Saturday, November 7, 2020

Finding the Menace in the Ruins

Inspiring Photo
 On October 23, 2020 while visiting our burned property, I captured a photograph of a tiny wren sitting among piles of metal pipes, metal roof and other ruins.

This photo said so much about how I was feeling as I faced the remains of our home:

  • I escaped the fire as did this little bird.
  • My home is now in piles of neutrals.
  • There is some life among the ruins.
  • Perhaps there is beauty and hope among the remains.

So I took this picture and did a quick study. I was hoping to create abstracted patterning of shapes and lines in neutral colors. Seated in the forefront I placed a rather realistic wren. I finished the study with a black felt tip, cleaning up and containing the shapes I had painted.   

I was not thrilled by this study, but I saw its possibilities. My own critique--The bird is too realistic for the more illustrative lines. The upper grays with light background are too eye catching. It doesn't portray the entirely ruined  home. It doesn't feel ominous, which is the mood I want to create.

When I cropped the study, I felt better about the little bird and his importance in the smaller piece. I liked the lines and patterning in the bars of metal, and I started to feel a story there. "Watch out little bird."

So an idea flew into my head, thanks to a great photo I captured from our cat hanging over the top of the couch. After all, what is more threatening to this little wren than a cat. 

I got out my blue film to place the cat shape above the bird. I then drew an abstract patterning throughout the rest of the paper, making the line work smaller and smaller as went further into the background.

Once I had the piles of ruins painted, I had decisions to make. How realistic should the bird be? How light or dark should he be? What color should the cat be? (My cat is gray and fluffy.) 

As I looked at this piece for awhile, it came to me that the cat had to be black. Isn't that a long held symbol of evil, bad luck and omen of bad fortune or death. The FIRE!!

And finally, amber/orange eyes.

I'd love feedback and title suggestions.


Saturday, October 24, 2020

How to Become a Floating Nomadic Artist

It has been nearly two months since our home burned down in the Holiday Farm Fire. We first stayed with family, which was nice and comfortable, but not practical as a long-term solution to our situation. 

And there it is, Long-Term!

"This has been a great little adventure, but now let's go home."

We have moved into a very comfortable, fully furnished rental for at least two months, but we are making plans to rebuild on our property. That is more like a two year process. My original thinking after our evacuation was that since "by the grace of" the studio didn't burn down, I would just drive up to Blue River to return to being a productive painter. However, the reality of doing that is not that simple nor practical. 

  • Currently my studio is also home to tools since it is the only locked space on the property.

  • The only way to get light is to haul the generator out of the studio, get it started, hook it up to the barn's electrical breaker panel. 
  • With winter coming, it will be darn cold to work in there.
  • Plus it is an hour drive each way.
  • Did I mention that Mike is having double knee-replacement surgery next week? Nurse Margaret will be on duty for quite awhile.
I have to put together a creative spot for this current rental and where ever we end up after that. Yesterday I went up to our property and started seriously thinking about my new pop-up studio. It may not make sense to other people, but I pulled a tarp over two picnic benches, and laid out Arches hot press 140 lb. watercolor paper. Next I got my gold gesso I had tucked away in the studio and got to work. 

And why does this make sense you may ask?  Preparing a full sheet of gessoed paper is messy and I don't really want to do a messy prep like this at a rental. 

Enduring the Cure (Sold)
And can't I paint on just plain white watercolor paper? Yes, but some of my most successful paintings have been done on gold gessoed paper. (Thank you, Carla O'Conner!)



Heron's Winter Dreams (Sold)

Now I am ready to begin a new painting routine in a new spot with folding tables on gold gessoed watercolor paper. 

Stay tuned, as they say! 
Find the wren. There is beauty in the Ruins.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Three Days at Menucha--Refreshing

One might ask, " How do you get your life back on track after your house burns down?" For me, teaching a 3-day workshop at Menucha Retreat and Convention Center was a good start. As this beautiful spot struggles through the pandemic, they are offering us artists a spot to create safely.

View of the Columbia River the evening of arrival

Teaching and sharing art with other artists is one of the joys of my life. Menucha's ability to create a way to stay safe with social distancing made this the first in person art event I've been part of for months. Six other artists joined me for the workshop and I am thankful.

I had been struggling to get photos organized enough on my new laptop to present some slideshows during the workshop. * tip:  If a fire is coming your way, grab your computer!*  Fortunately, my blogposts were so helpful. Once again I realized that blogging has documented my life since 2007. Retrieving posts from past blogs allowed me to access photos of paintings and presentations of designs and techniques.

Untitled, 14 x 22, Mixed Media

On the first day I started this floral to show one way of using watercolor, collage and patterns to create an interesting floral painting with a cruciform (cross shape) beginning. As the day ended, I began adding the black here and there, then almost everywhere. I soon realized I had brought the fire and broken pieces of my life into this painting. The last thing I did was carefully cut two burned leaves to float in from the left hand corner into the blue skies--which I hope will be ahead of me.

Because I do not teach in a step by step method, I delight in seeing the various ways participants express themselves in art making.

One thing I like to promote is the idea that a painting that has been "put in the drawer" can be taken out and given new life. It may not become a masterpiece, but there are always ways to fix and improve a painting.

On this day we created stamps, which I enjoy because a stamp is a way to add a personal touch to any painting. For this heron painting I made a stamp with a branch and leaves to extend the willow tree idea further into the painting. I also lifted some of the heavier colors, improved the shape of the heron, and put some yellow behind the heron and the tree. I think the heron and his feathery self stands out more now, and after all, he is the star of this show!

On the last day of the workshop, the sun came out and Menucha appeared in its finest, where things are green and blooming!

I am very thankful for the place, the people and the respite.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Picking Through the Ashes and Finding Art Inspiration

A bit broken, but life goes on.

A month has passed since the Holiday Farm Fire burned down our home. The greatest save was to our barn which houses my studio. The rest of what Mike and I have is just bits and pieces of our 50 years together raising our family.

The first few trips to our property were blurred by shock and sadness. It is so unbelievable that my home could be leveled by a fire in such a wave of burning east winds, and that we could be so unprepared to save things of importance. But then, what is important? Human lives, animal lives, and apparently my latest series (the only art I threw in the car). If only I could go back in time!

But life goes on and becomes full of hard decisions, dealing with insurance, buying underwear, and on and on. Looking forward, we will rebuild. We will have trees downed. We will have house remains hauled off. We will have ground leveled. We will meet with architects and builders. We will meet with friends and acquaintances and retell the stories of our escapes through the fire. Occasionally we will cry and moan.

My desire to create is deep and continues. I truly am an artist! Art is where I escape the worries of my world--it always has been so. Early on in our visits to the property, I would leave the pulling of the roofing, sorting through ashes and retreat to the studio. 

Before the fire, I had prepared a piece of watercolor paper with matte medium (a transparent liquid) to create some texture before applying paint. I had in mind (a month and a-half ago) to try an abstract based on a photograph of a crack in my husband's rowing dory. It was a sad event for him, but from that came an intriguing photo. That is what I was thinking about as I started to apply paint, but before I knew it, it was about the fire.

This part of the painting was done in a fairly small time period taking a break from pulling and sifting.  This version of the painting sat in the studio for a couple of weeks.

On the 3rd weekend post fire we had a great work party with wonderful turnout and support from family and friends. With much help, we got off all the metal roofing so we could begin the serious sifting. Not much was even recognizable.

My friend Kathy Tiger suggested I put some of the ash into my artwork. I didn't think much about it until we returned to the property a few days after the work party. I went back into the studio and found the painting very simple for the complicated event it represented, so I decided to try Kathy's idea. I like to use framing in my paintings, so I mixed the charred ash with matte medium and "framed" the painting with the ashy liquid. Since matte medium becomes transparent when it dries, it became a gray frame hugging the center. I also added a few chunks of black to the horizontal line.

In sorting through the rubble, a few burned pages were found around the property. I do not know where they came from; not from our assortment of books that burned. But oddly they appear to be out a textbook or encyclopedia and this one page discussed the art of illustration. It was a perfect addition to this piece using some blue from the illustration and some appropriate verbiage. The collage gives even more meaning to the painting. 

Here are the words I chose from the burned paper. "Emotional" and "drama" stand alone on either side of the words below.

The Day His World Cracked
22" x 30"

Life on our property is not all bleak. Our younger daughter and son-in-law have loaned us their camper trailer where we sleep quite comfortably. And we sit at the front of the trailer and look at the pasture's green willows that saved the horses. We are in the outdoors that we love so much and dream of what will come next. 


Saturday, September 19, 2020

From Running a River to Running from a Fire

On September 7, 2020 I posted my most recent blogpost celebrating our Rogue River raft trip. That morning I also posted on facebook a nice array of photos showing off the wonders of living on our property--taking down our swallow houses, the beautiful flower garden, heaps of cherry tomatoes. 

After the morning posting, our rafting buddies, Dave and Cathy came up to help us unload the rafts and equipment as we put things away for the season. Originally we had invited them to stay for dinner, but then as we heard of the prediction of crazy east-winds coming our way, we suggested they go home earlier to avoid any trees that might come down on the road (45 miles) from Blue River to Eugene. 

Mike and I had dinner and were watching an episode of "Succession" when the power went out around 8:30 pm. We weren't particularly surprised, since we were expecting the winds. A littler later, Mike went outside and called me out to see the glow to our east.

Very quickly the winds increased and the fire moved toward us at an unbelievable speed. Earlier in the afternoon Mike had gotten out our fire pump which pulls water out of our ponds and sprays out a goodly amount of water. He began spraying the house and yard area for about the 3rd time. I decided to get a bag out and threw a few things into it--toothbrush, deodorant and a few clothes, all using the light from a headlamp. Mike moved on to hooking up the horse trailer. If the fire really got to us, we would load up our two horses before leaving our property. But still, neither of us could believe that we would have to leave that night. After all, we were 8 miles from the source of the fire. At 11:16 pm, the level 3 evacuation was called--we never got the level 1 or 2. We actually got a cell phone call from a friend telling us to "GO." This was before any emergency alerts!

Angelica, our horse whisperer granddaughter, tried so hard to get the horses haltered, but by then there were trees on fire up the hill from the barn and as they fell, the horses got wilder. We all had to leave, horses or no! She was so shaken up, we were afraid she wouldn't be able to drive. On her way down the highway she called her mom and reported through tears that there were flames all around her. Somehow the fire had leaped over our place and burning embers started fires to the west of us--our only way out. Angelica's mom, Meg, said just keep driving through the fire. Mike and I were five minutes behind her in 2 vehicles with only one of our two cats and an empty horse trailer. As we drove through the fire we had zero visibility. Following Mike, I could only hope we were going the same speed, otherwise I would be rear-ending him.

This perilous part of the drive only lasted for a few miles and then we joined a parade of our community members fleeing the fire. Already there were downed trees because of the wind, and rocks that had fallen from the hillside. Unfortunately I hit a large rock which ripped one of my tires. (Under my breath I had just said, "What more can happen in the year 2020?") I pulled over to the side of the road and watched as vehicle  after vehicle drove by. I called Mike and told him the bad news, he had to figure out a way to turn around with the trailer on this narrow road with many, many cars and trucks in this slow moving train. After I was picked up we called the same rafting friends/relative who had been up at our place just a few hours earlier asking for a place to land. We, unlike many of our community, had a place to go!

And so our life as evacuees began. Within a few days, we saw a posting on facebook that showed what had happened to our home. After 34 years of loving and living there, it was gone with everything in it. Then we got the report that the barn, where my art studio is, survived the fire! 200 feet from the house, near the woods on the hillside, the barn and studio were spared.

And so the group of miracles begins. 

  • Some of my art and supplies remain on the property.
  • The horses lived and have been rescued.
  • Mike's beaver hat wasn't picked up before the fire.
  • The 4-Runner left in back, wasn't hit by a tree, nor was it burned up.
  • One painting was at the framers, and can be shipped to the exhibit which accepted it.

And so begins the new chapter of our lives. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Rafting the Rogue: One Season Leads to Another


For more than 20 years, we have capped off the summer with a Rogue River "Wild and Scenic" raft trip with friends and family. We launch at Alameda Campground and take out at Foster Bar--a 42 mile sojourn with 4 nights camping this year. The group changes each year, but these two couples and Mike and I are almost always the core group. Not only do we get new adventures, but there is plenty of memory sharing after we make camp.

As always, I take along my art traveling gear. Some years it has stayed closed for the entire trip, but this year I vowed to paint every day. Here is the first painting done at Whiskey Creek Campground day 1.

Whiskey Creek, 11 x 14, Watercolor

Each year's trip offers something different which will help categorize one trip from another--rain, fires, helicopters scooping water, long searches for campgrounds. This one will stick in my memory as HOT! I think there may have been record breaking 100 degree plus temperatures on 2 of our days on the river. This made swimming and sitting in creeks the best way to spend the afternoon.

Day 2's painting never happened. I had a close call with heat stroke and the creek we sat in did not easily accommodate setting up gear. But the days cooled down and we had wonderful evening temperatures, excellent meals. Mike and I chose to sleep under the stars and full moon most nights. This group now has morning routine down pat--coffee or tea first, breakfast next, groover (toilet) duty last, load up the rafts and take off for another day of fun and rapids.

As for wildlife, we were warned that it was a big bear year, meaning a lot had been in or near campsites over the summer. Each night we would haul all our coolers and dry boxes into the "bear cage"--a small space surrounded by a battery powered electric fence. However, we never saw a bear or even bear scat. We did see a variety of birds: herons, kingfishers, egrets, bald eagles, and turkey vultures. We saw and heard many small birds as well. The blue jays were especially vocal. Along the river shore we spotted one mink and several otters. 

Day 3 we camped at a new spot for us. It is known as the "Eagle's Nest" because many years ago several retired WWII high ranking military men had a cabin (now gone) where they gathered on the Rogue in the summer. What's left are very steep stairs leading up to the remnants of a stone chimney. The gem of this spot is East Creek, a beautiful, winding stream offering cool sitting areas and fabulous scenery. 

East Creek's painting started out poorly. The paper I pulled out was not a good surface. I started a painting that immediately turned muddy and was way too detailed. What was I thinking! I dipped the whole piece into the creek, rubbed off the paint and flipped it over. I sat in the camp chair, feet in the water, and began to channel shape painters I greatly admire like Frank Webb and Ratindra Das. What were the shapes? How could I simplify this scene?

East Creek, 14 x 11, Watercolor and Ink

That night, all of us slept on a small river bar, sleeping pads only, no tents. It also meant we didn't have to haul all our coolers and boxes--a bear would have had to step over us to get to the rafts! The next morning Mike climbed up to the "Eagle's Nest" to get this great picture of our rafts.

On the Rogue there is one day that makes a rower's stomach churn a bit. This is about a 2 mile stretch that includes Mule Creek Canyon and Blossom Bar. Mule Creek Canyon is a narrow small canyon filled with swirls, waves and boils. One part is called the coffee pot where a raft or boat can go round and round, peculating for several hours. Below is a view of Blossom Bar which has caused many an accident and unfortunately quite a few fatalities.

And this is how Mike looks when he does a perfect job of rowing without hitting a single rock! He's telling the details of the great run!

And, yes, I was on the trip with my hair reverting to the dandelion locks of my towhead, toddler years.

Middle Tacoma Camp is a lovely spot with lots of shade, wonderful spots to sit and watch the river, great pools to wade or swim and the bonus of an outhouse nearby--no groover duties!

On this trip, I was drawn to the rocks and plants that decorate the river, many spots look like an "ikebana" arrangement. 

The last day before take out, I pulled out one more sheet to paint on. I sat in a shady spot and looked at some rocks nearby, the river and the shore across the river. As you can see, I tried out a variety of styles with these plein air paintings. Do you have a favorite of the three?

Tacoma Camp, 11 x 14, Watercolor

And on our last day, take out day, I watch for the "Bonsai Tree" that I have painted many a time in my studio. Will it still be standing? One tree on a monolithic rock--and yes, it still stands.