Beautiful December sunrise light bouncing all around us as Finn and I made our icy commute from log cabin to studio. She opted for an early morning nap while I sat at the kitchen table and clicked the knitting needles and gave the muses plenty of open space.
Last night I put the last touches on a portrait of my pal Peter. It was wonderful to come over these last few days knowing I would be spending it with him. But now, time to move on. Usually, and by that I mean 99% of the time, by the time I am winding down one painting there are at least two or three others competing for the easel. But by the time Herself came over mid-morning she found me roaming aimlessly around the studio…still pondering.
We sat together at the table and she listened as I rambled and a few ideas did start to pop. She reminded me to write them down, so I made some quick doodles, and the energy lifted. She left to do some shopping and I sat down at the computer and began playing with some of the thousands of photo references on file.
At sixty, I know that it takes more than a list of subjects, or a collection of still life objects to start working on a composition. In order to sustain the energy required to give my total attention, over the course of the days and weeks it takes to create a painting, I must feel the spark. My way in. It can be the challenge of a new subject, or the challenge of rendering a familiar subject in a new way, or a particular emotional connection, or the whimsy of finally telling the story behind a few words, which held the promise of a great title, and had been scribbled on a, now well worn and dog-eared, slip of paper taped to the easel.
I KNOW it when it clicks… and so far today… nada.
I keep telling those who ask, that being a mature artist means I know when to get out of my own way. After six hours of sitting here at the computer scanning for that spark, and sketching and re-working a new composition which I originally had thought was going to be a sure winner, one which would be easy to tweak and get to the panel quickly…I can see now how I fell right down the rabbit hole and into that old trap..quite firmly planted directly in my own way. If the muses don’t show up…there ain’t gonna be a ball game.
When Pat came home from her errands I was hopelessly lost. I explained what I thought the problem with that composition was and asked for her fresh eyes. Eh…no sparks on her end either. So, I threw in the towel and decided to pour my vapid thoughts all over this page.
What I’ve come up with, whilst writing, is that this current crisis of creativity is yesterday’s problem.
I’ll set the stage…
I had an hour to fill while I waited for Katie’s Women’s Study class to call me for a facetime thingy…something about which I was very nervous. They had been in the Granary Gallery last week using the artwork there as fodder for a discussion about gender in art.
Here’s a shot, which I believe one of the gallery associates took, of them studying my painting, Celeste envies Ruth.
After their sojourn, Katie thought it would be interesting to pose their questions and thoughts directly to the artist. I got a tutoring session on how to make the technology work and we scheduled a date.
So, while my nervous self was waiting for the phone to ring yesterday morning, I picked up a pencil…and BAM the Muses snuck up behind me, grabbed the pencil and in minutes they had fleshed out one of those old dog-eared notations-of-an-idea which had laid dormant, after several failed attempts to work out a solid composition, on other fractalled days like today when I had tried to show up for work without them.
You probably won’t see what I see here, but this is the sketch…
Five minutes later the phone rang, and I had a grand old time answering their questions and listening to their thoughts. I particularly loved them pondering which apron was Ruth and which Celeste, and their takes on why. They sure left me thinking, and that may have been why the Muses were exploring their own interpretations of gender roles in art.
Originally I had just a title, A Boston Marriage.
I’ll leave it there for now, it’s entire evolution won’t be complete until this fat lady sings… but armed with this new sketch, and the lingering energy of the collective Woman’s Studies class, I was eager to get to work.
I already had my models in waiting…and waiting..and waiting…since I first approached them with this request over two years ago. And we have plans to see them for dinner this weekend…but scheduling modeling time now that the Muses have arrived means postponing the fun of digging into this painting for potentially days or weeks.
And there you have it. I needed a workaround. Alas, I stepped all over the creative flow with today’s failed attempts to “fill in” the gap between that project, for which I have found the spark, with something equally compelling that will be the work of days rather than weeks.
Frustrating to waste one of these precious days when I have nothing but lifting brushes on the agenda. This month has far too many interruptions on the calendar to allow me to pull up the drawbridge. That will happen the minute the new year bells chime.
So, rather than call this day a complete wash, I have now used you dear readers to help me work through this…
And Herself, who has just texted me this from her snuggly sofa in the cabin…
“What painting are you working on ? Asking for a friend (insert red heart emoji)”
My response… I’m writing a blog about NOT coming up with a painting idea.
They have a powerhouse collection of artists featured in this show and you can preview the work by clicking on this link…Click Here.
As we settle back home, after a whirlwind week at the Granary Gallery show, the studio has a bit more room to move around in and the muses are taking full advantage. No rest for the artiste…I am being given short spurts of time off to harvest the tomatoes, and pluck the odd green bean or two…then it is right back to the easel.
So watch this space…
Now that this new website is blazingly fast, it will be a pleasure to send out blog posts in a more regular and timely fashion. Thanks as ever, for coming along on this ride.
It’s this kind of a morning here in the studio yard…although this is a painting of the bluff in Chilmark and those spider webs are over a decade old.
Our spider webs, here in the hollers of Strinestown, are brand new and based on the jungle of gossamer threads that I am pulling out of my face and hair…I have yet to learn this spring’s prime locations.
The experts keep saying our flora are three or more weeks behind this growing season but that is based on the last few years of climate change which has now become the new norm. These long weeks of cool days and cool nights are what I remember as being the springtime of my youth. Slowly warming temperatures and gentle rains gave the gardeners time to ease into the toolshed and let the winter weak muscles wake up gradually.
We did have an early zap of three or four days of 90 degree days and my thriving spinach began to bolt…but almost a month later in which temps stayed 20-30 degrees cooler…it has settled back down and I have been able to test several spinach artichoke dip recipes.
Neighbor Sue and I have noted that this is the craziest grass growing season ever. She can’t keep up with it and she is one who lives to mow.
The peas, radishes, beets and carrots I planted back on St. Patrick’s day are sooooooooo slow to climb up outta the dirt. But the lilacs…oh the lilacs…they are loving this weather and, when I leave the studio late in the evening, their fragrance fills the valley and soothes my tired soul.
So, while the world outside might be three weeks behind and dragging its arboreal heels…inside the studio this artist is racing the clock and hopping.
The countdown is on for the Granary Gallery show this summer…July 21 is the opening date…and I’ve taken on a major challenge which I’ll be telling you about soon. For now I can tell you that the brushes, mostly the tiny ones, are flying from early morning until late and later… and later… each night.
There’s a very large panel on the easel right now and and it makes a hilarious contrast to the tiny brushes that I am using. The detail is electric and the concentration required keeps me so focused that only the thing which has been able to break it is the nuclear bolt of lightening that lifted me off the chair last night.
So…here’s to a real old fashioned spring… and a face full of spider webs… and a rich green carpet of grass… and a studio full of flying brushes.
and the muses are calling… calling me back to the studio… the brushes are flirting with me as I walk by them from kitchen to office and back again… oh how the empty panels stacked up alongside the easel do tease.
I am listening, but there are a few more tasks to be swept away before I can return to my easel. Today, for instance, I have added some new prints to the website shop. Here’s a quick peek…
There are over 40 prints listed on the site now but if you have a particular favorite which you do not see there please contact me and I’ll let you know if it is available.
Sitting here in the studio looking at mountains of snow.
Three days of hard labor with the snow shovels and monster blower machine thingy and I am so grateful that all I have to lift today is a triple ought sable haired brush.
At the height of the blizzard I took this shot from the studio window…
And here’s a look at a painting that I worked on after our first snow storm back in December…almost the same view…just pan over to the right a bit more…
And a look at the labyrinth that I have to shovel out for Finn each time it snows so her mending legs have a better than fair chance out there in the tundra…
And the Apprentice Herself tucked into the snow fort that has melted some but was well over her head a day or so ago…
The good news is that we finally got Miss Pat out of the lane and up to town. Her cabin fever was approaching the red zone so even the laundromat was looking good !
Blueberry pancakes for both of my valentines this morning to fortify another day of winter survival adventures…and I shall be more than content to paint the day away and know that I am so well loved by my two sweeties.
Our grandson Ben Lackey is one of our favorite humans. He made the studio his home this weekend and we had 48 hours of intense art lessons sprinkled with lots of deep and meaningful conversations, leaf raking, wood gathering, dog training , leftovers and laughter.
A senior at Seton Hall Prep in NJ this year, Ben is pushing himself hard to finish his high school career on a high note while he waits for those big envelopes to arrive with good news from the colleges that he hopes to attend next year.
It was a heartwarming gift to be able to sit across the table from the confident young man who only yesterday we were cradling in our arms. But there was some serious work to do and we had a blast helping each other out.
I recycled my old digital camera to Ben in exchange for some heavy lifting around the log cabin… we got our chores done and Ben got this rainbow on one of his first shots…
The best part is always seeing the grandchildren reflected in Pat’s eyes…
And the apprentice made sure that the young artiste stayed focused…
Except for lunch breaks…
And Finn’s own personal reward…
It’s all about teaching the eye to see and the heart to understand and the hand to follow that lead… this student gets it and is well on his way…
My new alarm clock is programmed for a 6am feeding…no matter what. And with that change in my morning routine I am finding myself way ahead of the game…breakfast eaten, walk taken, gardening done in the coolest part of the day and most of all…puppy played out and ready for a nap …and all by 8am.
So here’s a few pics of the last week’s worth of progress. Lots of time spent tightening up areas that I thought were finished. I reworked the dock area…there are more layers of detail in this section alone than I have hairs on my head…(I know, I know…that’s why I always wear a hat but you get my meaning)
Then I moved over to rework the upper left hand corner and added the suggestion of a boat behind the tackle shack, some clouds along the horizon, a few colorful kayak paddles, and a soaring gull to bring some life to the field of blue…
Then down to the bottom and the decisions about what to do with the foreground. As the tide changes this area migrates from lacily raked seaweed to a carpet of small pebbles to a foamy lipped saltwater bay…I wanted to bring the seaweed in to give a gesture of some motion and to keep the eye moving around the composition but I wasn’t sure I could do justice to the complexity of the colors and fibers.Then I found a liner brush that I’d never used before which was perfect for dragging out long sinewy lines…
And, in between training the “OFF” command and teaching my apprentice the proper use of a gardening glove …
I have completed the pile of drifted wood and ropes and chains…
and moved back over to some more work on the dock…
Which brings us up to today… the 29th of April… and in spite of the many, many more interruptions than I anticipated this painting can now, hopefully, kick into high gear…or make that a kick in the painter’s gear box… and I can have it finished and drying by the end of next week.
one thing I have come to know for sure is that every painting evolves in its own time.
There are some which have been incubating on the back burners of my mind for years, nay decades…and others that literally awaken out of a night’s slumber and push all other work aside and in a wild impatience are painted in a flash.
The oversized ambition of this current work is certainly in the first category and I’ve recognized the slow and steady pace of bringing each square inch up to its own level of detail as the perfect challenge for a time in my life when I am forced to slow down my usual chaotic over-drive mode. Nice slow sessions at the easel with frequent breaks to stretch out the otherwise atrophying post- surgery muscles.
After weeks of that rehabilitating pace I am almost completely recovered … and almost completely behind schedule. Yes, the twins arrive tomorrow. Yes, the puppy arrives on Saturday. Yes, as you will see, I still have almost half of the canvas to render. And yes, I decided to add two, or three, or more new boats into the harbor…just to up the ante. But ya just can’t rush this level of detail.
Here’s a look at the progression this week…
And here we start this morning…which, after paying the taxes and sorting through emails and …blogging…is dwindling away and rapidly becoming noon. The toughest part of this last week was making decisions about the dock area in the foreground. I have so many different references with an amazing array of ropes and chains and motor parts and bouys and traps and anchors and did I mention ropes ???? And in each scenario there are gems that I want to try and incorporate in the final image. But that empy blob to the right of the big shack turns out to be a floating dock. (Took me days of analyzing the photos to figure that out…land lubber that I am. ) So matching the positions of all the items to the correct line up of the tidally influenced dock…well I do love a jigsaw puzzle now and then.
And the other such area of indecsion is the dock area on the right. I can’t count the number of boats that called that home in the last 5 years worth of photos I took. Here again I want to pick and choose remembering always and forever my High School art teacher Jim Gainor’s advice…paint the air and not the chair. Especially in this large of a composition, the negative space plays a key role. The viewer needs a place for the eye to pause and rest before moving on to the next wave of detail. It has to work first and foremost at the 16 foot just walking into the gallery distance.
So, I’ll ease up on my self imposed deadline of ….tomorrow…for completion and go with the flow…which for the next week will have more to do with animal crackers, coloring books, bedtime stories and …..PUPPY KISSES !!!!
In a little over a week our little family of 2 will triple… and then some. The Follansbee Family will be arriving for the better part of a week so Papa can give his lectures at Winterthur Museum Furniture Forum and so that we can have our much needed fix of hugs and giggles from Mama, Rose and Daniel.
And …at the tail end (pun intended) of their visit…we bring home our new pup Finnegan !
My goal was to get this mammoth painting finished by then … sooooo brushes up !
Here’s where we stand as of 8am this morning…
After days and days of rendering those tiny little shacks I have enough detail on them to move over and get some paint on the right side of the panel. It’s amazing to me how much harder it is to get a building to appear convincingly ( jury’s still out on that ) real when it is an inch tall vs. 6 inches tall.
The line of buildings in the distance will be partially obscured by boats and pylons and loads of nautical detritus in the middle and foreground …you can see a piece of the sketch taped to the easel which I will have to re-trace on top of the foundation work I’ve done…so I’m holding off of the final details until I see what will be revealed.
But I needed to see some real progress… so last night I blew in some vegetation and roughed in a few more of the houses on the hill. I have one good reference for the late afternoon October sun that I am striving to portray…Menemsha is a popular place for islanders to come and watch the sunset and pick up their fish or lobsters for supper at Larsen’s and the quality of the air and light makes the autumn sunsets particularly magical…but when I took those photos in 2004 I was concentrating on the fishing shack and I did not pan over to get shots of the houses on the hill or the buildings in the distance. And almost all of the several hundred other shots I took in the ensuing 5 years are in vastly different lighting conditions. So I am using that age old artistic license to render a continuity of light…and throwing in some clouds to suggest that one could be blowing over at any moment and throw a house or two in shadow.
One part of sharing the process of painting something step by step that I don’t like is that you don’t get to watch the viewer as they see a painting for the first time and are drawn closer, from the back of a gallery, to discover a whole new world of details and whimsy at the surface level and beyond. Feels like I’m a bit of a spoiler.
One such conceit that I am consciously preparing for them is this tiny little version of the Quitsa Strider…
For last year’s Granary Gallery show I painted an 8 foot homage to this wonderful old swordfishing boat…so it seemed fitting to include her here…even if she’s only 2 inches long. Diminished in size but certainly not stature.
Forgive me if I take this opportunity to mention that I do still have some of the limited edition prints we made of that painting available…
Click on the boat for more information and to purchase a print.