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.

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.

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.

An emerging new process, and The Joy of Dancing

KwanYin and Chrysanthemums, 20x16 in., oils on canvas
KwanYin and Chrysanthemums, 20×16 in., oils on canvas

Two weeks and two days ago I had eye-muscle surgery. Nothing scarier for an artist than eye surgery, except maybe encroaching blindness. I’ve had this wonky left eye, which tracked upward and to the left of my right eye, since I was a kid. All along there were murmurings about the possibility of corrective surgery, but as time went on either the opthamologist was discouraging it or I was avoiding it. Prism arrangements in my glasses lenses brought the disparate images together, until recently. My optometrist encouraged me to see a specialist about the surgery — for real — because the maxxed-out prisms were no longer adequate to the task and he was concerned that my right eye would lose sight to the dominant and errant left. I’d already lost some depth perception, and had a growing cataract in the right eye. So I did it. Quite a do, and I’m still recovering. My eye is still not tracking quite properly all the time, but the surgeon said it would take six weeks to heal so I’m still hoping it’ll all straighten out. Meanwhile the cataract in the right eye has grown significantly in density, so that’s scheduled for surgery in May.

Hasn’t stopped me from painting, however — in fact, I’ve been quite productive. In my last post I talked about a paint-together still life session with Mary Robertson and Jan Wood (just before my surgery), and I’ve finished the painting I started that day, Kwan Yin and Chrysanthemums. Using a process new to me, I painted in semi-transparent glazes (mixed colors thinned with oil/resin medium) over my initial underpainting, saving the lightest lights and darkest darks for last. I love the result. So I started another — Henry and Rebecca — and have worked on a couple of earlier underpainted pieces, Demeter and Rebecca.

Demeter 04 -- almost finished!
Demeter 04 — almost finished!

 

Rebecca 03 -- progress!
Rebecca 03 — progress!

 

Henry and Rebecca 02 -- first color glazes
Henry and Rebecca 02 — first color glazes

These last two had given me problems due to my use of Turpenoid Natural for thinning the paint in the underpainting, but they did finally dry and I’m quite pleased with their progress. I’m close to finishing Demeter, thanks to a lovely paint-together session at Mary’s studio today.

This painting in transparent layers over a show-through underpainting has intrigued me for some time, and although I’d tried it before, to a limited extent, I’m finding it really freeing as an overall technique, That, plus saving the lightest lights and darkest darks for last — a lesson from John Singer Sargent — and I’m in a whole different ballfield than before: one I like a lot.

Meanwhile, my first long drive alone since surgery was the hundred-mile trip to Ithaca and back, to help take down the Joy of Dancing exhibit at the Tompkins County Public Library, where my Unlikely Dance series was the cornerstone. What a wonderful space, and wonderful show. My thanks once again to Sally Grubb, Scottish Country and contra dancer, exhibit coordinator at TCPL, and curator of this show. I got some photos before we disassembled it. A wonderful review of the show is here.

Completed Unlikely Dance series premieres at the Broome County Arts Council

Unlikely Dance at BCAC
Unlikely Dance, hung in the small gallery at the Broome County Arts Council

In the days leading up to it, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, either artistically or socially. I had six large paintings to show for a year and a half of work, but they seemed dwarfed by even the smaller gallery at the Broome County Arts Council. Due to personnel changes at the BCAC I was hanging the show myself, but suddenly felt unequal to the task. Earlier there had been scheduling and communications misunderstandings. And I’m not good at schmoozing. In short, I succeeded in making myself crazy-anxious about November First Friday’s BCAC opening night of Unlikely Dance.

But now November 1 has come and gone, and the opening came off beautifully — well attended despite the many other Binghamton First Friday events happening all over town, fun, and yes, I believe I was reasonably socially adept. There were old friends, newer friends, Facebook followers, family members, the director of the funding foundation, and some simply interested people I’d never met before; there were dancers who’d been my models, dancers who knew my models, a high school friend/classmate I hadn’t seen since then, models I’ve drawn at the Windsor figure drawing sessions, supportive artist friends, and my GP doc.

Ballyclare dancers at the opening
Several of the Ballyclare Irish Dancers showed up, and wanted a photo with “their” painting. Photo courtesy of Sharon Ball / BCAC
My husband Leo heeded my call for chips and salsa and showed up in the nick of time to save the day, keeping the food table from going bare (those incredible cookies from the Gallaghers went REALLY fast!).

That morning I’d managed to edit and upload high-res photos of each of the paintings so they were available as prints and cards on my Fine Art America site, and then to put together a handout flyer about myself and the grant, including a hard-copy order form for people not comfortable with shopping online. (I encourage you to order directly from Fine Art America.)

At the suggestion of BCAC director Sharon Ball, I’d matted, framed, and hung some studies for the paintings, and they not only filled out the space but seemed to truly interest onlookers, and sparked a lot of conversation. In fact, one of the small studies is already sold — to a morris dance and Facebook friend who’s been a great support throughout this process. And he made sure to tell me EXACTLY what he liked about each painting. In fact, I was surprised and pleased by the number of people who felt compelled to lead me to their favorite pieces and tell me just what they liked about them. I have always avoided the artists at solo openings — not sure why, but I think I’m afraid I’ll over-participate, or talk about myself rather than their shows — but from now on I’ll try not to draw back like that. I love talking about my work, and I must assume other artists do too.

And did I mention the ego/approval rush of the whole thing? And the ribbon-tied garlic bouquet? And the date-night out afterwards with my sweetie? Yeah, those were really good too.

Next up: two or three new, smaller dance paintings — the start of a new, unfunded series on a recent English Country dance — to round out my December show at RiverRead Books. Then, in January, Unlikely Dance moves on to Ithaca, and from there to the Community Foundation for South Central New York.
………………..
The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York, facilitated by the Broome County Arts Council.

The Unlikely Dance series: finished, and soon to be shown!

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

Finally, I’ve finished the Unlikely Dance series — and what a journey it’s been: a year and a half of learn-as-you go planning and painting! Except for the first one I’ve started each piece with a growing sense of confidence, only to be waylaid by an obstacle or three in the form of illness, competing time demands, technical issues, composition, lighting, line…

In the case of Unlikely Dance: Roundabout, the first issue was naming; I didn’t have the piece finally composed when the call came for a list of exhibit information. Knowing at least what dance figures I was using, I called it “Unlikely Dance: Velveteen,” for the velveteen waistcoats the figures wear. But, unhappy with the provisional visual context, I decided to change from Cutler Gardens to a shoot in downtown Binghamton’s courthouse square, and settled on the new traffic circle as an unlikely — and visually interesting — dance site. The light was wonderful, and shot specifically to match the angle of the sun in the original photos of the figures. So I renamed it “Unlikely Dance: Roundabout,” for a nice dance-like reference. That caused some confusion about the exhibit name… but all is well now, and the show is scheduled to open on First Friday, November 1.

Skintones palette for Roundabout
Skintones palette for Roundabout – warm lights and cool shadows

On the painting end of things, the primary challenge of this piece was the composition, which proved to be overly heavy on the right side. The angles of the figures #2 and #3, the mass of the neoclassical bank building on the right, and the unstable curved line of the traffic circle’s edge all conspired to rotate and lean in that direction; I actually found myself tilting my head when I looked at it. The darker buildings and the cloud formation on the left were meant to counterbalance that effect, but they seemed to be outweighed.

Fortunately, a darkening of left-hand elements, a lightening of the right-hand elements, a few added or revised stabilizing vertical elements (the bank window, the central figure’s spindle, the end of the cloud formation, a subtle color trail in the sky) worked pretty well without spoiling the dynamics. It’s all a lot easier to say than it was to do, but I’m happy with it now.

So: the exhibit! The culminating show of this grant-funded painting project will be in the gallery space at the Broome County Arts Council, 81 State St., Suite 501, in Binghamton. Along with the complete series of finished paintings, I’ll be showing studies and preparatory materials with each piece. Read more about it here!

Now I have to get all those smaller materials matted and framed — and in some cases, ready to show — and get print-quality photos of all the paintings in the series, to post for sale in my online shops in time for the show.

Here’s the progression of “Roundabout” as it went together:


………………..
The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York, facilitated by the Broome County Arts Council.

Back to Beethoven Oaks: fun with whites and lights

Unlike Dance: Beethoven Oaks (unfinished) -- 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas
Unlikely Dance: Beethoven Oaks (unfinished) — 30 x 48 in., oils on canvas

After a few days off, I’m back into Unlikely Dance: Beethoven Oaks (actually, the least “unlikely” setting in the series so far). Really enjoying playing with the white clothing in the clear spring light — whites are seldom actually white. I’ve used cool colors — cobalt blue, cobalt violet, alizarin crimson, plus titanium white and some cadmium yellow medium to tone down a bit — in the shaded parts of the whites, and sparked it up with a complementary yellow-white mix for the lights. These whites are poppin’! Tree branches are roughed in, to be defined further by eventually painting the sky in between them — meanwhile I’ve begun to establish a bright blue “color trail” amongst the branches to lead the eye back into the center of the composition. I’m trying to paint more in value ranges than in color matches, and so far I like it.

River Willows - 20 x 16 in., oils on canvas
River Willows – 20 x 16 in., oils on canvas

I’ve finished River Willows, but something about it is bothering me. Too weighty, too dark, too something. I may have overworked it.

Once again a “bridesmaid” at the Fine Arts Society Members’ Show, in May I won an Honorable Mention for Dance Study: 2 and 1. It’s a nice recognition nonetheless — and I’m happy for the award winners, several of whom are good friends.

Dance Study: 2 and 1 - 11 x 16.5 in., colored pencil on laid blue pastel paper
Dance Study: 2 and 1 – 11 x 16.5 in., colored pencil on laid blue pastel paper


The “Unlikely Dance” project was made possible by a grant from the Artists Fund of the Community Foundation for South Central New York

To follow my progress in Unlikely Dance, just click on the “Unlikely Dance” link under TOPICS, on the left of any page in this blog.