More wildlife in the garden – and in my paintings for 2020. Spinus tristis makes a tsee-tsi-tsi-tsit call in flight as they bounce around the garden from seed stalk to thistle head. While the female is on the nest she calls to her returning mate with a soft continuous teeteeteeteete sound, which we hear a great deal during early summer. The roses in this painting are from an unidentified plant that was a gift from a friend in southern Maine. It blooms once, gloriously, in early summer and has proved hardy in its little untended corner of the lower garden for twenty years.
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.
Poppies and Margarites, 36 x 48 on two panels, oil on archival board
The first flower collection for 2018, many more to follow!
The days are just packed, as Calvin used to say to Hobbs. I have posts nearly ready to go about the Island-wide story slam, a recipe for arroz con/sin pollo in the wood oven, and a lecture on waffle gardening that I gave to the Castine Scientific Society last Tuesday. Meanwhile, I’ve been working my way through the first complete iteration of my “still life in situ” project with this painting of a honeysuckle vine framed by purple Matronalis.
This planting is in the dooryard, and I see it every morning as I leave the house in all kinds of weather and times of day. I want my paintings to represent something familiar and well known: plants that I’ve tended, pruned, picked for bouquets and appreciated in place. The time of day and season has become increasingly important to me. I felt my previous still life compositions with vases and drapery had very little atmosphere. The morning light here provides context, and the blooms and foliage represent a particular stage of their growth and decay, which has long been a prime characteristic of still life painting.
Honeysuckle and Dame’s Rocket, 36 x 24, oil on panel
And a detail, now with hummingbird!
Honeysuckle is a reliable plant in the Maine climate, and I’d probably grow it for the hummingbirds even if it was fussy to grow. They flit in and out of the foliage from June to September and even the most competitive males find neutral territory to feed in peace on the red trumpets scattered over this huge, tangled bush. The purple flowers are Matronalis, or Dame’s Rocket, a member of the mustard family and much more deer-proof than Phlox, which they strongly resemble.
The final work will be 36 x 24, and the medium is oil on panel. We’re about halfway done in this photo, wish me luck!
The studio at the top of the stairs:
I’ve changed media from pastel to oil paint. Turns out there are some aspects of my studio environment that become more pressing with the change. I didn’t want to stop during my session tonight and make a list, but here’s what I recall.
1. Lighting – A regular residential wall mounted light bulb and a halogen pole lamp were fine for pastels, but now I need more. Mixing paint means more moving around the pallet, more shadows are thrown, I spend a lot of time getting out of my own way. We have 9′ ceilings in this little house so perhaps some LED track lighting is the way to go? I’d be happy to get feedback on that.
2. More brushes in more suitable sizes – Why do I always expect to be able to paint with 3/4″ brushes on a 16″ x 20″ surface? Most of the marks I’m making are MUCH smaller than 3/4″. The studio space itself won’t accommodate a panel larger than 24″ x 36″ (I know – I’ve tried) so I don’t see why I continually try to bend physics to my will. Time to put in a Dick Blick order, with restraint and an eye to the budget.
3. More paint – And by more paint, I mean I might be in love with Old Holland Titanium white. It’s amazing stuff. I don’t have nearly enough of it.
4. Learn to wear gloves – My hands sweat in nitrile gloves but I don’t currently have an allergy to latex and don’t want to develop one. I’ll stick to the blue, unpowdered nitrile variety and hope I get used to them quickly. They’re uncomfortable and I startle every time my bright blue hand comes into my field of vision, but it sure beats being covered in paint at the end of the night.
5. Patience – Paint is so facile, so direct, and the brush is such a sensitive instrument after all those years of using hard sticks of chalk that I find myself going too fast and jumping from one area to another all over the panel. I need to rein it in, proceed calmly, step back if I’m not sure where I’m going. I love the excitement, but I’m paying a price in errors and mushy re-do’s.
6. Draw it all out – I’m still working on my first painting in 20 years, not making much progress, and part of the problem is that the underlying drawing was wrong in several areas. Why did I think I could “fix it in the mix”?
7. Tone the panel – I’ve been working on a dark grey or green background for so long that the white canvas panel is a hardship. Tonight I put down a raw umber wash over my next drawing which will help me see the lighter colors more easily.
8. Paint more – paint more. Paint more.
Just back from a week painting on an island in Penobscot Bay with new work, a decision to move from pastels to oils and still-life to landscapes, three full camera cards and a pack full of laundry.
Two small studies of Bear Island.
Many thanks to the folks who made this possible and provided exuberant company, serious inspiration and very, very good food. And here’s the link to the eminently practical Macabi skirt I promised!
Now I have to get out into the garden, bu first – a rainbow over Penobscot Bay: