sketch tour

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These are the paintings from my Adriatic Cruise.  I was teaching watercolors aboard the Queen Elizabeth.  These were some of the places we visited and were the subject of the watercolor classes.Greek Temple in Corfu Gibraltar Dubrovnick Seville Croatia Venice Sicily

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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.

Natural Bridge

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.
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/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.

Strong Island

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.

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After picking up my sister, Catherine, in Pennsylvania, I drove over to my aunt’s 90th birthday party, but along the way, we stopped at the Brooklyn Museum and saw the Judy Chicago exhibit of “The Dinner Party.”  I had seen this during its late 70’s tour when it appeared in The Cyclorama in Boston.  The Cyclorama was a great venue for the exhibit but seeing it in its present permanent installation was magnificent.

It brought back many of the same feelings from my first viewing; however, at the time, I hadn’t realized the significance of this break-through feminist art, something that now is clear in retrospect.  However, I was deeply touched by it at the time and the Brooklyn display brought back those feelings.

The Brooklyn Museum is a little treasure.  I wish that I had more time to see it, but the party provided a deadline that we had to meet.  We did have enough time to visit the exhibition of ancient Egyptian art.  The museum is definitely on my list of places to visit again.

The party for my aunt was fantastic as was the chance to see the many members of my family.  Following that, my sister and I stayed the night with an old friend who lived nearby.  One of the things about these tours is the chance to catch up with old friends.  It’s a valuable and nurturing experience that is well worth the effort.

 

The next leg took us to Vermont.  A visit to The Vermont Store awakened the “Oh, I want to get out my paint brushes” feeling, but I limited myself to capturing the scenes with my Canon camera and its new 55mm – 250 mm lens.  It’s valuable for close-ups without intruding on the scene. For example, I made some nice shots of a fiddler at the store.

We finally reached the Northeast Kingdom and we had some quality time with my other sister, Judy.  This trip also gave me the opportunity to move some items that we were no longer using in Florida but would be handy when we took up Summer quarters in Vermont.  One of these “items” was the Saturn I’d driven up in.  When the time came to return, I dropped off the car with Judy, and Catherine and I boarded a train for the trip south at Essex Junction.
The trip through the mountains and along the Connecticut River was very beautiful, and the nine-and-a-half hour ride into New York City didn’t seem all that long.  Since the rail lines were laid out during the industrial heyday, any long ride is an interesting mix of the conventionally scenic and a view into the country’s past.

I don’t think I’ve ever arrived in New York with such ease. There was no traffic snarl and I could appreciate the view of the city’s skyline.  We stayed over in NYC and went to visit the Met in the morning.

I had been there several years ago, but it’s always worth a visit.  Simply the magnitude of the place is so impressive. However, the “natural” settings were awe inspiring.  For example, the Tiffany windows were displayed in a portico that was also designed by Tiffany with Islamic inspired columns.  As another example, the Robert Leyman exhibit is set up just as it was shown in his house.  This is truly fantastic.

The highlights tour whizzes you around the museum.  It’s a lot of walking but it does a wonderful joy of whetting your appetite for return explorations.  After the tour was over, we made a more leisurely visit to the impressionists and a selection of Renaissance masters.

We returned to our hostel via a walk through Central Park and then took the subway south.  Catherine split off at Port Authority to take a bus back of Pennsylvania and I continued on to Penn Station for my train back to Delray Beach.  Even though I  arrived well before my departure time, Amtrak made the wait pleasant.  They have a well-appointed waiting area with wi-fi that is right off the subway exit.

While we’ve all heard stories about New Yorkers, my experiences showed me another, much more pleasant side. I had people spontaneously help me with my luggage, the people in the hostel were fantastic.  I was really pleasantly surprised.   I don’t know if it was just that I’m more receptive but I was very very happy to see just how friendly and helpful New Yorkers can be.

The trip back was fun and relaxing.

There was a club car and a dining car.  In some ways, it is taking you back to another era, but in others, I had to think “why do I have to be squished into a flying sewer pipe where I can’t even more, let alone stand up.”  I’m not that tall, but in a commercial plane I barely have any leg room.

The train was very different.  I could stretch my legs all the way out; I could walk around.  It was fun watching the landscape change from the New England setting to Middle Atlantic and finally to the sub-tropical of Florida.

John was waiting for me at the Delray Beach station.  It had been uncomfortable for both of us to be apart for a week, but now we are taking time to kick back and get ready to head north again.  This time we’ll be together and we’ll be going for four months.  The trip up will be slower and we’ll stop to see the sights and I’ll have my paints ready.

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Here I am on the first leg of my Summer Sketch Tour. A month or so ago we bought a Ford Transit that I call the Studiomobile Its fitted as an art studio and for a bit of crashing and relaxing on long trips. That gave us two cars, and we discovered we really didn’t use the old Saturn all that often after getting the Transit.

When my whole family decided to gather on the Sunday before Memorial Day in Connecticut to celebrate my aunts 90th birthday, that provided the basic timing for this trip.

The first day I drove 12 hours and made it deep into North Carolina. The weather was beautiful and the traffic was light so long as it was, the day was pretty enjoyable. Traffic was a little heavier as the holiday weekend approached but I made good time to Reading where I spent an enjoyable afternoon with my sister, Catherine, and her husband, Frank.

Tomorrow, well go to the festivities in Connecticut and, from there, to Vermont. While I’m in Vermont, Ill be joining the Memphremagog Arts Collaborative and I’ve brought some paintings up to exhibit. While I’m there I’ll visit my other sister, Judy, and some other relatives.

Then, I’m taking the train back. I hope to get a lot of photography done while Im doing that but at least Ill get to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Ive never taken a train before so I’m looking forward to the new experience.

Im hoping it will help me in my artistic process. Im finding that my painting process includes a lot of thinking, pondering, and planning. This often takes up four times as time much as the actual painting. This has led me to seek out rich experiences as environments for the preparatory cognition. This was a major reason to take the train back, a rich visual experience without the constant intrusion of need-to-do things.

I may add a big to this blog over the next few days, but because they may be hectic, I decided to write this now so if I’m unable to write, it can serve as a stand-along document.

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A friend of mine was visiting from Maryland and wanted to go to Art Palm Beach Show.  I’m so glad she asked as it was a marvelous show.  That’s one of the great benefits of visiting friends; they open eyes of possibilities.  It’s like when John lived in New York City; he hadn’t visited any of the sights until I came down from Boston.

It’s the 13th time the event has been held and it’s billed as a dynamic event in America’s premier winter destination, hosting international galleries.    It’s a wide-ranging presentation including contemporary art, photography, video, installation art, public sculpture and design.  One nice touch is part of the proceeds of the food and beverage sales go to the local art community.  It almost made a four-dollar bottle of water worth the price.  After spending that much, we made a point of savoring it as if it were a fine bottle of wine.

Since she is interested in mid-century furniture and my passion is watercolor, we did a good job of covering the entire fair.   However, what we both enjoy was “Risk,” an installation constructed from sneaker parts by Fredrick Uribi.  It was a fascinating exercise in the reuse of materials with, of course, a very strong Green message.

Later in the week, I went to the Norman Rockwell exhibit at MoAFL  with a few of my friends.  Although I had seen many of the same paintings in the Rockwell museum, in Stockbridge,  MA while on my summer sketch tour, it was great to see them in the expansive space of the museum.  The highlight for me was the room that displayed every single Saturday Evening Post Rockwell did on one wall, while the series of drawings showing the artists’ process and the final painting for ‘Southern Justice” was on the other wall.  The exhibit is a t MoAFL until 2/7/2010 so there is still time to see it.

In other weekly news, I went to the Palm Beach Society’s Paint Out at the American Orchid Society.  The cold snap had wrought a sea of change on the vegetation.  Much of it has suffered severely.  Fortunately, inside the greenhouse things were still spectacular.   I spent a lot of time in there.

In the art education department, I am again taking a figure drawing class at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.    Also, I’m taking a 3 day workshop called Creative Watercolor given by Miles Batt and sponsored by the Delray Art League.  I’m learning a lot and cannot wait for a block of studio time to put into practice all these new skills and techniques.

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As the end of my last week in Vermont comes to a close, I’ve been thinking of my approach and motivation as an artist and how my sketch tour has played into that.

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For example, John and I were at the Orleans Country Agricultural Fair, and it was wonderful.  I’ve never been to an event like this and I was delighted to see all the handcrafts, the prize winning vegetables and pies, and to watch the children petting and grooming horses and other livestock.  I was amazed at how inspirational the experience was for the artist in me.  I can’t wait to translate the feelings and images into paintings and share this little piece of Americana, to show others what life is like up here.

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The sketch tour, not to mention my broken ankle, has forced me into a pace, a schedule and rhythm so I have a nice schedule as to when to read, when to paint, when to study as well as ample time to practice which has just been wonderful.  I’ve painted every single day.

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I’ve found that Turner used to do a summer sketch tour every year of his life and that led to an enormous output.   I felt a great nostalgia or connection when I read that.

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The approach I’ve taken is first to master the technique while trying not being a slave to it.  When I go to paint something I want to be able to use technique as a tool and not be frustrated by my inability to do that.

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I’ve focused my attention and practice to water color techniques.  I was reminded of this fact when I recently used acrylic to create postcard for someone who has been wonderful and supportive about the new direction my life is taking.  However, despite the acrylic medium, I found myself painting with water color techniques and aiming for a watercolor feel and look.  Obviously, I couldn’t send an actual watercolor postcard because the image was unlikely to survive to its destination.

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I like to interact with the subject.  Up to now, that has largely been nature.  What I mean by “interacting” in a sense of wonderment, joy or whatever it is I feel when I see my subject.  Even the most mundane things can create this feeling.  For example, Verizon’s cell phone service is extremely spotty in this area.  To put it in their own terms, most of the time they can’t “hear me now.”  Perforce, I regularly find myself in the middle of a cornfield about a half mile from where we are staying in order to keep in touch.  But still, that cornfield is inspirational.

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Also, there are so many butterflies here.  Every time I’m sitting outside there are usually two or three.  To watch them flittering about, gives me, brush in hand, a delightful feeling.

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Once I develop that response, I try to communicate it in my painting.

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I’m still not sure how I would categorize my style.  I was quite young when the modern abstract movement was reaching its crest.  While I didn’t understand it at the time, now, with it as part of my cultural environment, I’m becoming more appreciative.

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However, My style seems largely influenced by the impressionists.  I don’t want to be a “mere recorder” as some of the post-impressionist artists criticized the earlier movement, and tried to move beyond.  I want part of myself to be part of each work.

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Part of me sees the process of creation as much like part of the scientific method, collecting data.  I feel that when I’m studying, photographing or looking at various subjects.  I’m now seeing them in a different way.  The images, even of the minutest object, have an enormity, an immenseness, that calls for a reduction, a distilling, to allow the uncovering of aspects that have been hidden by the sheer mass.

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When I synthesizing a painting and communicate my response, I feel I am summarizing the data in much the same way the report of an experiment or study has a conclusion wherein readers are invited to comment.

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In the final construction, I’m continually amazed that individuals have such different responses.  It’s gratifying to know that there is something intangible yet quite real that goes on in the process of creation.  Being part of the process is one of the major things that has drawn me to art.

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My motivation is related to my approach, responding to the subject and then communicating that response.  The entire work, both seen and unseen, evokes a very mystical and spiritual response, and that is what I’m trying to convey.

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Art of any generation is a reflection of its surroundings and culture.  I see myself as an East Coast Remodernist artist.  I try to paint in a representational manner, but in a manner that creates a spiritual feeling in the work.  These four weeks in Vermont have certainly clarified much of that for me.

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As this stay in Vermont comes to a close, I’m looking forward to the trip home during which I’ll stopping to try to capture some of the Appalachian atmosphere.

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