Random thoughts on a death in the family

So, to be blunt, my mother is dead. She died a week ago, in Florida, where she and my dad spent their winters from December to April. My three brothers and I flew down to be with her and Dad, all hoping she’d pull out of it again, as she had in several previous crises, but I think mother-ovalwe all knew otherwise. She was 88.

We flew down on Sunday, and early Wednesday morning she died. In between times, she was so delighted that we were all there, as was my dad. We sang to her in four-part harmony, as she died. Yesterday was the funeral and burial, here in upstate New York.

Fortunately for us, she and Dad had made prior arrangements with a funeral director close to home, who took charge of getting Mother’s body back to New York State, and all the logistical stuff we might have had to stumble through. She’s been a great source of advice and comfort. There were only a few decisions to be made.

I’m having some trouble shaking off the numbness– I still haven’t wept whole-heartedly. I’m weary and sad and scatter-brained. My youngest brother and I are keeping Dad company in turn, but he also cherishes his alone time. He heads back to Florida in a couple of weeks, to meet my nephew and clean out the double-wide mobile home “unit” he and Mother owned in Florida.

I’m beginning to miss her. I hated the make-up job the undertaker did on her. We had a few good years together, just enjoying one another’s company. She would not have approved of the funeral service starting late, but that was due to the number of people who came to pay their respects. The church was filled. She was widely loved and respected.

Upcoming Drawing and Painting Classes at local libraries

libraries

I’ve got some classes scheduled at both Your Home Public Library, Johnson City NY (YHPL), and Broome County Public Library, Binghamton NY (BCPL).

All courses consist of five 3-hour weekly sessions, and attendance is required at the first session of each. Find details and registration information on all on my Classes and Workshops page.

NEW – Fundamentals of Drawing: How to See Like an Artist, at BCPL. Based on ideas and exercises from “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards, “The Zen of Seeing” by Frederick Franck, and my own experience, this course will help you with rendering 3-D objects in 2-D by learning to SEE like an artist, to draw what you actually see rather than what you think you see. It can also help you with the two painting courses below. Thursdays, 5-8:00 p.m., January 12 through February 9, 2017 – no cost.

Exploring Oil Painting, at YHPL. Using methods and techniques from my own experience and “Still Life Painting Atelier” by Michael Friel, this course guides you through the process of making a studio-based still life painting from life, from composition and underpainting through finishing touches. By request, the still life this time will consist of all glass objects: a fun challenge! Mondays, 1-4:00 p.m., March 20 – April 17, 2017 — $15 supply fee covers all five sessions.

Oil Painting from Altered Photographs, at BCPL. Learn to see your photos differently, how to make them more suitable for oil painting references, and how to enlarge the resulting composition onto your canvas panel using the grid method. Then paint your composition, from underpainting through finishing touches. I utilize methods from “Creative Painting from Photographs,” by Rudy de Reyna, and my own work to illustrate and guide you in using your own photos. Painting materials are supplied at no cost; participants bring a list of low-cost items from a list supplied at registration (also at my Classes and Workshops page as part of the course description). Thursdays, 5-8:00 p.m., May 18 – June 15, 2017

I love teaching these classes — we have a lot of fun. Kudos to both libraries for offering them to the public. Hope you’ll join me!

Beethoven Oaks in “Strokes of Genius,” at the Maryland Federation of Art

Unlikely Dance: Beethoven Oaks - 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas
Unlikely Dance: Beethoven Oaks – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

Sweetie and I shipped off this 30 x 48 in. painting today, via UPS and bound for the Maryland Federation of Art’s Circle Gallery in Annapolis, Maryland. Sweetie designed and built the 40-pound crate, and it was perfect — made to UPS and Circle Gallery specifications, puncture-proof, and designed to keep the painting from moving or directly contacting the crate. The shipping cost was surprisingly low.

If my hard drive hadn’t gone belly-up a month ago, I could quote from the acceptance email that said how many hundreds of artists submitted work for this show, but it was several hundred and Beethoven Oaks was one of 68 selected, so I’m thrilled. We have friends and family in the DC area, so we’ll make a pleasure trip around the opening reception in November. Funny thing, though — someone sent Sweetie a link to the show’s Call for Artists, to pass on to me… and we can’t remember who it was. Some messenger of the gods…

And while we were at UPS, we met a re-emerging artist, the woman behind the counter in the shipping office, who’d like to take my painting class. You just never know.

Moon Watcher

Moon Watcher - 30 x 40 in., oil on canvas
Moon Watcher – 30 x 40 in., oil on canvas

After a long time off the easel, Moon Watcher — the latest in my “Watchers” series — is finished! The Watchers are all based on statuary I love, imagined into strange and significant places.

The depiction of moonlight was really tricky — the reference for the background was not originally moonlit — but once I added a cobalt violet glaze to the sky it really worked, and gently popped the foreground figure’s orange-y tones.

I’ve left this piece pretty loosely rendered, maybe more so than usual. Here’s how it went together:

Click in any of the tiled photos below, to switch to a slide show of progressives. To exit the slide show, click the small X in the upper left corner.

Inspiration, impetus, or … just making art

Inspiration is for amateurs
::: inspiration: noun in·spi·ra·tion \ˌin(t)-spə-ˈrā-shən\  1. something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone  2. a person, place, experience, etc., that makes someone want to do or create something  3. a good idea ::: impetus : noun im·pe·tus \ˈim-pə-təs\ 1. a force that causes something (such as a process or activity) to be done or to become more active 2. a force that causes an object to begin moving or to continue to move  / Merriam Webster Dictionary

I’m a great adherent of Chuck Close’s declaration that “inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.” There’s more to that quote, about the work producing the direction, and how you won’t get much done if you wait for inspiration. I don’t know; maybe that’s a purist’s point of view, and maybe I’m too old to become a purist. But I’ve been in a slump for months, now, and not painting much at all (except for the demo piece for my last painting class, and that was dreadful). I’ve been meaning to sew — an art I also love — but not doing that either. Meaning to clean up my office and studio, getting a bit done but not much, and of course, meaning to paint. But not. Even meaning to doodle and sketch, for pity’s sake, but not doing much of that either. I’ve been reading, mostly. Reading good stuff — mostly Margaret Drabble — but not painting with any will.

IMG_8411sm
Breakfast at the Roycroft Inn

However. A couple of weeks ago on a Sunday, Sweetie celebrated my 65th birthday by taking me on a rural New York State ramble, unbooked, unplanned, heading roughly in the direction of Niagara Falls via secondary roads. The weather was perfect, the scenery beautiful — I’m sorry I took so few photos! Stops at the Glen Curtiss Museum, a stay in Brockport, a brief excursion past the falls in Canada, a stay at the wonderful Roycroft Inn (and campus), and finally, a long stop at the amazing Corning Museum of Glass, before heading for home under the threat of thunderstorms… so refreshing.

Bronze statue of Artemis and a deer - Greek or Roman, Late Hellenistic or early Imperial, 1st cent. BC or 1st cent. AD
Bronze statue of Artemis and a deer – Greek or Roman, Late Hellenistic or early Imperial, 1st cent. BC or 1st cent. AD – Metropolitan Museum of Art

The following Saturday, I got on a bus for NYC with a group from the Fine Arts Society of the Southern Tier, and spent a fabulous day in the City looking at great art with fine companions — including a visit to the Met’s John Singer Sargent collection and the Artemis/Diana bronze (which is the basis of my current painting, Moon Watcher).

And I’ve had this bunch of lovely new-to-me paints, given me out of the blue by a colleague, just waiting to get into a real painting instead of minor dabbling…

So: was it inspiration that got me painting again? Or impetus? Is there a difference? Would Chuck Close see one? I kinda think not, but that’s the way that cookie crumbles. I’m just happy to be working again.

 

River Watcher

River Watcher
River Watcher: oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.

I worked on River Watcher and Night Watcher (see the previous post) concurrently, switching off as one dried enough to work on, and then the other did. Each time I switched – rolling my taboret cart from one to the other, shifting the left-hand easel (River Watcher) to fit the taboret between or beside each piece – it was emotionally difficult to leave the one I was quitting. But I’d gamely work into the current piece, and eventually be reluctant to leave that one! Guess I’m a bit obsessive.

GreenBoat Studio
Working concurrently in GreenBoat Studio

I have a penchant for the 19th-century visual sense, both the popular esthetic and the experimental high art of the time, and it’s showing more and more in my painting. Maybe it’s hokey, but it’s me – at least for the time being. The figure in River Watcher is from the same photo shoot, same cemetery in Manchester, NH, as the one in Night Watcher – another muse-like beauty. She’s placed beside the Susquehanna River in Endicott, NY.

This is the first piece I’ve done, since childhood, which features an expanse of water, and I’m quite pleased with it. A lot of the underpainting is left to show, and I like the resulting depth.

River Watcher presented more challenges than the previous piece, as you can see in the progression below.

Click in any of the tiled photos below, to switch to a slide show of progressives. To exit the slide show, click the small X in the upper left corner.

 

Night Watcher

nightwatcher_1200px144-cprt
Night Watcher – oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.

On with my Watchers series. This is Night Watcher, a piece I’ve been meaning for a very long time to do.

It was an oppressively grey late afternoon when I went for a photo shoot in a large old cemetery in Manchester, New Hampshire. We’d driven by it many times since we’d moved to Manchester, and I had always meant to go back with a camera. The place was FULL of 19th-century statuary and elaborate gravestones – obviously it had been a resting place for the wealthier dead. The day I finally went back was a bad one for me – I’d gotten a flu shot the day before, and had woken crushingly depressed yet restless. I had to do something, get out of the house, and for some reason the cemetery seemed appropriate. The light was diffuse, so there were very few clear shadows, yet it was bright enough and low enough to make the figures into mostly silhouettes. At best I’m only a point-and-shoot photographer, and the digital camera I used was not all that good – the year was 2005, and I didn’t even know how to eliminate the timestamp on the images. I also didn’t know just what I was going to do with these images. But it was a satisfying task, and I found out the next day that the flu shot that year had caused depression and anxiety in many people.

I’ve tried a few times to use this particular image in artwork – I still have a couple of attempts in colored pencil, and one in graphite pencil – but until I gave the landscape and figure a night sky, it hadn’t really worked.

Here’s how the painting went together:

Click in any of the tiled photos below, to switch to a slide show of progressives. To exit the slide show, click the small X in the upper left corner.

The First of the Watchers

Woods Watcher, 24 x 36 in., oil on canvas
Woods Watcher, 24 x 36 in., oil on canvas

I still haven’t figured out how to show a progressing project with alerts to my followers, so I’m continuing to post progressives on my professional Facebook page. But here’s the whole progression (below) of the first of my “Watchers” series. I’m pretty happy with the way it’s turned out, and I’ve submitted it for the Arnot Regional.

So, what is a Watcher? It’s a concept I picked up somewhere in my youthful reading — Watchers were pagan religious symbols, or figurines, or minor deities, ensconced or trapped in tree trunks along hidden paths. The idea took root in my mind, and when in middle age I lived in the back hills of northern Pennsylvania, there were a couple of standing tree stumps along the road that I mentally christened “the Watchers” — they seemed alert, attentive. Statuary sometimes strikes me that way, especially in incongruous or unexpected settings. And then I ran across a mannequin head in an Etsy shop that triggered the “Watcher” alert in me. With permission from the generous shop owner, I’ve commenced a series of paintings based on her mannequin (this one), as well as more statuary, mannequins, and other humanoid objects as they dispassionately observe the impending disasters of our world. There is something in them that is positive — not hopeful, not despairing — but also not clinging, and open to whatever comes.

I don’t normally explain my work and motivation like this, but this piece comes from deep within me. And that I can’t explain. I can only let whatever is in me manifest itself in my work, with little or no conscious input from me. As I tell my painting students, don’t put any effort into expressing yourself or your emotions — that will happen despite your best efforts, and it’ll be more genuine if you just let it happen while you’re concentrating on other things. After so many years as a rational planner and designer of publications, I myself find this a hard lesson.

Click in any of the tiled photos below, to switch to a slide show of progressives. To exit the slide show, click the small X in the upper left corner.

New year, new paints, new paintings, new process

newpaints.jpgOh boy — new professional-grade paints arrived yesterday from Blick: Gamblin* oil colors in my basic palette! (And a free sample tube of Titanium White Alkyd!) Compositions and canvases were all ready… and today I started two new paintings: Winter Solstice, 30 x 24 in., and Watcher 1, 36 x 24 in. Both are still in underpainting stages (one simply tinted). I’m continuing to use Blick* student-grade oil colors for tinting, but I’ve added a couple of new pieces to my process: first, I’m giving up acrylics for tinting oil canvases: the colors just aren’t as translucent or luminous as oils. Second, I’m very roughly brushing in the painting subject in the tint — before gridding — as a first stage of the underpainting. I’ll correct the drawing in the values phase (as I have in Winter Solstice).

For several years now I’ve published albums of “progressives” — photos of and comments on my new paintings as they progress through various stages — on my “Artist/Designer” page on Facebook. But this year I’m going to try tracking that progress here on my blog, instead, in the form of galleries. My only puzzlement is how to let my blog followers know when a new photo has been posted in an established gallery. Hmmm. If you have a suggestion, please let me know!

*Neither Gamblin nor Blick Art Supplies has paid me for these endorsements. I just like them.