Another Autumn Another Art Studio

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I have avoided this for many years mainly because I crave natural sunlight, but it was inevitable.  Eventually, I would wind up in my basement.

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I have this giant extra room in the basement.  It’s where they built an addition on the house years ago.  It’s concrete and unfinished but, it’s dry and there is electricity.  Did I mention it’s free?

yard sale

In order to make the space to create, I had to have a yard sale.  15 years ago I wrote “wicked huge yahd sale” on my signs to kind of poke fun at the New England accents where I live, but now it’s kind of like I’ve branded my yard sales.  I always write this and people know who’s sale it is without even looking at the address.

Long story short, This sale was a LARGE HAUL.  It took me three weeks to unload 20 years of art supplies out of my basement.  Mostly because I taught art lessons and art camps to kids for decades, so every time someone wanted to unload materials – I said yes. I had boxes and boxes of fabric, yarn, paints, paper, tools, printing press, photography prep, art books, craft materials…  You name it.  It accumulated in my basement.

And now it’s gone.  I have made the decision to end that chapter in my life.  I teach adults art now and I have them bring their own materials :)

My new art space will be devoted to painting.  I have a big project in mind.  It’s a painting series.  It’s going to take me forever and my goal for making it happen is to stay away from rabbit holes.  Rabbit holes?  What’s that you say?  It’s the multitude of paths that lie underneath the surface to get you to your destination.  Rabbits dig tons of paths.  If you are a practical human, you create one path to take you from point A to point B.  If you are a rabbit, you might have ten paths to point B and you could get distracted or lost along the way.  I’m a rabbit.  I say I want to paint, but along that path I elect to create and sell jewelry at a Christmas show, I create and sell pottery through-out the year.  I teach 1-4 art classes a week.  These are my rabbit- holes that keep me from ever accomplishing the goal I set forth.  Sure I have tons of fun along the way, but at the end of every year I also feel a great sadness for never really pushing myself to the serious goals I have made for myself.

Sigh…  here I go again.  Fall.  Back to school. Time for fall-cleaning.  Time to reassess. I’ve made some good head-way.  I’ve said no thank you to teaching kids.  I said yes to teach only one adult art class this fall and no to 4.  I emptied my home of all of the art supplies that were unnecessary.  I am journaling, meditating, and taking baby-steps to formulate the art project in my mind.  All good things…

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But there are a few rabbit holes I just don’t want to give up, as time-consuming as they are.  Pottery is one of them.  I haven’t figured it out yet.  Maybe stop teaching and continue with pottery? Try to paint, teach and do pottery, which isn’t working very well from a productivity perspective?  Maybe devote 6 months to painting, then 6 months to pottery and only do one at a time?

Ugh.  If  you can’t tell, my heart is torn.  Clearly in writing the last few sentences, I can take teaching out of the mix…  but that involves a lot of people I feel terrible letting down…I will have to sit with this for a bit.

I’d love to hear from those of you with rabbit holes and what you do to clarify and simplify your life.  Or maybe you just don’t and you live a crazy hectic life.  That’s a story in itself!  But I am really craving focus. On a soul level.  And I’m finding it very difficult to find my way.

So here’s to another Fall and trying to find my place in the world.  It’s a deja vu moment…. but with the autumn there always comes hope ;)

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Garden Days Are Here Again

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One of the final projects of my watercolor class I teach was home portraits.

I love doing home portraits because in looking back, they become little time capsules.

For instance, here is the portrait I did of the same house seven years ago:

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We had just moved in, the house was green, my kids were 5&7 yrs, we had our first cat Pina still with us and I had decided to do a little folk painting capturing all of the kid’s activities.

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Seven years later, I painted the house the color I wanted, created the gardens I envisioned, my kids are now teens, our new cat is Willow. Times have changed.  My plan is to keep the old paintings behind the new paintings in the frame.  This way seven years from now I can look back and reflect again.  I wish I had done a painting of my first house ten years before that, but I hadn’t thought of it!

I can’t talk about my home without instantly referring to my gardens.  My yard is small, the house is –a cape.  Not much out of the ordinary there. But my gardens are where I feel I have made my mark. It’s where I’ve turned my house into a home.

If your a gardener, you can’t help but take photos.  There’s so much going on in the garden! It’s almost like I need to look at it through photographs in order to process it all.  I also think that gardening is the largest inspiration in my artwork because it makes such an impact on my life. I absolutely love organic lines as well as the twists, turns and wiggles.  Gardens are like puzzles of perfect chaos.

So here is my inspiration for 2019. It has been a fantastic year for flowers.  I have moved every plant in my yard at least three times, but I am starting to feel like everything is now in it’s place.

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Back I go – into my gardens.

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Shadow Box Collages

SHADOW BOXES

I’ve been working on these forever.

Mostly because there are so many stages.  I work on them, forget about them, pick them up again, have to get the ceramic elements fired and glazed, forget about them and then have to paint the boxes and assemble all the elements.

They take a lot of time, but it feels like play so I just try to have a little bit of amnesia about the whole thing.

In a nutshell there are few components to these:

  1. Spend countless hours walking beaches picking up trash.
  2. Beg cigar stores for empty cigar boxes.
  3. Create pottery elements to tell a little story and compliment the found objects.
  4. Sand, paint, nail, string and glue everything together.

The boxes above are at the pottery stage.  I have to fire and glaze the components, then I will do step 4.  They look radically different after the ceramics are glazed so I will post again when I get to that point!

Into the Woods

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I am constantly hunting on Pinterest for lesson ideas for both my watercolor and acrylic paint classes. I found this lovely little watercolor of the woods and thought boy is this a great way to show students how to paint a subject matter that is visually chaotic.  When looking at the woods, I think most of us would not know where to begin.  Now I want to give credit to this artist, but the website is not in English. So this is what I found:

​[남일 풍경수채화 시범작품]

숲길 – 수채화 과정.

 watercolor on Arches (rough)

by NAMIL

* 그림과 영상이 마음에 드시면… 공감, 댓글 남겨주세요~

시청해주셔서 감사합니다~

This was a blog and there was a wonderful  progression showing how the artist tackled the subject matter.

trees woodsb

Guess what?  This progression works!  Some ideas to keep in mind are to paint the background lighter and the foreground deeper in color and have less detail in objects that are supposed to be far away and more detail in the objects closest to the viewer.

Here were two paintings I did while teaching the class:

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Thank you to Namil.  His demo made it possible to teach a whole class of students how to paint the woods.

Garden of Grackles

__2019-05-08 09.31.15bGarden of Grackles -watercolor 18″ x 24″

This painting is very special to me.

I have been blogging about my art journey for almost 8 years now.  Can you imagine that?  -8 years.  In that time I have complained A LOT. Sorry about that :)  My almost decade frustration has been not knowing what my “message” as an artist would be.

First, as an artist,  I had to figure out what art medium was best suited to me and which best expressed my talent. Second, what style felt right?  abstract? illustration? graphic design? botanicals? landscapes? still lives?  and Thirdly, most importantly, what is my message as an artist?

Eight years later I can safely and proudly say I am an experiential learner. Meaning, no one could ever tell me me the answer, I had to learn the hard way.  I had to learn by trying EVERYTHING and I’m sure I will keep exploring.  No one could say “Hey, you seem to shine when you do xyz” or “You really should stick to xyz subject matter”. I have painted with acrylics, gouache and watercolor. I have tried printmaking, pastels and mixed media.  I have painted still lives, landscapes, abstracts and everything in between.

I really struggled with my message as an artist.  Some artists don’t care. They are just happy doing what they’re doing.  But inside me all the existential questions lie.  Why was I born?  Why am I on the planet earth? What is the point of  being alive and dying?  Is there a point? What will I do with the life I have been given?  I have gifts how will I use them?  and most importantly, what can I give back to the world?  

As an artist I have always taken this last question to heart.  I was not born with a scientific brain to cure diseases.  I wasn’t born to be a world leader that will guide future generations. I wasn’t born with a medical mindset to nurture and heal others.  I was born with a particular gift of creating images.  I haven’t really seen a society who value’s this gift.  Not like they value notoriety, wealth and technology.  How do you answer the question of giving to your community, your planet and the world at large as an individual?  As a human, I can care about the earth, be politically active, raise responsible children, pay my taxes and do no harm.  But a give to the world by making images?  I’ve struggled for years with the guilt of feeling frivolous, redundant, obscure, voiceless and insincere.

With age comes reason.  Again it comes back to experiential learning.  I had to experience and search and search…. and continue searching.  And the answer is that it was always with me all along.  The school of hard knocks. I would not accept any other way than to search, knock on hundreds of doors, open hundreds of doors and close a hundred doors. I can say I’ve tried on one hundred hats and I think I’m at the point of finding one that fits.

This is a bit long-winded, I know, but now I’ll get to why this painting is special to me. It has taken 8 years of trying everything else to be clear in what is special to me.  Artists that gleam the attention of the world’s mainstream express their strong feelings about death, suicide, mental illness, sexual identity, war, human rights, activism, ant-capitalism, tribalism…. all sorts of -isms. I’ve tried them all, but I never felt true to myself.  Again, like I was wearing someone else’s hat.

My message is a lot quieter. It’s really quiet actually.  My loves are very simple and I can’t change that.  Lord knows I’ve tried.  I love my gardens, the critters that crawl within them, my bird-feeder, staring out the window, smelling nature, feeling it underneath my feet and I am obsessed with recreating it in COLOR.

This painting is special because I am owning this quiet little message.  It may not be loud, it may not be flashy and it may not get a ton of social media hits, but it’s still a message.  It’s a message to my tribe.  My tribe of flora, fauna and everyday backyard enthusiasts.  I for several years, have tried to run as far away as I could from this concept.  But  I have to own that inwardly, I am very quiet. I’m a bit of a dork actually.  I don’t mind sitting in my driveway for hours watching squirrels and listening to the birds.  And they don’t have to be fancy animals either. Blackbirds, robins, cardinals and seagulls, insects, woodchucks, skunks and bunnies – they do it for me.

Forever, I have painted what I see ( ie. a gorgeous bouquet from my garden or a beautiful scene from a vacation). This painting above is one of the first explorations from my imagination.  I simply thought about all the things I love and assembled them into a composition that does not exist anywhere other than my mind. That is very scary.  I think it’s why I haven’t really done it before.  I can’t blame the image on the circumstances or the environ. It’s on me.  I am telling the world what I love and it’s incredibly personal.  There’s the fear of what if people don’t like what they see?  But again I think that age and time give you the confidence to care not. There is so much freedom in not caring.

I made a painting and  “I”  love it because it has all the things special to me within it.  It’s colorful and happy and strong and unapologetic – in a very quiet way.

Bingo. That’s the direction I need to move in.

I’m feeling very comfortable in this hat.

LOL. So now I’ll get off my soapbox and show you the progression of the painting and some of my favorite parts:

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Thank you so much for being on this journey with me :)

 

 

To Paint like Shirley Trevena

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The students in my watercolor class are fabulous.  I throw so many challenges at them and they take them and run with it.  This challenge was no exception!

Shirley Trevena is an amazing water colorist from England.  When you look at her work, there is so much going on, you can barely figure out how she does what she does.

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Luckily she is a giving enough artist that she shares her process in her many books.  I grabbed two of them, studied them and created a lesson plan to try some of the painting techniques in our watercolor class. Below is a word doc explaining some of her painting techniques.

TECHNIQUES TREVENA LIKES TO USE

Here are two paintings I used to demo in my class:

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If you are interested in trying some fairly unconventional watercolor techniques or you simply want to enjoy some absolutely gorgeous artwork, check artist Shirley Trevena out.  She is a master.

Photo Diary Of Grand Cayman

cayman trip acayman tripPeople always ask me “did you paint on vacation?”  and the answer is usually “Oh hell no.  I’m on vacation!”  Vacation is supposed to be a time where you stop doing what you always do and live a different life for a week.

However, I still crave creative endeavors.  Usually, my go to creative indulgence on vacation is playing with my phone’s camera.  I enjoy creating a diary of my visit without using any words.  A picture says a thousand words right?  I don’t need to write a thing.  I can look into these photos and awaken my senses to what the air smelled like.  How the sun felt. The time of day.  The walk I went on.  The animals I encountered.  They fill me with peace and escape, to a place very, very far from here.

Peonies from My Garden

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Peonies From My Garden  by Mary Ercoli Walsh -watercolor 16×20″ 140 lb cold press paper

I’m not sure which I enjoy more – putzing around outdoors gardening, cutting and arranging the flowers I’ve grown, photographing them or sitting down to paint them.  Hmm… I guess the answer is ALL.  I enjoy the entire process, every single minute of it.

Below is the progression of this painting.  Something to note is that I usual work one area at a time,  my paper is usually white except for each new addition.  With this painting I blocked out the lightest shades of all of the colors and then went back to darken each place that needed it. The technique is called watercolor glazing.

 

peonies

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I know the focus is the giant flower blooms, but my favorite part of the painting is the bananas and their shadows.  Funny, I debated even allowing them to stay in my composition, but I am glad I did. The shadows are just so fun and interesting.

Like a true child, as soon as I hit the half-way mark of a painting, I am already mentally thinking about what I want to paint next.  It’s almost like I am frustrated with how slow my hands can work because my mind is so much faster.  Luckily, I’m a grown-up and I’ve learned the importance of finishing what I’ve started and staying the course. However, the day a painting is finished I am so excited…it means I get to START all over again!!!

Teaching Watercolor – Painting Glass

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Painting the image of glass is something beginning painters avoid.

Why would you want to avoid painting glass? Hmm, let’s see. First you need to capture the background which is showing through the glass. Next, you have stems and leaves that show through. Third there is refraction going on, so the stems might appear bent or not where you expect them. Next you need to capture liquid. Is the glass half-full or empty? Finally, you need to paint the glass itself and the reflections that bounce off of it.

So yes.  There is quite a bit involved.

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I came to watercolor class with everything else painted and ready to go.  I also sketched in some very simple guide-lines.

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The two glass bottles in this painting were done using two different techniques.  why?  So I could show my class there are two ways to tackle the problem.  I wouldn’t normally do this in a painting, but it does help to show.  The left bottle was done with dry-glazing techniques. Meaning I used many layers of light watercolor wash.  You use very little water so as to have more control.   The bottle to the right was painted using the wet-on-wet technique.  I painted the entire bottle with clear water and then dropped paint into the water which makes it spread where ever there is water.  The glazing technique gives you a more precise look and the wet-on-wet is generally softer and more flowing.

Now I’ll tell you the secret to painting glass in watercolor no matter which technique you use.

glass

There is no white paint in watercolor.  You use the white of the paper.  So if you want a white area, don’t put any paint there.  However, there is another technique you can use to create white areas.  The technique is called lifting.  Lifting is when you take a clean paintbrush, dip it in water, take the access water off so it is damp and then you rub the paint away in a particular area.  Watercolor is not permanent.  You can’t dry it and it’s there forever.  In some ways that’s bad, but in some ways it’s good.  By simply wetting your painting you can pull up or “lift” the paint off the paper.  Now look at the photo above.  See all the different places where I am simulating reflection by creating light areas.  I rubbed, scrubbed and wet those areas until the paint lifted.

The rest is observation and practice, which for most of us takes a life-time.  With that said, there’s no time like the present.  Let’s get practicing!

Back to My Roots

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From From My Garden,  16″x20″ watercolor 140 lb cold press paper

I just realized I have been posting the every-day-progression of this painting on Instagram, but never in my blog!

My blog is more like my journal or diary.  Maybe even my confessional? It is where I divulge my inner most thoughts, which many times can come off as self-deprecating  or even once in a while a bit witty and informative. I have all of those traits within me. I always think it’s best to be brutally honest because that is what is most sincere to others.  To see that we are all not perfect.  We all have struggles important to us even if they may not necessarily be important to others. We have ups, but we also have downs.

With that said, I have had an epiphany.  Did anyone else realize I have been working on abstracts in acrylic for over 6 years?  Personally, it’s been a really rough ride. I haven’t shown most of the paintings because I never felt like I could create the vision I had in my head.  Over and over again I would start a painting and feel defeated mid-way through. For six whole years. Day after day. I have probably 20 unfinished paintings in my basement.  It has left me truly wanting to quit art-making altogether.

But maybe it wasn’t that I needed to quit making art. Maybe it’s that I needed to change my art practice.

Before six years ago, I was a watercolor still-life painter.  That’s where I started. That’s what was intuitive to me.  I have traveled on a path of denying this. Trying everything else in my wake and de-valuing what came natural to me.  I blame this on being an experiential learner. Some of us won’t believe the stove is hot until we actually touch it. No matter who tells us otherwise.

I’ve had a six year stove-touching :)

I had to experience everything else I could do to know thyself.  Some think that’s why we are on this planet.  We didn’t come here to do what we already know, we came here to experience.

Well.  I am at the point that I am ready to value what comes natural to me.  I LOVE COLOR PERIOD and I really know my way around a watercolor box.

Since this awakening, which was about a month ago, I have been painting up a storm.  These watercolors are just flowing right through me. As soon as I’m done there isn’t ten minutes before I’m starting another. It feels great.  Like I’ve come home.

The painting in this blog is one of the first larger ones.  I’m working on another larger painting as we speak and then I’m also working on little 11×14 size paintings for more “fun/exploration”.  The little ones are my permission to not take myself so seriously.  That feels good too.

I am trying really hard not to look backwards and ask the question what do I have to show for the past several years?  I have to look forward and ask what will come out of me next? The answer I hope -amazingly bright colored pretty things :)

Now on to the ART-part of our programming.  I always think it’s fun to look at the progression of a painting. So here it goes:

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 I have questioned myself. Why florals? Ugh, still lives? How boring. Neither nature nor still-lives will ever lead you to something unique. Maybe I’m supposed to do or be something else? Would something else make me better, more well-known, more deep and introspective? Happier? Well I’ve spent some time looking for the answer to these neurotic questions .

After six long years, this is what I’ve learned. I didn’t choose floral watercolors. They chose me. A soprano is never going to achieve singing like an alto. They are a soprano. Singing like a soprano will light up their world. Meaning : Honor your skill set. Honor your strengths.

Surrender.

I have surrendered. So now let’s see where it takes me…