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!

A Bevy of Birds

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A Bevy of Birds  –watercolor 22″ x 30

Can you tell I had fun painting this painting?  Like I just couldn’t stop?  Well, why not add just one more itty-bitty thing?  lol.

This is my first large painting since I started working on my Secret Garden series.  What’s funny, is I am pretty sure I will not include this painting in the series.  I initially thought pottery would be a great perch for the birds I wanted to paint, but now that it is completed, I realize the painting has nothing to do with a secret garden and overall, it’s a BIT BUSY!

On the flip side, it’s a fun painting.  All the birds came out “cute” which wasn’t the plan, yet whimsy is my overall take-a-way.  I just couldn’t help it.  Pick one bird?  I  can’t pick, I love them all!  I also played with symbols of good luck which are hidden throughout the painting.  There is a #7, a shamrock, a silver spoon, a robin’s egg, a heart, a wishbone, a red apple and a lady bug.  There’s also a bumble bee and fuzzy caterpillar because why stop there???

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Yeah,  I think I went a little crazy adding as much as I did.  I should have added a kitchen sink for an extra chuckle.

Ultimately, I think I have a better idea for what to do with this image.  I should isolate the images within the image.

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See, like this. I made a mock up of note cards.  This allows your eye to take a break and focus on each object.

Like the rest of my life, I think I’m in control and going in the direction I choose.  If I have learned anything in my brief forty-something years, I AM NEVER IN CONTROL.  I just enjoy the detours and try getting back on the course I’ve selected.  Who’s to say I know what’s better for me than the universe does? 

I have NO CONTROL over the deadline, but one day I will finish what I set out to do and until then I will have a lot of cool things I encounter along the way.

Like the medium of watercolor.  I  have to laugh and just go with the flow :)

bird card

Where Do I Begin?

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I found today’s post title very apropos. I’ve been working on these tiny 5×7 inch watercolor studies for months, but now it’s time to begin the large final paintings. Where do I begin? Also, my last post was March 2nd and since then, we just so happened to have fallen straight into a world pandemic. Where do I begin?

This sh*t is for real.

It begs the question, where do I begin?

I will spare you my personal hardships and trauma. There’s plenty. We all have are stuff…

Nope. my focus will be on distracting people who might just happen to have time now to look at things on their electronic devices.

My message to myself and now to you, is to search everyday for the beauty in the everyday. We all hopefully have windows. We may be removing humans from the landscape, but in doing so, it might just allow us to SEE. See things that are always there that we taken for granted, that we don’t pay attention to. The beauty that is always around us. The smell of the air, the feeling of the breeze, and the nature that surrounds us (even you city dwellers!).

In the last year I have finally put to rest the question of what. What do I want to do? What is my purpose? What do I want to communicate to the world through my art? It’s taken a tear-stained decade to answer the question, but like most amazing insights, they come when you finally stop asking.

I thought the answer so trivial when I received it, that it took me some time to get comfortable in my skin with it. To OWN it.

I love color, flowers, suburban animals and reminding people that all these things are around us if WE REMEMBER TO LOOK. It sounds so cliche I couldn’t accept it, but then as I sat with it, I understood what it meant to be an artist. It’s to elicit the activation of other’s five senses. To wake people up either by being blatantly avant-garde or sometimes through being quiet. I am not the kind of person to paint the Sistine Chapel black to represent my world view, but I do like to paint Happy & Cheery. Reminders that the things I love are right there in your backyard too.

And so I have begun to dive in. I learned from reading the books of one of my favorite artists, Shirley Trevena, to begin your painting with your favorite thing. The reason you wanted to paint the painting in the first place.

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So I started with the goldfinch. I loosely knew where I wanted to go and began to sketch in the other things I wanted to see. The Arches watercolor paper is 22″x 30″. That means there is a lot of space to fill. The theme of this painting series is Secret Garden. The theme of this particular painting is birds. Birds are small though. I wanted to feature birds but not have them lost in the garden. That is when I came up with the idea to add another love of mine, pottery. Perching the birds on vessels allowed them to be seen. Here are some snapshots of different areas of the painting:

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It’s slowly unfolding one day at a time. All things are unfolding one day at a time. Some days I might get a chance to paint. Other days may be devoted to more critical things. I’m not going to beat myself up. I am going too see what each day brings.

Hang in there. Find something personal that brings you joy. Nurture yourself. Enjoy what is already around us.

Breathe.

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 : Foxes

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For those of you not following my story, here it is.  As an artist, I decided to take on a year long project.  I’m titling it My Secret Garden Series.  Reason being, I’ve slowly deduced over many months and years that I have a great love of nature, gardening, animals, the mystical, the symbolic, color and fabric design.  How could I wrap them all into one project?  I came up with the concept of a secret garden where nothing has to necessarily be real. I could use my imagination.

For the past decade I have been painting still lives and landscapes based on real life. So this is a big leap for me.  I’m “making stuff up”.  The challenge is that the options are limitless.  I’m staring at a blank piece of paper.  What animals will I choose?  What flowers?  What architecture is in the background? Can I find a way to incorporate patterns?  What’s the story behind the image? 

The answer is I don’t know.  So I am slowing down and taking the time to answer the questions.

I like to paint large.  Generally no smaller than 24 x 36 inches.  This is because with watercolor, it allows each subject some space for me to really play with the water and paint.  You get more of those “happy accidents”.  So another challenge for me is that I am creating small thumbnail paintings.  My first painting attempts were 8×10 inches and now my second attempts are even smaller, 5×7 inches.  I could just do a ton of fast sketches in a sketchbook, but instead, I am taking my time, thinking things through and completing each little painting start to finish.

My thought is that it may be fun to sell them on Etsy when I’m done. The other idea I love is that they are telling a story.  With each attempt, I can see my thoughts and the changes occurring which will eventually lead me to my final paintings.  I’m creating a history.

OK. With all that out of the way, let’s start talking about my new secret garden studies and the changes I have made from the initial studies.  The picture below has my new sketch on the top and the initial sketch down below.

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I had absolutely no idea what to draw initially, so what came out – is what came out.  But after analyzing my original painting I thought to myself Mailboxes?  That isn’t too mysterious or secret-garden like.  I need to change the background.

For my second attempt I was very focused on changing the background.  And so I did.  What I see though, is in focusing so hard on changing that, I  completely forgot about the garden part.  So when I attempt a third round of sketches, I would like to have way more wild-life and vegetation and not so much focus on the “where”.  I feel like I got really “tight” in the second renderings, so I also need to focus in on loosening up my style for the third time around.

I wanted to address my self-critiquing.

  I hear from a lot of people that it makes them feel uncomfortable.  I guess the feeling is that I am being hard on myself and not appreciating the good that has come from my hands?  The word would be self-deprecation.  I just wanted to argue this is not my intention.  In art school we’d start every session over-analyzing each other’s work.  Artists thankfully are not robots, so nothing is perfect.  Considerations about line, composition, color and style are vital to improvement.  If my vase is lop-sided and that’s not on purpose, I’d thank some one for telling me.  Some days you just don’t see it.

Anyways, the reason I am blogging about my own analysis is not to throw a pity-party.  I want to share my thought process.  There are a hundred thoughts.  A hundred considerations.  Each artist comes at art making with different perspectives.  I’m simply trying to push myself harder and further.  You’d expect that from an athlete, so let it be ok for an artist too.  (It’s OK. I’m pretty tough.  I can take it ;)

For the next few days I will post my second attempts.  So stay tuned… Thanks!

Duck and Raccoon

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Here are two more 8 x 10″ watercolor studies for the My Secret Garden series I am working on.

Neither of these made the cut. I liked the animals, but the backgrounds didn’t do anything.  One of them looks like the siding on the back of a house and the other is a door to the universe?  Plus, they are also too cute-sy.  I would much rather “mysterious”. 

Yeah, I have already made the changes necessary in the new sketches I am working up.  There will be a duck and a raccoon, but they will be in much different habitats :)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Autumn is in full throttle.  I have been teaching, sketching, and painting away.  In the next week I will begin to share my more personal artwork, but in honor of Thanksgiving I thought I’d share this lesson plan from my watercolor class.

pumpkin tutorial

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I had some requests for painting pumpkins in my art class, so I devised a lesson that worked solely on glazing techniques.  If you read the tutorial it will walk you through the painting start to finish.

As I sit here, I am nibbling on a piece of pumpkin bread my neighbor gifted me.  It is a wonderful time of year to share such things.  I very much look forward to spending time with my family this Thursday and let’s face it, I can’t wait to eat :)

Enjoy the holiday. I hope you all find wonderful ways to make it your own.

Cheers! or as the Italians in my family say, Salute.

Compass School Commission

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For the last 5 years the principal of the Compass School has commissioned me to create a piece of art that celebrates the past year’s accomplishments.  The art piece is revealed at the school vision night and parents write new wishes or goals on the matting.  In this way, the artworks have become time-capsules.  We can see what we have envisioned and what has actually come true. Here are the past years:

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What’s kind of funny is the randomness of the things I am asked to incorporate in a painting.  Things that have been asked are could you combine a new garden, new farmer, a walking path, a soccer field, goats, sheep, a new basketball court, a family dance party and bank funding for a potential building?……   umm… I guess so?  Every year I have no idea how I am going to illustrate it, but somehow something comes out.

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This year the principal wanted to celebrate the completion of a new garden high tunnel, two calves named Fuzzy and Bulls-eye, a new soccer field, and the beginning of a new middle school that is being renovated from an old seed-mill.  This required incorporating, diggers and cement trucks which have become part of our everyday existence at the school.  I added a beautiful dahlia garden the 7th and 8th graders maintain and chickens.  The school always has chickens.  How could you not add the chickens?  Next is figuring out how to communicate these concepts when they are stretched out of acres of land?  This year I literally painted each idea separately , cut them out and then collaged them together.  I think each objects separateness, coming together, summed up the chaos of an elementary school!

So next year should be the unveiling of a new building, the new middle school.  This will be my son’s last year at the school, which in turn,  will be the last painting I contribute.

These artworks will be a nice legacy of the time spent at this school.

We can see how far we’ve grown literally and figuratively.