Sunday, September 27, 2009

Exploring & Growing--The Refreshment of a Different Point of View

When our sons were Sesame Street age, I sometimes watched that wonderful show with them. One delightful piece I still remember featured video of a variety of creatures and a catchy song, each chorus ending with the claim, "It all depends on where you put your eyes." The camera gave us glimpses of the world as it may look to a giraffe, for example, contrasted with the way it may look to many other critters with eyes at radically different levels.
Strangely, that song has popped up in my mind several times in recent days. What's that about? Is my subconscious trying to tell me something about my perspectives, goals, or viewpoint? If it is, I will do my best to listen and learn from it.
I have posted in the past about our love for walks on the beach. We are grateful to live near the mighty Atlantic Ocean and enjoy the many moods of the waves and weather there. Somehow, our little Shih-tzu, Magnolia, who is too short to see much out the car windows, always knows when we are crossing the bridge over the intracoastal waterway. Her excitement builds as we drive on the offshore island side of the bridge where the pavement is wavy and gives us a mini-roller coaster ride. We both anticipate our beach time with joy.
However, I also love the distinctive and varied salt marshes in the Jacksonville area and enjoy contemplating the stretch of golden, green and/or brown (depending on the season) marsh grasses visible from the bridge. When the tide is low, more water birds are poking around among the mussel beds and crab holes; when it is high, more fishing boats congregate.
One fine day on our way home from the beach, I decided to explore the neighborhood closest to the marsh on the mainland side and made a sharp right turn just off the bridge. When I could see through to the marsh between yards, fences, and old trees, I had a whole new perspective on the bridge, marsh, and intracoastal waterway. The photo above is one view this lovely area provided.
So, as the Sesame Street song continues to invade my reflections, I recalled this experience, which struck me as a metaphor for the richness available in life--depending on where I put my eyes. Don't have anything profound to say about that just now, but I'll keep on looking and listening.
Question of the day: Where are your eyes these days? Have you recently found a new perspective, are you hopeful for a change in viewpoint, or is your outlook just right for this time in life?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Learning & Growing--Art Classes & Cypress Swamp Painting

I recently showed you a painting of an iris, adapted from a reference photo taken by someone else and wrote about some of the difficulties I encountered. Well, I have done it before. Today's painting, of a cypress swamp (or marsh), is also adapted from someone else's photo, this one from a nature magazine. I am sorry that I cannot credit the photographer (even though my rendering is quite different from the photo). Since this painting was mostly completed in a painting class using reference material the instructor provided, I no longer have information on the photo or the magazine. Given the strong dark tones and bright contrast in this painting, I hope that it looks something like the real thing on your monitor (it is a bit too yellow on mine).
My landscape painting mentor and friend, Linda Blondheim, is an excellent teacher, both tough and sensitive. She listens to her students' expression of what they would like to achieve in a painting and (if that vision is achievable) helps them get there--a rare teaching gift. Looking at this cypress swamp piece reminds me of the enriching day and growth as an artist I experienced in a design and composition workshop with her a few years ago. By the way, all the best artists I know are self-described learners and are continually pushing themselves to grow and to achieve new directions and goals.
I was privileged to study with Linda again recently at a full day workshop learning about using values well in the landscape ("values" in art refer to the whole range of darks to mid-tones to lights). I know that this is one area in which I need improvement--I get so taken up with the brilliance or the subtlety of colors in nature that it is difficult for me to judge values sometimes or to balance them in an interesting way in a composition. Among other topics, she introduced the Notan system for making values "sing" in our work. It was especially meaningful to work with her earlier this month because her schedule requires her to stop in-person teaching for a time, and I am thrilled I could be in her final workshop (for now--all her students hope that she will return to teaching in the future).
For anyone who would like painting instruction from Linda, she is continuing on-line teaching, both individual and class instruction, and her e-classes are excellent. In fact, her next class unit will be an expanded version of the one-day values workshop I experienced. For more information, go to HER WEBSITE and click on "artist resources" at the top.
Even if you are not looking for painting classes, her remarkable paintings and fascinating articles about her beloved North Florida, its history, farms, ranches, wetlands, and preserves are well worth a visit to that website (click on the link above). If you think all of Florida looks like Miami or the Gulf Coast, you will be amazed to see the paintings her lifetime of exploring has inspired.
Now, about the above painting, an acrylic on a 9" X 12" canvas panel from a workshop with Linda a few years ago. Like many of my accounts of the painting process, the story of this piece is a tale of mistakes along the way and hurdles overcome. The basic composition, under-painting, and some of the finishing were complete by the time I left the workshop. Under Linda's guidance, it was looking fairly good then. Linda had scanned a good quality copy of the magazine photo for me to bring home as i completed the scene, but I had difficulty getting it to look real. Finally, an insight struck as I studied the copy of the photo for the millionth time. The photographer either had used flash or had other additional lighting on the stumpy cypress knees in the foreground so that there was a combination of natural back lighting and dramatic light falling on the foreground. Although that made for a striking photograph, trying similar tones in my painting made the scene look phony. Softer, mid to dark tones in the foreground made a real improvement.
Question of the day: What is your current growing, learning edge?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Exploring & Learning--Our Magical Public Libraries & Reference Books for Artists

For weeks, I have been meaning to write about the delights of exploring public libraries. From the time my mother first took me to Muskegon, Michigan's castle-like Victorian library as a small child, libraries have held a fairy tale magic for me. Since the last post featured books and since I recently found a terrific series of photo reference books for artists, now is the perfect time for this subject.
I am an absolute library junkie and did my best to raise our sons to share that obsession. It seems particularly timely in a difficult economy to remember the remarkable resources available free of charge in public libraries. As much as I love books, I purchase relatively few--in particular, very few novels. They are free at the library; I read each one only once--why would I buy them? The library is also my favorite source for current non-fiction (often works I have heard about on public radio) like the latest nutrition book, exercise DVD, financial advice, business trends, and other works that I want to look at, but don't need to purchase. Most libraries offer wonderful additional services, such as children's story hours, student and adult programs, free computer use, and a variety of media (beyond books) available to borrow.
Admittedly, we do purchase books, too. We have kept a number of worthwhile books from our years of study and from my adventures teaching philosophy and math. I also like having reference books handy, so our shelves hold atlases (up-dated periodically), travel books, books about words and writing, nature field guides and bird books, books about architecture, home repair, sewing, knitting, music, history, and many other topics. Other long-time friends include poetry, quality art reproduction collections, and thought-provoking, spiritually meaningful books.
Of course, I also own some books that inspire and assist my painting. For example, when my own reference photos don't provide quite enough detail for accurately painting birds in a landscape, my various bird books provide rich detail about that particular species--everything from characteristic textures of feathers and subtleties of coloring to unique patterns of flight and characteristic posture when standing or perching.
Still, the world is full of wonderful books we don't own that the library can provide. The pages above were scanned from a series of books by photographer Gary Greene, who generously and explicitly invites artists to photocopy or scan and then adapt images from his books (as long as they do not try to profit from an exact copy). As always, you can click on the images above to enlarge them in order to appreciate the remarkable detail in Greene's photos. His beautiful books spark my creative process even when I don't use any of the specific images for a painting. Our library system has a number of his works, and I am currently waiting for one to come in on a transfer from another branch. The above pages appear in Artist's Photo Reference, Reflections, Textures & Backgrounds. The volume I am waiting for showcases boats and marine scenes. When it comes in, you can bet that along with it, I'll carry home an armload of additional, irresistible finds from my magical library.
Question of the day: Are you a public library junkie? What are your favorite recent library discoveries?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Learning & Savoring--Inspiring Photo Books

I mentioned an accomplished photographer-friend, David Young, in my last post. Today, I'll show you some of the photos from one of his books, Prayer Photos, and say a few words about his books. If you would like to know more about them, you can email Dave at He has some copies of two of his books available for only $5, a substantial discount off the cover price. If you read my blog regularly, you know that I normally do not include anything even resembling advertising, but decided to make an exception for some exceptional books at a super price.
Prayer Photos is a high-quality, soft-cover book with a photo on each right-hand page and an appropriate free verse prayer poem by David Young on the left. The poems explore a variety of moods and human experiences, are non-sectarian, and would be meaningful to any spiritual person. The photos above are two examples of his sensitive, intriguing images.
I highly recommend this book as well as another he has available, called Coloring the Wind, with several one-page essays about peace, justice, and other topics, many short free verse poems, and more of David's beautiful photos, mostly of people, taken on his extensive travels to many cultures. He possesses an uncanny ability to capture a depth of character and meaning in a photo of an elderly Latina's face, of children at play around the world, of varied family groups, and more.
Question of the day: What powerful images have touched you recently?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Learning & Growing--Purple Iris Floral Painting

About a month ago, I showed you a magnolia floral painting I had worked on as a change of pace from my usual landscapes (scroll down to August 11 or enter "magnolia" in the search box above to see it again). This purple iris painting is an older work, one of my first close-up florals. Among other things, I learned the value of perseverance from this project.
I can't remember anymore how long this painting was a "work in progress," or how many times I was tempted to scrap the project due to to the fact that some of the changes I tried made it worse instead of better. Works in progress are supposed to progress, aren't they? This one definitely gave me trouble.
Probably one issue with the painting was that I used someone else's photo. A friend (thank you, David Young) who is known for his breathtaking photos of people from around the world, sent me a packet of varied photos several years ago. I was inspired to try to paint this iris from one of his photos with a few adaptations to fit my own vision for the image.
Although I am quite pleased with the final result, I felt hampered along the way by the fact that I had not seen, touched, and smelled the flower myself. A wiser artist than I was would have at least sought out live purple irises somewhere to observe, sketch, and photograph. I will do that in the future. I know some artists can create excellent paintings strictly from photos of places, people, or natural things they have never seen in person. I am humbled by their skill. For me, I have learned that nothing can replace being there. In addition to various technical problems I had to iron out for this painting, it was difficult for me to bring the blossom alive on canvas--we had never actually met. The result--and sort of a solution--was to paint an image that is more stylized than natural.
Venturing outside my comfort zone can be a thrill. But when an effort to do or to learn something new seems too unpleasant or too hard, I try to remember this painting experience. Of course, some attempts fail. No shame there, I believe--the shame would be avoiding the new for fear of failure. But in the thick of any difficult struggle with a new venture, I recall the BATTLE OF THE IRIS and persevere. After all, I think this image turned out all right. In any case, I learned and grew as a person and as an artist from this project.
Question of the day: Have you battled any irises lately? What growth or learning resulted?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Growing--Personal Encouragement that Keeps on Giving

Do you keep a file of items that brighten your day? You could call it an encouragement file or an inspiration file, my husband's term. Whatever the label, we like having a special place to keep thank you notes, printouts of kind emails, commendations, or other personally meaningful papers.
Our younger son recently had the pleasant experience--almost miraculous in these hard times--of having his immediate boss go to bat for him and secure him a nice raise. Pete showed us the email his boss had sent the higher ups and forwarded on to him detailing his accomplishments and contributions to the company. When I later asked Pete if he planned to keep the email, he said he hadn't really thought about it. "Print it and put it in your inspiration file," my husband chimed in. Mark then told Pete how he has kept and filed a rich collection of expressions of love and gratitude over the years. When he feels as though he is not accomplishing enough or that no one appreciates his efforts, he can turn to his inspiration file for positive motivation.
I am not the best example of being organized about keeping an encouragement file, but I do have stashes of commendations, personal thank you notes that particularly touched me (some of the best are from students), and some greeting cards with uplifting personal notes penned in. Sometimes it is enough just to remember they are there. At other times, I reread a few for the emotional boost and reminder of precious human connection they provide.
Question of the day: De you keep tangible reminders of encouragement, kindness, and love?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Savoring--Easy, Elegant Dessert Recipe--Lemon Ice Cream

For warm weather entertaining and after hearty meals with friends in the fall, we like to keep dessert light. There is nothing wrong with serving fruit or a nice purchased sorbet to guests. Many of us appreciate being served healthier foods and avoiding that "I'm so stuffed" feeling.
One invitation Mark and I had this summer to enjoy a sunset on the riverside deck of some new friends was memorable and delicious. Our hostess (thank you, Kay) served us a stunning view, fascinating conversation, and fresh fruit with peach sorbet. We loved it and are grateful that she kept things relaxed, people-focused, and healthful. It was a good reminder to me that simple is delightful. Simple entertaining is certainly better than a complex, fussy meal with an over-worked, tense host who can't even sit down to converse. If you would like to entertain, but feel that it would be too much work, I'd encourage you to emulate Kay. Gathering friends together is primarily about the people.
If you have time to prepare a dessert the day or evening before entertaining, the lemon ice cream in the photo is a delicious choice. Yes, it is rich, including both cream and sugar. But for most people, a small serving is just right--so serving and eating this ice cream should be guilt-free. Somehow, it seems both lusciously rich and refreshingly light. I am grateful to my brother's wife, Betty, for the recipe--both of them are accomplished, creative cooks.
The dessert requires five hours to freeze through, although you could cut that time by freezing it in a thin layer and then scooping it into serving dishes.
Lemon Ice Cream
makes 5 - 7 small servings
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 Tbsp. fresh grated lemon peel (I use a zester)
2 cups half & half cream
1 cup sugar
Squeeze juice and prepare peel.
In medium sized bowl, stir cream and sugar together until sugar is well dissolved. Then, stir in lemon juice and peel. The mixture will thicken almost immediately.
Pour into individual dishes, sherbets, or 8" square pan. Freeze at least 5 hours (overnight or even a few days is fine; cover with plastic wrap if it waits awhile).
Set out at room temperature at least 10 minutes before serving; the ice cream freezes quite hard.
I often set out a small plate of nice purchased cookies with the ice cream. Using limes instead of lemons also makes a yummy dessert.
I don't know if you can see the short tines on the spoon in the photo; these special silver ice cream spoons were my mother's--using them is a small source of memories and joy. When we serve this dessert, our guests are always impressed--I hope you give it a try.
Question of the day: If you like to entertain, what's your secret for keeping it fun and easy?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Learning--Blogging and Landscape Painting

Thank you for your positive response to the last post. Today, I am posting a related article, also a repeat of a post from this past May. I hope you enjoy it and promise something brand new next time.

Did you learn something new today? Whether simple facts or complex new abilities, new learnings enrich life, keep us mentally and emotionally young, and just plain add fun to our creative everyday lives. I am a compulsive learner on many levels and love to gain new insights and skills. Some of my most rewarding learnings have followed attempts to understand or do something I assumed I would not do well. Taking that risk is stimulating, sometimes humbling, and always enlivening (at least in the long run), no matter what the result is.

This blog is one example of a personal learning adventure. As a minimally computer-literate person, I faced a steep learning curve in order to begin posting. Those of you who are computer-adept would have found my approach hilarious, involving everything from perusing library books to asking friends to viewing on-line video how-tos. Numerous notes and lists later, I took the heart-pounding dive off the . . . well, so far, what I have done is probably analogous to slicing into the pool from the edge; this is hardly the high dive of blogging. However, it represents an achievement for me, both in learning the basics of blogging and in publishing the thoughts and adventures of an introverted self for y'all readers.
I wonder: If blogging had been simple for me, would it have been as rewarding as it is now? In time, I hope to advance to more variety in format and to including appropriate links for interested readers, and more! (Note: I have learned to insert clickable links since I wrote this--progress!) It's a shame you can't all watch over my shoulder to chuckle (in the nicest possible way, of course) at my ongoing efforts in techno-communication. Truthfully, the process is not always fun for me, but my small triumphs are satisfying--and, hopefully, are also beneficial flexing for my maturing brain.
Oh, about the photo above, you ask? A few years ago, I took a wonderful painting course. Awkwardly wielding an artist's brush for the first time since elementary school, I discovered a whole new source of creative expression and satisfaction. With zero expectation that I would produce anything even worth keeping, I was astonished to like some of the paintings I made in the class. Now, that's a sign of a world-class teacher! I'll describe that learning adventure in future posts. In the meantime, you can view an effort from about a year ago--my response to exploring Big Talbot Island (see a recent post about that unique beach below).
Question of the day: What new learning adventure intrigues you? What fears keep you on the side of that pool? Why not give it a try?