Every woman needs a retreat. A place to be where the creative muses can find her while her hands are busy and her soul is at rest. For me, that place is my garden. And now, a sanctuary within that sanctuary…my greenhouse is finished !
Three days of hard work to finish the carpentry and then stain and paint and today Pat helped me to carry the books and seeds over to start filling the shelves…
Now I can cast about the studio and cabin to find some things to make it homey, and make cushions for the wicker chair I found and a few hangers for hats and jackets, and some sort of solar powered lamp. It feels so good to complete something as fanciful as this. My garden folly. Now to find the windex !
Getting lost in the details can sometimes mean losing the details themselves.
It can take hours and many layers of paint to make a convincing shingle, or door. Especially when the wood is painted white. Every angle and corner reflects the light differently. And you can’t just mix up a “blue” for the shadows because they rely on what’s under them as much as what the sun is doing for their color. And all those parameters can change in a heartbeat on what you thought was a stable sunny summer day when a cloud passes over.
So I’ve been paying close attention to those shadow passages for a few days as I built up the layers on this vineyard doorway…
And, as is my practice, I sat back at the end of the day to review the progress and make notes on things to address in the morning and something about this stage bothered me. So I got up and turned the lights off and heat down and came back once more before heading home…and it jumped out at me. Did you catch it too ?
There was only one hinge on that door.
I was concentrating on the depth of that blue and missed the tiny little detail of hardware without which that door would fly away in a stiff ocean breeze.
I’ve got it on there now, along with the next couple layers of light and some the rest of the hardware and my walking stick.
Now if I only had time to fix the door to Pat’s office in the log cabin that has fallen completely off it’s hinges. Must be the theme of the week.
There was a major fire in the fishing village of Menemsha yesterday. The coast guard boathouse and several docks burned down to the waterline. It happened quickly and as of this morning there are no reports of major injuries. The other miracle of this story is that the wind was blowing out to sea. Within a few feet of the burning structure on the inland side are the historic fishing shacks that line the basin. They are bare wooden shacks, many of which are simply standing wooden tinderboxes…and most of which are working boathouses for the few remaining commercial fishermen on the island. Had the wind turned, they all would have been gone and with them the history and charm of that tiny island village.
There are reports of bravery this morning of fisherman who towed flaming but untethered boats out of danger and away from the gas station on the other side of the harbor, and firefighters who managed to control and contain the blaze, and townspeople who set up watering and cooling stations and helped to clear the roads for emergency vehicles.
This is the Vineyard. They know how to take care of each other.
Shortly after the fire began there were reports filtering onto Facebook and via local TV stations. Pat got the news and came over to the studio to let me know. Earlier that morning we had picked up the big paintings for this summer’s show from the photographer and I was in the process of framing this…
For most of the winter the shacks and boats and birds and scenery of Menemsha were my companions as I took care to faithfully render the rigging and shingles and horizon full of houses.
Like many generations of artists, I have been drawn to the historic charm and beauty of the fishing village. My own tastes tend to run toward the somewhat grittier side of the working aspects of the place. The way the detritis of the commercial fishermen, their boats and gear and comings and goings, make for a constantly evolving composition. Lobster pots and long lines, bouys and traps, pulpits and netting all get tossed around by the wind, the tides and the human hands that haul them to bring in the catch of the day.
And if you hang around long enough, and show up when the tourists have left for the day…or the season… the light that is so strong and ever changing on that island will reveal hidden treasures of beauty. For the last couple years I have concentrated on trying to capture some of what I see there and have used the challenge of the large canvas to find my way into the corners, behind the boathouses, and between the shadows of Menemsha.
As I look back now, the focus has been pulling outward…
from the closeup of the swordfishing troller Strider’s Surrender…
to the larger view of the boats and shacks Out Back O’ The Galley…
and opening wide up to the basin as seen from the top of Crick Hill just after dawn on a late October morning…
And in all of those paintings the Coastguard Boathouse can be seen. At first just a hint of the end of the dock to the left of the Strider. Then a sliver of white with the famous red shingled roof at the end of the road to the left of the big shack Out back of the Galley.
And this year, sadly the final portrait… it is the first building to catch the full morning sun at the far right of the painting and, weighed down by the gaggle of seabirds, it serves as an anchor.
Our son Jon gave us a wonderful Mother’s Day present this year… two weeks of his hardworking, strong and good humored self… and a new life for our old studio garage…
With help from our generous neighbors Walt and Sue, Jon managed to shore up the leaning building, rebuild the falling down shed out back, build beautiful new cedar carriage doors and put a shiny new red metal roof on top.
We took a day off in the middle of the hard work to attend the Sheep and Wool festival and had a glorious day amid the fleece and fiber and we got at least one Reeser’s Ice Cream visit in and one wild night of studio scrabble.
In a few weeks, after the summer Granary show, I will take more time to finish the small details and organize the work space and then be able to use this as a real workshop for panel prep and woodworking and framing. Here’s a few pics of the progress…
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.
Busy week but I managed to get some easel time in and am almost finished with the main shack and all those shingles !
Got another layer on the left hand window…
And then the hard part…flipping the panel over…
Again…had to wait for my nurse’s assistance…but this easel is such a wonder that once a panel this size is on it I can move it with one finger. A full tour of the easel coming soon… meanwhile…
I learned, after much experimentation, that once I have the foundation layers in place for the shingles it is much easier to add the highlights by working upside down and taking a flat brush and pulling from what would be the bottom of the shingle downward. This gives the clean edge but you can adjust for the degree of “weathering” desired by choosing a correspondingly worn brush. So a new shingle gets a brand new brush…the ones here on this shack which are well weathered got an older brush.
I came over quite early to the studio this morning and heard some salty language and the tinny clanking of swordplay…only to find Sir Bernard of the Fauquembergues taking on the slings and arrows of the disadvantaged weathervane. My hero.
Panel righted again…and ready for today’s glazing down and tightening up…
Spent the morning framing and packing up a new painting which will be headed up to the Granary Gallery as soon as Herself gets back from her yoga class. So before I head back to the easel here are a few pics of the first weeks’ work on the big panel….
A swath of sky, then in for some long distance work and detailing, then over to the shack full of shingles… I have become quite familiar with the weathered cedar shingle and learned that there are no short cuts. Wet-in-wet seems to work well for the first layers. Then I come back in and crisp up the edges and add texture. Then go back and glaze it all down as a summer rain storm might…and back over that to bounce in some highlights where the appropriate sunlight…or shadow…would glance off the surfaces.