GREAT Day!

Yesterday was a sterling day.

First, it snowed, a really pretty soft snow that I would have loved to watch fall, but it was in the wee hours and I was sleeping. It’s wonderful to wake up to a surprise. I hurried through my coffee and blog post, found Bear looking at me wistfully in the kitchen, closed the back door to keep Teddy the Incorrigible inside, leashed my dog and headed out. This wasn’t going to be a dog walk, but a snow communion with Bear. I think Teddy understood that because he just shrugged and jumped up on the sofa.

Fog was lifting from the road as the sun heated it. Fog still hung low over the mountains — fog or clouds. More like clouds to me, beautiful clouds touching the earth. A Great Horned Owl was watching from the higher branches of a cottonwood beside a farm house.

We arrived to find a paradise of untouched snow (except for some tracks of foxes, deer and scurrying creatures). The clouds were lifting slowly, their shadows dragged gently across the frozen, snow-covered pond.

I have never smelled clouds before, that I know of, anyway, but as they lifted, I did, clouds and fresh snow.

Bear and I never hurry and we took the little trail Bear loves in real slow motion. There were very few tracks yet. Even the hunters and hunted had not been out. A red tail hawk was perched in a tree, watching, hoping for breakfast. I hadn’t had any either, but mine was waiting at home in the refrigerator.

Once on the main road, there were more tracks, deer and fox. I had to explain to Bear that we couldn’t go after them. I wished we could, in a way, remembering a time when my dogs and I felt free to track things, but this place is not those places and I’m glad of it. It wouldn’t be this place if people could trample around in it. It’s a small sanctuary from, well, us.

Some disturbing/interesting tracks in the snow were my footprints. Wow.



And THEN….. When we got home I had to face the next thing. I had started a painting,and I was going at least try to paint it. I wanted to try the palette knife, but when I looked at what I have of those tools I saw I don’t have a selection. I I’m not even sure where they came from. I have inherited tools and paint from friends. Were they Michael’s? Sally’s? Alex’? I don’t know, only that I never bought one.

I had to do research into WTF they are. Most of them are (as I thought by looking at them) essentially putty knives used for mixing paint. Only two were meant for painting. I don’t mix paint on my palette. I “mix” it on the painting, so the putty knife ones are pretty useless to me (right now). The two painting knives were/are very dirty with dried paint. I did what I could to clean the cleaner of the two because (I learned) I needed paint with the edges. I managed to get the tip cleaned off and the edges to some extent. It was good enough for an experiment, so I went at it. I haven’t looked at it this morning, but yesterday it was…

So much fun!!!!!

Here We Go!!!

Here’s my first real painting attempt with a palette knife. Here’s what I’ve learned. Knives are easier to clean than brushes. I’m using acrylic and with acrylic — and the knife — I have to work very fast.

The painting I’m working on will have something MORE to it, but I can’t paint it until all of this is completely dry. I may use a brush for the main subject, I don’t know, but this palette knife is wonderful and a LOT of fun.

I decided to use a palette knife since I don’t know how to use one and I can’t possibly get hung up on detail or doing well. If I do well, it’ll be luck as much as skill. This was a choice since I’m unsure of myself right now. My brain hasn’t worked to paint since Covid, but I think it is starting to. Using a tool I don’t know anything about is really helpful. 

I’ve painted a similar painting before — another iteration, a different place, a different subject, a long time ago, a small oil painting. Not these plants, but similar, along a stream in the Cuyamaca Mountains in CA.

The thing about nature is it is ONE thing adapting the species to the land.

Good Stuff

We woke up to an inch of snow covering the ground and clinging to the bare branches of the lilac bushes. It won’t last long, but wow. What a gift. My hope now is that Bear and I will be moving through it sooner rather than later. Two snows already seems to me, knocking on wood, touching steel, a good sign for the winter.

Early next week I’ll be hanging some paintings in the museum. As I “inventoried” my work (went to the garage and counted the boxes), I saw I only have three that I could hang — the fourth is too big and heavy for their system. The fifth, which is in the house, is WAY too big, and the sixth isn’t framed and it would be too big, too. I am going to have to figure this out but maybe not today…

Two of the paintings I’m hanging are at the top of the price point for the community. People will have to fall in love with them to fork out the money. In the grand scheme of selling paintings, they’re not expensive, but for here they are. I realized I will need to paint something attractive that I can price on the low end, something people might want to buy to cheer the short days of winter. And more, it can’t be an oil painting. I went through my photos of the Refuge to see if anything caught my imagination and there it was. I’m not saying yet because it might be a complete flop, but if it works?

I immediately went to my studio where I had already set a panel on my easel. I painted the undercoat, the color behind everything on this planet. Once that was down I looked at the photo and saw lighter spots and went at the still-wet acrylic with an old terry-cloth towel, revealing the white barely tinted with the raw umber. The only thought I had was, “This is going to be fun.” That’s exactly the thought I want to have when I approach a painting.

I wanted to try out the palette knives. We’ll see what really happens. I’d take a photo of what it is right now, but it’s just brown paint on a white board.

Featured photo — my first Thanksgiving back in Colorado 2014 at “my tree” with Dusty and Lois. Pikes Peak in the background. I’ve known this tree since I was 15.

Reconstruction

At the invitation of Chris I joined a group on Facebook that posts drawing prompts. I just did my first one. It wasn’t easy, but it would have been easy four months ago. It took two tries. It’s OK, but not exactly “me.” That said, I’m happy with it because I learned something from it and it’s not ugly.

There’s a book by Laurence Durrell that’s very inspiring to me as an artist — that is the last book in the Alexandrian Quartet: Clea. Every artist has obstacles within him/herself. The most common is fear. But there are skill obstacles (which are frustrating but IMO fun to push through), vision obstacles (both objective and mental), intellectual (putting the idea of how something should be in front of what it IS or wants to be), and something else which I don’t have a word for. I discovered when I was trying to put together Rainbow Girls in Wheatland Wyoming soon after I had Covid. I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could paint/draw it — I did draw it. It was something else that I had not experience before, it was that I couldn’t “see” the painting in my mind’s eye. I don’t know how to explain that, but it’s a real thing. I paint TOWARD something which is, for me, like starting a relationship. “Hi, my name is Martha,” kind of and the painting answers and we “talk” in colors and images and there it is, a kind of dance or dialogue.

Now, for me, it’s like sitting at a dinner with people who are talking around you, even to you, and you understand maybe two words out of five? Not enough to make a sentence or get the big picture. As I was working on this little watercolor/watercolor pencil piece, just a small still life of a dish that has a lot of meaning to me, I could feel it. I could feel the brush saying, “Are you there? I can’t hear you clearly.” I don’t need to relearn the technique of painting. I need to FEEL the relationship between my eye, my mind and my hand.

In Durrell’s book, the character, Clea, is a painter, but (in her mind) something has always been missing from her paintings. The book is set in North Africa in WW II and if I remember the story correctly, Clea loses a hand diving in the bay and hitting a mine. I don’t remember why she was doing that — but that’s I believe what happened. Her hand is replaced with a prosthetic hand. She has to learn to paint with it and, to her surprise, she is able to paint from her authentic self with that hand, something she had never been able to do. Durrell’s books are wonderful, unforgettable, but I read them a long time ago and don’t have them any more so I can’t check my memory or put something beautiful here to share.

Covid affects the brain and the connections between the brain and bodily functions — digestion, breathing and thinking. I don’t know why I got “long Covid” but I did. Grrrrrrrrrr…… 🤬 Anyway, I can’t let this beat me out of the ONE thing I have fought for my whole fucking life.

Sketchy

I’ve had a painting — or something — in the back of my mind for a while, trying to figure out how to do it and what it would be. It’s a dog painting, but this time the dog isn’t Bear.

Yesterday — it rained all day — very strange, And one day of rain is about my limit and by late afternoon I was all “Rainy days and Mondays…la la la.” I went into the studio to consider the whole thing. For some reason, it’s never a rainy day in the studio, even when things don’t work out. I decided to sketch it even though ONE thing I learned from “Rainbow Girls in Wheatland, Wyoming in 1957” is that sometimes a sketch is all (all?) a work will be. It made me a little hesitant to draw because I (think) want to paint this scene.

It’s kind of a “wet” scene, too, so pencils seem just too hard, and too dry for it to capture it. But a rainy day will drive a person to dangerous lengths.

During the time I was cleaning out my journals, I found one that is really a sketchbook. There were only a few pages that had been “journaled” so I ripped them out and saved the book. The paper seemed just right for the project I was thinking of sketching, so I pulled it out and drew.

I have had some amazing experiences out there with my dogs. This is my dog, Molly (half-Aussie, half-Malamute), blue merle, up in the Laguna Mountains (3/2000). There was about 18 inches of snow at the top — about 5500/6000 feet. You can see in the drawing what a snappy dresser I was back in 2000, taking skis up to the mountains to carpe the diem. It snowed in Southern California, a lot sometimes, but it melted quickly. We skied down about 1 1/2 miles to the pond which was in a completely different season. It was spring there.

The pond sits at the top of a ravine (it’s a small, dammed farmer’s pond kind of thing) and the air currents from the Pacific run right up that ravine. They were carrying snow = moisture. When the fog from the ocean hit the pond, which was warmer than it was, it drifted toward the water in beautiful veils of mist.

A little higher, the fog hit the Jeffry Pine trees and coated the needles in ice and then further up, snow.

Molly and I went back and forth from winter — about 1500 feet above the pond — and back to the pond several times. It was an amazing moment.

And drawing Molly? Wow. I could almost feel her beside me.

Right now, I don’t know if it’s ever going to be a painting. The ephemeral experience might be best depicted just like this, and maybe no one needs to see this image but me (and you!). I don’t know yet.

Molly

Repair Finished

Impossible to fill all the cracks but I kind of like it that way. I let a little of the wood show through on the cranes because it matches the mud they put on themselves for camouflage. I will need to varnish it in a couple of days then back to Montana!

Garden Sign

One of the people to whom I sold a garden sign a couple of years ago sent it back. She had hung it in a place that made it very vulnerable to the elements (elements being sun and sprinklers). I try hard to paint my garden signs so they’ll withstand a LOT, but that sign got in a vortex of evil. I asked her to send it back so I could fix it. It’s a somewhat complicated painting on exterior plywood, more painting than sign. It was painted with good paint on high-quality exterior primer, but that didn’t save it.

The painting had peeled (tiny peels) in an interesting pattern with the wood grain that I kind of liked. All I could do was sand it to get the loose paint off and hope I didn’t lose the painting. It got more interesting as I sanded.

After sanding…

This is what I started with when I began the repair work. I was happy my sanding didn’t remove everything because I wanted to keep the image as much as possible. If I had to paint it again, I thought I’d just use a panel or a canvas. She going to hang it inside now anyway, so… but I thought that would lose something, especially the back which has a message between us about the day I finished. It was the day Biden’s election was certified.

As I worked, I felt a small connection to those heroes of song and story — painting restorers — a tenuous connection, but still.

I decided to work my way backward toward the mountains and use the acrylics I inherited last year. The colors in the photos are not right; shifted to red a bit because of the hanging over the window… Especially in the featured photo which is how I left the sign at the end of the day. The foreground, middle hills, mountains and sky are more-or-less finished. I no longer have the same paint I used originally for the sky but I think that’s OK.

The comparatively rougher wood grain adds a challenge to this that didn’t exist when I painted it the first time. There are small cracks. If I were painting a new painting on the panel as it is now, It might be less detailed or I’d take the belt sander to the wood.

Today I hope to paint the cranes.

Teaching People To Draw

I can’t. I’ve tried, even making “educational” videos to demonstrate the process, but nothing has ever succeeded in teaching anyone to draw. I couldn’t teach the kids (though they would draw if we played the drawing game — an important message about how to draw which is forget you’re drawing but never mind). I haven’t been able to teach anyone else. These efforts and these failures led me to remember my college drawing classes — probably the only formal drawing classes in my life. We did everything; blind contour drawing where you look at an object and draw it without looking at your paper to see if you’re getting it “right.” Value drawings where you only draw the shadows, no lines (which is valid since stuff isn’t made of lines). All this was just unfathomable to me, but I did it. The classes I liked best were the timed gesture drawing in life drawing classes which were just a naked person on a stage and me with a giant news print pad and a timer. The goal was to capture the motion and the life of the figure without getting every line in each eyebrow. These are normally used as warm-ups but for me they were the whole point. BUT there was ONE class where I learned something about how to draw. I can share this method, but did it “teach” me to draw? I can’t say it did, it just made me a better human being.

I was standing very close to a piece of drawing paper using a number 3 pencil to draw a couple of tiny figures. My teacher stood behind me and watched, then, utterly frustrated, she ripped the pencil out of my hand and said, “Wait!” She returned with a little can of black tempera and a can of white tempera and a 1 inch brush. “Now DRAW!!!” She didn’t say anything about how, she just told me to do it. Then she said, “Get some decent paper.”

That was a life changing moment. Everything I needed to learn as an artist happened right then and there. Risk it. Risk something. Risk certainty. Risk control. Risk. I felt a sense of freedom I had never felt before and I never lost it. In that moment, even though I could draw already, I had the key.

I’ve thought about why it’s so hard — impossible? — to teach. Now I think it’s inside each person, talent, maybe (I don’t know what that is) and the drive to represent the world in images (I believe it’s a drive), but more; the willingness to pick up a large brush and risk. In my teaching attempts that’s what I’ve seen. I think a teacher can teach technique and the use of materials, but somewhere in there a person has to be ready to risk something. I can’t even explain WHAT a person risks because I’m not ever risking anything. To me the danger has always been not doing it. That’s the risk. I WILL get stuff wrong. I have told my “students” “Don’t worry about making mistakes. Just draw. Look at what you’re drawing and draw.”

Completely useless, unconvincing instruction.

I look at the work of some artists and see they are not risking much. I can see that in the fact that their paintings — beautiful paintings — are feats of technique. They know how to do what they want to do, and they do it over and over and over. I respect that. Other artists push against something and I hope I’m one of those. Is it better? No. It’s just…

The other day Ancestry informed me that based on my DNA I’m 60% more likely to take risks than other people. My first thought was, “That’s fucked up. Risk taking isn’t a DNA thing,” but then I thought, “Martha, what do you know? Maybe it is.” There are people who are reckless risk takers (my brother) and there are people like me who take different risks, more measured risks. One thing I could never understand about my immensely talented artist brother is why he would risk himSELF and sacrifice the possibility of making art. Pondering the differences between us I make a division between recklessness and risk; counting the cost.

I choose. One day in the mountains of San Diego County with two dogs a couple of women stopped me on the trail and asked if I wasn’t afraid to hike alone. “There are mountain lions up here.” I knew that but I figured the greater risk was missing out on a beautiful autumn afternoon hike. We all die, anyway. In my mind, solo hiking was not dangerous, but it was. I also figured my dogs were decent insurance against a cougar; at least they’d warn me. Here are the dogs who were with me that day. Ariel, my wolf dog, and her little Aussie/Chow sidekick, Matilda.

So teaching drawing. I tell my “students”, “Don’t be worried about getting it wrong. You will get it wrong.” I think for many of them it’s a risk they don’t want to take. They might take risks in other places, but not there.

I’ve been working on the Rainbow Girls in Wheatland Wyoming for more than year now and I still don’t have it right, but what difference does it make? It will matter when I start the real deal because I’m not using a forgiving medium like oil paint, and everything I’ve had to buy for the project has been expensive for me. Money is probably the biggest risk here.

In art, what you get from making mistakes is knowledge. To draw, a person has to fuck up. There’s no other way to learn. It is a risk.

I’m kind of happy to know that there is a DNA contribution to this, though I’m sure environment has a lot to do with it, too. Do I think it’s a good thing? I don’t think it’s good or bad, but it is informative.

The Way the Cookie Crumbles…

Can’t win for losing. Hung yesterday around until 5 waiting for a call from the doc, not like I need to “wait” in these cell phone days, but I wanted a good connection. Then, just after 5 I took the dogs out (another perfect afternoon) and saw I had a voicemail from the doc. Office closed when I called back from my car at the Refuge. SOOOooooo…I’ll call them as soon as I finish my coffee.

OH WELL.

The way I see it, I’d have missed a beautiful walk, and, if the hip is going to need invasive “treatment,” I need to collect as many of these as I can. Brushed deer flies off both me and Teddy. All of us are very happy right now. It’s not called a Refuge for nothing.

When I got home, and saw this photo, I realized that it’s very similar to my first photo of the Refuge 8 years ago, below 💙 proving that it’s what it is.
Same place, more or less, 20 feet to the north 💙

In painting news, the panel on which I hope to paint Rainbow Girls in Wheatland, Wyoming, 1957 arrived yesterday and it’s beautiful. I put it carefully in a safe place so that when I’m ready for this, it will be, too. Painting on panels is wonderful, but they’re fragile until they’re framed. They are basically Masonite with some kind of magical surface painted (yeah) onto them. I’ve used these panels for oil painting, acrylic and water color, but never this one made for pastels. It’s a lovely medium gray, perfect for night, “toothy” enough to grab the conte crayons. My challenge now is to get a lamp post in the right scale to the floating princesses. I’ve also tentatively decided to add an old Coke machine to the gas station, so more drawing before I take a crack at the real thing.

This project has been fun, but I have another one in mind. I don’t think it will require all this effort to visualize, but who knows?

In the words of Denis Joseph Francis Callahan (RIP) after he would regale me with a long self-absorbed monologue, “Thanks for hearing my confession.”