Opportunities materialize when you keep saying “Yes!” It’s easier to say “Well, maybe, maybe not…”, but if I do that, inertia keeps me rooted. Saying “Yes!” moves me forward and opens doors.
Recent “yes’s” include…
Painting a demo December 16 at the Open House for The Joe Center for the Arts in Port St. Joe, Florida, which in May will be the epicenter of The Forgotten Coast en Plein Air and Plein Air South this year;
Accepting an invitation to speak to the Emerald Coast Meditation Society about the Zen of plein air painting at their regular third Thursday session, 6:30 PM, January 18, 2018, Christ the King Episcopal Church, 480 N. County Hwy 393, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459.
Agreeing to give a presentation on plein air painting to the local Library in their winter programs series, 10:00 AM, January 31, 2018, at The Coastal Branch (South Walton) Library, 437 Greenway Trail, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
I will never forget the moment I saw the original of Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as a young adult. Overwhelmed, I felt its impact in the center of my chest, and tears came to my eyes. I had admired the expressionism in Van Gogh’s works since I was a teen, staring at my book of print reproductions of his paintings for years prior to that visit to the museum.
Why then, did the original have such an effect on me? I can only say that for me, the original has the spirit of the artist, his time and his vision. It was as if I was, in a way, actually meeting Vincent Van Gogh. Probably also some of it also was due to the fact that the painting had become iconic to me. But there was the visceral reality of the original painting, its physical presence, seeing the actual paint, the colors mixed by the artist, the brushstrokes, the canvas sometimes showing through the impasto, indicating the haste or the care taken, all of the things one sees when looking at an original painting, providing a glimpse into the artist’s experience. “This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,” van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, from France. [Excerpt from the Museum of Modern Art’s webpage, http://www.moma.org/collection/works/79802.]
Isn’t that really what a painting is, a representation of what the artist “saw”, whether in actuality or in his or her mind? That is my intention in sharing my art, to share my vision, to share my experience of my environment, my own appreciation for what I see and how it all fits together, the light in the composition, and the way the elements work together – the lines, forms, colors, and textures. I share my thrill.
While it is true that printing processes are always improving, an original painting is so much more impactful than a print. People see differently than a camera. And in the technical process of reproducing the image of a painting, colors separate and forms change, with the mechanical image sometimes showing the paint layer underneath instead of the one on the surface. My own print-maker brings me multiple proofs, tweaking the cast, correcting a color here and there, and even still, sometimes I feel compelled to go back in with a brush to tighten up some of the details, or I have to make the decision to live with color separation in areas where there was a perfect blend in the original painting. My own photos miss values by as much as 2 steps on a 10-step scale, and fail miserably when it comes to capturing certain colors, most especially the pinks of sunset. The original painting has the energy, the color mixes, the form as the artist intended, while in the end, a reproduction is what we end up settling for.
The solution? Buy original art! Certainly buying prints is better than not buying art at all. I can supply giclée prints from $50 to $650, depending on whether you want a good paper print or if you want a larger-than-original gallery-wrapped canvas. But a print is still a print. There are reasons to buy print reproductions, such as when something is whimsical or if your taste changes frequently. But it is absurd to buy a house for several hundred thousand dollars, or several million, and then to decorate it with cheap prints. Purchasing original art is a way of honoring yourself. You deserve original art, art that you pick out, art that transports you. Original art has an energy far exceeding that of a print.
I made a decision some time ago to hang nothing but original artwork in my own home. It enhances the energy in my home by tenfold, worth every penny. Every time I enter a room, I actually look at the art on my walls, and I have the same feelings that prompted me to buy it in the first place. Each piece commands attention and contributes to the energy in my home. This is in such contrast to the print calendars I have hanging here and there, the images certainly beautiful, chosen for their theme, but purchased as a necessity and easily ignored. Original works of art contribute far more than prints, in much the same way that real wood carries a stronger energy than veneer or faux finishes.
You and I are sensitive to energy. We can meet a person and know in our gut, instantly, whether we have “good chemistry”. The same is true of inanimate objects, the stuff we surround ourselves with. It’s the reason we want to escape from our plastic-and-concrete workplaces to visit the scenic wonderland of nature. Our home is our haven, and we should surround ourselves with energies that enhance our sense of well-being and our vitality. We honor ourselves by purchasing original art.
Plein air painting is risky — sometimes the light changes so fast you feel like you are chasing it. But I struck gold with the scene I chose when I joined the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters on Wednesday for our weekly outing this week. We painted at Lincoln Park in Valparaiso, Florida. It had been raining for several days over the previous week and weekend — my garbage can had 18″ of rain in it (warranting yet another note to my garbage man to always turn it over after emptying!). The grassy earth was like a wet sponge, sinking underfoot, each step flooding my painting Crocs. I set up my easel beside the purple splash of a wild iris blooming near the brook at the edge of the park. I was exhilarated by the play of light and shadow in the warmth of the spring day.
With the heat index over 100, any activity requiring intense focus, such as plein air painting, can actually become dangerous, because staying cool and hydrated is not the first thing on your mind. Instead you are focused on capturing just the right amount of rose in that barely orange chunk of concrete, or the touch of sky blue reflected on a shadowy surface. But the heat has no mercy. So only 3 die-hard painters without good sense showed up this week to paint. I was glad I was one of them — every time I paint, I learn.
I was painting with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at Coffeen Nature Preserve in Miramar Beach, Florida. World War II bunkers and missile tracks punctuate the beautiful nature trails wending through the wild. A few small areas of the preserve are groomed for recreational use and sight-seeing. Outside of the preserve are the houses of Four Mile Village. Caretakers Bruce and Susan Paladini watch over the preserve, welcoming guests and providing information. You have to call ahead and get their permission to visit.
I have fond memories of the area. Long ago I used to visit my dear friend Jane Henkle who lived in Four Mile Village. She would take me over the dunes to the coastal dune lake bordering the preserve, and we would sketch and paint. The last time I came to the Village was to visit her daughter after Jane died.
Every time I have come to the Preserve and to Four Mile Village, I have avoided looking at the giant barn, the first structure you come to after checking in at the office. I have always thought it generally to be a monstrosity, such a big building situated in the middle of the wild, natural beauty. But yesterday in the morning light, it caught my eye.
I sketched in the light and shadows first, to help me remember what it looked like when I finished the painting at the end of the allotted 3 hours. I left the sky until last, not sure whether it was going to cloud over or not. What initially interested me in the composition were the dark openings of the doors in the broad sunlit side of the barn, but I also noticed the sky blue reflected on the shady side of the building, and the brightly lit tree in front of that side. And then I got distracted by the intricacies of the trailer full of brush trimmings, and then the light behind the sand pile! What a fun painting, every part of it!
I finished it and then drank about a gallon of water!
Uncertain whether it would rain or not, I deployed my sun umbrella when I set up to paint with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at our weekly outing, this week at Deer Lake State Park. The beach breeze promptly blew it over and inside-out despite my wraps of rope around the stem. I was a little craftier in in how I tied it down the second time. I had to head it into the wind a little, which meant it initially was useless but 45 minutes later, it shaded my palette and canvas perfectly. And it never rained while we painted.
Deer Lake State Park contains beautiful, unspoiled, pristine sand dunes. The very long boardwalk is elevated to provide superior views in all directions, protecting the habitat below from feet beating a trail to the beach. Clouds came and went, but that didn’t matter as I blocked in the skyline of dunes and water. However, when I looked for the light and shadow the next time the sun came out, I realized I had forgotten to put my whites on my palette. I looked for them in my collection of tubed paints – nope, not there. Apparently still sitting on my table in my studio. Now what? The other painters were all a good hike away from me, so I decided to paint without borrowing white for as long as I could. I had toned the bottom half of the canvas with beige acrylic before I started, so it wasn’t stark white. The dunes were very white though, where the bare canvas showed in between the painted bushes and grass. I decided that was a good thing. I decided that I might not need white, if I could be disciplined enough to not paint where the white needed to be.
Park visitors walked past me, on their way to the beach, but some stopped to watch. They complimented my work, and some talked to me. I enjoyed that. There are times when I am seriously challenged by my painting, when I might not be in the friendliest of moods, but today’s painting was fun and interesting. Working without white made me a bit nervous, but it also provided an excuse if the painting didn’t turn out good, so I think I may actually have been fairly relaxed.
The group met in the picnic shelter back at the parking lot, for our “soft” critique, and we then packed up and met at a local restaurant for lunch.
I paint with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters which meet every Wednesday morning to paint somewhere in the Okaloosa-Walton two-county area in Northwest Florida. Last week we met at Alaqua Animal Refuge. What a treat. Interesting animals everywhere, and fantastic areas of light and shadow between the barns and sheds and trees. I had been at Alaqua only a few times before this, to adopt a couple of cats, so this was the first time I looked at it through a painters eyes, with no other agenda.
After walking much of the immediate grounds, admiring Gorgeous George, the turkey strutting his full regalia, and the pigs, and the horses, burros, goats, and of course the dogs and cats and kittens, finally I found the emus, and decided I wanted an emu in my painting.
Alas, the perspective and the brilliant light in my scene completely dominated the emu. But I still have titled it “Emu at Alaqua Animal Refuge”, honoring my original intention. So often that is the case, that when I paint en plein air, the “what” that I thought I was painting either doesn’t get painted at all, like the Indian Blanket flowers I had intended to paint last week, or else the focus shifts during the painting, to the perspective and the light.
The painting is 12 x 24. I also have posted a detail showing that indeed there is an emu in the painting!
After noticing my tendency to dull my colors when painting in the bright light outside, I decided to paint with brighter colors, sometimes straight out of the tube. The duller colors were exact when I was outdoors, but indoor lighting is never as bright as the sunlight, so I found my paintings looked dull when I brought them indoors. This effort to paint my paintings so that the colors look realistic when indoors, challenges me, because the more intense color seems a little garish while I am painting. I have to battle my instinct to tone it down.
Painting the potted plants in the pavilion at the head of the Turkey Creek boardwalk in Niceville, FL, last week, I was thrilled to find my subject half in the sun and half in the shade. Colors change radically when the sunlight hits them, being more true to what we think of as local color, in the shade. And the reds! Seldom do I get to use strong red! What fun!
This week Wednesday was overcast. The light was strong, but the colors were muted. The Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters were painting at Nick’s Seafood Restaurant in Basin Bayou, west of Freeport, FL. I remembered all the fancy little chickens running around in Trey’s yard next door, and I hoped to paint them. Alas, they were gone, and the only critters to show up were three scrawny young turkeys, two white and one brown. So I decided to paint the play of light around the boats, and the geometry of the chicken coop. Halfway into the painting, Trey came out and I asked him about the chickens, and he said there were about a hundred in the coop. I heard them start cheeping, as a little boy spread food for them. Trey threw some corn between me and the coop and a few adult chickens came out to eat. So I got to paint chickens after all!
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As a plein air painter, I am never at a loss for subject matter. I paint the light. How do you do that on a foggy day, you may ask. But that’s just it, unless it is pitch dark outside, there is always light. Sure, I prefer to paint the bright sunlight contrasted with shadow, but it was foggy many mornings this month. Three weeks ago our local plein air painting group, the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, met at Oak Marina in Niceville, FL. I was filling in for our coordinator who had business out-of-town that week. So I arrived early, and set up to paint in the fog, with no more than 100′ visibility. The moisture in the air almost completely removed the color from the scene of the sailboats tied up to the docks. I drew the basic shapes, watching them swirl in and out of view for 30 minutes before the first painters arrived. By critique time, I had completely finished my 10×8 oil painting. Having limited colors because of the foggy atmosphere, my challenges had primarily been just values of dark and light gray. Eventually during the session, the fog lifted, and the far shore became visible. But I was far enough along in my painting that I was able to maintain the blanketed feeling I had when I had first arrived that morning.
I would like to have painted in the fog two weeks ago on St. George Island in Apalachicola when I attended the Morgan Samuel Price workshop (blogged here), but the fog had lifted by noon every day when our painting sessions started. On my last day in there, after the workshop had concluded, I made one last trek to Scipio Creek Marina and caught a few photographs of the boats in the fog, to support my memory. I have one of those photos at the bottom of this post.
This week was a challenge of a different sort. Our group coordinator suggested we meet in the parking lot of a grocery store. I was skeptical, imagining that we would be painting my nemeses, cars and buildings. Our coordinator, Ed Nickerson, is a master of design, able to create interesting shapes and compositions out of what anyone else might consider impossible subjects, like broad expanses of road, and power lines, and such. So I was prepared to take a page out of his playbook and paint lines on a parking lot, ha! But to my pleasant surprise, I found the pansied entrance to the shopping center to be a delightful arrangement of color. What fun, to be able to use some pigments straight out of the tube! By the time critique rolled around at 11:30, I had finished most of my painting, all except for the road and the sky. My road was a blue-gray, and Ed commented that it was confusing, appearing as if it were water, so I grayed it more and added the median curb and post and crosswalk to indicate the divided highway.
Below is my photo of the foggy marina in Apalachicola.
Last year I took my first workshop in plein air painting. I had been painting weekly with the local plein air group for about 14 months when I took that first workshop with Morgan Samuel Price. But I found each day of this year’s workshop even more challenging than last year. According to Morgan, that is the painter’s life. She says that a plein air painter just keeps finding more and more challenges. The more experienced they get, the harder the challenges they find for themselves. Sigh, I thought this was supposed to get easier!
What an amazing group of artists in this year’s workshop! Lynn Wilson, Carol Drost Lopez, Becky Anderson, Charlotte Hope, Nancy Smith Crombie, Patricia Irish Richter, Brenda Anderson, Sherry WetheringtonA, Mary Wain-Ellison, Glenda Coleman, Karen Snider, David M. Jones, and I: thirteen of us. One of the best parts about the workshop was the critique session held each day at the end of the day. We would line up our efforts, even if it was just a few brushstrokes, and Morgan would discuss each and every painting, directing her comments to that artist but for the benefit of us all. This was addition to her amazing morning teaching and demo sessions, and our afternoon practicing painting en plein air, all making for a superb workshop for beginner and advanced painter alike. Blessed with infinite patience and superb focus, Morgan is able to work despite the constant distractions of the excited artists milling and buzzing around her, cameras clicking next to her ear. Below are a few shots of her working. You can click on any of the images to see a larger view.
I had confidence to be away from my pool service business. I had worked long hours the weekend before the workshop, to clear my desk, plus I have a fantastic crew in the field and a wonderful office staff. On Wednesday my staff decided to show me what was happening there in the office, with a series of photos that even Tamra’s store helpers (her two dogs) had a part in. Here’s the worst one, Tamra Thomas, Margaret Bush, and Brenda Osborne. Clearly they do not have enough work to do.
The city and area around Apalachicola is such a scenic place, with the historic buildings, working waterfront with shrimp boats galore, oystermen, grottos and lagoons — it is heaven for painters. The home of Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, you often can find an artist or photographer at work.
Below are some of my works from the workshop with Morgan Samuel Price. Daily critiques were at a set time. Work had to be halted then if we wanted to hear what Morgan had to say about our progress. Click the photo for a larger image.
On the last day I was captivated by a thistle in bloom, so after I finished my landscape, I captured the pink of the flower by using a tint of color I had not ever used before, quinacridone magenta, which turned out to be perfect for painting thistles and I believe also should make painting azaleas easy. I am finding I generally prefer to mix my colors instead of using specialty pre-mixed tubes, but in this case I was very pleased with the chroma.
I shot the photo below using my iPhone.
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See the next post for the weekly paintings done just before and after this workshop.
The light changes so much over the short course of a painting that a plein air painter can easily “lose the light” unless he or she has made a preliminary value sketch or shot a reference photograph. That certainly was the case on Christmas Day as I was painting a small camellia tree at Eden Gardens State Park, a short distance from my home in Point Washington, FL. I had set up my easel thinking the sun was going to move differently than it did. About halfway into my painting, I realized I was losing my light, so much so that the tree was becoming completely shadowed by the massive live oak behind me. I was challenged in the same way last week, painting the shops on the lake at Baytowne in Sandestin, Florida. Angular shadows move rapidly on structures as the sun slides around to the other side. In both cases, I had failed to make a values sketch or take a photo, in favor of jumping right into the painting. When will I learn, that delaying the gratification of painting for just a few minutes, by making that preliminary values sketch, makes painting so much easier!! My paintings were successful, but I struggled more than I otherwise would have. Below are the two oil paintings.
When I go outside to paint, I am looking for the light and I am anticipating where it will be in 2 hours when I will be finishing the painting. I say I am looking for it, but truthfully, it catches my eye. The more I paint, the more the light catches my eye. The drive home from Birmingham, Alabama, yesterday was heaven, the light was so brilliant. It was a crisp, clear fall day, with long shadows and the clarity of lower humidity. Autumn colors were just beginning to show. It’s interesting that the drive up to Birmingham was so much less remarkable, simply because it was a gray day, a 3 on my scale of days worth painting. But yesterday was a 10! Part of the visual ecstasy was due to having been painting in the morning. Anytime I paint plein air, my awareness and my enjoyment of all things visual increases exponentially.
The morning broke gently in Oak Mountain State Park, slight pinks in the mist over the Beaver Lake, glowing through the filter of the screen roof of my tent. There had been almost no chance of rain, so I had slept there without a rainfly. I left my cozy lightweight sleeping bag and walked down to the water’s edge, but my morning meditation was cut short by the realization that the trees were going to be sparkling bright in a few minutes, and the lake would provide glassy reflections. I went back to the campsite and set up to paint. My campmate, Leslie, took her oil pastels some 100 yards away to a picnic table, and I was left to watch the light evolve.
I had to resist the temptation to paint the myriad detail. My intention was to capture the color of the trees on the far side of the lake, and the reflections. I could not indulge in the amazing purples in the foreground tree leaves, or the oranges in the dewy grass — they had to remain muted in order to stay true to what had caught my eye in the beginning. That is the discipline required when plein air painting, because “eye-candy” is everywhere.
I’ve been helping my friend Leslie Kolovich with technique and media exploration and lately she has been plein air painting. I have been thrilled with her progress every step of the way. I didn’t consider her piece finished finished yesterday — we needed to pack up and get back home for her family obligations, but I was very happy with where her piece was going. We talked about her continuing to layer color and continuing developing the darks, and how to add reflection in the lake water. I was blown away later last night when she texted me, declaring her painting “Horrible” and “Embarrassingly bad”. I think this is a perfect example of a point that many artists get to, at a certain stage of each work, when they wonder what on earth ever made them think they could be an artist. At that point, you either quit the piece, or you continue trudging through the process. It’s not a happy time. I remember reading that it took Leonardo daVinci 4 years to paint the Mona Lisa. The problem is that we are so impatient, we expect instant success. And Leslie has had instant success on many of her works. She has amazing talent. But there always is that period of time in creating art when the work looks completely wrong and unsalvageable. It’s the point when you have “Broken the egg in order to make the omelet”. I think that’s what Leslie was seeing last night. But at the same time, I am not a fan of working on a piece that is making me miserable. So I told her she had a decision to make. She could continue to work on it, she could scrub the board clean and re-use it, or she could set the painting aside and let it be for a while. I hope she doesn’t kill me for posting her work here.
A couple weeks ago I was late getting to my weekly plein air group outing, and nothing immediately appealed to me, knowing I would only have about an hour or so to paint before it would be time to meet and critique, so I went back home and wandered my yard for inspiration. I returned to a birdhouse that had caught my eye a few weeks before, the deer moss and lichen on the roof providing such a great contrast of texture to the aging wood. I am deciding whether I should add a bird back in the bushes, to give it more story.