Monday, March 25, 2024

In Memoriam of a Pink Dogwood

Part I 

Dang They Were Right

In the spring of 2020 we were all hunkering down, trying to avoid contracting Covid-19. That gave me the opportunity to fulfill a dream I'd had for awhile--painting my own backyard. The spring flowers came in a great array of lilacs, daffodils, dogwoods,  azaleas and more. Almost every afternoon during the months of April and May I was outside painting my own landscape.

I was especially attracted to our dogwoods, both native and domesticated. 

There was the beautiful pink dogwood in our backyard. What a showoff!!

Most of you viewers know that a fire raged through our valley in the fall of that year, taking out our home as well as most of our decorative shrubs and trees.  Many trees burned and fell, but the pink dogwood still stood.  I was told by many folks, including experts, that the bark at the bottom of the tree was gone, therefore the tree could not live. There was no way for the water and nutrients to travel to and from leaves to the roots. "Face it Margaret, the tree is dead." 

However, I refused to take it out and somewhat miraculously the wonderful blooms came back for two more springs. How that happened, I do not know, but last spring there were no blooms. It's dead branches did serve a purpose last summer though, as many birds enjoyed sitting there and that gave us wonderful viewing of many different bird species. 

That pink dogwood was such a symbol for me. Somehow I could deny all that we had lost if the tree bloomed. But dead it was! 

This winter I reluctantly agreed that it should go.

Part II

The Concept Artist has a Plan

In memoriam ( in memory of someone who has died)

Once the tree was gone we had a couple of options. We could just clear out the small circle of vegetation that surrounded the now removed dogwood and turn it into lawn, OR we could get a new tree! 

When it comes to gardening and yard work there is a bit of a struggle between the planter (me) and the mower/weed wacker (Mike). I plant and he wacks. Sometimes a new, smaller plant or tree takes a bit of damage accidentally. 

I really wanted to replace my symbolic pink dogwood tree and I wanted it's new small trunk protected from damage. As I contemplated this potential problem, the concept artist I am came up with a vision. We could build a small 8 or 10 foot circular wall, elevating the tree and creating a garden space for blooming plants around it. 

As Mike and I were driving into town the other day, I shared my idea with him. We had agreed on the new tree, but I doubted he would like the thought of one more project. To my surprise, he immediately got on board. After looking at rocks and bricks designed for this sort of work at Lane Forest Products, Mike proposed we used the river rock/mini boulders we have on our property.

On several spots around our six acres, we found some stones big enough to build a wall, yet small enough for us to roll into the bucket of our borrowed tractor. Once moved to our designated dogwood home, we would have to maneuver them into a circle.

After a short ride, the rocks were being dumped down on a 10 foot square of landscape fabric.

Mike got on his knees to fill gaps among the large rocks with smaller ones. 

Amazingly, with a day's work of rolling, hauling, dumping, filling and planting one tree, my concept came to fruition! 

View from the house.

This dogwood is  called a rosy teacup (a different variety than the one we lost) and I hope to see one or two of these blooms in the next month.


Thursday, March 7, 2024

Masking, Simplifying and Patterns

Sometimes I come in from the studio "juiced up." The last few days I've been zeroing in on an idea of abstracting and simplifying a painting based on the night workers who came into our yard (working from dusk into the dark) to hook us up with electricity after eight days without power. So the question was how to communicate floodlights, big equipment, workers on trees, etc. And for whatever reason, I realized I was using the help of so many instructors and artists I've learned with along the way:

  • Geoff McCormack for the smooth blue background and masking
  • Fran Larsen for premixing the paint to get a consistent color and think about "What if"
  • Ratindra Das for sketching and composition
  • Frank Webb for symplification
  • Katherine Chang Liu for telling me I could paint anything
  • and more...
So attempt one taught me a few things.

Masking tape and Oramask allow me to pour on a deep, dark night sky.

Next I could simplify and unify the lower portion by applying an orange background color.

As I completed this first painting with a unified dark brown in the "ground" and patterned both the trees and the ground I felt it was missing some potential excitement. 


I pulled out my collage materials and began to place pieces around to add a little chutzpah.

(This has not been glued down yet, so it's still in the works.)

I then taped another sheet of paper, adding 3 inches and a tree to the left. Once again putting down a powerful dark blue.

Upside down to let the blue paint run toward the top.

I'm delighted with the results of 2nd painting.

Night Workers
Transparent Watercolor
21 x 18 inches

What I am pleased with: 

  • Simplicity
  • Colors
  • Patterns and more patterns
  • Storytelling
As always, I would love to hear from you!!

Friday, February 16, 2024

One Thing Leads to Another

 On a Snowy Day  in 2014 . . .

And I Would Truly Enjoy Hearing Your Reactions

Nine years ago we had a February winter storm when our grandson, Noah, was just the right age to spend a day jumping and sledding and making snow angels. Facebook recently popped a great photo from 2014 as a memory. 

I decided this photo was just too interesting to ignore. It is a great composition, light hearted and full of energy. I have also been wanting to work on my transparent watercolor skills. So here is my week of studies, perhaps to help me create a larger painting.

( I have continued to put gold gesso on paper to continue my gouache work, but took a break this week to do just plain watercolor.)

Three Paintings Using Different Approaches

Based on Realism

This first painting was sort of a warm up. I used a more realistic approach and made the mistake of using a cadmium yellow wash to warm up the snow. I don't like the results.

Next Try: More Abstract

To me this is much fresher and joyful. It also led me to decide to go one step further with abstract and patterns.

Abstract and Patterns

I love the clean lines of this. It needs to be a book cover, don't you think?

But does it need one more thing?


I think the foot prints add a completion to the story. I haven't painted them yet, but should I?

I would love to hear which style you find most appealing.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Be Brave, But Have Fun

So many artists I've taken workshops with come to mind at various times. Yesterday it was Carla O'Conner and Frank Webb.  Carla's workshop came up when I discovered a full sheet of watercolor paper covered with gold gesso. Carla mostly paints on gessoed paper (not only gold gesso) with watercolor and gouache. This is something that I would have never thought of on my own. 

I applied the gold gesso to this paper in 2020 after the Holiday Farm Fire!

For Frank's influence there is always the #1--It's only paper.  This is what gives this artist bravery. If a painting doesn't turn out well, think of #1. But he also talked about how to make your art come from your own hand. If working from a photo, do a sketch, then draw it, then paint. Each time you recreate it, it becomes your own original work. 

So yesterday I went out to the studio with those two artists in mind--paint with gouache on gold gesso and make it my own! What better way to follow these influencers than take my own painting and recreate it on gold gesso.  So I pulled out my "One Must Always Wear Pearls" as my inspiration for a new painting. 

She tells a story, is painted with gouache, but has a lot of realism. I decided to do a new version of this painting, but with a more abstract design. Below you will see the development of this piece. One of the advantages of working this way (gouache on gessoed paper) is that one can totally remove a part or all of the paint with a wet paper towel. 

This is how I left the painting in the studio today. Mike liked it better before the white circles turned into faces (too illustrative). Yes the arm in the foreground is overly big, yet I like the amount of light it creates. Oh so many things could be different, but most importantly, I had fun! 

Now from Gone with the Wind--Tomorrow is another day!

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Creating Equals Experimenting

For more than a year now I have been painting faces using only black and white gouache. One way I have finished the background is with a flat color.

He's a Carhartt Man

Then I've tried creating a background that tells more of the story.

One Must Always Wear Pearls

Now I am struggling to find an interesting way to add to a portrait without such a storytelling background, yet something that adds interest. Below you can see more of my experimenting with a face and background. 

Trial and Error

Open Window

Finally arriving today with the soft greens floating around her face, (notice green eyes) I have a story. You know that moment when you open a window and smell cool fresh air? It can almost feel like the outdoors is coming right in and surrounding you.

Comments are welcome and often very helpful to me as I struggle through the process of creating something that communicates to my viewers!

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

I Am a Multilingual Artist

Okay, I only speak English in speech and writing, but I speak many languages with my art. This is an issue I've dealt with in my art creation over and over. What is my language? Many artists have their own voice and rarely deviate from that language. In the many series that I've painted over the years, I do stay with one story or idea for a period of time. Then I see a new and different path, a language I have not yet spoken. I'm not talking about ways to apply paint, products to use, etc. I'm referring how to make my paper express and speak about what's in my brain and heart. 

For many years in October, I attended Katherine Chang Liu's art retreat in California. I always received  encouragement from Katherine to go in a certain art direction. Each October, I would come back fueled with a year's energy to paint a series. Last year I began painting faces and I will continue to paint these black and white portraits . . .

On the Street

But it's October! Sadly, Katherine has retired from teaching and I am on my own. What to do?

I am heading down a path I have been fearful of: Abstract. For years this idea of "Web of Worries" has been on my mind. You know, those thoughts that keep you awake at night. At first I added this to some of my portraits.


But now I am working toward a true abstract. Here is what came off the easel yesterday. As always, I would love to hear from you!!

Web of Worries: Field of Woes

Friday, September 29, 2023

Is it Possible to Transform Transparent Watercolor?

Years of painting with transparent watercolor, gouache, collage and acrylic have given me oodles of ways to fix a painting. Yet there still many things I haven't tried. So this post shows one way to transform a painting if the artist (me) might be willing to mess around, going from one style of art to another.

A few weeks ago I met a young woman who's looks were so stunning I asked if I could take her picture. I explained that I was an artist and might use the photo for a painting. She was flattered and gave her consent to both the photo and the potential painting.

I began  the portrait with transparent watercolor. The more I painted, the more I got a Persian vibe from her features.

I spent some time looking at some fabrics from the region. Many of the patterns included a paisley design which led me to creating a new stamp for the background.

Once that was done, I was ready to work farther on the painting.

I chose a scarf to cover some of her head, some dark and light in the background. Finally I used my newly designed stamp to create a more interesting backdrop for this lovely face.

There was certainly a time that I would have patted my own back and said, "Job well done." But . . .

I wanted a different look, one that is more in keeping with the recent back and white portraits I've been painting. So I began to work on breaking away from transparent to gouache (an opaque watercolor paint).

My Process

I first put a layer of diluted gesso (a thin, white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment, or a combination of these substances) over the entire painting.

I still had enough of the figure to use as I moved on repainting the face in black and white (mixed to create various grays) gouache. 

Once I was satisfied with the newly painted face, I layered frog tape over the entire face and scarf. Because the tape is semi-transparent, I could gently cut around the figure with an exacto knife. If one is careful, it only cuts the tape and not the paper.

With the figure protected, I could work on the background with ease. I didn't have to paint so carefully and I could make the stamp appear behind the woman. Finally I removed the tape and . . .