I can get wound up on Fridays because I know it’s the weekend and I can play in my yard and I can play at my easel and do various other fun things. I get excited. Yesterday, I also had a pretty unusual Friday at work with projects, visitors, conversations and work challenges that left me in hyper think. I bring this up because when my mind is that stimulated I can guarantee I’ll awaken in the middle of the night with insomnia. When I do, sometimes I’ll paint to wind back down.
As an artist I may talk about painting short studies in the field or doing sketches live or looking at a photo but I don’t often admit how much I reference memory. I do, of course, even if it’s subliminally referencing known anatomy long after I’ve taken the photo or seen the animal or recall land similar to what I’m painting. I am actually mushing together what I have seen and what I know from memory.
So, at about 2:30 this morning I woke up thinking about a crow that I saw as I pulled into my parking space at work yesterday morning. He burst up out of the long weeds at the edge of the parking lot with a mouthful of nesting material, side-lit in morning sun and a blur of motion. I spent a bit more than an hour at the easel during the night trying to jot down what my dream image was and referencing my memory of that fleeting mental snapshot.
It all sounds more complex than it is, but sometimes studies are just about experimenting with pushing paint around and I happened to pick that crow, at that moment, as he fades into my memory.
I hope you enjoy an insight to my dream bridge as I share this 11″ x 14″ oil on canvas called “Collecting”.
Mankind, by our very nature, has a tendency for various rituals and belief systems based on honoring those who have gone before. Over millennia, these have been based on our theology or cultural norms and personally, having been raised in a Christian based belief system that designates heaven as the hoped-for goal, I grew up with a pretty clear image of that place.
I suspect that every one of us has some variation on that eventual place of perfection in our minds that is rooted in our spiritual readings or stories and motivates us to stay the course and win the prize. I know I do. As a woman of faith, heaven is absolutely in my plan.
Now, the variations of what heaven is, exactly, or how one gains entry, and a number of other proprietary criteria tend to be the literal root of dissension among all of the various faith systems. Sadly, it becomes competitively discriminating and fearfully defended without regard, by self-appointed human bouncers.
I believe I will see my parents again, and dear relatives, and even people I have admired for their intellect or spirit or love. I rarely admire anyone for their status or material accumulation and have long since leaned into the ‘actions speak louder than words’ rubric with a sans-theatrical filter. Cons just don’t impress me, and rarely fool me anymore if I’m paying attention.
My thoughts today, however, are focused more on one small thread of who may or may not be deemed worthy of entry through the gates of heaven. I believe, and I do qualify this as my belief, that heaven is also populated by all of the other sweet creatures that God lovingly created here on Earth. Yes, I believe that all of these animals, birds, and delightful creatures are also living happily in heaven.
I believe that heaven is governed by God’s law, and is complete with His peace without regard to any of the human interpreted qualifiers. We suspect this in our hearts as we share stories of beloved pets walking the rainbow bridge ahead of us, of them running to greet us when we arrive, and of the peace between all of God’s creatures in the nirvana that it’s heaven.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who spoke about the eventual loss of his horses, who are quite aged. I understand. It made me think about some of the wonderful, loving cats I’ve had and how sincerely grief stricken I have felt when I lost them. My common voice assured me they were just pets but my spiritual voice said far more. People who have seen that unconditional love coming from the eyes of an animal can easily relate to the unconditional love our Father has for us. God doesn’t work through coincidences but instead, gives us tangible lessons, demonstrations to help us understand concepts at the edge of our comprehension. This world He created for us is for more than food and shelter, it is here for us to learn and prepare for heaven…. and believe me, He really is watching, and impossible to con.
Today’s painting is a 5″ x 7″ oil on canvas board called, ‘Warm welcome’.
I have always had a tendency to follow the rules. I don’t say that with any embarrassment or boastfulness, it just happens to be my tendency. I believe that in order to be a fruitful member of society we all need to follow some rules.
When I was little I knew that I was supposed to come in right after dusk or the last red light green light game was over. I knew that I was supposed to have a bath on certain days. I knew that I was supposed to eat my peas and not hide them behind the curtain in the kitchen. I knew that I couldn’t stay home from school and say I was sick but then turn around and feel OK later in the day and want to play outside. Rules were simple then, but straightforward. I learned right from wrong, good from bad, and the basic rules for good behavior.
From our childhood we move on through life, learning more and more of the subtle nuances of rules of engagement and acceptance. We learn the dance that is interaction with peers through school. We learn how to navigate the very delicate rules of the workplace that involve everything from personal interaction with colleagues to political steps for career mobility. We have to quickly adapt and learn the rules of each unique environment.
In my particular case, because of my heart’s inclination, I chose the visual arts. It, like most other career paths, have their own set of rules and when it comes to making the art itself, that has its own as well.
Early on it was pretty easy. No one expected me to follow predetermined steps since they knew I was exploring. Creativity allows for fewer rules but as soon as I started demonstrating that this was a lifelong path, the rules began to emerge in earnest, shifting elusively. The message appeared to shift from mentor to mentor, art history lesson to art history lesson, and region to region. I was confused.
As I reached middle age I found myself more and more anxious to seek out the advice from mature artists. Having spent almost 25 years in the graphic design industry as an illustrator, I felt like I didn’t know the rules for the fine arts. I was in my mid forties when I was able to return to college to finish my bachelor’s degree and I was hoping for clear direction. The advice I got from the professors, however, was actually all over the board and I learned my 1st solid lesson in subjectivity. The rules depend on everyone’s opinion.
With great fervor I was told that there are definite rules! Mandates always began with “You must…”! I was told to …focus on one medium, …focus on one topic or subject, …focus on one style, …focus on one era or artist to emulate, and so on. The rules became equally endless and diverse, and accumulated fast. In no time I was completely frozen.
It’s my tendency, as I said before, to follow rules but I felt that I couldn’t possibly comply. I was awakening and realizing a rapidly expanding diversity of what I wanted to do; to sculpt, to paint, to draw, and so much more. I wanted to explore realism, pointillism, expressionism, impressionism, and photorealism. I could no more settle on a favorite style then I could choose a favorite color or a favorite food. It’s based on my mood and the day and my chemistry. I was told that I was truly impossible.
My peers who seemed to get it were on their way; recommended for the teaching positions in grad school, recommended for financial support, and assisted in establishing teaching career paths. As for me, my naivete and non conformity shut the door to any funding for a potential teaching career in the arts.
Now more than 25 years have passed and I am nearing retirement from a different career and focusing on reemerging as an artist. In anticipation I began seeking the counsel of other artists several years ago and discovered again they have rules for me. I’ve had them tell me they can still see my tight style from my pen and ink days as an illustrator and I must stop that. I am told that I’m too slow because of my attention to detail. They remind me of the art rules I have heard my whole life and finally begin to understand.
I am, and have always been, an artist. It is less about profession and more about who I am. I am older now. I am less inclined to try to please others above myself. I’m realizing that the rules that the other artists tried to help me find were the rules that they had chosen to adopt because they made sense for them. None of those artists or professors or peers acted with malicious intent. They were trying to help me find my way. In fact, I was so anxious to please by following the rules that I made my own barriers. Life aggregates what has gone before and we must pick up a piece here and a piece there of what’s right for us and fold them in to be our best selves.
I’m finally becoming who I am supposed to be. Practice and time have done what advice could not. I am faster and looser now and it makes me a better painter. I think and evaluate more quickly now because I have been doing it longer and improved over time. I have resolved to paint what I like more often then I paint to please others and my emotion reflects that. Perhaps I have merely started to find my compromise with the rules. What I must say most definitely is that there may not be rules, actually. In art, rules are recommendations, observations, and guidance but not a script. We must be true to our art and to ourselves.
Today’s painting is a reflection of my current mood and aggregation. It’s a little bit loose and a little bit tight and a whole lotta Kelly. This 16″ x 20″, oil on canvas titled “Contemplations”.
We often use the term, “long range planning” as a way to establish a series of actions – a plan so to speak – that allows us to organize a sequence of events over time to achieve a goal. Strategic plans and project planning and project management are all part of that action terminology. I’m kind of a list maker anyway so making plans like that are always something that appeals to me, even if I don’t formally write it down.
When it comes to my personal life, that’s a little harder to do. If there is an identified goal I can work backwards to make a plan that involves saving for an item to buy or I can make a plan for how to pull off a vacation that involves making hotel reservations, or looking at maps and brochures. If it is something about the house I can look at a calendar and decide what chunk of time might be free to get some task done. These are all valid but are also things that are completely based on my control over the time and process.
What about the strategic planning for going after the elusive dream? We may start making a plan when we’re young that is no more structured than a wishlist but somehow we still find ourselves performing the corrections along the way to still keep that dream in sight. Because life is so unpredictable we rarely set down a hard-and-fast path toward that dream because we know that we can get derailed if it’s too structured. It’s the agility that allows the odds for success to go up.
No, I’m not talking about performing tasks for certification or getting degrees for a particular occupation. Things like that need preparation, planning, financial investment and more. If, however, your dream is to be a successful lawyer there are 2 parallel project plans. One entails the action steps going to school, paying for the degree, networking, and internships while you’re in school. All of those are necessary and wise planning steps. I’m talking about the 2nd more elusive plan that has to parallel it. That plan is the dream plan. That’s where you talk to people at various stages while becoming what you want to become. You get advice. You are mentored. You read things, listen to podcasts, talk over coffee, and you pick up lots of little kernels of information to make the plan. It is that bag of kernels that helps you be agile enough to achieve the long term goal.
I had an art professor tell me one time that he didn’t spend a lot of time mentoring me and in fact made my life pretty miserable because he knew I was “in it for the long haul”. That’s a double-edge sword. I was flattered that he knew I was serious and would not be deterred from my dream. I was also furious that he did not want to give me any advice or mentorship toward that goal. In hindsight I think he was actually threatened by me. That’s a whole other topic that I’ll address at some other time. Suffice to say I am out here still plugging away and I have stopped watching the chronology. The long haul can mean anything.
I have no idea anymore what time frame I’m working under. Periodically along the way I look into my little bag of kernels and realize how much I’ve learned. There are times when I’ve used some of them to adjust my path and be sure that I’m still headed for the dream. There are other times that I worry about them having an expiration date, but that’s just fretting. It’s my slow realization that the joy is the journey and the journey is the dream. So for today I’m going to celebrate and be thankful and keep on walking the dream. I’m going to plan strategically for tomorrow and the next day because I am, after all, in it for the long haul.
Enjoy your tomorrow. Celebrate your tomorrow. I hope you enjoy today’s painting -a quick oil sketch- of a Friesian horse.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.