Saturday, December 12, 2020

A Star to the East (of Blue River)

In 1987 Mike and I bought the house that we remodeled and lived in over decades. We raised our daughters, entertained family and friends and created a special spot in the hearts of many. But at Christmas, it had a special feature, a bright star hanging 100+ feet in a tall evergreen.

We discovered the original star in our barn, shortly after we moved in to our home. It was five or six feet across and made out of rebar--that made it very heavy. It was a family affair, choosing light colors (before rope lights or leds) and attaching them securely to the armature forming the star. We had debates about where to put it--on top of the pump house our in the pasture? On top of the garage or house? In a tree top?

The winner was a tree top! Mike was still in his 30's and feeling quite able, so he started climbing a very
tall cedar tree in the middle of our round-about drive, with rope and pulley. The girls and I stood far out the drive with the star attached to the rope and kept it taut to avoid tangling with the limbs as Mike pulled it up to the top of the tree. With a bit more engineering, he maneuvered a long extension cord up the tree trunk and we proudly lit it up for our community and winter travelers driving up and down Highway 126. Every year we'd have a neighbor or friend ask when the star would light up, and every year we would plug in the extension cord on the day after Thanksgiving. The timer was set from dusk to dawn. We would imagine weary truck drivers heading toward the snowy mountain pass getting a moment of joy from the shining star.

Eventually, that treetop died, and we had to move the star to a different tree. Mike also decided the rebar idea was not the best metal to use and had an aluminum star made. This time he was no longer as young and agile as he was in his 30's (plus his wife said absolutely not) so we hired a young tree climber to take this much lighter star way up a different tree. Another new thing was rope lights, making the attachment of Christmas lights so much easier. On the day after Thanksgiving, we plugged in the extension cord.  And so once again there was a star at night to brighten a traveler's trip up the McKenzie Valley. 

And on it went for many more years until  September 7, 2020, when much of the McKenzie Valley burned down, including our home and the tall evergreen that housed the star. Here is where the true spirit of Mike Godfrey shows up. If you know Mike, you probably have your own view of the kind of person he is, but the rest of this story might surprise you. 

In the midst of the grief of the loss of our home and the loss suffered by so many others, he contacted Mercury Metal in Eugene and arranged to have a new 7 foot aluminum star manufactured. Then there was a little distraction from the project as he had a bilateral knee replacement. But as he was recovering from his surgery he tapped into his engineering brain and began to figure out how to use solar power to light up the star on our burned up property with no electricity. 

On November 13 we picked up the star, attached it on our 1947 trailer and took it to the house we are renting in Eugene.

Once we got it to the house, we had to attach LED strip lights (made for RV's) to the star. We also got help from our handy and brilliant nephew. He built a lovely structure to house the controls and battery to run the star once up. He also helped Mike in figuring out the electronics of the whole operation.

Attaching the lights.

But who would climb the tree? Never fear, there is always a wonderful volunteer willing to help in these kinds of crazy situations. Jason Wickizer, a volunteer fire fighter/first responder from Iowa, came to the rescue. He was not only willing and able, but loved being part of giving this hopeful sign to the McKenzie Valley. On November 20, we traveled from Eugene to Blue River with a group of willing helpers to set up the solar power and get the star 100 feet up a tree.

Jason getting his gear on

Jason beginning the climb

Jason with ground support, Dave and Angelica

Look for the star, then the orange helmet is attached to Jason

Oh what a day it was!  At the end of it we had continued a tradition that meant for us, "we are coming back." For our community, it was a symbol of hope. You can burn us down, Mother Nature, but our spirit is still strong--McKenzie Strong.

A Star to the East (of Blue River)

Monday, December 7, 2020

Fire: From My Mind to Paper with Three Tools

 Again, I marvel at how time passes. This is only the second painting I've created in the last month, yet it is meaningful. It lived in my brain for a length of time before it moved from inside to out. 

Of course it was inspired by the evacuation from the holiday fire itself, and our multiple visits to our property. Seeing the dead trees and forest surrounding our ruins has a huge impact, each time we are there.

The steps were simple: Wet the paper, leaving interesting corner shapes, then apply paint while wet.

Oh, there must be darks! (indigo)

Let it dry, and let the mind's image develop.


Next, lift some trunks using straight edges of velum (a paper resistant paper). Then start painting in the burned trees.

And here's the tough part: dish out some black gouache (opaque watercolor paint) grab a paint scraper and sweep across the image over and over. Add some FIRE on top of that with orange/red gouache.

I am avoiding getting overly emotional with my verbiage--the painting should speak to that.

watercolor and gouache

All this was done with just 3 tools, a 2 inch flat wash brush, a rigger and a paint scraper.



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.