Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Decade-Old Idea

Point of Impact, white-line woodcut, 4"x6"

Way back in 2008, I painted this:

Crash Below, oil on canvas, 11.5' x 16"

These rocks are easy to see from a grassy area that is easy to get to and comfortable to stand on for hours at a time, so they have modeled for quite a few paintings.

A few months later, I painted this little one in the studio from the plein air study:

Flying Foam, oil on canvas, 5"x7"

There is something haunting about this composition - the dark rocks, the energy in the crown of foam, the slash of bright background water. It really hasn’t let me go since the day I painted the first version.
So in 2012, it became the small white-line woodcut at the top of the post.
Even after the small painting and woodcut were complete, that first painting still had some unfinished business. I'll show you on Friday.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Seizing the Sunset

Appledore Spray, jigsaw reduction woodblock print
Inspired by the oil painting, After a Delicious Dinner on Appledore Island.

My prints usually come from my paintings. The print here is from a plein air piece I did on Appledore Island in August 2015.

Dinner is earlier on Sundays, which means I just have time for a quick painting between meal time and sunset. I take my stuff out to the Headlands before dinner. I set up the easel and the pallet and even choose which rock will be my subject.

That saves time - I can go directly from the dining hall without a side trip to get my pack. And it ensures that I will, in fact, go. A belly full of supper might try to change my mind about painting. But if all my gear is out on the rocks, I have to at least go fetch it and, once out there, I know I'll paint.

Surf's up, tide's highish, equipment's ready, no excuses - GO!

I am quickly swept up in the whole scene. Water crashing and swirling all around me, the stray spray thrumping on the rocks as it lands near me. The frenetic energy of the waves is contagious, sweeping me up and controlling my brushstrokes.

There isn’t much time - less than an hour and half to paint and then pack up before the sun sets. No one wants to pick their way out of this ragged spot in the dark.

At some point during the painting, some friends come to watch. They don’t speak to me because they know that I can’t listen at the moment. They enjoy the special light of the sunset themselves as I paint.

Soon, the light in the scene I’m painting is gone, but that is fine because I caught what I came for. That rock with that foamy wave at sunset.
After a Delicious Dinner on Appledore Island, oil on gessoed board, 8"x10"

My friends are happy for me and as I clean up, we talk about how wonderful the light was on that side of the island at dusk.

Together, we find our way to the small campus, check in to the building we are using as a studio and find others there. They are already working on their post-dinner indoor projects. I set my painting out to dry and find that I like it. Not that that even matters - a bad sunset painting outing is still time spent watching the sunset and painting.

The goal was to paint after dinner and I had done that. I only get one day a year when there is light enough after dinner to do paint on Appledore and I had taken advantage of it.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Learn Jigsaw Reduction Printmaking

Jigsaw Reduction Student Work
© 2017 

Fun stuff in the photo above, huh?

These prints were created by some adventurous folks last fall in a jigsaw reduction workshop I taught in western Massachusetts.

We started with some soft kut material, ink, carving tools, rollers and their designs and they went wild printing on paper.

If you find that you can't look away, that you are enchanted by these colorful, lively prints, you might be a good candidate for the next jigsaw reduction workshop.

It is April 21-22 in Concord, NH at the League of NH Craftsmen Headquarters. All materials will be provided and ready for your inspired ideas.

To sign up or learn more, click here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

White-line Woodcuts (Almost) Out of Reach

Cover print: On Puget Sound, Elizabeth Warhanik (1880-1968), white-line woodcut ca. 1928

Last year, you read about my extensive adventure to Morgantown, West Virginia to see some Provincetown Prints by Grace Martin Taylor. There are no direct routes between New Boston and Morgantown - You Can't There From Here - but the exhibit was completely worth the flights and drives to get there and back again. Works on paper don't see the light of day very often. It is possible that many of Taylor's prints will remain in dark drawers for the rest of my life.

So when google alerts told me that the Cascadia Art Museum, near Seattle, was hosting a color print exhibit of northwestern artists late last fall, I felt like it was a special invitation to head out west. After researching some flights and examining my holiday schedule, however, it became clear that this show would go on without me.

Even though the exhibition included white-line woodcuts. Sigh.

Maybe these prints will never cross my path, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy them. As Mason Cooley said, "Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are."

To Amazon I went and ordered the catalog. It is full of lovely color plates from the exhibit.

Only a few white-line woodcuts were included, but the book explains that the Provincetown Printmakers traveled out to Washington to spread the technique and, in turn, some westerners studied with our New England masters on Cape Cod.

According to David F. Martin, the author of the catalog, a color print exhibition in Seattle in 1916 included a bunch of Provincetown Prints. 

He quotes two reviews from the time period that made me chuckle:

It would not be a complete exhibition in the year 1916 if the work of Ada Gilmore, Bror Nordfeldt and Ethel Mars had been omitted, and they furnish a riot of primitive coloring and wood blocky figures that will prove interesting to some - as an indication that modernity has placed its mark on even this expression of art - and of mirth to others, and possibly annoyance to a few.
-"With the Fine Arts Folk." The Town Crier, Seattle, November 11, 1916, p 13.

And how funny is this:
The most extremely modern prints exhibited are the above mentioned group by Ethel Mars, Ada Gilmore, and Mary Jones. The color is so vivid, almost gaudy, and the subjects and their poses so unusual that it takes some little time to become attracted to these prints, but there is something rather live and bright about them that is after all, quite pleasing.
-"Prints Form New Exhibit in Fine Art Rooms." Seattle Daily Times, November 12, 1916, p. 63.

Even back then, some people loved white-line woodcuts and some just didn't get it.

While, I couldn't be there in person, I appreciate that the Cascadia Art Museum displayed these prints and published a catalog so I could enjoy them from New Hampshire.

Monday, January 22, 2018

All's Well That Ends with a Seascape

 Reference for Appledore Spray, oi on gessoed board, 8"x8"

The cacophony of gulls singing praises to the dawn means that sleeping in on Appledore Island is nearly impossible, but I had set an alarm anyway. It was my last morning at the Shoals, and I planned to paint one more time before the boat left mid-morning. 

My pack was full and ready in a building on my way to the painting spot I’d chosen. The tide was rising and the waves promised to be sizable. Knowing how sad I'll feel if I miss this chance, I force myself up and throw on some clothes. 

The first part of the hike is along wide, grassy trails with bushes rising over my head on both sides - fairly easy going. Soon, the trail becomes a thin track over rocks as and, while I know my way, I tread carefully, balancing my full pack. 

The waves are huge and loud enough to drown out the screaming gulls.

I see an interesting subject, shrug out of my pack and start unloading. I set up the tripod… 

And pause. 

I watch the waves for a while and reluctantly realize that it is the wrong scene. 

Leaving my things for the moment, I walk a bit further along and a little closer to the water’s edge. I find another rock with another pattern of surf and watch. This is it and I know it, but I have to go back for my tools. 

Quickly, I reach my pile of supplies and shove most of them back in the bag, carrying a few things in my hands to save time. 

I reach the chosen spot and set everything up - the tripod and pallet, the brushes and mineral spirits, stealing glances at my subject as I go. I study it through the view finder and decide that a square would be the best shape for this. Now to the canvas holder to fetch a square… 

Only to find that it isn’t there. The small, grey box that holds my 8”x8” panels is not in the pack. It is not on the ground. I look everywhere. Three times, maybe four. Much moaning and cursing ensues as I continue to search, in vain, for the panels. 

Somewhere among the gull dung, I find a clean place to sit and think. 

I can’t paint without a canvas. I have looked through my piles of equipment and the surrounding area a million times. The box isn’t here. Somehow, it was left behind on the campus. 

Breathe. Form a plan.

I still have a little time after breakfast to paint if I leave my stuff out here, eat quickly and come back with the panels. The tide won’t even change that much. Resigned to this and needing a cup of coffee, I pick my way back to the civilized part of the island to join my fellow artists for breakfast. 

My companions ask how my painting went. I tell them my sad story of getting up on time only to forget my panel box. They are sympathetic, but they laugh with me. 

“I’ll just get it on my way back out there. I’m all packed for the boat, so I can paint something fast and meet you with my painting stuff at the dock.” 

I down my coffee before heading to the building we use as a studio to grab the panel box that I expect is out on a table in plain sight. 

But it isn’t there. Anywhere. 

I repeat my performance from earlier in the morning on the rocks - looking everywhere multiple times. It must be there somewhere - where else would it be?  

Now, time is running quite short. I grab a sketchbook and head out to gather my things, planning to draw a little to make it all worthwhile before heading to the boat with no new painting. 

I am sad. Leaving the island is always sad, and so is missing out on a great opportunity to paint giant waves. I try to keep my frustration under control. 

At some point during my second walk out there, I end up in the first spot - the one I almost painted.  I stop there again and turn around. 

There, blending in with the granite, is my panel carrier. It had been there the whole time. 

I look at my watch. There is barely enough time…. I try not to rush - I don’t want to fall on the slippery, sharp rocks or drop or break things in my haste or ruin my painting.  

Earlier, I had studied the subject and I knew the composition, so the beginning was fast. A few slashes with a big brush to set the diagonals across the square. 

I lay in the few details I care about in the rock - a little darker here, a little redder here. Now for the wave. For the next short while I watch and paint. When the wave hits the rock, I follow its motion with my eyes. After it recedes, I paint all the shapes and colors I can remember. The timer I'd set on my watch beeps. Too soon. 

I stop and walk away a few paces - trying to find a flat, stable place from which to view my efforts. I turn around and I find that I am pleased. Maybe I have done it. There is motion and life in the quick little painting. 

The urgency fueled me into a state of focus and now I can carry that wave and that rock home with me.

Somehow, I know that this is a better painting than it would have been had everything gone according to plan.

I pack up and make it to the boat on time with this and a few other nice little studies.

I say good bye to the island and thank it for the memories that are now in my wet panel carrier.


The effort of that morning in 2013 eventually yielded this jigsaw reduction print:

Appledore Spray, jigsaw reduction woodblock print

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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