I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many postive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleaure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Failing is an Art

Last week I gave myself permission to play...play to learn, play to move forward, play to try new things. This week I have been thinking about the permission to fail.  Permission to fail means not always taking the same route home, it is permission to get lost and perhaps, just perhaps discover something new. (It could mean being lost for hours and needing to call for help.)

This has been a hot topic amongst the members of my creative think-tank/inspirants lately.  We have all been facing mountains and have had to decide whether to go big or go home.  Sharing this discussion with like minded artisans has been helpful.  My favorite phrase of the week was coined by Patti the Potter: audacious failure.  She decided that if she ran the risk of failing, then please o please let it be big and audacious; let the failure count for something.  In other words, even the act of failing can be an art.  Savor that thought with your morning coffee.

So, oops, where was I?  Here's an audacious failure:

This is a detail of what happens when you do not allow gesso to dry more than 24 hours!  In a hurry for the workshop I covered the canvas with two layers of gesso and set to work on it 18 hours later.  We were in the middle of layer after layer when instructor Andy Braitman had us mixing oil and WATER and throwing it on.  The water gave me away!  it seeped under the gesso and bubbled up detaching large swatches from the canvas.  Andy barely blinked....pull it back he instructed, open up the bubbles and let it dry.  oh yuck.

This was my canvas after it fully dried: a failure for sure.  Not only was the canvas showing, I had huge peels of gesso rippled all over the place and the water had washed away all of my vibrant color.  Again, the master shrugged, "you can work with it."  I had to push the "audacious failure" button on my mindset.

We were to see something in our beginnings and let the joy sing.  Many cups of coffee and all I could see was this mocking white goat or a unicorn if I were so inclined.  Not my genre.  Turning the canvas each morning I tried some more.  Hey? what did I have to lose?  that's the great part about failing audaciously...as a learning piece there is always more to gain.

Here we go, it is a start and I was hoping to have more to show you but I could not add another layer until this portion dries (learned that lesson the hard way...).  Do you see anything emerging?  Can you see that I really, really wanted to save that interesting turquoise blob slightly to the left of center?  I had to commit to "using" the folded gesso and eliminating some of the fascinating spatters to get this far.  More sacrifice ahead but also more additions.  I hope you can see what I see....if not stay tuned.  Going big or going home!

I leave you with a finished piece.  I seem to have sand dunes on my mind.

Summer Walk
24" x 30", oil on canvas

Enjoy your weekend.  I wish for you the comfort of friends who not only allow, but encourage, you to fail and fail audaciously!  

Boldly yours,

Friday, July 11, 2014

Experiment, Expire, Exhale, Repeat

OR: Do you still let your inner child out to play?

It was a week of experimentation...sometimes to the point of exhaustion, expiring late at night, remembering to exhale; only to rise and repeat it all.  Growth is hard work, it is not always pretty and it is full of highs and lows.  That is the risk we take when we choose to leave our zone of comfort and learn something new.

a play day with clay to warm up the child inside

Then off to class:

Andy Braitman at work, stretching our boundaries

 Work in progress
Stay tuned for resolution ... or not!

I'm thinking I may stop here and sign this one

 pink mountains, purple trees?  ok, now
I'm loose as a goose...

 Starting to make sense of this-
trying to bring  just a little order to the
pink chaos

The four tubes below are all I can use,
color chemistry: please don't fail me now!

Rapt attention while the master leads a critique

meanwhile, back in the studio....

Have you let your inner child out to play this week?  Let him wander around somewhere not worried about getting clothing dirty or spilling the milk?  Have you encouraged that child to take the risk of failing....and having others see that "failure"?
Did you label that flub-up a disaster or a stepping stone?

Here's to a weekend of getting your hands dirty while you still can, of doing something that may not turn out "right" and of totally enjoying the process  - try squirting that whipped cream directly from the can
into a wide open mouth while grinning from ear to ear. Learning and playing are hard work.

Now I understand why children need their naps!

PLAY fully yours,

Friday, July 4, 2014

I Found Value for Free, really FREE!

Happy 4th of July
How has your way of celebrating changed?
Hope you enjoy your day.

If you are thinking of your freedoms this weekend (and we really should take a moment to do so) you may have a moment of cynicism when you wonder if there is anything left in this world that is really FREE.  And whose fault is that?  When was the last time you gave something of any value away...for free!?  I mean, no strings attached, no tit for tat, no expectations of a note....just made someone happy for free and that was enough?  Now that has me thinking.

I recently received something for free, something that made my heart sing with the format and attitude of the givers.  Artists Heidi and Peter Seibt are determined to give away 365 original oil paintings this year to complete and utter strangers.  Really.  

Why? you ask.  At 77 years of age Peter has decided that "hope" is a connective thread between us.  He wants to promote hope and provide hope.  He is doing it with a discussion about art.  In his words:

Yes, that's a lot of work, yes, that is a bit crazy (maybe), yes, instead of earning money we spend it and, yes, it makes us happy.
It makes us happy, because we daily receive so much friendly encouragement, daily listening to the hopes of others, discovering every day how incredibly varied and intense associations, reflections and inspirations of the people of the images are, as directly and effectively they are experienced.

Me and my very own Seibt original, #86
I think it looks like a heart on a piece of toast

When I first read about the project I went to their website, www.paintingsforhope.org and read all about the project.  How they had become disillusioned with the lack of art for common man and the inflated attitudes and prices towards the craft.  

inflated mediocrity and the cynical misinterpretation that the value of art is its price. As a reaction to this we are initiating something simple, natural and necessary. It is our pleasure to give away 365 objects of art, original oil paintings, signed, to people who appreciate them because they find an attraction in them and connect them to their hope. 365 people will connect their hopes with a picture and be connected to the choices and hopes of others.
And that will work.

Again, their words. So I shared a hope based on this painting.  And then all of the hopes shared for one day go into a hat and a lottery drawing determines the winner.  Then fun videos are made of the drawing.  Fun.  Yes, fun and free and artistic.  How could I resist?

arrives beautifully matted and ready to frame

detail with texture

I was thrilled when the 3rd time I entered I won #86.  Just participating made me happy because it reminded me of how strong the word "Hope" is and what an oxymoron the word "hopeless" is.

I received it all free, from their heart.  No postage due, no handling costs, no nothing other than my willingness to write down something that I had hope for, something I longed for or wanted faith and fate to provide.  And I read the hopes of others.

I encourage you to check out the links above and think about the idea.  I know it has me thinking about giving things away, unexpectedly, freely and just for the fun of it.  I am hoping my painting gang will take this idea and morph it into something beautiful we can offer. Peter and Heidi would love to know that their idea is growing in scope.

I'll close with part of their note to me on the painting:
"...We wish you luck and joy with your hopes, with the painting and anyway with everything in your life.  And that each time you look the painting, your hope is stronger and more beautiful."

If you guessed that the Seibts are not native English speakers you would be correct.  They work and post their art from the Cycladic island of Paros. 


Friday, June 27, 2014

Barn Quilts Offer Stories

Anyone who has driven the back roads of western North Carolina has seen the beautiful (public art) quilt squares gracing many of the old barns.  These often huge replicas of quilt patterns have been painted onto plywood supports and mounted for the simple pleasure of bringing a smile to travelers and neighbors.  I knew that Avery County had a flier that pictured the squares in our area with maps and stories about the patterns.  What I did not know is the back story to this wildly popular and fairly recent form of folk art.

barn off Hwy 221

The story starts with a woman named Donna Sue Groves who decided to decorate her barn in Ohio to honor her mother. Maxine.  She choose to paint a quilt square as her mother, an avid seamstress, had made many quilts.  Not long after she got it up, Donna Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer and soon after lost her job.  Friends and neighbors pitched in to assist Donna Sue and began spreading the idea of gracing more barns with painted quilts.  Somehow the idea caught fire and a grass roots campaign began that spread to Iowa, Illinois, California and Maryland.  The projects began to unite communities as they learned how to create the pieces.  All ages got involved and it became a vehicle not only to learn about ancestry and forebears but to spread a unique form of folk art throughout the countryside.  Donna Sue credits it with giving her a reason to live.  (Although she is a breast cancer survivor she is now, 4 years later, battling another kind of cancer and additional health problems).  Meanwhile, the love she wanted to share keeps spreading.

town of Banner Elk, blazing star pattern

People often chose their patterns based on color, family memories or subjects that held significance for them (stars, geese, wedding rings, trails, trees, mountains and so on.) Some even came up with new designs.

I don't have a barn but that did not keep me from wanting a quilt square for our home.  As western NC picked up the project Yancey, Mitchell and Avery County art groups taught folks how to design and paint the pieces.  A friend of mine, Heidi Fisher, became one of the "go-to" painters for local barns in our area. So of course I approached her about doing one for us.

Heidi and her work

A Ringling Art School grad, Heidi took to barn quilts like a duck to water loving the challenges of size and the precision of composition.  But where the artist really took off was when she was asked to design a custom, family-specific square that did not come from the reference books.  Her imagination and color sense could really come front and center.  So Heidi and I had a chat!!

Voila!  Ta-da! and Oh yeah.....

Heidi and my husband hanging our quilt 
"Bottles and Birds" last night on our deck

We spend a lot of time on our deck enjoying the myriad birds and dispensing with a lesser number bottles of wine.  Thus I asked Heidi to work with the theme of bottles and birds.  She asked our favorites (goldfinch and cardinal) our upholstery colors (gold, reddish) and wanted a photo of where it would hang.  Then I stepped out of the picture until she called to deliver.

Isn't it just the best?  I never, ever would have painted the background purple (actually "California Lilac" by Benjamin Moore) but it is so perfect....it looks like the sky and really changes hue with the light.  Do you see the bottles and birds?  And Heidi says she tucked other little symbols in as well, I have found a "M" or two and enjoy studying the piece for more revelations.

close up

This is on a special board Heidi orders which will withstand the harsh winds and wet winters up here.  The finished size is 4 feet square and we are so very pleased with the results.  To give you some additional perspective, the first barn I shared above is one Heidi did on 9 panels, each 4' square.  She had to get the electric company out with their truck to help with the installation and then got to take a ride herself up in the cherry picker to paint over any dings or screws that could be seen after it was hung.

So my thank you to Heidi, dear friend and wonderful artist,  for making my wish come true and for inadvertently connecting me to a movement of love and art that is crossing the nation.  I may not have a barn but I feel a kinship with the local farmers who have taken the time to put this cheerful folk art on their barns...it's the kind of public art that brings a smile, lifts the mood and makes one whip lash around saying, "did you see that?"  Come on by and I will gladly share my bottles and my birds with you.

Feeling Lilac,

Friday, June 20, 2014

Painting Without the Comforts of a Studio

With great respect for those who consider themselves purist in the "plein air" genre of painting, I want to explain a bit why I find the sport so difficult.

To the left is a "practice piece" I did the Friday before the Crossnore event.  I termed it practice as it had been a while since I went out and, unlike my tennis bag which is always filled with all I need, I was not certain my supplies were rounded up.  To forget your brushes or a specific tube of paint or even your terp or paper towels can make the day a no-go,  and yes, there were a few items I was missing.

Patti's Road: 8 x 10 oil on panel

Having all your supplies at the ready in a backpack is rule #1 of those venturing forth to paint in nature.  As a studio painter, I take breaks to hunt up something I cant find, or, horrors, dash to the store to acquire it.

Praying for Rain
unfinished oil on canvas, 12 x 16

The elements are another important factor in plein air work, as in, you gotta deal with the outdoor conditions which include bugs, heat, cold, and encroaching storms.  During the event I kept eyeing this barn to paint. By the day I got around to it we were watching a storm move in.  With the wind coming up I had to weigh down my easel...I watched as another artist's rig toppled due to the umbrella catching a gust and sailing off.  And of course the skies were changing rapidly meaning  I had to pack up before finishing this piece.  So back to the studio to work on it....altho some plein air purists would wait patiently for another stormy day so they could head back out and paint it authentically.

View off of Highway 221
11 x 14 oil  still in progress

My first day out I found gorgeous views of fields and mountains off of Highway 221....and no where to paint!  Finally I spotted an abandoned fruit stand on a sliver of land off a curve and pulled over to set up camp. Location, location, location: another critical factor in plein air work.   You cannot always set up where a photographer can grab a shot and run.  While composition is still an important part of the finished work, it is not always easy to get in a position that allows the perfect composition en situ.

One time I was so intent on getting the perfect view of a barn that I was not watching where I was going, I was merely scoping out the angle:

Slush!  I landed in the middle of a muddy ditch that was very hard to walk out of !  Now I was painting with very wet (cold) feet.

Hwy 221 View Reduex
oil on panel, palette knife, 11 x 14, plein air

Most plein air work is finished on site which means that you can only layer a few colors before the wet paint will not stick.  On the contrary I love to layer and layer and layer in the studio....because I can allow the paint to dry between layers.  Not only does this help create texture but other colors can peek through creating a lot of depth.  This was another piece I did off the highway but I came back to the studio to finish.

Like most new things we are challenged to learn, the more I paint plein air, the greater the joy.  I certainly intend to get out often this summer so that next time around I can spend more time enjoying the experience and less worrying about the outcome.  My painting sold at the auction for a very respectable figure so all is well that ends well.....as they say: nothing ventured nothing gained.

Hope you seize the next opportunity you have to stretch yourself a bit....it can be very rewarding.

Color fully yours,

Friday, June 13, 2014

Miracle in the Mountains for Crossnore School

I am not a plein air painter (another blog as to why) but I believe in pushing my comfort zone and in helping others where I am able.  Crossnore School for Children is one of those places anyone of us could have needed had life gone a bit differently.  So when Crossnore Fine Arts Gallery manager Heidi Fisher called and asked me to participate in a paint out and auction (my other unfavorite activity) to benefit the school's "Stepping Stones" program (an independent transitional living program for children who have aged out of the system) there was no way I could refuse.

So, three long days painting outdoors from 10 am until 5 pm, enduring mud, wind, bug bites and forgotten supplies, I am now ready to frame a painting for the auction next week.  It is still wet, not totally to my satisfaction, and I get a pit in my stomach thinking I have to watch as people bid, or not bid, on it alongside the 11 other works done by real artists.

11 x 14, oil and palette knife on canvas
wooden silver plein air frame
100% of purchase price goes to Stepping Stones Program

I did this piece on the second day of painting and the name of it is significant.  Being as nervous as I was about the experience, I called upon a few close friends for support.  Periodically they would send me a text message ("you can do it" or "you'll do great" or even a "good luck") and when I sent them progress photos they would respond with gushing reviews and continuing encouragement.  No matter what I sent them, they loved it because they loved and supported me.  They were my safety net, my cheering squad, and my support group. I survived with their help.

The "Stepping Stones" program attempts to do that same exact thing for kids who have aged out of the state supported system of child care.  They turn 18, graduate....and then what?  With no family providing a safety net, forced to strike out on their own with no support group, where do they turn for that all important validation of a cheering squad?  (and I thought painting outdoors was hard ??)  Eight kids graduated this month and my thoughts turned to them as I painted. How would I have faced that situation?  Re-girding my loins, I decided to be part of their team and, even if I had to paint, frame and then buy my own piece, I would do what I could to support the program that assures them the support they deserve while crafting a new life chapter.  I'd be a cheerleader.  Now the painting part seemed much easier: Possibilities existed for them and for me.

The Gallery asked for one more piece to hang for sale and I am providing these:

Around the Bend
10 x 8, oil and palette knife on canvas
gold wood plein air frame


Off the Highway
6 x 8, oil and palette knife on board
gold filigree wood frame

You may find plein air pieces that are technically better, but you won't find any that are more heartfelt or sincere than these.  Yes, I want to be a much better plein air artist at this time next year, but those kids needed a cheering squad this year, life does not wait for perfect conditions.

The auction will be held Wednesday, June 18 at the Hugh Chapman Center (part of the Avery County YMCA) from 5 pm until 7pm.  There is no admission charge and you will enjoy light refreshments and wines.   Last year Heidi said they even had some phoned in bids so if you want to participate you can either give me a "go-to limit" on your bid or contact her through the gallery link.  

Now excuse me, I need to go experiment with framing wet art!

Humbly yours,