A fine morning to carve…

As the heatwave nestles into the valley I was disuaded from my early morning weeding by the ever watchful apprentice who decided that we should heed the air quality warnings and head inside to the cooler chambers of the studio.

So I’m getting an early start on the frame carving…

It’s been a while since I have done one of these and I’m loving the chance to get out the woodworking tools and make some tiny shavings. I mentioned earlier that the first painting, “All this and more”…

was based on an NC Wyeth quote and so that’s what is being carved into its frame. I spent all day yesterday getting the words onto the wood. Years ago I created a digital alphabet by first drawing out each letter on graph paper and then scanning it into Publisher and then laboriously cutting and pasting separate files for each letter. That allowed me to open a new file and cut and paste the letters as needed to form the words in each quote. Then I size them to the frame, print out and transfer with graphite paper to the wood itself.

A large part of the morning yesterday was spent trying to FIND that file which was buried on my old harddrive. Ugh. But once I got it on the new computer it worked like a breeze. Still laborious but way easier than the way I did it before, drawing it all out by hand several times until I got the spacing right. Difference of hours vs. days.

But I have to back up a step…the frame really starts with a trip to the local lumber yard…where my trusty assistant volunteered to let the poplar boards rest on her lap rather than on top of the roof for the ride home.

I didn’t get a photo of him but the next step is hauling the boards up to the frame shop, Artworks in Mechanicsburg, PA,( my heros),  and back to John Weist, my super hero. He chops the moulding and the poplar boards at the same time and then joins them seperately so I can work on it assembled which makes it much easier to design.

What I end up with is this…

Then I cut out the words, lay them out on the boards, tape them down and use the graphite paper to transfer lines to the boards.

Clean up the lines…

and break out the tools…

Raking light is essential to see where the cuts need to be trimmed and refined…

and then it’s all about the fun and challenge of removing the wood that doesn’t want to be there.

I’m headed back to the tools now… but first…

for those who are here to see today’s painting…

a happy little number and one of my favorites…

#5- Beach Rose  14″ x 20″ 

Stay cool out there now…

 


Mahl Sticks and Such

A rare snowy day this winter and I find myself at sixes and sevens bumbling around the studio…eager to get the next painting up on the easel but there are gremlins about. I have a stable full of panels that are prepped but stand awaiting their final coat of gesso…the good stuff. This means that, once I decide what I’m going to paint and find the appropriate sized panel, put that gesso on and let it dry, then do the final smoothing wetsand… I have at least a day if all goes well before I can start the next painting.

Today, there was little cooperation from the muses. After telling myself not to try to do this without a drop cloth, I dumped a full quart of gesso on my favorite handmade rug…after I told myself to put on a smock…there went the shirt and pants…etc. Even when it did dry and I started the wetsand there were troubling areas that seemed to wipe completely down to the canvas so I had to re-apply and wait for that to dry and then sand again…twice !

So, while I practice patience and wait for that hopefully last coat to dry… it’s time to get back into the blog world. Last week my friend Peter Follansbee had an entry on his blog about the painting he is doing on his groovy new toolchest.

I noticed that he was using a mahl stick..

The simplest of painting tools it is basically a stick used to rest your hand on to steady it and the brush. It’s especially helpful for fine detail.

The one I’ve been using for decades I made from a twisty branch I brought back from Tucson. I sharpened the end, put a superball on it and wrapped that with a piece of soft leather. Wrapped this way the ball provides a soft pivot point that won’t marr the painted surface as you rest that end on the panel.

This one is about two feet long but has it’s limitations.

Then I watched a video that Bob Jackson has out now in anticipation of his newly published book,

Click on his painting above, The Feast, to view it’s creation. It’s a crazy slideshow look into his work process and along the way I saw him using his mahl stick. Couldn’t really tell because of the speed of the video but it looked to be somehow attached or anchored at the top of the panel or on his easel. This gave him a nice pivot point which seemed sturdier than my floating version.

So…I looked around the studio and found… The Niblick.

It’s an old wooden golf club that was used as a prop in the painting, Tea Time…

and now it is reincarnated as painting tool. It has just the right flexibility from the thin wooden shaft, and the iron head provides a nice weight, and the hook of the wedge is perfect for catching the top of the panel, or cross pieces on my easel. Because that edge is sharp and hard, I softened it by tying a piece of leather on and also wrapped the handle with a chamois for extra comfort there.

It’s just the thing for those tiniest details…

The painting I just finished yesterday was quite a bit larger than the one featured above and when the stick was hooked over the top of that panel it did not reach low enough for me to work on the bottom half of the painting. So… I dug around in the golf bag and came up with a 5 Iron. Not as asthetically pleasing with it’s metal shaft but the sturdiness of the metal seems to be needed for the extra length. I do have to close the curtains when the sun rakes in though…it shines off the silver and casts wierd light onto the panel surface.

Well the sunset came on quickly and the snow covered branches are blue against the darkening sky. I’m going to go see if that panel is dry enough to sand and then work on tuning up the sketch. Then it’s home to the fireside with Herself and Finn…and the snowy walk home will make it all the warmer.


Processing…

We are welcoming 2012 here in the studio by painting apples.

Yes I’m still….painting….apples !

Try as I might, this final work – the seminal, keystone, massively fundamental focus of the apple themed series –  is just simply spanking my artistic self. And it’s all Chris’s fault. Back in 2010, when picking apples at the Tiasquin Orchard on the island of Martha’s Vineyard and visiting with it’s farmers, the Magnusens, my beloved gallery owner Mr. Morse had a vision. Wouldn’t it be sorta fun for someone to do a painting from the bottom of the hill looking up through the trees at a person picking apples ?

Simple idea, lovely idea…who better to do this painting than the woman whom Patricia Neal dubbed, “the artist who paints people without their heads “… Heather Neill.

OK she says and rounds up her favorite Vineyard model, Mr. Theodore Meinelt who happens to live just down the road from the orchard, and off we trot to pose among the heavily laden limbs.
Now viewing this photo you will see one of the biggest challenges I faced in composition. These are ancient trees and, like so many of the island specimens which are battered by ocean storms, they are small. Wonderful for picking, and probably pruned to their diminutive height for just that reason…but when you put a human next to them he ends up looking like a giant.

One other challenge was that, good for Debbie tough for me…it was a bumper crop. Thousands and thousands of apples. I knew that in order to do this idea justice, again Mr. Morse must be thanked, it would need to be a panel large enough to let the viewer have the same panoramic feel that originally inspired my muse. And I knew that my ridiculously high standards would not let me take a pass on rendering every one of those apples (forgive me) right down to their core.

I debated, fussed, dripped with procrastinating angst…(Pat has been driven to longer and longer walks with Finn as each stressful day of whining passed) … and finally decided to use the 60″ panel thereby committing to what I knew would be weeks of work.

I started out taking daily shots of the progress with the idea of sharing the journey with you all. But I was so frustrated with the slow pace and the overwhelming amount of detail that I bagged on that early on. But now, as I am nearing the end…she says oh so hopefully… I have decided to show you the abbreviated “process” shots. I’ve been putting detail shots up on facebook  as I complete small sections and now seem to have a small but dedicated group of followers with whom I have been teasingly withholding the ” big reveal” of seeing the whole finished work.

There was a great amount of artistic license in play in an effort to wrangle the tree and background, concept and balance, in the pursuit of the “essence” of the orchard. Here is one of the dozens of photos that I used as reference…the closest to the finished comp…


The initial sketch…

First pass…
 Some sky…

Needs to say more about the island… so how about a water view ?

Flash forward…weeks forward…to the first detail shots…

And  now…I’m off to the easel to finish this baby. Have about two square feet of apples, leaves and branches to tighten up and one long branch to snap into shape. Might be two days of work since I have squandered this morning writing this entry…and allowing the tylenol to take effect…since the steady hours of resting my pinky on the panel to work the tiny brushes is taking a toll on my own limbs.

But I’ll get back to you just as soon as it’s done. I promise you will be able to hear the huge sigh of relief in the furthermost corners of your own apple orchards.


Finding Abstraction

The Current show at Gallery 1261 features this little play on the theme… Finding Abstraction

The set up for this was crazy. I wanted to use a real Jackson Pollock painting as reference and found one in my old college Art History text book which I scanned and printed out so I could enlarge it and make it look like a postcard with torn edges. Then Pat found me an old paint can from the stash in the garage and after I rigged them up I taped a canvas to an old fedex box and started to drip.

I remembered the scene in the movie Pollock where Ed Harris takes house paint and starts to drip it on the floor. Turns out there is a learning curve which involves refining the dilution of the paint and the movement of the brushwork. More of a slow dripline than a splatter. I was aiming for verisimilitude but my need for immediate gratification left me impatient with the process. Yes, I could fake it… but I eventually found the right consistency and made up four jars of color and then I dribbled one layer at a time with the panel flat on the floor and walked away while it dried (that was the hard part). Since I was using oil paint instead of acrylic, it had to dry completely between colors or else I ended up with an oily blooming mess.

Then there was the fun of trying to get the magnifying glass to stay on that teacup.

I was just about finished with the painting when, sitting at my easel, I felt everything start to shake. When you work with a Bernese Mt. Dog at your feet this occasionally happens so I yelled at Finn to stop. It kept on shaking so I turned around and yelled at her again…but she was asleep. Then my phone beeped and I read the breaking news that there was an earthquake in DC. Yep, that felt about right.

I looked around the studio and a couple of the paintings were hanging off kilter but the only real damage was to this still life… the postcard had fallen off of the brush that I had rigged to hold it up (I did fake that nail and tile background).

So there’s the rest of the story as they say… stop by if you’re in Denver and check it out.


Memorial

Today there will be a memorial service in Naples, Florida in memory of my father. The members of his church, friends and some family, will gather to celebrate his life and bury his ashes along side those of his wife Ann.

Here in Pennsylvania it is the first really cold and frosty day but the October sun is shining strong and lighting up the colors of the season. I’m heading up to the lake to take a walk in my own church.

In my absence, our dear friend Martha Forbes will be reading this passage which I wrote for the service…

 

Growing up as the young children of a minister it was sometimes
be a bit confusing when, sitting in the front pew and trying to follow along,  the congregation would arrived at the point in
the service when it was time to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

“Our Father” was actually not in heaven; he was standing right
there in front of

everybody
and usually winking at us…usually.

Today…for us… that prayer, resonates with new meaning.

 

smile. At his bedside, in those last few hours we had together, I searched the
bookshelf

on
his ipad for something soothing and meaningful to read to him. What I found was

Winnie
the Pooh.

It seems we had come full circle. He had read that to us on our
first days…and I read it to

Bob Good was given the gift of two families of children. The
six of us drew together

as
one family to ease his passing and to celebrate his life.

 

Our father was a scholar and a writer and as fond of fine
literature as he was quick

to

him
on his last. He told me once that I never made it past the first few pages when
it was

my
bedtime. He didn’t either.

So, this then… for the lover of words and pencils… and of
course breakfast… is what

comes
at the end of the story…

 

 

“This party, said Christopher Robin, is a party because of what
someone did, and

we
all know who it was, and it’s his party, because of what he did and I’ve got a
present

for
him and here it is…

 

It’s for Pooh…the best bear in all the world.”

 

When Pooh saw what it was he nearly fell down, he was so
pleased. It was a

Special
Pencil Case. There were pencils in it marked “B” for Bear, and pencils marked

“HB”
for Helping Bear, and pencils marked “BB: for Brave Bear. There was a knife for

sharpening
the pencils, and india-rubber for rubbing out anything which you had spelt

wrong,
and a ruler for ruling lines for the words to walk on, and inches marked on the

ruler
in case you wanted to know how many inches anything was, and Blue Pencils and

Red
Pencils and Green Pencils for saying special things in blue and red and green.
And all

these
lovely things were in little pockets of their own in a Special Case which shut
with a

click
when you clicked it. And they were all for Pooh.

 

“Oh ! “ said Pooh.

 

“Oh, Pooh ! “ said everybody except Eeyore.

“Thank – you, “ growled Pooh.

 

But Eeyore was saying to himself, “This writing business.
Pencils and what-not.

Over-rated,
if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it.”

 

Later on, when they had all said “Good-bye” and “Thank-you” to
Christopher

Robin,
Pooh and Piglet walked home thoughtfully together in the golden evening, and
for

a
long time they were silent.

 

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last,
“what’s the first thing

you
say to yourself?”

 

“What’s for breakfast,” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

 

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today ?” said
Piglet.

 

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

 

“It’s
the same thing,” he said.


Sunrise Panel

Sun

Sunshine

Lots of sunshine…

that’s what we’ve had for a whole week and it is healing the souls of flood weary citizens of the commonwealth.

So this morning I harnessed the power of those first rays as they blast through the foggy forest.

 

Yes, that’s a panel…a blank canvas as it were… which means that YES I am going to be painting again…any minute now. And yes, that’s an apple basket and a Stayman I think on the panel. Last night I took a previousely prepared panel and slathered on a final coat of the primo gesso ( Artboards Panel Gesso ) and this morning it was ready for the gentle wet-sanding which leaves that ultra smooth finish that I crave. You need to find a source of strong raking light to dance across the panel so the otherwise invisible imperfections can be spotted and sanded out. Today I let mother nature be the lightbulb as well as the drying source.

I have come to understand, though not always appreciate, that each painting has its own agenda, its own time to be rendered. I tried several times last fall, and then again in the spring, to work on the apple picking series which I had sketched out and planned to include in this year’s Granary show. But it wasn’t in the cards. Not its time… until now. It made me wait until the crisp autumn air sent me running for the first sweatshirt of the season…and the local orchard was announcing that it was time for pick-your-own…and the saigon cinnamon jar tumbled off the shelf and into my great grandmother’s dough bowl.

OK got it. I dug out the NC Wyeth quote which inspired the series when I read it in his letters last winter, ” I have all this and more, yet how I would like to relax; to be content with a wheelbarrow, a rake, an apple basket, a pipe.” And I sent Pat to her favorite farm stand to beg for a basket and Finnegan and I drove over to the orchard and picked a bushel of the finest looking apples…which, she reports, tasted pretty good too. Then we took a trip to Saren’s house to put the pieces of her old wooden wheelbarrow in the truck and bring it back to the studio for the setup.

With a bit of repair work it was strong enough to hold the apple basket and the rake and the pipe. So here’s a rare look at the first stage of the composition…

I say rare because, like any good magician, you risk letting down your audience if they see what goes on behind the curtain. I’m just so excited to be working at my day job again that I’m throwing open all the windows and doors.

Starting off the day with panel making at dawn… I can’t wait to see what other wonders await…

Take a big bite out of your day !


If I’m framing…

and my favorite Diva,  Suede is singing in the background…

then the Granary Show can’t be far away !

A week from tomorrow we will be putting on our dress up artiste clothes and heading to the red barn for the opening night festivities.

But there is a LOT to do before we can let our hair down… and the apprentice is cracking her whip…

So I’ve got to get back to work…

stay tuned for the NEW PAINTINGS preview coming to your computers… soon !


The Garden is a good place…

to grieve.

It has been a little over a week since my father died and there seems to be an endless stream of logistics to attend to, paperwork to be filled out, emails to answer and to write, and thoughtful considerations to be made by a caring committee of siblings.

Woven through the long hours in the day has been a gossamer thin thread of sadness. It’s soft and shiny enough that I only catch glimpses of it through the haze and weariness of dealing with all the details of death. Living with a hospice nurse for twenty years means I recognize it as grief. But knowing that it is my father who holds its fragile and faraway end has a sharper edge about it than all the other times I’ve seen it.  This one is amber in color…with an Old Holland Red Gold Lake glaze…and has both a startling beauty and a staggering pain.

So, while I know it’s there and see that it’s trying to catch my attention, I am busy right now.

It’s been hard to concentrate at the easel. I’m finding just how much the creative act of painting draws from my deepest emotional pools. It doesn’t surprise me that now, when those emotions are so much closer to the surface, they have such a direct line from the heart to the brush.

So I’ve chosen to do some large muscle therapy.

Finn has been getting me up with the first birdsongs well before the sun rises and we’ve been spending those first cooler hours of the day doing the heavy lifting of turning the compost into the garden soil and getting the beds ready for planting. To Finnegan’s great pleasure we have a plethera of plastic pots. The best dog toy in the world…for our Finn…is a black plastic plant bucket. She will amuse us all for hours with those treasures. I will not embarrass her by sharing my favorite pic of her with one of them on her head like the proverbial lightshade but you get the idea that my gardening obsession is feeding her playful spirit as well as brightening up our yard…

Here in this corner of the planet we are three weeks past the last frost date. Our most tender vegetables should be into their teens by now. I am catching up. I recycled the wood that the roofers left behind in December and have made 5 new raised beds. The greenhouse bed is now in it’s second planting since the ridiculous heatwave has bolted most of the greens…

The best neighbors in the world, Sue and daughter Zola, drove their tractor over this weekend and…while Zola minded the best friend pups, Jed and Finnegan…Sue and Pat and I hauled a huge pile of soil up to the top of the yard. The next day I framed it in with the roofing scraps and made a bed which will nourish some watermelons this summer and, in the fall, will be planted as our long awaited asparagus bed.

 

We’ve expanded the vegetable garden in some unusual ways…

These back beds are producing peas faster than we can eat them this week… and yesterday I planted bush beans, watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, onions, and runner beans…

And then there’s the great potato bag experiment…went a bit overboard here… so I’m told…

And the roses, oh the roses, they are doing such a good job of lifting my spirits…

And the greatest gift of all… from Gulliver. I inherited this rose bush from the previous owner. For the last three years it has been eight inches tall and only bloomed once. One single flower. Until I put Gulliver’s wind chime there, just outside of my easel window. Now look at it. Gully likes it when I sit in this chair all by myself in the morning. She rings loud and long to let me know that she’s still got my back.

Finnegan is listening to her too…and learning from both her predecessors how to take good care of me.

So, you see…life is good.