Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Upcycling #3: A Trailside Show

Showy Penstemon
Approx. 24" X 12"
Acrylic on Oak Cabinet Door
Our first trail of the season—where we bust out our boots and walk off the cobwebs after the winter doldrums—is out along a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail east of the Cedar Springs Dam at Lake Silverwood. It's transitional in nature, sitting on the edge of the foothills between the mountains and the desert: a carpet of dense chaparral with Manzanita, Scrub Oaks, Wild Lilac, Sage, and Rabbit Brush. In the folds where water runs off the ridges, you'll find Sycamore, Willows, Currant, and (yikes!) Poison Oak.

It's a gentle undulating path that snakes you in and out—to the inside curve and then the outside curve of the knuckle-ridges that run along one side of a green valley sprinkled with cattle. In the cool temperatures of early spring, the trail is fringed with tender green plants and wildflowers of astonishing variety—one of the reasons we return again and again. Every hike is a new discovery of colorful blooms: Chia, Penstemon, Larkspur, Indian Paintbrush, and others. But by early summer, the area is as hot as the face of the sun—with only dry brown stalks remaining from the evanescent flowers of spring.

We chanced upon this Penstemon, which was unlike any we'd seen before on our travels, and we encountered a handful of them along the trail. Though there weren't many, each one a lovely surprise—and so delicate they seemed oddly out of place.

Later, at home, Clint looked it up and discovered it is the Showy Penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis)—so very aptly named! When I recently came across my new canvases—the cabinet doors—I knew I needed to set aside a taller one to capture the image of this splendid specimen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Upcycling Part 2: Hop Valley Sunrise

Hop Valley Sunrise
Acrylic on Oak Cabinet Door
Approximately 12" X 14"

We shouldered our packs in the dark. Headlamps in place, we set out on the steep trail rising from the canyon cradling La Verkin Creek. I'd never hiked in the dark before. My head down, with intense focus, I plodded up the trail. When we hike, we have a running joke when someone stumbles: "We're not carrying you out of here, so you better be careful". I always laugh, but meanwhile my stomach does flip-flops and I mind my steps ever so carefully.

The morning was cool—in the high 30s—yet with the effort of climbing it wasn't long before we stopped to peel off a layer or two of clothing. By the time we reached the top, it was light enough to see, but the sun hadn't risen over the walls that lined the valley ahead of us. We hiked in deep cobalt shadows while the sky grew brighter and bluer.

Then, ahead of us, the sun began to hit the east-facing wall—bursting into a blazing coral, then orange, the folds and shadows shifting to purple. We were still in the lee of a jutting ridge, yet the fiery reflection reached back to where we crossed the meandering creek. It lit our hearts with its brilliance. We paused and watched the show as the sun fully crested the ridge, and then stepped into the full light of the new day.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Upcycling: Opening the Door to Something New

Grandfather Tree
Acrylic on Oak Cabinet Door
Approximately 16" X 20"

An artist friend of ours is planning to escape Looneyfornia and head north to Oregon. One day as she winnowed through her amassed possessions in preparation for the move, she called and offered me some old cabinet doors she found in the trash. Huh? 

Sweet Jean, artistic through and through, always marches to her very own creative drummer. She'd come across these old cast offs and decided they would make good painting surfaces—since the construction made them a perfect pre-framed "canvas". I had to go over and check them out. 

There were all shapes and sizes of doors in the pile, which had sat out in the sun for a few years, rendering the doors even more interesting than when she'd first carted them home. The finish was worn off in most places, leaving a rustic surface that I fell in love with. The hinges, still attached and speckled with rust, added to the charm. I was already imagining what I would paint on them. I loaded the doors into the car, plotting as to how to sneak them into the house to avoid the "I thought we were getting rid of junk" lecture from Clint. I couldn't wait to get one up to my studio and get to painting.

There was a little bit of prep work involved. First, I had to wash off the spider webs and dirt and let the doors dry thoroughly. Luckily with our super low humidity, this didn't take long. I then slathered two layers of gesso on the center panels to seal the wood and give me a good binding surface for the acrylic. Gesso on wood is a smooth, almost slippery, yet chalky foundation that yields a completely different painting experience. A hint of the wood grain comes through, adding another interesting element to the surface. Sometimes the excitement of a painting is found in the surprises generated by new materials and textures. It was highly stimulating—I've already started on my third "door" painting.

About the first door painting...

Grandfather Tree

I'd climbed up the hill to say hello to the La Plata Mountains, gleaming off in the distance. As I skittered back down, there at the base of the ridge I saw the weathered bones of Grandfather Tree—a perfect guardian standing stark against the big bowl of the Colorado sky.

As soon as I saw the cabinet doors, I knew I wanted to paint this image on one of them. Stay tuned for the next painting, coming very soon! 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Variations on a Theme

Sycamore Shade I
Mixed Media Monotype
9" X 12"

I recently started a painting of California Sycamores and found myself bored with the process and the painting. The piece may be salvageable, but only if I can overcome the disenchantment brought on by the dib-dab-dobbingly monotonous foliage that makes me yawn even as I describe it. The subject was interesting enough, but my execution was uninspired. I decided it was time to return to making monotypes to revive my enthusiasm.

Each time I return to monoprinting, it’s a fresh challenge. Should I wet the paper? Does the image transfer better with acrylic, watercolor, or oil paint? What brush did I use last time to scrape away the ink? If I recorded this information and kept better track of my tools, this would be a simple process. However, I confess I enjoy finding my way through the process each time in the hope that I will uncover some new technique that delights me.

Sycamore Shade II
Mixed Media Monotype
9" X 12"

I created two prints using slightly different techniques. With the first, I did a rough drawing (with paint) on a Plexiglas sheet. I brushed in the background colors of the leaves lit by the sun. Then, I added some blues and grays to establish the trees. This build-up of color took several repetitions as I applied paint to the plate, flipped the paper on top, and burnished the back of the sheet to transfer the paint.

Then I broke out black and gray oil colors to overprint the lighter tones. I rolled the ink onto the plate with a brayer and set to scraping away ink. I was working blindly as I'd completely covered the ghost image that remained on the plate. It was kind of a "duh" moment, but I went with it anyway, guessing where the trees were and scraping accordingly.

When I peeled the paper away after the last rubbing, I really liked the texture of the ink contrasting against the layers of color. I added a bit more color here and there and voila! I hope you like it too.

With the second piece, I took the reverse approach: First, I inked the plate with a mix of black and gray. I scraped away the background, then brushed out the highlights on the tree trucks. After I transferred the ink to paper, I added layers of color on top – giving me a different result: more structured than the first piece. I like them both—how about you?

I love experimenting with the layering and lifting of ink and paint—this was just what I needed to break out of the doldrums of my recent art (non) adventures.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

From the Desert to the Sea

Meeting of the Waters
24" X 18"
Acrylic on Canvas

Happily, I managed to get some time in the studio over the past two weekends. As I giddily looked through photographs for inspiration, I decided it was time to move away from the desert for a spell. I needed to paint with blues and greens for a change. My urge to paint raged strong: I mentally drew the shapes of things I saw and mixed colors in my dreams.

That first afternoon, I found myself without any canvases, so I rummaged through the studio and found a reject painting that could be re-purposed. I always wonder if someone somewhere someday will x-ray one of my paintings and think, "Wow, what crap, no wonder she painted over it." In Art History, I remember a case where Michelangelo or DaVinci had painted over something and the ghost image uncovered by x-ray showed a beautiful, yet unfinished drawing. I guess when you are a Master, even your rejects are good.

This image is my favorite of those taken on a trip we took last fall. We were on Highway 1, winding our way home from Monterey, taking the scenic route. At one point, the road semi-circled around a mini-estuary, where a fresh water creek ran into the ocean. I was enthralled by the rainbow of colors, so we stopped for a quick photograph.

We didn’t stop for long. We had miles to go and the day was running away from us. It was somewhere south of Cambria and north of our turn-off at Nacimiento-Fergusson Road (say that three times), a narrow strip of dirt that rocketed up the steep grade, presenting tremendous views of the ocean before it bumped over the ridge, winding down into a deep canyon that eventually melted into rolling hills studded with oaks. This obscure route, connecting 1 to 101, ended up taking us hours longer than expected. Nonetheless, it was a delightful adventure and one of the best parts of the trip.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Canyon de Chelly


Canyon de Chelly

24" X 18"
Acrylic on Canvas

When I first saw Canyon de Chelly, it took my breath away. 

I wanted to leap out and fly over the canyon to explore every inch of it. You can feel it. It's a sacred place—filled with deep echoes of history and charged with emotional energy from the people who lived and died there.

The unexpected surprise of the canyon is part of the allure. The landscape is gentle undulating hills thick with juniper and piƱons. Along the road to the overlooks, the terrain is the same, with no indication of any change. But then, between the trees, you get a flashing glimpse of the canyon and before you can gasp, it’s gone.

The path from the parking to the overlook meanders through thick vegetation. As you round the last curve, it unfolds: a deep canyon, winding off to the west like an enormous snake. At second look, you see it has many forked branches, more like an ancient gnarled tree than a serpent. My heart swelled. I felt exhilarated and sad at the same time knowing the history of the area.

We were near a place known as "Where Two Fell Off". Long ago, Spanish soldiers attacked the Navaho people living there. Unfortunately, the men of the tribe were away, and the women, children, and elderly bore the brunt of the attack. One woman, running from a soldier, stopped suddenly, turned to the solder, and threw her arms around him—the momentum of their collision taking them over the edge to their death.

I would rather choose my death than suffer at your hand.

This scene is vivid in my head. Could I do that? Would I choose that end?

As we drive away, the canyon is swallowed up once again by thick vegetation. It's as though it was never there. How did they find this magical place? Did they stumble onto it from above? Or were they coming up out of the desert? Aiming towards the red-gold cliffs, finding this maze of deep, sheltered canyons with broad bottoms lined with thick grass and a happy creek—and plenty of crevices and crannies where they could hide from enemies. This is a good place. We will be safe and happy here. We can grow food and fat children.

I want to go back and walk on the green bottomland and smell the sage. I want to watch the hawks fly overhead and step into the deep shadows made by the hulking rock cliffs.