lap. The chair is by far the heaviest thing at about 4 pounds, yet the whole set up is less than 8 pounds.

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I have used an abbreviated version of this on a kayak and I plan to trim this down to the bare essentials when I bring it with me on my band new stand up paddle board next week. I’ll let you know how that goes.IMG_6693

 

 

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