Thursday, June 23, 2016

Accidental Inspiration

Mother, Mother Are You There? 7 x 5", mixed media 
I've been thinking about my recent affinity for combining musical and visual elements in creating. While on a walk, I struck upon the possible roots of  this inspiration. When I was about ten years old, my mother returned to college so that she could be certified to teach elementary school. Part of the curriculum included a cultural arts class that required attending performances (and I am just now flashing to students requesting programs to prove that they have attending concerts, etc.) For some reason, I was the kid who accompanied my mother. Though the way that I came to attend these performances was serendipitous, the experiences are burnished into my inner being. I have remembered and referenced the music and the images throughout my life. Mind you, I didn't immediately retain such information as the name of the opera or ballet, but rather images and fragments of music. In one of the performances, a young woman sings, "Mother, Mother, are you there?" She is a figure bathed in a cool blue light surrounded by darkness. I retained this single line for several decades before learning from my church's music director and font of knowledge, that it is from Gian-Carlo Menotti's The Medium. I purchase a recording and listening now, decades later, I can see why I was haunted by the music. My memory of that line is fairly accurate, no doubt because of this haunting quality and the recurring call.

Fire Forest, 9 x 12", mixed media
A second vivid experience involves another dark scene with a bright accent (do you suppose this is why I wound up with an Art History degree--I like being in darkened rooms with illuminated images?) The stage is almost completely black and there is a flaming red figure flitting across, left to right. You probably know that I was at a performance of The Firebird, but it was some time later, probably at another performance that I recognized what I saw as a child.

I imagine we also went to art exhibits and attended concerts to fulfill the requirements of my mother's course, but it is the events where strong visuals and haunting music were united that my imagination and memory become particularly engaged.  I love the richness and the feeling of being fully immersed in the experience. There is a Part II to this story and I'll save that for another day. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

In the Night Garden

In the Night Garden, 12 x 12", mixed media

I requested a digital audio recorder for my birthday this year, and I received it! The wish came to me as I have been creating small paintings illustrating how the seven (most famous, Western) modes connect with the seven chakras, or energy centers in the body. Last year I made a series of small paintings about these seven musical modes. They were part of my Recollection show last summer. At times during the exhibit's tenure, I would take my harp down to the MS Rezny Studio/Gallery and perform little impromptu mode renditions. Something clicked and I began to develop musical thoughts as I created new paintings.

This has opened new avenues for paintings as well. It works both ways. I think about music and paintings appear in my mind's eye. I was enchanted by the scene, In the Night Garden as we were returning to Pineapple Hill Inn Bed & Breakfast after a splendid dinner. It was a gentle night and the blue was so soft; the red umbrellas bright accents. The heron statuary stood guard over the burbling koi pond. I knew I wanted to make a painting and I wanted to make music, too.

I looked around for a support to make a painting; a painting more inspired by feeling than truthiness. Bending down to check on my prepared boards (watercolor paper affixed to 1/4" birch plywood) I spotted a board which had been "deckled" by our first dog, Carly. I think she liked the clay-based wallpaper paste that I use to attach the paper. Around two edges, there was a half-inch to inch gap in the paper.  I decided to experiment and brushed gesso on the bare board. Since working with children on an art project earlier this year, I have been keen on Cray-Pas Junior Artist Oil Pastels. I started coloring in my image with those, to use as a resist to layers of watercolor. I worked back and forth between the Cray-Pas and the watercolor, adding layers of watercolor as needed to bring a velvety darkness to the scene. I discovered that the watercolor and Cray-Pas would not sufficiently cover the gessoed areas, so the big guns were called in: I used Sennelier oil pastels generously, as it turned out, over the whole painting. I am a believer in using what is necessary to bring about what I envision. This worked.
After I finished the painting, I propped it up and started playing on the harp, letting the imagery inspire my music. There is a link to the music below if you would like to have a listen.


 In the Night Garden on SoundCloud

Saturday, April 23, 2016

...and Back to Order

Danny's Trees, 24 x 20", watercolor and pastel on paper

So, you have seen the Fine Mess (4-16-16) and now I will show you how she cleans up. This is a very satisfying process, like polishing up a piece of furniture that has been collecting dust for ages (just a week in my household, with Maddie-the-Dog.) I use the underlying layer to provide a rich and realistic layering of life, like the very soil that grows grass, trees and us! In a scene such as this, with a lot of sky which is screened by banks of trees, I like to start using pastel to bring to life the clouds and to establish the placement of the trees in the fore and back grounds. This exercise is a real push and pull process--I love it! The sky is stroked on boldly. The trees then begin to speak up. Back and forth, back and forth. I stop to evaluate: Is this working? Is it true to the scene?
    And what exactly is this scene? This painting has been requested by a friend. He became enchanted by a stand of trees that he passed on daily runs and while working out at his local recreation center. The enchantment was greatest in the winter, when surprising colors would pop out at him. My friend knew that I was likewise attracted to these glowing winter colors. This adds another layer to the pushing and pulling: my friend's vision, my vision, watercolor and pastel. Then, over all that add the perception of what is currently on the paper and what is the accumulated vision we want.
    Each element has its say. Each element is putting its best foot forward, unabashedly. Let that happen! Then be daring and go ahead and let that next element shine--go ahead, see what happens then. Stop, look and listen to your intuition. Repeat and repeat. Let what you see now tell you what to do next.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Fine Mess

Underpainting set-up

My favorite media for creating art are watercolor and pastel. I start with a rich underpainting in watercolor. My goal is to create an abundance of texture and "chaos" to the scene. Then I can use pastel to bring some "order" to the image. I like to use leftover palettes from my classes. They usually have the perfect colors for this rich layer. I would call this a fine mess.
    My preference is for a certain amount of wildness to keep things exciting and to open up possibilities. Then, I require a certain amount of order to keep danger at bay. Perhaps it is because we are deep in the political season, but this reminds me of what I like about America. It is Earth's biggest political experiment. People come from all over, bringing their perfect colors and ideas to the table, creating new scenes with a rich texture. Yet, they come because they have embraced the ideals of America, a land of opportunity and freedom with a strong sense of community. The perfect amount of government works like the pastel. It makes use of all the resources that the people bring and enhances those resources to create the bigger picture. It also smooths over rough spots to protect individuals and communities. This approach requires a certain amount of faith that good will emerge and flexibility to be willing to do what is needed to create what is desired.
    Down with rigid techniques and dogma! Ahhh, I feel better now! Thank you!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Remnants and Recreation

Discarded painting with demonstration limb--the perfect start to a painting

I have been working with some young people at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Paris, KY. We have been making images of Easter to adorn the church. It has been an exhilarating experience as the young artists are fearless and quite prolific. They have high standards, too, and I found a couple of starts in the trash can. They were too tempting to pass up! Meanwhile, Dawn was interested in making a painting of spring boughs and so I made a little demonstration for her--how to use the paint brush boldly to make that branch. The resulting combination sang out to me. I am here! Finish me!

Adding more oil pastel and then the backwash in watercolor  
So I brought her home and started to pile on. First, I was thinking of redbuds--they are already budding out here in Kentucky.  I had a "warmed up" fuchsia oil pastel. Then I slopped in the background wash, in Himalayan salt pink (thank you, Meg!) I let that dry overnight.
     By the next morning, I knew that the strokes of the original artist (I will need to find out who this is!) had more of a cherry blossom sensibility. I must correct my trajectory. Also, I began to think of the poem, Loveliest of Trees, by A. E. Hausman. It is a poem of Eastertide, so appropriate. But, it has additional meaning for me. When I came home from the hospital with our first child, I remember sitting with him and listening to Prairie Home Companion. Garrison Keillor recited Loveliest of Trees, though it was January. I had this realization that this little baby I held in my arms, who just arrived, one day he would die. Both events are unutterably sacred. New life and death are so bound together in Easter.
The cherry tree in bloom

Loveliest of Trees by A. E. Housman

LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
is hung with bloom along the bough,
and stands about the woodland ride
wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
twenty will not come again,
and take from seventy springs a score,
it only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
fifty springs are little room,
about the woodlands I will go
to see the cherry hung with snow.

      Thank you for all the beauty; both well known and dismissed. It is all there for our pleasure. Thank you for children giving us fresh insights and for all those who wish to create and revitalize a teacher's inspiration. Thank you for this season of new life!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Spring Creation

Let's Play: back and forth with oil pastel and watercolor

In the upcoming Saturdays I will have the new experience of working with young people to create images of Easter. Their ages range from 7 to 17+. We are going to be thinking about some of my favorite subjects: creating and perceiving; and how those two things are intertwined.
      I've been dwelling in this milieu already because every Lent I read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  The story of Mary Lennox's and Colin Craven's transformation gives me the annual conviction to throw off the clogging mantle of old, crippling and wrong-headed ideas and habits. Incrementally, I am nudged into seeing the world afresh. It is also an excellent narrative about perception, objective and subjective and how we can begin to see things more clearly and completely.

This change is not instant or "cheap". It is slow and deep. Often, it happens in a hidden fashion, not to be seen until the life force pushes to the surface, like daffodil bulbs in Spring.

Lenten Growth, 10 x 8", oil pastel and watercolor
   We will be working with watercolor and oil pastel, a medium that I have not used extensively. So, I will be playing and experimenting, too. Spring!

My hope is that through the creation of our Easter images, these young people will feel the beauty of seeing the world clearly and also the enchantment and poetry of their own particular vision.  Only a start is possible, of course, with our small project. Still, I am looking forward to seeing their world in Spring.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

An Organizational Sweet Spot for Creativity

At the moment, there seems to be a lively discussion about whether 'tis nobler to be thoroughly organized or authentically messy.  Perhaps this has been brought about by the publication of Marie Kondo's new book on "tidying up" and a little push back in order. In an event, the idea of order and chaos is something much on my mind. We are in the process of condensing two households into one and so, if we want to actually be able to move in the remaining domicile, we are going to have to let go of a fair amount of stuff.  Right now, I am going through things in the village house to see what can go to make room for things from the lake house.  Mostly, I am working in my workspace and there are some things that don't fit neatly into the going to Goodwill pile, for example, a sheet of mahogany veneer.

       We are also into February and I decided maybe it was time to take down the little Christmas tree that had been serving as a sort of nightlight.  To replace this source of illumination, I thought of the valentine star that I just ran across in the attic. Up it went. Interesting...but too bright and too red (though in the photo it looks pretty good--gentler.)

      You probably know where this is going. I am trying to think of how to process all this stuff and I have a need for a little night illumination that doesn't set my teeth on edge. I could make a new "shade" for the light in the star. I could use the mahogany veneer, and I have all kinds of materials lying around waiting to be chosen for productivity.  I sang that chant, "All I need is here..." and it was true: board, paint, parchment paper and some handmade paper in a favorite shade of green. I happily spent the day creating our new lamp in my new space. The windows looking out to the front allowed me to see the mail carrier coming up the walk with a new book--A Perfect Mess. And I had already learned the lesson. Maybe. Is there room for another book?

p.s. It occurs to me that my comfort zone for order in life is exactly like my preferred aesthetic for creating art. I write about this in my blog statement.