English Inspiration

We’ve just returned from three weeks in the UK, our first visit in 3 years.  For Mike, it was a whirlwind tour of meeting up with friends and family, trying to catch up with all the news and rehash old stories. I love that part of these trips, but for me, my goal was searching for enough painting resources and inspiration to sustain me in to the future.

These trips give me the space and freshness that I rely on for months in my studio work.  Often I revisit my photos years later, and find a new vision that I hadn’t seen before. There is something about having the time to explore an unfamiliar environment, away from the daily routine.  You see things in a different way. Connections are made, insights discovered.

Whether on country strolls, or museum visits in the cities, it re-charges me for months to come.  This time I took close to 500 photos! But often I just walked and breathed in the images.

We started in Kent, in the Southeast corner of Great Britain and found a great bolt hole between Dover and Canterbury.  It was a beautiful resort, the Broome Park Hotel. Although promoted as a “Golf Resort and Wedding Venue” tucked in to the countryside, I found glorious walks in the early morning across the surrounding fields with no one else around except the birds and sheep. We had a “lodge” on the grounds with two bedrooms a living room and a washer and dryer!  A real bonus for European travel.  And we could walk to the pub in the main manor house at night along the fields for dinner. It was a mid-week bargain, and we could catch up on sleep.

Revived, we found time for a wonderful visit with family in Essex,

and joined up with old sailing mates at the Southampton Boat Show.

And then it was back to the countryside – The New Forest and the Montagu Arms.  The wild horses roam the streets in this unenclosed pastureland, heathland and forest, both in the countryside and through the towns and villages. On one of our very first trips to England together, Mike took me to The New Forest as a special treat, and I still love it.  Perfect weather that first week also helped. Mid-70s and sunny!  Could this really be September in England?

A quick stop at one of my favorite spots, Bath, then we were on our way to Cornwall and St. Ives, a north coast town that is now home to Tate St. Ives Art Museum. It was a challenge to park in the hilly, seaside town and make it down cobblestone streets with luggage in tow to our Inn, The Lifeboat. But when we got there it was worth the challenge. Reception told us it is a right of passage to deal with parking and luggage in St. Ives.  We succeeded, barely, but the reward was a room facing the sea right on the front.

We loved it here.  It was filled with galleries and art for me, and boats and pubs for Mike. It is a huge haven for artists with The Tate in the center of it all.  The exhibitions at the museum focus on the history of many local artists who came here during WWII to escape the bombings in London, and ended up starting a fresh new art colony. The tradition continues with studios tucked everywhere, many of them open during this autumn “Arts Week”.


Mike found a fabulous place in the backstreets of St.Ives, “Olives”, and we did a “lunch” of scones and cake and tea that was to die for. There were winding roads all through the town filled with many surprises, and we often just wandered, seeing where the twisted narrow roads would take us. It was a joy to explore, always looking for a new sea view for dinner.

Finally, we went down to the south side of Cornwall to visit and catch up with more family, and rediscover one of our favorite spots, Charlestown. I actually drove that day from St. Ives to Charlestown on those teeny tiny roads, roundabouts, and confusing lanes through the Cornish country. But we made it without a scratch!

The weather was changing, and fierce winds blew us along our walks from our Inn down the lane to the sea.

We then headed up the west side of England in the rain, across Bodmin Moor

and after a stop in the Cotswolds at a familiar site…The Hare and Hounds…

we were off to the north and The Lake District.

We had four days in the Wordsworth Inn in Grasmere and although the weather finally turned showery and cloudy after over a week of sunshine (very un-British) we didn’t mind. It’s the grey country, after all. And it’s what makes everything so lush and green.

I had brought my rain coat and “brollie” and managed to walk every day, visiting old haunts and discovering new inspiration.

After the best break ever, we headed back down south through Cambridge, home of one of my favorite art museums, The Fitzwilliam, and a room with a view of the punts on the River Cam.

Then on to visit friends at Burnham-on-Crouch, Mike’s old sailing hub,

and finally the last 5 days in London.  Phew!

London meant The National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, and The Royal Academy.

We did Notting Hill, Piccadilly, Kensington and Hyde Park…and I even took a rainy afternoon to see a matineee of “Downton Abbey”.  What could be more appropriate.

We even managed to fit in Sunday Roast with friends in the center of London.

Finally Heathrow, and home! To paint…where to even begin?

Now starts the time of looking for connections, sorting through images, thinking of patterns and context of not just the visual images but also the stories that connect us all.  The depth and underlying currents are just as important to me as the visual beauty of our world. Country lanes and city streets with the background sounds of Brexit on the news.  I am already looking forward to the studio season.

Long Hot Summer

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I normally think I prefer the winter months to work in my studio.  It’s cozy inside hiding from the cold.  But this summer, I find I am also  retreating from the heat in to my studio.  And I have decided instead of my usual oils I wanted to try something new.  So I have returned to conte, graphite and pastels.

Blue Mountain Lake, 11 x 14, conte and graphite on paper

It is like visiting a dear friend whom you haven’t seen in a long time.  It takes a bit of time to pick up the rhythm, but then it slips into the familiar.  Such joy.

Norfolk Coast Dunes, 11 x 14″, conte and graphite on paper

Part of the fun is I get to spend hours going through my images.  I always only work from my own photos, so each journey in to the past allows me to relive the beauty of my travels.  That always seems to be where I find the best inspiration.  The unfamiliar invites wonder.

Jardin des Tuileries,  11 x 14″, pastel on paper

Paris, England, the Adirondacks, Shenandoah…each has its own appeal. And how do I approach the subject?  I have a general idea in my head.  I look at my collection of art books or borrow from my local library for a gentle push of my creative brain…Hockney, Kahn, Bonnard, Porter, Twombley, Van Gogh, Whistler. A quick trip in to the city to an art museum always helps, and often creates its own subject matter.

There are so many great artists to learn from, but my own style always pushes through all the influences. I find the space where I am comfortable, the stroke of the chalk that makes me happy, the color palette that brings me contentment.

I push through the frustration when things just don’t work right.  I don’t give up easily.

Sometimes I only find completion when I’ve given up all hope, and just don’t care if I “ruin” it or not. That’s often when it takes flight.

June (Kousa Dogwood), 11 x 14, pastel on paper

 

Everything is all right in my studio, whatever the season.

 

 

A Fondness for Trees

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We take so much for granted in this beautiful world.  When I look back at my photos I realize some of my favorite images are of trees in their infinite variety, moods and glorious stretch of branches.

I recently revisited my photos of a trip I took to Bath, England several years ago.  It was November, and I wandered over to the Bath Botanical Gardens on the other side of town.

The trees were glorious and infinitely varied in size, color, and stages of changing foliage.

Coming over a hill, I spied this bench where an owner and her dog had found refuge on the path between the massive trees behind them and the small grove in front which had lost just the top layer of its leaves.

They just sat there forever, taking in the crisp fall afternoon and the beauty around them. At this stage I took the figures out to make them just a little more prominent in the scene

I’ve always had a fondness for trees.  They are worth our efforts to protect them for the future generations of strollers.

“A Fondness For Trees”, 14 x 11″, oil

Descanso Gardens

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I decided to take a month off from the studio this January, and instead refreshed my visual senses with a trip to the west coast.  For months I had been feeling the creative tug of painting landscapes again.  A fresh breath, so to speak.  

I had seen a quote by Vincent Van Gogh attached to the new Hockney/Van Gogh exhibition coming to Amsterdam this spring (https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en).  In a letter from December 1882, the artist wrote “Sometimes I long so much to do landscape, just as one would go for a long walk to refresh oneself, and in all of nature, in trees for instance, I see expression and a soul.”

I couldn’t agree more, So in the beautiful Descanso Gardens in the hills on the outskirts of LA, I found my muse.

I had been to the gardens before, and one of my favorite spots is the Japanese Garden with its striking red bridge.

The camellias were blooming. In 1942, when people of Japanese ancestry were forced in to internment camps following the attack of Pearl Harbor, E. Manchester Boddy, who owned the working ranch, purchased 100,000 camellia plants from friends, two Japanese-owned nurseries.

Now a non-profit organization, the Descanso Gardens Guild manages the gardens in partnership with Los Angeles County.

This gorgeous place showcases the beauty of nature at its best and the desire to preserve it for future generations.

I’ve visited the gardens on many of my trips to LA, and I never get tired of it.

Descanso: The Red Bridge, 30 x 40″, oil

 

Turtle Bay Memories

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A little while ago, I got an email from a woman who had spent her honeymoon on St. John, USVI in the 90s and over the years had collected prints from my pastel series “The Seven Beaches of Caneel”.

I had originally done the series years ago, at the beginning of my “second” career as a fine artist.

She had 6 of the 7 in the series I had produced in 2002, but was unable to find number 7.  “Turtle Bay” was nowhere to be found.

Over the years, slowly but surely all the prints had been sold from Bajo el Sol Gallery, my first gallery representation, located at Mongoose Junction on St. John in the US Virgin Islands.

I had a master set of the prints, and photo files of the original pastels, as well as a copy of the original photos I had worked from.  There didn’t seem to be any prints left anywhere except for my master set.

I loved Caneel after discovering it. I used to walk through the grounds constantly when we lived on St. John for over 7 years. It was beautiful, built on National Park land and including the old Rockefeller Estate.  There really were 7 very unique beaches on the resort, each with its own personality.

Turtle Bay was at the far end, just below the old Rockefeller Estate house.  I offered to re-create the image to size as an original pastel to complete her set.  It meant a lot to her, and it was wonderful to re-visit the beach in my mind.

Caneel Bay Resort got severely damaged in the hurricanes of 2017.  I’m not sure if the resort will rebuild or not.  But the memories will live on.

Here’s Looking Back at Britain

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This has been a crazy year, and often when the world stage becomes this stress-inducing, I turn again to the English countryside.

Sheep Unshorn, 10 x 10″, oil

I am sure part of its allure is my beautiful British husband.  The charm of his country stole my heart, along with him, years ago.

Cows In Repose, 10 x 10″, oil

But recently, I revisited some earlier trips and found images to paint in small 10 x 10 canvases just perfect to group, or appreciate on their own.

Two Swans Swimming, 10 x 10″, oil

I dropped these off at Gallery 50 in Rehoboth Beach, DE just in time for the holiday season. And I can begin to contemplate the coming winter months in the studio.

Ashford-in-the-Water, 10 x 10″, oil

The perfect time to sit at my easel and paint my memories and dreams.

Highclere, 10 x 10″, oil

Clearing Skies

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This painting was done with great care for a husband who wanted to give his wife a very special birthday gift.  He mentioned that he could do jewelry or clothes or a trip but he wanted something that would express the warmth of family life that they had shared for many years.

And so I started “Clearing Skies” . His only direction was that he wanted it somehow focused on Washington, DC where they had lived and worked nearby for decades, and that somehow he wanted to include family members.

He also wanted it to be a surprise for her October birthday.  So not a word to her, or anyone in the family, all of whom I know personally.

I set out early one cool day last January to do some reconnaissance and see what location might work best, focusing on major Washington DC landmarks.  It also had to be a scene that could accommodate multiple figures.  Other than that, I was open to inspiration.

As luck would have it, it had been cold for weeks, but all of a sudden it was warmer and had a misty rain in the air creating dramatic fog effects everywhere. As I crossed the pedestrian paths near the mall, I was thrilled to see colors and light that was interesting and different from the normal “postcard” DC scenes.  Perfect. What I thought would just be a thinking photo session, showed real results.

My patron left it completely open to my creative direction, but asked if I would include him in the process.  He’d never worked with an artist before, and was keen to have a better understanding of how an artist works.  We set up an email link so we could communicate without being discovered.

I sent him sketches.  He sent me family images that I could work from when I got stuck with Facebook or personal archives.

He was very complimentary, and I could tell, very excited about the project.  He also said he had no idea when we started how much work went in to creating a large painting.  It was fun for both of us.

I, of course, wanted to make sure he was pleased, but also create something that I loved artistically. I also wanted it to have a long life of enjoyment, hopefully by future generations.

I wanted something that they would never get tired of walking in to the room and discovering it as new over and over again.

I completed it with a couple of months to spare so it could dry and be framed and ready to present.

I hope this family can cherish this memory of a particular time and place for generations to come.

 

Clearing Skies, 30 x 48″, oils

More Patterns

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When a client loves your work, but it doesn’t quite fit their space, consignment work is often a solution.  I was nervous about this type of work when I first started painting full-time and had a few requests.

But then, I realized in my decades as a creative director for my own graphic design firm in Washington D.C., interpreting a client’s wishes with beautiful color and design had been the way I made a living for many years.

The only difference in fine art, was that the question it had to answer was “will it fit in with my aesthetic lifestyle”.  “Will it touch the new patron emotionally with color, content and design” is common in both commercial art and fine art. In my design business I often, after a few conversations, had to figure out a way to solve the problem in a way that I loved, but also pleased the client. Art commissions work the same way.

Patterns II started with the client loving a piece they had seen in one of my great galleries that represents me, Gallery 37, in Milford DE.  Having seen one of my wave paintings and loving the style and color patterns, they wanted something larger for their home.  After some back and forth meaningful dialogue, I realized it was the color palette, movement, serenity and the rock formation that had intrigued them in the smaller painting they had seen which was based on a seaside scene in Portugal I had photographed years earlier.

I found it was a joy re-visiting a painting that brought back memories of the trip along the Portuguese coast and a unique photo session for the original painting.  As I was working on a new interpretation, I thought of Monet and his Rouen Cathedral and haystack paintings…subjects he returned to again and again.

I was happy with the results, as was the client. There is a satisfaction not just in the physical painting, but also in interpreting the clients dreams of a piece of art they will live with and love for a long time.

Patterns II, 48 x 36″, oil

Cows, twilight and a moon

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It is the first day of spring today with a forecast of snow tonight…climate is on my mind.  What better way to deal with it than to escape to the perfect English landscape on a summer’s day.

This is the Cotswolds in England a few summers ago, just south of the lovely village of Tetbury, and this scene was the view from our bedroom window at The Hare and Hounds Hotel.  The next morning we were going to tour Prince Charles’ Royal Gardens at Highgrove House which is nearby.

As I watched out the window, the sun began to set, the cows barely moved across the field and the moon rose giving everything a magical quality.

I added the traveler peering over the wall, decided to decrease the size of lamp and have the edge of the wall in the foreground disappear a bit into the rich grass.

I refined the sky with the ever-present British clouds skirting the horizon, and added details to the incredible farm buildings in the distance. I watched this scene from my window until just the moon lit the sky.  The cows didn’t stray far.

Working Title “Moonrise”  oil, 30 x 48″

Will the trees still be here tomorrow?

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I think about the destiny of the natural world for the next generations. With the climate change prognosis so uncertain, I worry that we will miss the window of opportunity to protect such diversity and beauty. I hope it is not slipping away.

My two young grandnieces are the future. They love the outdoors and see it all with that new sense of wonder so common in the young.

I had visited Bath, in the UK, a few years ago in November, when the leaves were falling and everything had a muted, mysterious end of season look to it.

Walking through the botanical gardens, I came across these birch trees, hanging on to their last leaves, framing a gorgeous color palette of greens, rusts and gold.  I had noticed a woman pushing a baby carriage earlier and decided to place her moving in to the distance of this scene.  My nieces, Lilly and Abby, became my models from a photo their mom had taken in a different setting.  I placed them in to this park, put fall jackets on them and had them enter this special space.

This was a difficult one to get the sense of shadowed uncertainty I wanted, but still keep it fresh and hopeful.  I hope I succeeded.

Note my last, final changes in the small details.  There is always a moment when I am not sure I am finished and spend time, often days, just looking, thinking, looking again at other artists work (Doig, Wyeth, Wiesenfeld, Celaya) and making those final decisions that mean it is finished.

I added a leaf over the girls’ head, and a falling leaf between them and the viewer, changed the tone of the green lawn, some subtle rays of sunshine and edited Abby’s hat to be smaller and less “matched” to her jacket.  I was finally finished telling the story.

“Will The Trees Still Be Here Tomorrow”, oil on linen, 40 x 30″