Thursday, July 29, 2021

A New Attraction: Birds on Long and Skinny Paper

I am still on the bird kick. After a week long Salmon River rafting trip, I came home with the big birds on my mind.  We saw bald eagles (both mature and immature), golden eagles and osprey daily. Their flight over my head burned into my art brain and I could hardly wait to put them on paper. Again with a nod to Japanese wood prints, I split my full sheet of watercolor paper in half the long and skinny way. This provides a unique and elegant look in my mind which suits the subject matter well. 

Osprey Above Me (working title)
Transparent Watercolor
30" x 11"

Here's a photo taken on the trip. I think you can see what inspired the landscape part of the painting.

Since getting home, I also finished #4 of the Western Tanager pieces. I have received a lot of positive comments on these and have considered making prints, something I rarely do. Please let me know what you think about the print idea. I guess I'm asking if you might purchase one. 

So for now, I am focusing on the birds that I see with my own eyes and in my own environment. It is important to me to tell an authentic story, even with something so common as a bird. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

More Birds and A Reminder Lesson

The other day, while standing on the deck overlooking the McKenzie River, an orange flash above the water caught my eye. I immediately did a visual search up and down the river (through the leaves of the big leaf maples) hoping to catch an identifying view of what I had just a glimpse of. To my delight, a few seconds later, a western tanager landed in the maple tree, close enough to clearly see him in all his glory.

These birds are among my favorites for two reasons. First of all, they are so flashy with their yellows and reds. (After all, we artists are suckers for color.) Secondly, they are rare enough in the McKenzie Valley that I only get  to see one once or twice a year. They prefer the more open coniferous forests on the east side of Oregon. In any case, this one small guy began a new creative urge. I tore a full sheet of watercolor paper into four 15" x 11" pieces and decided to paint each one featuring a western tanager.

In the last few weeks, I have started using a mouth atomizer as a way to create a gentle color and texture. I've also been studying the beautiful Japanese woodblock prints and mainly focus on the work of Ohara Koson, who used birds and simplicity in much of his art. So given my tools and my interest in Koson's art, as well as this flash on the river, I started a 4 part series of western tanagers.

The Start

The finished painting
Western Tanager #1 (working title)

Western Tanager #2 (working title)

Western Tanager #3 (working title)

With the success of the first three paintings, I confidently began #4. 

Now the reminder lesson:

Watercolor paint is easily reactivated. Even though the gold paint was dry, when I put my damp arm down on the painting to work on the upper portion of the paper, I created much unwanted blobs creating a disturbed area in the otherwise unified paint. Phewee! 
I am pretty good at fixing things, but I could not fix these splotches to my satisfaction. 

So once again the lesson is, always protect areas under the arm or wrist (unless you never rest your arm on the painting ha-ha) with a rag or paper towel.

I now have a new start to the nesting western tanager and I have a protective towel ready!

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Art is My Lifeboat

I have been thinking a lot recently about my fixation with flying birds. They are taking flight in my paintings regularly. Of course, there are many obvious reasons: they are elegant and beautiful, they are part of my daily view, and they are a common subject most humans can relate to. But I know they have become an important symbol to me in the last few months.

Wouldn't I just love to take flight! I'm not a complainer, but I have to say this period of time has been a challenge for both me and my husband, Mike. We have been so attached both physically and emotionally to our home, that being displaced from those roots has been like being thrown to sea where we are riding the waves. There are the hopeful waves, the frustrating waves, the stormy waves, the calm waves. But it seems like there are just way too many more waves in the future than we want until we get to shore again. So that's when I want to fly up into the bright and open sky.

Heading Home
Transparent Watercolor
21" x 29"

I have been looking at many pieces of art that have birds as the subject matter. And as was true for Van Gogh, Bernard, and many other artists, I have been drawn to the wood prints of the Japanese artists.

These two pieces are an homage to Ohara Koson (1877-1945), an artist known especially for painting birds and flowers. I really enjoy painting on long, thin pieces of watercolor paper, a format that suits this theme.  (These paintings have been purchased as a companion pair.)

I do love the egrets and herons, but I see so many songbirds in the trees off the deck of the house we are renting, that I think I may be painting some of those. I have really enjoyed adding the birds to my more graphic art pieces.

Early in the spring, the tree swallows flew into the river area in the hundreds. Their beautiful blues were enhanced by the sunny stream of light hitting their heads and backs.

Then came the violet-green swallows. They became the dominant birds and one little violet-green swallow made a nest in the burned stump just a stone-throw from the deck. Can you spot her little head poking out of the hole?

A few days ago, I was startled by an orange flash flying across the river. A moment later the flash clearly became a bird, as a Western Tanager landed in the tree right in front of me. It is always a special treat to see these birds, as they are more rarely sighted than the robins, swallows and finches. I know that the Western Tanager will be in my featured in my next painting. Perhaps I'll paint a pair coming right near the maple tree I see off the deck. 

These lovely living creatures are a "wave of inspiration." So the waves aren't all bad, and we are navigating through them. I am thankful everyday that art calls to me and presents itself as my lifeboat.

Monday, April 26, 2021

"Don't Rush In," She Said.

I have been working on a number of paintings using the same beginning. I mask off an abstract shape creating a "cruciform" configuration that creates a continuous white form that leaves a bit differently from each of the four sides of the watercolor paper. I am using full sheets, 22 inches by 30 inches, which allows great abandon with the painting of shapes and ideas. After posting a photo on facebook in the beginning of the last painting, a very good artist, Gale Webb, warned me not to "rush in." However, by the time I read her message, I had already finished the painting and it was too late to back up and let things ruminate. 

In the beginning of this piece, I have already designated 3 areas that will get a bird shape: one large at the top, two together creating a different shape and one smaller single bird. I really enjoyed the last painting in which I used these same haunting, foggy, neutral colors to begin with. but you can see it also can leave me with a huge "what next" question. 

*check out  my last post from April 15, 2021 to see the two previous paintings done in the same manner.

In the photo above, I have started a landscape, one that reflects what I see out our windows. Some trees are starting to leaf out, but they have been burned at the bottom and look like lollipops--long trunks with small round tops. Also in this photo is a piece of collage material I put over the painting to see if I'd like the soft yellow. As you will see, I decided that it was a nice accompaniment to the subtle neutrals.

And I was following Gale's advice, working on one idea and letting it settle before moving forward. In other words, this was not an impulsive piece. I did not paint it in one day. 

I began to really like the dreaminess of the piece as it developed. It is surely a combination of what I see and what I imagine. I was giving myself time to develop the backdrop before painting the "stars" of the piece. 

In the end, I imagined this as a moonlit dream, so the birds had to appear as silhouettes. And I also decided to leave quite a bit of white. 

What do you think? Did I make the right choices?

Dreaming of Birds
Watercolor and collage on paper
21" x 29"

Thursday, April 15, 2021

So Many Ways

I am so thankful for my blogging. I often use it to reference and remember my art journey, which is what I was looking for today. But as I searched back through the years, I was blessed with photos of my mom, grandkids when they were little, raft trips, parties, etc. But I was looking for . . .

April 2009. This was the year I took a workshop with John Salminen ( He is best known for his very detailed city scapes, but in this workshop, he taught an approach to abstract painting and this method stuck with me. This week I came up with 2 very different paintings using the same subject, egrets. For a while now I have been fascinated with their shape while flying and have painted them in several ways starting with realism.

Then I painted them quite realistic but in a made up strata design.

This week I started an abstract, putting 3 simplified bird figures into a pyramid composition and began the tried and true Salminen start.

Egret Shapes in an Abstracted Design

Here is the first photo I took after creating a cruciform shape that I blocked off with tape. The egret forms are still protected with film and tape at this point.

Here you see my addition of warmth with yellows and red. I am beginning to lift and paint squares and rectangles.

This is where I stepped back and decided on two things--I loved the art nouveau feel as it developed, so decided to do more, and I thought the yellow was a bit much.

Come Fly With Me
Watercolor on paper
21" x 29"

It took me a bit to determine I was done, but once I did, I wanted to challenge myself to something very different.

I decided to explore both shape and color using the same egret images. I rarely go for muted and neutral colors, so this was a challenge for me.

Going Neutral and Curvilinear 

I started the same way as I did in Come Fly with Me. I protected areas before applying grays, both with a brush and then with my mouth atomizer.

I did really like the painting at this point. It is foggy and mysterious. The story is there for the viewer to come up with, where Come Fly With Me is more of a visual adventure. This painting could certainly be interpreted as spiritual. But I didn't stop there, and would like to revisit how I finished it. You see the almost finished version below. 

Watercolor and Collage on Paper
21" x 29"

Before putting the painting under the weights for flattening and after taking this photo, I lifted some of the quinacridone gold off the rising egret. It seemed over the top to me, I was looking for warmth. I may try another version, leaving it more in the neutrals. After all, it's only paper!

Friday, April 2, 2021

More Art From the Ruins Part II

 I am guessing that the "art from the ruins" and "beauty from the burn" may never end for me. I have painted and drawn and combined the two. What next? Collage. During the time that the sculptures were being created, I was working at a table trying out some collage materials to capture some of the amazing colors and shapes created by the burned and broken pieces that once were our home.

Collage work is messy!

As I put these bits and pieces together on black gessoed paper, they started looking more and more like images from the cosmos--a universe unhinged perhaps.

I wonder what will come next.

Comments are welcomed!

Friday, March 26, 2021

More Art From the Ruins Part I

Just a week ago, sculptor Chris Foltz arrived on our property to begin a multi-day project. The idea was hatched in October, when we found out that the two trees in our turnaround drive were dead and would have to come down. These two incense cedars were about 70 years old and huge. They were a symbolic part of our home, having both prominence and character. They held the Christmas star we put up each year for at least 30 years. My mother requested her ashes go under those trees. The rock garden we built around the trees became "Margaret's Garden" after her death. (Yes, I'm named after my mother.) So finding out they had to be felled was heart-breaking.

I came up with the idea that if we cut them high enough, perhaps we could find a wood sculptor (chain-saw artist) who could turn them into something remarkable. Much of that type of art is bears, eagles, and fish, but I wanted something different. I wanted two abstracted humans who would symbolize the roots Mike and I have put down in that place--the home where we raised our kids, entertained family and friends, taught grandkids how to ride horses and enjoy nature. Not being a sculptor and knowing nothing about running a chainsaw, I put this heavy burden on Chris's shoulders. When we met last Friday, I realized that the art would come out as he explored the tree-stumps and found the heartwood of the trees. About all we agreed upon was there should be 2 heads that represented a male and female figures. I had no idea how he would or could somehow connect these 2 stumps, since they had a yard or two separation. they certainly would not be holding hands.

For at least two of those days the wind howled and the rain fell, but he continued to put in long hours on the scaffolding. Here are the photos of his creation. 

Almost miraculously Chris connect the two figures with a gaze between them!

At the end he put on a protective glaze, which brought out even more of their natural color.,

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Finding the Right Image for a Particular Piece of Paper

 I've been working on gold gessoed paper lately. A full sheet of watercolor paper is 22" by 30" which is sometimes too large for a painting I have in my mind. After painting the two egret paintings recently I had a long skinny piece left. I wondered what I might put on this left over piece of paper. As I walked down the hallway last week there it was--the perfect image. My granddaughter was reading a book while reposed on her bed.  "Hey, can I take a picture of you?" I asked? (She's become pretty used to me using her as a model.)

The inspiration

It didn't take long to come up with ideas for this piece. I wanted to insert a unique story about Angelica using symbols from her life. Years ago when she had to endure long drives into town as a toddler, I would use scenery to entertain her. When spring came, it was the pink trees that drew our attention as we looked out the car window and chanted "pink trees, pink trees." Then I thought to add her totem, an owl, to the tree. 

The Beginning

At first I was just mapping out the image and inserting the ideas I had for the window. I shared this image with my friend, Ruth Armitage, who convinced me that no matter how cute the photo of the upside-down owl was to Angelica and me, it wasn't the best idea for the painting. She suggested I look at Winslow Homer's painting "The New Novel" which had a similar image of a woman lying down reading a book. That gave me the idea of adding that painting to my painting. You will see it in the finished painting; a simplified copy of Homer's painting above the human's head.

Mostly done, but needing details

I simplified the tree covered with covered pink blossoms, and camouflaged the owl in the far right of the window. In this image, you can see the painting on the wall.

12" x 22.5"
Gouache on Gessoed Paper

Here is the finished piece with details added to the figure, clothing and bedding. I am still looking for a title. Send me your ideas please.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Art Rekindled by the River

A few things happened recently that rekindled my interest in painting river-themed pieces. An obvious motivation is that we have rented a house with a covered deck overlooking the McKenzie River. Even on a cold and blustery day, I can walk out a door to get a glimpse of fast flowing water, floating or flying mergansers, or the more rare bald eagle. There is something very invigorating in the river air and the moving view of the water. So when I was asked to videotape a paint demonstration for the Watercolor Society of Oregon, I searched through my file of river photos. I chose a photo I'd taken a couple of years ago on the Rogue River. The two white egrets against the rocks had stuck in my mind as great subject matter ever since I clicked the button on my phone. 

Two egrets photographed on a Rogue River raft trip

I chose to paint on a gold gessoed paper using gouache paint. (Gesso is an acrylic base you can use on watercolor paper, which you can then paint on with gouache, an opaque watercolor paint.) I had prepared several pieces of gessoed paper right after the fire and had been dragging them around for quite awhile.

I discovered filming a painting demonstration is not that easy. The particular method of painting I was using is not at all the same as applying transparent watercolor to paper. It takes more time to dry because the gouache is not absorbed by the paper, rather the gouache paint sits on top of the surface and must dry before a second layer can be applied. Anyway, back to the filming, it took me three days to finish the painting. It was truly a go-and-stop-and-go-again process. Also, it is tough to both paint and talk (explain) at the same time. Then there was the editing which I handed over to my clever husband, who soon passed it back to me after a few lessons on how to use imovie. I had recorded over 3 hours of painting and talking which had to be reduced to 1 1/2 hours. Needless to say, that took some time as well as intense thinking and decision-making. But it is now done, and in the hands of the wonderful WSO volunteers who will make it available to WSO members on YouTube. 

And here is the finished painting:  Rogue Flight.

Rogue Flight
Gouache on Gold Gessoed Watercolor Paper
18" x 22"

With more gold gessoed paper easily available, I started thinking about the paintings I lost in the fire, and how in the past I would just let my imagination create symbols to talk about the subject. I would come up with unusual ways to put a painting together, letting go of reality, creating a bridge between abstract and reality. So here is the result of learning from my past -- painted in one day. (Oh boy, it was fun!)

Rogue Egrets
Gouache on Gold Gessoed Watercolor Paper
22" x 18"

Monday, February 8, 2021

My Art: Scabs Covering the Wounds

 When I take time to deliberate about my latest artistic efforts, which differ from my previous work, I see several interesting elements. The obvious and visual parts are the choice of colors (black and white with red) and graphic design (fire stripped landscapes and ruins). Looking into the motivation and the "why" of the work, I came up with the thought that I was putting scabs over the wounds left by the many personal losses. And aren't scabs the beginning of healing?

pen and ink with watercolor
9" x 6"

I have always been attracted to graphic art, and with the nomadic life I've had since the fire, working on small pieces with pen on paper has made sense. This first one, Burnt, seemed more like a doodle, but I began to spend more time abstracting the images, letting my mind and eye influence the line work. Then by adding the bright red watercolor paint to the graphic elements, a wildness is created. FIRE!! 

Twisted Branches
pen and ink with watercolor
9" x 6"

Last House Standing
pen and ink with watercolor
9" x 12"

In the latest piece, Burned Bark, I used a charred tree for inspiration. The tree sits at the corner of the deck of the house we are now renting. The deck overlooks the McKenzie River. A large portion of this piece is the line work describing the intricacy and fragility of the branches compared to the solid trunk. After finishing the tree with its twisting branches, I imagined the night of the fire with both banks of the ablaze. Surely the river had reflected the red flames devouring the valley that night.

Burned Bark
pen and ink with watercolor
12" x 9"