Sometimes I just want to paint structure and there’s nothing like a glass jar buttressed stems, leathery leaves and huge, recurved thorns to work out that urge. These blackberry bushes grow uncultivated along the edge of our gravel road but the blossoms are huge, white and surprisingly delicate for living on nothing but dust and neglect.
Blackberries and Cherries, drawing in progress, vine charcoal on gessoed panel, 40 x 32
So much is happening in the garden: two new hives of bees, new bee fodder (phacelia!), new green manure mixtures, and a foray into next-gen gardening with Bio-Char. I want to write about all of it but there’s still life material growing out there too. The Ruby-Gold ornamental quince put out flowering branches for the first time this year; combined with a new thrift store tablecloth it made an excellent color study.
Quince in a Tan Vase, 24 x 18, oil on panel
Quince from the College of the Atlantic garden, and sage leaves from my plot there this summer, oil on panel, 24 x 36:
We have so much snow on the ground that the thought of painting it makes me shiver. I’m making drawings of the dark spruce trees bending under heaps of pristine white, but as an antidote I’m finishing images from this summer. The crab apples are from the community garden and orchard at College of the Atlantic.
Crab Apples and Teapot, 24 x 18, oil on panel
I’ve been slowly working up to larger paintings since we moved into the new studio last winter. The larger space is helpful but there are other factors as well, such as brush size, paint consistency, and composition. Fortunately all those very disparate things seem to be growing together. This new painting is the next standard size up: 24″ x 36″ and seemed like a whole new country after working on 18″ x 24″ panels for years. Now that I’m working on a few pieces this size I can hardly wait to move up to 48 x 72!
Apples on a Yellow Cloth, 24 x 36, oil on panel
The grapes are ripe! The weather is hot and dry and it’s time to make juice before they disappear under an onslaught by wasps, cedar waxwings, deer, and fox. Ripe grapes are appealing to lots of the local wildlife. We grow northern vine varieties Beta (a purple sport of Concord) and Somerset (seedless white) that are hardy and ripen reliably in Maine’s short growing season. These vines have been in place for five years, and are growing in poor but well drained soil on the side of the driveway.
I’m not sure if the “birdscare balloon” actually drives off birds or not – the vines are so loaded with fruit that it’s hard to gauge depredation. Wear sturdy shoes and gloves for protection against slippery fruit on the ground, stinging insects, and prickly brambles grown up into the vines. . .if you’re picking into a metal container try to keep it shaded so you don’t injure the fruit.
I use the stainless steel basket from my steam juicer to pick into so I know when I have enough for a batch. I used to pick when the grapes were dead ripe and a uniform black-purple, but I’ve recently discovered that the juice has more flavor if picked slightly before that stage – with red, dark maroon, and even a few green grapes in each batch.
The stainless steel basket in the previous photo becomes the top third of the steamer shown here when assembled. The grapes cook quickly and in about 20 minutes the clear tube to the middle portion will show purple and I’ll be able to drain off the juice into the large pot on the right. Use caution – right out of the tube the liquid is still close to the boiling point! I add about 1 cup of sugar for every 2 of juice, decant immediately into canning jars and process in a steam canner for 20 minutes.
This batch of juice is about half and half white Somerset and blue Beta but you would never know from the color of the final product. Because it cooks without adding water, the steam juicer produces a concentrate that we cut at least 50 per cent with water or seltzer to drink. It also makes the best popsicles in the world and next year I’m planning to experiment with a batch of garbage can wine. . .
The new studio building enables my short attention span – I have a new personal best six pieces in the works. Of course, it helps to be able to tailor my activity to how much time I have available; some nights I can manage to get all the colors mixed and a dozen brushes dirty, some nights all I manage is a monochrome line. It doesn’t matter, painting is cumulative and that seems to be true for the skill as much as for the finished product.
White Vase with Five Apples, 24″x 18″, oil on panel.
I hardly recognized my own (very recent) painting in this photo. My current theory, after many fruitless color and hue adjustments, is that the cold winter’s light this afternoon is not kind to the primary pigment here – Permanent Yellow Light. I’ve decided to post it as a record for myself and will document it again the next sunny day I’m home. Fair warning that, given the forecast, it may be March before that confluence of events happens again.
Crabapples and Teapot, 18 x 24 inches, oil on panel, heavy on the P. Yellow Lt.
New oil detail of crab apples in the diffuse white light of the hoop house.
I’ve been experimenting with stiffer paint and a more Zen approach to the application and brush stroke. This is a continuation of the yellow ground/red drawing two posts back.
bowl of Garfield Plantation cherries.
Next up – pie!