Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Exploring--Cleveland, Ohio, Blossom Center, and Lake Erie Islands

I apologize for being gone for a couple of weeks, both from posting and from visiting your blogs. Nothing is wrong here--just have been swept away by happy life events. I will try to be a more active blogger in October.
Since I have not yet tormented y'all with any posts about "What I did on my summer vacation", here it comes :>). This past summer, we enjoyed a wonderful road trip to visit my sister in Salisbury, MD and my brother in Cleveland, OH. Of course, time with family is priceless, but I also enjoyed exploring both these interesting locations.
The first photo above shows a view of the Cleveland skyline as seen approaching the dock after a river boat tour on the Goodtime III. Fond memories of the interesting sights on the Goodtime II umpty years ago put this Cleveland attraction at the top of my list of things to see and do during our visit. The glut of photos from this ride in my IPhoto album indicate the many interesting sights, including Cleveland's iconic Terminal Tower, seen from every side as we followed the winding course of the Cuyahoga River. It is the distant, pointy-topped building on the right here. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the modern building on the left, designed by world-famous architect, I. M. Pei.
The second photo shows a quiet beach on one of the Lake Erie Islands. We explored Put-in-Bay, a touristy town on one island as well as lovely natural areas, all by golf cart (the line for bringing cars onto the ferry didn't seem worth the wait that day).
Finally, another nostalgic event--we attended a stunning performance of some of our classical music favorites at Blossom Center, summer home of the world-class Cleveland Symphony Orchestra. I think the last time we were at Blossom Center was in the 1960's. It is as breath-taking as ever, with the gorgeous wood of the stage area, the acres of wooded grounds, and the amazing acoustics that allow all listeners, even those on lawn chairs or blankets on the edges of this natural "bowl" to hear every lovely note.
Question of the day: Do you know a city or town like Cleveland, which is much more attractive and interesting to visit than many realize?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Learning and Growing--Painting Process on Dune and Beach Piece, "Spring Breeze"

Today's post is designed for readers interested in my landscape painting process and in composition design in particular. The photos above show earlier stages of "Spring Breeze", with the final version at the top. The lower left photo is quite early, with some elements, like the sky and footbridge, more developed and others, like the wildflowers, just barely indicated. It was a real challenge to get the balance and focal point to work well on this piece. My painting mentor Linda Blondheim provided invaluable advice during a couple of months of using her e-critique services. With her guidance, I gradually added more curve to the path--even the second version of the path in the photo on the right changed further later on. The evolution of the path illustrates how landscape artists sometimes need to adjust features in the actual scene for a more pleasing composition. The first version reproduces the way the path actually looked in my reference photo, but adding curves and more variation provided a much more graceful lead into the scene. In a departure from my usual process, I painted the footbridge in a fairly detailed form early on because I was strongly drawn to the sharp shadows cast by the railing. Since that area was my intended focal point, I worked to render the bridge in correct perspective from the beginning.
I have no idea how often I painted out and revised the wildflowers on the left side. Although they are a major element, I wanted them to balance, but not compete with, the footbridge and its interesting shadow pattern. An important step in solving the overly even seesaw look of the foreground was to make the left side dune higher. At one point, I cut some scrap paper into a much higher dune shape, taped it (with masking tape) to the canvas, and emailed that image to Linda. She agreed that a higher dune made the composition more interesting than having so many elements on roughly the same level, but suggested going a bit lower than the line of my cut-out. However, I hesitated before revising the dune so radically because Jacksonville Beach dunes are not that steep. We landscape painters vary, I think, in the degree to which we are willing to change the actual scene when we work from nature or reference photos. For several days, this work-in-progress stood on the fireplace mantel for consideration while I worked on other paintings. The need for a greater variation in line won out over realism. Also, since steeper dunes grace some nearby beaches, the change was not completely out of line.
If some of you are interested, I will talk about the process of painting the sky and clouds in "Spring Breeze"in a future post. It can be difficult to achieve a semi-transparent, wispy effect with acrylic paints, so sharing our methods could be fun.
Question of the day: More of a reflection than a question this time: For me, achieving an interesting balance of compositional elements in a painting, with both dynamic tension and restful features, seems like a metaphor for a set of life skills we all need. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Savoring--Butterflies, At Mandarin Gardens and In Our Yard

A couple of weeks ago, my master gardener husband suggested a unique "date" to see the butterflies at the Mandarin Gardens demonstration garden on Jacksonville's south side, his favorite place to volunteer. Because our weather continues to be fairly hot, we opted for a morning visit and then breakfast out afterwards. It was fantastic, just sitting quietly among the flowers and watching the butterflies and other pollinators work their magic. I resisted pulling out the camera for awhile in order to soak it in--then took on the challenge of capturing photos of very active butterflies. I'll keep the photos small, but you can always click on them to enlarge (sometimes a second click will give you an even closer view).
Master gardener that he is, Mark has also developed our yard into a haven for butterflies and hummingbirds, so I will share some photos from our yard as well as from Mandarin Gardens. According to my field guide, the photos taken at Mandarin Gardens show a Gulf Fritillary (orange with just a few black markings--seen on both yellow and lavender flowers) and a Long-tailed Skipper (brownish one on a bright orange flower).
The monarchs are just beginning to grace our yard on their way to Mexico; I took these monarch photos this morning. This one looks like a male because of the black spot on a vein of each hind wing. Although I can't always tell a Monarch from a Viceroy as they fly by, I know the Monarchs have been up north for awhile because the milkweed Mark plants for their caterpillars to eat has grown very tall rather than being stripped down to nothing (the yellow flowering plants shown alone in a photo above--very different from what I called milkweed as a child in Michigan). The black Palamedes Swallowtail photos were also taken in our yard, earlier in the summer.
Question of the day: Aren't butterflies amazing--beautiful and captivating in a special way and also so helpful to plant life?