It’s been a while since I “blogged.” That’s because I’ve been overwhelmed with the business aspects of being a commercial artist. That sort of thing is necessary, but it’s hardly fodder for an interesting exposition. Frankly, it’s very boring.
I’ll digress a bit at the start. This summer, my husband and I took a four-month trip to investigate various groups and venues on the East Coast I’d heard about and, obviously, to paint or at least get some very good reference photos of things I planned to paint.
A taste of the Old South
Our first major stop was Charleston, South Carolina. As everyone knows, it’s a beautiful city. I was really taken by the historic houses; the area reminded me a lot of Boston. We also visited Magnolia Plantations. All in all, it was a rich, rich area for taking reference photographs. I didn’t really get to paint much as we were only staying a short time, but I always try to sketch something, just to get my feet wet.
We also stopped in the Shenandoah Valley near Lynchburg, Virginia, for a few days. While we were there, I visited Thomas Jefferson’s summer home, Poplar Forest. The building itself is a hexagonal structure, designed personally by Jefferson. The grounds were lovely and I took a large number of pictures that I hope will inspire some watercolors in the future.
A highlight of this visit to the Shenandoah Valley was The Natural Bridge. It’s over 200 feet tall and arcs over almost a hundred feet. It was formed by a combination of water and the collapse of the surrounding terrain leaving an awesome natural formation. George Washington carved his initials in the bridge while he was making a survey of the area. Present day visitors are warned not to try to emulate our First President.
I was deeply touched by the juxtaposition of the ancient stones and the present-day verdant growth that complement each other so well. I had such a strong sense of permanence and spontaneity in harmony. I spent quite a while just absorbing the ambience. I had been counseled that there needed to be both an emotional and a cognitive aspect to my art and this seemed the perfect inspiration.
/I’ve been pondering this for quite a while. I was deeply touched by how well the disparate components, the massive structure of the rock in one timescale and the fragility of the foliage in another, completely different, one, worked together. One enduring for eons, while the other constantly recreating itself.
Natural Bridge, Watercolor 22 x 30
I’ve tried to convey that in my paintings and I’m quite happy with it. It was a daunting project since it was on a full-sheet, and I’ve never worked on that scale before. I still need to get it matted and framed. I may have to experiment with cutting mats because when inspiration collides with standard sizes, it’s the mundane that has to yield.
Our next stop was Washington, D.C., where I largely simply toured the museums, particularly The National Gallery. It is a magnificent place. I had visited it before, but it is the kind of place that one can visit over and over again.
Matisse Cut-outs at National Gallery
One display that greatly impressed me was the Matisse “cutting into color.” It is a technique involving freehand cutting of colored papers into attractive shapes, which he pinned loosely to white walls, later adjusting, re-cutting, combining, and recombining until he was satisfied. I had no idea of how big they were. They are bigger than most murals. Seeing them in real-life made me realize that this is why museums are there. Books and photographs are useful, but one needs a place to really experience the art.
After leaving D.C., we stopped along the Long Island seashore and finished up the leg on Cape Cod where I did a lot more of the “investigation of venues” which was one of the goals of the trip. We visited the Cape Cod Museum of Art which is really well done, beautiful grounds and a nice selection of art.
When we were there, they had an exhibit of the works of The Seven Lively Artists. More than five decades after the group formed, the Seven Lively Artists continue to have a standing Friday lunch date at which they talk about upcoming exhibits and painting trips and share stories of past adventures. It was impressive to see a plein air group exhibited other than in a local display.
I did some plein air work while I was on the Cape. I got in touch with the Eastham Painters’ Guild, a wonderful group of people with whom I hope to do further work because they do some outdoor shows. Several members suggest that at some point I might be their artist of the month.
The experience with these people was entirely enjoyable. They paint a lot and have a great practical, no nonsense, way about them; they set up fast and get right to work. I was able to go painting with them on the Chatham harbor from which we had a view of Strong Island. The resultant picture is unique because, forgetting to bring a supply of water, I used the sea water from right off the beach. Now, I can tell people “this painting was painted with THAT water… the water you are looking at.”
We also went painting at some old barns. The gentleman who is in charge of the group is a long-time resident of Eastham. He knows a lot of local history and a lot of people so he can get access to properties which would normally be off limits.
We also visited the Crosby Mansion in Brewster. I took a number of photo references there, particularly the art.
Aside from painting and taking pictures, I used the trip to reorganize my palette. I cleaned it all off, moved some colors around, added a few more and made a map of it. Then, I designed a few sub-palettes because I was studying more about color and I wanted some where all the colors were mixed from the same sub-palette. I created my standard transparent mixing palette as well as an alternative palette and then I did a delicate non-staining transparent palette, an opaque palette, a “Cape Cod” palette and then I took every single tube of paint I had and value-mapped it at the standard strength at which it comes out of the tube. This turned out to be a very useful exercise because it gave me more ability to know how my paint was going to react.
Oct. 15th was the opening at the new place.
After about a month, we went up to Vermont for a two-month stay. Again, part of the goal was to look into the venues and to prepare for those with whom I was already involved. I was already a member of MAC, the Memphremagog Arts Collaborative, in Newport, but I hadn’t seen my work on display in their center so I had been impatient to get to Vermont.
Each regular member of MAC is expected put in time at the center, so one of the first things I did was go through a training course on what was expected. While I’m really non-local, I wanted to be able to do my share. It was very interesting working in a gallery, seeing people come in, look around and buy things. During my stay, I produced a number of paintings that I was able to leave for MAC to display.
My time in the MAC gallery made it clear that for the Vermont market, at least, I’m going to have to focus on more affordable art so now I’m branching out into original watercolor cards in a five-inch by seven-inch format that I can sell at a lower price point. I really believe that one of my goals is to get art into people’s hands. Art should be accessible.
However, this raised an internal concern: “am I selling out.” It took a lot of thought but I’m not at ill ease since I’m still working on art that moves me and that I have to think and ponder about and then create. I love to interpret the natural world, flowers, trees, old barns, and while these are subject that sell, I’m painting them because I love to do it.
These cards have also been a good exercise in patience for me. I do several at the same time and have to wait while they dry. In the past, I’ve returned to my work too soon and ruined some pieces by not waiting long enough, but with the smaller art work, I am finding I can be more fastidious and careful. Interestingly enough, it is taking me the same amount of time to do the small ones as the large ones, but I’m feeling more connected.
While we were staying in Vermont, I used some workshop DVDs to do independent study. One was Don Andrews’ five DVD set that cover topics like “painting with light,” ”granulation,” “how to loosen up” and “painting negative space.” They were very informative and I’m sure I’ll watch them again, and I’m going to a live workshop with him that the Palm Beach Watercolor Society is sponsoring in December.
I also viewed a number of DVDs on watercolor portraits. After I did one for my nephew’s child, Gabriella, I’ve gotten more requests from people for similar work, and I felt that I needed some formal instruction in the area. One I used was by Susan Harrison Tustain that sets down a step by step guide for creating watercolor portraits.
I also wanted to check out some Vermont venues, one in particular, The Old Red Mill, which is used yearly for an exhibit by the Northern Vermont Art Association, which I think I may eventually join. The building itself is a delightful old water-powered mill which is now a shop selling souvenirs and is, typical of Vermont, also a post office. The walls are dedicated to rotating displays of art.
Because I’m interested in the Saint Albans Art Society we drove over to Burlington. The group traces its roots back over a century. However, it is a long drive over two-lane roads, spectacular scenery but a long, long drive.
I also looked into the Vermont Watercolor Society, but they are mostly centered in the southern part of the state. This would greatly limit my opportunities to interact with them or display at their shows.
I didn’t get a chance to look at the New England Watercolor Society exhibit as I had hoped. They are another group that has a long history, starting out as the Boston Watercolor Society. I am hoping to get involved with them in the future.
Aside from “scoping out” the groups, I did some plein air painting at Barton’s Crystal Lake and on an excursion to Eastport and Bar Harbor, Maine. When I wasn’t painting, I was doing photo-reference shoots in the lovely scenery of those states.
Now that I’m back in Florida, I will be doing both the indoor and outdoor shows with the Delray Art League, giving me a chance to show off some of the work I did during the summer. I’m also active with the Palm Beach Watercolor Society and will be getting things ready for some of their shows.
I’m really looking forward to the upcoming season.