Studio Mysteries and Other Confessions

Studio mysteries and other confessions.

artonthefloor
The beginnings of a mixed media painting—on the floor.

Actually, there are no mysteries in my studio. There are no special brushes, no perfect paints, no easel at just the right height. It’s not even a huge space. But I am grateful to have a dedicated space in what was once an attic. Still, I work any place I can— table, bench, or floor. And my back testifies to that.

On the Table

Most of my paintings start on the same Home Depot table you probably use at Thanksgiving. You know the fold-up, fold-out variety with the handy carrying strap. My own tables have been used at Christmas—minus the paintings of course. I have added wheels to a couple of them so they can move around easily. An easel that would hold 3-inch deep wood panels would be great, but I haven’t figured that one out yet (How do we accommodate the sides?). In the past couple of years I have been working a bit more on paper, building up texture with paraphernalia and gesso. Because I am often pressing in found objects to create texture, I still need a firm, hard surface.

BeneathMyFeet
Still not finished, but getting closer.

Beneath My Feet

My artwork is constantly moving— from table to either wall or floor for drying, viewing, and gaining perspective. So while I can hang a cradle to stare at it, I usually use the floor for my work on paper.

thecat
The faithful companion—sometimes.

If I leave a piece overnight, I must be careful: to be certain to first turn the light on the next morning to avoid stepping on artwork, but most importantly, to pick up all extraneous art materials to avoid enticing the cat (She is easily motivated.).

She will play with and has played with every thing I leave on the floor from paint brushes and charcoal pencils to tubes of paint and bits of fabric. And of course, her personal favorite is string.  It has not escaped my notice that a few of my pieces may have cat DNA attached.

 

 

Lost-and-Found

Thomas Merton is quoted as saying “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Mill Shoals Falls,  Brevard, NC
The video “Connections to Nature” shows my paintings and their inspiration. Follow the link: https://www.patriciasteeleraible.com/videos.

Inspiration

Where do you get your inspiration? It’s a common question for artists. For me, inspiration comes from many sources. Sometimes ideas come from reading, listening to others, or writing in my journal. Other times it is both as simple and as complex as being overwhelmed by my feelings as I watch waves cut trenches into the sand at high tide or water cascading over rocks from 30 feet above me. And lately it seems, much of my inspiration comes from nature.

The Painting Process

Thomas Merton is quoted as saying “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” With my art based in nature, I find the opposite is true. I usually loose myself first and then find myself again in the painting process. And I do mean loose (set myself free). It is a back and forth, pull and push process that can be frustrating at times, rewarding at others.

My nature paintings are usually based on specific places, but they are not unlike other similar locations. In fact, it is this sameness that interests me most—the connections between what is visible and what is below the surface. It is this connection between the physical aspects of the place and the emotional reaction of the viewer that I hope to capture.

It is difficult to explain what happens during the painting process. I am creating my version of the waterfall, the trees, or the seashells at low tide. But as an abstract artist I am not replicating them. Rather, I am striving to duplicate or even elevate the “experience” of walking up that tight, rugged trail to the summit of Mt. Mitchell. I want the viewer to have the impression of being surrounded by fir trees on both sides and sweating from the effort of climbing over roots and rock. I want them to feel the connections, that oneness with what surround us.

Coming Together

Painting is my method of working out ideas and their relationships to one another. It is a mystery or a puzzle to be solved. Often there is resolution. Other times the search continues, and I paint the same ideas over and over. But ultimately it is all a part of the great energy that is within us and that surrounds us.

Can I Blame It On Gravity?

What is critical is whether my paintings resonate with the viewer.

Bulletin
What We Carry, ©Patricia Steele Raible, 24” x 17.75”, mixed media on deep wood panel

 

In his book Seeing Places artist Brian Rutenberg (http://www.brianrutenbergart.com) talks about the copy of Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware that hung over his childhood bed, saying it is still one of his favorite paintings. This painting is symbolic for him, and he remembers the first time he saw the original while visiting his grandparents in New York. While I didn’t grow up with art on the walls, by the time I was in my twenties I had begun collecting posters. I now have copies of the art of Georgia O’Keeffe, Alan Magee, Peter Blume and about a dozen originals by wonderful regional artists. They all give me joy and never fail to draw me in.

Rutenberg calls making art a “gravitational pull.” He is right. It is not something I could stop willingly. So if my artwork touches people and they want to buy it, I am truly gratified. But it is also okay if they are moved enough to put an image on their refrigerator. What is critical is whether my paintings resonate with the viewer.

I was particularly pleased to have been asked by a staff member of the St. Simons Island, Georgia, Presbyterian Church (https://www.sspres.org) if they could feature What We Carry on the front of their church bulletin. While my images have been used in my own church, this was the first request from another community. For those at the St. Simons church, I can only hope that the painting provided a path into worship.

First Times

Do we ever forget first times? I’m not sure we do.

2 TannerMomtrailbwDo we ever forget first times? I’m not sure we do.

I still remember the first time I lost a tooth, the first time I rode a bike without training wheels, and the first time I went camping (no I wasn’t a child). My middle grandson has been fortunate: He has done all three this summer with the camping trip just last week.

We were in the mountains of North Carolina where the white squirrels roam. Yes Brevard. And it was surprisingly cool for July. Just ask me about the dip in the swimming hole at the river. We also had his 13-month-old brother along who had just learned to walk, so we had a bit of a challenge just keeping him from eating the gravel on the site and from taking too many samples of leaves and moss.

But in our two days we still managed to see two waterfalls, both close to the road, and hiked along the Davidson River on the bike path for about a mile. I have pictures of the river trail and of Mills Shoals and Looking Glass falls, which will certainly inspire paintings.

But so will the excitement of an “almost seven-year-old” on his first morning in camp.

For Mother Nature

All of these are magical places. Transforming places. Since childhood, these were places that opened me to myself, soothed my soul, and offered me solace, inspiration, and just plain happiness.

campfireweb2
“Campfire,” 11″ x 14″, Mixed media on canvas with paper, fabric, and charcoal pencil

It is a very hot July day, and I have just hiked two miles over a moderately difficult trail. Of course I hear it before I see it. That’s always the case for waterfalls, but I do not expect it to be so large and powerful. As the trail flattens out at the last rise, there is a railing. I stop immediately, finding myself being cooled and tickled by the spraying water from Rainbow Falls. It is difficult to believe something like this is in the middle of the forest in a gorge in North Carolina. A discovery all my own; a discovery shared by so many.

Peter Wohllenben, author of “The Hidden Life of Trees,” believes trees speak a “silent language,” one that communicates via smell, taste, and electrical impulses. But it is not just forests. I have also seen the ocean speak. I see people sit and stare at it for hours, bathe themselves in its saltiness, and walk its sand looking for reminders of their visit to what can only be called a sacred place. Now I know waterfalls also speak.

All of these are magical places. Transforming places. Since childhood, these were places that opened me to myself, soothed my soul, and offered me solace, inspiration, and just plain happiness. So, you can understand why I have a difficult time understanding those who would destroy it for their benefit and who would try to convince me they were actually doing it for mine.

Artists have either painted or used almost every aspect of our natural world as model or inspiration. We are quite indebted to its beauty and power. I am particularly indebted and have made a small gesture acknowledging my thankfulness. I know it’s a small gesture; “a drop in the bucket” would be the term. However, as I have noticed in many plumbing events at my house, many drops do fill a bucket. So I have aligned myself with a generous site called For Mother Nature—which links artists with those who love nature. It is not a direct sales site, but rather a network of artists who support various environmental causes with a percentage of their sales. As part of their network, I have pledged to donate 10% of all my sales to Friends of the Earth.

Friends of the Earth (https://foe.org) has been around for almost 50 years working to protect people and wildlife through systemic reforms and collaborative effort. They have grassroots groups in 77 countries and currently focus on clean energy and solutions to global warming, protecting people from toxic and new, potentially harmful technologies, and promoting smarter, low-pollution transportation alternatives. They also believe that the fight for justice and the movement to protect the health of the planet are part of the same struggle.

If you are committed to trying to sustain our world, please check out http://formothernature.comand their many artists. If you are a concerned artist, please consider being part of http://formothernature.com.

Unfinished

Does unfinished artwork provide insight into the creative process?

paul-cc3a9zanne-la-montagne-sainte-victoire-vue-des-lauves2La Montagne Sainte Victoire vue des Lauves, 1901 – 06, Paul Cézanne

 

Is an artwork ever finished? Some artist can say yes, sign it, and let it go out into the world. Others, unless (it goes into the world) will keep changing and refining it. So we have finish as in “complete” and finish as in “process.”

When I did a little research I found that Paul Cezanne was among the painters who left many paintings incomplete. One historian blamed some of this on his analytical methods and his use of thickly placed layers of paint since it likely took months to finish any piece. But editors of a book called Cezanne Finished- Unfinished explain that the unfinished areas were possibly experimental at first but were later deliberate and provide us with insight into his creative process.

This all started because I am constantly “finishing”—one of those who fits both definitions. Just a few days ago I decided that a small portion of a large painting that had been hanging for at least two months wasn’t right. A shape in the corner seemed to lead your eye off the page so of course I had to fix it. And now it is “finished” again.

 

Where is Home?

To be home we must find solace. It must stir our heart.

 

Away
“Away,” 14″ x 11″, Mixed media with collage

Sometimes home is the place where we live physically—where we earn our living, where our children play in the park, where we walk our dog. Other times “home” is another physical location, somewhere else—away. Because to be home we must find solace. It must stir our heart.

Some of us have several homes, but they are not structures.  Don’t get me wrong. I love the house I share with family, but the place that gives me solace is nature: the mountains, the rivers, the fields, the marshes, the ocean. I think I am made of a bit of it all. I breathe it in and become part of it.

“Away” was inspired by a trip to the barrier islands of the Carolinas.