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, April 18, 2014

Meeting Monet

We recently returned from visiting friends and family in the D.C. area (with a "side of Boston.")  I left my sketchbooks behind and rarely even got out my camera, it was a much needed break.  But "art" is never totally off our agenda.  My sweet daughter-in-law arranged a real highlight when she asked a friend of hers, a tour guide for the National Museum of Art, to give us a personal tour.  I could not wait!

And wow: Laura was amazing....we encouraged her to select her favorites and go from there.  What a marvelous tour; she hit some little known highlights, in chronological order, and gave us so much wonderful information that the paintings really came to life.  Her enthusiasm left a lasting impression on each of us and we left vowing to schedule another round as soon as we return.

But let me share my moment with Monet.  Most of us are familiar with the noted impressionist and can identify much of his work.  But we tend to forget about the time the masters actually spent learning and perfecting their craft.  We see the end results scattered throughout museums of the world and never think about the pieces that got trashed or reworked over and over...but I digress!

Laura was full of enthusiasm when she rounded the corner to share with us two prized possessions of the Museum: depictions of the west facade of the Rouen Cathedral done in two different lightings by Monet in 1894.

image of Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, SunlightClaude Monet (artist)
French, 1840 - 1926
Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, Sunlight, 1894
oil on canvas
overall: 100.1 x 65.8 cm (39 3/8 x 25 7/8 in.) framed: 127.6 x 91.4 cm (50 1/4 x 36 in.)
Chester Dale Collection
On View

image of Rouen Cathedral, West FaçadeClaude Monet (artist)
French, 1840 - 1926
Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, 1894
oil on canvas
overall: 100.1 x 65.9 cm (39 3/8 x 25 15/16 in.) framed: 121.6 x 88.3 cm (47 7/8 x 34 3/4 in.)
Chester Dale Collection
On View

These jpgs, from the Museum's site, do not offer great color detail.

Laura took her time explaining how Monet had painted other series (haystacks for one) in an effort to capture the various nuances of color that the different times of day offered.  This Gothic styled cathedral is located in Rouen, France and Monet produced over 30 different studies of this facade, all executed slightly differently in their colors and shadows.  It took him 2 years to do the pieces which he then took inside to his studio across the street to hone and rework.  Out of these he selected 20 for an exhibit in a Paris gallery.

 Michael Howard, in his Encyclopedia of Impressionism (Carlton, 1997), writes:
As always, the pictures gave him intense difficulties, which threw him into despair. He had vivid nightmares of the cathedral in various colors – pink, blue and yellow – falling upon him… [Monet wrote:] ‘Things don’t advance very steadily, primarily because each day I discover something I hadn’t seen the day before… In the end, I am trying to do the impossible.’ 

File:Claude Monet 032.jpg

The second group of photos is from a Wikipedia site where you can see almost all of the images of the cathedral.  I recommend a wonderful video by Kahn Academy that discusses Monet's cathedral paintings as well.  Monet intended for these pieces to be shown all together so that one could get the sense of what he was trying to do.  Unfortunately they are now all over the world in various museums and so the National Museum has a right to be proud of showing us two side by side.

Another fun site to check out is this one from Columbia University which shows the Monet paintings in a sort of sun time sequence.  I just can't convey how much Laura's comments made me want to continue my research on the work that she shared.  Monet became the man who struggled with his art, not just someone who captured our fancy with impressionism.  Each artist she discussed became a real person to us but none more so than Monet.....and I thank her letting me meet Monet through the Rouen Cathedral series.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Line Dancing

"Dance" is such a lovely word...even if you do not take to the floor to shake a leg per se, you probably allow your thoughts to dance, your dreams to prance, and your imagination to fly away.  Nature is known to stage many a dance. While shadows dance upon the road the ivy dances up a wall.  The word alone implies movement: a sweeping, dipping, and swooshing motion spiraling back around to repeat.  

What does this have to do with art...a lot!  Motion is probably one of the hardest things to convey in a 2d rendering.  Capturing something with a line is a frozen moment, not a motion.  Implying motion is the best we can hope for and every artist chooses to do it differently.  In the National Gallery of Art this week my husband said he knew a drawn figure was swinging something heavy simply by the position of the toe.  That was an amazingly detailed nuance for movement.

Sometimes color can be used to convey motion....a blur of many colors may convince the viewer that the object is moving much too fast to warrant seeing details.  

I had not really spent a lot of time thinking about this until someone suggested that a small painting I did of palm trees reminded them of a "chorus line."  That became the name of that piece but as I had intended to paint it again much larger, I would need another, similar, title.

                        Line Dancing, oil on gallery wrapped canvas, 12" x 36"

Thus I painted "Line Dancing" based on the same photograph taken in the Florida Everglades.  Now a few of these trees are really dancing and some seem not to be.  In line dancing everyone is supposed to do the same thing...but they rarely do.  Sometimes I look at this and see the extravagant headdresses of a Vegas show and other times it is the colorful backlighting that reminds me of a stage set waiting for dancers.  At any rate I feel compelled now to do a third iteration of this piece where I really concentrate on the depiction of movement....either by blurs, by specific frond shapes or by curves in the tree trunks themselves.

               Detail of "Line Dancing"

What first attracted me to paint this scene was the backlighting of the sunset behind the long row of palms.  I loved that basically the trees were nothing more than shapes against a colorful wall.  And I still love the fire like colors of the backdrop ( and can imagine pushing them even deeper into oranges and reds).  But something nags at me in using the word "dance" to title such a piece....can I make them dance a bit more?  We will see.

Meanwhile think about the various ways artists have depicted motion on a flat surface.  What technique made you believe in the action they were portraying?  I know that I am certainly more conscience of it now and will be hyper sensitive to not only observing it but in perfecting ways to show it.

Colorfully yours,

Friday, April 4, 2014

Once Upon a Time...

I like paintings that have stories in them.  Like a good book, art can also give you something to think about that is "between the lines," or off the page.  My favorite pieces, not only of mine but of others, leaves me thinking about the before and after of the moment depicted.  It gives me a "once upon a time..." feeling.

So before I leave San Miguel paintings (and I actually never will...) I want to share a once upon a time painting captured from a roof top in the city.

Rooftop Chores
24" x 18" oil on canvas

I had the good fortune to attend a reading by an author and since we arrived early I wandered around the hotel it was held in just to explore.  Since we were on the second floor the views of the city and courtyard below were gorgeous.  But what caught my eye was an out of the way view of the working rooftop.  The linens dancing in the wind made the most interesting shadows on the red tiles contrasting with the yellow of the building in the background.  So I snapped a few photos and headed back to the talk anxious to paint shadows.

Working on this piece made me wonder about the person who washed and hung the linens.  Were they from the hotel staff?  Did their home adjoin the hotel?  Was today linen day or did they hang all of their wash?  By the time I finished painting I almost had a novel written...that's what I mean by a "once upon time" painting!

By the way, several folks have commented about how different a painting looks when they see the real thing versus the photo.  I could not agree more...hopefully you find them better in reality.  As I look at this photo I am disappointed at the red blotches in the purple-ish shadows...they are not so startling in reality, much more blended. And the white of the fences, side and back, and linens all photographed very close in value.  In reality they differ a bit more.  Sooooo, never trust a photo (when done by an amateur such as yours truly).  However, the flatness of the photo is a good way to judge certain other elements of the composition so I guess it does have its place!

Happy spring wherever you are,

p.s. under the category of "be careful what you wish for...": my husband has been wishing I would clean out the stuffed studio closet which is packed with unused frames, canvas, old art, shipping boxes and a lot of stuff I won't admit to owning.  I came home today to a flood...literally; water coming forth from that closet onto the carpeted floor of the studio with no sign of where it originated.  We still don't know but have turned off all the house waters til the plumber arrives.  Meanwhile, guess who is tasked with dragging it all out, drying, reassessing, trashing, and preparing to reload?  I can think of other (cheaper) ways to motivate me.

Friday, March 28, 2014

To Shoot or Not To...

I've had several art-filled weekends lately with treks to the amazing Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL as well as to the Winter Park Art Festival in WP, FL.  Preparing for both excursions brought to mind an article by artist Benoit Philippe in which he discusses whether or not it is a good practice to take photos of the art (when allowed) in a museum.  His discussion involves the question of whether it is better to really see the art while there or to attempt to capture a photo to refer to later.  I went back and reread his article and opted, for this trip, to attempt to really see.  I also asked him for permission to reference his article (granted).

only a glimpse of the incredible design of the Dali Museum

Purposely I took no photos of the art hoping to intentionally, mindfully, better take in and remember what was before me.  I did allow myself to make notes (things like: "daddy long legs seen in evening=hope," and "surrealists were rebelling against religion, family, morality and culture.")  How did this work for me?  Fine.  I did not distract myself or anyone else angling for a photo.  But it did make me think a lot about our culture now of picture-taking and how much we might be missing out on by photographing everything as opposed to enjoying it.

Philippe references a study by Linda Henkle, psychological scientist, in which she reports that her study participants had a worse memory for objects and object details when they engaged in picture taking.  She found that people tended to rely on technology to remember things for them and thus did not engage their own memory while looking.  (She also noted that with the sheer volume of photos we now take, very few people had the inclination to organize them in any way that made referencing or reminiscing possible.)

This reminded me of the bus trip we took through Denali National Park.  The guide would announce that bears (or sheep or whatever) were spotted (literally) on the mountain to the left of the bus (we could not get out).  The bus would lean left as everyone rushed their cameras to the glass to snap a photo of 3 or 4 black dots on a brown mountain miles away.  For what?  To say they had a photo of X? Could we even see them?
Not my idea of a bus trip, never mind an animal sighting.  But cameras were a'buzzing.


Here is my camera concession...and kudos to the Museum, it was a fun photo-op set up for the traveling exhibit on Andy Warhol.  Museum goers got to pose with Andy before seeing the exhibit.  They also did a grand job of drawing parallels with Dali and what Warhol learned from him.  

But back to picture taking....I remember many Christmases being very disappointed in my photos after the event.  I finally concluded I could enjoy the fun or I could step outside of the hoopla and record it...it was impossible for me to do both.  These days I choose to stay in the scene and hope my memory does it justice.

Using photos to paint from is also a tricky proposition and I have come to reject photos if I was not there, up close and personal.  Why?  First, the emotion of my feelings are an important part of translating the scene to canvas, second, the camera flattens the field of distance and somewhat distorts the real perspective, and third, I have learned the hard way that photographed shadows get hard and dark, not very realistic.  (All that said, not withstanding you professional photographers who know how to manipulate the settings of your equipment to capture amazing photos which are art in and of themselves...a huge exception to my generalities.)

At the art festival I took only one photo of art...with the artist's permission; it was the latest work done by an artist from whom my son owns a painting.  The artist was fine with the transmission.  Other artists, understandably, posted signs requesting no photos of their work be taken.  In today's world of copycats that is a common request.  No arguments from me.

So, is there a conclusion after my ponderings? Yes, I have come to believe that experiencing fully any event means being engaged with all the senses and mindfully, intentionally recording it all in our brain.  Some of us will better recall the smells, others the colors, others the sounds...but no point and shoot camera or smart-phone will be able to adequately substitute that which we train our brains to record.  At least, that is my current theory.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Sincerely yours,

Friday, March 21, 2014

Back to San Miguel!

I'm back in San Miguel...well, via my art.  I'm in the studio catching up on all of the smaller pieces I began while visiting Mexico because I am itching to start some new pieces.  I have lots of new ideas on things I want to paint but promised myself to complete these first.  Sometimes the smaller sizes are much more difficult and time consuming than they ought to be. Let's start the tour:

Lavender Morning
8 x 10, oil on canvas
I'm a sucker for trying to paint memories (not by memory!) and this brings to mind the wonderful fresh lavender growing all around our front porch.  I could sit on the stoop of our little house smelling the lavender while watching the sun come up over the mountains behind us. It cast all kinds of kinky shadows on the fields and mountains in front of us and every morning was a different show.

La Casa Zen, Simple Choice Farm
8 x 10, oil on canvas
This is Elizabeth's little zen house which was next door to us.  The shadows were always fun to watch and this moment the light particularly shown on the jacaranda tree just over the fence from her.  It was threatening to burst into bloom any day.  Meanwhile the colors of the stucco were very much the colors of the earth.

6 x 12, oil on panel, framed

Hacienda Azul
6 x 6, canvas board, unframed

Our elevation was about 7000 feet and very dry.  The Bajio Mountains must be very old as they were rounded and worn down covered with low growing vegetation.  The second little sketch is called "Blue Farm House"...do you see it?  I just loved the color of the large home....hacienda could be a plantation or a little farm.

Plaza San Francisco
12 x 9 oil on panel

Last on today's tour is the interior mall of the Plaza San Francisco which is downtown near the famous jardin. When the work day begins several restaurants along this courtyard will drag out tables and chairs to sell coffees, drinks and meals.  Some of the shop owners will also display their wares along the walk and of course "travelling salespeople" will hawk their crafts, jewelry and assorted other items along the stone walk.

This was such a pleasant place to observe life that we often found ourselves in the vicinity (not to mention that the Starbucks with free wi-fi was just around the corner...horrors!!).  One day we were in the park just people watching and the school kids came running through the area chasing each other.  It seems they had made eggs filled with confetti which they smashed on each others heads in celebration of carnivale (mardi gras).  The plaza and jardin (garden) were full of confetti for days following!

I can't promise that these pieces are done (I have been known to make additions even after framing...) but for the moment they will rest; I can revisit for a touch up if needed before I finish the frame.  They will eventually make it to my shop on FB/etsy or to my website for sale.  Meanwhile if one tickles your fancy just let me know.

Hasta luego, mis amigos,

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Hasta La Vista San Miguel

We are home!

We decided to cut the trip short and get my ailing husband to his own doctor...which proved to be a good idea.  He is now on the road to recovery and feeling 100% better, there is a lot of comfort in familiar surroundings, especially when it comes to questions of health.

So plans change and I bring my color studies back to Florida to tackle them in a new light, literally.  Meanwhile, San Miguel remains a colorful influence and I can hardly wait to finish all the work that I started while painting from my little zen cottage on the Simple Choice farm.  I will pretend the days are dry, the mornings and evenings very cool and that I can hear the roosters crowing while I pick cilantro.

I finished my little (6" x 6") watercolor studies of some of the intriguing doors of the city.  They are matted to a 9 x 12 size and will be on my Etsy and Facebook shop during the coming week.  I just love the doors there and remember the first time I saw the area how surprised I was to discover the treasures they hid behind them.  (Framed versions can be viewed below.)

These are the blue doors of the Colmena Bakery, Relox 19A & 21, well known spot for traditional Mexican baked goods.

The green bi-fold doors are beautiful in contrast to the red walls of the city and they open up onto a lovely art gallery, La Galeria de Arte Contemporaneo at Relox 46.

This very narrow but elegant door way is the entrance to a home on Canal Street.  The little oval plaque by the door reads "Mi Casa, Canal #58."  The doors were heavy and old and ornate and had a wonderful heavy door knocker on them.  Wish I could have managed an invite inside!

I took plenty of photos and started several pieces of the Bajio Mountains which surrounded us.  I hear that the already colorful area really comes alive with blooms when the rains start...and you can be sure I am pondering a way to make a return trip during that time of year.  Meanwhile, I will re-enjoy it all via my notes and photographs.  

Here is the watercolor series framed:

Have a great weekend, I hope to be back on schedule by Friday...we appreciate your concerns about Bob and thank you for enjoying the sights and sounds of Mexico with us.

Color Fully Yours,