Home stretch…

The Pedestrians

The Pedestrians  -  32 x 38

This, I owe, to David P. Wallis.

I love it when people say, ya know what you outta paint ?

So, David says, ya know,
I just stopped over at Mermaid Farm,
and I think it would be great
to paint that pedestrians and bicyclists
quote thingy that they have, written in magic marker over the vegetables.

We have stopped there of course.
It’s a gem on middle road.
I often wish I knew the farmers,
because they have a really groovy thing going on there.

So I gathered reference shots, and sketches,
from several different times of the day, and year
and, when I was sorting through them, I saw
the chickens.

Bam, I’m in.
Bird series here we come.

But I had an editorial decision to make.
Half of the detail shots were from July
and half from October.
The light was different in both but I can handle that.
It was the produce.

Dahlia’s catching the warm afternoon light,
a bag of papery dry onions,
and an autumn tapestry of leaves,
or…
those luscious purple onions,
bunches of thick leaved dinosaur kale,
potatoes and beans, and summer hot green leaves.
And someone WILL notice if I mixed them together.

You can see I went with summer,
but I figured I could pick and choose
among the two versions of tables and tin cans,
rows of seed packets inside the shack,boxes and buckets,
and the fifty different positions in which I caught light cascading on the scale.

But among all those changing details,
one thing stayed the same…
the red bicycle pump.

Did you find it yet ?

And that little lizardy thing…missed that one didn’t ya.

Thank you David P.


Good Morning America…

It took an illegal neighborhood fireworks display, which I had to duck and cover from on my walk home from the studio last night, to remind me that here we are at the 4th of July already. Whew, and I’m still framing.
I was distracted this week by the crew who were waterproofing our basement, but it was quite a wonderful feeling to actually “enjoy” listening to the sound of the rain falling on our roof as we nodded off to sleep. And not just because it put out the giant sparklers across the creek. That rain is still around this morning, and the sky is a rich umber grey.
So today’s painting is a good fit.
Head north from here, hang a sharp right just above the Rhode Island border, watch the trees get shorter and shorter as you head east, go round about and round about and slow way down, then get in a long line of cars with bikes and kayaks on the roof, bump your way over the steel plates and onto a ferry. Doesn’t matter which one, they will all get you to the same place. The island of Martha’s Vineyard. If, after floating by the first light house you see, the boat starts to take a wide turn to the right, you will be coming into this port, Vineyard Haven. We’ll be doing just that in a few days…geez, I better get back to work…

Wharf Company  -  24 x 38

Wharf Company

I knew this was going to be a long stretch at the easel.

I started a new detective series.
12 plus hours of audible per book.
20 books.

Then I switched back to my favorite author, Laurie R. King,and reread most of her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series
in advance of listening to the newest addition.

Looking back at it now,
I can hear the Scottish brogues of both narrators.
The perfect soundtrack to this stormy wind blown sea.
And, for one more note of synesthesia…
I give you…
Holmes Hole.

In the “Confessions of the Artist” department…
I borrowed the crow from another composition
which I am working on, that features the great big tug boats
anchored over by the gas station.
And I moved the pallet of chains a bit to the right…
boy were they heavy.

But everything else is completely honest and authentic…
right down to the tiny light on top of the pole on the ferry.


Breakfast with the birds

I’m munching on my own breakfast of granola, and berries picked from the garden, as I write. It’s Uncle Barney’s birthday, so I added some flax seed in his honor. Go Barn. There’s a lot more of everything to do today, so I’m getting a jump on the blog post. If we cross two more off today that will leave five.

I give you…

Breakfast with Nancy Luce  -  24 x 20

Breakfast With Nancy Luce

Gallery owner cum muse.

I had this painting in mind from the beginning
but somehow it got saved until the end.

So, it had a lot of time to percolate
on the back burner of the creative mind.

Which was fortunate because
the first scarf was red and I really like that vintage blue check.

The wooden chickens were originally supposed to be feathersbefore the box of my father’s remnants arrived.

The eggs were always going to be Homer’s
but he added a few more colors to the coop for the spring layers.

And then there was Mr. Morse.

I had been texting him images of the paintings as they were finished.
It’s always nice to get feedback, and in the early stages, my fragile ego
can only handle positive comments, which…he knows and respects.

But, when he saw that I was working on this homage to Nancy Luce
he told me he had just purchased one of her original pamphlets of poetry.

I had him send me a photo and just like that…
the piece came together.

It’s a wonderful life.

Scare Crow  -  12 x 29

Scare Crow

You should have seen Pat modeling for this.

I dressed her in my plaid shirt
found just the left glove so that decided which hand to hold up
the straw was…everywhere…from my straw bale garden
that pitchfork is the one we bought back from cousin Eddie’s estate sale
and the crow…flew in just for a guest appearance

My model fees vary

I got away easy with the crow
she needed the straw
and was satisfied with the handful from the sleeve

Herself…
well let’s just say
she doesn’t work for peanuts.


Katama bound…

Katama Flyway  -  24 x 48

Katama Flyway

This is a lonely outpost
in the last of October’s light.

The warmer cerulean hue
which promises cold and snow
is just beginning to change
out there on the horizon.

They know
those geese.
And they are calling…

As Mary Oliver wrote,

“Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.”

Wings of Katama  -  12 x 18

Wings of Katama

It was cold.
We were on our way home.
We had just buried Ted.

And he was free
to soar.

 

 


Edgartown… the glory and the guts

Took me all day but here are three from the town of Edgar…

Lite Wash

Lite Wash  -  16 x 20

A view from choir loft in the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown.
On window washing day.

It’s been on the books, so to speak,
the sketchbooks that is,
for a few years.

Some are like that.
You sketch out a composition,
think it’s all set and it goes on the list
of paintings for a given year’s worth of shows.

Then time, or energy, or a divergent theme,
bump that idea down the ladder.

It happens that way.
Then something,
or someone,
comes along and there’s a spark.

So, I was sitting at the big table in the gallery
talking to Chris and Adam one day
and they mentioned something about the Old Whaling Church.
I said, you know, I had this idea for a painting…
but I’m not sure…

They both said, “we’d love to see that”. That was all I needed.
I have done a few from the outside and a couple from within,
but this painting allows for both perspectives,
and then some.

I had worked on it for several days before Herself actually took her first look.
She did what you probably did,
kinda tilted her head…then the other way…
then back. I waited. Then she got it.
“Oh, I remember that day. I was worried about your knees after we climbed up there.”

See, that’s what I’m talking about.
It takes a village.

The Yachtsman

The Yachtsman  -  12 x 19

In all it’s newly shingled glory,
The Edgartown Yacht Club.
I love the simple E.Y.C. over the office door.

As someone who is not a member,
and has only appreciated the landmark
for it’s exterior,
I wanted to edit it down to the iconic elements.

New England cedar,
shiny copper weathervane,
flag snapping to attention,
masts at the ready,
the yachtsman scanning the horizon…
and the lantern softly glowing to guide his way home.

The Gutting

The Gutting  -  24 x 36

Ah there’s always a dark side.

In The Yachtsman, you have a sunny, blue skied, fair weather kind of a day.

Here, the clouds thicken.

The air was heavy and it was deep into the beyond of the shoulder season,
Out in the gun metal grey waters of the harbor,
only the heartiest of working vessels were moored.

The wind was kicking up,
and we had just come from the Newes,
with bellies full of chowder and a pint or two of October ale,
and I thought I could hear a steady tapping…
just there coming around the corner behind us…
like the wooden peg of a leg,
tap tap tapping on the weathered cobbled stone.

I reached over, pulled up the collar of Herself’s Pea Coat ,
and snuggled closer for the warmth,
and we made our way down to the dockside.
‘Twas then I heard the screaming.
Ghastly wales, a staccato of screeching,
and a frenzy of feathers seemed to come at us from all directions.
The water churned and the sky was a roiling mass of gulls.
Through the miasma of wings I could see a figure.
A lone fisherman was tearing out the guts of his supper.

It seemed as if all of the island flock was massing, and thrashing,
to win the foul spoils of his long cold day at sea.
The gruesome sight was more than I could bear,
and my chowder began to repeat.

Just before I managed to steer us away,
in the midst of the carnage and chaos,
I caught a glimmer of light.

Perched on top of the blood red piling,
with a gaping maw of frothing yellow beak,
a white throated gull threw back her head
and just
shudderingly
and stunningly…
laughed.

The fisherman turned his head…
And I will swear that I saw…
a silvery, slithery, black eye patch.

 


Overhead

Today’s two are silhouetted against that vast vineyard sky…

Trident  – 20 x 24

Trident

These Osprey kept a close eye on our friends Pete and Della.

They were neighbors.
That’s what neighbors do.
I got the chance to sit on their porch,
Pete and Della’s porch,
and study the nest for a bit in the summer
and a bit more in the fall.

It wasn’t til I got back to my Pennsylvania studio,
and studied the photographs I took,that I saw the trident.

That stalwart symbol of the sea.
I was faithful in the rendering of every branch and twig
which generations of this family labored to weave,
and, as the days of painting went along,
I came up with lots of stories about
who was celebrating what
with that blue and white ribbon.

Pete’s not around to tell,
and Della can keep a secret,
but that middle bird,
don’t you just think,
with those googly eyes..

she’ll be the one to tell all.

Marsh Watcher  -  24 x 20

Marsh Watcher

On the other side of the Darling’s house is a great expanse of marshy wetlands.

The osprey have permission to do flybys
but this guy is the sheriff.
He’s the one who “gives” the permission.

Human and reptile,
grapevine and vole,
We are all being watched.


The Aerie

The Aerie

The eagles nest.
Late winter.
Two eggs.
The whole world watches.
In the wee hours
on the morning of Herself’s birthday
I lay in the dark
and looked on my phone
at the snow covered nest.

There was a crack.
And then a hole.
And then a tuft of down.
And then a beak.

By that evening.
There were two.

After months of tuning in.
After Zoe and I noticed how the Mama
would tuck those babies in tight
with her giant eagle wings…
and we started giving each other
eagle hugs.
After learning that I could keep the video playing
by leaning the phone on my easel ledge.
After dozens of terrifying tippiness of the tenders scooting along the edge.
And cringing into a fetal position each time the bully
knocked the bobble head heck out of his sibling.
After tilting our own heads to see what was shooting out of…oh.
And identifying the species of dozens of carcasses.
After watching them break through the shell of ice covered wings.
And sympathetically panting along with their tiny tongues in the hot afternoons.
After learning that this branching thing they do…
flapping untested wings and hopping OUT OF THE NEST
onto the nearby branches…is normal.
And seeing up close and personal some pretty raw footage of feeding.
After all that…
They ate the camera.

Well, not really.
But they jumped on it
and it tilted to a very vertigo unfriendly angle
straight down to the ground…
150 feet down.

Occasionally now,
there is a wing tip.
And once I saw three minutes of a talon.
But it’s pretty much over for the ten million of us
who raised these kids.
They have fledged.

The nest is about 20 miles from us.
So their weather was our weather.
Their snow, we had to shovel.
Their lightening, was our thunder.
And their dark, was our bedtime.

Trespassers were prosecuted.
But there is an outpost,
across the lake,
where watchers can watch.
I’m told they stick around the nest.
You have to use a massive lens
for not much eagle.
So I don’t go.
I’m still upset at getting them so far
only to miss out on the big exodus.

So I painted this.
A little eagle tea hug
from the studio.


Ex Libris

Ex Libris

After our pal Ted died, my friend Katie and I decided to honor his being in our lives, with a road trip.

Ted used to grab his stick, and match a stylish hat to his shoes, and lift the plastic handicapped parking sign from the kitchen hook and into the truck we would climb to wander the island in search of painting ideas.

Ted knew everyone and every corner on Martha’s Vineyard. Even after he lost most of his sight, and all of his hearing, and none of his wits, he could still navigate us to the most god forsaken dirt road dead ends, and take three steps further, and be standing before beauty.

Gay Head lilies, at the end of a meadow, that we reached by marching straight through a woman’s yard to see.
Should we knock first Ted ? No, she won’t mind. Turns out she didn’t.

The towering brickyard chimney, at the bottom of the steepest rockiest dirt road the truck had ever seen, which all but bounced his own self into the heath. PG was in the front seat, and Ted was folded like a Gumby in the tiny back jumper.

Climbing to the top of Crick Hill, all the while swinging his cane dangerously close to my head,
to illustrate his historical narration.

Posing, unknowingly, at the top of the beach steps alongside
Pete in those weathered moccasins.

Like that.

And so, so much more.
So, anyway, Katie misses him too, so we are now doing Ted Trips.
On this one we did most of our looking from the car, because my new knee was still pretty new, but we did manage to climb around Cedar Tree Neck long enough to get the tick that gave me Lyme Disease, and we did some knitting parked at the beach in Menemsha eating our snack, and Katie wanted to take me to see the new library,
where she spends some quality time with friends and literature.
But it was closed.
We walked around the building, getting a glimpse here and there of the shiny new interior, but coming back up the hill to the car it was the big old grey mailbox that caught my eye.I had told her of my rambling idea of painting “Up Island Openings”, gates and windows and granite pillars and such. Not a theme yet, just a whisper of a concept really.

She thought the mailbox would fit right in, actually I think she was humoring me and inwardly suspected that the cheese was sliding off the sandwich. But she’s a gem and a kind soul…
and after some consideration her razor sharp brain came up with Portals.

Yep, that’s much better than openings.
This is the first in that whispered at series…
notice how I got it to fit into the more concretely thought out “Bird Series” ?

Thanks Katie
That was sorta fun.


Taking flight and scaling down…

These two are about wonder and fun and imagination.

To Scale  -  16 x 20

To Scale

Menemsha is a magical place.
In, of, and surrounded by the sea.

Imagine what a young child feels,
standing in the shadow,
of the behemoth swordfishing hulls
that line the wooden docks.

The mysteries that await them
in the swirl of eddies behind the jetty,
running full tilt across the crescent of sandy beach,
or wading slowly, slowly, with net in hand,
as a tiny creature wiggles under the nearby stone.

Tales, both tall and terrifying
can be overheard sitting on the bench at squid row.
Sloppy sided rubber boots
drip salty puddles.
Floppy brimmed canvas hats
get tossed on coils of rusted ropes and chains.
Whip thin rods and lines cast delicate wakes,
and listen…
to all the sounds that water can make…

it’s the definition of childhood.

Two, such curious and adventure bound children,
were walking along the new pier,
built in the wake of that dreadful fire which razed the Coast Guard boathouse.
I don’t remember if it was before
or after the ice cream cones,
but the energy was high and the sun was shining.

The boy ran ahead.
He had spotted this fish,
laying so perfectly, and with nary a fisherman in sight,
as if it had just leapt out of the sea.
His sister remarked on the brilliance of the colors,
and he reached into his pocket
and layed the three bottle caps he had collected
in a neat row alongside.

All of this
and more
is dancing
in that shadow.

Solo  -  18 x 24

Solo

Now take yourself to the other end of the island.
The long grassy strip of heath
that leads, over the line of dunes,
to South Beach and then…the ocean.
You are at the Katama Airfield.
Actually, you are in the Right Fork Diner
which is in the field next to the tiny airport.

It’s a Wright Brothers era kind of a place.
With all the wooden propellers and greasy rags,
it can easily fool the 21st century visitor
into thinking they saw their great grandfather, sitting on the old ladderback,
in the shadowed corner of the hanger.

My great-grandfather actually did work for the Wright Brothers.
Which must have been what drew my attention to the bits of fabric
hanging from index cards, which were thumb tacked in a neat line,
all around the ceiling’s edge of the dining room.

The gentleman next to me noticed my curiosity
and told me that when a student pilot flies their first solo flight,
the instructor ceremonially tears off a piece of her or his shirt.
Each of the cards had the pilots’ name and date of flight
and the word, “Solo” written in block letters
with a ratty bit of shirt tail attached…
here and there a button or a cuff.

The earliest ones I could see were from the 60′s.
I don’t think the place would have looked much different back then.
A little less rust maybe, but isn’t that true for most of us.


Like a thunderbolt…

It is so ordered.

The Supreme Court of the United States made big news yesterday, and it is fitting to unveil this painting today.

The Massachusetts Drawing Act of 1870

The Massachusetts Drawing Act of 1870 – 24×24

Last week a thirteen year old art student, who is also studying music, wrote to ask for some advice on how to make a career out of art. She had seen my work at the Granary Gallery and Adam and David P. Wallis, two of my Gallaristas, encouraged her to share her thoughts. I got a bit long winded, but here is a portion of my response…

I do have some advice, actually.
Draw
Draw
Draw.

You are beginning to learn how to express yourself, your thoughts, your feelings and the world as you have come to know it, in many different creative ways. Just like you are finding with musical instruments, there are skills that you need to learn in order to play the notes and make the music you want.
Same is true in art.
There are basic skills that you need to learn.
Tools and techniques that you will need to master in order to use them to make your art.

And just as in music, while you are learning how to play those instruments, your musical tools, you probably are also being taught to listen. Listening to the music but also to yourself. Where does it come from in you, and what is it you want to say with the music you make.
Same with art.

So you practice. Any good teacher will be able to show you how to use pencils and brushes and paints, even digitally. As you get more serious, there is plenty of color theory and art history out there that will fill out your understanding of how to do the craft behind your work and how others before you have chosen to express their practiced talents.

I believe the foundation for all of that is drawing. You need to train you hands to see what your eyes are seeing.

I’ll tell you a story about one of my grandsons, Ben.
Ben came to visit when he was about 15. He had an art project to do for school so I cleared a corner of the studio and he worked along side my easel. His homework was to take a photograph, which his teacher had given him, and make a drawing of it.
I wasn’t exactly thrilled with that concept, and I’ll explain that a bit later.

So, Ben worked for a while and seemed to be struggling, and asked me to look at it.
In the art world this is called a critique. But you probably already know that.
I could see right away what his problem was. It was a photograph of a leaf. Not a leaf.
I made him put down his pencil and put on his coat and walk outside with me.
It was autumn, we have lots of big trees, the ground was covered with…you guessed it… leaves.

I told him to get out the rake and make a pile of them and then pick out half a dozen.
Then I had him really study each one and pick the one which felt the most beautiful to him.
We brought it inside and I asked him what made him choose that one.

OK, now Ben, describe the qualities which made it beautiful.
Then we talked about all the curves and lines and textures in that leaf.
You know how they curl in on themselves as they dry and fall off the branches.
We talked about those curls as gestures. What other forms in nature echo those same gestures.

The challenge was to get Ben to “see” that leaf with all his senses.
To make a personal connection between himself and the beauty he initially saw in it.
To get deep down inside of the living thing which that leaf had been, what it spent it’s life doing and why. You get the idea…become one with the leaf.

Then, after teaching his eye to see, I gave him back his pencil.
It was time to teach his hands to replicate what he now saw, much more deeply, with his eyes.

Here’s where I explain my concerns about the photograph.
Don’t get me wrong, I use photographs all the time as references. When there are things I paint which can’t be right in front of me, say the ocean…because I live in Pennsylvania, a landlocked state…or…birds, which is my theme for this year’s show. They tend not to stand still.
Well, then, I rely heavily on photos I have taken. Hundreds of them sometimes.
I call my camera my backup hard drive. It is both a memory tool and a detail tool.
You might have seen that I like detail. My camera allows me to collect all the information I need to get up close and personal with the scenes and objects I want to paint and to bring them back, via the photos, to the studio to study in depth and then to render.

But…and here’s the important bit…
the camera is only a tool, and the photograph only a reference.
Most of the actual work of painting is about all the years of hard studying and practice I have put in to learn how to use the tools.

The first tool to master is the pencil. Go ahead and play with paints and brushes and computers. Explore and get your hands and clothes covered in color and clay and whatever else interests you.

But don’t let go of that pencil until it does exactly what you want it to do.
Take your sketchbook everywhere.  (I even took a fun detour for a while and taught myself bookbinding so I could make my own sketchbooks. As my friend Ted, the art teacher on the Vineyard, used to say…that was sorta fun.)

Draw, Draw, Draw.

Ask other people, teachers, friends, to critique your drawings.
Ask them to be honest but nice.
Listen to what they say and how they respond and see if it matches what you were trying to tell your hands to do.

And, at this beginning stage, draw from life. What was frustrating Ben about his leaf was having to look at a flat, one dimensional image of a leaf. He didn’t even take the photo. So he never even held the leaf. He couldn’t follow the curve on one edge to see where and how it ended up on the back side.  He was being asked to draw a form without enough information to really understand that form.

So yes, I use photographs. But, I only use ones which I have taken. To take a photo means I have to be standing in the presence of the subject. When I am in front of that object I am using all my senses to learn about it. I rely heavily on my sketchbook. I take lots of notes and do sketches on scene which also helps me back in the studio.

After many years of practicing, I have a good understanding of how to use my tools, the nature of my subjects, what to leave out and what to leave in…my art teacher, Jim Gainor, used to say, ‘’”Paint the air and not the chair”…and I work really hard.

My partner Pat likes to remind me, “what you focus on expands”.
I have been focusing on art all my life.

I study feathers to better understand birds. I stare at the ocean to learn how the light changes on the water. I read about weather to help explain the clouds…you get the idea. A curious person will be learning new things every single day.

I’m always studying and trying out new techniques. Your new pal David P and I were just sharing some technical ideas a couple weeks ago. I learn tons from listening to other artists talk about their process.

My pencil sees pretty well now, but I still draw. When I want to really understand an object, I draw it.

Wow, I just read back what I’ve written. Geez that was long winded. That’s what is called, “warming to ones theme”. I should have warned you at the beginning to at least grab a snack to get you through. But, if you are reading these words, then you made it to the end.
Almost.

I hope that someday years from now,
on a day when you are working hard in your studio,
you get a note from a thirteen year old just like the one you wrote to me.

Then you will know how good it makes me feel that you took the time to write,
to express an interest in my work, to share some of your dreams for the future,
and to ask for some advice.

The work of a painter is mostly done alone, by yourself at the easel. It is meaningful but often very hard work. It’s really nice to hear from someone, out there in the big world, who reaches into the studio to tell you they “get” it.

Thank you for that.

I’m attaching a sneak peek at one of the new paintings which will be headed up to the Vineyard next week for my Granary show. It’s title is, The Massachusetts Drawing Act of 1870. Your assignment is to go look that up. I’ll give you a clue, it was the first time that art classes were legislated to be taught in schools.

In it you will see a feather, a quill, which is what was used to hold ink and, like a pen, to draw or write…way back in the day. See how I made this fit the bird theme ?

Alongside, on the desk, is also a pencil.
That particular one was a gift from Ted.
Remember Ted…kinda sorta.

Look closely.
See what is written on the pen…Beginners.

There’s your foundation…
now grab your sketchbook and a pencil
and get to work.
Draw me a leaf.

Yours in flying brushes,
Heather