With two more months to go until our new home would be ready, we moved in to a small condo at Ocean City, Maryland this past winter. It was isolated and quiet in the months of December and January. I spent many mornings walking along the beach or just sitting in front of the fireplace staring out at the bay from a cozy warm living room.
And then one morning, there was a forecast of a strong storm building. Within the hour, I could see it coming from our western bay facing window and decided ocean side was the place to be. Tides were high. Clouds were rolling in. Drama!
I walked that beach until the wind got too fierce to hold my camera upright. I took as many photographs as I could in that short window of opportunity.
When I got back inside, and looked at what I had, I couldn’t believe my luck. The clouds were rolling. The surf was blowing. And the water and wet sand made a mirror image of the dramatic sky.
Finally, we moved in to our new home and my studio! I could begin on “Water’s Edge”. It was a huge challenge to paint, especially the movement and reflections, but with patience and concentration, thin layer of paint over thin layer of paint, I managed to capture the feel of the ocean completely taking over the beach. Sometimes you just get lucky.
Water’s Edge, 40 x 30″, oil on canvas.
In the late autumn of 2022, we were in the process of moving. My studio had to be packed away when we sold our condo and we had 5 months to go before our new home was ready. I couldn’t imagine that long without painting. I decided the solution was to walk the C&O Canal and look at images that would work in graphite, conte and charcoal, a much more portable medium than canvas and oils.
And so four 11 x 14″ drawings were born, done on a make shift dining/drafting table in our temporary quarters. It was lovely to work with light and shadow, and I have always loved that canal.
Each lock has its own personality. And there are long stretches of easily walkable paths between the locks.
The C&O stretches for 184.5miles, from the Georgetown area of Washington DC to Cumberland Maryland. My favorite stretch is from Lock 7 at Glen Echo to the Great Falls Tavern in Maryland. In my younger days I would bike from one to the other and then return to Georgetown.
Now, I get the same joy parking at different locks and spending an hour or two strolling along the curves of the canal. It never disappoints no matter the season.
Crescent, Towpath on the C&O
Twist, Towpath on the C&O
Allee, Towpath on the C&O
Amble, Towpath on the C&O
Autumn is absolutely stunning in the DMV area (short for DC, Maryland, and Virginia). It’s always a pleasant dilemma to decide where to take a morning stroll.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park stretches from Georgetown in Washington DC, along the Potomac River, bordering West Virginia, all the way to Cumberland Maryland. A favorite starting point of mine is the Great Falls Visitors Center in Maryland.
The park is stunning. With its twists and turns, the tow path tucks between the Potomac River and the canal, bringing surprise vistas in to view with each turn.
This day last year was half way in to the peak fall foliage of early November, but still warm enough to tie your jacket around your waist, grip your water bottle and take off.
Especially on weekdays, it never seems to get overly crowded, but always has enough walkers and bikers so you don’t feel too isolated walking alone.
The November light is stunning, captured in the branches and the low, leaf strewn water of the canal. Everything seemed luminous and translucent. Capturing the layers of light, shadows and reflections was a challenge and a joy.
Wetlands:Towpath In Gold, 30 x 40″, oil
This past winter I was lucky enough to get a lovely commission for two paintings from Gallery50, my long standing gallery in Rehoboth Beach, DE.
One was a large 60 x 40″ canvas that would feature Barnett Newman’s Air Heroicus Sublimis at MOMA (The Museum of Modern Art in New York City). For the other, which was to include a school visit, I chose one of my favorite galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC that revolved around Degas’ The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer. This painting would be smaller and more intimate in scale. I had an earlier photo I had taken that I would rely on for angle. But it needed to tell a story. It needed the children.
I ordered the stretched canvas. The 24″x36″ came almost right away. The 60″x40″ took over a month because of 2022 supply and shipping issues. But I had plenty to do in the meantime.
I started going through my photo files. I have lots of reference from years of museum visits, but choosing the perfect combination of gallery angles, art and figures took time and thought. The dining table in front of the fire became my workshop. It was January.
I sketched, erased, ripped up the tissue and started again. I always want to tell a story in these gallery scenes. With all the activity of a class assignment on the left of the smaller canvas, I wanted to balance the scene with a younger child fixated on Degas dancer. She is oblivious to the chaos around her. I finally penciled it on to the canvas.
For the Newman gallery scene at MOMA, I wanted to include a variety of museum goers. I like to balance the different characters, and the young girl working on her notebook was the perfect foil for the man on the right looking at his phone (by the way, that is my husband–this is a typical shot of him after he’s viewed the gallery with me and I want to linger in the space longer…he’s a very patient man). The small lettering on the sketch are color notes to myself.
Still waiting for the larger canvas to arrive, I began to work color on The Little Ballerina. I went on line to make sure the Degas gallery at The Metropolitan Museum of Art looked the same now. Covid had kept me away for a couple of years. I was surprised to learn that they had put a new skirt on the dancer. It is now longer, fuller and a beautiful pale ivory blush, different from what I had in my older photos. There is a wonderful Met video on YouTube explaining why they decided to do it and the process they used. Fascinating.
And so it begins.
I made real progress on the Met piece, and then the larger canvas came in. I work in layers of color with some drying time between sheer passes, so it was a good time to set one aside and start on the other scene at MOMA.
And then there were two. I did work back and forth, getting to stages where I wanted some drying time on one as I moved to the other. It was well over two months of this back and forth process. The snow outside my studio window turned to early spring skies and birds chirping. It was March. I can only work 4-5 hours a day with breaks. The concentration is intense.
And finally, they were both finished. And I changed my mind minute to minute as to which was my favorite. Usually the one I last worked on. I am very pleased with them both.
After several weeks of drying time, they were ready to take down our stairs and to carefully pack them both in to the car for delivery to the gallery.
The Little Ballerina, 36 x 24″, oil on canvas
Like many of you, I have spent the last two years of the pandemic treasuring special places where I felt safe, but free to walk and fill my lungs and spirit with nature. What better place than a National Park.
Within a quick half hour drive of my condo in Alexandria, VA is the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park at Great Falls, Maryland. It has plenty of parking with a gorgeous trail on the towpath that runs between the Potomac River and the old C&O Canal.
This happened to be a late summer day and everything was hot and lush and filled with sunshine. Insects were buzzing, birds were singing. The park never seems to be very busy during the week, so it’s the perfect place for isolated walking where you don’t feel completely alone. There’s always at least a few fellow walkers.
Since I started this series of wetland paintings, I’ve come to the conclusion that each area has complimentary but unique characteristics that change with the location, the season and the weather.
But the reflections are always gorgeous, the variety of flora fascinating, and the sense of rebirth and transition takes my breath away. Nothing can be more important than preserving these resources for future generations.
Over the many years I’ve lived in the Washington D.C. area, I’ve always considered the C&O Canal towpath one of my go to places to refresh and renew. This is a special walk in a National Park close to home that I have returned to again and again over decades.
Wetlands, The Towpath, 40 x 30″, Oil
Most people think of going to the Adirondacks to ski (think Lake Placid) or see the fall colors, but when you have the right guide, early summer is spectacular.
We went to see my sister Deb who lives near Saranac Lake, New York and teaches at Paul Smiths College. The area is gorgeous, and she knows the secret of how to get to some very special spots. And June was the perfect time to explore.
She was familiar with my Wetlands series that address climate change, and when I told her I was looking for new reference from a northern perspective, she took on the challenge.
We left MBB (my Beloved Brit) behind to a quiet day on his own in our little rented house, and Deb and my older sister Ginny went out in to the countryside to find the perfect scenes.
I never would have found these hidden spots on my own, but with her expert knowledge of the area, and a deep love for her local countryside, we drove off and then walked to some spectacular hidden gems. The one I chose to paint is an enchanting pond where her students work on analytical and inventory studies of the environment. Can you imagine a classroom that looks like this!
This painting was a challenge…almost monochromatic in shades of green and indigo. The mirrored foliage in the dark water was particularly daunting. But I loved it. I’ve never mixed so many shades of green for one painting in my life.
I love this painting for so many reasons. It recalls the perfect day with my sisters after the long covid year. I got to see my youngest sister’s world beyond her public one. And I got to relive it all again in this painting.
Wetland in Green, 30 x 40″, Oil
It’s August. Summer is in full heat, and I have spent the past couple of months painting a December scene of one of my favorite wetlands at Mason Neck Virginia State Park. It has kept me cool and calm the past two months of this beastly summer.
Painting is magic to me. It is a time machine that can take me back to a favorite space with all the sounds and atmosphere I experienced when I was actually there.
It always happens. No matter the amount of time that has passed, I re-enter the landscape, the coffee shop, the museum at the moment of that past encounter.
I am not a plein air painter. I can’t step out into the weather and paint directly what I see. It’s too overwhelming for me. I’ve always thought it was because of my graphic design background that I like to plan and think and sketch out the image before actually starting on the canvas.
But I think it’s more that I like the image to “simmer” in my head. I think about the scenes that I encounter and photograph. I run off prints and tape them all over my wall. I play with cropping and color and light on the computer.
And then, finally, after sometimes months of thinking about it, it just comes together and I begin. And the image from that past encounter is now fully formed in my head. As I paint, I re-enter that world, no matter what or where it is. And the joy and wonder returns.
As I get to the final finishing strokes, I am already beginning to think of the next image to paint.
Wetlands,Golden, 40 x 30″, oil
I started “Cuppa” in the middle of winter, February 2021. After almost a full year of the pandemic, with all its peaks and valleys, I was missing social contact and travel.
I chose a scene of a coffee shop in London from our autumn 2019 trip. This cafe was just down the street from our hotel in the Kensington area on Bayswater, steps from Notting Hill. People were out and about early morning, chatting and meeting up, catching red double decker buses. How were we to know then what was coming?
I sat at a back table watching it all. It was my break before heading to the National Portrait Gallery on one of those buses. People were coming and going, some rushing, some lingering at tables. The light streamed through the front window. And that was my challenge. The light and dark balance in this cozy cafe. Motion and rest. Solitude and camaraderie.
I wanted the woman in the yellow plaid coat to draw your eye through the scene to the morning light on the street.
I had one reference photo with a red London bus passing in the window and I loved the sense of place it gave to the picture. But it stopped your eye from looking through the scene. So many important decisions.
I actually have spent the past four weeks adjusting the tension between light and dark, spotlighting some details, adding highlights to a shoulder or a tabletop, emphasizing some hanging lights over others, pushing areas into the shadows. Inviting your eye to travel through the scene.
I finally achieved the balance I wanted. Somehow I just get a sense when it is done, but those last few adjustments are so critical.
And by the way, “Cuppa” is Brit-speak for “a cup of tea”, and often flags a break in your day. I asked My Beloved Brit if it could mean coffee, and he firmly said no. It was tea. I just love the sound of it.
Cuppa, 30 x 24″, Oil
2020 was a very long year. Pandemic and politics has been more than difficult. My art saves me. It’s time to move on.
I have returned again to Mason Neck Virginia State Park for inspiration. Based on a photo I took last December on the edge of the wetlands, the light finally breaks through the tangled, muted winter tones.
I debated whether this was more of a challenge than I wanted right now, but the allure of the mysterious dark vs redemptive light was a compelling challenge. Just what I needed right now.
It’s always when I get to the middle part of a picture that it is the most daunting. You can’t really see the big picture at this point. It’s really a matter of where the paint takes you. I focus on small sections and worry about bringing it all together later in the process. Hopefully with a strong base framework, this will work out.
And then finally you make real progress, and it all starts making sense. You can see where to go and how to bring it all together and find a direction. Patience. Not my strongest virtue but it does serve me well on these complicated pieces.
Finally the beauty comes breaking through the tangled confusion. A few more corrections and attention to details… like making the center rear of the dark waters more defined to pull your eye back in to the depth of these dense woods.
Finally, it’s there. Like life, art is a process of searching for the best outcome.
Wetlands, In To The Light, oil, 40 x 30″