Inspiration Just Outside the Window

There’s only one thing worse than getting lost in cyberspace when I’m supposed to be writing: looking out the window of my art studio when I’m supposed to be painting. Assembled in front of …

Source: Inspiration Just Outside the Window

Inspiration Just Outside the Window

Birder Heaven Med

There’s only one thing worse than getting lost in cyberspace when I’m supposed to be writing: looking out the window of my art studio when I’m supposed to be painting. Assembled in front of my azaleas, feeders of all shapes and sizes attract a variety of birds. In fact, I had to buy a book to identify them all. I’ve seen male and female cardinals, blue jays, blackbirds, grackles, Carolina wrens, black capped chickadees, vireos, robins, flycatchers, sparrows, mourning doves, finches, mockingbirds, tufted titmouse, towhee, woodpecker, and warblers. And a few I can’t identify.

Of course, squirrels make a nuisance of themselves, but their antics are entertaining. They slide down feeder poles like drunken firemen, spin around on the hanging feeders like Tilt-a-Whirls, and chew peanuts upside-down from the mesh slots. Too often, I find myself fiddling with my zoom lens instead of painting.

A local art gallery association to which I belong challenged all of its members to shoot a photo of their studios and frame them. (“Egads,” I thought, surveying the stained rags, splattered floor, piles of boxes and paint cans, and dozens of portfolios vying for space in my studio. “What a mess! Who wants to look at this!”) Then, in the medium to which we artists are accustomed to working, create a piece inspired by our studios. It didn’t have to be something inside of the studio. Just inspired by it. The framed studio photos would hang next to the inspired pieces for an upcoming show.

Easy choice for me. My studio is completely banked by windows on the north. I feast my eyes upon azalea bushes, sassafras trees, pines, dogwoods and a redbud. I’ve collected a vast array of bird feeders, and to watch the birds feeding and flitting is a captivating retreat.

For this challenge, I wanted to paint as many bird species as possible, using a gold background of gingko leaves. (I planted a gingko tree in another part of the yard years ago; it’s still only three feet tall.) I knew that I wanted the design to take a circular motion, one that started with a cardinal smack in the middle and ended with something faint and tiny in the background.

Originally I’d named the painting “Birder Heaven,” but when my husband saw it, he exclaimed, “Oh, it’s an Angry Bird!” Well, that took care of that! “Angry Birds in the Garden” was a delight to paint, and as many paintings do, it evolved beyond what I’d foreseen. I can’t wait for the show to open.

In the meantime, I try to focus on my drawing board. It helps if it’s raining.

Image

Blurring the Lines

The exhibit, “Masterworks of American Impressionism,” just ended at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News. How exciting to view works by Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase and John Singer Sargent among others. Photographs do not do justice.
Neither do teachers who still, in the year 2014, insist that art is prettified repetition limited to an old fashioned textbook definition. “What is art?” one of the docents asked a group of school children recently.
“It’s drawing inside the lines,” a wee one responded.
Ouch.
At least she brought her class to the gallery.
“Drawing inside the lines” was a perfect, nearly scripted setup for the docent’s explanation. There is far more to art than staying inside the lines. In fact, the Impressionists did not stay often inside the lines, either linear, literal or figurative. The point of their movement was to blur the edges of tradition and realism, to take the viewer on a visual journey of emotion and texture and light, to create familiar subjects in a somewhat realistic manner that disintegrates into dots and squiggles and smears when the viewer stands close, forcing one to cry, “How did she do that?”
Movement—the stroke of a brush or palette knife creates curves of paint that cup the light, blur the edges, launch motion. How to stay inside the lines when your intent is to create light? To emphasize a rounded form, transparent fabric, the glow of a sunlight through the curve of an ear? How to stay inside the lines, why to stay inside the lines when a wide, flat stroke of white on warm gray can create a 200 page book like the one being held by the reader in “Man Reading”? Yes, my favorite piece in the show. I just couldn’t stare at it enough. I wanted to devour it, as though the paint were whipped cream. That swift, sure touch of white to indicate the pages—pure genius.
If the students who toured the exhibit came away with a smidgen of that idea, they will have learned more about art than all of their elementary school education combined.

Redoing, repainting, rethinking

I knew when I painted the huge (30″ X 40″) acrylic of my daughter in a summery, sunglasses, tank top pose, getting into a car, that the proportions were wrong, but I was on deadline for a show entry. I just needed the image to be sharp, bold and attractive enough for a photo and email entry, and I could work out the kinks later.
I was overjoyed that the work was accepted.
Now, for the hard part.
I loved the mouth and the face. My favorite parts. But the head, overall, was too small. The rest of the body, such as  the arm, then the purse, as well as the car,  had been worked out proportionately, so my only choice was to paint over the face.
Sigh.
She ended up with a gaping black and red smile that looked like the Joker, aka Jack Nicholson. The perfect reflected light and shadows on her chin were painted over and enlarged. I am about a third of the way there.

Part of me is disheartened. Part of me is excited. I love to paint, and I love this painting. Trained as an illustrator, my background involves 00 (double-ot) Rapidographs, ruling pens, and T-squares. Large paintings involve a lot of large brushstrokes, then standing back several paces to obtain a true view.
It helps to loosen up with a glass of wine, too. And chocolate. No salesmen or corporate clients to worry about messy fingerprints on pristine illustration board.

So much of my life is like this now–redoing, using broader strokes, standing back to assess my progress. I can’t help but wax philosophical and consider that it is a good thing. I’ve got years of training under my belt. Teeny-tiny, detailed illustrations, drawn and re-drawn to clients’ specifications, published in the form of calendars and matchbooks. Cleaned typefonts, enlarged from aforementioned matchbooks, enlarged to 20 times their size, meticulously sculpted, then reduced and re-photographed. Pica measurements. Darkroom stats, printed too quickly, then cleaned up with White-Out on deadline.

I’ve earned this freedom, this joy.  And it shows. This painting, and others like it, have a sense of life to them that was lacking in my older, scripted work.
I hope that this sense of joy and freedom, built on accomplishment, spills over to other areas of my life–parenting, caregiving, organizing, cooking, volunteering. Whenever I feel my neck tighten up, or my temper flare, I remind myself to walk softly and carry a big paintbrush.
It feels good.