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.

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“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.

 

Shifting Fragments

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Shifting Fragments, 16″ x 16,” Mixed media painting with collage on deep wood panel

We all know you can’t prepare for everything. We want change that is gradual and slow so we can see it coming, but life has way of sideswiping you when you least expect it.

Almost 6 years ago my husband had a “heart incident” as we like to call it. His heart fluttered, skipped a beat and threw a small clot. Even the paramedics could find nothing wrong when they arrived, but he felt a pain like “toothache” in his chest. So just to be safe he went to the hospital. While there was no damage, we discovered that sometimes he has an irregular heartbeat. “Sometimes” was really hard to deal with at first, but now after so much time he just exercises, eats right, and carries nitroglycerine in his pocket.

 I was reminded again of how slowly, and quickly, things change and could change, while hiking the trails in Stone Mountain State Park. The large rock faces with layers and splits big enough for climbing were formed by geological exfoliation. While they seem impenetrable, as if they will be there for thousands of years, the reality may be different. The change to these rocks is climate related and normally happens very slowly, but according to the park rangers because we don’t know the depth of the splits there is always the risk that rocks, particularly those with vertical and horizontal cracks, will shatter and slide. Of course, should there be an earthquake, they could crumble very quickly.

It’s both a bit scary and a bit comforting how human life parallels nature.  Mostly, the changes are gradual, but we are all shifting.

 

 

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 3

 

I would like to share work of all the artists I met, and I might over the next year. But there is one more for now—Katalin Ehling. I was particularly in awe of this artist whose work I saw daily as I entered the room. Katalin was using hand stitching on organza as her line and applying to her paintings which told incredible personal stories of home and place.

For about 40 years she worked in batik and has also done encaustic monoprints. The hand stitching she produced was so fine I thought she had used a machine, but this was a skill she learned from her mother. You can visit her website at: http://www.katalinehling.com/