Monday, August 29, 2011

Change Your Scene

First painting of the week. 
I spent the summer thinking about how to keep my work fresh and ever evolving.  About how to keep my life and art from getting predictable and staid.  There are a few things I figured out might help, but the most significant thing I did was experience a change of scenery.

A change of scene helps jump starts my creative juices.  Seldom do I come back from a trip and not have an abundance of ideas and reference for paintings.  Most of the time I have ideas in abundance when I'm there, but when I get home the reference photos just sit.  I am not a great studio painter.  I realized this summer that I am an experience painter!  I paint best from life.  On scene.  Everything translates to the painting better if I do it as a whole experience.  I personally like the paintings better as well since they tend to be loose and more painterly because I don't have time to fuss with details.  I have to get right to the point before the light changes or the subject moves, etc.

My change of scene this summer was a week in Montana.  My husbands brother lives in Helena and my youngest is working at a hotel in Glacier National Park.  Joe, my husbands brother and the director of Fish, Wildlife and Parks for the state of Montana and Alice his wife shared their Montana with us. I am ready to pack my stuff and move there tomorrow!  Montana is such a rugged, untamed and expansive place.  You never lack for a vista and my painters eye was on overload the entire week.

Rarely when I vacation (unless I go with a painting group) am I able to paint since we are usually on the move and packing around painting equipment is heavy! But my husband encouraged me to take it and paint whenever I could.  For a plein air painter, Montana is a gold mine! 
sketch of the first day's fishing excursion,
does not do it justice! Painting fast means
you have to think quick and make fast decisions.
I shouldn't have kept the front flowers!
The first day turned out to be a day just this side of heaven!  Long story short the guy's wanted to fly fish so we dropped them off downstream and headed upstream so Alice could fish the pond and I could paint on private property.  Golden hills dotted with pines (and pine scent), grazing cattle, a rushing creek in a field of wildflowers with grass so tall it came to my thighs! All against a backdrop of mountains and an expansive blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds!  My kind of place!  I was able to paint two plein air watercolors while the men fished for almost 5 hours.  The sun was hot and the paints dried out fast but I persisted.  It was the perfect day. And there were four more to go!

Quick watercolor sketch on the boat
of the gates of the mountains
The next day we took the pontoon boat down the Missouri river where steep limestone cliffs form what Lewis and Clark called the Gates of the Mountains.  Again the scenery was breathtaking.  I had taken my gear and painted small sketches as we moved down the river.  This was such a challenge and so much fun to paint and catch "spots of color" (a term Charles Hawthorn used) of the right value that explained the forms! 
View from Many Glacier Hotel

I was able to paint again when we went to see my son at Glacier.  Many Glacier Hotel has the most amazing views and we got up early and watched as the sunrise painted the mountains orange while a moose and her calf grazed across the lake!  The boy's went fishing once again and I set up to paint just outside the hotel.  The view was breathtaking and as is always the case it was hard to decide what to paint.  I chose a view and painted to my hearts content.  AND I was actually pleased with the finished piece!  But who could go wrong with such beauty? 

So Montana taught me that for this painter, the experience is key.  Until I experienced the grizzly bear up close and personal. (I haven't figured out how to turn that into a creativity blog yet, but it'll turn up!  stay tuned)  This change of scene did more than give me reference material. What I know now more than ever is that my experience of a place is heightened by taking the time to paint it.  I will remember the experience more richly because I took the time to really absorb it.  Get a sense of the place.  Fully observe the colors.  Inhale its essence.  Soak it up in all ways with all my senses.  And as artists, isn't that what we do?  As a chef, a decorator, a musician or any of the arts?  It's all about our senses and experience! 

So to keep my work exciting and fresh I know I need to vary my experiences.  (that's always been true of my life anyway!)  That I am a much better painter in the studio if I first experienced the scene as fully as possible.  This is often done in my sketch book and I will detail how that helps and what I do in my next blog.  For now, go experience your art!  Keep things fresh and consider a change of scene. I highly recommend Montana!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Slugs and Cheerleaders

One day my friend referred to someone as a slug.  Since we are both gardeners, I understood right away what she meant!  I had to ask her what she thought the similarities were.  To this she replied that a slug moves very slowly.  It eats whatever is in it's path, even and especially decaying things.  It is plump in the middle and rather slimy leaving a slimy trail behind it as it travels.  Basically it is a pest that makes a mess out of your nice carefully tended garden.  And finally as any good gardener knows, to bait a slug you set out a saucer of beer.  The slug is drawn to the beer, wades right in thus drowning itself!  Suicide by beer!  Now hold that thought.

I walk every day.  Almost every day I don't want to walk.  I get up and say to myself, "I don't think I'll walk today."  It's weird because I have to literally force myself to do one of the things that I enjoy so much and is so good for me both mentally and physically.  Some day's I sneak myself into it by just putting on my walking clothes when I get up.  That way, if I feel some energy I'm ready to go.  Most day's I'm ready after a cup of coffee jump starts me.  Some day's I just have to force myself by telling myself I'll just do a short walk today which always turns into the full course. 

Once I'm out there I always wonder what all that hesitation was all about.  I regularly get ideas for blogs and paintings or figure out a problem while my brain wanders and my feet plod on.  Every day I marvel at creation and the amazing natural world-never the same day twice!  My body loosens up and I feel the energy of the walk fill my body.  I just feel better all the way around.  And while I'm walking I'm so very grateful for that day and the ability to walk.

Back to the slug metaphor.  All of us have an inner slug.  I'm sure my inner slug is not about nurture, or I would have gotten rid of it long ago by the simple act of defying it every day.  Nor is it all about nature.  If that were the case I would have drowned in my beer years ago!   I keep repeating...balance!  We all have something we need to balance.

A lot of what I do as a teacher is encourage people not to quit!  I do that because I wish someone had done that for me when I was making my way in the art department.  Many of you have told me that my encouragement has meant a lot to you and that means a lot to me.  One student even called me a cheerleader!   Which is in a way, what I do for my students.

But in the end its all about putting one foot in front of the other isn't it?  It's hard to learn a new skill but there is a certain thrill at trying something new and then getting the hang of it.  The real test is whether you hang in there when it gets tough.  When you don't progress as you think you should.  When you didn't get out of a class what you wanted.  When the skill set seems to be more complicated than you bargained for and you cant paint (or cook, or write or sing or dance) the way you want.

When I haven't walked in a while I notice changes.  My energy level goes down yet I feel antsy.  I ache more and have less flexibility.  My mood is less optimistic.  In short, I feel "sluggish"!  In my last blog I talked about taking a break and the restlessness I feel when I've been away from creating too long.  I was getting that antsy feeling, but noticed I didn't really "feel" like going out to paint.  So just like with the walk, I gave myself a little push and viola!  Back in the saddle I went.  And I wondered what all the hesitation was about! 

Soon I will be starting classes again. I am eager to get back to what I love to do. I will see many familiar faces eager to get back to the routine and time carved out for their art. A class is a great way to make time for your art. It surrounds you with like minded people and hopefully helps you move forward with your skills. But what if you are not able to take a class for some reason?

In coming blogs I will be exploring how to stay in the game of art.  I'll give you some practical ways to help you make your creative endeavours more vital and less random.  I will be your cheerleader!