Thursday, December 20, 2012

Favorite Paintings Part II--Works from 2008 & 2009

     In this reflective end of the year time, we will look back today. Several months ago, I posted some of my personal favorites among older paintings and will continue that theme today. Since painting is relatively new in my life, the "oldies" don't go very far back. However, it feels as though I have learned  and grown significantly in the last 3 or 4 years and (although others may not notice a dramatic difference) can see improved elements in some more recent work. Of course, art works always have a mind of their own, so that unexpected results--for good or ill--can come along anytime. The process, the journey, and the sheer scary fun of trying are worth the ride no matter how various pieces turn out. I never fail to learn from every painting session.

     I won't repeat the background and reflections from the earlier favorites post. However, one insight from my mentor Linda Blondheim is worth recounting today. I once told her that a painting teacher had said to us students that she was sometimes ashamed of her early work and didn't like to think of the pieces people had bought back then still being on display. Linda agreed with me that the artist's feelings seemed sad and shared her own outlook. Of course, Linda has learned a great deal and grown as an artist over the years, but every time she has painted, she did the very best she could at the time. So, she is pleased if those works were appealing to buyers--or even if not--and truly values each of them. A healthy, motivating outlook, I think.

     The earliest of these three pieces is the 18" x 24" vertical creek view with the egret seen above. As the piece developed, I liked the fantasy feeling of the under painting in the streaky water and not-quite-realistic trees, so kept that aspect intact and called it "Creek Bend Fantasy". The second is the largest piece I have made so far, on a 22" x 28" canvas, called "Serenity"--also showing a creek bend where it pools. Both have garnered fans and favorable comments over several shows and in shops. The third painting, an 18" x 24" work called "Hanna Park Heron" sold at the very first Open Studio Reception in our home to friends who treasure it as a reminder both of many years of happy family outings in North Florida's Hanna Park and as a tribute to the majestic great blue heron who frequents the large pond behind their house. Descriptions of the process of creation for each piece and other details are in earlier posts; simply click on the links if interested.

     Thank you, dear readers, for your patience with my uneven posting schedule in recent months; I am recovering very well from hip replacement surgery and hope for more conversation with you in 2013. That partly depends on circumstances beyond my control; i.e., ME and my love for procrastination. I will do (some version of) my best :>). 

     May all of you enjoy a hopeful, peaceful Christmas and a joy-filled New Year.

Question of the day: Are you able to manage Linda Blondheim's positive, encouraging view of your past efforts? 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Second Show of Paintings at Paddiwhack Gallery

     I am thrilled to have a second opportunity to show paintings in the featured "nook" at the front of the wonderful Paddiwhack Shop in Gainesville, Florida. It is an honor and privilege to have works hung together in this premier location in the store. It has been about a year and a half since I last exhibited there. This group of pieces (plus one called "Sanderling in the Surf", which is featured elsewhere in the shop) shared the coveted pre-holiday time period with Paddiwhack's unique selection of holiday-themed items. Of course, all the other delightful treasures Paddiwhack is known for are also available in their wonderful, large space. As always, you can click on a photo to enlarge it.

     All the pieces in this exhibit are new to Paddiwhack. Given my slow painting pace and the various life events that occurred and kept me from painting at times in recent months, it was a challenge to produce and mount the 12 works shown at the shop. Since I have at some time posted about the Coastal North Florida explorations that led to the subjects for these works and about the painting process for each piece, I won't discuss that today. 

     One goal for this exhibit was to present a greater variety of sizes and prices than I had in the previous exhibit. The little pair of 5" x 7" marsh paintings seen on the chest near my artist's statement and business cards are the smallest, while the largest are two 18" x 24" paintings above that chest on the left. One shows a winter day at Big Talbot Island Park here in North Florida, where waves are gradually undermining a bluff causing trees, one by one over time, to fall into the water. The other represents a view of the St. Johns River by the National Historic Site at Kingsley Plantation. Whoops, there is one other in that size which the shop had kept from my previous exhibit--a view of the Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville Beach, looking over the dunes and a foot bridge--seen on a side wall. 

     Thank you all for your good wishes as I recover from total hip replacement surgery. I am amazed and deeply grateful for the miracle of a new joint, for freedom from long-standing, constant pain, and for the wonder of growing strength and mobility the surgery and excellent physical therapy are making possible. I feel like a new woman!

Question of the day: Are you considering small, locally owned businesses like Paddiwhack and goods made in the USA in your holiday gift shopping?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Homey, Heritage Comfort Food--Applesauce Spice Cake

It has been awhile since I have posted a recipe, so today will share my great-grandmother's applesauce spice cake recipe. In its original form, it called for "butter the size of an egg" and, interestingly, 1, 2, or 3 eggs. Apparently, our frugal ancestors used three eggs for a "company" meal, but fewer when baking for the family. Since their eggs were smaller than today's standard large eggs, we have settled on two eggs as the perfect number.
This homey cake, a favorite comfort food in my family, is a hit whenever I bake it. Individual pieces freeze well in a well-sealed container (handy for our household since it is a large cake and we try not to eat too many sweets). I will include the recipe for the cream cheese frosting, as pictured, although we also like it simply dusted with a bit of powdered sugar rather than frosted. The original recipe called for 1/2 cup chopped nuts; we like it better without them. And, yes, for readers with long memories, I have posted this recipe before, but it has been awhile, so thought new readers might like hearing about it. For some reason, it pulled the original comments along when I posted it again--I decided to leave them in.
Heritage Applesauce Spice Cake
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups applesauce (a 15 ounce jar works)
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup raisins
Cream butter & sugar together. Add eggs and mix well, stirring vigorously until fluffy. Sift dry ingredients into a small bowl (I don't bother sifting). Add raisins to flour mixture and sir in to coat with flour (this keeps them from sinking to the bottom).
Add dry ingredients alternately with applesauce to the butter mixture in two or three batches, mixing thoroughly each time.
Turn into a greased 9” x 13” x 2” pan and bake 35 - 40 minutes at 325 degrees F until a toothpick comes out clean (or nearly clean--do not overbake). This recipe also makes nice cupcakes; bake them only about 25-30 minutes.
Cream Cheese Frosting
3 ounces cream cheese, softened (I use low fat neufchatel).
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
dash salt
2 1/2 cups (or as much of this amount as needed for good frosting consistency) sifted confectioner's sugar (I whisk it in a bowl instead of sifting).
Cream butter and cream cheese together well. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add confectioner's sugar, blending well. If mixture becomes too thick, you can add a few drops of milk.
Question of the day: What recipes or foods connect you to your ancestors and to good family memories?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Newest Painting Is Complete--"River View at Kingsley Plantation"

     I felt a little rushed to complete this 18" x 24" acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas in time to deliver it to Paddiwhack Gallery for a special exhibit. However, I am quite pleased with the result. "River View at Kingsley Plantation" utilized my cabbage palm painting photos and study, mentioned in the most recent previous post. It may not seem like a big deal to everyone, but creating the palm trunks and especially the palm canopy (and even the part of a canopy visible on the far right) required special study and careful work.

     Then, the first try after my studies produced a very nice canopy on the furthest palm away from the viewer (which appears in the middle of the three seen), but I painted much of it out and started again. That canopy had been very high on the canvas and was not seen in full (in other words, the viewer of the painting saw maybe the lower two-thirds of it at most). On e-critique advice from Linda Blondheim and on further reflection myself, I concluded that for good composition and better balance, that entire palm canopy needed to be lower so that it would be seen in full. Other changes from the main reference photo (seen below)--made to enhance the composition--included painting in a more interesting sky, adding a kite, which is one of Florida's gorgeous soaring shore birds, and simplifying the tall grasses.  My literal rendition of the bulkhead along the river at the Kingsley Plantation National Parks historic site bothered Linda. She would have preferred a softer, more organic, curving line, perhaps of the mud flats that line the river bank at low tide. I did consider her suggestion to replace the bulkhead, knowing that it would certainly work well. However, in the end, I stayed with the straight  bulkhead as it is, partly because viewers who have visited Kingsley Plantation have seen it there and partly because something about the sharper angles appealed to me as a change from some of the softer composition edges I have used in other pieces. 

     You can see other changes from the actual scene that I made in the painting. But, you can also see that this particular photo already represented a composition that appealed to me without major rearrangement. Compared to the times that I have used a reference photo that had appealing elements but was not composed well and required major revision in painting, beginning with a solid photo composition is much simpler and more satisfying.

Question of the day: Do you personally prefer fairly realistic--or even near photo-realistic paintings--or some other type such as impressionistic or abstract?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Studying Cabbage Palms for Better Painting

In my newest painting, which I'll show you soon, three cabbage palms frame one side of the scene. They are seen fairly close up, so needed to be painted quite accurately. Painting a realistic cabbage palm tree proved more complicated than expected. After all, I thought, there were some decently rendered distant palms in some of my paintings, and I had good results with a tropical beach scene that had the island sort of palms near the viewer. Painting them close up was a whole new challenge, humbling, but very interesting.

Cabbage palms (technically the Sabal palmetto, Florida's state tree) are actually quite complex. The fronds in the canopy grow out on various levels as the tree grows taller. In nature, the lower fronds gradually brown, droop, and eventually drop off, sometimes cleanly and sometimes leaving spiky pieces of stem behind (as on the loosely trimmed palms in the photo above). At the national historic site scene I was working on, the browned lower fronds had been regularly trimmed away from the palms, leaving a mostly bright green "lollipop" shaped top. For visual interest, I had decided to add a few browned fronds hanging down, but did incorporate the fairly smooth trunk with no spikes sticking out, just as I saw it at the historic Kingsley Plantation. The plantation is one of our favorite places to visit or to bring out-of-town guests; if you wish, you can view previous Kingsley Plantation posts here.

As I worked to learn more about the cabbage palm, my mentor, Linda Blondheim, advised me and provided one of her own printed tutorials with detailed pointers on painting various species of palm trees. The tutorials may be available from Linda--here is a way to contact her. I also viewed dozens of palms on a perfectly timed weekend watching the dogs at our kids' beach town home while they were away. The yard of their home has gorgeous stands of palm trees, Then, just the shortest walk in their area provided many more palms to study and photograph--each with its own unique form and character. That weekend, I sketched a few palms and parts of palms to get a good feel for them and took dozens of photos, some showing a whole tree or stand of trees, others mid-range, and some intense close-ups for information about details. Back in the studio, the painting flowed much more successfully--will post the results soon.

By the way, please bear with me for a couple of months with less frequent posts. Mark is recovering well from recent rotator cuff repair surgery, and I go in next week for total right hip replacement. I plan to prepare a few posts the rest of this week (if all goes well) that can post automatically, but probably two posts a month will be my max for awhile.
Question of the day: Do you also find that one of the joys (and sometimes, frustrations) of creative pursuits is that each new project presents new challenges and opportunities to grow?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Sea Oats" Painting Revisions

     "Sea Oats", a 12" x 16" acrylic painting, is still a work in progress, but I think some current revisions have improved it. The newer version seen above now hangs on the studio wall for consideration. This piece will be part of a special exhibit I will have at Paddiwhack Gallery in Gainesville, Florida in less than a month. In spite of some on-going personal obstacles to getting maximum work done right now, I am determined to complete this painting and one larger piece in time to hang in Paddiwhack's honored front nook for a six week mini-show with other recent works. A previous post showed you the first exhibit I brought to this amazing store back in the spring of 2011.

     Some of you were very complimentary about the earlier version of "Sea Oats" I showed you awhile ago--seen below--but it wasn't quite satisfactory for me. It was too "pink" for my taste (others will differ on palette preferences, of course) and lacked punch. My mentor, Linda Blondheim, agreed, calling it a "pretty enough" picture, but also feeling that it was somewhat bland. 

     So, having added more tonal contrast, a more interesting sky, and more variation in the tones of the grasses and sea oats on the dune, I am happier with the piece. I have also reduced the power of the pink areas, substituting some quiet golden glow. Still am considering some minor adjustments, and may (or may not) change the placement of the birds (which will be sharpened a bit once their location is definite). Since I have signed up for one more week of Linda Blondheim's excellent e-critique, we will see what she thinks of this work once I have one other, larger piece ready for her assessment as well. She is a super teacher and guide and always understands that I may or may not include all her suggested revisions in the final form. As I have confessed to you before, I always have trouble knowing when a painting is finished (or finished enough, given that one could continue revising indefinitely--a process that eventually begins to detract from the vitality and impact of a work). So, Linda's assessment is also tremendously helpful in making that decision to sign a painting, give it a protective coat of medium, and consider it ready for prime time.
Question of the day: In any undertaking, do you agree that the assessment and revision process is almost as significant as the original concept for a good outcome?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Favorite Paintings from 2007 and 2008

     Thinking back on the relatively few years I have been painting, I browsed the photo file, viewing earlier works, and spent some time feeling grateful for this rewarding pursuit. A few favorite early paintings stood out, although each and every piece has some interesting features, and each represents creative learning and growing experiences.

     About nine years ago, a week-long painting course at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina awakened a whole new pleasurable undertaking for me. I had expected to relax, stretch my mostly analytical mind beyond its comfort level, have fun making some messes, and come home refreshed. Well, with an excellent teacher, all my expectations were met--except one. The paintings were not total messes at all. Not that they were great art, but they were pleasing to me beyond anything I had ever thought possible.

     Since then, I have learned much more and refined my painting skills with occasional local classes, guidance from my painting mentor, Linda Blondheim, and lots of practice. Painting is a whole new, unexpected source of joy.

     So, as I looked back, I  found three photos to show you, each representing a particularly pleasing achievement for me. Each work has elements I would do differently today, but they were the best I could do at the time, and that's good enough. No need to be overly self-critical about them (or to whine to you about the short-comings I see in them now). 

     It's interesting how differently artists view their own earlier work. In one painting class, a very good teacher said that she sometimes cringed when she saw some of the paintings she had sold years ago. She was somewhat ashamed of those earlier works. That seems a pity; clearly they appealed to the buyers (and probably to others). Further, regardless of other peoples' opinions, they represent a stage in her creative journey which contributed to where she is now. Linda Blondheim's attitude strikes me as healthier and more self-affirming; she enjoys looking back and values every one of her paintings, convinced that each was the best she could do at the time.

     So, without apologies, here are three personal favorites from 2007 and 2008. For each, clicking on the link will pull up an earlier post describing their creation in more detail. "Look to the Hills", an 18" x 24" landscape, interprets a meaningful visit to a retreat center in Warwick, New York. The 12" x 16" marsh scene recalls a delightful day kayaking with my husband and one son (and later became an engagement gift for our son and his fiancee). The 9" x 12" "Magnolia on Purple" was based on photos of magnolia blossoms on some neighbors' trees. Each work brought frustration as I confronted its challenges, and each was a significant learning adventure. 

     Life's journey is always surprising--what if I had listened to my conviction that I had zero artistic ability?--what if I had never tried painting? By the way, I also value other less successful (or even totally bungled) ventures along my journey for the contribution they have made to the person I am today.
Question of the day: What surprising discovery have you made about your own abilities?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Wisconsin Family Reunion--Precious, Fun Time

     A couple of weeks ago, we returned home from a super time with my husband's extended family in Wisconsin. Among the many highlights of our family reunion (great food, a warm loving circle around the fire ring after sunset, spending extended time together), were the times on the water at one family's cottage on a lake in the Fox River chain of lakes. 

     The reunion planning began with a suggestion from one of our wonderful daughters-in-law. Although many of my husband's family members live in or near central Wisconsin, we and our two sons and their wives are the exception, living in Florida and Georgia. Thus, it has been difficult for the daughters-in-law to get to know our son's extended family. Ashley and Sumry treasured the time with my family in the Smoky Mountains last summer (my family is quite spread out over a number of states) and one suggested a family reunion with Mark's family. They were excited to have several days to grow closer to all their husbands' extended family members, one bunch each summer. 

     I intentionally chose photos that don't show faces clearly as the purpose of this blog has never been to reveal family details. I hope you can still see the family love and joy as we play. The sunset photos show our wonderful "kids". Both our sons were thrilled to get up on water skis (it's been many years since their last time) and to have successful runs, one on a slalom ski and one on two skis. Irma, the wonder dog (seen in the tubing photo of hubby, a brother, and a third, unseen reveler) served as primary spotter (backed up by a human assistant). She knows all the signals skiers and tubers use and barked the news to the skipper every time. 

     Mark and I have enjoyed many family times in Wisconsin, but this year was even richer and more precious because it was the first time in many years that our sons were able to join us and the first time ever for our sweet "daughters". Absolutely priceless!

Question of the day: Have recent gatherings added to your precious memories of family or friends?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer Means Butterflies--In Our Yard and in Mandarin Gardens

Now and then, I repeat a post from a couple of years ago. We have enjoyed a busy butterfly and hummingbird year again, and I thought you might enjoy seeing the lovely 
creatures from this September
2010 post. I have not rewritten it, so the description is of a "date" from back then. The Mandarin Gardens butterfly garden on the south side of Jacksonville, Florida is as lovely and as active as ever. If you live in the area, I encourage you to stop in for some quiet contemplation, surrounded by beauty.

A couple of weeks ago, my master gardener husband suggested a unique "date" to see 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 the 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?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Second New Salt Marsh Painting--"Castaway Island Cedars"

     "Castaway Island Cedars" is the second of two paintings begun at a painting workshop with painter/teacher Roger Bansemer. I described the painting process for "Castaway Island Palms" a few posts ago when it was finished. Both are 9" x 12" acrylic works on gallery-wrapped canvas using reference photos and notes from my outing to Castaway Island Preserve on the intracoastal waterway here in Jacksonville, Florida. Each scene shows characteristic North Florida native trees and other vegetation growing in or near salt marsh areas, scenes like those that greeted the first Europeans to step on the shore of what is now Florida.

     With apologies for the slightly washed out look of the palms photo, here is the other painting. As always, you can click on the images to enlarge the view.

     I used the same limited palette for these two scenes so that they could hang harmoniously as companion pieces, but made certain each could also work alone. This palette includes: cerulean blue, ultramarine blue, Payne's grey, cadmium yellow light, Indian yellow, cadmium red light, white, and buff, with some burnt umber in a few of the mixes. As described in the "Castaway Island Palms" post, this is my first experience using Indian yellow, a warm, slightly orangey hue. It's very nice. I rubbed each canvas with an uneven burnt sienna mid-tone before painting, which provides a warm undertone unifying the entire work as well as a base from which it was easy to judge the tones (relative darks and lights) of the rest of the painting. Beginning with what I planned as the darkest darks, then moving to lights and mid-range tones, I laid in the rough shapes of the composition, then gradually worked in greater detail. "Castaway Island Cedars" came together more quickly (or in my case, less slowly :>) than the palms piece.

     For each of these paintings, I had excellent reference photos, including those that showed more detail of the red cedar branches and needle clusters, or other crucial detail areas. Several times in the workshop, Roger Bansemer stressed the importance of starting with well-composed reference photos with adequate tonal variation. Sounds obvious, maybe, but I have begun with so-so photos more than once in the past and then struggled to compensate for a poor composition or monotonal appearance. There is a point beyond which I am not good at "making it up"--especially in trying to add something to the given scene that is not actually there. Some aspects of a scene are fairly simple to adjust. Given the lush, varied vegetation here in coastal North Florida, I inevitably need to leave things out to make a pleasing composition, which is simpler than adding elements. The horizon (which is often near the horizontal center of photos) can be moved easily to avoid cutting the composition in half (much less pleasing to the eye than placing it a third of the way from the top or bottom--or at another less symmetrical level). Beyond that, the fact that these works both came from good, solid reference photos helped me complete them with less stress and difficulty than sometimes.
Question of the day: In visual art (including photography), how often do you think about or notice the placement of various features of the overall composition? Do you know why you are particularly drawn to certain compositions?  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Witnessing a Miracle of Nature

     Mark and I (and Magnolia the Magnificent, our Shih-tzu) were privileged to witness a miracle of nature this past weekend--newly hatched baby sea turtles scurrying to the ocean. Since I seldom go to the beach without a camera, usually for taking painting reference photos, I was able to snap a few pictures, including my size seven, medium foot in some to show how small these babies are. After a few photos, I was happier to simply watch in awe as the turtles scampered by.

     Sea turtles often hatch at night, when it is safer from most predators, but these emerged before 8 p.m. We are thankful they did, because being present was a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. Onlookers waved birds away as dozens--perhaps almost 100--little turtles headed straight for the ocean. They were quite fast, and overcame most obstacles. Even a footprint in the sand can create a mound more like a huge dune for these little ones, but they steadfastly kept on going--over, around, whatever it took. If they flipped over, they waved their legs awhile, but usually needed to extend their long necks and flip themselves right side up with their heads. Although we are not supposed to touch them, some onlookers couldn't resist "helping" the turtles who seemed to be in trouble. It is particularly amazing that they knew which way to go from their nest well above the high tide line because it was still light enough out that their usual guidance system of going toward to lightest area (at night, the glow of the water) would have been weak.

      If you would like to know more about these amazing animals, now a protected species given the steep drop in their numbers, here is one interesting web site. I am awed and thankful to have been present to see in person what we had only watched on TV before. That Saturday evening is now in my memory bank along with other remarkable scenes I can call to mind when I need a lift--or anytime I begin to recall the multitude of experiences of nature I am thankful for.
Question of the day: What unique, remarkable experiences of nature live in your thankfulness memory bank?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Encouragement of Past Achievements

     In the previous post, I mentioned having hit a fallow time in my painting. Browsing images of some of my past paintings was helpful--especially the works that were most difficult to complete. The dune bridge piece pictured here was very stubborn and resisted my efforts to produce a harmonious composition for some time. Looking at it now and recalling the many wrong turns I took in painting "Spring Breeze" reminded me of the wisdom of the saying "this too shall pass". I have felt reluctant to paint, unproductive, and just plain unable before. So, feeling that way should not be scary now and certainly is no excuse for hopelessness. 

     Linda Blondheim's e-critique service helped me rescue this piece from what seemed like an impossible mess. Some of the fixes she suggested did not work; others were ideal. Some of the adjustments I tried on my own were helpful; others were disastrous. But, with persistence, the sort of painting I envisioned creating finally emerged. In the visual arts, some revisions can't be evaluated until you see them in relation to everything else in the composition. Fortunately,  acrylic paints permit painting out unsatisfactory areas and covering them with new shapes, colors, and forms. I would be lost without the possibility of "do-overs".

     The main problem with what you might call the "first draft" was a lack of balance, I think. Keeping the viewer returning to a central focal point gives a work its power, and the wildflowers competed with the foot bridge for awhile. Also, being too literal about the slope of the dunes I had photographed for reference left me with too little variation in the line of the dunes. Since the horizon is inescapably straight, I needed to exaggerate the height of the left side dune and add more undulations to the dune outline (without overdoing it) as a contrast to that straight line. One trick I used to "try on" various dune lines was to cut a paper outline and tape it over the piece--then a different outline, etc., until it looked about right. 

     So, looking back on creative challenges I have faced and coped with in the past helped me get past the funky time and get back to work. "Spring Breeze" and other works remind me of the inevitable ups and downs of the creative process. This is not the first time I have felt as though I have forgotten how to paint, nor will it be the last time. All I need to remember is that the frustration has always been a temporary speed bump and that with faith and patience, the joy of creating will return.
Question of the day: Can you recall a troublesome season you experienced that you were able to work through in time? Can you draw strength from those memories to help you face new challenges?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Handling A Fallow Time for Creativity

     A few weeks ago, I showed you this photo from our trip to Maryland and commented that the clouds to the north at this Chesapeake Bay park were a dramatic contrast to the clear sky to the south at the very same moment, shown in another photo on that post. Recently, my creative skies have been on the cloudy side. Not totally bleak, mind you; there had been plenty of beauty in life just as there is in this scene. However, the creative process--my painting in particular--had gone somewhat stale.

     During the last couple of weeks, I have not felt like painting, and when I forced myself to the easel, the results were not satisfying. In addition, instead of being relaxing and absorbing, the painting process felt tense and unproductive. I gained renewed admiration and respect for professional painters, writers, and many others who create for a living and do not have the option of taking a break from the process as I did. Their self-discipline is inspiring--and difficult to emulate.

     When farmers let fields lie fallow for a season, the soil can renew and the new crop planted afterwards is healthier and produces better. It is definitely too early to tell if my (relatively brief) fallow creative season will lead to anything remotely similar. The good news is that the lull is apparently past for now, and painting is fun again. I am working on several pieces that I will show Linda Blondheim soon via photo images for her illuminating e-critique response. Whatever blocked the creative painting process resulted in unsatisfactory efforts for a time, but now it feels as though I have pushed through those particular difficult areas and am moving forward. 

     Possible responses to fallow periods include spending time away from the activity, as I did, or trying an oblique approach to the work. I could have shifted to goal-free sketching or tried a series of brushwork or other basic exercises to loosen up and move on. That might have been better, but for some reason seemed too much "like work". I am fortunate and thankful that giving myself a break from painting helped me return with joy. It did require getting behind myself and pushing at first, but the fuzzy feeling has passed and the clouds are parting.
Question of the day: How have you coped with the inevitable enthusiasm gaps in your work or hobby activities?

Friday, June 22, 2012

New Salt Marsh Painting--"Castaway Island Palms"

     The first of two 9" x 12" paintings I am working on from my exploration of Castaway Island Preserve might be finished. At least, it is very near finished and is ready to show you. The small palm hammock in the mid-distance across the salt marsh drew me to the scene. Paintings always take on a life of their own, and this one somehow became a bit darker and softer than my original vision, which seems fine. It hangs in my studio where I'll contemplate it occasionally to decide whether or not to make any further adjustments.

     I have been fortunate to have had the advice of two excellent painters on this piece. I began the work in Roger Bansemer's helpful two-day workshop, described in a previous post, and brought it home maybe 2/3 finished. A companion piece, also from a Castaway Island scene, got a rough start there, too--at least in its basic layout--and is now on my easel to be re-engaged.

     Linda Blondheim, my dear friend and mentor--and best painting teacher I have ever studied with--has also advised me as I worked to complete this piece. Given that she lives and works in Gainesville, Florida, a good 75 miles away from Jacksonville, our time together is limited. However, she offers an e-critique service which is extremely well-done. Periodically, I send her images of works in progress and ask questions about them. Her responses are encouraging, insightful, and precise, guiding the process without imposing her own style. She is that rare art teacher whose guidance helps students achieve their own vision to the best of their ability.

     The palette for this painting and its eventual companion piece is: ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, Indian yellow, cadmium yellow light, cadmium red, Payne's grey, buff, and white. This is the first time I have used Indian yellow, an orangy, yet not overly bright blend and enjoyed learning something of its mixing potential. Following Roger Bansemer's practice, I toned the canvas with a rub of burnt sienna before beginning. Once that is rubbed partly off, the resulting background is a mid-tone, which can help the painter judge tonal relationships as she adds first the major dark areas and then the lightest lights, and builds from there. In a departure from my usual technique, I let some of this undertone show through rather than completely covering it with full-strength paint. Handling the light in the scene was tricky, given a day that had been partly cloudy with a somewhat directionless glow and very subtle shadowing. Our weather has been unusually dry here in North Florida until recently; the marsh is undoubtedly much greener and thicker than when I last visited Castaway Island Park. I am reasonably pleased with the way this painting captures the light and mood of the day I was there.
Question of the day: Wouldn't life be sadder and poorer without compatible teachers and mentors?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Turtle Crossing--Our Neighbor the Florida Softshell Turtle

     Heading out for our afternoon walk yesterday, Magnolia (aka Maggie, the Magnificent) and I were surprised to see an extra-large turtle crossing the road. She (the turtle) seems as delighted with the recent, much-needed downpours as we are; the little creek that meanders behind our house, then goes under the road by the drain and continues in the yard Ms. Turtle has just left is wonderfully full of flowing water.

     Fortunately, turtles don't run away as fast as much of our neighborhood wildlife. Usually, by the time I run back outside with the camera, a fascinating bird or animal has moved on. The down side for less-speedy turtles is that they are not much good at ducking cars. However, passing neighbors were extremely careful and once the lovely lady had tired of our attention, she turned back to her creek.
     I say "she" because of her size. My trusty Field Guide to Florida confirmed that she is a Florida Softshell Turtle and added that the males of the species grow to about 8" long; the females to 16". Perhaps I'll resist the temptation to comment on that fact. As always, you can double click on a photo to enlarge it and see more detail.
     I'll have a painting to show you soon, but couldn't resist showing you our new friend first.
Question of the day: Do you also drop everything to watch the wildlife around you?

Turtle Crossing--Wildlife in Our Neighborhood

Grrr! Can't get the new Blogger program to accept the fourth photo in a new post. 

So, I'll make this a preview to a post to follow shortly.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Natural Beauty on Maryland's Eastern Shore

     We just returned from a wonderful visit with family on Maryland's Eastern Shore, in an area just about equidistant from the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. Fascinating day trips abound there. The marsh shown in the first photo is just one scene from a large preserve called Blackwater National Wildlife Preserve, near the Chesapeake Bay, where we observed numerous osprey, about 6 bald eagles, countless egrets, maybe a dozen great blue herons, and many other birds. I so enjoyed seeing the birds and soaking up the beauty of these wetlands that I mostly left the camera in my backpack rather than trying to capture a blurry image of each one. 
     The other three photos (including the nesting osprey--click to enlarge) are from an afternoon at a county park and beach on the Chesapeake Bay near a wee town called Nanticoke where the Nanticoke River flows into Tangier Sound. Notice the heavy cloud bank to the north contrasted with the nearly clear sky to the south; the changing clouds are a magnificent feature of the Eastern Shore--due to the influence of two major bodies of water and numerous inlets, rivers, and wetlands. My kind of place, in other words. 
     Given the laundry, errands, etc. awaiting my attention today, I will leave more description and photos for a future post. Loved being with family and seeing so much natural beauty, but it's great to be home--particularly since a major tropical storm came through Jacksonville in our absence, giving us a bit of worry. Fortunately, we suffered no serious damage to our home or our trees--although it is taking Mark quite awhile to clear up tree debris in the yard.

Question of the day: Do you actively seek out bird sightings, or mostly enjoy the experience when it presents itself?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Rewarding Painting Workshop Taught by Roger Bansemer

This past weekend, I attended a two-day landscape painting workshop in historic St. Augustine, Florida, taught by the noted painter, Roger Bansemer. The paintings in this post are by Roger, one done as a demonstration each of the two days. (By the way, I am trying to set up this post on the new blogger format and having trouble setting up the post the way I want to. I'm not sure how it will turn out--sorry if it's a little strange.) 

Bansemer's instructional painting television program has recently begun showing on our public tv station, and I took a look at his website after viewing an episode. Lo and behold, he offered a painting workshop over Mother's Day weekend only about a 45 minute drive from our home. I liked his painting style and his easy-going, yet very informative, manner on the television program, so enrolled in the workshop, hoping he would be a compatible teacher for me.

The workshop exceeded my expectations. As regular readers know, I tend to paint slowly and cautiously and to get overly fussy with detail in a detrimental way. Roger Bansemer was the perfect teacher to push me to a bolder, more "painterly" approach and to quash the fussiness right from the start.

Each workshop morning began with a lovely breakfast buffet, provided by the staff and volunteers of the St. Augustine Art Association, where the workshop met. Then Roger began the demonstration painting of the day, based on a photograph. He used acrylic paints, as I do, but welcomed students who were working in oils as well. His instruction covered all aspects of landscape painting, beginning with choosing a scene, then establishing the overall composition, balancing values (lights, darks, and in-between values), using a limited palette of colors, and other basics. As he spoke, he illustrated the method in his demonstration painting and kindly tolerated and answered our wide-ranging questions. 

My photos show each of his two demo paintings in an early stage and then at the end of the day after he had gone beyond the initial demo stage, using his lunch period and other free moments during the day to flesh out the piece. To begin, he rubbed a burnt sienna tone into the board as a mid-tone base. Then, he established the major dark areas, some of the lightest lights, and continued to fill in, working all around the piece in a balanced way. Clicking on any photo will enable you to see it enlarged.

After showing us the basics and answering questions, he turned us loose to work on our own chosen paintings and circulated from one student to the next, guiding each person's work. The workshop was very helpful to me, providing new skills, inspiration, and tips focused on my individual needs as an artist.
Question of the day: Isn't learning and stretching ourselves one of the most enlivening activities we can pursue?