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?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Learning & Growing--Choosing Paintings to Show

As I prepare for the Open Studio Reception I mentioned in the last post, one task is to decide what paintings to show and offer for sale. Advice from other artists is proving very helpful, especially from those who will give me a clear, honest assessment of the pieces I am considering. We don't like all our own creations equally, of course, but cannot predict how other people might see them. Some that disappointed me in some way strike my "jury" as having merit and might prove to be another person's cup of tea. I find that I am ready (more so than even several months ago) to part with most of my "better" pieces, knowing that I will go on to create more. So, the timing is right for a show. UPDATE: I have now added an index to all blog posts about planning and holding an art reception. Access it here.

Today's painting, on an 14" X 18" canvas board, is a romanticized version of a scene near our home which I pass on one of my favorite walking routes. A broken-down, abandoned shed surrounded by rusted metal debris stands on the curve of a two-track dirt drive leading far back into a wooded area. Perhaps there was a house on this lot once although there is no evidence of a foundation, just half-ruined utility connections. It's on a back road shared by a mix of small "Old Florida" homes, newer construction replacing tear-downs, and older mobile homes, so might once have boasted a double-wide. Now natural vegetation and overgrown plantings are gradually taking over, but the place still somehow breathes with the spirit of people who once used tools stored in this shed. It invites the imagination to spin a story of those who called this spot home.
After studying, sketching and photographing the scene a couple of years ago, I came up with this painting, called Long Gone. It took on a life of its own, as creations often do, and I was led away from the initial subdued, realistic palette to make it sing with color. In spite of the air of abandonment, this has always struck me as a happy place, so that's what flowed from my brush. The result has a sort of storybook quality rather than realistically representing the actual location. This painting made the cut for the Open Studio Reception and hopefully will make an interesting contrast to other pieces with more limited palettes and greater realism.
Question of the day: In your own creative pursuits, how often does the process take on a life of its own? How comfortable are you with those experiences--do you like to maintain some control or do you enjoy being carried away and surprised?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Growing--Exhibiting Paintings & Your Invitation to Join Us

My husband and I are delighted to invite all blog readers to join us for an Artist's Open Studio Reception on November 8. If the back of the postcard pictured here (which did not scan very well) is hard to read, click on the image to enlarge it. Or email me for information at UPDATE: I have now added an index of all blog posts about planning and holding an art reception. Access it here.

Many of the paintings I have been showing you on blog posts plus more will be available to purchase. However, we promise to allow guests to enjoy themselves--no hard sell here. You are welcome to stop in for snacks and a beverage, to enjoy live piano music, and to meet our friends and neighbors.
To enhance our Harvest Delights theme, our friends, the Lapinskis, will bring sustainably grown produce from their local farm, also available to purchase. They have warned me that our event is a week or two early for maximum harvest from their early winter crop, but they will bring whatever they have available. I know from experience that whatever they bring will be beautiful and yummy and that it will sell fast.
We hope that you will join us if you are in the area.
I have used the "Growing" heading for this post because it will be a first for me to show my paintings in our home. Although I am excited to be doing this, it is also surprisingly "nervous-making" and required a self-administered strong push to get me going on the planning.
Question of the day: Do you sometimes find that things you very much want to do are at the same time difficult to initiate?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Exploring--Croatia's Plitvice Lakes National Park, Part III and a Painting

This is my third and final post recalling our awe-inspiring day hike in Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia about a year ago. The photo on the right is one of my favorite views of one of the lakes. The breathtaking color is absolutely true to life; other than cropping, I never adjust the photos I show you or tinker with their colors. The actual tones and shades of the water in the park vary, but this clear aqua color is common there due to minerals dissolved from the limestone prevalent in the surrounding mountains and this beautiful valley. You can read further details about Croatia's magical national park in the previous two posts.
The painting at the top is a small (5" X 7") study created by simplifying the foreground in one photo (leaving out some tree trunks and the rushing water) and adapting a distant waterfall from another. Given the countless, varied waterfalls and rich virgin forest throughout the park, we saw other scenes like that portrayed in the painting, so my adjustments were not unrealistic. Mixing a color that worked for the water in the lake was difficult because I did not want a garish, swimming pool hue and yet wanted to be true to the startling reality. It seemed to work best to go greener because an exact duplication of the water color in the photo looked unreal when viewing the painting on its own.
For some reason, I have been slow to paint a larger landscape using this little study. I think that perhaps working on the study was enough for the sake of my memories. Beyond that, once we returned from that wonderful trip, North Florida's unique beauty recaptured my creative spirit with gratitude and joy for Home.
Question of the day: Isn't it a joy when travel stretches us and deepens our appreciation for other places and yet renews our love for our own nation and home?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Exploring--Croatia's Plitvice Lakes National Park, Part II

I hope you will enjoy several more photos from this amazing park in Croatia (formerly part of Yugoslavia), which I described in the last post. My husband, Mark, is viewing a waterfall in one shot (notice the sturdy walkway, which is typical of wet area crossings in the park). In another, we are looking down from the highest point we reached on our day hike. I believe that the numerous fish swimming below ducks in another photo are chub, but species' common names are sometimes "lost in translation". As always, you can click on any photo to enlarge it and see the details.
The memory of our visit to Plitvice Lakes seems timely as PBS airs Ken Burns' beautiful, informative, and deeply inspiring film series about the magnificent national parks here in the USA. We can be very grateful for and proud of our extensive, varied national park system. His film series invokes a deep love for our land, a kind of patriotism that exceeds flag or government and rises from the very earth, where, I must say humbly, my own European ancestors arrived only a few generations ago.
Remembering Plitvice Lakes, however, as well as gorgeous environmental preserves I have visited in Belize and the Dominican Republic, I am thankful that a number of other nations also have founded national parks. I hope that all members of the global community who care about preserving unique natural ecosystems will be empowered to set aside parks and preserves.
Question of the day: What is your favorite national park or other natural preserve area in the USA?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Exploring--Croatia's Plitvice Lakes National Park

Memories . . . In early autumn last year, we were privileged to travel in Eastern Europe for four weeks. Croatia's magical Plitvice Lakes National Park was a highlight of our time in that beautiful nation (formerly part of Yugoslavia). For the middle two weeks of our trip, we joined a guided tour of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina sponsored by the Rick Steves company (of public television fame). If you are interested in earlier posts about those destinations, simply enter "Eastern Europe" in the search box, above left. As I reminisce about that wonderful journey, I will post a time or two about our overnight visit and long trek in Plitvice Lakes National Park, one destination I had anticipated eagerly. This stunning park exceeded even my high expectations.
Photos cannot capture the full majesty of the lush, heavily forested park with 16 terraced lakes and countless waterfalls. The amazingly clear water shines in brilliant aqua or clear greenish tones due to the limestone-laden soils and rocks in the area. Bears, wolves, lynx, wild boar, and a rich variety of other animals, birds, and fish populate this protected area, one of the last remaining virgin forests in Europe.

We arrived late one afternoon, settled into a large, comfortable hotel in the park, and enjoyed a pre-planned "potluck" happy hour on the lake shore with our tour group, for which we had each purchased wine, sausage, cheese, chocolates, and other delights during the day. Dinner in the hotel was tasty, but hardly seemed necessary after that. Following an early, sumptuous breakfast buffet the next morning, we stowed our luggage on the tour bus, hoisted our day packs, and boarded a shuttle bus to a ferry dock. To avoid the crowds at this popular park, our excellent Rick Steves guide, Saso Golub, wisely guided us to begin at the furthest point of our trek, via a ferry across one of the larger lakes. His strategy worked beautifully--we saw the most dramatic falls before others crowded in, and we hiked in the opposite direction of the heaviest flow of visitors. The park offers a variety of hiking options on wide walking trails and sturdy plank walkways over rushing streams and gullies. The cold clear air of the early morning gave way to bracing, cool, delicious temperatures, perfect for hiking.

If you want to see more of the park and to learn about its dynamic ecosystem and shifting bodies of water and land formations, check your local public library for a DVD, which I think was originally a PBS program, Nature:Land of the Falling Lakes. In Plitvice, the water gradually wears down the land so that the lakes, streams, and waterfalls actually move over time. Then, the limestone deposits that erosion leaves in the water gradually build up again on fallen trees and branches underwater and on the lake bed itself so that over time, natural earth dams and eventually, new land areas are formed.

Next time, I will share a few more photos and memories from this magnificent park. Although we have grander individual waterfalls, vaster mountains, and deeper valleys in our beloved USA, the cumulative delights of the sheer numbers of waterfalls and rapids around every turn in Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia and the "forest primeval" atmosphere are unique and quite magical.
Question of the day: What natural preserve area has given you lasting memories?