Join me....

I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. 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, April 21, 2017

A box of JOY

Did you ever have a "pen-pal"?  There was something magical 
to me about getting mail from someone I had never met.
I loved the exchange, the doors of curiosity that were opened, and
the almost-weekly treat of a new story to read.

Those were the days of "snail mail" and as much as we maligned the postal service I could hardly wait til he came each just never knew what might land on your doorstep.  So it was with that same giddy enthusiasm I read about Anne Butera's "Joy Exchange" idea.  You can read here how she issued an invitation; it was only minutes before I signed up.  Yeah, it was partly selfish: I do like receiving surprises in the mail (Amazon is rarely a surprise).  But I also thought it would be a neat way to connect to other "makers."

Anne planned it by leapfrogging the assignments.  I would send to someone who sent to someone else.  In other words, at the least you would have contact with two people.  So when I got my name I contacted her to send a little pre-joy joy and let her know her package would be on its way shortly.

I made a little card she would find when she opened the box, I didn't want
her to miss any of the goodies packed inside.

Since my field is mainly painting I decided to include a small painting of the sunrise
from my bedroom windows (sunrises are pretty joyful, no?) and then
threw in some other doodads just for fun: handmade cards, fire starters,
bookmarks and so on.

So just like the child who loved pen-pals I had my eye on the mail box for a couple of days...excited, curious and intrigued.  With 40 participants we were told our joy could come from one of either 16 states or 7 countries.  Would my box offer a trip to the atlas?  no was not long before I received a gracious email from the recipient of my box.  Boy, that made me feel good, even joyful.

So one week passed with nothing in my mailbox.  Oh well, anticipation is part of the fun, right?

Hmmm, two weeks went by and I quit looking for the postman.  Disappointed, I consoled myself with the thought that the bigger lesson here was to learn the joy of giving joy. That finding happiness in preparing and gifting should (should) provide all that was needed for JOY in capital letters.  Still. Still...

OK by week three I was totally convinced, and convicted, that I had learned the lesson of giving and it had NOTHING to do with receiving or exchanging.  So I began to spew out one-way joy everywhere I could: extra eye contact and chatter with my waiters, quips at the hardware checkout, love at the gas station when I got my soda and even longer, personal exchanges at the grocery checkout.  I was a rolling box of JOY and it felt kinda nice.  This was cool.

And then one day....when all expectation had vanished:

a small package with a ton of lovely stamps appeared in my mail box... from Algeria!

it was wrapped like a spring basket, all colorful and whimsical...

and a dose of joy emerged: a tiny handmade journal and 3 gift tags all embellished with delicate, hand crocheted flowers..... but along with the gifts was no identification, not a name, not a story, not even an email address so that I could thank this crafter for taking the time to send me her offering.  She sought nothing in return from me....the true essence of giving.  so wow.

Thanks Anne Butera for this timely spring "devotional."  I not only enjoyed the exchange but it made me think about numerous things.  And as I use my gift tags and write in my new little book, I will also be mindful that the joy we spread with absolutely no thought of a kick back should be its own reward.

Joy Fully Yours,

Friday, April 14, 2017

Different Looks Same Tree!

The more often one paints the same thing the
more one sees deep within the subject.  It is interesting
to try the same scene in different media, changing sizes and
areas of emphasis with each execution.

Find a beautifully rendered subject, whether trees, the human figure, even a vase of flowers, and the likelihood of the artist painting in that genre regularly is very high.  Practice makes perfect. Even sketching out the painting in detail on scratch paper makes me see things I might miss if I jump right into putting paint on canvas.

This is a photo I took in the mountains one fall that for some reason always appealed to me.  However, I knew that composition-wise it could be very tricky.  It's not generally pleasing to put a dark, bold column the entire length of a painting.  It would need careful balance.  But fools do rush in...

Here are three "sketches" all done in watercolor altho on different kinds of paper and in different sizes.  You can see that I left out all the foliage on the left side of the photo...I think I feared having two pillars of dark stripes on the piece.  Mostly I was playing with background colors and shapes and not at all satisfied with any of them.  I have a hard time getting a dark, dark in watercolor and can't seem to accept that.

In this version, still in water color and yet another kind of paper, I decided to abandon the idea of a dark, back lit tree and just use pen and ink for the interesting trunk surface.  I'm liking it better (10 x 8) and think the colors work here.  

But still, I decided one more go would determine whether or not I continued this study perhaps in a much larger format.  So I switched to oils.

The Best View, oil, 7 x 5, framed
available $50

By now I knew that the tree had to be lightened somewhat and balanced by other trees in the background.  I also knew that the fall colors had to be subtle to look as if they were distant.  I like this rendition much better than any of the previous ones.  It could be that I am much more proficient in oil as a medium OR it could be that by the fourth or fifth "study" I had a much better idea of how to handle the subject.

The verdict, for now anyway, is not to execute this scene in a large (24" plus) format.  But I did satisfy my desire to see if it could be done from a composition challenge.

Why are we so resistant to that word "practice?"  I think I will call it "preparation" from now on, it sounds more noble don't you think?

More from Marrakech soon, painting and painting.

Color FULLY Yours,

Friday, April 7, 2017

a Painted Collage

Some of the various definitions of 'collage' 
include the words assemblage, 
collections, artistic composition of objects, a composite collection...
usually from differing materials all mounted together as one.

I don't do many collages but I have enjoyed what I call "painted collages," that is,  a gathering of objects (usually thematic) all painted on one surface which is made to look like several different surfaces.  Here are a few examples done over the years:

I have not done one recently but I always found it was a great challenge to combine painted pieces and parts in a way that they stood as many individual paintings yet still hung together as one.  Lots of mind tricks are involved.  A friend of mine who is preparing to teach asked if I would review my process so they might give it a try.  

If you have no intention of painting this then sign out here and have a great day!  If you are curious, stick around.

I start by taping off sections on a well gessoed board or canvas. (I like board as I will use pencil, but personal choice). Using transparent acrylics (made soupy with either water or medium) I put down a coat of color (start light) and let it dry.  Remove some of the painters tape and either put more pieces down in new spots or just proceed.  Using a slightly different transparent color, paint half or more of the board again.  Where you removed the tape you will still see a "divider" due to the difference in color.  Where colors overlap in your squares and rectangles you will see another color.  You could also mix a slightly less transparent color and force it to drip down the piece in several places.  Keep going. All of this is "play" with an eye to making some sections come forward and some recede.  As you work on laying down the background don't be too hesitant but work slowly as ideas for balance will occur to you. Pull off all the tape and let the piece dry.

Hopefully your colors were chosen with a subject in mind.  Gather up the images and begin deciding how to lay them out on the board.  Some might fit nicely in a "box," while others will defy the box and go over a "line."  Choose some to make large and others to minimize or only do part of.  At this point I begin working in pencil so that I can get the feel for sizes.  

I like to proceed in pencil and balance it off with white acrylic paint.  By spraying the pencil with a fixative (when you are certain you will not erase any more) you will get a stable image.  Other times I simply sketch an image loosely and then paint it on with acrylic paints.  Keep in mind that no one image is really complete until all are done....this is very much a matter of pushing and pulling elements as you flesh out the objects.

Remember that you are not obligated to protect or preserve any of your background if it morphs along with the painting.  And "painting out" a mistake (or something you did not like) often will enhance the background you have going.  Nothing is unable to be changed and nothing should feel too sacred.  

You are done are done!  you will know!  and if three days later the painting begs for more, well, have at it.  If you prefer to finish off by using oils that is fine as well but I don't start with them as they take so long to dry.

I'm sure there is more to add to this....please experiment.

Collaging My Way,

Friday, March 31, 2017

More Marrakech: Plein Air Painting

I've often described plein painting to non-painters as a sport.
You have to be physically agile, strong and flexible.
You need to work fast and stay focused.  And,
as in every sport, you must prepare for the unexpected.
Marrakech was no exception!

We began every morning on the rooftop terrace of our riad with plenty of coffee and breakfast: homemade yogurts, breads, and cheeses.  Of course we had a weather discussion as had drawn an unseasonably cool and wet week, cobbling together clothes was a group effort.

Flexible?  Note the tiny stool Birgit carries in her backpack, also note that without a stool I had to make do, concret bags are not exactly fine upholstery. Guerrilla street painters are more concerned about the scene and the light than they are about locating bathrooms and benches.

Unexpected hazards are keeping your toes out of the way of donkey carts (L below) and keeping your concentration (R) when children gather to discuss your work right over your shoulder.

We often engaged with the children to the extent language permitted.  They were not as bashful as the adults who were equally curious as to what we were up to.  Occasionally someone did not want us to paint them or their area, and we respected their wishes. We all felt an innate desire to be polite and friendly, to positively represent our nationality (German, Italian, American and Spanish) as well leave good will from painters in general.  (And no, no one ever asked me about U.S. politics.) 

Christine (R) managed to find an overhang of shade for
her work.  If you didn't pack sunscreen you might
return with a nasty sunburn.  Also note her large bottle
of water...that one was for drinking.

Joe was consistently out painting before breakfast, a feat I admired but didn't even attempt to
duplicate.  He would dash back for breakfast with ideas of new locations to paint.
As for lunch, sometimes we all caved at once, other times a bad painting drove you to seek lunch before the others lost their groove.  Making a food run was always a surprise dependent on where we were.  We ate a lot of street food that week and all lived to tell about it.  Mostly meat skewers done on a little grill and shoved into a bread pocket with other assorted goodies (fava bean soup or tomatoes and cucumbers or, worse: nada).  Kelly enjoys a good one below.

After several days we were anxious to leave the city and see some countryside.  A visit to  the Atlas Mountains was suggested, a driver arranged and off we went.  A walk in the country turned into a 2 hour rugged hike zig zagging through rocks and mud and small villages.  A beautiful passage seen mostly by the folks who lived there and made the trek daily.  Our legs and lungs were put to the test especially when the down trek was done in rain and hail.....

Feeling energized by the gorgeous mountains and lack of city busy-ness, I had been told that a traditional lunch of tagine and vegetables would be served to us in a hikers hut at the top...if we ever reached the top.

Birgit, in painters glory! See the dark clouds gathering?  By now we had pulled out whatever we had in the way of warmth but little did we know the fun was soon to begin.  I now know what the term "shoe sucking mud" means.

And then it was back to the medina, the old city within the wall, to painting on our little stools in interesting places.  I never produce very good work on these excursions and I debate as to the reasons why.  Sometimes I think the being out is somewhat overstimulating and I lose focus, other times I just think I have not practiced this skill to the same degree as the hours I spend in the studio.  Whichever, I have no intention of quitting.  Even with crappy paintings I still see more than the average looker, still make more authentic notes than I would with a photo alone and I somehow burn it all into my mental camera better than I would otherwise.  And who knows, a few more outings and the quality of the output just might start improving.

I'll share more soon.
Making Marrakech Memories,

Friday, March 24, 2017

Wood Turning: Gorgeous Recycle

Much of what is manufactured today has a very short
interest span and only adds to our growing landfill problem.
So when skill and art combine 
to create an heirloom-worthy piece 
which is also a heart and soul swoon.

When I can't be in the woods I like to have the woods around me, indoors.  This gorgeous hickory bowl was made by a friend of mine, Hershel Miller, (Millington, TN) from wood he salvaged from my Uncle's property.  My Uncle, a noteworthy wood turner in his own right, treated me to a class taught by Miller at the John C. Campbell Folk School several years ago.  I have nothing to show for all my work other than a true appreciation for their talents and a love of the art form.

 Hickory Bowl by Hershel Miller

When Hershel was alerted that an old hickory tree on my Uncle's property was dying he loaded up the chainsaws, a camera, some tools and his very supportive wife to take off and harvest some wood.  They were kind enough to document the process for me to share.

Miller knows how to fell a tree starting with a wedge cut and then clearing out of the way

He goes to work cutting pieces he can transport and use.  Hickory, despite being a very hard wood will rot quickly once it is on the ground and unprotected. It will be consumed by insects
and weather rendering it unusable after time.
Please note: no healthy trees were sacrificed in this project!

Shown here is the half slice of the piece cut in the photo above with the chainsaw, split lengthwise.  If you look closely you will see a pencil outline of the round bowl he plans to make.

Using a bandsaw he cuts a bowl blank which will go on the lathe.

Both photos above show Miller shaping the outside of the bowl.  

After the exterior shape and foot are done he removes it from the lathe and
prepares to do the inside.  So that he doesn't power through the bottom and ruin the bowl (easy to do with the high speed of the lathe) he drills a depth hole in the center.

A steady hand, consistent pressure and a 6th sense guide the hollowing out of the inside of the bowl.
Miller is recognized for his glassy smooth surfaces which are indicative of expert cutting 
and a huge amount of tedious sanding.

Here is the 12 inch "blank", shaped and now ready to be wrapped in paper and dried for six months.  After all the moisture is gone it will go back on the lathe and be subjected to more
turning (it may likely warp in the drying process) and then be sanded to a smooth
surface ready for staining and/or oiling.

The bounty: Miller's bowls on the left will be wrapped, dried for six months and be turned again.  The three on the right have been turned much thinner so will dry in two-three months...these he will allow to warp and will not return to the lathe.  All of these are from the same portion of a dying tree but each uniquely fashioned as one of a kind pieces.

I so enjoy the smell of a wood shop altho I have been cautioned about the dangers of inhaling fine saw dust all day long.  As in any artistic pursuit, it is not all romantic progress forward.  There is the wood that splits, the dangers of the equipment, the difficulties of the skill set and the disappointment of projects not going as planned.  But watching folks who choose to see these as challenges to overcome, not obstacles for quitting, always inspires me.  When someone asks Miller how long a bowl takes him I have no doubt he answers "20 years and 6 months," because that is the truth of the answer.  

So I surround myself with hand turned bowls, vases, platters and other objects not only because I enjoy the art they represent but because I know that a tree lives on...a moment in history, its life, the weather and time, is forever captured and preserved for future enjoyment.  Recycling in its highest and finest form.

Hats off to Hershel Miller, my Uncle and the wood turners they represent.  Thanks.

p.s.  if you wish to contact Miller for more information about his work just send me a note and I will forward it along.  At present he does not have a web site although he does do several shows in the TN area and beyond.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Inspiring Colors of Marrakech

...Colored cottons hang in air
charming cobras in the square
Striped djellabas we can wear....
They're taking me to Marrakech, all aboard.

(Graham Nash, - Crosby, Stills & Nash  1969)

Jardín Majorelle, Yves Saint Laurent Studio

As I sang my heart out with C, S & N, lo those many years ago,  I had no idea I would actually get to experience the sights that inspired those words.  Oh as I sift through the sensual treats of two weeks of painting in Marrakech I will simply share here a bit of the inspiring color.

street music and intimate concerts

color at every turn

ornate craftsmanship on products used for centuries

 crowded alleys and busy streets in the medina led
to the legendary souks

and contrasted with the serene 

So hold that thought!  I feel some stories emerging and some paintings waiting to come to life.  A city of contrast, of shadow, of color ... filled with the great warmth of its citizens, Marrakech was a treat in all respects.  More to come.

Brimming with Color,