Thursday, November 18, 2010

Having faith

When you work with watercolors, you have to practice a great deal of faith.

And hope.

It doesn't matter how the painting eventually works out. During the process of creation they all look terrible. Terrible enough that as the artist, I despair and have to resist the impulse to tear them up and throw them out. I fight the urge to give up on a painting with two thoughts:

  • no matter what, it will be good practice (practical)

  • maybe it will turn out after all (hopeful)
Both of these paintings are perfect examples of this process. They both looked absolutely terrible through most of their creation. I had to have a little faith, a little hope, and a lot of perseverance.

They are both inspired by the Centennial Trail. I loved the grain and the colors in this downed tree, with the leaves as a beautiful contrast.

Since I first started running along the trail in the spring, these purple flower weeds were everywhere. They grew like, well, weeds! I'm sure that they are universally hated because of that. I contemplated painting them many times but never deemed them quite worthy of my attention. Yes, the spikey flowers were pretty, but the plant wasn't really particularly eye catching.

So what changed my mind? Their sheer perseverance. When we walked the trail recently, they were still tenaciously blooming, the last hold outs of summer color. So I changed my mind and decided they were worthy after all.

I admire perseverance.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Implications of Dormancy

Centennial Trail - Mile markers 7 - 9

I haven't run the Centennial Trail lately, but we did walk it a few days ago. It was a cold, fall day with a very brisk wind. The season is clearly over - few people, but the trail holds a beauty that is different from summer. Colors blaze everywhere, the squirrels and remaining birds are frantically busy.

This fellow watched us as much as we watched him.

As we walked, I passed plants that a few weeks ago would have been beautiful - full of blooms or bright leaves - now merely sticks. Unlovely. Unremarkable. If I didn't know their history I would have passed them by without a thought. The plants aren't worried.

It occurred to me that human beings are burdened by self-awareness. Those of us who are in stick form, not blossoming, not lovely, fret. Are we worthwhile? Is there more within us, waiting to manifest? Will we be loved when we are barren sticks?

Plants and animals are not weighed down with the burden of these kinds of thoughts. They simple ARE. Not worried about worth. No more valuable as gorgeous flowers than barren sticks. No concerns about how long their beauty will last. No comparing themselves to other blooms, wondering if they measure up. Not wondering if after their beauty is spent, whether they will ever bloom again. They simply ARE.

I know that the simple conclusion to this kind of thinking is to cut yourself some slack. Know that you are inherently worthwhile. Concentrate more on the moment, putting one foot in front of the other. I work on that kind of thinking daily.

But there are other implications.

How many people do I pass by without a thought? I don't want to pay so much attention to the appearance of people. It's so easy to love and admire the beautiful, accomplished, and successful. I want to be more careful with the unlovely, the unremarkable - the sticks. It is so easy to look past people just as we look past dormant plants, not even noticing them. I want to work harder to see the possibilities in people.

"There is more to us (and others) than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less".
Kurt Hahn

Friday, November 12, 2010

Waiting for Winter

The world around us seems to be in a waiting mode.

Waiting for winter.

You can feel it getting nearer. The trees are nearly bare. The air has a cold, heavy feel to it. When we have wind it brings a deeper chill, prompting you to quickly move inside. The animals are quieter. I don't see birds flitting about as I gaze out the window. The chipmunks and squirrels seem to have moved inside. The weather forecast hints of possibilities. Of snow.

This little guy is waiting for winter too.

The Sentry - Centennial Trail - Mile marker 13 - November

Some places have already tasted the first dusting of snow.

First Snow on the Mountain - Pocatello, ID

This painting was so fun to do. Unlike most of what I've been working on which involve hours of planning, masking, glazing (like that handsome guy above), this painting was done in about 20 minutes. It was based on a wonderful photo from this highly interesting blog.

Have a wonderful waiting for winter weekend.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Too Sensitive

Rough week in the studio this week so I thought I would share something else.

I've been reading a wonderful little book called "Wesley the Owl".

The author, who works for Cal tech, describes the emotional sensitivity of owls. One example she describes is the attachment owls feel for their mates. Upon the death of its mate, owls sometimes turn away, refuse to eat, and die. I'd heard something similar to this with other species, but another example resonated with me. An owl living in their lab got its foot caught in a ventilation fan. The damage to the foot wasn't too great, the owl was well taken care of and with time would heal well, but the experience was so upsetting to the owl, that he simply turned his face to the wall and eventually died.

The owl was just too sensitive. Why couldn't he snap out of it? Other owls had endured much worse experiences. He had a good life, was well taken care of. Ridiculous comments to make, right? The owl was exhibiting behavior that was inherent in his very being. He could not change what he was.

Human beings, of course, are capable of greater reasoning ability than owls. But I've been thinking about the connection to sensitive people, people who just seem to feel things more than other people. If owls are capable of this kind of emotional stress, surely human beings can suffer as well, and on even a greater level. And all of the well meaning attempts by other people to help them to "snap out of it", are at best as ridiculous as my comments above and at worst destructive.

Our society sees outgoing, even aggressive personalities in a positive light. Sensitive introverts are often not understood or well thought of. The world can be jarring, loud, unfair, incredibly painful. The reality is that some people are just overwhelmed by it all and when faced by upsetting circumstances, turn their faces to the wall in distress.

I've thought about how you help someone who has turned to the wall. I know it doesn't help to tell them to think on the bright side or to remind them of all the positives in their lives. I think of a dear friend who when hearing the sound of my voice one time during the school year, got in the car and drove 15 hours to just come along beside me for awhile. She didn't "fix" anything. She was just there. I am especially incredibly thankful for my husband, my lifelong partner, who has always come along side me when I'm turned to the wall, never judging or offering recriminations. As painful as it can be to be a sensitive person, I know that that very sensitivity is what is the essence of creative vision. It's a double edged sword.

"The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:

A human creature born, abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.

To him a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise,

a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy,

a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.

Add to this cruelly delicate organism

the overpowering necessity to create, create, create --

so that without the creating of music

or poetry or books or building something of meaning

his very breath is cut off from him.

He must create, must pour out creation.

By some strange, unknown, inward urgency

he is not really alive unless he is creating."

Pearl S. Buck

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fast and loose

There are many different styles within watercolor.

Some artists prefer to work very very loosely, letting the colors flow and mingle, with resulting lost and found edges of the subject matter.

Other artists are very tight and controlled, creating crisp, sharp edges. I tend to be of the later rather than the former persuasion, but I took a different approach with "Blooming Bloomers".

As I said in earlier posts, I delight in these flowers because of their buds which remind me of some kind of early 1900's women's fashion - maybe bloomers? Even when the flower is in full bloom, the bud is intact.

In solving the problem of how to showcase this subject, I decided that I needed to work more loosely, since the flowers are always in a tangle of leaves, stems, buds, flowers, and other vegetation...a lovely chaotic mess, not lending itself to tight control.

You can see the difference between the styles in "Blooming Bloomers" and "Out on a Limb". Click on different parts of "Blooming Bloomers" and you will see the lost and found edges.

Even though "Out on a Limb" had an initial wash that was wet in wet, resulting in a loose background, the subject matter was applied on dry paper resulting in very crisp, clear edges, which was what I wanted for this particular subject.

This week I will be working on a Centennial Trail painting featuring thistles, leaves, and a robin. If you scroll down to previous posts you'll see the photos that I'll be using (no photo of a robin - had to use stock photo). I'm pretty excited about this one. You can probably guess which watercolor style I will use.

Thanks so much for your supporting comments! I'm so excited to share this journey with you and I appreciate your encouragement more than I can say.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Out on a Limb

I finally did it.

After five months I made a commitment. I now have an official palette.

What took me so long, you ask? I don't know. It's silly really. If I change my mind about a particular color, no big deal.

Actually, it kind of is. Paint eventually dries rock hard and only after soaking and scrubbing, soaking and scrubbing, soaking and you finally get rid of it. But even that is really no big deal.

I think it had more to do with feeling qualified enough to decide for myself which paint pigments I think are important. I've relied on authorities: art teachers, art book authors. Of course, none of those "authorities" agree, so I've kept my paint safely in their little tubes, judiciously squeezing out only what I think I will need at the time waiting for the day when I would decide for myself what colors I wanted to choose.

Whatever my reluctance, I decided it was time and with nervousness, I squeezed out expensive paint into the little wells, emptying my precious tubes. I also printed out a key so that I would have a record. After painting my first painting using this palette, I am happy that I finally made the decision. No more scrambling in the middle of a wash to squeeze a little more paint into the interior of the palette. No more feeling guilty when I realize that I've wasted some. Now when I get ready to paint I just mist my wells and off I go!

I'm official. I'm least to choose my own pallet colors.

And here's that first painting. This is a Centennial Trail piece. I was drawn to the colors of the leaves one day as I was running by and came back with my camera to take some photos. The little berries went beautifully with the gorgeous reds in the leaves. The trail is full of these little brown birds...busy, busy, busy. I believe they are small robins.

I tried a new background wash with this piece that I was very pleased with. I used thick, thick, thicker than cream pigments on wet paper and let them mix together as they wanted, thus allowing the focus of the piece to be on the crisp foreground objects that I had found so compelling.

As I was running on the trail, it occurred to me that as a teacher, I was considered a "big picture" person. My lesson designs were always constructed backward, beginning with the end result and then working backward to flesh out all of the details which would lead up to the eventual big learning goal. As an artist, I find that I am struck with the details. Not stuck, struck, entranced, fascinated.

I have been thinking about my artist's vision. What do I think about my art? What is it that I want to say through my art? What makes something worth the time and effort of painting it? Heady stuff. I'm sure that whatever I say today will evolve into something else down the line (at least I hope so). For now, though, I seem to be drawn to the idea that there is more around us that we realize, more to us that we realize. Right now, my art is reflecting the realization that objects that are easily overlooked have incredible worth and beauty.

"It is the commonest of mistakes to consider that the limit of our power of perception is also the limit of all there is to perceive".
C.W. Leadbeater