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.

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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.

 

The deep dark woods

 

IMG_5110 The other day I was reading about how coyotes have been spotted all over my neighborhood. They are nomadic and travel in groups. Today’s coyotes are considerably bigger than the little 35 pound variety that lived here 20 years ago. These new coyotes are closer to 60 pounds. I never thought twice about a walk in the woods at dawn or dusk in the past, but after seeing a few of these big boys in recent years I have taken pause.  Hearing their frantic and fearsome howling prior to “the kill”, the screaming of the victim and finally the silence of the feast,  I have reconsidered my evening strolls. You see, I don’t run as fast as a deer and I’m smaller…. I know coyotes have not yet attacked people….but there could be a first and I would rather not be it.  I can see the headline now, ” Breaking News: World Famous Artist Eaten by Pack of Hungry Coyotes”   artists are known to have active imaginations….

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But then, dusk is a lovely time to paint. The low warm light is just beautiful on the bay and surrounding areas.  So on the same day I heard news about coyotes in the area I went to a spot along the bay I have been wanting to paint…in the evening.  That area is only accessed by land though the woods, about a fifteen minute walk. About the same distance Little Red Ridding Hood had to travers to get to Grandma’s. I was late too. Trying to finish up some studio work before heading out. I know the area is popular with dog walkers, so I had expected more people to be around. Maybe they had read the same article I had.

As I sat on the beach painting , my mind kept wandering back to the woods; to the sun getting lower, to the lack of human company; to that headline.

At least I got a start on the painting, slapped down some base colors and shapes and started thinking about bribes to get my husband to come with me on another evening to finish it up. Then I packed up and beat feet back though the woods all the while looking for climbable trees. The only wildlife I spied on my trek out was this lovely lady who apparently has no worries about coyotes, or me for that matter.IMG_5138

Since I didn’t see a single coyote, let alone get attacked by a pack of them, I felt pretty silly about my concerns. Not silly enough to avoid sharing them with the world however.

Who knew that painting required such intrepid fortitude?

Look for the next installment of Adventures from the Imagination of a Bay Painter coming soon!

 

Fifty Days of Grey

When I began this Paint the Bay Project five months ago I looked forward to the variety  of moods and lighting I would encounter.

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I went out this morning.

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It was grey.

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Yesterday morning, grey.

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Last week, grey.

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Tomorrow morning I am going out again.

 

Painting Narragansett Bay, drop by drop

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Did you know that Narragansett Bay encompasses 147 square miles? I just learned that myself. I started painting scenes along the bay last January and plan to continue painting it’s estuaries, coves and vistas a few days a week until November of 2018. How much of that 147 miles do you think I will capture? I am going to find out and I hope you will join me on this adventure by following along on my blog posts. Feel free to leave comments at the bottom. I would love to learn of special places along the bay you would like me to paint and when I post a painting, you can offer a guess as to where it is.
“Twenty One Months and One Hundred Forty Seven Miles – Painting the Bay” is a project that grew from discussions with Save the Bay and Dryden Gallery. Over the next year and a half you may find me somewhere along a beach, in a kayak or even in a little pop-up tent during a snowstorm, painting away.
All these paintings will eventually become a show at Dryden Gallery. Proceeds from the sale of these paintings will benefit 3 important entities:  Save the Bay, Dryden Gallery and thankfully, Me! So mark your calendar for October 2018!! (I will have to get back to you on the exact date!) 

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Self Portraits

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Every man’s work…is always a portrait of himself. (Samuel Butler)

Same goes for women. (LP) 

I have come to believe that an artist can’t accurately see their own work within the time frame they are doing it. The work can be exactly what they had intended (tho this is very rare!) and they can make fantastic improvements as they move though the process of the piece, but I wonder, can the artist see the intrinsic gist or essence of the work during the time it is produced?

I suppose I can only speak for myself personally on this. I look back at work I did when I was in my early twenties and I see that I was sad. It’s as clear as if it was written across the canvas. I didn’t know then that I was sad, nor did my work speak to me that way, at that time. It’s just in looking back years later that it becomes clear. Maybe because I am fairly content these days I can see the discontent from years ago.

Similarly, during the time I painted my animal poster series, I did not see the paintings as I do now. I was focused on details and accuracy and didn’t realize how strong the colors and simplicity were. Only years later did that become clear to me.

Knowing this, I wonder what my work is saying beyond my conscious awareness.

This piece above is, as Samuel Butler asserts, a self portrait, though it is not a painting of me.  Like so many others, I love the ocean. I don’t really know why. I love swimming in it, looking at it, painting it. It is part of me somehow. The idea of this painting has been brewing for a few years and happily for me, my child Anna posed for the piece.  The painting means something to me, though I’m not sure exactly what.

Art schools, critics, patrons and grant bestowers need to hear that you do know exactly what your art means. An artist is often required to articulate in words so others can derive meaning from it in a way that makes them comfortable. The work is derived in the heart, goes to the brain for an explanation in order for another to process a watered down and inevitably altered idea of the piece with their brain. Maybe it allows them to then see the piece better. Maybe not.

A friend once said that an artist analyzing their own work is like a bird discussing ornithology. I love that comparison.

Hopefully this mirroring of self in art is somehow of use to others, weather it is explained in words or not. I suppose that is why we do art, to communicate what we think and feel and see on a level that taps into a bit of the unknown or unspoken.

Enter, Rejoice and Come In

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It’s that time of year again!

It will soon be the eighth year I have swept the dirt under the rug, hung the paintings and opened the door.

My open studio is next weekend. Oct 25th and 26th from 11:00 to 5:00.

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There will be food!…and art!

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Come sign the book

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And learn about my art class.

for adults..

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My tradition during these open studios is to offer drastically reduced prices on paintings that are not slated for a gallery.

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That could be the small landscapes I have done over the past year

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or older paintings that are not headed to a gallery.

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Thanks to my iPad and paypal I take credit cards.

So I hope you can come see what I’m working on, visit a while and if you are in the market to buy a gift or something special for the wall, I hope I have just what you are looking for! If not there are 19 other artist’s showing this weekend as part of the West Bay Open Studios and I can show you what they do and give you a map to get there.

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I’m the red dot in the middle nearest the water. # 10 on the signs you will see on the road.

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Not number 20, that’s someone else….also worth seeing.

You will find my studio at 323 Harrison St. North Kingstown RI

See you soon I hope!

Giving Birth

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I love painting large, but boy is it a big commitment. Kind of like having children.

First, you are so excited by the idea of it.

You are in love with the thought of having babies, or making paintings. You order the materials you will need and prep the canvas (with babies it’s a different set of preliminaries).

Everything matters. The type of surface you use matters a great deal if you are painting. The type of paints, the mediums, the solvents all matter. The parallel with babies would be all the healthy food you try to eat and all the fun food you try to avoid once you know you are pregnant.

 

You do the preliminary sketches and begin the underpainting.Or you figure out a name and go into labor. Take your pick; they both can be excruciating.

When you are separated, you fluctuate between excitement and worry.

When you are interacting, you focus and pray. Luckily, a painting matures faster than a baby AND you do have the option to throw out your failures.

Sometimes, both paintings and babies go wrong. I know it must be my fault but despite hard work, focus and prayer things go askew from time to time.  Then, I double down and usually pull it back together. But almost always it’s different from the initial vision (especially where babies are concerned).

I’ve made thousands of paintings.

I’ve made two children.

I don’t love all the paintings I’ve done. I only love a small percentage, really.

I love 100% of the children I have made.

A Show at the Festival

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Just a quick invitation to join me tonight at the Coastal Art Gallery for a group show of local artists, myself included.

It’s behind the Beach Rose Cafe on the pier, Wickford, RI
Sat. July 12 from 6:00 to 7:00. You can visit the gallery tomorrow, Sunday, as well during the Wickford Art Festival.

I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

When I graduated from Pratt Institute 34 years ago I knew everything there was to know about art. As a top student, I had taken lots of courses, visited all the major museums, and knew all the important galleries. For 5 years I had studied art and illustration intensely and I lived in New York City, which was still the art capitol … Continue reading