Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Flow of Still Life

Flow is defined as a state of complete absorption in an activity which leads to energized focus and increased enjoyment of the process. 

While carefully crafting the subtle intricacies of the pears' shape, and texture I lost all awareness of time and self. Whatever part of my brain that generally nags me with worry, self-doubt and the sense of a never-ending rush softly departed from my psyche and left me open to the joy of pure focus.

From time to time, as I stepped back to view my art in progress, I would feel the familiar voice begin to criticize my work. But as soon as I put pastel to paper I became entranced again. At the end of my two hours working on this piece I gently returned my consciousness to the room and felt almost giddy from the invaluable respite from my overactive mind.    

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Yoga and the Art of Looking at Nothing

Yoga and I have never mixed. I like fast, adrenaline-inducing exercise like skating, biking, sailing and anything combining speed with a dash of danger. Frothy waves rushing by me and gravel blurring beneath my feet demand my attention and have been my favored activities since I was a teen.

But yoga keeps coming back for me. I have tried probably twenty times over the past forty years and every time the same thing. Not strenuous enough, too slow, boring, tedious. And you want me to close my eyes and quiet my mind? Insane.

Last year while nursing my injury of the month I decided to venture forth into the land of Namaste once more. It was a gentle yoga class taught by a calm, patient woman name Michelle. The first twenty minutes of the first class I plotted my escape. When everyone is facing due east in their warrior 1 pose, I will sprint west and out the door to freedom.

Then, at minute fifteen something started to shift in me. I watched Michelle, eyes closed, as she spoke of self-acceptance and gratitude. The tranquility radiating from her was mesmerizing and I wanted to get me some of that zen stuff too. I closed my eyes tentatively and did not disappear as I had anticipated. In fact, I started to feel more present than I had in a very long time. With my eyes closed I no longer had to judge myself or others and that was an unexpected gift. From time to time I still peeked around the studio. Was I in the right pose? Was everyone looking at me?

Nearing the end of class our instructor had us lay back into Shavasana (or corpse pose) where we are completely still and alone within ourselves. Hard to believe that being alone with myself could be more frightening than thrusting my downward facing dog butt out in front of thirty other yoga participants.

Still, I persevered and many months later I finally understand the yoga mystique. I choose to stop the endless chatter and judgement in my head as I release all "the thoughts that do not serve me" and kick them softly downstream like wayward logs in a river. Or I place them on puffy clouds and gently blow them off into the vast sky.

As we return to the close of class gratitude oozes out of me and I am now reluctant to open my eyes and leave behind the gorgeous views I have seen within. But I know I will be back because I'm gonna  get me some more of that beautiful zen.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Creating My Perfect Caribbean

If I can't be in Jamaica, I may as well paint it in pastels. I am taking a big risk here showing you my painting as it begins (see original photo at the left corner in each image). As one of my teachers loved to tell us, most pastels don't look remotely attractive until the last ten minutes. So I apologize for the progress images, but I think it is worthwhile to study what colors need to build up to create the rewarding final ten minutes.

A key component of this process is the color wheel. In the early stages of the painting I am laying down approximate tones that are the complementary colors to the final ones I want to achieve. I am a little loose with my choices because I am not looking to create a replica of the scene... but instead, an interpretation. The under painting (which is seared into the sanded paper with alcohol and brush) is what creates the beautifully rich, layered tones that made me fall in love with pastels. Unexpected rusts peek out from underneath the ocean while coral and pink lay softly under the blue sky foreshadowing the sunset just hours away.

After gently applying many layers of blues in all my favorite permutations, I generated a sky that transports me back to my heavenly gazebo on the sea. As for those pesky clouds in the original photo... not sure how I feel about them interfering with my idyllic Caribbean sky. Stay tuned and watch me decide if the weather in Jamaica will be a cloud-free sunny day or if I will add some white puffy reality to my world.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Inside Out

The arctic winds are blowing (again) and another foot of snow is falling into place (again). Since I can't be outside in my natural habitat I am supremely grateful for my windows. All 28 of them. My house is tiny, but I can see the elusive outdoors from almost anywhere I sit. As claustrophobia and cabin fever edge toward me I snuggle up to the glass, and peer out into the vast white wasteland. Even though visibility is limited I still feel a sense of relief touching the cool glass and hearing the wind whistle by.

Windows have always been my virtual escape. As children we traveled in station wagons, untethered and in motion like Mexican jumping beans. When bored, annoyed or just desperate to escape the chaos... I would lay flat in the back of the car and watch the world pass by upside down. Trees, stars, power lines all stringing themselves out behind me and providing that sweet remove. Even now I much prefer to be passenger rather than driver as I never tire of the show just outside the window. As my children will attest, my roving eyes should have me permanently assigned to riding "shotgun" while someone with better visual control takes the wheel.

Looking out my window at dusk I scan the landscape for clues as to what undertones I might layer into my pastel painting. I spy lilac nestled behind the spruce trees and coral peeking out from beneath the periwinkle sky. Rust is woven throughout the maple trees with amethyst layered softly underneath the snow. But darkness is descending and the colors exit stage left... leaving my winter canvas of white, gray and black. No pastels needed. Charcoal will do just fine.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Fear of Drawing

I sketched today at the Isabella Stewart Gardener museum and found myself battling the demon of perfection as usual. The assumption always seems to be that I will fail or create a visual that is supremely subpar. Do all artists face a blank canvas with trepidation? Or do they reach a point of unchallenged confidence and start every sketch, painting, sculpture with a pure, anticipatory sense of excitement?

For me it seems more like dread I experience as I lay down that first tentative mark on the hopeful empty sheet. With over 20 reasonably good pastel paintings under my belt it is still impossible for me to believe that I am capable of creating a successful painting again. When does that doubt subside? At 100 paintings? 1000?

I choose to wage war against my self-doubt and armed with my shiny, new sketchbook I will go forth to do battle at the MFA, at home, in class... wherever I can. And each time I find something pleasing, but imperfect in my sketch or pastel painting I may be slowly marching forward into artistic confidence.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Frigid Beauty

As each new winter arrives I find myself with less tolerance for the cold. Most likely it is linked to my declining muscle mass, increased arthritis and other corporeal delights of aging. But on a completely different trajectory, am discovering more visual and aural joys of winter every year.

Last year (my first on the lake) I was shocked to learn that the freezing lake plays a unique soundtrack throughout the winter. As the water first begins to harden along the shoreline it is often knocked loose, breaking into fragile shards that clink melodically as the waves toss them around. These tones, reminiscent of wind chimes, dance off the shore and soothe with their harmony. Other unexpected sounds I have observed range from deep burp-like noises and ominous groans as the massive plates of ice jockey for position. All in all, it is quite entertaining and I only wish I could keep my windows open to continue my observations for longer periods of time.  

The image above was taken a few days ago as we skated on our newly minted ice rink. With much less effort than I would have predicted we shoveled off a rough rectangle of pristine ice in less than an hour. Within a few minutes I became intrigued by the designs my skates were carving into the surface. Although this photo is a color image it depicts the honest tones of winter... black and white. All that is left behind when the color is drained out by this bleak January day is a sharp, clear study of form. And that is beautiful.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Me and My Shadow

I see them everywhere now. They jump out at me from the most unexpected places and surprise me with their beauty.

With perfect choreography the lake was transformed into a pristine white canvas in the last three days. First came the slow motion freeze which gently morphed the choppy, blue lake into a motionless, glossy mix of indigo and black. Next, the snow delicately dropped a three inch velvet smooth blanket of virginal white on top. Throughout the day yesterday I watched as cold blue images flickered across the undisturbed snow cover. And then, when the sun was directly behind my house I saw this image painted in periwinkle with bits of lilac rimming the edge. The intricate branches of the trees as they frame the house are a lovely counterpoint to the stark angles and creates a composition that an artist could have conceived.

Just days before, my daughter Sarah pointed out a cast shadow inside our house that I had walked by so many times without seeing. The small wooden bird perched on a window gently broke up the harsh angles of winter light filtering through the panes. Soon after that I began noticing other shadow play throughout the house and I was reminded (again) to look more closely at what I see, because often, there are many hidden delights lurking in the shadows.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Looking Deeply

Josiah McElheny's
Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism

While visiting the MFA Boston I came upon an exhibit that is hard to ignore. It glistened at me from across the room and I was drawn through the gallery by the shiny surfaces fractured into a million different shards of light.

At first glance I assumed I was looking at multiple rows of glass decanters being reflected endlessly. Like a sophisticated, witty take on the fun house mirrors from carnivals of past. But in this case, there was no distortion or warping of any kind. Simply perfect repetition of perfect glass vessels. Moving to a side view of the display, I was surprised to see that just one row of vessels in a staggered formation was used to generate this seemingly infinite mirage. The artist's concept for this work suggests that it "attempts to depict the capitalist notion that all objects are eternally repeatable, that everything can be remanufactured endlessly without regard to era, geography, or culture".  I decide to leave behind the weighty questions of capitalism just dwell in just the visual itself. Over time I am pulled deeper into the mirrored facade and wishing I could walk back as far as my eyes can see. This wouldn't be the first time I have wanted to take up residence in a work of art. But more about that in my future post "Top Five Paintings I Want to Live In".

An Unexpected Pause

Even in times of Covid, we find ways to keep ourselves busy. There are still problems to be solved, errands to run, social media to be viewe...