Friday, December 18, 2015

You Who Lift a Penny From the Gutter...

Last year, as some of you might remember who have been reading this, my daughter got married. It was a ton of fun, putting together all of the flower arrangements for her, helping with her dress, and the event itself was so amazing.

I wanted to give her and her new husband a gift of art that I would make, but with everything that was going on, the piece I had in mind just slipped among all of the things that needed doing, and I set it aside for their first anniversary.

Fortunately, the piece that I had in mind had enough power of vision in it to wait until I had time to make it. My daughter and her husband had gone to Victoria, Canada as part of their honeymoon. They took some amazing photos of Butchart Gardens which were so inspiring to me. I also saw among their photos a statue in the city which adorns the words of Victoria Canada's first poet Laureate, Carla Funk:

"You who
lift a penny
from the gutter
and with the same hand
point out stars,
find me."

this poem truly struck a chord with me, and I felt certain that if I created a piece of art that centered on those words, it would be a message from me to my daughter and her husband- my blessing - and my belief- in their love.

Among my daughter's photos, I also found one that was absolutely exquisite:

The photo of the creek with the wishing coins transported me to a magical place- and the Gardens really look like that. I could smell the fresh moss and pine needles, feel the cold stone, hear the trickling water, and it was so incredible.  Immediately I knew I had to create a piece that "married" the idea of the "pennies in the gutter" to the "stars". 

I thought about how that would reflect the poem. The coins in the painting were not pennies to lift "from the gutter," but they were the opposite- wishes thrown into a gutter, if you will, perhaps with the same purpose. Either the penny was lifted to save due to physical poverty, or it was lifted for luck. But either way, the point is the same- the notion of hope, that a person who was special enough to find hope in something as insignificant as a penny, and could also have a mind so open to believe in eternity- to believe in things beyond this world - and to believe in the promise of the future - was desired by the writer. In the painting,  My desire was to represent this back-and-forth reflection between the sky and the water through hope.

I decided to use the technique I had experimented before on both the New York Gapstow Bridge work and white feather painting - Gesso on board, and then acrylic, with soft pastel on top.

My first step was to sketch out the concept- I pictured this very same image of the creek and the coins at the bottom, but imagined the trees reaching up to the stars, literally as if the coins could be a "reflection" of the stars. Next I covered the whole thing with clear gesso.

In this case, the coins and the stars would be important. I decided to go ahead and use masking fluid for both so that they could sort of "recede", as stars do, once I removed the product. I could then go over the coins with some color to make them look more realistic.

Unfortunately at that point the piece laid dormant for awhile as other things came to the forefront, but I was determined to complete it for their anniversary. I found myself hesitant to put on the fist strokes of color- I think because this piece was so important to me. I knew I wanted to include the poem somewhere, and I played around with how on tracing paper. I was making the mistake of trying to see it all complete and make it perfect before starting.

Then,  when there just wasn't time to worry anymore, I just made myself start painting. Something, anything. Anything that "felt" right, lightly, with acrylic.

At that point I felt confident enough to paint in the sky. There was a bit of a dilemma as I made this in my mind: WHERE would the light theoretically be coming from? If I paint directly from the photo, It would seemingly be daytime, because that's when the photo was taken, under a deep canopy of shade trees. I really wanted that beautiful pop of light green highlighted moss in the upper left of the creek. But then, how could it be night time then, so the stars would be out? After some worry, I decided to create a world in my mind where a very bright moon was directly overhead. 

When I laid in the sky, I used mostly cerulean blue, with some mars black. I played around by putting some white to the right, and it gave a little mystery to the sky, so I left it.

After smoothing out the sky, I gave myself permission to really go for it with the acrylic. I even pulled out the palette knife for the stone, and got in some dimension. It was a lot of fun. 

I painted in some trees in the foreground and got the colors for everything mostly where I wanted them. This shows after the paint dried and I rubbed off the masking fluid for the stars.

For the coins, I removed the masking fluid, and then went over them with a brush with a little color, so that they'd look more realistic. Here are some really close-up shots of how that looked, and also how I added the soft pastel to pull out more color for the soft browns, mossy greens, deep blues and purples of the creek.

As far as putting in the words, it's funny, but the way the sculptor put the words of the poem in that tree sculpture is sort of parallel to how I might have chosen to do render the words.  (Although without the "ribbons" behind them) How wonderful to be looking at the words of the poem while you are looking at the stars. I wanted to allow that to happen in this piece as well, and also to champion the poet's idea of "finding". I liked the idea of "hiding" the words a bit, and through exploring the growth in the nature, finding a completion in the soul. 

I thought that there wouldn't be anything better than the incredible joy in making this piece but there was- and that was seeing the look on my daughter's face when I gave it to her. I am so gifted to have a daughter who just...
gets me.
and more than that, who really loves me.

It's also interesting that I found so much freedom in making this piece, that I might just do more with my own poems. You never know where the path takes you on this creative journey. You start down one way, looking at the ground, but then, there are also the stars.

Leaving this for you all as a Merry Christmas and thank you for reading my blog!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Frosty Feathered Friends

I recently completed several mixed media pieces on board, just using watercolor as a background and popping out the subject matter in soft pastel.. I'm finding this technique to allow rich layers and varied textures in the pieces, and I seem to quickly get the best of all the worlds.

Over the past few weeks I completed a series of "wintery" birds. This started with a simple feather as a gift. Symbolically, this little eagle feather was almost autobiographical. I'm learning a lot about the philosophies inherent in Native American culture, which tie the animal world, and really all of the natural world together with humankind. The feather connects the owner to the bird. In this piece I just took a piece of watercolor board I had laying in the studio, painted a background in watercolor and then made the little feather with soft pastel. It went really quick and it turned out to be a perfect Thanksgiving gift for a special person in my life.

After the feather, I made a cardinal in memory of my dad, just for myself, but after I made it I decided that the technique was so fluid and gave such good results, and also, that I was really enjoying focusing on the birds. I thought I should keep going and make several, to share with the people at Faith Arts Village Orlando for their holiday show. Here are a few that I made-


"Bluebird in snow"

"Cardinal in Snow"

"Snowy Owl"

They all were created in similar fashion as the little eagle feather- watercolor and soft pastel. I did use some colored watercolor pencil, and in some cases chalk pencil, on the eyes and beaks, to get more detail in. Each piece happened slightly differently as I tried to get the best effect. For instance,  I sketched the scene lightly in pencil, then painted in the watercolor background, rendered in the eyes beak and feet with either watercolor pencil, chalk pastel or both. It was really thrilling how quickly each piece seemed to come out of my hand. I really just had FUN.

After applying water to perfect the feet, eye and beak, the body of the bird was rendered with soft pastel. For the snowy owl above, I started with all the white, added in the grey shadows and blended, and then applied workable fixative. When that dried I went back in on top with more white highlights, and also the black feathers in the back. More fixative, then a final work of the white and final matte finish. For the cardinal above, I painted in the grey background and the grey shadows in the snow, went for the reds of the bird with soft pastel, drew the tree needles with watercolor pencil, sprayed fixative, and finished up with the white snow (the falling snow I made by rubbing pastel on rough sand paper and also drawing dots) and also covering up some of the tree needles and around snow with final coat of white pastel. Every piece was finished with a coat of matte fixative.

In the middle of pouring my heart into these works, some things presented themselves that reminded me of the fragility of life, and how are we are so connected to the animal world. And this shook me to my core. It even made me re-evaluate my entire lifestyle, in order to live a more honest life. It's funny how each foray into an avenue of art seems to make me understand who I am, despite myself. It can be a really scary and frustrating experience, but I know that is how it is supposed to go for an artist, and I've committed myself to that journey. And so be it.

I decided to donate a portion of my profits to the National Audubon Society. My dad used to love birds, and used to call me his "Little Chickadee". I saw that with a donation there I could symbolically "adopt" a bird, and they sent me an "adoption certificate" along with a plush black-capped chickadee that sings its call when squeezed. It came on my birthday. And I know that my late father helped me to paint each one of these pieces.

It was so surprising to me how many people resonate with the feathered friends, and also, how many people seem to have feathers follow them! I made so many new friends at the show. Many of the birds flew to new homes, and my soul was nourished into its next artistic adventure!