A Place to Grow

Trace Ridge, ©Patricia Steele Raible, 20” x 19.5”, mixed media mounted on board

“There’s nothing wrong with having a tree as a friend,” Bob Ross

It really wasn’t the 4-foot maple’s fault that someone planted it too close to the house, and we knew we were taking a chance. There was a chance it wouldn’t survive the move, but there was also the possibility that it would die where it was without room to grow.

Just like a piece of art, if you don’t take the chance it won’t be the best that it could be. In fact, it may not even become a piece of art. I sometimes get stuck on a painting that has “too much going on” or “not enough.” It is a case of rescuing a painting from the depths—making sure it can survive.

The lace-leaf maple in question was so beautiful on the side away from the house that we determined we would do this. It would, of course, be quite the project. Certainly, not a one-day affair, but multiple days.

The first step was lightening the load. That meant trimming anything that would add to its weight—but not to its potential to grow. This included not just limbs, but eventually roots.

Digging didn’t start until the second day, and it took half of the day digging with both a shovel and hand spade to free as much of the red clay as possible. This also happens with a painting.

You get so much on the surface sometimes that you lose sight of what the painting is hoping to communicate. Most of the time, less is more. The best way to determine what stays and what goes is to break the painting into quarters. Look at each area and find out what sings and what is just carrying the tune along.  You could also take a color photograph with your phone and a black and white to determine contrast. Both of these give you valuable information about how to proceed.

Don’t think that just because you’ve lightened the load it will be easy. You don’t want to bare root the tree, but you also don’t want it to weight 300 pounds. And trust me red clay weighs a lot!  Also, try to determine if the tree has a tap root. Usually maples do not, and ours didn’t. However, we missed a couple side roots that made it impossible to slide the root ball up on a board to get it out of the hole. At the end of the second day, we wrapped the root ball for the chilly overnight.

The last day was a must “get it out.” It was likely to rain that night. More digging, more grunting, more pulling—a couple hours in fact before the smart one in the family asked for help from our son-in-law. Now I can handle a paint brush with the best of them, but not so much a (now) 200-pound tree. Within 15 minutes of his arrival, the tree was out of the first hole and into its new home about 15 feet away.

Goodness I wish I could move a few paintings along with his help, but I believe I’m on my own there. It is really about taking the risk of changing something, rather than knowing how successful it will be when it is finished.

Only spring will tell!

Chow-Chow and Art (Part III)

Confinement I, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2020, 7″ x 5″, cold wax and oil on paper

My mother’s recipe for chow-chow calls for a pickling brine of vinegar, sugar, ground mustard, mustard seed, turmeric, and whole pickling spices. This is what will preserve the mixture if it is canned properly. The directions tell you to bring this brine to a boil and add the vegetable mixture. Cook for 10 minutes; then fill the jars and process for another 10 minutes.

Some days I feel like I need a brine to pull my art together, to bring the flavors together, to make it what I envisioned. So many days my art time is in snatches here and there. Also, since I usually work on at least three pieces at the time, I may be back and forth studying what I’ve done, what I like, and what I don’t like. I know I can usually fix what I do not like. I can add here or subtract there, but the “fix” doesn’t usually come quickly.

It is a struggle not to just throw the paper away or start sanding on a wood panel. But I always try to remember what one of my favorite instructors, Katherine Chang Liu (https://www.katherinechangliu.com/), advised: Don’t throw a painting away even if it is on paper. Keep working at it, keep painting till you get it right. It was her way of  challenging me and other artists not to give up quickly, to keep adding shapes, changing colors, making new marks, taking some away.

Sealing.

Once the chow-chow has been processed, you have to let the jars cool—first to hear the ping sound that indicates the jars are really sealed. (And trust me, if you have worked this hard, it is exciting to hear it.) But you also don’t want to store hot or warm jars

This is also the hardest part in art. It is especially true if you aren’t quite happy with the painting. If you believe a painting is finished, you want to show it to the world. But I’ve had more than a few “oh dear” moments when perhaps something appeared that I hadn’t seen before. Once my husband asked “why I put that face in the painting.” Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always a bad thing. But if that is the only thing your viewer’s eye focuses on, they will miss other parts of your creation.

Celebration.

Usually, we first had chow-chow on the table at Thanksgiving. It added a burst of color to the fall meal and reminded us of summer and harvest.

Hanging a good painting, whether in a show or just on the wall, is like that. It reminds you of your hard work and the feelings and emotions behind the piece. More importantly, it gives you the satisfaction of expressing yourself using your own type of language—art language. 

Over the next few weeks I will be transitioning to my blog on my website. Please continue to follow me there.

Chow-Chow and Art (Part II)

Disruption I, 5.25″ x 7.25″, cold wax and oil on paper, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2020

I am still fascinated with my family’s recipe for chow-chow. As I read it in my mother’s handwriting, I realize it is a bit heavy on the cabbage (one gallon), probably because it was easy to grow if they had enough rain. In the mountains of the Carolinas they would likely have added some of the August “pie apples” as my mother called them. These were small and very tart apples that were usually dried.

Ingredients.

What am I talking about? I never follow recipes. I already know to want to cut the amount of cabbage. I plan to add cauliflower. And since the mixture is processed, I probably won’t cook it in the brine—at least not as long. I want a bit of crispness.

With a lot of recipes I “follow” an ingredient might get left out or substituted because I don’t have it, or in the case of art it gets changed entirely because something else like a specific color makes more sense. I guess this is what artist and teacher Pam Caughey (Art and Success: https://www.artandsuccess.com) calls the “play stage.” It’s an opportunity to explore: taste, texture, color, form, composition.

 With the chow-chow, it is making certain that the flavors are balanced: You would not want one-half the mixture to be just onions or peppers (or perhaps not cabbage). With art (and I am describing my personal process) it is about a certain amount of balance as well. What I love about mixed media is that I can create using the entire crayon box along with their wrappers!

Preparation.

I usually start a painting by drawing, pasting collage elements on the surface, or building specific texture. My beginnings may just be running a pencil over the paper or board or building texture with tissue paper. It is almost always light elements unless I am already emotionally engaged. Then it may be charcoal or china marker (which I can still cover) or bits of hand painted paper.

 On some of the deep wood panels, I build texture with gesso or limestone. Other days I lean on collage elements to guide me into the artwork. If I am putting them down early in process, they are not usually placed precisely, but like the pencil markings are more tenuous like breadcrumbs on a path. When I do put down paint it tends to be either quite colorful or very neutral. In the end, most of my painting are more subtle and quietly expressive.

 For the pickled relish, color is not restrained. It is almost certainly a riot of colors: light green, white, dark green, red, even purple. Once all the vegetables for chow-chow have been chopped, my family’s recipe adds salt to the mixture and lets it sit overnight. While it’s true after the chopping a lot of the work has been done, before we cook and seal the mixture, we let it rest overnight to soften slightly.

Sometimes with a painting I am satisfied early on, but inevitably if I rush, I will be dissatisfied with the final piece. I will have this nagging feeling that something is left out or could have been better.  I have learned: It never hurts to let art rests as well.

Chow-Chow (Part I)

When I was young both of my grandmothers made chow-chow in the early fall. That was when here in the South they were harvesting the first cabbage and pulling up the peppers and tomato plants. Both grandmothers made a similar relish called Chow-Chow that my father loved.

My father’s mother died when I was seven, but I was fortunate to be able to watch my other grandmother cook. Having grown up terribly poor and having survived the Depression, she and her sisters, made pickles from almost everything imaginable: peaches, pears, apples, watermelon rind, cucumbers, green beans, cabbage, green tomatoes, onions and peppers. What my grandfather didn’t grow in a garden, she got from her family who lived in the country.

Using and Saving What You Have

I hadn’t thought about this pickled wonder in years because the squirrels typically eat all our tomatoes, but this year we got a few tomatoes and had a lot of green ones hanging when the temperature began to drop. That bit of luck and watching an episode of Vivian Howard’s “Somewhere South” (https://www.somewheresouthtv.com/) inspired me to can a few jars of this relish for the winter. Looking through my mother’s recipe box I found recipe that though unlabeled was clearly chow-chow. Of course, I set about changing it to my liking.

Howard noted in her episode that chow-chow or some version is made in many different countries, and that likely, it is about using and saving what you have. Whatever the pickled relish is called, it is colorful and flavorful, sometimes with a bit of bite. What struck me while I was making the concoction was that the process was similar to making art.

The “Gathering”

Not every artist does this first part of the process the same way. Some almost immediately begin painting. But for me, in this stage, there are no art materials. Those comes later.

What happens here is a gathering of ideas that will eventually mesh into something wonderful, but they must first be explored one at time as if you’re judging for ripeness, taste, or quality.

I am one who carries ideas in my head while I am doing other things. Often, I forget them. So, I try hard to jot them down on a sticky note or whatever is available. At some point my journalistic training will push me to research more. It is then that I might open my journal or a word file on the computer and begin to write.

Sometimes there are words, sometimes pictures, drawings or photographs of a place, or event. As the thoughts and ideas take shape, many get combined. Every once in a while, I know exactly where I’m going. Most often I have to put everything out there in front of me like a list of ingredients. It is then and only then that my ideas merge and coalesce.  

While it’s not a race, it almost feels like a starting pistol goes off.

(Stay turned for Part II. I will soon be transitioning to my website blog. You can follow me there: https://www.patriciasteeleraible.com/patricia-steele-raible-1)

Among the Trees

Her Place Among the Trees, ©Patricia Steele Raible 2020, 39.5″ x 29″, Mixed media on deep wood panel

“When I am among the trees,

especially the willows and the honey locust,

equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,

they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.”

From Mary Oliver’s When I Am Among the Trees

Trees are not cute. We don’t post pictures of them on Facebook or Instagram like we do cats and dogs and rabbits. Probably in conservation networks they don’t elicit as much donations as lion cubs or even bees. Yet we fall in love with neighborhoods or parks or cities because of their large tree canopies. I wouldn’t think of buying a house without trees in the yard. Obviously, many of you are like me: you feel that trees have a special quality—that they are somehow connected to us. Why else when we walk into the woods would we feel such familiarity, such calm, such simple joy.

I was fascinated to learn recently (Doesn’t everyone read a headline and start googling.) that scientist believe trees “talk” to each other via their root network. Scientists reason that they may use “chemical conversation starters” that might allow them to maintain a type of social distance called crown shyness, helping them avoid spreading pests and disease. There was also the discovery by the National Geographic Society of a tree on an island on the southern tip of South America. They believe the tree may be important to explaining where we are in terms of climate change, acting as a sort of “living laboratory” as they track how it changes and adapts in the years to come.

Artist have always painted trees. Emily Carr, a Canadian artist and writer, involved in the St. Ives group, painted “Tree Trunk.” Van Gogh has many famous tree paintings including “Cypresses, or “Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background”or “Olive Trees With Yellow Sky.” Egon Schiele’s “Four Trees” were painted in autumn as well as Paul Gauguin’s “The Tree-Lined Road.” And the once again popular Bob Ross’ first episode was “Happy Little Trees.” Perhaps artists paint trees just because they are there, but I don’t believe that. Humans have always been intertwined with trees, whether for fuel, housing, food, shade, or comfort. I think artists just recognize their importance.

On the other hand, artists are probably more like the late poet Oliver. They may have always painted trees because “they give off such hints of gladness.” And on so many days, especially recently, they save me as well.

Slower Than A Three-Year-Old

Scattering the Night, diptych, 24″ x 48″, mixed media on deep wood panel based on smaller studies

I knew it would happen sooner or later. I just assumed later. But I now admit that I have definitely slowed down. About three months ago while caring for my young grandson I failed to get out of the way when he “helped me” close the cabinet door in the kitchen. The door caught my finger just at the base of the nail on my ring finger, and well I’ve been watching the colorful and disturbing changes since.

Of course, my daughters felt this slowness appeared a couple years ago when they noticed I was the only one driving the speed limit both in town and on the interstate. But I contended, then and now, that I am simply obeying the law and driving at speeds which are comfortable and reasonable for handling the vehicle.

Luckily, there has been one benefit to this slowness: I notice things more. I opened the curtains at daybreak one morning to see grey light turning pink and slightly blue. The light was in the middle of a landscape and seem to be pushing the trees to each side. It was a simple image, but the shapes stayed with me. Finally, I put them to paper in a series of small cold wax and oil painting and now to a larger diptych called “Scattering the Night.”

Andrew Thomas, Founder of Skybell Video Doorbell, says in an Inc. Magazine article (https://www.inc.com/andrew-thomas/4-reasons-why-slowing-down-will-actually-make-you-more-successful.html) that slowing down improves your chances of success. He says you will have greater clarity; you can’t hustle if you are dead; you will harness the power of emotion; and you will make better decisions.

I agree: I should have slowed down years ago. Especially if it means that I am aware of the small, but important things.

Scattering the Night

Scattering the Night 4  7″ x 5″ one of four mixed media with cold wax that are studies for larger pieces

 

We get up early at our house: 5 a.m. It’s still dark outside with just a faint hint of light coming through the backyard. But depending on the season, within a half hour or more the light creeps through outlining shapes and structures.

Getting up this early is our choice. It is time to construct ourselves— to have an hour to ourselves before the grandsons arrive. Until this past spring it was just another hour before they headed off to school. Now, of course, during the pandemic we are school most days for the youngest.

One day they will not need a sitter (but likely I will).  I can only hope I still awake at an absurd hour: this absurd hour . This hour where I can glimpse the dark shapes of trees and houses and then stare in awe as the sun begins to “scatter the night and make the day worth living (F. Scott Fitzgerald).”

 

 

All the Better For It

Our first cleome in two years bloomed this summer. We love this old-fashioned flower.

It’s hard to believe anything good could come from basically staying home for six months. But I think for a lot of people,. including me, that’s what has happened during the pandemic. (And no, I’m not talking about a marvelous show or a beautiful new painting.)

My husband and I were already fairly hands-on grandparents as backup for our single daughter who is a medical professional. Then early March and the close of schools brought us into almost daily contact with two of our grandsons. Instead of “backing her up”, we were dealing with schooling a second grader and caring for a three-year-old until we thought daycare was safe again. Of course, initially, we thought all of this would be over in couple months right—by summer at the latest.

As June came and went, most of the summer camps at the Y were cancelled and even though outdoor pools were open, it just felt uncomfortable. We found ourselves building forts with furniture and pillow, putting together numerous puzzles (by ourselves and with them), and watching way too much “Dinosaur Train” and “Odd Squad.” Then we began to realize how much the children really wanted to be part of what we were doing whether it was making pancakes, gardening, or installing a dehumidifier in a dirty, dark crawlspace.

The oldest who has trouble sitting still for even five minutes held a flashlight and/or retrieved tools for over an hour while my husband made adjustments to a piece of equipment. He came out of that space covered in dirt and spider webs and smiling. And sometimes, he even volunteers to weed the flower beds. He is learning to sew, how to play chords on the guitar, and how to blow up an inflatable bed.

The three-year-old (who is finally potty trained yea!) loves rocks and will gladly transport them to drainage areas. (Of course, he may also transport them to another site later.) He constantly roars like a dinosaur and while we have difficulty understanding some of his words he can pronounce pterodactyl and tyrannosaurus beautifully.

Now we are preparing for fall and a slightly different scenario. It is hard many days (usually requiring a nap midday), and I admit I am not beyond yelling when milk is carelessly dropped or there is too much complaining about writing paragraphs. This grandmother has her rules.  But I also realize life’s disasters can provided us with opportunities if we choose to view them that way.

Just yesterday the youngest wanted me to “nap” with him on his bed. He insisted on cutting out the lights, covering me with his blanket, and crawling in beside me, putting his hands on my cheek then snuggling tight.

Can it really get any better than that?

Mothering the World

Reflection, 16″ x 24″, Mixed Media on Board

This blog was so touching I had to share: https://deborahbrasket.wordpress.com/2020/05/10/mothering-the-world-on-mothers-day/comment-page-1/#comment-41051

Moving Forward In Isolation

What Happens In Between,” 26″ x 16″, Mixed Media on Deep Wood Panel

Finding Creativity

Creativity is challenging for some of us during this period of social isolation.  Others seem to be flourishing, and I have to admit I am a bit envious. It’s not the silence that bothers me; it’s the “what ifs,” since I tend to go to worst case scenarios.

Fostering Innovation

However, yesterday I was reminded that solitude and isolation is not all bad—even for extroverts.  It often fosters unexpected innovation. I regularly read a weekly blog called “Brainpickings.” In the latest blog the author, Maria Popova, described an extremely productive period in the life of Sir Isaac Newton. Apparently, during the middle of the 17th century there was plague in England. Cambridge University students were sent home. (So this really isn’t the first time humanity has suffered through social distancing!)  At his mother’s farm Newton, obsessed with mathematics, explored and began his explanation of the revolutionary idea we call gravity. While isolated at the farm, Newton also developed the mathematics of calculus.

Moving Forward

While I don’t expect to create a new direction in fine art or develop an entire new series, I am continuing to work and study: viewing art in museums virtually, taking workshops (love the free ones), and even pulling out some older paintings and working on them from a new perspective. So perhaps there isn’t quantity in my days, but I believe there is quality in what I’m creating and learning.

If you have other ideas about moving forward, I hope you’ll share them.

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