Today’s two are silhouetted against that vast vineyard sky…
Trident – 20 x 24
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
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 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.
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.
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” ?
These two are about wonder and fun and imagination.
To Scale – 16 x 20
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
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.
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 – 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.
A humongous box arrived at my studio door. It held some things from my father’s house. Way down at the bottom was a little zip lock bag. Inside were six carved wooden figures. Hmmm. I’d never seen them before. After my father’s death a few years ago, I uncovered many items and stories, some of which were familiar history, and some of which were mysteries. I found photos and writings about his grandparents and knew that at least one of his grandfathers tinkered with wood. So, I thought that maybe these were saved from his childhood.
Then the muses struck. I called Pat, can you come over…now. She threw on her coat and boots and slodged over to the studio from the log cabin. I love writing log cabin. Anyway, I bade her to lie down on the daybed…and take a nap.
I found the paper bag, filled with chicken feathers, which Homer had collected for me last summer, and I dumped them on her head.
Then I laboriously positioned the little chickens and the little goose around her sleeping head. Tucked in her red snuggy blanket, Herself was content to model as long as I liked. Until the feathers started…to tickle. I managed to capture this image just before…the sneeze.
When I was finished, and the model was back in the log cabin, and the feathers were corralled back into their paper nest, I arranged the dear ones along the window sill next to my easel.
Finnegan came over to give me an eagle hug and her tail swept the smallest bird onto the floor. When I picked it up I noticed some writing on the underside… Made in Indonesia.
With a sigh, I put her back on a higher shelf… and began to reinvent her past.
That’s the note I found this morning, on the studio kitchen table, written on a scrap of cardboard, with a sharpie, found beneath the pile of framing tools, which were left untidied, after a long day of framing, and print making, and general mayhem making.
The Follansbee arrived just after I put out the lanterns last night, stopping for a pallet on the studio floor, as he made his way home from a week of teaching woody things down at Roy Underhill’s place in NC. So, the note was all we got to see of him this time, but we had a good visit on his way down south last weekend.
His hair is long enough now to tie in the back and a good bit whiter. But the sparkle is still there in those eyes. Gonna catch up with him and the family in the fall, so that’s ok then.
The day dawns, a little later for my own self than the master carver, and Herself has left to ship two new paintings out to the Sugarman Peterson Gallery. There is an opening for that show on July 3rd, in Santa Fe, so today you get the first peek at them…
All Her Eggs – 16 x 20
Scape – 12 x 13
From the sharply pointed pen of Mark Twain…
“Put all your eggs in one basket. And watch that basket.”
Eggs courtesy of Dru and Homer, who farm a CSA just over the hill. They are as delicious to eat as they are to paint. The eggs.
And just out that window and a little to the right is the little wren. Always. When Zoe is here, she relies on the wren’s first trill of the morning to signal that it is ok to get her giggly self out of bed and start her day. In the early summer she has a different job. This summer she has built her nest in the birdhouse just above the garlic bed. I wait with lusty anticipation all year for the garlic to send forth those gorgeously delectable curly scapes, and this season, her babies hatched on the very same day they appeared.
She spends her busy days now bouncing from Ted and Polly’s wind chime, to dancing from scape to scape. So, there ya go. Ted is having a blast, directing the muses every which way I turn around here.
Look for these two garden graces to be winging their way out west this week. And if you are in Santa Fe, please stop by to visit Michael and Christie Sugarman and say hey for me.
Now it’s on to more framing… stay frosty out there.
Finally !!! It’s been a very long haul since I began painting for this summer’s season of shows. Way Way back…in November…the theme for this year’s work snuck up on me. I just looked back at a blog entry near the end of that month and it was full of feathers. And Wolsey. My pal, the ever tapping cardinal, who is out there now, right now, slamming into the big window over my shoulder.
No wonder my studio is now full of paintings of…birds. Many many birds. And feathers. And Eggs. I put the last brush stroke on the last of these paintings just an hour ago.
Thought I would jump right into framing because two of these have to make a very speedy path to Santa Fe, for the opening of a group show at Sugarman Peterson Gallery. But I’m too tired to do that tonight, and it feels good to sit in the comfy chair in the office, by the air conditioning vent.
Some of the bird paintings will make there way out to Santa Fe, and my garden has been wanting equal time. There is a nice little feature in American Art Collector Magazine this month about the SPG show, and they included my thoughts on the muses this year…
” Where the focus drifts, the muses follow, and they are encouraging me to dig around in the dirt and out in the greenhouse and among the weeds to find inspiration for painting ideas. So, I will be adding to my series Garden Graces and building on the figurative work that has been whispering over my shoulder…just as soon as I plant the tomatoes.”
I got them in… last week. But, as the new little “look how healthy you are…not” app reveals, the arc of my “steps taken each day” has flatlined for the last three weeks. No wonder, since it is exactly 50 steps from cabin to studio. Double that and then spend 12 -14 hours at the easel and you have…100 steps. I’ll make up for it now though. My garden beckons and I can hear the weeds singing my name.
Here’s a few pics of my straw bale gardening experiment.
And the way back bales, two similar beds of bales are two the right with strawberries in them and this one has a steady crop of chard and beets which I use daily now.
Then…inside the studio…the shift is on. Frames and paintings are now stacked in every room and the Corcoran shuffle keeps Pat jumping as she delivers and picks up paintings from John at his photography studio. My job. Frame ’em up. Then write painters notes and pack everything up for our trip to Martha’s Vineyard for the biggest show of the year at the Granary Gallery.
That’s right…I know your calendars are marked… July 12th is the opening. Incredibly only three weeks from tomorrow. Geez…
So, I’m not sure if the whole reveal thing will happen with the new works this year but I will unveil them as the files come in and you will get the sneak peeks that my readers have come to expect.
First up…way up… is
Updraft – 12 x 16
Yep, that’s really how close the house is to the edge now…or at least “was” back when we stayed there last July. And just over those rocks is a 30 foot drop to the beach.
On this, the 40th anniversary of JAWS…I think I’ll keep my toes out of the water and flying in the sky chair which is where I’m headed right now. This will be my view, for tonight at least…