Friday, January 19, 2018

Leaving It In

Close-up of Constant, oil on gessoed board

More than 20 years ago, American artist Jim Dine gave a talk at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

It was more of a conversation with one of the employees. While answering questions, Dine revealed that he never threw anything away - even his worst work - that it all became precious to him.

"Because what you have is a memory of working," he explained. 

The piles of mistakes were achievements in themselves.

In individual paintings, this same concept applies. The brushstrokes need to pile on top of each other to earn energy and life. And they will not be forced into relationships.

Our job is letting it happen.  When we force it or clutch at the result, that result slips from our grasp.

Color and paint have to move according their nature. Put the stroke of blue here with the large brush because there is a need for blue there. When the big brush leaves more than required, take the white again and cover some of the blue. Where they meet now is a mark made by us, but not really. We knew to put the brush there - the paints interacted on their own.

We stay flexible. We can't plan exactly how these paints mix on canvas - creating a new color from proximity and physically changing each other. The energy of their union powerful beyond their sum. We leave it though the mark isn’t straight. We leave it though there is still orange showing through. We leave it though we wish it was sloping a little more to the right. There are more brushstrokes to lay and if we obsess about this one, we won’t have time for all the others.

That is what all paintings are. When they are successful or failures. But the good ones are good "memories of working" that continue to teach when the painting is done. They remind us to let go and do our best. 

That what we considered failure was a beautiful meeting of moments that end up perfect together when they were nothing but a mess alone. A reminder to keep putting one brushstroke next to another and see what happens. We can always wipe it out but normally it is better if we don’t - if we leave the imperfect marks there and build off of them. 

The depths of our decisions weave into a patchwork of colors and shapes that complete an idea if only we let them be. Paint with courage, because the pigment can’t talk to us if we shy away. 

It can’t teach us anything from the tube or the pallette. It needs to be next to its neighbor to tell us what to do next. 

The paint needs us to ask it questions. It answers us on canvas when we let go and listen.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Mountain Memories

Hiking Mount Monadnock, white-line woodcut, 11" x 8.5"

I first carved this block in 2009 after I had climbed Mount Monadnock the previous autumn.

Way back then, I wrote this about my hike:

This piece was inspired by a fond memory of enjoying a wonderful hike with Mark. I recall warm sunshine flooding the forest air as I hiked up the mountain on a clear autumn day. As I climbed, I was afforded the comfort and welcoming intimacy of the earthy grays and greens of the pine trees, rocks and shrubs. In contrast to this closeness, frequent gaps in the branches exposed great wide views of the distant red and purple country under an endless blue sky. Surrounded by the mountain trail, I became part of the mountain. Gazing out from Mount Monadnock, I drew on its strength to face the wider world.

I could use some of this now...

Feels like it is time to go back soon.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Beach House Arrival

House on Ocean Point, jigsaw reduction woodblock print

With the car stuffed full of clothes, toys, food, dogs, a cat, a fish, four people and the perennial last minute live plant, we head off to the cottage.

It isn’t that far from where we live - only about an hour and fifteen minutes - but we pack every single thing we might need for our month away.

At some point during the journey, the cat stops screaming from her box and we know what that means - she has escaped again and peed on something. She pops her head up in the way back and smiles, flicking her tail smugly.

The dogs are taking up all the room in the back seat area and are fast asleep. We two kids fidget and complain, but the adults ignore us. Luckily there aren’t air bags or seat belts to interfere with the tight quarters.

During the journey, bags fall on us, fall on the plant, fall on the dog and there is more fussing.

We know we are almost there when the air suddenly chills and we can smell the sea. The dogs awaken and stick their noses out the windows, snuffling and snorting. They wag a little. This makes the whole situation in the back seat tighter and more uncomfortable, but we don’t care because we also know that we have arrived.

The yearly pilgrimage to the Beach Cottage. The old, barn-like structure on the edge of a New Hampshire marsh that barely keeps the wind and mosquitos out and the cat in.

Across a busy state road from the ocean. The views would be spectacular if the windows weren’t scaled with sea spray.

Before we’re allowed to swim, play, walk on the beach, or even stop to look, we must unload the car. That begins with doors opening and suitcases falling out.

We lug many loads up the rickety wooden steps, onto the sloping porch and through the front door.

Inside, the smells are different, but not unpleasant. It is a different smell of home. A temporary smell, a fleeting one. We will only smell it for this one month a year. 

Anyone who can relate to this post knows what we knew: If you are lucky enough to have a place at the beach, you are lucky enough.

The house in the print at the top of the post belongs to some lucky devil in Boothbay Harbor, ME. My Beach Cottage looked like this:

Cottage, oil on canvas, 8"x10", Sold

Friday, January 12, 2018

Ingredients: Fog, Shells, Paper Towels, Fortitude

Fog in the Marsh, plein air oil painting on canvas, 8" x 8"

When you paint outside, you can’t wait for a nice day. Mostly because it is impossible to figure out when you are going to get one.

Even when the weather forecast promises a beauteous, warm, sunny day on the iconic Maine seacoast, you can find yourself in a wet, cold mess instead.

That is partly because the sea is changeable. Even with miraculous technology, the ocean effects the air in ways that the computers can’t predict.

Which is why, last October I drove an hour and a half to paint rocks and waves only to find that my favorite scenes were completely obscured by fog. The forecast said “Partly Cloudy,” not “Sea Poop” fog.

Oh well, I thought, I will make the most of this. I seldom paint fog because if I think it will be foggy, I usually stay home, so this was a great time to practice.

And the dogs will still have fun running around and swimming.

Nothing to do but unload the truck and make the best of it.

I carried my pack all the way to the farthest point of my domain. The tide was high and the steely grey marsh water against the maroon weeds captured my attention. I still waited to unpack for a bit, to see if the heavy air would hide all interesting compositional elements from me.

The far trees, sand bars and grasses seemed disappear and reappear consistently enough for me to give it a go - I'd think of them like rocks in crashing surf.

Slowly, I unpack all of my equipment and supplies, assembling things as I go - first, extending the tripod legs and settling them into the small rocks at my feet, then clicking the Strada easel into place on top of it and settling it into position.

Next, I pulled out the worn ziplock bag of pigment tubes, the odorless mineral spirits in its metal jar, the roll of paper towels that, today, can’t hit the ground or it will “quickly pick up” the moisture in the sand.

The Viewcatcher is next - I use it to scan my surroundings for a pleasing composition.

Oh look, there is a Larabar - I’ll eat that while I think more about what to paint and how to paint it a bit more.

The dogs are splashing and having a wonderful time. I know they will smell like the marsh mud later.

Time to stop fooling around and start painting. The Viewcatcher is lined up and I go to make my first mark and......realize that I have no brushes. 

Zero brushes. And because it gets stored with them, no pallette knife either.

What to do?

What I really did was get very frustrated and nearly quit and go home. Instead of packing everything back in the bag immediately, I decide the dogs could have a bit more fun. I am envious of their ability to just enjoy where they are. They don’t care about the weather at all. They are having fun getting wet and muddy and chasing each other on slippery rocks. They grab sticks and taunt each other with them.

My mood increases because it is impossible to be around such happy creatures without smiling.

Back to the easel. Ok, no brushes. But what can I do? There are broken shells everywhere and I know from stepping on them with bare feet that they can be as sharp as knives. Could a shell work like a pallette knife?

Love the shells you're with

And I do have paper towels - can I smear enough paint around with the paper towels? It will make a mess, I know. What choice do I have but to try?

Since it is foggy, details are obscured anyway and the paper towel and mussel shell experiment  yields one painting.

After a little frustration, I started to enjoy myself - the Goldens rubbing off on me? I liked the color combinations and the different marks a shell makes. I was also proud that I forged ahead and used my brain and available resources to have a good afternoon despite the fog and lack of brushes.

Painting and available tools and equipment.

I don't recommend painting with shells and I’m not going to do this on purpose. But the willingness to try it saved the day.

Better to have the brushes and if I want to pick up a shell and paint, I can certainly do that...

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

From One Afternoon

Afternoon in Tenants Harbor, white-line woodcut, 7" x 11"

In 2010, I shared a house in Tenants Harbor, ME with some other artists for a week. We painted all over the area during the day and gathered for home cooked meals in an elegant dining room each evening.

For the most part, the weather was perfect for painting and we even had some waves from an off-shore hurricane.

When the weather turned a little grey and rainy toward the end of the week, I stayed on the property for a day instead of going into town with the other people. We couldn’t see the water from the house, but the property ran all the way to the harbor.

Between sprinkles, I took a sketchbook out to the shore and drew a few quick compositions including trees, rocks, water, clouds - the usual.

One of those drawings eventually became this print, Afternoon in Tenants Harbor.

Even though the day that inspired the print was cloudy, I have let the sun shine in the print.

A different print from the Afternoon in Tenants Harbor block. 
This one has sold.

The beauty of white-line woodcuts is that I can easily change colors on successive prints. As you can see by comparing the latest impression from the block to the older one pictured here, the day has gotten brighter.

From one afternoon, comes many. With nicer weather than the original.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Beach Tales

jigsaw reduction woodblock prints

The ocean water is frigid, but we go in anyway. We are kids and impervious to cold. We don’t leave the water until lunch time and then we play on the beach because our parents believed that we would drown if we swam within a half hour of eating.

Who cares if this is true? We had other games for the sand. And if it was low tide, we still had an expanse of puddles to keep us wet.

Drip castles usually dominated on those days. Occasionally the construction projects grew to include more than just forts with gates and moats, and we created whole cities.

Once, we built a giant dragon. He was longer than the six of us laid head to toe and his peak - in the middle of his back - reached our waists. His sleepy face was as big as a toddler. The beast lay perpendicular to the ocean, head towards the sea, with his giant tail curving along the sand flats.

That day, we didn't return to the water at all until it was time to wash off. Of course we were covered in sand - all over our arms and legs from building and even on our bellies when we would have to stretch out to reach some important detail. 

After the surf cleaned our skin, we reluctantly walked backwards towards our summer homes, watching the ocean creep up on our creation. When the first wave licked his face, we saluted and said goodbye, knowing that he would not greet us in the morning, when we would swim and run and build again.

The scene in then prints above - the wet sand flats patterned with moving and still water - was our blank canvas all summer. It never stayed this pristine with us there molding it, splashing it and bulldozing it. But the ocean wiped it clean for us every evening, so it would be ready for new adventures each day.

And that is how I remember it now - partially as a fresh start. 

But mostly as its own intriguing composition.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Time to Say Thanks is Always

After the holidays, I used to get quite whiny about writing my thank you notes.

My grandparents had zero patience for this attitude and used to say to me, “If you don’t  write your thank you notes, no one will give you anything next year.”

I know that isn’t true. I know plenty of people who never sent thank you notes and those same grandparents continued to send gifts to them. (Don’t ask me how I know this because it involves family intrigue and gossip and no one wants that in an art blog.)

But my grandparents words successfully wedged themselves in my brain, and now I always send thank you notes to people who have given me things after my birthday and after Christmas.

Well, not always to every person, now that I think about it. There was that one chronic holiday gifter and I always wondered if I should send a note based on the relationship and the nature of the gift and opted not to. This year, no gift from that person...

And that makes me think that maybe there are times to skip the thank you note, but if I ever again think, “Should I? Is it appropriate to send one?” The answer is yes. So I will just do it. Not to get more things, but to take the opportunity to reach out to another human being with some warm thoughts.

What does it cost me? Stamps are only going up one penny and I always have a stash. I buy cards with lovely art on them whenever I go to museums and I MAKE note cards, for Pete’s Sake. I always have the physical resources.

And how much time does it really take? Just a couple of minutes, really. I know that sometimes when you sit down to write something, you freeze up, but if you are writing a thank you note, all you have to do is state the truth in a few short sentences:

“Thank you very much for the gift! I will use it to make my life better in some way. It was very nice of you to think of me.”

That is all you have to say in some variation. It takes less than 5 minutes to write that. It will probably take you longer to find their address.

While having the annual argument with my grandparents about thank you notes - whichever set was visiting, they all were pro-thank you note folks - I would point out that I was with them when I opened the presents and said thank you at that time. Or I had talked with them on the phone that day and told them I appreciated my gifts. Why do I also send a note?

Of course, they were attempting to mold a young girl into a thank you note sender for life, so it was the habit that was important to them. Back in the 70’s, the post office was the only method of sending a note.

I profess that it is also the best way today.

How many emails do you get in a day? How many texts and facebook messages?

Now, how many actual letters or cards? How do you feel when you get one?

Wouldn’t you like to make someone else feel like that? We talked about how little it would cost you to deliver those same friendly feelings to someone else.

That is probably enough to convince you to send a real, snail mail, hand-written sentiment of gratitude. In case it isn’t, then you should know that sending a thank you note would make you just like an Olympic Gold Medalist....

Bethanie Mattek Sands is a perennial tennis champion and won a gold medal for the US in mixed doubles in 2016. She sends thank you notes everyday, as she explains in this video.


Now that you are convinced to send more thank you notes in 2018, beginning with some post-holiday appreciation, you need some cards!

Did you read this far? Get free shipping on my website until Groundhog Day! Use the code FREESHIP18 at checkout.

No need to thank me.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Winter is Back

Newest Impression from Leaves in Winter 
white-line woodcut, 10"x8"

I walk out in the woods nearly every day with my dogs. Off leash walking is my exercise of choice for them because we can all romp at our own pace. Which means Coast and Measure explode out the door and reach the trail in about a millisecond while I am still on the porch. 
By the time I reach the edge of the woods, Measure has looped back around to check on me. She might do a few zoomie circles while she waits for me to catch up. Then she’s off to meet Coast at the first “check point” - a fork in the trail where they get treats for waiting.

Winter is my favorite time to walk back there - no ticks and no mud. The dogs come home clean and tired and I come home refreshed.

Snow on a sunny day is one of the most marvelous sights there is. There are blues and purples and greens in the snow making the forest floor a lovely backdrop for the trees. The light glints off the normally drab greys in sparkling golds.

The stars of the show are any beech trees that haven’t shed their leaves. The shriveled, paper thin, pale leaves capture light like a fiery prism - sending back bright ruby and amber hues.

I don’t often bring a sketchbook or paints out there. I usually don’t even carry my phone. I just enjoy the scenery and then recall the beauty later in my studio.

You’ve all seen the above print before - this is the latest impression from the Leaves in Winter block inspired by the world outside my door right now.

What will the dogs and I create this new year during this new winter? There is some exciting stuff happening inside - you'll see that soon.

And they're off! 
(Sometimes I do bring a camera)

Outside, I know the show will be spectacular and I will be there with my yellow friends no matter how deep the snow.

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