Yesterday I had the amazing experience of seeing, for the first time, family photos from the late 1950s and 1960s that my sister found as slides and had converted to digital images. There are pictures from the NY World's Fair, from my dad's time as a doctor on a Navy icebreaker, from summers in the Adirondacks and so much more. The photos of my grandparents are particularly spectacular for their unreserved joy (photos then, as Facebook now, highlight the good times) and the eyeglasses, dresses, furniture and style that fixes them firmly in time.
Winter in my studio is often a time when I pull out old sketches, old paintings and photo references to consider work that was unfinished, unsatisfying or never undertaken. I'm intrigued by the idea of taking some of these images and making paintings from them.
Not done yet... but getting there
I started one yesterday, from a photo of my grandmother as she is getting ready to board a cruise ship. The old slide color is both heavily saturated and at the same time strangely cast from what I assume is the degrading of the chemicals that made the image. The vivid color of her dress is something I'm going to stick with -- not sure that I'll keep what the slide shows as the violet color of the sea.
In NE Washington, there's a Franciscan Monastery with a beautiful garden. The inspiration for the building and garden struck over 100 years ago and the site now has a beautiful cathedral and replicas of holy sites from Jerusalem and around the world. I'm not Catholic, so a friend who is guided me around the site with stories about why different memorials and grottos were there.
In preparation for the upcoming 202 Arts & Music Festival, I painted there this week and refined the painting a bit in my studio today.
I am back in the studio today after painting outside all week for the 202: Create Arts & Music Festival. After painting at Tudor House this morning, which was beautiful!, it was almost a relief to be out of the sun and breeze.
I'd started this painting of poppies and field in Montana in June. I shipped the unfinished painting back to my studio and today I got to work on it again.
I was painting in a sad state of disbelief that a friend who'd been ill for as long as I'd known her passed away this morning. My friend had, during many days she'd spent in bed (when she wasn't running marathons or dancing in spike heels!), looked up at a painting I'd done of sunflowers that she'd hung in her bedroom. She used to tell me that it always gave her something joyful to look at when she wasn't feeling well. It takes my breath away to think about that. So I focused on reliving what it felt to stand in a field with poppies this summer. looking off to mountains in the distance.
Continuing my adventures painting around DC this week, I went yesterday to the Franciscan Monastery to paint in the garden there. Today, I joined other arts festival participants at the Howard Theater. All the week's paintings will be for sale on Saturday. Great fun painting and talking to people all over the city this week!
I'm participating in the 202 Arts & Music Festival in DC this week, which will culminate in a day-long music and art fest down by the waterfront at 4th & M on Saturday, Sept 9. During the week, plein air painters will be working around the city on art that will be displayed in a tent, for sale, at the festival.
Scouting painting locations led me to LeDroit Park, a historic DC neighborhood where beautiful row houses were built between Howard University, the MacMillan Reservoir, and the busy Florida/Rhode Island Avenue commercial area. We set up at Anna J. Cooper Circle, a pretty tree-shaded space named to honor an African-American feminist who was born into slavery and graduated from Oberlin College. Her story and that of others who lived in LeDroit Park are told on a heritage trail with signs thoughout the neighborhood.
I did a lot of painting in Montana this summer but this is the only painting I finished. The view is from the meadow at a house that's for sale which is actually about 6 miles, maybe even 7, from the base of Lone Peak.
The challenge of painting a meadow is one I tackled more than once with some success and a lot of "needs more study". There's the issue of making the grass look grassy without the fussiness of painting individual plants; there's the need to show flowers but not every single one; and there's the way that light catches areas of grass or the tips of plants at different times of day. And the look of a meadow is greatly affected by how dry the summer has been -- whether there's a tinge of gold or wheat to the lightest grasses.
In mid-July when I painted this, there were still areas of snow visible on the peak. By August, they were gone.
I've shipped the unfinished paintings to my studio in Bethesda and I'll be working on either finishing them or using them as studies for larger paintings.
I've been painting in Maine during summers for the past 19 years, always staying at the same house. While I'm there, I paint lobsters, lobster boats, rocks, the ocean, the beach, adirondack chairs, the ferry across the harbor... and the 1880s Victorian house with the wrap-around porch that I rent.
19 years ago, I did a small watercolor painting from the front lawn and it may have been among the last times I took out watercolors and a soft brush. Since then, I've painted the house from the front, the side, the beach, in the morning, at sunset, and any other time it has struck me that I can get a bit more familiar with the house.
Over the years, the house has been surrounded by more or fewer wildflowers, and drought has turned the grass to the color of wheat or wet summers have made it a lush green. The landscaping has gotten a bit more elaborate, too.
My own exploration of paints, my palette, mediums and painting surfaces has resulted in some looser and some tighter paintings. There have been times when I only have a short session in which to paint and other times that I have more opportunity to contemplate the scene. Sometimes the spot I set up my easel gives me an angle that make the house look taller or wider, and I emphasize that. The house's white siding can turn yellow in bright light or blue or purple in deep shade.
Artists paint the same subject over and over, not as a commercial strategy (although some do -- painting upon painting of an apple, then two apples, and so on), but as a way of getting to know and understand a subject or a place. Jennifer Bartlett famously published a book, In the Garden, of almost 200 drawings in a range of styles of the garden at a villa. Monet painted haystacks (and many other things) at different times of day.
I've been painting in Montana for a few days now and it's a humbling experience. It's beautiful and the weather changes at a pace that makes me paint in a frenzy. I've been working by the Gallatin River where a stream comes through the woods, working on canvas and trying to warm up to being outdoors painting again.
Today I decided to take some of the pressure off -- working on "multimedia artboard" instead of on stretched canvas. It's a paper-like substance, very stiff and heavy, and purports to support oil paint. It allowed me to work more quickly, both because it's small 8" x 10" and because I set myself up on my deck (yes, that's the hot tub cover I'm using as a table) in case a sudden rainstorm hit. I managed to get two quick paintings done between rain showers today.