Monday, August 24, 2015

A Ritual of Late Summer--Taking Down the Swallow Houses

Yesterday an acquaintance stopped by and said, "I drove right by your place. I can't find you without the birdhouses up."

Every year for the past 20 years, soon after we spot the first tree swallow in March, we put up somewhere between 20 and 30 birdhouses. They line our driveway and swing across our pastures. I often imagine neighbors driving by saying, "Old man Godfrey has is bird houses up again." Or maybe we have nick names like "Goofy Godfreys" or "Bird-brained Godfreys." Regardless, we so enjoy the birds coming in and building their spring and summer homes in our swallow boxes.

The season ends late July, when all the fledglings have left, and the fields get quiet. This is the first year we haven't had a grand kid here to help keep records of the findings as we open the boxes.

The way we look at the success of the boxes is what we find inside: lots of poop means a healthy nest with offspring, unhatched eggs means something kept the parents from seeing the nest through hatching (cold weather, death of the adult, etc.), mummies (the saddest to me) means the eggs hatched successfully but something kept the parents from feeding and sending the young out into the world.

Last week Mike took the houses down and I kept a photographic record of the nests, rather than the hand-made spreadsheets the grandchildren would do. Read the captions to understand my little photo essay.
This is the last house we still have that
was hand-decorated by my mother.

This has indications it was a very successful nest.
No unhatched eggs, no mummies, and lots of poop!

A successful nest except for one little unhatched egg.

I've never seen this before.
The nest was covered by a swallow with her wings spread.
When flipped over she looked alive.

Here are 5 or 6 little mummified swallows
What happened?

This nest never made it to hatching.

Sometimes a next has cohabitation: swallows and wasps. Was this poor little swallow stung to death?

This nest had a colorful surprise.
This nest-maker robbed someone's fall decorations to find a
colorful cloth leaf. An artistic touch! 

Now the houses are loaded up to be hauled to the barn,  hosed out, repaired and put away until next spring.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Katherine Chang Liu's Ventura Artists' Retreat--A Place to Grow and Mature as an Artist:Part IV Wrapping Up

What brings artists back to this art retreat year after year? Beyond the personal growth and guidance in one's own artistic journey, there is synergy created by 20 plus artists in the same room day after day. The attending artists come from all over the U.S and Canada prepared to work hard for the two weeks.
Each artist works with different media, styles and visions. I love the exposure to so many creative ways to express oneself. Some artists come with bags full of batting and fabrics and yarns.
Others bring a year's worth of boxes and treasures to put in those boxes. There are other painters, but no one's work looks a thing alike.
Beyond what each person brings to the studio to expand each other's thoughts about art, Katherine puts on a power point presentation each morning. The images cover art from geometric to shape driven to figurative to realism. Each presentation shows new and interesting ways to talk about our world through art.

Of course, there is the one on one time with Katherine where she offers her insight and encouragement. She is gifted with an ability to look at an artist's work and help them discover strengths and inclinations to build on. I know I have come home each time with more faith in my own abilities, energy to continue working and excitement to see what I might do next! 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Katherine Chang Liu's Ventura Artists' Retreat--A Place to Grow and Mature as an Artist:Part III

30" x 22"
Transparent Watercolor
This is the last piece to come out of the time I spent in Ventura. Katherine considered this the best piece of the three, commenting that it "captured" the person. At her suggestion, I left the white of the paper on the hat, shirt and lower half of the painting. I like the way it gives a punch to the face, red lettering and red shoes. The most challenging part of this technically, was painting the foreshortened figure. I stubbornly (because I knew it would be difficult) chose this view because the interesting shoe arrangement. As with the other paintings, there is plenty of symbolism in this piece, but I will leave it to your own interpretation. Do you find this image evocative?

Perhaps the most important thing I came away with, is that I can paint everything from hats to shoes and figures both imaginatively or realistically. I can even paint a grubby sock. I can use transparent watercolor, collage, acrylic paints and even a little bit of gold leaf. So the "message to self" is that at this point in my art career, I am not limited by materials or subject matter. I can paint almost anything that comes to mind. The real challenge now is choosing a topic for my next series. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Katherine Chang Liu's Ventura Artists' Retreat--A Place to Grow and Mature as an Artist:Untitled Part II

The second painting I completed in Ventura has a backstory and is related to two previously painted works. To give you an idea of how an idea cultivates in my mind, I have to return to a specific time and date in a Seattle hospital. An image engulfed me one evening as I walked into my daughter's hospital room where she lay covered with a beautiful blanket. Someone else may have viewed her as vulnerable and bald. I looked at her and saw a Gustav Klimpt painting. This vision stuck with me through several months until I was back home in my studio. I really knew very little about Klimpt, and this was before the movie, "Woman in Gold." I enjoyed reading, looking at his work, and digging into his place in art history before beginning the three "Rachel Klimpted" pieces.

Enduring the Cure
30" x 22," Gouache on gold gessoed paper

This piece to the right is the first one I painted, shortly after returning home. Rachel was just beginning her recovery. This painting is full of my symbolism and an expression of my own feelings of helplessness and vulnerability throughout that time.

Time passed and I decided to try another painting using a brighter approach with more mixed media. Again I painted on watercolor paper coated with gold gesso. I had fun with this painting. I liked creating the animal fur background (a commonly used item by many painters from Klimpt's period) and painting the small portraits of Rachel's children.

I arrived at Ventura with the idea to paint a third "Rachel Klimpted," but this time, she would be as she is today, upright, beautiful and with hair. I wanted to paint her in the style of glamorous portraits done by Klimpt himself, but with my own symbols and icons. With some sage advice from Katherine Chang Liu , I managed my way through this painting; I even attempted gold leaf for the first time, which is very tedious and exacting. (I assume I would get better with practice.) Mosaics were an inspiration to Klimpt, so that came into play in this piece. By painting the figure with the arm over head and the slight tilt to the head, I connected this figure with the two previous paintings. Here are some symbolic parts to this work: bare feet, unfinished mosaic, path-like mosaic, Van Gogh's sunflowers. There was a lot of joy in creating this piece. I hope to paint one or two more on this theme.

I feel compelled to finish with a disclaimer: this is not a portrait. This figure does not "look" like my daughter. None of my work is portraiture, but rather figurative art, "any form of modern art that retains strong references to the real world and particularly to the human figure."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Katherine Chang Liu's Ventura Artists' Retreat--A Place to Grow and Mature as an Artist:Untitled Part I

Even to me, at 66 years of age, talking about maturing seems silly. But as an artist, it is totally the correct word. Although I've been painting for 20 some years, I am still discovering things about myself, my art skills and my art voice!

This past year my paintings have been full of deep personal thoughts and symbolism. Katherine Chang Liu,the workshop leader, used the word "poetic" when looking at my Salmon Series. (I'm still blushing from that high praise.) We both agreed that the series was mostly done. I felt it before leaving home, and she could see it in the work. I have said most of what I have to say about the "Life Cycle Imperative" of the salmon.

Beyond the artistic concept of the"Life Cycle Imperative," I discovered a comfort zone in using a kimono shape composition. With the combination of flat quiet areas along with the detailed areas with more dimension and activity, I think my work has become more recognizable. My paintings done in the retreat continued with that design and composition, but my subject matter moved on to an extension of the series I had begun this past year about my daughter and our shared experience with her stem cell transplant and recovery.

Untitlted (so far)
30" x 22" mixed media
I arrived at the workshop with the drawing for this painting done. I included collage materials, too, because I had envisioned that being a good way to bring the hats to life.

Do you see the kimono shaped composition of this piece? I think this painting speaks to all women who have experienced, or have close relationships with women who have experienced, the loss of hair. I like that the whimsy of the hats present a juxtaposition to the seriousness surrounding hair loss and chemotherapy. I used paint, collage and line drawing to this piece, looking for a contempory feel. The floating hats give it a surrealistic flair.

Please feel free to send me comments and title suggestions!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Heading Back to Ventura

As I plan for the upcoming 2 weeks in Ventura with Katherine Chang Liu, it seems like a good time to assess what has come from last year's art retreat. There is, of course, assembling my art supplies and shipping them, packing clothes, planning transportation. But as I assemble the eight photos for Katherine's viewing where she'll help guide me on my journey, some of my own ideas come to light.

It was in Ventura last August that I started the Life Cycle Imperative Series. It was based on a simple question--what can a circle become in my paintings? Now I can't even recall how a salmon egg came to mind, although it fits with the river themes I've painted for years. However, the eggs, the salmon, the journey from river to sea and back again, all fell into place this past year as a wonderful analogy to my own life. The more I learned about salmon, the more I connected with the relentless drive within these creatures.

And so my paintings this year have been driven by the Salmon's journey from beginning to end. Oddly, I've felt that my last painting or two is the end for this. There may be another idea or two there, but I feel it's time to go on. I've felt both inspired and trapped in this series. A year later, as I look at the 10 large paintings (there are several more small ones), I see that I became more realistic than I want to be long term. My true artistic leaning is more toward the abstracted view of the world.

This seems to be a very good spot to be in right now. I'm ready for a new challenge, a new path. I expect the last 2 weeks in July to be full of creativity, fun and hard work. It is never very easy to change direction, but it usually leads somewhere unexpected. Just like last year's question about a circle led to a year of learning about, admiring, and painting salmon.

So in celebration of the end of the salmon series, and looking for a connection to my more creative and playful side, I painted a companion piece to one of my heron paintings. This gives me two new paintings in the last 2 or 3 weeks. And I have to add that I've truly enjoyed the challenge of painting these athletic fish in motion!
The Last Hurrah
29 x 22, Transparent watercolor
Life Cycle Imperative #9: Digging the Redd
29 x 22, Transparent watercolor

Here is the companion piece for The Last Hurrah, Blue Moon Heron.

Monday, July 6, 2015

New Additions to the "Life Cycle Imperative" Series--#8 and #9

Most of my time this last month has been spending time with family. This is a wonderful gift, of course, but it does take away from my time to paint. Ahh, the choices: the river not floated of the painting not painted.

However, I did find some time to get out to the studio where I added two new salmon paintings to the  "Life Cycle Imperative" Series. Number 8 is telling the story based on the Native American belief that salmon was a gift of the Salmon People in the river. Tribal members were careful to return all the skeleton remains to the river after feasting on the salmon. The failure to do so could bring harm to individuals or the entire tribe.

There is also a very practical reason to return the salmon parts that are not eaten, and that is to provide nutrients to the stream and to the salmon eggs.

Life Cycle Imperative #8: Returning the Gift

Life Cycle Imperative #9: The Spawning Redd 
Step by Step

The painting I finished today started with a loose sketch, a test color strip, and a couple of new stamps made for this particular piece. 

I then prepared a sheet of watercolor paper by saving the white of the paper with contact paper in the appropriate shapes and securing the edges with masking fluid,
(I have learned the hard way that contact paper allows color to bleed under the edges.)

Once the white paper is saved, I can really go to town preparing the background. I like to know that once the background suits me, I can take off the contact paper and work on the subject.

Poor color, sorry
After the first washes were on, creating a water and gravel separation, I wanted to add a warmer tone to the upper part of the water and added a wash of yellow. Over several sessions, I added pigment to and deepened the colors of the background.

Once I had the background washes, I added the rocks and pebbles, ripples above and worked on the sand and gravel that the spawning salmon stirs up making her redd (nest).

After that was done, I peeled away the contact paper and masking fluid and painted the salmon and reflections. Today I altered the fish a bit and added a rock ledge to the right and a piece of wood to the left. I walked away from the studio feeling quite happy with this one.

Life Cycle Imperative #9: The Spawning Redd