Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Bittersweet Gift from Nature

This past week, I received a bittersweet gift. In the winter months, Meeko and I walk almost every day on the little forest path not far from our house. At this point in the winter, the scenery is quite familiar and predictable: snow, tree trunks and shadows. I love it but there aren't many dramatic changes from day to day. We know what we are going to see at each curve of the pathway. One day last week, Meeko hesitated beside one snow bank and it made me glance over. Scattered over the snow were the most beautiful spotted feathers.

It didn't take too long to figure out that what we were witnessing was the aftermath of the tragic end of a woodpecker, most likely a Downy Woodpecker, although all that was left were feathers. I am squeamish about injury and death and hate to know that any creature has perished.

I need to tell you a story. One day a couple of years ago, I looked outside into our backyard and saw a hawk sitting in one of our trees. Our trees are still relatively small so it was a pretty impressive sight. He had a sparrow in its beak. I have been known to walk out into the backyard and announce to the birds (I'm usually talking to the blue jays in springtime) that there will be no murders in my backyard. I was horrified in this case to see that I was too late to do anything. I have to say that my reaction moved from horror to respect over the course of the very long time that he was there. This was not sport. There was no waste. This was his food.

So this week on the forest path, I respected the fact that most likely another hawk had had its lunch and I had ended up with the most beautiful subjects for a new painting. Meeko was very patient as I trudged through the snow trying to gather as many as I could. Do you look at nature sometimes and think 'How could this be so beautiful?' Me too. The markings on these feathers are exquisite. It's the first time I've seen woodpecker feathers up close.

I created a composition with sixteen feathers. Midway through working on my painting, I thought that maybe I should have included less feathers as it would have been so much less work but I like that there are so many shapes and variations of feathers included. The photos show my work still in progress but I am happy with how it is coming along.

While working on it, I learned that painting while breathing is complicated. My delicate subjects were flying all over the place. (Trying to paint without breathing is even more complicated!) I finally placed my reference feathers under a cello sleeve so they would stay in one place and I could still see them. Much better!

I am thankful to the hungry hawk and my scout Meeko for the gift of these beautiful feathers.

"Joy in looking and comprehending is nature's most beautiful gift." Albert Einstein




Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Clean Studio and Backyard Miracles

I took this photo this past week in my studio. I'm pretty happy with how it's looking these days. My studio cleanup has made a big change. Because you are my friends, I will admit that there are a few things not appearing in the photo that still need to be dealt with. There are quite a few boxes not within the camera's range--maybe even nudged out of its range with my foot when I took the photo. My studio is not in a state of perfection yet (as if) but this part is what I see when I come up the stairs and it is making me happy. There has also been more light this past week. I love that.

I have a skylight in my studio which gets northern light. It is lovely, even light--the perfect light for painting. In the winter though, my skylight is sometimes covered completely with snow and, on those days, there is virtually no natural light. The skylight is my only window.  My art lamp is good. I've had it for decades and it combines fluorescent and incandescent bulbs to approximate natural light. But nothing can compare with good daylight. I am grateful for the days when I get that.

I have been painting in past weeks. If you follow my Instagram feed, Facebook page or Twitter account, you may have already seen these paintings. I took these photos one evening, hence the dramatic lighting. :)

These wintry days, I often paint using photos as reference. This is a sweet little Eastern cottontail rabbit who visited our front yard last June. I have loved rabbits all my life. I have a postcard of Albrecht Dürer's Young Hare that I have kept for years. This is my first painting of a rabbit. I am so proud of how this little fellow turned out. I am going to paint more. I know that many people detest the rabbits that visit their gardens and ravage their plants. To date, the rabbits who have visited here have only looked cute and pruned my plants lightly (and driven Meeko slightly crazy). All is well...for now.

I did this daffodil painting from a photo I took in my back garden. It was in either Chloé or Emma's garden patch. The photo didn't show the tulip in the background or daffodil buds at the side. I added those to help the composition feel more balanced. I know that not everyone agrees with using photos as references. I really don't see the problem as long as you use your own photos (definitely not okay to copy others' photos without permission) and also not be a slave to them. I like to use my photos as a starting point and then to put them aside and make sure that the painting makes sense on its own.

This is another painting that I worked on most recently. I slept very badly for a few nights this past week. About four hours each night. Because of the very tired state I was in, I didn't want to do final details on a painting I loved or to try to start a painting that might be complicated. I have a stack of paintings in one drawer--paintings that were either intended as studies or were meant to be more but didn't quite work out that way. I figured I would spend time on one of them. If it worked, great. If it didn't, back in the drawer. This is the 'after' of the one I decided to work on. I should have taken a 'before' photo. I am so happy with how this painting has turned out. This was a sweet, unexpected visitor in our yard about two years ago. I had to look it up at the time. It looked like something between a large sparrow and a fluffy bunny. A google search showed me that it was a 'snow bunting'. The study in my drawer seemed awkward and had many hard edges. I scrubbed the hard edges out and adjusted the parts that had bothered me (around the beak and eyes). I really like how it has turned out.


A lesson. Perhaps a life lesson. Don't give up on your paintings. I have learned this over and over again. Maybe every now and then there is one that definitely deserves to end up in the recycling basket but for most, put them in a drawer. On another day in perhaps another year, there will be hope. Oh yes, and be open to the appearance of miracles in your backyard like snow buntings. :)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

When Art Finds A Home


Last night, a customer bought my 'Lilac Sprig' original watercolour as well as a 'Ladybug' print on Etsy. Selling an original always brings mixed emotions. I've talked about this before and other artists have said the same thing--it can be hard to decide to put originals on sale. They are part of us. It's especially hard when it is a painting we are really happy with like this one. On the other hand, a drawer full of paintings that aren't shared with anyone doesn't make much sense either. I've sold many originals over the years and always deal with a tug at my heart when I do it. Some I hold on to longer than others. I also think it's important to keep some. 

I painted this one last May using a sprig from my garden as a reference (not the same sprig that's at the top of the photo but very close). I used beautiful handmade paper from Twinrocker.

I had tears in my eyes when I saw the sale yesterday: happiness at having my art connect with someone, sadness at having to say goodbye to a loved painting.

I sent an email to the customer thanking her for her purchase as I always do. She answered with the loveliest note and told me that it was the first piece of original art she has ever bought for her home. I was so touched to learn that and I can't stop smiling. My painting has found just the right home. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Blue Sky and Blue Lines

There is a stunning blue sky today. It's so nice to have so much light. Much of January was grey and sombre and my mood by month's end matched it! Having light makes a world of difference to me. I can stand the cold and the snow if you give me a little sunshine.

Today's light created the most beautiful shadows in the forest where Meeko and I walk. It took my breath away. It was like being part of a beautiful tapestry made of tree trunks and blue shadows.

Meeko and I aren't the only ones who enjoy walking through the forest. We noticed lots of animal tracks today in the fresh snow.

Generally, I let Meeko go off-leash in the forest. But he lost those privileges last week. He caught the scent of a dog and took off down the pathway--completely out of my sight and in the direction of where the forest pathway exits onto a road. I ran after him. Me run? Me run in the snow? Yes I did! Thankfully, the dog and owner he had gone to greet stayed in one place and waited for me. The owner said she knew it was odd for him to be all on his own.

But really how long can you stay mad at a face like this?

Happy February to you all. I wish you blue skies wherever you may be.


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