Graveyard Fields

Graveyard Fields is a ghostly, but enriching landscape that leaves me feeling very large, yet very insignificant at the same time.

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Graveyard Fields, 36″ x 48″ x 3″, Mixed media collage painting on deep wood panel

This new painting was inspired by a hike in late August along a trail called Graveyard Field in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a flat mountain valley just off the parkway surrounded by mountains like Black Balsam Knob, Tennent Mountain, and Sam Knob. The day we hiked the goldenrod was already evident as were the wild blueberries, and many people left carrying overflowing hats, pails, and milk jugs.

It was an easy hike except for the climb to the falls, but I was most fascinated by the boardwalks that keep the trail elevated in areas that tend to flood—and the flatness even though you are at 5,000 feet elevation. The Park Service history says the name may have come from a windstorm fell that downed hundreds of trees or extensive logging in the early 1900’s. Either way the stumps eventually resembled moss-covered graves. Later fires devastated the entire valley, apparently heating the soil enough to sterilize it so that plants had difficulty growing. Now some trees, shrubs, and grasslands are slowly thriving.

It is a ghostly landscape, but an enriching one as well. Like most of my trips into the woods I leave feeling very large, yet very insignificant at the same time—and very much at peace.

 

The Rewards of Sharing

"Dual Duty," 16" x 20," mixed media on deep wood panel
“Dual Duty,” 16″ x 20,” mixed media on deep wood panel

Sometimes I forget to share. I stay in the studio painting and don’t enter shows, teach classes, or volunteer to talk to groups. It becomes a bad habit.

Yesterday, because my husband promised, I gave a short artist’s talk to a group of seniors like myself. It was meant to inspire them to share their own life stories and changes in their lives, but I think it inspired me more.

I only talked and answered questions for about 30 minutes and took three of my recent paintings. The talk was mostly about my love of art, how it had been part of my life since my twenties, and more important in the last 10 as a full-time artist. But I also talked about process and how I painted these three pieces in particular.

As I was driving home one of things I noticed was that as I talked I got more excited about my work. Talking about my art seemed to stimulate me. It was as if talking about these paintings in a new series not only gave me more confidence but also clarified what I was doing and nudged me forward. I wanted to go directly to the studio.

I think sharing is important no matter what you do with your time. You would be surprised that so many people are interested. “Show and Tell” is not just for kindergartners.

 

Where Am I Going?

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“Mending Fences,” mixed media on board, 11″ x 20″
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Journal entry “Mending Fences”

 

Sometimes I just put paint on paper, moving it here or there, adding a bit of this or that. Sometimes it works out. Most of the time, not so much.

Of course, that’s not true for everyone. Plein air painters produce their best work onsite. And I’ve seen some other wonderful painters who seem to start with one element and just take those twists and turns in the road one at a time until bang—they are in New York or Los Angeles.

If I do that I’m in the middle of no where in Iowa (and yes, Iowa can be lovely), but it’s probably the middle of winter. And while it may be beautiful, it has no focus. I’m one of those artists who needs to have some idea of where they are going, just a bit of a road map. Otherwise, I wander off tract. I see that nice tree over there or perhaps a lovely lake and take a hike. I know that many artists do studies, and I’ve done a few. But the best method for me seems to be a middle ground.

I’ve found that working on ideas in my journal helps me solidify placement of elements, color, markings. With a few little things worked out, I can concentrate on the idea behind the painting and on the emotions and feelings. Hopefully, this produces better strokes, more complicated markings. Doing this also helps when I am in a period that I feel stuck. “I am working,” but because it is in a journal, “I am not exactly working.” Somehow this frees me.

This method has its drawbacks. I can’t be as spontaneous. And don’t think it doesn’t mean I won’t have to redo a painting—but it is a place to start and a way to keep on track.

So what’s your successful method?

 

When is a Workshop…Well Not a Workshop? Part 2 Surrealists

 

My mentoring week with Katherine Chang Liu also included “programs” that she developed for the group. For an hour each morning we viewed and discussed contemporary art. I found myself really enjoying the work of the surrealists, which was definitely not the case before. Perhaps what made me appreciate this art even more was the work another artist in the mentoring sessions—Judith Visker.

According to her bio, Judith had a career as a nurse before studying art. She painted in stylized representational style for a long time, but is now “more concerned with where the materials take me, with color relationships, formal design and surface quality.” She has exhibited in museum shows, galleries and exhibitions and has won awards. She is the Gallery Director at The Wham Art Center in Surprise, AZ where she has her studio, shows her work, and teaches classes. She graciously allowed me to share a few images. You can find more at her website: http://www.judithviskerart.com/

Enjoy.

 

Leaning In

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“Setting Boundaries III: Leaning In,” 14″ x 11″, mixed media on deep wood panel

 

We hear so much these days about how divided the country is, how one group is just so very different from another. It true, we are different; yet, we are the same. I personally believe it is not either. It is both.

The problem is fitting it all together. How can we “be an individual” if we are like everyone else? How can we support each other despite our differences? How can we trust each other? How can we bend just a bit to keep the structure whole?

Leaning in is not a weakness. To me it takes incredible strength. Just as the structure of a building depends on every component working together, community is also about support—even when we don’t agree. It’s about leaning in—both to get support and to give support.

Leaning in is not about destroying the differences and making everyone and every group the same. Without the differences, without the sameness, and without the leaning in, the picture would not be nearly as beautiful or bold.

Setting Boundaries

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“Setting Boundaries I,” 12″ x 12″ x 3″, mixed media on deep wood panel

Who doesn’t love a beautiful stonewall or a wrought iron fence? It makes everything seem contained, more civilized, safer. But do boundaries always keep us safe, or does they simply separate us?

Robert Frost in his poem “Mending Wall” questions this notion with his neighbor as they do a spring mend on a stonewall, each on his own side. The narrator considers this repairing an “out-door game,” since there is no livestock to contain. But his neighbor seems serious about the boundaries and quotes the proverb: “fences make good neighbors.”

As houses get closer and the noise louder, I too want to set boundaries—to live within a walled garden. I get up early not to hear the sounds of construction. But will a wall, garden or not, make me more tolerant? Will I sleep better at night with a 6-foot privacy fence? Possibly. Or perhaps it is more about what a fence symbolizes, because boundaries can be so many different things.

If boundaries alienate us from each other, can we name the boundaries? Are they simply differences in looks or opinions so that we draw lines of exclusion to feel more comfortable? Are they differences in values or religion? Or are they what we imagine of our “neighbors”? Frost says, “my apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines.”

So I ask myself and you, does setting boundaries benefit us or keep us from crossing lines that might make a difference?

What Painting and Listening Teaches

I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods, and the time I’ve spent lately has included more listening. That means I’ve heard the difference in the sounds of water—depending on whether it is a small stream, a river, or a waterfall.

The connection between timpani or kettledrums came when viewing a PBS film on crafts that talked about how different drumsticks change the sound of the drum. Some sticks are made with harder tip, others have more, and softer felt. This last trip to the woods I’ve tried to notice why the sound of the water might be different. Is it the force of the water, the height of the waterfall, the number and type of rocks below the water, or even how those rocks or logs lay in the stream or river?

So the start of the 4-sided painting has become the first in a series about the sound of water. I love what painting and listening teaches me. Even a small waterfall can rumble.