Saturday, December 26, 2009

Learning--Winter Beach Painting--Patterns in the Sand

Not too long ago, I posted an entry about winter walks on the beach. This painting, Tide Pool Patterns, evolved from photos on a winter walk several years ago. That day, the Atlantic was in a rare indigo mood (the water color is never exactly the same from day to day, changing sometimes subtly, sometimes quite dramatically), and the waves were crashing very white. The receding tide had left shallow pools and interesting patterns and ridges in the sand. I think the earlier hours had been fairly windy, because the beach was more stirred up than sometimes. The view was interesting to me almost in an abstract sense, and I hoped to create a very simple, somewhat empty (if that's the right word) scene where the tonal contrasts, some strong, some subtle, and the abstract design would be the focus.
As in many paintings, this one did not look right for quite awhile. When I painted the wavy patterns in the sand as they actually appeared, it did not work on the canvas because they slanted so sharply that they gave the impression of going steeply downhill. Not wanting to lose the texture and diagonal interest and yet needing a more realistic look, I fought the angles and patterns for several painting sessions until the sand appeared flatter. In the foreground, I sprinkled salt on the wet paint to create some sparkly dimension on a few of the ridges of sand. Even clicking on the detail photo probably doesn't show you that texture, but it's kind of nice. I feel fairly pleased with the final result, which I hope conveys a feeling of peace contrasted with the energy of the background waves.
Question of the day: Isn't it interesting what makes for visual interest and how central a part different kinds of contrasts play in what is pleasing to the eye?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Learning--Romanticized Creek Painting--Color Mixing and a Cerulean Blue Palette

Looking back, I realized that I had never posted this painting for you. Creek Bend Fantasy, painted several years ago, is a personal favorite--not completely sure why--just like it, that's all. As with many of my landscapes, the reference scene is a humble place that many people would pass without giving it much notice. We look from a small bridge over Hogan Road toward a bend in Little Pottsburg Creek, not far from our home. The piece is 18" X 24", acrylic on gallery wrap canvas.
The painting developed in an interesting way. The original intention was for something more direct and realistic. The resulting composition still builds on the actual scene, but is romanticized somewhat. As the painting developed in early stages, through block-in and then the truly ugly stage many pieces experience, I somewhat wildly stroked in what were intended as base colors and movement in the creek and then didn't want to completely cover them. The dark woodsy area on the left seemed sort of mysterious and fairy-like, and I also hated to lose that feeling with too much detailed development. So the result blends realism and fantasy.
The palette was based on cerulean blue and cadmium red deep, an unlikely pairing that produces some very interesting neutral purply tones. The rest of the palette consists of sap green, burnt sienna, white, and black, with very minor touches of yellow ochre and ultramarine blue. Except for brilliant flowers, I seldom use the intense colors of acrylic paints straight out of the tube. They are especially unsuitable for landscapes without some modification. Besides, mixing colors is such fun and can produce such gorgeous and surprising results. I have a number of pieces of paper and card stock on which I have played with color mixing in a whole range of palettes. Here in North Florida, we have an amazing range of colors and tones in the sky, the ocean, marshes, creeks, rivers, forests, and meadows, constantly changing with the seasons and our changeable weather. So, as long as I remember to label the paint colors I used for each set of mixes, they form a valuable reference bank for a variety of paintings.
Question of the day: Where would we be without color?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Savoring the Holiday Season--Easy Entertaining and Hummus Recipe

Once again I am repeating an older post for the sake of newer readers--and truthfully, to keep the blog going when I don't have time to write an entire new post. I hope you enjoy it.

What is better than laid-back time with friends? Here Maggie, our shih-tzu, enjoys having a couple of buddies over.

My husband and I also enjoy entertaining friends at home. It can be relaxing and budget-friendly. However, since I enjoy digging through recipes and planning special dishes, I sometimes make too much work of entertaining. That has its place and time, but can get in the way of fun and spontaneity. We also have some favorite, well-worn, quick and easy recipes. During the holiday season, especially, we rely on these favorites to make getting together easy.

The first step is a well-stocked kitchen, I think. Who wants to hunt store shelves for obscure ingredients just to have an informal gathering? All Maggie needs are a few milk bones and a big bowl of water, and she is ready to party. For us, homemade hummus is a favorite snack, so I keep the ingredients on hand. It is simple, healthier than cheese, and feels festive to me.

Instead of dinner, sometimes we invite people for wine and snacks (plus maybe beer and/or iced tea or soda, depending on their preferences). Late Sunday afternoon is a good time to hang out and graze. Among the easy snacks on the coffee table would be roasted almonds, fresh pears, apples or grapes, and homemade hummus with raw vegetables and grainy crackers (or pita, if it happens to be around). We are seldom without baby carrots and bell peppers--jicama sticks are also yummy with hummus.

My friend, Sarah Bayley, wins the prize for best quick hummus recipe, and I almost always serve hers--sometimes with a different twist, depending on my mood or what is in the kitchen or herb garden. You can either prepare it ahead or serve it immediately. Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your recipe with all of us.

1 can garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained & rinsed

3 - 4 green onions, in two or three pieces

2 small cloves garlic, in big chunks

1/4 cup olive oil*

2 Tblsp. bottled lemon juice

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

a few shakes of hot sauce

For extra flavor, add either

1/4 cup fresh cilantro or

2 Tblsp sun-dried tomato pesto or

2 Tblsp. sun-dried tomatoes, cut in chunks, plus a couple of fresh basil leaves

*I use sun-dried tomatoes in herb & garlic flavored oil and add 1 Tblsp. or so of the oil from the jar in place of some of the plain olive oil.

Puree all in a food processor until creamy. If the mixture is too thick & stiff, you can add a small amount of water (a tsp. or so at a time). Careful--it should be about as firm as a spread.

That's it--instant party--and people always love it, even when we have served it to them a number of times before.

Question of the day: What snack or appetizer do you rely on for informal entertaining?

Monday, December 14, 2009

We Have a Winner!--Update on Purple Iris Painting

I am personally very happy that the winning bid for this painting, including free shipping was submitted by a wonderful regular reader of this blog, Autumn Leaves. She is a delightful person, a great encouragement to me and many others, and writes a fun blog. Congratulations, Autumn!
Thank you all for your interest.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Exploring--Our North Florida Winter Beach Plus Bidding Update

I wish you all a very joy-filled holiday season. Although we try to keep our Christmas season low key and focused on what really matters, it is still a fairly busy time. Because of that, our little Shih-Tzu, Maggie, and I have not been to the beach in the last few weeks. Missing the wide sweep of sand with timeless waves rolling in, I decided to post a few Jacksonville Beach photos with today's greetings.
These are early winter shots, taken on two different November days, quite late in the day. The sun setting behind homes and buildings casts long shadows on the sand. The beach in one photo is littered with broken shells, kelp and other marine vegetation, tossed up by wind-driven waves at high tide on a stormy day. Looking up the beach, you may be able to see the Jacksonville Beach Pier in the distance.
Now, a month later, fewer people would be wading in the cooling water, and the only swimmers would be visitors from Canada or Minnesota or someplace like that. They've come al the way to Florida for the warm weather, and by golly, they're going to jump in that ocean even though both the air and North Florida's Atlantic waters are chilly.
OK, I've talked myself into it. Instead of missing the beach, I promise myself to walk there sometime this week, even for a short visit. It will be good for my peace of mind and spiritual center.
Question of the day: If this is a busy time for you, what quiet, centering moments do you plan to include in the next few weeks?
Bidding for the 9" x 12" original painting, Purple Iris Solitaire, remains at zero, so it looks like a low bid will take it. Deadline for bidding is noon on Monday, December 14. Bidding starts at $12; a bid of $20 or more will win you free shipping in the US and $5 off international shipping. Scroll down for more details and a photo of the painting.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Savoring--An Unexpected Gift--Idea for Stress-free Holiday Giving--Plus, Bidding Update

A lovely, unexpected gift from an artist who works in iron prompted an idea for stress-free holiday giving. If you celebrate Christmas, or any other holiday which calls for a number of gifts all at the same time, I have a radical proposal for a no-stress alternative.
But first, the gift we received a couple of weeks ago: the amazing hummingbird pictured here. In a recent post about our backyard flowers, I showed you an iron obelisk, a garden sculpture our mandevilla vine happily climbed. In that post, I mentioned and provided a link to the iron worker who created the piece, Scott Hornbaker of Hunt Country Iron in St. Mary's Georgia. After I shot him a quick email to let him know that I was in the process of making him world-famous, he wrote back with gratitude. Would we please come to the Riverside Art Market here in Jacksonville, Florida one Saturday to pick up a thank-you gift he had for us? As you can see, the gift is amazing. In case you are wondering, he creates his work in wrought iron with the intention that it will oxidize, as it does quite quickly in our climate. For customers who want to retain the black finish, he can advise them on methods to achieve the look they want.
One of the delights of this beautiful gift is that it was completely unexpected--which led to a thought about simplifying the Christmas season. We could agree with certain family members or friends to skip exchanging gifts during the holiday season. Rather, we would send or bring each person a gift at some random time--wrapped as a Merry Christmas surprise when least expected. Maybe that's a little wacky, but could be fun. The unexpected gift might come when the recipient is feeling a bit low or when an expression of love is especially welcome. Other advantages of starting such a tradition include easing the financial burden of buying multiple gifts all at one time.
Question of the day: Do you have any unusual, creative gift giving traditions or ideas for your holiday celebrations?
Update on bidding for Purple Iris Solitaire painting from previous post:
There are no bids on this painting so far. Given that blog traffic falls off sharply this time of the year, it may not be the best time for me to run this offer. However, the lack of bids so far means that someone might be able to win this 9" x 12" painting for a very low price, well below retail!!
To clarify the shipping part of the offer: If the winning bid is between $12 and $19.99, I will ship it for $4.95 flat rate Priority Mail (at real cost with no additional charges) anywhere in the US. I will ship at the lowest possible cost for an international purchaser, by mutual agreement as to method and cost. However, if the winning bid is $20 or more, I will ship free anywhere in the US and will give an international purchaser $5 off the shipping charge.
This is a great offer for a nicely stylized floral painting. Get in on the bidding now; it will close at noon on Monday, December 14, 2009.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Growing--Floral Painting Up for Bid--Limited Time Offer

Although I do not normally use this blog as a marketing tool, some of you have emailed to ask if the paintings I post are for sale. The answer is yes, and one of my growth areas will be in online marketing. I hope to begin a website or other internet outlet early in the new year.
In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to take bids on this 9" x 12" floral painting, Purple Iris Solitaire. It is an acrylic on canvas board, coated with a clear medium. Quality acrylics are non-toxic and durable, do not fade, and can be cleaned with a damp cloth. They will last literally for generations--something to hand down as well as to enjoy now. The journey involved in creating this piece is described in my September 13 post.
I will take bids of $12 or more via email at; if the highest bidder offers $20 or more, I will include free shipping within the US via USPS priority mail. As always, I offer an unconditional money-back guarantee on paintings returned within 10 days in original condition--no questions asked. If you are not satisfied, the painting will go to the second highest bidder. So this is a no-risk opportunity to purchase one-of-a-kind, original art (I do not make copies or prints of any of my paintings) for yourself or as a holiday gift. I sell works unframed in order to keep prices down and so that you can choose your own framing style. This painting will fit any standard 9" x 12" frame, can be custom-framed, or can be displayed as is on a small easel.
On Wednesday, December 9, and again on Saturday, the 12th, I will post the current highest bid for your information. Then, the following Monday, December 14, the winner will be announced (remaining anonymous is an option). The painting will be shipped as soon as the winner's payment clears.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Growing--New Landscape Painting--Tranquil Creek Bend

This is one of my newest paintings, completed just in time for the Open Studio Reception. Two photos show portions of the painting for more detail (and as always, you can click on a photo to enlarge it). Once again, the location is a spot that many people would walk by without stopping to look. A small bridge on Hogan Road crosses Little Pottsburg Creek near our home on the south side of Jacksonville, Florida. On the lookout for scenes with water features, I pulled over to explore and was especially taken with the view in one direction, where the creek widened and curved out of sight around a bend. A thickly wooded bank on one side was countered by oddly charming, spindly trees rising above bushes on the other. The trees reminded me of children experiencing a sudden growth spurt practicing in dance class, somehow combining awkwardness and grace.
This is the second painting to emerge from photos taken that day. I decided to push myself away from my favorite palette and began with a pinkish sky. Although the sky was actually a pale overcast grey, the pink tones somehow captured the bright, warm haze of that morning--the kind of light that requires sunglasses in spite of pervasive cloud cover. One painting goal was to let the sky set a certain mood and to continue experimenting with a limited palette of ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, Paynes grey, cadmium red deep, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and white. All greens, browns, and blackish tones are mixed from these colors. The second painting goal was to try to evoke the tranquility of the moment and the feeling of mystery as the creek glided around a bend and out of sight. The reflections in the water seemed central to portraying the stillness of the scene.
As usual, pursuing the goals of this piece gave me fits along the way, and it was even more difficult than usual to decide when to stop revising and to declare the painting finished. For some reason, I continued to tinker with small details, to wish it looked a bit different (but not knowing precisely what to change), and to put it away repeatedly to pull out days later for more tinkering. Of course, this can be the ruin of a decent creation, and I finally had to exert some self-discipline and just STOP. Have you seen news features about chimps, elephants, or other non-human animals who paint amazing abstracts? One commentator remarked that the unseen co-artist is the person who pulls their work away and gives them a fresh canvas. Left to themselves, they would happily continue slapping on more and more paint--producing, presumably, a less interesting result. I can definitely relate to the chimps who might not be the best judges of when to stop painting. However this piece, now signed and finished with a light coat of medium, has been declared officially complete and has hung on our bedroom wall for a few weeks. And, as it catches my eye in lamplight or as morning brightens, it has definitely grown on me.
Question: What experiences have you had with the art of knowing when to stop?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Exploring--Our North Florida Yard, Part III

We are all extra busy this week--at least those of us in the US. I very much appreciate all the readers and visitors who are still stopping in to the blog. I hope that your Thanksgiving celebration was joy-filled and truly thankful.
Today, I won't write much, but want to show you more of the beauty in our yard. As I look around, I realize that we have come to a real change of season here in North Florida. After a warmer than usual October and early November, we finally are getting chilly nights in the 50s and some 40s and cooler days, in the 60s and 70s. So, some fall colors are showing up in the leaves of deciduous trees, and the winter flowers are coming into their own.
Some of the flowers in these October photos are now gone or at least faded and on their way out for the season. Our side and front yard have more varied colors than the back yard I showed you in previous posts, with lots of reds and red-orange, some yellows, whites, and purples. The red-orange and red flowering plants above are pagoda plant and fire spike. Mark doesn't remember the name of the yellow--the flower looks like a black-eyed susan, but this susie has bright green eyes.
Question of the day: What is interesting outside your window this time of the year?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Exploring--Our North Florida Back Yard, Part II--Flowers and Rain

I continue to marvel lately at the degree to which I am a happy homebody even though I love to explore, both in our own area and to lands far away. You have seen this love of local and travel exploration in previous posts. Today, I offer another homebody post, exploring right in our back yard, now made into a delightful refuge by my husband Mark's hard work. As I mentioned before, we have a cozy fenced-in area and a wilder tree and fern-filled space beyond that with a small creek at the back of our property.
The flowers inside the fence are mostly in pink and purple tones, set against plants with a range of green and variegated leaves. I took these plant and flower photos (and many more!) for painting reference, planning to do a series of small pieces picturing Florida natives both from our yard and growing wild. You see a purple flowering passion vine, bright pink penta, and caladium foliage. The penta blooms at the foot of the brilliant mandevilla vine climbing a wrought iron obelisk, which you saw in my last post.
One particularly pretty rainy day in October, I took a few photos in the yard. It was one of those rains that made everything look clear and sharp. If you click to enlarge the photos, you will see raindrops pattering onto the patio and streaming down against the house. Perhaps I'll get brave enough to try to paint these scenes. Painting a rainy scene realistically is difficult, but I know I would learn from the effort no matter what the results.
Now that I am semi-retired, I have extended my reflection and meditation times and feel a better, calmer person for it. In addition to starting my day reading and meditating in an easy chair with a view out to this lovely back yard--feeling thankful as the day slowly brightens, I also take more moments throughout the day to step outside and breathe deeply. Whatever I have been busy with or stressed about melds into the whole in its proper proportion, achy old joints seem a bit less problematic, and I give thanks.
Question of the day: Are you primarily a "no place like home" person, a happy wanderer, or someone who savors both home and wider exploration?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Exploring--Our North Florida Back Yard

I have posted before about exploring in our area and discovering all the delights of coastal Northeast Florida. Today, our exploration is even simpler--stepping out our back door. These photos were taken in late October, when we were beginning to experience nights going down into the 50s Fahrenheit and even an occasional dip into the 40s. Our daytime highs have stayed mostly in the 70s with fewer cooler days than we normally experience this time of the year.
Our little Shih-tzu was thrilled to find a turtle in our back yard one day and happily sniffed and nudged it, totally spooking the poor thing into its shell. So I wasn't able to see it clearly or get good photos until later on, without Maggie's interference. I have checked our field guide to Florida, hoping to identify this new friend, but did not see one exactly like it. The highly domed carapace resembles the shells of a couple of turtles from the mud and musk turtle family, but those listed in the field guide were quite a bit smaller than this one, which had a shell about 8" or 9" long. The similar turtle shells shown in the guide were also plainer than this one, without the interesting markings. This turtle's under shell (or plastron) was hinged so that the turtle could raise the front portion to completely close off the openings for the head and front legs after they were pulled in. I plan to do more research on-line when I have some time, but perhaps some of you readers will recognize this lovely beast.
The other photos show our mandevilla vine a few weeks ago at the end of its flowering for the season. It is one of my favorites, with clear, bright pink blossoms. This year, rather than simply clambering on our fence, the vine has a new wrought iron piece to climb. We purchased it from Scott Hornbaker, a talented artisan from St. Mary's, GA who brings his works to our weekly outdoor Riverside Arts Market. My husband admired this piece so much, I decided it was a perfect Father's Day gift (he thought so, too). You can see Scott's artistry at his web site.
I am fortunate that my husband, Mark, loves to work in the yard and has become a Master Gardener since we came to Florida. Guided by his mantra, "right plant; right spot" and his research into using Florida natives in our yard, he has beautified our home on every side. If I feel stressed and need a refreshing break, all I need to do is to step out the door, breathe deeply, and stroll around. Beyond the little fenced-in back yard area, we also have an overgrown, wilder area full of ferns and shaded by evergreen Laurel Oaks (a relative of the better known southern Live Oaks) with a small creek at the very back. You can glimpse that area in the back yard photo in my last post from earlier this week. The creek is probably the home of our turtle friend, who has not ventured up close to the house again since our small dog gave it an over-enthusiastic welcome.
Question of the day: What outdoor delights have you found at home or nearby in recent weeks?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Savoring--Friends Who Made Our Open Studio Reception Wonderful

Several good friends enhanced our Open Studio Reception last Sunday, and we are deeply grateful for the contribution they made to the event. Before I mention two friends in particular, I must say that I could not imagine even having done this without my husband, Mark, along with our younger son and his fiancee, Pete and Ashley. They have encouraged my painting in ways that gave me the courage and vision to stage an art showing in our home. I cannot find words adequate for my gratitude to them for this, and for all the love they show. They also helped host, serve, guide guests to the paintings, and handled all the details so that I could mingle and play at being the artiste.
Since our reception theme was seasonal, Harvest Delights, I had invited our friends, Brian and Kristin Lapinski, to participate. They grow fantastic produce using sustainable, organic methods on their "Down to Earth Farm". I envisioned a spread of their colorful, delicious winter vegetables and flowers available for our guests to purchase. Brian responded that my date was a couple of weeks too early for many of their winter crops, but that he would bring what he could. Then, he had the brilliant, creative idea of planting mixed salad greens in low 12" bowls, raising them from seed in his greenhouse and bringing them, still in soil in the pots, to sell. The salad bowls are amazing, and our guests loved them. Whenever we need greens from ours, we cut the amount we want, and the rest continues to grow. For a single, reasonable price, we will have multiple cuttings of super-fresh baby greens (and reds, for that matter--there is a variety of salads in the bowl). In the photo, you see the bowls displayed on the table--more bowls are available in the yard behind the flower pot on the right.
Meanwhile, in the living room, our friend, Greg Spiess, an accomplished professional musician, provided lovely piano music. His gift of music put everyone at ease and enjoying themselves, even if they did not know other people there. The easy mix of light classics, show tunes, and popular "classics" from recent decades gave the reception a very classy feel. We are delighted with the invaluable addition to our party Greg generously provided. He is a prince!
Question of the day: How do family and friends support your dreams and projects? I feel a wonderful sense of community in my life and feel that I seldom, if ever, do anything strictly on my own--I stand on the shoulders of others and reach higher because of the encouragement of others.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Growing--Our Art Studio Reception Was Great!

The Open Studio Reception in our home on Sunday afternoon was all that we had hoped for--and more. I am humbled by and grateful for all the friends and neighbors who came and supported the event. Over 50 people came and, so far, 7 paintings are sold, with at least one other person considering a purchase. She actually took notes on her favorite pieces so that she could
spend a few days making a decision. Common wisdom among artists is that the primary purpose of this kind of event is to introduce one's work to people and that we should not expect any (or very many) sales. So, I feel particularly fortunate for the solid interest shown by our guests. UPDATE: I have now added an index to all blog posts about planning and holding an art reception. Access it here.

If i had had more small pieces, like the 5" x 7" marsh studies and Plitvice National Park study (from our journey to Croatia), I could have sold more--they sold quickly. I also sold two of the three 9" x 12" paintings available, Magnolia on Purple and Cypress Swamp. Several times at the reception, someone told me that they would have liked to buy one of the pieces that had already sold. How affirming is that? I'll remember them and their preferences when I create something new with a similar feeling to the paintings they would have purchased so that I can let them know more work is available.
Also, amazingly, one 12" x 16" piece and one 18" x 24" piece sold. You have seen those as well--the former shows deep reddish wildflowers against a white fence at Jacksonville Beach, and the latter captures a blue heron at Hanna Lake Park. The couple who called the next day to say that they had decided to buy the Hanna Park Heron were attracted to the painting for itself and for two other reasons: they have a beloved blue heron like the one in the painting who frequents a wetlands area on their property, and they have happy memories of many camping outings in Hanna Park. How delightful is that? Regular readers have seen these in previous posts. If you want to view some of my paintings, simply enter the word "painting" in the search box above left, and posts that show or discuss paintings will appear.
More photos and stories from the reception will appear in the next post. For now, I want to post this much and then need to go give blood shortly. By the way, I am in the back yard photo in an aqua jacket and print skirt. The paintings for sale were displayed in various rooms of the house, as you can see above the chair in the living room.
Once again, let me thank you, blogging friends, for your helpful support and encouragement as I planned this (for me) scary new undertaking. You all bring me joy as well as new insights and ideas--thank you.
Question of the day: What joys and gifts have blogging friends given you?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Growing--Art Studio Reception Preparations Continue

We are very excited as we prepare for our Open Studio Reception this coming Sunday afternoon. If you can make it, we would be thrilled to see you. This painting will be one of those on exhibit. The specifics once more:
North Florida Landscape Paintings
by Mary Lemmenes
Sunday, November 8
2:00 - 5:00 PM
7364 Secret Woods Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32216
Fresh organically grown produce from Down To Earth Farm
Live Piano by Greg Spiess
Food & Drink--Casual Dress
For information: or
904-945-0458 UPDATE: I have now added an index of all blog posts about planning and holding an art reception. Access it here.

Although a number of tasks are complete, there are still plenty of details to attend to in the next few days. Mounting a show in our home poses interesting challenges. Besides labeling and displaying the paintings, setting up the business end of things, preparing everything from guest book to drinks and food (the latter will be relatively simple for this event), the most challenging aspect of preparation is that after sending out a number of invitations, we have no idea how many people to expect. I think it will be somewhere between 10 and 150. An interesting adventure, no?
The painting pictured above on my studio easel, Look to the Hills, II, recalls a deeply renewing visit to Warwick Conference Center near Warwick, NY a few Octobers ago. Our long-time friends, Ken and Arlene Tenckinck, manage the center and direct all its programs. As I type this, I find myself smiling and breathing deeply with pleasure--they are remarkable people, Our too-infrequent times together are always rich, meaningful, and full of laughter.
I am hoping that family and friends will take some pictures of Sunday's event so that I'll be able to share them with you next week. In the fun and stress of the countdown, I am encouraged and buoyed up by the support of all of you, dear readers and fellow bloggers. Thank you, thank you.
Question of the day: What recent avenue for sharing your creative projects or thoughts has been especially meaningful for you?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Savoring--Homey, Heritage Comfort Food--Applesauce Spice Cake Recipe

It has been awhile since I have posted a recipe, so today will share my great-grandmother's applesauce spice cake recipe. In its original form, it called for "butter the size of an egg" and, interestingly, 1, 2, or 3 eggs. Apparently, our frugal ancestors used three eggs for a "company" meal, but fewer when baking for the family. Since their eggs were smaller than today's standard large eggs, we have settled on two eggs as the perfect number.
I apologize for the lack of a weekend post. We had a full weekend planned already, when we were saddened by the sudden death of my dear friend's father on Thursday. So, we set aside tasks that could be postponed to be there for our friends.
This homey cake, a favorite comfort food in my family, is one of the dishes I brought to the reception at my friend's house after Sunday's funeral. I will include the recipe for the cream cheese frosting, as pictured. The original recipe called for 1/2 cup chopped nuts; we like it better without them.
Heritage Applesauce Spice Cake
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups applesauce (a 15 ounce jar works)
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup raisins
Cream butter & sugar together. Add eggs and mix well, stirring vigorously until fluffy. Sift dry ingredients into a small bowl (I actually don't bother sifting). Add raisins to flour mixture and sir in to coat with flour (this keeps them from sinking to the bottom).
Add dry ingredients alternately with applesauce to the butter mixture in two or three batches, mixing thoroughly each time.
Turn into a greased 9 x 13 x 2 pan and bake 35 - 40 minutes at 325 degrees F until a toothpick comes out clean (or nearly clean--do not overbake). This recipe also makes nice cupcakes; bake them only about 25-30 minutes.
Cream Cheese Frosting
3 ounces cream cheese, softened (I use low fat neufchatel).
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
dash salt
2 1/2 cups (or as much of this amount as needed for good frosting consistency) sifted confectioner's sugar (I whisk it in a bowl instead of sifting).
Cream butter and cream cheese together well. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add confectioner's sugar, blending well. If mixture becomes too thick, you can add a few drops of milk.
Question of the day: What recipes or foods connect you to your ancestors and to good family memories?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Growing--Landscape Painting Studies--Salt Marshes

These small (5" X 7") studies are based on the two salt marsh photos I posted last time. Several other photos taken that early January day also informed my interpretation of the scene on canvas. Although I love exploring and looking out over the marshes any time of the year, there is something especially tranquil and spiritual about winter marshland. Thus, these little pieces have been a joy to create. You will notice a few modifications from the actual scenes in the photos, especially some simplifications to improve the composition for this small format. When viewed next to each other, these paintings provide a panoramic view. But each can stand on its own as well.
I am working on a 12" X 16" version of the view in the study on the right. The egret is nice, but the complexity of the waterway patterns in the other study is even more appealing to me. Achieving a good tonal balance and a believable distance perspective in the larger painting have been more demanding than expected, but I hope to be able to show it to you soon.
Again, I am struck by the extent to which painting has sharpened my ability to see, to really see, the variety and complexity of nature--even in an apparently simple scene. Art instructors always say, "Paint from what you see; don't make it up," and every turn at the easel proves them right. Even when we change the scene--or even partially abstract it--working from what we think things look like instead of from the reality throws the work off. Yet, maddeningly, I sometimes find myself falling into the habit of working out of my head, even when the photos are right in front of me. The goal is continual growing and learning from each project.
For local readers, a reminder of our invitation to one and all. Mark and I would love to welcome you to our home for Harvest Delights, an Open Studio Reception Sunday, November 8, from 2 - 5 p.m. Food, drink, paintings, sustainably grown produce from our friends' farm, live piano music, and fun people--drop in and enjoy! Please scroll down to the October 10 post for address and contact information. Or email me at with questions.
Question of the day: If you paint, sketch, take photos, or pursue any other creative outlet, do you find yourself seeing much more acutely than before--even if you have always loved nature?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Exploring--Near Home Again--Salt Marsh Trails

I am fascinated by salt marshes--by the rolling sea of grass, by seasonal variations in the texture and color of the grasses, and by the changing patterns of land and water as the tide rises and falls. Since all the land in a marsh is fairly low, these patterns are not set; the incoming tide flows in some established channels, but also spreads in unique ways that subtly change the scenery from one day to another. These North Florida wetlands are quite different from the Michigan wetlands I grew up with and the wetlands of other places we have lived. I feel enriched to have lived in Western Michigan, the New York City/Long Island area, Southern California, greater Atlanta, Georgia, and now in Jacksonville, Florida. I am thankful for this land and for the rich variety of natural beauty near each place we have lived, as well as in the many other states we have been fortunate to explore.
We have hiked several times in the Theodore Roosevelt area of Jacksonville's vast Timucuan Preserve. A favorite trail leads to an observation platform looking out over the marsh--the views in the above photos. The trail is named after Willie Brown, a man who once lived in a small, isolated, primitive cabin (the cabin footings remain, midway along the trail) in the woodsy region on the way to the marsh. Thus, walking the trail provides two distinct types of terrain and habitat. The view from the observation platform is particularly interesting late in the day, at nesting time for the many water birds who range out from the area.
Next post I will show you two small paintings, studies for possible larger pieces, based on these and other photos from our exploration on the trail a couple of years ago. I took the photos when my sister visited from Maryland, and we explored this area together. Although we have been back since, something about the tidal patterns in photos from our first visit most strongly moved me to paint the scene. For some reason, photos from more recent visits have not struck me with the same power, even though our experience of the natural setting has been amazing every time.
You see the marsh as it looks in early January, warmed by the brown and golden tones of winter grass but yielding fewer bird sightings than in nesting season. I enjoy the lonely expanse and the limited palette of the scene in winter, which focuses my attention on the interesting patterns of the waterways as the tide begins to recede from an earlier high, exposing mud, mussel beds, and tiny scurrying crabs.
Question of the day: What natural beauty has enriched your life recently?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Learning and Growing--Landscape Painting, Part II

Part II of a pair of posts "back by popular demand" (see previous post for an explanation) appears today.
This painting, based on the photo in my previous post, emerged slowly. As I worked, my priorities for focus and scope changed in ways I would not have predicted. I will spare you a long description of all the twists and turns of the creative process, but will mention some of the insights and adjustments I made along the way.
First, I assembled all the reference photos taken at this bend in Little Pottsburg Creek--wider panoramas and close-up details as well as the main photo. I recalled the mild, still air, the musky, but not unpleasant, smell of the flat, muddy bank, and the colors that had danced in the sunlight and softened in shadow. I decided to incorporate some elements from other photos and to use a horizontal layout showing a greater expanse of water and some tall grasses in the foreground.
My first instinct was that the soft reddish grasses on the right would be my focal point. My husband viewed some of my thumbnail sketches along the way and was drawn instead to the taller grasses in the left foreground. Being torn among various interesting elements, I painted an adequate, but unfocused scene--too much competition for attention. My subsequent efforts to improve the composition and balance were unsuccessful, and I set the canvas aside for awhile to rest my mind by working on a small floral piece.
My painting mentor, Linda Blondheim (see her web site for beautiful paintings), suggested that she found the reddish grasses interesting as a texture contrast to the rocks I had indicated (but not featured) in the foreground. That was the trigger I needed to complete the painting--featuring an area of varied textures. Without fully realizing it, I had been captivated by the multiple textures in the scene as well, from the placid water to the jagged rocks and both soft and sharp-edged grasses. The texture contrasts on the right side of the painting, from foreground to mid-ground became the focal point, while other areas became less detailed in order to let them recede in importance. There's that matter of balance again, which keeps emerging as a theme in recent posts.
Another artist would have painted quite a different rendering. Your answer to the last post's question regarding what you would feature in this scene might be radically different as well--and wonderful in its own way. I have often heard that one must be able to truly see in order to paint. Along my creative journey, the opposite has more often been the case for me--that painting is a vehicle to enhanced seeing of what is around me. Every painting in process is a growing and learning experience to treasure.
Question of the day: What pursuit or activity is your growing edge?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Learning and Growing--Landscape Painting, Part I

Occasionally, I will repeat a post or two that were well-received for the sake of my newer readers. I know that few of you will go back to read all previous postings. Also, frankly, this is a crazy busy time for me, and this helps me keep on my twice a week posting schedule. Today's entry is the first of two about this scene on Little Pottsburg Creek. Please excuse me, fellow bloggers if I am not able to visit and comment on all of your wonderful blogs as often as I would like for the next few weeks. I'll be back full-force before too long.

Landscape painting is a balancing act and requires priority setting and focus. I have written about balancing life goals and projects before, and have realized that a similar balancing process goes into the decisions involved in painting.
Few, if any, painters copy what they see in exact detail. We must discern what aspects of a particular scene drew us in and feature them. Other aspects need to recede in importance or even be left out. Sometimes an element needs to be moved or added for the sake of the composition. However, such changes require restraint. If a weathered barn is surrounded by purple wildflowers except for a trash pile in my sight line, filling that area with similar or compatible plants or a glimpse of bare earth is an acceptable adjustment to enhance the overall scene. However, it wouldn't make sense to paint a profusion of tropical passion flowers or cacti instead. The integrity of the location matters. Now I know that some lovely landscape paintings are completely "made up" by the painter from some combination of memories and a desire to create a scene that looks a particular way. I have done that myself, with fairly good results.
However, the "made up" places, at least when I paint them, do not resonate with the same depth as those based on an actual location. If I have truly been there, have seen, heard, tasted, smelled and touched the natural elements, I believe the truth of that experience shows in the art work. Yet, I do not paint simply what I see with my eyes or experience with my other physical senses. The painting arises out of my personal response to a natural place.
Holding the real and the "ideal" mental vision in tension to produce an interesting painting of an observed scene is infinitely rewarding. Sometimes this is quite difficult and requires extensive adjustment along the way--at other times, the process flows more easily. Wrestling with the balance of light and dark tones, with the way colors appear under variations in natural light, and with the arrangement of shapes and elements is a deeply moving, uniquely personal, creative experience.
The scene in the photo above is near our home. It's no place special--definitely not on anyone's sight-seeing itinerary--just a wide bend in Little Pottsburg Creek. Chunks of old concrete jostle the rocks and mussel beds in the muddy shallows, and trash lies half-submerged in the water. Still, something in the scene drew my attention. So I carefully recorded details mentally, snapped a few photos, and went home to figure out what the appeal was. If I tried to capture the feeling I had experienced in this everyday North Florida location, what would I paint? The result was an excellent learning exercise for me, which I will show you in my next post.
Question of the day: If you painted, drew, or more carefully photographed this creek bend, what would you feature?