Through the course of this summer, as I have contemplated bringing these two methods together, I have referred to the process as marrying the two styles. It’s an interesting term and somehow fitting because a good marriage is about balance. Balance does not necessarily mean bean-countingly equal or always 50/50, but a fluid blending where one or the other may predominate occasionally.
A detail shot of working with the large brush.
One’s strength is another’s weakness and visa versa. It is the blended balance of the two becoming one that actually provides the strength, and the combination of the two diverse components (or partners) create better versions of themselves in the unity.
This weekend I began my first painting in the studio that is an attempt to bring these two paint handling styles together. It feels clumsy and it does not yet have that extra spark but there are parts of what is happening that I like. I predict that once the new marriage finds its balance it has the potential to make me happy like my landscapes have in the past.
It is notably faster with an initial layout process only hours instead of days long. I attempted to stick to the one inch brush for the duration, and could not. I have now reached for the smaller brush to put in details, and am having more fun, although now I feel like I am cheating.
I find myself struggling to articulate this process. I have never been good at sustained written dialogue, as those who follow this sporadic blog can attest. Art is so much more than the visible end product, but each work over a lifetime becomes the cryptic evidence of an underlying process that defines and redefines who I actually am. I knew that my self evaluation through the course of this year has been core shifting but I had no idea that it might actually be a realignment of emotions and perceptions that have been allowed to simply grow untended or guided for years. I rolled up my sleeves and walked into my secret garden after years of neglect and was appalled at the weedy, overgrown mess I had allowed. As disruptive as that imagery is, to finally confront it is actually an invigorating and healthy undertaking.
The landscapes I began to paint last year made me happy. I love the light and the color and the moods they evoke.
The plein-aire painting I have done this year has been uncomfortable and stimulating and allowed me to interact with the public in a new, spontaneous way. Now, I need to bring them together.
Artists would like to believe that painting is primarily about the hands on activity, raw and physical. We try to minimize the intellectual weight involved, in lieu of the assign of passionately pushing paint around a canvas. Maybe so. Maybe not.
I will be mounting a show tomorrow afternoon that is rooted in scholarship and not in my usual venues of teaching or commerce. It is going up as one of many events in an academic showcase for our new president’s inauguration and will remain hanging in my university library for the month.
The pieces I selected were chosen to accompany and illustrate a dialogue about the importance of research to the success of the visual arts. The topic is somewhat controversial but it has been good for me to articulate some of the internal conversations this year has prompted. No doubt, the coming together of the painting in the field and the mental processing will affect my work as I come into the studio this fall.
This is really hard work. Maybe the hardest art growth I have experienced to date.
Some of the practice work.
Confucius had said something to the effect that, we must not fear slowly moving forward but fear instead, standing still. I am really hoping this learning process can be considered moving forward toward a better place. The process is certainly daunting. I am burning through small canvases at a fairly good clip in an attempt to feel the relaxing of some deeply ingrained habits. None of these paintings are what I consider done but I am declaring them not worth finishing and stopping before I dig in and get trapped into fixing them.
I am sure that the action of pushing paint around with larger brushes has redeeming worth. I am even sure it will have a positive effect on my style, eventually. The advise is sound. It is just really hard to intentionally work outside my comfort zone.
So, what makes it hard? I am not having fun. My up-tight, detailed style was a source of zen like enjoyment that relieved daily stress, captured realistic light, and clarified my fractured thoughts. I keep hoping for that moment when I will suddenly ‘get.it’ and the epiphany will allow me to reach the turning point and begin to marry my new and old styles. I have no idea where this is all going.
I feel like I am in school again, but I am not one of the smart kids in class.
In the last several years I felt my work had been improving in many ways because I had begun to see a polishing of color and medium handling, but there was a tension and tightness that was holding my work back. I thought maybe quick studies would help me loosen up but I wasn’t sure how to do them, really. I just tried to work faster and simpler. Last year I had done a couple quick studies while we were set up in living history camps and felt like they helped.
Stepping into the real world of Plein Aire.
One of the artists I met in Kalamazoo spent some time in my booth talking about my work and gave me some good advice. He asked me if I had tried Plein Aire and I told him I had, a couple of times, but really didn’t feel like I had figured it out yet. He proceeded to give me some tips and tricks on paint handling, color, contrast and materials. He got tough, in a kind, mentoring way, and told me to use bigger brushes. There were quite a few other valuable pointers that I absorbed happily and took home to process over these last couple days.
The painting here is the first practicing byproduct of that processing. BIGGER brushes. I started with a darker ground and painted with a one inch brush. It was actually hard, and fun, and exciting. There is still a long evolution ahead of me but I can foresee a point in the future when I blend the looseness of Plein Aire with the detail of illustration.
This will be a process of self discovery that should be fun and fruitful If you have a mind to, check back and see where this walk takes me.
The new displays showcasing my work.
The Oshkosh show was the inaugural setup for the new display panels, print bin, and service desk and I couldn’t be happier. By Kalamazoo, I knew how they went up and could celebrate the fact the panels were light and easy to carry into the venue, and hanging my work was faster than ever.
Close to done with the harvest landscape.
I began this painting of harvest time in the Midwest while I was at the Oshkosh show. This picture was taken on Sunday of the Kalamazoo show and seeing this, I can tell I am just about done. I love painting at these shows but it takes me so much time that I am rarely done in one, or two events.
The weekend in Kalamazoo turned out to be a great opportunity for visiting friends and building networking inroads, and of course I got to spend two days sitting and painting for the public. As it turned out, I had the opportunity to talk with several other artists and the wonderful conversations were exactly what I needed to take my work to the next level. Criticism, when it is done constructively, can be powerful. I am excited.
Almost ready to pack for the show.
This next weekend I’ll be headed up to Oshkosh, Wisconsin with my mobile gallery. I am gathering some prints and some old favorite originals. I’ll also be bringing along some of my new landscapes for your enjoyment.
The Echoes of the Past Trade Fair is here: Sunnyview Exposition Center and Winnebago Fairgrounds at 500 East County Road Y in Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901.
The last couple of years my work has been evolving. I am glad for that because it reflects continual personal growth. I believe that whatever you choose to do in your life you should continually try to improve; to grow and evolve. There is no nirvana in life, be it with your job, hobby, relationship, or passion. I have always considered myself an illustrator of life and certainly have been known to have long, heated conversations about where the transitional line between fine art and illustration might be…. if there is actually one.
The quiet morning moment when morning light reaches the pine forest floor.
An active part in this evolution has been long drives with my husband, soaking in wonderful images, and taking photographs to use in future paintings. I love sponging (a term I use that means to learn, stretch, grow and absorb new things) and these drives are wonderful; saturated in visual richness and important stimuli for later time at the easel. One of the subtle impacts these outings and the photos I have been gathering through the last two years has had, has been the drift from painting people in historical story venues to the geographical settings themselves. The land, the time of day, the light, and the texture of the moment have begun to drive the images. The challenges of capturing these moments set in more demanding settings has been exhilarating and motivating. The stories are less blatant and allow the viewer to bring more of their personal stories to the image.
I hope you are enjoying the evolution.
I enjoyed painting so much this last weekend and it was especially fulfilling to complete the work before end of day on Sunday.
Done and framed.
The picture here, like all of the pictures of my paintings that I post on this website, are merely raw shots with my phone and do not do the works justice. I just enjoy sharing them.
In this spirit of the romantic historical fiction of the “Outlander” series, I decided to paint from a photograph I took of my husband as he walked one morning through the grasses near one of our encampments. He was wearing a great kilt.
This painting will probably stay in my personal collection.