I spent a lovely week on Great Spruce Head Island a few years back and have sketchbooks, drawings, and photos that I’ve been working on ever since. The color swatches alone are enough to bring up detailed memories of the morning light on Penobscot Bay and thunderstorms on hot afternoons under the spruce trees. This is a study of the rock that ends Double Beaches like a punctuation mark, 12 x 16, oil on panel:
I’ve set up the pastel corner of the studio and decided to try out my new idiom in that media. My new effort is centered around allowing information to accumulate: marks that describe color and volume coming together over the entire surface of the work. I’ve been working at this in oils for a few months and it makes a kind of perverse sense that it is an easier thought process in chalk.
Frenchboro, Wharf with Fishing Gear, 18 x 24, pastel on board
There’s probably a label for the blogging disorder of allowing photos to lapse past their freshness date. . . I go out into the garden these days to gather visuals and am immediately distracted by ripe blueberries, carrots that should be pulled to make room for a second planting, and slugs in the zinnias. On the other hand, our new studio building is making it much easier to be disciplined about painting.
This painting of Frenchboro harbor is one of two that will be hung as a set at Artemis Gallery in Northeast Harbor for a show opening August 14. 20 x 16, oil on panel, finished last week – pic of its other half coming soon.
Our new studio has been a wonderful influence on my work – improved space and light, ventilation, and the separation of my job and housework from the meditative mental space that is so helpful for painting. A lovely room is not strictly necessary (and I know because I worked in a hallway closet for years) but it is helpful. Now that I have the painting rig set up to my satisfaction I thought I might add pastels back in to rotation. I worked solely in pastels while our son was small and only moved back to oils two years ago. This weekend I retrieved work surfaces and boxes of chalk from storage and got to work remembering how to draw with colored sticks.
This is the east wall of the new set-up:
There is still plenty of room for contemplation and storage. I’m stockpiling some pieces for a show at the Artemis Gallery in Northeast Harbor opening on August 14th.
I use Rembrandt pastels, very handy to have the box trays with this set.
And this is the full-summer view from my front porch. . . milkweed, Joe Pye weed, monarda, meadowsweet, ferns, and buckwheat and goldenrod coming along to feed the bees in September.
Right now is when everything in the garden turns the corner into full production. We’ve just past the longest day of the year and now it’s all about beating that long, downhill slide toward the dark and cold. November will come, but meanwhile we can make hay while the sun shines and harvest broccoli too.
Broccoli, kale, cabbage and other brassica grow well under a variety of conditions, but in my garden they also attract pests if too many are crowded together in one place. I spot plants around in odd areas to avoid cutworms, whitefly, and fleabeetles that find their host plants by scent. In the back is a row of larkspur flowering in its first year from seed – can’t wait to see the variety of colors.
Tonight’s dinner is kung pao tofu with assorted greens.
Some of the lower garden is buried in an onslaught of valerian. I don’t discourage it because it goes by quickly, the bees love it, and the roots make an excellent sleep potion (which as a bonus, smells like wet dog).
This is the season for big edibles, but the ornamentals aren’t far behind: Blue Angel Hosta maturing at 5′ by 6′ down in the swamp!
For most of the year this seedum is a flat green carpet, but in July it becomes an alien solar farm.
I have a finger-trimmed spruce going down in the swamp, next to the hosta. It’s ten years old and has been hand pruned at the tips each year. The “antler” is what happens when the gardener is called away without finishing the task! It’s not a fast growing tree, but it managed to put out this extension in four days – that’s a lot of pent up energy.
I was down in the studio on this glorious Maine morning to clean and organize, and realized I’ve never posted a photo of “Clara’s Vase with Nasturtiums”. This vase is has been very difficult to merge with the softer forms of plants and drapery in past studies. I think my current experiment with Cezanne’s shorter, exploratory brushstrokes have given me more capacity for that type of change in substance.
Clara’s Vase with Nasturtiums, 20 x 16, oil on panel
I have four new blog entries started and material just keeps coming; the title of this blog was never more apropos than the bees and art in spring 2014. It’s all very exciting but very little is actually being posted. To remedy that, here’s a quick look at a study for a larger painting now on the easel of Frenchboro Harbor. Done from studies and photos taken last August, this study represents a departure for me in terms of image and paint application.
Frenchboro Harbor Study; Big Trees 16″ x 20″, oil on panel
Here’s a detail of the paint: applied without medium a la Cezanne, “a short stroke representing only the brush exploring the form”.
The Beta grapes are ready to harvest. Beta is a cross with Concord, those huge sprawling vines that took over rock walls and climbed into trees where I grew up in central Connecticut. Here in Maine the growing season is too short for Concord to ripen reliably, so Beta with its smaller grapes and quick growth is a winner. This season it took me 15 minutes to fill the steam juicer basket, and I estimate I have at least 10 more baskets-worth waiting on the vine. Fortunately, we own a Mehu-Liisa steam juicer and quarts of dense, fragrant grape juice concentrate will be less work than you might think.
So now you have a full steamer basket of grapes – what next?
Rinse the full basket under the sprayer of your kitchen faucet, or outdoors with the garden hose. The water that clings to the fruit will dilute your product, so if you have time you can let the basket drip dry. If not, I’ve processed batches both ways and the difference is negligible. Press the grapes gently with a potato masher or wooden spoon to ensure a tight seal with the lid (I always fill the basket to overflowing), turn the burner on to medium, and let the whole thing sit until you hear water boiling in the bottom pot.
When you hear a vigorous boil you can turn the heat down to a high simmer. Cook until the fruit has lost color and at least half its mass. This full basket of grapes will turn into about four cups of stems, seeds, and tired-looking skins in about 25 minutes. Harder fruit such as quince, apples, and Seckel pears take up to an hour.
The silicon tube can be clamped off, but it does leak a tiny bit under pressure. This grape juice is like purple dye so I like to keep it contained in the lower pot. Sometimes I draw off some juice half-way through the process to make more room in the pot, but it’s not necessary.
One design note: Mehu-Liisa designed the juice collection pot so that the hose begins level with the bottom. Whatever small amount of sediment is steamed out of your fruit will pass along with the juice – there’s no lip to keep it out – so if you’re going for a blue ribbon jelly at the State Fair you may want to strain the final product. Personally, I don’t mind and think it adds to the flavor.
The next step is to add sugar to taste – for me that’s about a cup of white cane sugar per pint of juice concentrate – and decant into hot, sterile canning jars. Cap with hot lids according to canning instructions, and then off to the steam canner.
I process the quarts for 20 minutes in the steam canner, it won’t hurt the occasional pint jar to be in for that long.
I like my steam canner better than a water bath or pressure cooker, but that’s a whole other blog post – possibly coming soon. Now, off to juice some of the vast quantities of tomatoes that are ripening in the lower garden!
The internet is a wonderful thing – here’s an excellent blog all about canning with your Mehu-Liisa. The author mentions something I didn’t – the grape juice coming down that silicon tube is hot!
Our studio is slowly taking shape down the hill in the swamp. The 14′ x 20′ frame was completed last week.
The large opening on the second floor front will frame the sliders that open on to my studio space via an outside staircase. Below is the door to R’s space on the first floor.
Nice view out the first floor windows to the swamp. I’ll have one large window on that side, but wasn’t up for climbing the ladder to the second floor.
And, for old time’s sake, a photo of the old studio before we tore it down and started this one in almost the same spot. 10 x 12, one story on posts, it served the purpose for a long time – now on to something new and much better insulated!
BY PAISLEY REKDAL
I have been taught never to brag but now
I cannot help it: I keep
a beautiful garden, all abundance,
indiscriminate, pulling itself
from the stubborn earth: does it offend you
to watch me working in it,
touching my hands to the greening tips or
tearing the yellow stalks back, so wild
the living and the dead both
snap off in my hands?
The neighbor with his stuttering
fingers, the neighbor with his broken
love: each comes up my drive
to receive his pitying,
accustomed consolations, watches me
work in silence awhile, rises in anger,
walks back. Does it offend them to watch me
not mourning with them but working
fitfully, fruitlessly, working
the way the bees work, which is to say
by instinct alone, which looks like pleasure?
I can stand for hours among the sweet
narcissus, silent as a point of bone.
I can wait longer than sadness. I can wait longer
than your grief. It is such a small thing
to be proud of, a garden. Today
there were scrub jays, quail,
a woodpecker knocking at the whiteand-black shapes of trees, and someone’s lost rabbit
scratching under the barberry: is it
indiscriminate? Should it shrink back, wither,
and expurgate? Should I, too, not be loved?
It is only a little time, a little space.
Why not watch the grasses take up their colors in a rush
like a stream of kerosene being lit?
If I could not have made this garden beautiful
I wouldn’t understand your suffering,
nor care for each the same, inflamed way.
I would have to stay only like the bees,
beyond consciousness, beyond
self-reproach, fingers dug down hard
into stone, and growing nothing.
There is no end to ego,
with its museum of disappointments.
I want to take my neighbors into the garden
and show them: Here is consolation.
Here is your pity. Look how much seed it drops
around the sparrows as they fight.
It lives alongside their misery.
It glows each evening with a violent light.