Saturday, April 15, 2017

"Falling Leaves" Hand-painted Silk Scarf

"Falling Leaves",  hand-painted silk scarf
     It's spring, but I recently completed a hand-painted silk scarf with an autumn theme and wanted to show it to you. "Falling Leaves" took several months because I was not happy with the way it was turning out and put it away for a time. Once the French silk dye is in the fabric, radical change is not possible--partial modification is the best one can do.

Musings on "failure" in an art project
     To be honest, the finished product is still not to my taste. However, I know that it could still be the perfect addition to the right outfit for the right person. 

Close up detail
Close up detail
     So, I refuse to count this scarf as a failure or even to be disappointed in it. For one thing, every art project is a learning experience, and sometimes what can feel like failure has more learning value than a "success". I am still quite new to French silk dye techniques and welcome any opportunity to learn and grow in the art. 

     A second reason comes from the wise words of my acrylic painting mentor, Linda Blondheim. Once, when she was advising me on improving a landscape painting, I had done all that we could think of, and we both still concluded that we didn't like the results. I told her I'd just gesso over it and reuse the canvas. "Oh no, Mary," she said. "This is not an intrinsically bad painting; it's just one you and I don't like a lot. Someone will love it; you wait and see." I've told this story before; that painting sold in a local shop long before others I like much better.

     Oh, in case you are wondering, here's why this scarf will never be a personal favorite (what a ridiculous sales pitch this is turning out to be! not a sales pitch at all--just sharing my thoughts): I had planned the leaf shapes and layout quite carefully and still like them. The background came last, working carefully around the leaves, which had been outlined in a gutta resist to prevent dye flow in or out of the shapes. For some reason, I thought using a couple of colors would look nice and increase the versatility of the scarf as an accessory. Maybe a good idea for some scarves, but for this design, it made for too much going on. In my opinion, that is; others may feel differently, as Linda has taught me to realize

Question of the day: When have you been disappointed in the results of a project only to discover that others like (or even love) the results?

Friday, March 31, 2017

Landscape Painting -- "On the Jones Creek Trail"

"On the Jones Creek Trail"
 My newest acrylic landscape painting, "On the Jones Creek Trail", on 16" x 20" gallery-wrapped canvas, was inspired by lovely walks in the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens with my husband and little Shih Tzu dog. The memories and photos used as reference material (one of them shown below) span several visits, and this painting is a composite of scenes along one of the trails, which weaves in and out of a woodsy area, with many views of Jones Creek. Here in coastal North Florida, natural vegetation can grow so thick that I need to "clear out some underbrush" to create a pleasing, balanced composition for painting. However, what is included in the painting is truly growing near the creek in this amazing park within Jacksonville, Florida. 

     Our city is blessed with a wealth of parks, preserves, and nature trails. The arboretum was rescued from unused land owned by the city (which had acquired it after a mining company had strip-mined it for materials used to make titanium). Although illegal dumping and the residue of mining had compromised the area, some citizens could envision its future as an arboretum and natural recreational site. You can read more about the delightful park it has become and see photos here. My husband, a master gardener and member of the North Florida Native Plant Society, worked on clearing and planting projects with many other volunteers. My previous posts about visiting the arboretum also show its uniquely North Florida beauty.
One of the reference photos used in painting
     I used a mostly cool palette for this painting because it represents a transitional season toward the end of winter, when vegetation here is more subdued in hue than in spring and summer. The acrylic paints used include cobalt, cerulean, Payne's grey, lemon yellow, yellow ochre, burnt umber, and titanium white with a few touches of naphthol red to temper and vary the greens.

     I hope you enjoy taking a walk in the arboretum with me.

Question of the day: What kinds of natural environments have been restored and preserved in your area?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

River Cruise in Southern France, Part III

Distinctive rock formation in Beaujolais region
     We had looked forward to our last full day of touring in France and the only optional tour we had chosen to add to the itinerary, a tour of the ruins of the Abbey of Cluny, the most influential church in the Christian faith in the 11th century. But our morning started with one more delightful included tour, a scenic ride through the rolling hills of the Beaujolais district and a visit to a a beautiful family owned (for many generations) winery, including a tasting with a wine expert.
Winery Entrance

     I'll let a few photos tell the story of the winery and the lovely countryside where we enjoyed strolling at a stop along the way (Viking seems to give careful thought to making the necessary rest stops on longer day tours pleasant).


Our group at the winery

     The Abbey of Cluny was originally founded in 910 AD and grew until it became the mother house for over 1,000 monasteries in the 12th century. Our local guide was charming and exceptionally well-informed--clearly a true admirer of this remarkable medieval abbey and a devoted student of its history. Some of the majestic buildings still stand and are used for, among other things, an architectural school. Eager students dash here and there, adding life and creativity to the mix of impressive old buildings and ruins.

     Sometimes on journeys, I prefer to fully take in the beauty and history of a place rather than to work at capturing multiple photos. The abbey was one such experience: inspiring and moving. So, I have a few photos to show you, but often just listened, watched, and marveled. In addition to the photos of that day, I often savor the many lovely images I have in my memory of our tour of the Abbey of Cluny.
13th century food storehouse for abbey and village
Inside the abbey's Gothic chapel, built around 1460

Courtyard outside the cloisters
     My two previous posts from our Viking River Cruise in Southern France are here. I've enjoyed reliving the journey with you.

Question of the day: How do you prefer to balance experiencing and taking photos when you travel?

Friday, January 27, 2017

River Cruise in Southern France, Part II

Medieval era fortifications and tower in Viviers
     Two more posts will show you some of my favorite scenes on our Viking River Cruise in southern France; today some sights in a medieval village and in a large conservation area and next time, the remarkable last day of touring, when we enjoyed a morning at a historic, family-owned winery in the Beaujolais region and then visited the inspirational site of the Abbey of Cluny. One earlier post from our river cruise is here.

     One of our favorite shore excursions was a morning in Viviers, a small village with a remarkably intact medieval city center. Our delightful, funny, amazing story teller guide made the visit extra special. She lives in one of the old homes--she showed us the location--where an aunt had participated in the French Resistance during World War II and where Jewish people had sheltered as they were being guided out of the country by brave French citizens. 
Renaissance era house in Viviers, Maison des Chevaliers
View from Medieval wall, Viviers



 A steam train ride deep into a protected river gorge by steam train (the area is not accessible by car) on a beautiful day made another morning memorable. The Doux Valley is a protected conservation area--a pristine wilderness area a short ride from the charming city of Tournon. The three photos below are just a few tastes of the serene, yet dramatic views we enjoyed during this scenic ride.  

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Peace and Hope for 2017

Family Thanksgiving visit
Coastal North Florida sunset
     As we approach another year, I feel hopeful and pray for hope for all of you. We hear too much doom and gloom right now, in my opinion. Of course, some bad things will happen as the weeks go by; that's how life is. But I also see and hear about many kind acts by ordinary people, many good outcomes in difficult situations, and many brave Americans doing their best for their families, community, and nation.

     I have promised myself to look around me in wonder every day (yes, even on those days--can I keep my promise even then?) seeking beauty in nature, courage and kindness in people, and simple decency toward and respect for everyone I encounter. I pray for the same for all of you who have celebrated the love of God in Christmas or the steadfast care of God in Hanukkah--as well as for all well-intentioned people vowing to care for one another in 2017.

     From our home and family to all of you: may peace, joy, and hope come your way.
Super moon setting over the ocean
Our Christmas home

Friday, November 18, 2016

River Cruise from Arles to Lyon in Southern France

View of Vienne, France from Mont Pipet
     In early September, we enjoyed a Viking River Cruise in southern France, from Arles and Avignon north to Lyon. Warmer than normal weather accompanied us all the way, and interesting shore excursions with local guides alternated with either cruising along watching the lovely French countryside slip by or an overnight docked at a town or city with extra time for strolling.
A town square in Vienne

     On board the ship, Viking's excellent service, superior chef, and comfortable accommodation spoiled us royally. Since we are accustomed to budget travel, the luxury was a treat. I had saved for quite awhile to try a river cruise, and we loved it! One reason for its appeal was that we could glide from one place to another, see some highlights of Provence and the Beaujolais region and still curl up in the same comfy stateroom every night (much more convenient and relaxing than travel by car, bus tour, or train).  
In the lock, as seen from our stateroom's veranda
Approaching a lock



     Today, I'll show you various spots--not necessarily in order--and some of the interesting aspects of river cruising. For example, in the relatively short distance our eight day tour covered, we passed through 15 locks. The captain's expertise was amazing as we slipped through, sometimes with only a few inches clearance on each side.


On the Rhone River in Lyon

A sunset in the countryside of Provence, seen from our veranda

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hand-painted Purple, Yellow, and Green Silk Scarf with Clematis Flowers

     This hand-painted 11" x 60" silk scarf was inspired by the lovely flowers on clematis vines. Of the various varieties in our botanical reference books (oh, the gorgeous photos!), I decided to represent one with six-petal blossoms in shaded purple tones. My silk painting technique, using French-style dyes, does not allow for perfection in reproducing nature exactly; the results are more free-form or impressionistic. But these flowers look more like the photos than some (for example, I used a different approach for an earlier scarwith a loose painting technique; they are not meant to be like any "real" flowers).

     Rather than describe all the details of the process, I'll summarize and readers who want more can follow links to more extensive explanations. To avoid pure white gutta outlines, I painted the entire scarf with pale yellow and yellow-green, wet-on-wet, before any drawing and let the piece dry. Then, with preliminary sketches as a guide to shape and placement, I lightly drew in the flowers and leaves with a water-soluble fabric pencil and then traced the design with gutta resist.

Closer view of design details
     The flowers and leaves took several layers of dye to gradually deepen and vary the shades and tones. I used a permanent fabric marker for the vines and a few other small details.

     Painting on silk is always a discovery process, and I am still learning and growing in the art. This particular scarf turned out well, I think, and I am using a similar approach to create an autumn leaf design. Stay tuned.

Question of the day: For scarf wearers, what sorts of designs do you like best: flowers and other themes from nature, abstract, geometric, or other?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ocean-Inspired Aqua, Blue, and Purple Hand-painted Silk Scarf

An 11" x 60" one-of-a-kind, hand-painted silk scarf
     This ocean-inspired aqua, blue, and purple hand-painted silk scarf, 11" x 60", was a delight to paint. I used French-
style silk dyes and began with diluted blue and aqua to paint the large middle area in pale shades, blending well. Just as a clear sky shades slightly from a truer blue appearance overhead to a more aqua look nearer the horizon, I used blue in the very center and shaded to aqua further from center. 

     Of course, I was not trying to make a realistic ocean and sky picture, but hoped to suggest them. In the second stage, I used stronger (much less diluted) hues and began to work on the very ends. The mottled areas result from liberal doses of kosher salt--salt draws wet dye up to create random jagged patterns. What is the area meant to represent? you may ask. I had some thoughts, but mostly wanted some variety in the look of the ends of the scarf. People who have seen it each have their own ideas: currents deep down, the ocean bottom, coral, the movement of sea creatures. Take your pick; it's fun to imagine what shape and texture could represent.

Seen from another angle 

     Working up from the ends, I laid in wavy strips of various shades of blue, aqua, and purple, along with some deep rose. I had some of these shades premixed and ready; others resulted from the colors overlapping and mixing on their own or from adding subsequent tones over the first layer of color. 

     When I approached the "sky" area, I used gutta as a resist (more information here) to draw wiggly outlines for a suggestion of currents and waves (click on any photo to enlarge). Once the gutta had dried, I could continue to create undulating watery tones--using gradually lighted versions of the colors. Since French silk dyes are transparent up to seven layers of color, I could add and modify any of the hues until the result felt right.
The earlier silk scarf, made in my class

     When I originally learned the art of silk painting from Donna Kassab at the John C. Campbell Folk School (see posts about the class here), one of my first silk scarf creations (and still a favorite) was a 22" square ocean-inspired piece. That design sparked the long scarf shown in this post. The square piece looks odd in the photo because it had just come off the stretcher on which we paint on silks (it doesn't actually have a scalloped hem). My favorite aspects of French-style silk painting are the intense colors and the element of unpredictability in the process. Every creation feels like a discovery.

Question of the day: What colors and color combinations are your favorites?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hand-painted Rose, Purple, and Blue Silk Scarf

     I have almost completed 3 more hand-painted silk scarves, all 60" X 11", a nice all-purpose length to tie and wear in multiple ways. This particular scarf was painted without resist, so the dyes were free to flow. I will show you the other new scarves, which did involve using resist to create designs, in coming weeks. For a couple of other examples painted without resist, see this previous post.

Another view, same scarf
     Sometimes, I purposely allow for the unpredictable jagged edges that can form where two different colors come together (especially if one is already dry), which often create beautiful, sometimes unexpected patterns. You can see such edges in the apricot/green 21" square scarf pictured below. 

Professional fabric steamer, about 42" long
     However, I decided to minimize those kinds of edges in this design. One can achieve subtler, smoother color transitions by working very quickly and rubbing adjoining areas with a paper towel. Or, as in this design, one can work wet-on-wet, spraying the white scarf with water before adding colors. For this scarf, I painted the dyes on a wet scarf blank. I experimented with colors and techniques, intending to gradually build up colors to a darker level. Then, the softer, pale colors appealed to me, especially after my friend agreed, saying "It looks like Spring". So, I decided to declare the scarf complete. 

Example of the jagged edges resulting from painting on dry scarf with no blending
     The final step is to steam-set the colors. Many fabric dyes can be set with a steam iron, and some set instantly when painted onto fabrics. But the loveliest and most intense colors, in my view, result from the French-type silk dyes, which must be set in a steamer--either purchased or created by the artist. My generous husband gave me a professional fabric steamer for Christmas--see photo--which greatly simplifies the process (although it is still painstaking and requires several hours altogether). If any of you request more information about the steaming process, I will post more detail in the future.

     Making this scarf was fun. I had only a simple sketch with the idea of color areas and a plan for the dye colors I would use (some straight from the bottle, others mixed for the desired hue). From there, I just spread color freely on the wet silk and watched the design develop--now and then blending the areas where colors came together with a large wet brush or a paper towel. Finally, I brushed on some additional soft contrast strokes and shapes.

Question of the day: In pursuing a hobby or interest, do you prefer trying new techniques and styles or polishing and perfecting your favorite approach?

Friday, July 29, 2016

A Wonderful Plein Air Painting Workshop

Kathie and Mary Jane respond to a student's questions
The Windmill Gallery's porch provides shade for one student.
     Taking painting classes and workshops always inspires and motivates me as well as improving my skills and range. In May of 2015, I set myself a particularly tough challenge by participating in a two-day plein air workshop in the north-central Florida countryside near Gainesville. We set up outside a former art gallery, the Windmill Gallery, on a highway near the Paynes Prairie preserve on a rise overlooking Orange Lake--a uniquely long view given our mostly flat Florida terrain.

Kathie Wobie, Mary Jane Volkmann (left to right)

     Two excellent painters led the workshop and proved to be super teachers, Mary Jane Volkmann and Kathie (Kathleen) Wobie. Somehow, events last year caused me to forget that I had never told you about this experience, so I'll hit some of the highlights now. The sketchy nature of the few notes I have from those two days remind me of the quick (yet manageable) pace Kathie and Mary Jane set, with a wealth of helpful exercises for us--usually preceded by brief demos or specific, targeted information fitting the purpose of each. Called "Color and Dimension", the plein air workshop helped us explore light, color, and perspective to give our landscape paintings a sense of immediacy and distance. 
Overlooking Orange Lake in the distance
A view from one shady (but bee-filled) spot I used

     We were encouraged to use a limited palette with two blues, two reds, and two yellows (a cool and warm hue of each), white, and black. Students, who had a range of skill levels, could use either oil or acrylic paints. As an acrylic painter, coping with the paint's fast drying time outside was difficult. Beyond that, the main challenge for me was to work boldly and quickly before the light changed (or the teachers called "time's up"). I am truly a studio painter at heart, used to taking my time with a painting over a period of weeks or even months. Among all my other workshop discoveries and new approaches, I now have better tools for making color sketches on site to take back to the studio and an increased capability to work quickly on early stages of a piece to produce greater unity and vitality.

     So far, I have completed just one of the works (see earlier post) started at the workshop, the largest I worked on there, and feel it differs from my other work in an interesting way. Other workshop pieces, though extremely useful as learning exercises, are unlikely to be worth further development. But above all, the growth and insights I brought home from the experience are valuable on many levels. Mary Jane and Kathie are a kind, inspiring, gifted teaching team for whom I am truly grateful.

Question of the day: How many of you also love life-long learning?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Overlooking Orange Lake", a Painting with Mimosa Tree

     The acrylic painting, "Overlooking Orange Lake", a scene which includes a mimosa tree, is complete after many months of being put away while I worked on other projects. I painted the first stage--the entire background and grassy foreground--at a wonderful two-day plein air workshop in May of 2015. I have searched this blog in vain for the post in which I told you all about that workshop. Oh my. That post never appeared, and I apologize for the omission; it was a complicated time for me. Since telling you about the workshop along with information about this particular painting would get too long, I will post in a few weeks about the two-day workshop itself and the excellent team of artists who taught it.

     Painting en plein air with acrylic paints was completely new to me and was difficult for several reasons. As a studio painter, I am used to taking my time and developing a painting carefully. Yes, what I paint is based on my personal adventures in beautiful coastal North Florida, but the outdoor time is spent observing in detail, making sketches, notes about color and atmosphere, and taking reference photos. Painting as quickly as plein air requires in order to capture the light and look of the moment was a real challenge for me--and an excellent learning experience. A second difficulty--or cluster of difficulties-- included the weather (heat and humidity in this case), wind (my work blew off the easel onto the grass at one point), bugs, etc. as well as constantly battling the quick drying time of acrylics with pared down equipment.

     So, it was a small victory to block in the entire scene and to cover this 14" x 18", 1 1/2" deep gallery-wrapped canvas with the underpainting in the short time allowed for this particular exercise on day two. The main benefit of painting en plein air is to observe a scene and paint at the same time. Thus, painters can capture precisely the colors and values as they see and experience them. I did not attempt to duplicate the exact colors and tones I saw, but worked to get the feel of the bright afternoon sizzling in an unseasonable heat with realistic colors in the range of the actual view. Another concern was to show atmospheric perspective in the painting, especially because Florida's flat terrain makes a "long view" a rare treat. It was important to me to give the viewer a feeling for the way I experienced looking out over Paynes Prairie to Orange Lake in the distance. 

      Beyond adding the mimosa tree (for which I had color sketches, but nothing on the canvas), very little else needed to be changed when I began working on this piece again (after a full year!). I added some detail and texture in the foreground and completed the clouds, deciding just to "punch up" the rest a little. Although there was a large mimosa tree in the actual scene, it did not stand alone like a sentinel as it does in the painting. I left out some scrubby saplings and other tangled growth to provide this personal interpretation of that North Florida day. 

Question of the day: What experiences have you had either observing painters working en plein air or painting outside yourself?     

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Visiting the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens

     A few weeks ago, we hit the trails in the delightful Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens, a lovely, varied nature preserve reclaimed from the edge of a former waste dump. Husband Mark, a Master gardener, participated in the cleanup and some of the replanting--all of which has transformed this into a precious natural educational and recreational spot.

     Opened in 2008, the Arboretum includes 120 acres with 13 distinct ecosystems. As we and Maggie, our little Shih-tzu, explored the lake, one of the streams, part of the lower ravine trail and more, we experienced the tranquility and easy companionship of time walking outdoors.

     When I posted about the Arboretum a few years ago, I was gaining strength in my first artificial hip. This time, I was enjoying even better mobility (and no pain!) breaking in the second hip. There is a great deal to be thankful for.

     This weekend, I am also grateful to live in such a gorgeous area here on the North Florida Atlantic Ocean coast. We will walk wide beaches and maybe splash in the surf without needing to travel at all. 

     As we enjoy North Florida's beauty this Memorial Day weekend, we will sincerely give thanks for all who have served--and who currently serve--in all branches of the U. S. military and for the sacrifices their families make as well. 

Question of the Day: How are you observing Memorial Day and celebrating your holiday this year?