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?


  1. I'm touched by your kind referral Mary. Thank you so much.

  2. I love the reflection. That is not easy to do, you did a wonderful job with this painting, Mary!

  3. This is so beautiful, Mary. It reminds me of movies I've seen of the Louisiana bayous. I love the dark mystery of the trees. Thanks for the mini lesson on values too. I think maybe I needed it! Your last question would take me pages to answer.

  4. You are a very talented painter. I love your nature paintings. Thanks.

  5. Linda, you are very welcome. I am delighted to recommend both your wonderful paintings and your e-teaching, not only because we are friends, but even more so because your teaching and your paintings are truly excellent.

    Lisa, it's great to hear from you! Thank you for your encouragement--there is something fascinating to me about reflections, so I appreciate hearing that you think the reflection works in this piece.

    Autumn, I appreciate your thoughts, as always--insightful and helpful. It pleases me that you mentioned the "dark mystery" because that (combined with the back lighting) is precisely what drew me to this scene. I think that the Notan description of this painting would be that darks dominate, lights are secondary, and mid-tones kept minimal.

    Bill, from your super nature photography, I know you have a good eye, so your comments are appreciated and valuable. Thank you.

  6. Mary, your painting is just fabulous! I love how you blend the colors..The reflection in the water is just beautiful.

    I'm glad you left a comment, because I'm enjoying your blog as well.

  7. Hi Mary! I'm no artist so i always find myself in awe looking at artist's works! your cypress swamp painting is just indescribable! it's a great piece of art that can be passed on to generations...

    thanks for the visit, your comments always make me inspired and happy. ;)

  8. Hi Mary, WOW--what a gifted person you are. I love your paintings... I'm enjoying looking at your blog site. Thanks so much for writing me.

    I used to live n Jacksonville (in the early 80's). My oldest son graduated from Wolfson HS. We lived off of San Jose Blvd. on the south side.

    My brother is in a retirement home (Westminster Woods) south of Mandarin now. He's the only family member I have down there now. He used to live in St. Augustine.

    Please come back to my blog anytime. I'll return to yours.

  9. Hello mary, thank you for stopping by my blog. I am glad to meet you and your beautiful bald cypress painting. I love bald cypress. I have drawn them in pen and ink. I love how they make the Atchafalaya Swamp look so haunting.Love the reflection of the trees on the water in your painting.

  10. Thank you all. Since you are wonderfully creative people, I especially treasure your responses to the blog and paintings.

    Icy, I appreciate you stopping in and your encouraging and helpful comments.

    Cher, maybe you are not a painter, but I have seen your photos, and you are definitely an artist! Thank you for your visit and your kind comment.

    How fun to hear that you have connections to Jacksonville, Betsy. Thank you for coming and commenting so kindly.

    Ces, I can feel your connection to the bald cypress. I need to kayak into the marshes more often to capture some photos of their variety, beauty, and stark dignity. Thank you for your visit and thoughtful remarks.

  11. I like the shadings which bring my eye to the central point Mary. I am not any kind of an artist nor do I have an artistic bone in my body, but this appeals to me. You are a wonderful painter. I am still at the stick-men stage. :)

  12. Thank you for your interesting reflections on this post, Joan; it is great to hear from you. However, I have to disagree with you about your artistry. Your photography is truly amazing and clearly comes from a person with great skill AND a creative artisi's vision. You are an artist in my book.

  13. That is very sweet of you Mary. Thank you.

  14. Well, I don't say that just to be sweet--I really mean it, Joan.

  15. This is a wonderful painting, Mary. I've seen so little of your paintings, I didn't realize you were a gifted artist, as well as photographer and storyteller!

    I can only say I hope this beautiful painting is hanging proudly in your home!

  16. Given your own creative artistry, Beckie, I truly value your comments. Thank you.