Influences

No one, especially not an artist, can ever say that they have become who they are without the influence of everything and everyone around them. It is a continual evolution, and I have to say there are times when it’s more and less evident in my life, but it is always rewarding!

You have walked with me here lately and heard me talking about conversations with friends and fellow painters, going for drives, and feeling like I’m going through some growing pains. My life experiences, the people in my life, and the day to day challenges or joys, accumulate. Paintings are literally the tip of the iceberg of what is churning inside. When I am having a growth spurt my life can appear blurry, and as those iceberg tops that reveal some kind of inner movement pop up, they can leave a narrative that looks different and fractured and hard to explain. Let me simplify. It is just life. With visual artists, it just presents as evidentiary images of processing.

As a child I was influenced by illustrators like NC Wyeth and Wesley Dennis. As I grew up and explored the art world I admired artists like Monet and his muted pastels, and Kandinsky with his saturated color and they, too, added to growing influences. As each piece come together over passing years I could feel the collecting bits and could see the shifts and the aggregating. I’ve been admiring my plein-aire friend’s gestural and impressionist style recently, but know that it is his style. I have admired Andrew Wyeth’s loose illustrative work, but that’s his style as well. By admiring other artists I find bits that speak to me in that moment of my growth and it influences me. It is important for me to reach out and explore and play and let those influences fold in with all of the subtlety and nuance of a novice baker folding in new ingredients to the bowl.

Yesterday was an absolutely lovely day. I began the day by painting the cornfield in the studio, and then we went for a ride in the afternoon to fill the car with gas, visit friends, deliver a painting, and take pictures – both on the drive and at our friends house. There was so much inspiration. There will be so many images from yesterday that will emerge on canvas over time. This morning I sat in my studio listening to big band music blare on Pandora, thought about some of the wonderful horses, birds and scenes I had seen yesterday, and thought about how hard it is to photograph animals because they’re always in a blur of movement. One feral rooster seemed to follow us around, making all kinds of noise while we tried to have a conversation in the barns. I couldn’t help but think about an Aunt’s suggestion that I paint chickens and a friend who has done so recently. I had, afterall, painted my brother’s chicken, Porky, last year.

So while Ray was cooking breakfast, I painted. The relaxing day we had, influenced me. I found myself letting my recent conversations with Griffing, Brauer, Rodgers, and James further influence me. My own past watercolor sketches, Kandinsky’s raging color, Lon’s gestural energy and a whole slug of personal history influenced me. My work will continue to evolve, just as I will. For those who are concerned that my work is swinging all over, keep in mind that we are an aggregate of all kind of influences in everything we do and everything we are. It is whether we choose to keep anything, how much we choose to integrate, and if in fact we actively choose to reject that can be attributed to influence. The resulting person we find ourselves is directly influenced by our gift from God, that being, choice.

I encourage you to play some big band music, thank Kandinsky, and enjoy this playful painting – an 11″ x 14″ oil on canvas titled, The Feral Rooster Strut.

Easing into Saturday morning.

This is just one of those lovely, early Spring mornings when I woke up without the alarm, had a great breakfast with someone I love, and got to spend some time at the easel while thinking about the drive last weekend. This time of the year the snow is melting off and you can see the corn stubble, and everything is pretty in another unique way. The lines on the land made by last year’s crops can be lovely.

I’m feeling really happy and content this morning. My work is starting to feel more like it is reflecting a true me and less about me trying to illustrate something for someone else. We can find a lot of bad things about the last year and a half but it has been really a good thing for my art. It has forced me to slow down my vibrating inner core and align it with the increasing speed of me making a painting, creating that place where mind and body begin to become synchronous – almost moving in auto pilot. It has pulled me together and allowed me to enjoy the process more fully, and to paint for myself.

I am learning to let go. As an illustrator I think I spent a lot of years trying to please others and sometimes that can put self, even the very identity of being a painter, on the back burner. Like any memory muscle, that indulgence of self can atrophy. Allowing myself to paint any subject that struck my fancy, to change my style to explore new results, and to stop when I felt like it instead of looking for a pinacle of completion, has been liberating in a way I can’t even express.

Beginning several years ago I began to seek conversations with friends, family, and artists I viewed as far more accomplished than I to help me think through this evolution. They restarted my movement and sometimes continue to help propel or redirect me as I continue in my journey… and it feels great. I had forgotten that I can be fearless and smart and am allowed to trust my judgement and have fun.

As I transition through next phases in my art, and continue to grow into a better version of my self, I thank you all who listen and motivate me.

This morning’s painting is a 10″ by 20″ oil on canvas called, Spring Melt.

Growing Pains – the next step.

The conversation that I mentioned having had in the last post, challenged my comfort zone. That is a good thing. When I am challenged I do not view it as an attack but rather as a welcomed catalyst for change.

My friend, an accomplished plein-aire painter himself, suggested that I choose one subject (such as a fire hydrant) and paint it repeatedly so that it becomes more about the process than about the subject. My work experience as an illustrator has actually rooted my artwork in the subject. I don’t think my friend was questioning the validity of me being a subject painter but rather the priority the subject had over my act of painting. He implied that this could inhibit any next-step development that I might seek. I agree that this is true. Learning to move past naturally occurring sticking points, such as fixating on the subject and for me, the story, can in fact weaken my work.

In order to respond to a challenge I first think hard about what was said, and then whether it is applicable. The exercise of doing that – actually articulating in my own mind what makes the comment accurate or inaccurate – forces me to examine it. If it is even partly true then I need to decide if it is something I want to keep and own, or something that needs to be modified, changed, or even discarded. That is the fundamental concept behind any growth.

I found that this comment struck home. I spent an entire 1st career drawing exactly what the client wanted, what the catalog demanded, or what the story needed. As an illustrator, my role was to accurately present the subject, not my interpretation of it. Now, what that means to me is that I need to be aware of the relationship my past has to my current work. I don’t need to embrace the complete dismissal of subject because it is, in fact, part of what makes me – me. It is perfectly valid, however, for me to be aware of this challenge in my work. Growth can mean finding that mid ground.

I am a representational artist and will remain so, but to achieve my next level of expertise I need to strengthen the marriage between subject and process. In the end it will allow me to relax and enjoy the process of painting, and the viewer to connect themselves more readily to the images and the comfort of an identified object.

So I hope you enjoy this small series of oil sketches. It is my exercise for subject and process alignment through subject repetition, a tool that I will continue to use periodically to help me improve.

Thanks for the challenge and the motivation. Onward I go.

Growing pains and fire hydrants.

Regardless what it is, it is always interesting to me when I reach another of life’s directional markers. I am always surprised. Even though subliminally I knew another tectonic shift was coming because I was paying attention and I knew it was about time, I am surprised. I don’t necessarily like change. Change equates to the unknown and that’s unnerving. I can’t predict how big the change will be and that’s scary. I can’t gauge how frequently the next changes may come so I can’t prepare. I can’t control change. I feel off kilter.

I’ve spent some time recently thinking about where my art is going, noticing how I’m evolving, and wondering what might happen to my art if I retire from my day job at some point? Is my work going in the right direction? Is it getting better? It’s uncomfortable territory and yet I think about an old Chinese quote I read once, “Do not fear going forward slowly; fear only to stand still.”

Yesterday, I had a great conversation with a friend of mine and I am still mulling it all over, processing and internalizing what I will choose to keep and use, and what is useful in helping me write my own script. It is a real gift any time a friend lets down their guard and talks straight on at you. You’re gonna get higher peaks and lower valleys and the benefits will increase proportionately. I came away from the conversation motivated, validated, and ready to lean into building the new path. I was also unsettled, frightened and somewhat depressed. Now before you either get empathetic or angry at the friend, I will qualify with “I asked for it” and “I am celebrating all of those feelings”. I am grateful.

I have to smile because I think of how my father would often tell me, “… if you sit through a sermon and as you walk away you aren’t feeling uncomfortable or conflicted somehow, the preacher wasn’t doing his job”. God puts people in front of us just as surely as he does good preachers so it’s best just to listen.

I have some time before retirement so this gives me time to transition into the next plan. When daunted, become resolved. Even if I don’t know where the path of change will lead me, I know I must move forward.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” –  Pablo Picasso

True Beauty is Ageless.

It’s sad what our society has deemed beautiful. It it has become synonymous with youth, or body type, or any number of other societal designations. I looked at our wedding pictures and even put one up in my social media page because it’s fun to see us on our wedding day. As I looked at my face and I looked at my husband’s face I saw that they were beautiful. I also realized that the beauty I see is the level of love and happiness coming out of my eyes and my smile that was the beauty, not my age. It was the twinkle in my husband’s eye and the mischievous smile and tilt of his head that was the beauty. Sometimes when I sit at the kitchen table and I see him concentrating I am enthralled. Watching him squint at the laptop screen as he reads the conversations that his students are having about history in his online class, or when he is looking out the window dreaming our next adventure, or even problem solving a task that he wants to accomplish, his face reflects his mind. Here is that same fabulously beautiful face of my brilliant friend. Yes, it is changing. There are different lines, different places for the light to reflect, and even the color of his hair is different. Whiter in bright sunlight than at any other time, it becomes beautiful silver threads and the lines in his face become reflections of that brilliant mind. Perhaps this is the core of the statement, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. If that is the case, and I can assure you that it is, I am thankful to the point of tears that I see beauty in such abundance in everything in my world. I pray to God that this remains my armor against the ugliness that has nothing to do with visual representation. In continuation of gratitude by counting my blessings, I thank God for my husband. I also thank God for my ability to push paint around on a canvas and capture all of the wonderful things He is showing me. I hope you enjoy today’s painting, an 8″ by 10″ oil on canvas study called, “Ray”.

Finding Happiness.

Sometimes that’s a really hard thing to do. It takes tremendous effort, actually, and it feels very selfish. It is also very important.

We see a country in turmoil. We see a plague ravaging the world and reinventing itself to expand the threat. We see people turning against each other to assign blame in a misguided attempt to regain control. We see people struggling with food insecurity, trying to keep their homes and jobs and businesses. We see people looking at what others have and becoming consumed with envy. Looking at all this it is hard to consider feeling anything but dispair and I often feel truly guilty if I say I am happy.

The act of feeling contentment or happiness takes determination and feels contrived. In fact, it isn’t becoming happy that is contrived but it is the difficult, methodical and scripted steps necessary to clear our spirit of the clutter prohibiting us from feeling worthy of happiness, that takes contrivance.

One of the most common ways for me is to focus on all of the good in my life. Yes, if I am trying to be happy I begin by counting my blessings – slowly and reverently. This is not the same as arrogantly flaunting that I have something that someone else doesn’t have. This is not about others at all. Our blessings are unique to each of us, and it is purely and directly about thanking God for each particular blessing we have been gifted. It is personal. It can be hard and must be repeated whenever necessary.

This is a good day for me. I awoke well rested. I can see my home, and the snowy midwestern landscape outside the windows. I am fed, and warm. I have spent the morning painting. I feel joy seeing my husband’s smiling face as he greets me and encourages me just as he has done for the last 35 years. I am truly blessed and immensely thankful. I am happy.

I hope you enjoy today’s painting, a 16″ x 20″ oil on canvas. Perhaps I will title it, Finding Happiness.

Stretching my mind, another way to play.

In following with the theme of play that I have been talking about for the last several posts, I wanted to say that for me, play in the studio does not always mean taking paint to canvas. Working with miniatures is something that I have always enjoyed but it has been years since I’ve truly played with them. I had taken today off work and it seemed like the right day to do something just for myself.

A couple of months ago the wall clock in my office at work finally died completely. No amount of tinkering or batteries or anything could make it run, and all 3 of the hands joined each other down at 6 o’clock. Just as I went to throw it in the dumpster I stared at it and thought, “gosh, but that’s a great circle with a nice cover… I wonder if I could do a little diorama in that?” There you go. That’s the spark that you need to play. I brought it home and it sat in the studio until yesterday when I looked over and thought, “maybe I should just go ahead and pitch that thing?” No, I needed to follow through.

So instead I pried off the cover, ditched the clock mechanisms, and traced out the cover on a piece of art paper. Now I knew how big I needed for the backdrop. It was an 8″diameter clock so it’s quite large but when I actually took the clock apart I discovered that I only had a shallow depth of about a 1/2 inch. That was surprising and not as deep as I would like but this was, after all, just play.

This process is really just like what they do in museums. First I painted the water color back scene. Museums paint the backdrop first to add setting for some kind of 3-D image in the front, like a taxidermy animal to focus on, and then add a 3-D environment to bridge the space between the animal and the scene.

I sculpted the little critters from skulpy and baked them in the oven along with the potatoes last night. The weeds and realistic growth are actually just plucked off of one of the dried weed arrangements scattered throughout my house. So I blocked, glued, painted the little figures, and just dithered this fantasy landscape into being. There is nothing here that is rendered perfectly, nothing makes any political statement, and nothing has the validity of a story… but you know, sometimes you just need to relax and play. Instead of ending up in a dumpster it will have a second life as a diorama of a fox on some little hilltop overlooking a lake and some distant hills. As for me, I remember how much I loved playing with things that are small, painting things that are small, and crafting.

Never hesitate to play. It is through play and creativity that we awaken all those places in our mind that are necessary to do the good work in all the other areas of our life. Find something fun to do that isn’t tied to work, chores, or revenue. Just play.

Dreams and Play.

From the time we begin to engage in our world as a small child, and then start school, we find those who will admonish us if we spend too much time daydreaming. We’re told to be practical, pay attention, focus, make a plan, and develop stick-to-it-tive-ness. These are all quite admirable of course and necessary traits for success in life. I would say, however, that there is an equally vital component for success… imagination.

Imagination is born in play; unscripted and spontaneous play. It is also a skill developed over time that gives our life both foundation and wings, equally. Most importantly of all, it is not exclusive. Absolutely everyone has the access, and the capability to play and grow their imagination. It can become the unpredictable element that lifts the successful to the notable, and the admirable to the extraordinary in the most incremental action or creation.

Over the years there have been those who have growing concerns over the level of scripted creativity now found in play. The images are prescribed, the dialogue is written, the songs are complete, and little is left to the imagination. The concern is that if we do not learn how to fill in enough of the images or stories from within our own imagination we will not learn how to create our own. It could also be said, however, that by giving us stories and images as seeds – however complete – they prime the pump for future creativity. Perhaps both are accurate?

We need to dream. We need to write and draw and build and imagine beyond what we know, absolutely. Dreams are how inventions are made real. Dreams are how we reach beyond our perceived limitations. Dreams are our freedom from confines.

Today’s painting in the ‘Play’ series is an 8″ x 10″ oil on canvas of a dog who is the main character in a children’s story, one of several I will publish someday.

Fun memories.

Following in the same venue of taking concerted steps towards slowing down, resetting, and choosing to move ahead on a more optimistic path, I’ve decided to simply play again.

I guess if an artist decides to methodically paint with a common theme or statement, those works can be considered a series. I don’t know that I have any particular statement to make but I think I may be moving into a series. The grand label for the series may just be, play. Those who know me, know I love painting animals, birds, and the like (maybe less so fish). Truthfully, it is calming. It may be as simple as their color range is broad and extravagant and the textures to their skin, scales, feathers and fur is always relaxing for me. Visually repetative and tactile work contributes to my calm.

I decided to think back to a really fun time over a year ago when I went to see the interactive bird exhibition at the local conservancy and paint those birds. It was truly a delightful and exciting experience to be in this confined area with a little cup of special treat juice and have these colorful birds land all over me, hopping and making huge noise and grabbing all of the treat that I had in my hand. It’s one of those ‘giggle to yourself and get charlie horses in your cheeks from smiling’, moments.

I hope you enjoy my quick capture of a happy memory on this 7″ x 14″ oil on canvas called “Keats”.