Friday, July 19, 2019

A Place I Wanted to Paint

A few days ago, I went looking for the Palomita Nature Reserve. It is a marsh that begins at the mouth of Little Pigeon Creek on Lake Michigan, covering 40 acres in Ottawa County. This ecosystem houses more than 70 species of birds, plants and fish. It has been preserved with the help of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan.  I made my way along Lake Shore Drive, saw the adjacent boardwalk and pulled my little red car to the side of the road. I fished my soft pastel supplies out of the back seat and headed to the overlook.  This was a place I wanted to paint.

The marsh spread out in all directions. Waterlilies floated near and far. The birdsong hugged me with a multi-layered chorus. I looked closely at all the varieties of green. This will be a challenge!

A jogger from two miles down the way stopped to gaze across the expanse. She said that, when in town, she runs to this platform every day in order to absorb the calm and beauty. She spoke passionately about the birds that she observes. We discussed the life experience of trees.

Later, a young mom arrived with two little boys, one on a two-wheeler, the other on the classic "Big Wheel". This family came here often, as it was an easy ride from home. The older boy told an animated story about stopping to look at a toad and getting stuck in the mud.

I settled back into painting. The day was hot and humid but a soft breeze kept my neck cool. As I worked, I thought about the importance of this open space. Not only does it provide protected habitat for a myriad of species, it is a place of learning, watching and experiencing. It is a living space where one can go to contemplate, to listen. In this era of technology, the value of such easy access to nature is immeasurable! I was thrilled to be painting there, and am happier still to communicate it's beauty through my art.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Mission

Ah, so the mission is easy. That is, easy to define: a painting, a great and glorious oil painting!
I accept.

Now, with one week under my belt, I am starting to understand the magnitude of what I have taken on.  I have asked something of myself which I cannot fully envision. This is not unusual for me when starting a painting. But, the longer I am here, the more I realize the sheer number of permutations that exist on this magnificent Pacific Coast. Every direction is teaming with possibilities.

Take the jagged cliffs, for example. The sun moving across the facets makes new patterns continually. They read like hieroglyphics. At one point the rocks on the edge are a huge bird; later, they are a woman, looking out to sea. I understand that years of contemplation might only afford me a glimmer of their truth. But I love trying. I grasp at the shapes with pencil, pen or charcoal. I flush them in with watercolor or pastel.

The ocean has its own vocabulary as well, far beyond what one can pick up in a two-week stay. She growls as she slaps and digs at the rock walls with a heavy thump, thump. Or, she whispers while gliding in softly, little bubbles popping, a gentle whoosh as she wraps her arms around each boulder. 

No question that I am enjoying myself immensely. The challenge of capturing a quintessential portrait of this area only fires up my (already continuous) desire to make art. But the luxury of abundant time, without other commitments, allows me to experience this place slowly, using every sense. I am calmed by the ocean's song and happy to suck in big lungfuls of her salty scent. I am honored by the resident eagle, who deigns to land in the tree out my window, surveying his vast territory. As the daylight fades, I am content to snuggle into a soft blanket on the couch with a good book and a cup of hot tea. And, I am hopeful that the answers to my mission will come to me, unbidden, as I work.  

Monday, May 20, 2019

Pinch me, please!

Ok, so I feel like I'm in the middle of someone else's novel. Is this real? I look out the window, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and contemplate the Olympic Peninsula. Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

Last year, some delightful folks from Canada asked if I wanted to travel to Vancouver Island to paint the view from their beloved cottage. Why, yes! We put the plans into motion in January and here I am. I flew into Vancouver and spent two days exploring. It is a clean and polite city. There are fountains everywhere and waves of rhododendrons in full bloom. After my short stay, I caught a bus that took me onto the BC Ferry, then all the way to Victoria, where I rented a car. The ferry was magnificent - huge, shiny and new - and, after walking around the perimeter of the boat, I settled on the bow and drew the tufts of land that announce Vancouver Island's approach.

After spending one night with this delightful family in their little piece of heaven, I took off for Tofino, a small surfing town at the end of a peninsula that looks like an arm bending into the Pacific Ocean. It was a long drive, up the east side of the island and across the middle. Once into the mountains, I was reminded of Alaska, where around a turn you are likely to see green foothills ending  in big, placid lakes. Tofino crawls up a hillside in the Pacific Rim National Park Preserve, with a small city-center on the water. I walked out the door of my Airbnb a bit dazed; all these new perspectives were begging me to record them!

Luckily, part of me understood that it was time to slow down and experience, instead of seeing everything as a potential painting. (This is harder than you'd think!) I hiked a trail through a rainforest where the trees were large and old, with crooked limbs that reached around, covered in moss. I thought maybe when I turned my head one might stretch out and tap my shoulder. Ahhh - so much wisdom buried within!

The beach at the end of the path was massive, encircled with craggy rock walls. I relaxed on a giant piece of driftwood and did some simple drawings and watercolors.

And now I am back near Sooke, around the southern tip of Vancouver Island, in a cozy cottage overlooking a jaw-dropping view. I have a lot to discover in the two weeks ahead of me, not least of which is how to turn off the "to-do" list in my head and open myself up to the breath of the skies and the heartbeat of the ocean.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Monoprint Retreat

I think possibly the best part of our 3-day monoprint immersion was the collaborative art-energy. Put three professional artists in one space with the goal of understanding new materials, and you get a great wave of power. I'm not saying that any of us mastered the medium, but we lived and breathed the challenge together, attaining our own successes.

It has been over 15 years since my press did any rolling (except on its wheels, looking for places to sleep). When Angela Saxon and Royce Deans arrived, we dug out the blankets and brayers (from mouse infested storage - eek) and moved furniture around my studio to create a functional print shop. Royce brought 7 pieces of thick, narrow glass, which we set up as a palette, along with the water-based printing ink Angela had ordered. Add to that some thick cotton paper that was hiding in my flatfiles and we were off and running!

The process was a bit of a challenge. It took some time to understand that we were not making paintings. For starters, printmaking ink behaves very differently from oil paint. It is sticky and does not perform well with brushes. Also, the print comes out as a reverse image and the last layer of ink applied is not on top. This was more than mind-boggling!

Each of us used an individual approach to image-making on our plates. I rolled on ink with brayers, lifted it off with q-tips and wet wipes, then reapplied ink with squares of matt board or more q-tips. When the plate finally looked finished (and I fell in love with it), the resulting print was often quite different. Argh!

But the beauty of the situation was our ability to concentrate on our own work while progressing cooperatively. We talked through road-bumps. We joked, laughed, collapsed on the couch, ate hot soup, played loud jazz and worked until the wintery landscape through the window turned into a black mirror, reflecting our activity. It was exhausting and energizing at the same time. The sheer force of our determination created a vitality that propelled us on.

Artists most often work alone. For me, it takes isolation to get to the place where ideas flow. While I cannot speak for Angela and Royce, I was amazed at how comfortable it was for me to work side by side with these two. Yes, they are good friends. But, more than that, we shared a tacit understanding that allowed us to be open, earnest and vulnerable while retaining the ability to focus. It doesn't get much better than that! And, I did end up with work that approached my expectations. In fact, the day after they left I ordered more paper and ink. I look at my final prints  - a still life and a landscape - and my mouth waters to try the next.