Secret Garden Series – #4 PEACOCK

It’s soooo hot!!!!

I’m finding it hard to focus! I told myself I was making a set of 8 paintings about a fantasy garden and here I sit only just completing #4. I’d say I’m crawling… at least that is how I feel. I thought about this for a moment. For the past two weeks, I have slightly dreaded showing up to the canvas. Why is that? The easy answer is that I am a Gemini personality with ADHD tendencies, but a little deeper, I think it might be all the detail. These paintings are so loaded with detail, it’s like painting 17 different paintings within one. Because of this, I don’t get that instant gratification of making serious headway. The painting can look the same for many days. Boo. I like fireworks and race cars!

With this said, in times like this, I refer back to one of my all time favorite films “Field of Dreams”. I whisper to myself “…go the distance” and “If you build it, they will come…” The film was about building a baseball field, but really, the message is about having BLIND faith. Even when you don’t know the outcome, what your doing or why, listen to that little inner voice and JUST DO IT. Boy, That film came out in 1989. That was a while ago. I’m kind of laughing because apparently I have been whispering “go the distance” to my self for like 31 years. When do all of my dreams come to fruition???

Over and Over I am realizing that when these big 18″ x 24″ watercolors are completed, it’s the little vignettes that I love. For instance, my favorite parts of the peacock painting are these:

They don’t feel as overtly planned as the larger composition, yet I could have never created the ease of the animals location without the heavy planning of the larger composition. I’m calling these little vignettes “moments”. So after I finish the 8th painting in this series, I want to move to working at the smaller size of 16″ x 20″, have fewer subject matter and try to create “moments”. I just don’t know why simplicity is so elusive to me!

Here are the smaller 8″x10″ and 5″x7″ watercolor studies up against the large final painting:

I like viewing the evolution. This concept changed a lot, yet you can see small details like a butterfly passing by which made it to the final draft.

I almost forgot! Here are some details. Each of the 8 paintings will have a Latin phrase within it. For this painting, the phrase is “FORTIS FORTUNA ADIUVAT” which translates to “Fortune favors the bold”. I love that. Life’s too short. Be bold man. Be bold! There’s also a bunch of items hidden in the garden. For this painting be on the look-out for: a frog, an Egyptian ankh, a cairn, an infinity symbol, an umbrella, a letter, a monarch, a queen chess piece, a gold finch feather and the number thirteen.

I keep this visual on my computer. Like a kid putting a star sticker on the refrigerator, I get to add another visual to my completion poster. Ahh, that feels good!

Because I’m suffering from a little summer brain-drain, I am going to pause the button on this series. Just for a week or two. I am craving a new painting to put over my fireplace mantle and I have some amazing photographs from my vacation on Block Island that I’d like to play with. I’m going to flip to acrylic paints and canvas which will disorient my brain. I hope the disorientation can act as a small mental vacation. That way I can come back to this series refreshed and ready to start #5.

Amen. Aint no rest for the painting weary!

Secret Garden Series – #3 RABBIT

Secret Garden Series -Rabbit, watercolor 18″ x 24″

I am totally celebrating the completion of this painting!  I don’t know if it’s the hundred little details within the painting which are all mini paintings in themselves, the pandemic, going out to protest or helping my kids finish up school, but this painting was so hard to complete!

I think many people look at painters and think “I just don’t get it?  Why are you so obsessed with throwing paint down?”   I have family members that are bewildered.  They wonder how I can complete a painting and within hours I am starting another one.  Well, of course the first answer to this is passion.  When a person is lucky enough to find something they feel passionate about, it’s not work.  It’s pure joy which means most likely you will want to do it over and over again.  But the second answer is more specific to my passion.  I think my giddiness and excitement comes from the idea of a blank slate.

Staring at a blank canvas is exhilarating.  Actually, it feels a little more like a panic, but in a good kind of way.  There is nothing there.  It’s very personal, because from nothing comes something.  I liken it to forcing yourself to jump off the high-diving board.  I take the same deep breathe, pick up the pencil, and I don’t allow myself to turn back.  Now if I am being honest, sometimes it takes me a few days.  Sometimes I walk around the desk.  Sometimes I sharpen over 30 pencils.  I organize my paints.  Maybe pay some bills.  Find weeding that is absolutely essential…

At first I felt really bad about this.  Guilty actually.  I felt like I was wasting valuable time and procrastinating.  But slowly, I am finally getting it.  It is part of the process.  Because if I look at those uneventful days a little more closely, I am actually working.  I am envisioning and dreaming up what will be in the foreground, background, left, right and center.  I am thinking about the mood, the color scheme and slowly collecting reference materials.  This process isn’t tangible.  It’s just me being silent doing what most likely looks like day dreaming. But eventually it manifests.  Like an exercise routine that I appreciate only after I can see it’s effects, I have to force myself to show up, paint and push on.

So the blank canvas is exhilarating, but the other high-point is the completion.  I think that’s why I love photographing the progression of a painting.  Because I get to sit there for a moment and take it in.  There was nothing there and now there is something there; Creation in it’s purest form.  From nothing comes something.  It’s what I love about gardening to.  I dig, cut and push around the earth and then from a baron space, comes life.  It could also be said for parenting too.  They all give me intense satisfaction from creating.

I can already see that working on this series is going to bring me to a different series of work.  For within each of these paintings, I am falling in love with smaller simpler studies.  I wouldn’t have ever found them unless they were part of something bigger, so I am incredibly thankful for all I am learning in every moment.  Needless to say, this little bird is my favorite part of the painting.

Oh boy, I’ve been going on and on and I haven’t discussed all the things I hid throughout the painting!

If you recall, months ago I thought up hundreds of small objects and symbols I wanted to hide within my secret garden. I had tiny pieces of paper everywhere.  I blindly divvied them up into 8 bundles and as I am sketching the painting, I task myself with figuring out where to put the objects.  It’s definitely the child in me.  I feel like the secrets are what keep someone coming back to look again.  And then, there’s always the why.  Why is that there?  To me, it fuels the imagination.

I wanted to strangle myself when I pulled out one of the pieces of paper and I had written Excalibur’s Sword.  Really Mary?  Do I know anything about swords? and where am I putting said sword without ruining my painting?  It’s kind of where it gets fun, because that in itself, is a puzzle I get to solve.  So  first thing to find is Excalibur’s Sword!

Here are some other things to find:  A Swallowtail caterpillar, a House Wren, a compass, snake-eyed dice, a snail, a key , a toy truck, a lock, a White Ermine Moth, a Scottish Thistle, a red apple, a Rumi book, and the Eye of Horus.

I also mentioned I am adding a Latin phrase to each painting.  The phrase for the rabbit painting is  “Non ducor duco”.  Which means I am not led, I lead.  I love this quote.  But  for laughs, I juxtaposed it with a pointing hand plaque which suggests leading one in a certain direction.  funny right?  Geek humor.

For the first time, I am really feeling good about my work.  I am feeling personally connected to the subject matter which gives me sense of purpose.  I can also see a path forward which makes me feel at ease.  I guess I could equate it to becoming comfortable in my own skin and owning my voice and vision.  Long time coming….Can I get an AMEN!!!

Secret Garden Series -#2 OWL

18 x 24″ watercolor – Secret Garden Owl

My second painting is complete. I don’t know if it’s the distraction of the pandemic, but it feels like it took forever! I’m very happy with how it turned out. I feel like it conjures up the feeling of a secret garden.

Here are a list of objects to find within my secret garden painting:

A Dharma wheel, a Mayan temple, a chrysalis, an evil eye, a praying mantis, a potion bottle, the queen of clubs, fire flies, a fiddle head fern, matches, and a ladder.

Also, I am adding a Latin quote in each painting. This painting says “ALIS VOLAT PROPRIIS” which means “She flies with her own wings”.

Here were the three little studies I created to come up with ideas and the comparison to the large final painting:

So that’s it. Next I will begin part 3, the rabbit!

2nd Set of Secret Garden: Birds

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5×7″ watercolor study for Secret Garden Series

This is the final 8th concept.  Birds. Birds. Birds.  My favorite!  At any given moment, I can stare out the window and be brought back to nature.

The challenge for me, is that birds are rather small and generally far apart.  How do you wrap them all into a strong composition? Here are a few attempts, but I have to say I haven’t found a concept I’m truly content with …

birds

Right now I am beginning another concept for birds.  I’m sketching a layout of pottery and then adding birds into the composition.  I’m hoping this is the winning idea.  It will be personal because I adore pottery making.  Now, to figure out how to add the Secret Garden element.  hmm…

 

2nd Set of Secret Garden: Owl & Snake

 

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3rd attempt – 5×7″

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2nd attempt- 5×7″

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1st attempt 8×10″

The Owl concept has not changed too much from it’s original conception.  However, there were some things I wanted to work out.  In the second attempt, I was focusing on enlarging the owl and trying out a different color scheme.  In the third attempt I wanted to see how it would look with old cedar shakes.

Overall, as I go forward, I am going to take this learning curve with me.  I am leaning towards keeping the building monochromatic so as to have the animals and flowers be the things that stand out and I will most likely enlarge the Owl.  Because I was working so small, I didn’t do much foliage, so I will beef that up in the next attempts as well.

As I get larger it is going to be fun to hide things within the painting.  I’m looking forward to that.

…onward and upwards!

 

2nd Set of Secret Garden: Rabbits

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3rd  attempt -5×7 drawing for Secret Garden Series

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3rd attempt (5×7″) vs.  2nd attempt (8×10″)

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1st attempt

Here are three different studies of a rabbit for my Secret Garden Series.  I like the rabbit and I like the wall.  The rest can be worked out….  The next rendition of this will be somewhere in between number #2 & #3.  I cropped the image too tightly, so I need to go back to having a bit more space around the rabbit.  Also, it needs more vegetation!

2nd Set of Secret Garden: Cats

 

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5×7 inch study for watercolor painting series.

Here is the comparison of the first attempts and my latest adaptation.   As you can see, this one hasn’t changed that much.  The concept is still the same, I’m just trying out different variables…

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It does seem that my sole focus has been on figuring out the setting.  Creating that background.  I like the new layout from the 5×7 drawing, so I will keep it but my next focus will be on really punching up foliage and flowers.  After all, this is supposed to be a secret GARDEN!

Squirrel and Peacock

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Here are the last two initial Secret Garden studies.

These two allowed me to work out some ideas, but ultimately, they did not make the cut.  In my latest sketches, the peacock got a really cool building behind it and the squirrel got paired with a rooster in a completely different scenario.

Ultimately, I keep asking the question, would I hang this on my own wall?  Then I go about answering it.  Apparently I am more of an illustrator than traditional art maker . Over and over again I find myself feeling the pictures are not complete because the don’t tell enough of a story.  When I get to my final renderings, I want the viewer to have to look around and wonder.  That will be when they feel right to me.

As I am finishing up the new sketches, I am answering my own questions.  These initial ideas were a wonderful stepping stone to get me to some stronger compositions.

I’ll share my new sketches tomorrow!

My new painting called “Close to Home”

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Let me show the progression of this painting before I start talking about it.

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I have this terrible affliction called insatiable stimulationWhat is this you ask?  

OK. I made this up but let me tell you the symptoms:  If my surroundings are not well-lit, sunny, happy, colorful and changing every 2-3 months I get agitated, depressed, restless and I want to physically move to a new home.  More poor husband.  Can you imagine your wife asking to move every 2-3 months?  He has learned to nod, smile and pretend he’s listening. I know he thinks I’m crazy and yet he still sticks around -God Bless em’.

So, it’s probably not realistic to move every 2 months.  I have had to create coping mechanisms to trick my system into thinking it’s in new surroundings without actually moving.  What I do is I gut my living room.  I empty it of everything and then I refill the room with whatever I own in a very different way.  For instance, this was my fireplace mantle at Christmas and this is what it looks like in January…

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I change the pillows, blankets, nick-knacks, table.  Everything.  And for about two months I lose that itch for new surroundings.

I tell you this long winded-story because it is the muse for my new painting.

I feel like I have kind-of run out of inspiration for a new room given my same-old tricks.  So I said to myself, “You’re an artist.  Create a new painting to give you inspiration for a new room”.  Duh, I can actually do this!

Now this new painting is a bit weird I know.  It’s incredibly bright.  A bit naive. And a bit wonky – (In a nutshell it’s me!). I had a hankering to cut paper like the artist Eric Carle of The Very Hungry Caterpillar child’s book.  Cutting paper is very physical and in reality it is carving away at negative space instead of creating a positive image.  Paper arranging allows you to move your composition around so that you can work on the spaces in-between images and make sure those spaces are just as interesting as your true subject matter.  Now when I say it’s me, what I mean is that it is incredibly personal.  I live in a little yellow house, the 4 birds represent my family unit, I am an avid gardener and environmental advocate, the two people represent the long hikes I take with my daughter and dead center is our lovely kitty-cat Willow.

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After painting all of the paper cut-outs, I truly had no idea what I wanted for the back-ground.  I sat with it for about a week and then I took a deep breath and decided to start with a grayscale under-painting.  My idea was to paint color over the under-painting but the black and white had so much energy to it I stopped.  It sort of reminds me of when the Wizard of Oz moves from B&W to color.  That is the most magical part of the movie. So I kept it black and white.  About 6 layers of varnish later and it’s one cohesive unit.

The painting is large. It’s 48 inches across.  It will be the focal point of my room.  But not until I become stir-crazy sometime in March.  I am content with my current living space, so I better not push it -LOL.

When that day comes, I will post a picture :)