Transformative is a word that implies a great shift brought on by incidents, occurrences or actions in one’s life. I sometimes also hear the word pivotal used interchangeably. I’ve been thinking about these words quite a bit lately, increasingly so over the last 6 months.

I just got back from a month long vacation (and I use the term loosely because it was a mix of business and pleasure) but it was a fun road trip. Remarkably, it was such an incredible aggregate of impactful moments that it may take quite some time to process. Generally speaking, we can only hope to retain and process some of what happens in our life and when moments come too fast and furiously, it can be overwhelming.

Before I left I had friends say that this trip may well be transformative for me. I assumed they were referring to my work and I can now agree. However, I have to expand on that endorsement with what else I am noticing.

I’ve had the month to think about each of the moments as they occur and try to digest and sort them for a later, deeper evaluation. As we moved from state to state I took pictures for later. We went to galleries and art museums and saw scenery that was different from what I was used to. At one point I began to paint oil studies of what I was seeing as well.

What I realized is that almost every event in our lives is transformative. Each step we take is pivotal. What I think we tend to do is we live our lives in a mode more rooted in survival than in experience, and in doing that we miss the importance of the details. We know major events can be life-changing but somehow we learned to rank all of the small steps and small decisions as inconsequential. Every moment of every day of our lives is transformative, or has the potential to be. We pride ourselves with just being able to field, deflect or avoid harm when in fact they, too, are transformative moments.

Perhaps these moments are just noticeable to us in retirement because of the change in speed that we now experience and are more aware of the small events that could be important. Because of the perfect storm of retirement’s awakening and the ability to start rebuilding schedules, assign different values to moments, and even the luxury of being able to note, process, and implement change within ourselves. We are more aware of what each small moment is teaching us. Transformative actually means reawakening and allowing all of the micro workings of your life – body and soul now reunited fully – to reset.

Yes, this vacation was transformative because I realized what it truly meant to retire. It’s not just about free time, coffee and jammies, or making rent. It is about tabala rasa… but, you get to bring your accumulated tool kit with you. Now I can allow myself to relearn what is important from the granular to the monumental. I am filled with gratitude. I am flooded with joy. I am aware of a growing sense of love and peace. I can be overwhelmed with thankfulness when I’m handed that cup of coffee, I am hugged tightly by a friend, I see a sunset, or even feel changes in temperature eddying in each breeze.

Now that I am home and at my easel I will be sourcing the photos I took and working my way though the visual impact as well as the emotional and intellectual impacts of the last month. I offer you this 16″ x 20″ oil on canvas of the sunset over the Gulf waters in Florida.

Like a monarch on the late summer breeze.

I feel the air lifting me and see my perspective change. I can’t say it’s unsettling. On the contrary, muscle memory is taking over and apparently I have flown before … a long time ago.

September sailed past and I have been remarkably busy. Events came and went and I was aware that somewhere during the last 40 years I became more reticent to act impulsively. Perhaps it’s the effects of the structure of long term employment or it’s as simple as acquired habits, but I am winnowing and choosing to regain my healthy sense of self.

I did an art fair in Freeport, Illinois – an upper midwestern town that I went to high school in. It was a merging of various times of my life as I ran into old friends I hadn’t seen since high school, met new patrons who had never seen my work before, and welcomed current friends who popped in to give me support because they know that I am an emerging artist despite my age. It was such a mix of emotions and insecurities and surging inner-strength, that it was startling.

It, like each of the events that have been taking place recently, had its unique role in this new rediscovery phase of my life where all of my pieces are starting to come back together.

With very little break between events, we then unpacked the Art from the fair and repacked for a history event in Platteville, Wisconsin where I talked about a different era in art. I went from 21st century emerging artist to 18th century cottage industry artist without missing a beat.

The children on school days that Friday numbered in excess of 2300 and the public the next day were interested and excited and asked great questions about art in the 18th century. It is always an absolute joy to see the fascination on the face of a child when they see someone in this historical context talking about art. They are curious as to where artists got their pigments, tools, and how they did things back then. As I talk about being an artist and see the hope that it gives them to know that they, too, can be one, I soar.

Each one of these events was fascinating, stimulating, and challenging both emotionally and intellectually, and yet I am having a ball!! True, I need to slow this pace down before I burst into flames but I feel like I am doing what that old adage says about sliding over home plate in a cloud of dust and exclaiming, “… heck of a ride…”. Indeed!

As I watched the sun setting in my rear view mirror coming home from this last, weeklong, historical teaching event in Minnesota I was absolutely enthralled and wonder what life has in store for us next.

Plein-aire as a part of my summer outings.

It’s that time of year, after being inside for the Winter, we can start getting outdoors and taking vacations and exploring again. Covid restrictions are letting up as people are getting vaccinated and being out and about in parks and it feels pretty normal. As for my husband and I, the semester has come to a close so we can find time for long camping and fishing weekends.

As we prepare for camping, in addition to the normal things that you would stow in the vehicle like lodging, bedding and food, we reach for the book to read, the walking sticks, and quiet entertainments. My husband will bring something to whittle, and I will bring my plein-air painting kit. Even in a camp spot with no exotic vistas or intriguing architecture, there are always ready subjects.

It rained off and on while we were camping but the one day was relatively clear and I sat just within the circle of our campsite and pointed in a couple different directions to paint. When I’m working like this these oil sketches are captures for pure fun. They also continue to hone both my powers of observation, quick problem solving and other skillsets.

For me, paintings like this are not large and not intended to be more than moments captured live with the simplest layer between the artist and the living view. I may select subject matter that’s as small as one of the many warblers flitting around the site, or the wild geraniums at the edge of the clearing, or anything else from small to large within my vision because it’s more about the capture and the practice.

These pictures show the two paintings, 5″ by 7″, oil on canvas board that I painted that day. The one I call, ‘Honeysuckle Blooms’ and the other one, ‘Our Path To The Lake’.

Carry on!

Painters must first just continue being painters.

There is a great deal of discussion every day about varying perspectives and beliefs of the changes or modifications to our behavior necessary to carry on with our lives. I’m not here to debate any of those stands but only to share my thoughts on myself as an artist …out in public.

This year, any work I had done had been done in the studio. First it was seasonal, but when this all started to impact us in March I also began working from home as a library director/administrator during the stay in place orders. That made it very difficult to separate my 2 “jobs” let alone keep appropriate proportions but I managed. Now we’re in late summer and since I returned to the workplace in mid June, I have found that I’ve done even less painting because my focus has been on returning students and finding some kind of new working normality.

I am acutely aware at this point that I need to rebuild the foundational part of my emotional well being, my art. It has suffered even more since I went back to the office. Since all of my camping/historical reenactments have been canceled I haven’t foraged out much for anything but to campus. Fears can almost foster an agorophobia that needs addressing before it gets a hold. This week we’ve had beautiful weather, and it made me reminiscent of being out and about capturing in the real time, and not from a photo.

Sunday I decided to run away and Monday morning I found myself in a state park, having camped in the van, and smiling as I listened to birdsong and waited for morning coffee to be ready.

I did a few modifications of my field kit over the Winter assuming I would be launching early Spring with it, and taking our big road trip in May like we usually do. Some of the changes made it lighter, easier to carry, and compact and I was excited about testing it. It had yet to come out into the world until this weekend.

My bag separated out brushes in a better way, and I added more small clips that I could reach for at a moments notice. I found a small palette that fit the new pochade box that we cobbled together. We self destructed one of my small easels and use the sliders to hold a small painting. There were some other changes that I needed to make too. One of them was that I needed to find a way to keep my turpentine hanging up closer for the quick dip to my palate. I also needed to make sure that I always had my blast jacket and hat with me because I now sunburn easier than I ever did before, and this weather had had a little chill in the air. [I’m loving it by the way.]

But here’s where the other piece comes in. Artists in the field painting plein aire attract attention. Unlike joggers, walkers, or bikers, artists are stationary for several hours at minimum. People come up to us while we’re painting. It’s part of the fun. People want to watch and engage, they get excited, and they get close. So whether you believe in masks or not, in my opinion everyone needs to respect others and wear them.

I do believe in them. I must wear one and believe that I have to keep safe if I’m going to keep painting. I cannot afford to hide in my house because someone else doesn’t believe in the science, so I have embraced my responsibility for protection. When I’m in the field I will have a mask in my pocket and when I see someone coming up to watch me paint I will donn my mask.

I am enjoying the fresh air. I am enjoying the beautiful scenery. I am enjoying capturing that scenery with oil on canvas. And when I have the opportunity to talk to the public who have just approached me and my painting, I can talk art! It is part of the joy of the public process. When I do, I will do so with less angst, wearing my mask that is fashionable and perhaps reminiscent of Monet.

Please be respectful and civil to each other. Just relax and let others do what they need to do to feel safe and enjoy the same outdoor fun that you enjoy without ridicule.

Stay safe. Find your balance. Seek your peace.

This painting is a 5″x 7″ oil on canvas board painted at Lake Shabbona.

On the road to a show.

Loading the pallete and getting ready to hit the road to a working show. I love events like this. I am on my way to a historical trade fair this weekend in Oshkosh, Wisconsin where I will put my art up on display, showing friends and patrons many new works that have been done in the past year. I will have a canvas on the easel that I can be working on and talking with people about. This is business but so enjoyable that it’s a win-win for me. Perhaps I’ll see you there?

Growing and learning in public view

This year has been a continuously challenging, learning experience for me as an artist as I have pushed out of my studio more and more and find myself doing my learning in the public view. It boils down to this being somewhat daunting – to reveal that I am actually an emerging artist at this point in my career. While I was extremely experienced in the handling of pen and ink back in the two decade long industry phase of my career (the days of pre-CAD drawings of nuts, bolts, and screws for the automotive and aeronautics industry) or studio painting illustrations, painting plein air is not something I am adept at…yet.

Last weekend I was at the Autumn Harvest Festival event at the Spring Valley Nature Center and Heritage Farm in Schaumburg, Illinois. 

I dressed as a 1880 Victorian era woman, impressionism painter. I must admit I had fun. I will also heartily admit I was in new territory since it was not rooted in lecture or art show. Having people scrutinize my work as I discover new techniques and then ask me how long it takes to do a painting was unnerving. I had to tell the truth but it made me think about what that might mean in an era when we want to equate value with hourly wage. How do I explain that an artists wage is based on years of training and accumulated knowledge and experience and not on an hourly minimum wage set by an employer or the State of Illinois. 

Their follow up question was often  “…when this is done will it be for sale … and how much will it be?”  I had to answer in all truthfulness that I didn’t know? I threw a couple prices out there to test the waters but that’s not the most professional way to determine worth!

Working loosely, making color and light choices, even the mechanics of structure and layout are not things that I am at all fast at. Perhaps it is ingrained in human nature to avoid showing fear in the form of lack of self confidence, lack of experience, or to basically avoid any show of weakness. I bring that fear into my art development and I suspect that many artists do. It’s why we make a drawing that gets thrown away before anyone sees it. It’s why we paint over canvases in the studio. It’s why we only bring out the best when we want to show someone our work. But as I’ve said in this blog before, that’s not honest. It is deceiving anyone who is beginning to walk the path of art and they think that somehow when a person is an artist farther along that surely they make no mistakes, they have no failures and they’re already at some nirvana place in their career. Well let me be clear. I am still learning and always will be. If I’m not, then I am doing something wrong. Case in point is the personal growth begun the last couple of years by incorporating the plein air style to improve my paint handling techniques and increase my speed. I look at my work when I’m around other plein air painters and I feel blatantly amateurish but I also know that those elements of my art that are strong will eventually blend with this new labor and I will improve. I don’t know if I’ll ever be competitive at the plein air competitions, or can even get good enough to be invited into them, but the romantic notion of being at some event painting shoulder to shoulder with other artists that I admire, is appealing. When that day comes, I will be painting in public, baring my learning process to the viewer, and growing.

Enjoyable weekend with Tall Ships.

This last weekend with the tall ships was outstanding.

I painted and watched all of the tall ships come in under full sail right off the shore from where I was camped. Once docked, it was a quick morning walk to go over and walk alongside these magesties and take pictures.

I brought along my gallery walls and some works pertaining to water and had them set up inside our marquis. My show, entitled “For the love of water” was spot on and quite successful. I had the loveliest four days meeting new people and talking about art and life in a way that always makes me quite happy.

I also took the opportunity at this event to launch a few new additions of gichlee prints of works that I’ve done recently. I say that now because while I have stopped by my home briefly to unload my art show and large house, I am leaving in the morning to go up through Wisconsin, Duluth, and along North Shore Superior to Grand Portage, Minnesota for a much loved  annual event there. For those of you who are participants at that event I wanted to alert you that I will be bringing 3 new additions of requested images.

  1. The 1st print is Sunrise at Grand Portage which was a very lovely pastel sunrise from lake shore at a spot we all know and love.
  2. The 2nd print is of the great Hall that I painted on site in 2017.
  3. The 3rd is a sunrise that was actually over Lake Michigan but I have brought along because it still exibits that rich, raw color of a sunrise over the Great Lakes.

The additions are small and the images have been reduced from their original to make them more reasonable for today’s crowded wall space. I plan to bring them out after hours to participants only.

Art show on the shores of Lake Michigan

Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin friends and patrons… this is going to be worth a day trip! Mark your calendars for this next event coming up. If you’re free, I will have a gallery show set up on Simmons Island for the Pike River Rendezvous – the first weekend of August. 

The Tall Ships are coming to Kenosha, Wisconsin and the arrival begins with a parade of sails held on Thursday afternoon, August 1st. This is when all of the tall ships will move up-and-down the coastline before seeking their moorings sites in the inlet adjacent to our historical encampment area.

I will have the show mounted by the parade of sails and then, every day from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. through Sunday, I will be in our 16′ square marquis style tent displaying my work. There will be original paintings and some prints with a general theme of water, coastlines, ships and boats to coincide with the tall ships event. []

The encampment I am in has no charge and is in sight of where the ships will be docked. If you have wanted to see some of my work live and in person, this is a good opportunity. 

The weather looks like it will be wonderful. I hope to see you there! 

The Artist: looking for the next subject to paint

I have just returned home from being in an historical camp for the latter part of the 4th of July week at the Farm Museum site on Washington Island, Wisconsin. That was a great setting. If you look, you can always find fun topics to paint there, from farm buildings of the early to mid 19th century to the faces of the people sharing my encampment with me. There are also boats in the harbours, deer in the fields, residents and tourists, lavender fields, and musicians and… well, you get the idea.

In an effort to remain a little more true to my portrayal of a woman in the late Georgian, early Regency period, I only took water colors and brushes in my portmando to the field. It really was delightful to wander, seeking sites and topics to paint. This was the first of my summer events where the woman artist, living in history, meets the Northwest Territory.