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.

The Holidays,and my 2015 card

"Solstice"
Solstice — original digital montage, my 2015 Yuletide/Christmas card.

Another year, another Christmas card panic, but this year my solution was different; I’d found an earlier un-executed digital montage I meant for a card a few short years ago, and thought I’d like to use it this year. So I started (way too late, of course!) a painting. It’s coming along well, but I realized I’d never have it done in time to send a photo of it off to Shutterfly in time for Christmas, so I simply played with the original image in Photoshop. So pleased with the way it came out! The cards may be a little late in going out (and what else is new?) but they’ll be lovely, I think. And right, my hand never touched the image — my definition of “art” includes that I must be able to touch it — but it IS original. Enjoy!

However you celebrate, wishing you all lovely winter holidays.

 

After John Singer Sargent and Gustave Caillebotte… People’s Choice Award!

Unlikely Dance: Green Skirt - 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas
“The Rude and Bold Committee would like to congratulate People’s Choice Award Winner Glenda Blake, for her painting Green Skirt. Congratulations to a phenomenal Rude and Bold Woman!” Green Skirt – 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

Wow — I won the People’s Choice Award at Binghamton’s Rude and Bold Women show last week! It was a strong and beautiful show, and I’m so honored. My artist-friend and sometime painting student Rae Doyle-Freeman was a runner-up with her powerful sculptural papier-mâché piece, “On Her Aching Bones, Did Empires Rise.”

Rae Doyle-Freeman: On Her Aching Bones Did Empires Rise
Rae Doyle-Freeman: On Her Aching Bones Did Empires Rise (photo: Carla Bruce)

The People’s Choice is the only award of the show, determined by votes cast by attendees.

The Tuesday before, I got up at ugly-o’clock in the morning to board a 6:10 a.m. Megabus to NYC with artist-friend Harriet and her friend Jo from farther upstate (also an artist), to see Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Fabulous time — took the bus four hours to the Port Authority bus terminal, and then we took more than an hour to to get to the MMA on foot and by city bus, but what a stunner of a show.  I knew many of the works from books — had seen one or two in person before — but there is NOTHING like coming face to face with the actual piece.

The Pailleron Children (detail)
The Pailleron Children (detail), by John Singer Sargent: the piece I most wanted to see!

Gradually we took in and discussed, piece by piece, most of the show (gathering a small, attentive audience as we moved along!), took a lunch break when we were exhausted, then — like kids back to the pool — went back for more Sargent. Harriet and I lost Jo in the Post-Impressionist galleries, but I was glad to be forced through them in our search for her. I could live in the MMA. Another long trip back to another long bus-ride… so-o-o tired! But so worth it to experience great art, especially with friends who experience it in the same way.

In His Limbs and Joints, in its new home in Annapolis
In His Limbs and Joints, center, in its new home in Annapolis (photo: Michael Dufton)

The week before that, after seeing my painting, In His Limbs and Joints, installed in my cousin’s lovely home in Annapolis (such a thrill to see it hanging in their amazing art collection!) I got a look at the show, Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye, at the National Gallery of Art, while sweetie and I were in the DC area. Caillebotte wasn’t a name I was familiar with — he was contemporary with Degas, and although more conservative, was equally experimental in his less flamboyant way — but I did know some of the work. And it was sublime. I’m slowly working my way through the show catalog, which we bought on the way out. (I neglected to obtain the Sargent catalog — the photography was such a disappointment after seeing all of the actual pieces — but I hope to soon.)

Caillebotte - Paris Street, Rainy Day
Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877, oil on canvas, The Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection

Come paint with me this fall

Exploring Oil Painting with Glenda Blake

Exploring Oil Painting, with Glenda Blake

Mondays, 1-4:00 p.m., October 19-November 16, 2015

$15 one-time fee for supplies, for five 3-hour sessions
Enrollment limited to 10 students.

Explore the fundamentals of oil painting in a casual yet informative setting with artist/instructor Glenda Blake. Together we’ll paint from a still life in the classroom, learning as we go about composition, under-painting, light, shadow, and color mixing. If you’ve always wanted to paint in oils, now is the time! If you have painting experience already, come to learn new techniques and paint with others. If you have a portable standing floor easel you like, please bring it — shorter easels are provided by the instructor. Please wear a work apron, and/or older clothing to paint in.

Classes are on Mondays, October 19-November 16, 2015. Please plan to attend the first session, and all sessions thereafter if possible. Lessons are sequential; each builds on the previous. To sign up, stop by the circulation desk at Your Home Public Library, 107 Main Street, Johnson City, NY.

Call YHPL at 607 797-4816 for sign-up information, or contact me with questions or for information about class content.

The second-floor class space is beautiful, but, due to the historic nature of the building, there is no elevator.

A fine first class in Exploring Oil Painting

Session 1 - Exploring Oil Painting, 7-20-15
Wish I’d photographed the underpaintings later — what a strong showing.

The conditions were not perfect — a scorching hot and humid day, so the blinds were closed, limiting natural light; the window-unit air-conditioner making that low humming noise that makes chat so difficult — but what a strong group I gathered for this rendition of Exploring Oil Painting at Your Home Public Library014 The underpaintings were wonderful, and everyone was so helpful in helping me clean up at the end. There were lots of questions, including a request towards the end for a full critique. I did my best in all of this, and in return got hugs, thanks, and promises to come back next week. I do love teaching this class. It’s so varied in enrollment, and filled with people who really want to learn. I do my best to oblige. Thank you, YHPL, for this teaching opportunity! And thanks to the students, who continue to challenge me, and grant me such rewards.