An Adirondack Pond

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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

Golden

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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

 

Cuppa

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

A glimmer of light

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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″

The Carousel

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It seems like a lifetime ago when we were able to freely travel.  Our trip to Florence, Italy was part of one of our typical but still special European visits, with a leisurely stop in England at the beginning and end, but with side trips to Italy and Holland included.

I have been to Florence before, but it is still a favorite spot.  I think of it as golden for the light, for the art, for the people.

And so when I came across this carousel on the square, it was one of those moments when it all seemed to come together in rich detail.

I debated when I took this painting on if I wanted to chose a subject with so much complex detail.  But it was the summer of 2020, with a pandemic and the agony of a country in disarray. It was such an unsettling time. I decided that children waiting their turn on the lovely horses might be just the ticket to take my mind off, well, everything.

I agonized over details, right down to whether to add another pigeon landing at the bottom of the foreground.  I eventually decided he inhibited our gaze to the figures further in and so out he came. He flew away.

This piece was a huge challenge for me, just what I needed to make the long hours of an endless year pass.  It took me to where I wanted to go. A return to socialization and joy in a beautiful, complex world.  I really do miss travel.

The Carousel, Florence  oil, 30 x 24″

Wetlands in Orange and Blue

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One of my favorite places to walk, winter or summer, is Mason Neck State Park near the Potomac River in Virginia. There’s eagles and beaver dams and acres of wetlands.  I’ve missed it this spring.

What better way to visit than to paint from my reference photos. I can smell the damp leaves and hear the birds while I paint. This is the wetlands near Belmont Bay on the Bayview Trail.

I often follow this trail to see if I can catch the beavers out from their dens.  So far no luck.

The colors on this December day were fantastic. The blue of the sky was brilliantly reflected in the water.  Everything had a coral glow to it. The upside down images of trees in the water added to the abstract quality of the scene.

This picture took weeks of thin layering of transparent paint to capture the complexity and depth of this simple scene.

What a joy to work steadily in isolation.  Mike would just leave me to it for hours on end. The best lockdown partner I could have! Days and days of thin strokes of paint in the most beautiful colors.

And then magically, you know when it’s just enough.

“Wetlands in Orange and Blue”, 30 x 40″, oil on linen

The Baker

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For this painting, I worked from a photo image that I had taken a little more than a year ago at one of my favorite coffee/bakery stops near The National Gallery of Art in Washington,D.C.

Standing on line at the coffee bar, looking at the gorgeous sandwiches, rolls and pastries in the clear cases, you could turn to the other side and see the bakers working behind a wall of glass. I originally wondered if I would show more of the reflection in the glass. I did a bit, but greatly modified it from my original thoughts.

Now in the midst of the 2020 pandemic, there’s not a chance anytime soon of taking the metro in to town, walking to this shop to pick up my coffee and head over to any one of the numerous art museums in the area.

I truly miss it, even though I am safe and happy in my studio cocoon at home.

This image reminds me of those heady days, wandering into an open, social world with no fear.  I wonder how this baker is doing now.  He seemed to have such joy and purpose in his job.  I assume his world has been turned upside down also. Will he be ok?

The Baker, 24 x 30″, oil on linen.

 

Scones, Cake and Tea

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Somehow in over 20 years of going back and forth to England I had missed St. Ives, an artistic port tucked away in Cornwall.  This past autumn we put it right. And as is often the case, My Beloved Brit researched on line and found the most glorious spot on a tiny back street hidden in the midst of this famous seaside town.

“Olives” is a truly lovely spot that specializes in tea and scones, but also has marvelous cakes and coffees.  I knew immediately it begged a painting, no matter how daunting the details (That plaid shirt!  That glassware!).

Nonetheless, she persisted.

I loved the colors and the contrasts between hard and soft surfaces.  Slowly I worked on putting a first layer of paint down.

I had taken several photos of our young barista, but loved this layout of reaching for a cup.  The extended arm helped me not lose her in the jumble. Once I had the first pass of color completed I started to slowly return and add detail, highlights and tone.

As i proceeded, I decided where I wanted emphasis.  I spent days on her shirt, face and hair.  But what a release in this time of anxiety to work on such a lovely expression of pure joy.  A full 7 weeks later, working almost every weekday, it was done.

Scones, St. Ives, 30 x 24″, oil

And, by the way, My Beloved Brit had the Vegan Chocolate Cake, and I had Cranberry Scone with clotted cream and jam. One of the best “lunches” we had in England.

Seasons, Hyde Park

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Whenever I return to England, there are more than a few places that I want to return to again and again.  High on that list is Hyde Park, on the edge of Notting Hill and Kensington in London.

I’ve gotten to know many of the paths, and love blending in with a morning stroll. Inside the Bayswater Gate, down Broad Walk, and near the hotel we often stay at, there is a magnificent tree that draws my attention no matter what season.

But at the end of autumn when the leaves change and fall…it is magnificent.

I often wonder who will wander beneath it.  In this painting, I have placed a young woman pushing a stroller, which I actually referenced from another photo I took in the Bath Botanical Gardens.

I wanted to make the point of future generations being able to enjoy this same vista. She fit in perfectly.

Once the drama of light and dark is worked out, then to the color. It looks a mess at this stage, but it’s how I work out my palette.

And then it is just layer after layer, building up the detail, keeping the mood. I painted the mother’s coat red to draw the eye to her so she could compete with the magnificent foliage of the tree.

And finally, after weeks of painting, a few stray leaves blowing in the wind to add life and motion to the scene.

“Season’s End (Hyde Park)”, 30 x 24″, oil

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.