Thursday, February 25, 2010

Learning and Growing--Critique Service Results on Dune Painting

On February 1, when I posted this 12" x 16" painting as a work in progress (the small photo), it was ready for comments from my painting mentor, Linda Blondheim. You can scroll down to that post for more information about Linda's teaching services and a link to her website. I had signed up for her e-critique service for the month of February and have found it immensely valuable in the development of five paintings. I was aware of several changes this piece needed, and Linda suggested other modifications--most of which I included in the revision. By the way, I photographed the earlier version in much brighter light, so please don't think that the whole painting is darker now. If you'd like to see more detail, you can click on the photos to enlarge them.
The work seems about finished to me, but you will notice that it is not yet signed. That means it will rest for awhile so that I can live with it and decide if any further tweaking is desirable. As I have mentioned before, knowing when to stop revising is both crucial and difficult in any art form. The piece is based on reference photos from a June visit to Jacksonville Beach, Florida, looking out at the Atlantic Ocean over the dunes. All along Jacksonville's offshore islands, the dunes are protected so that natural vegetation and critters can thrive; beach visitors may cross to the beach only on boardwalks.
For those of you who are interested, here are the main details of the revision. Probably the most noticeable change is the stronger, darker fence. Since it is the focal point, it needed more drama in size and tonal value. Even those of you who paint may not guess what gave me the most trouble in this piece--it's the top half of the dune on the right. In the earlier version, the tall grasses drew attention to themselves and distracted both from the fence and from the bright wildflowers that I considered a secondary focal area. As Linda and I considered various possible fixes, I first painted the grass out completely but did not like the look of the dune completely bare either. My final solution was to cover more of that dune with grasses, carefully keeping them soft, nearly uniform, and neutral in tone so that they would blend with the dune and not pull attention away from more important areas. Other changes in tonal balance (degrees of dark and light) on the horizon line, on the sunlit left dune top, and in the foreground increased the interest and drama of the scene. The ocean is deliberately kept as a quiet area, somewhere for the viewer's eye to rest, as one looks out toward an interesting, but not overly dramatic, sky. The painting now captures my impression of that lovely June day.
Question of the day: In your creative projects, do you enjoy the ups and downs of the process, or do you feel impatient for completion?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Exploring--More Photos from Punta Gorda, Florida

Since I seem to keep running short of time to write a post, today I'll show you a few more scenes from our recent trip to Punta Gorda, FL with fewer words than usual :>). One photo above shows the incredible base of a banyan tree in front of our hotel. Yes, that is one tree, believe it our not. Banyan trees spread by sending trailers down from branches, which root and grow up as new trunks attached to the existing branches. The cypress swamp scene is from a walk on our guided tour through Babcock Wilderness Adventures (described in the previous post).
The other photos are views along Charlotte Harbor, off the Gulf of Mexico. I took the sunset picture through our hotel window, while the palm-framed photo looks in the same direction from the town park which was just below our window to the west of our hotel.
Thank you to all you faithful blog friends who keep on checking in and visiting, even when my posting slows down. I think that I'll be able to get closer to my goal of posting once every four of five days in coming weeks.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Exploring--Babcock Wilderness Adventures in Punta Gorda, Florida

Last week, Mark and I visited Punta Gorda, Florida, on Charlotte Harbor, a large bay off the Gulf of Mexico. Although it was much chillier than normal there (but a good 8 - 12 degrees warmer than we would have been at home in Jacksonville), we had a pleasant, relaxing visit to this beautiful area. We have explored other Gulf Coast cities and towns, but Punta Gorda was new to us. By far our favorite vacation outing was to Babcock Wilderness Adventures, a 90,000 acre working ranch and farm with an extensive nature preserve.
The history and present operation of the ranch fascinated us, but I won't report all that in this post. Interested readers can visit the Babcock Wilderness web site for more information.
The guided "swamp buggy" tour, lasting over 90 minutes, traveled through a variety of habitats, from sweeping Florida prairie, to deep woods, to silent cypress swamp. According to our guide, we were particularly fortunate in the number and variety of animals and birds we saw that day--many quite close. Several deer, one with a very young fawn, quietly watched us watching them, alert but showing no fear. Alligators who had found sunny spots on that cool day moved only a wary eyeball as we stopped to view and photograph them. Wild hogs and the unique Florida Cracker cattle breed are both protected here and gleefully ran to the bus (the hogs) or sauntered over (some of the cattle) to take corn feed from our guide. The photo ops were numerous, and I'll show you some of the animals and scenery in a future post.
Today's photos show a few of the magnificent birds we saw. The Great White Egret is taller than those we see in North Florida, but is otherwise very similar to ours. The Sandhill Crane blends so perfectly into the dry winter brush that we could spot it only by its characteristic facial markings. The male wild turkeys, apparently entering mating season, proudly displayed their tail feathers and strutted their stuff. Our visit seemed perfectly timed for sightings of these and many other birds, including ibis, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and bald eagles.
Question of the day: What area within a four or five hour drive of your home would you like to explore, and what would you do and see there?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Exploring--A Pocket Park in Jacksonville, Part II

As I considered the previous post, it struck me that although I made a point of finding a park along the St. Johns River, most of my photos were of other subjects. Here are a couple of views of Jacksonville's mighty river looking west from this pocket park. The third photo shows a live oak tree with personality and character to spare. Even though the day was overcast, the unique winter charm of our city shines through.
Question of the day: What is uniquely captivating where you are this winter?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Exploring--A Pocket Park in Jacksonville--Hunting for Painting Subjects

Yesterday, Maggie The Wonder Dog, and I took advantage of an hour of free time to go hunting for landscape painting subjects. I pulled out my trusty Jacksonville map and looked for green patches--trying to find a park we had not yet explored. The goal was not to find a grand, well-landscaped, or popular park, but rather to discover one of our wonderful city's numerous "pocket parks". All over Jacksonville, FL, small patches of preserved land hold onto nature's charm, whether they boast ancient live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, salt marsh wetlands, or one of our countless lazy creeks, reflecting images of cypress or palm trees in murky water.
River Oaks Park shows as a curved sliver of green on the map, not far from our home on Jacksonville's south side, set along a dirty, neglected creek where it empties into the mighty St. John's River. Grand homes claim most of the land area along and near the prized riverfront, but this one small stretch of scrubby wild land has been saved from development. Perhaps it remains partly because it is anything but premium building land, with lots of squishy low spots along a muddy creek.
Since we were alone in the park, Maggie could be off leash and was in doggie heaven, tearing around on the large grassy area, sniffing interesting smelly, dank low spots, and cocking her head to discern individuals in the symphony of bird songs and calls. Although there was heavy overcast, the light was a bit too intense for ideal photography but I couldn't resist snapping away. The park is no garden spot, but is instead exactly the sort of unlikely place I discover interesting painting subjects. There were several old live oak trees on the drier grassy stretch, while the skeletons of dead cypress and many fallen trees and branches created tangled sculptures on the creek banks. Dark, still water perfectly reflected each scene in the clear light of an overcast winter day.
Can't say yet what I might paint from this outing, if anything. Even so, recalling the park's sights, sounds, and smells provides painting inspiration and these sensations will sink into my subconscious to percolate and bubble up in unexpected creative insights sometime in the future. I look forward to returning to this quirky little park some sunny late afternoon for a different perspective on the scene. Although the light was bright yesterday, the pervasive overcast created no shadows at all, and I missed them. The character-filled trees I photographed seemed to be lacking something without long shadows to attest to their dignity.
Question of the day: What unexpected source provides creative inspiration for you?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Learning and Growing--Signing on for a Critique Service & a Work in Progress

I have just begun working with an exceptional painter, teacher, and mentor, Linda Blondheim, via her e-critique service. The photo shows one of the works in progress I sent to her for suggestions. I know which parts of this painting I feel need to change and what I still plan to do with it--it will be fascinating to hear her reflections. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks or less, I will be posting the finished version for you to see.
I have taken several classes and workshops from Linda in her charming studio, out in the countryside near Gainesville, Florida. Every time, I came away encouraged, energized, and bursting with new skills and insights to apply to my painting. Although she is too busy to offer such classes right now, she still teaches via the Internet. One of these days, I will take one of her e-classes, but her e-critique service fits my schedule and needs better this winter and spring. Each week, I will e-mail Linda images of a few pieces I am working on along with particular questions I have about them. She will then analyze and critique them, returning not just her verbal commentary, but scanned images of the works with alternate possibilities sketched in. Then, I can get back to work. Linda is respectful and understanding when I decide not to follow a suggestion, but most of the time, her pointers are right on target and help guide my process in a direction that feels right for me. If you would like information about her many services and products for artists, click on "artist resources" on her web site.
One of the teaching qualities I appreciate most in Linda is her sensitivity to each student's own style and vision. Some art teachers seem to think that all the students should precisely imitate their style and technique, sometimes even their subject matter. That approach may be helpful to some students, but drives me right out the door. Of course, I know that I have a lot to learn, and I humbly work to improve and grow with every session at the easel. However, the best sort of teacher for me is one who guides and encourages me to develop freely in my own unique creative direction.
Question of the day: What inspirational teacher or learning experience stands out for you?