New work: Dahlias with Rooster

The working title for my series of paintings in 2020 is “In the Garden” and will highlight the many and varied creatures that live and visit the space outside my studio.

I’ve been working to improve habitats for creatures in and around the garden beds. Amphibians, reptiles, and songbirds are all at risk worldwide and I have the advantage of excellent raw material in two acres of freshwater marsh and a harsh climate that resists invasives and favors native species. I have compositions planned to include our three local frog species: grey, tree, and spring peeper, multiple woodpeckers, the ducks and geese that stop here on their way through the spring and fall migrations, and the domestics that wander through on a lovely summer morning, like my neighbor’s Black Leghorn rooster, below.

Red dahlias with a black Leghorn rooster, painting
Dahlias with Rooster, 36 x 24, oil on panel, 2019

This piece started with an underpainting of large tonal areas – a new technique for me this year. The underlying structure allows more freedom in the top layer to depict the complicated surfaces and textures of the creatures that will join the flowers in future paintings. Onward to “Roses with Goldfinch” in the studio!

Detail of Dahlias with Rooster underpainting
Dahlias with Rooster, underpainting in progress, detail

New work – Eli Creek

We recently spent a week out on Isle Au Haut, an island about twelve miles out from Stonington, Maine. Acadia National Park occupies half the 100 square mile area and maintains hiking trails, a five site campground, and rangers on site for the summer season. We stayed in staff housing; a hundred year old cabin with a spring-fed stream rushing through the front yard. No electricity or water, no visitors, nothing to do all day but hike over the rocky coast, draw or paint as the inspiration hit, and cook dinner over a propane burner as darkness came on. If there’d been a vegetable garden it would be my idea of paradise. We did see a few gardens on the “town” side of the island – fenced all four sides and over the top to keep out the hungry island deer.

This is Eli Creek viewed from the cabin – a lovely opportunity to paint the landscape “at home”. The panel is 24″ x 18″ and is a study for a larger format in progress.

Eli Creek, Acadia National Park, Isle Au Haut, Maine
Eli Creek, Acadia National Park, Isle Au Haut, Maine

The August garden

I’ve been working to put a garden post together since June but honestly, WordPress, could you make your photo upload engine any more baroque? I have a dozen picture of (now dated) flowers and vegetables and I may figure out how to post that in the near future, meanwhile, have an August panorama!

Garden panorama
August has been kind to the tomatoes.

New work: Bouquet With Botanical Print (Spaendonck)

Still life painting of bouquet with botanical print by Dutch artist Gerald Spaendonck in the background

Still life painting of bouquet with botanical print by Dutch artist Gerald van Spaendonck as background, 24 x 36 inches, oil on panel.

Spaendonck was a Flemish painter and engraver who brought the traditions of Flemish flower painting to Paris. Prior to this he had studied with studied under the decorative painter Guillaume-Jacques Herreyns in Antwerp in the 1760s. Studying his work has been very instructive in adding to my palette.

New work: The Strawberry Thief

The definition of a pattern is a discernible regularity. I’m working out what that means in terms of petals around a central disc, stems in a vase, and natural forms stylized using mathematical models to repeat seamlessly, such as wallpapers and textiles.

William Morris created a way of life through pattern: in ornament, textiles, product design, writing, and political activism. I was interested in the rigorous complexity as a backdrop to the riot of random color of the flame azalea branches.

painting, stilllife, oilpainting

The Strawberry Thief, 24 x 18, oil on panel

 

 

New work – Halfway There

I’m involved in a series of diptychs; an exploration of overlapping images with a contiguous background and subject matter. What that means in practice is that, while I draw up both panels together, one half is actually painted before the other is started. It’s great for my color discipline as the lighting and hue of both panels was originally the same but it might be a month before I start on the second image. Here’s the left side of the current set – the right panel is still in progress.

Teapot marked MIJ c 1928 with 4th Century Moorish textile, Museum no. IS. 96-1993, © Victoria and Albert Museum, detail

Oil on gessoed panel, 36 x 24, detail

 

New work – on site drawings from Sunset, Maine

I recently spent some time on one of the hundreds of islands in Penobscot Bay. It was wonderful to have a chance to work on site in that beautiful landscape of rocks and water. Drawings are Coates brand vine charcoal and white Conte crayon on Ampersand pastelbord, and are all approximately 20 x 16 – big enough to encompass the view and small enough to securely carry over those rocks!Maine seascape

New work: Diptych of Poppies and Margarites

I’ve been experimenting with twin panels of overlapping arrangements. Diptychs are the art historian’s version of a chapter book, one view leading to another and sharing the overlap.

Here, alpine poppies, margarite daisies, cosmos, marigolds and woad spill out of 50’s vintage vases in morning light.

Diptych stilllife painting

Poppies and Margarites, 36 x 48 on two panels, oil on archival board

Hugels and Waffles, drought-proofing the garden

In the photo below you’ll notice a heap of garden refuse (the hugel) in back of a trench dug below grade planted with kale and bok choi varieties (the waffle).

 

waffle garden

Hugel plantings: daylilies, ornamental allium, elecampne, lupine (volunteers), valarian. Waffle planting: kale varieties, bok choi, arugula

Hügelkultur is a composting process using raised beds constructed from decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials. The process helps to improve soil fertility, water retention, and soil warming, and improves the insect and bacterial life of the beds around the hugel. Building several hugels around the garden makes a handy depository for the constant outflow of pruning and weeding debris, making it much easier to “compost in place”. I use the top and sides of the pile to stash plants that need a temporary home; clumps of daylilies that needed separating, unexpected plum seedlings, and the like. The top of the pile dries out in my very arid Downeast summer weather so I don’t plant vine crops or flowers there, although many people recommend the practice. Someday, when I have more water available perhaps that will be an option!

The hugel is paired with a waffle bed. Waffles are the opposite of raised beds and are built by removing soil in a small area, replacing and augmenting the best soil available, and then planting below grade. This practice has been used since ancient times in arid climates to preserve water and soil, and to shade roots and seedlings as they develop. The combination of the hugel acting as a windbreak, moisture reservoir, and beneficial critter refuge with the waffle offering fertile soil, bottom shade, and slower evaporation, is hard to beat.

The hugel/waffle combination can be quite small and still provide a significant benefit. Here a small hugel on a slope is planted with Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemum frutescens). Note that this plant is generally considered a weed for it’s prolific seed production but is also a good drought proof pollination plant. The trenched waffle bed upslope is planted with onion sets, and the small, deep waffles below are planted with tomatoes. Both sides benefit from the hugel providing water diversion and storage and wind protection.

hugel waffle

Here a small hugel planted with chives borders a waffle planted with greens: kale, Australian yellow lettuce, spinach, and lettuce var. Pablo.

small hugel waffle chives kaleFor those of us with poor soil in an arid climate, just a little digging can make a big difference.