Thursday, February 19, 2009

Snowy Woods

"This is my beauty - all the beauty I wish for: the love of this nature around my home. They talk of Italian Skies. I envy not the Italian. Nor do they envy me. I find no sympathetic beauty in the sky I have not lived under. The Elysian fields are not at the ends of the earth - they are here at my feet."
Charles Burchfield wrote that in Salem, Ohio in September 1914...and it speaks to me.

I have been (for quite some time now) reading Charles Burchfield's Journals; The Poetry of Place. I will be reading it into the foreseeable future (unless my arms give out first). It is abridged, thankfully; the artist wrote approximately 2,000,000 words between the two world wars and gave us wonderful insight to culture & conditions of the time as well as a picture of his own thoughts and career. His watercolors are haunting modernist expressions of nature...including those things usually difficult to depict; sound and heat, for example. You can view some of his work here.

This is one of my recent
studio paintings, Snowy Woods, 19 x 19 (image size) pastel .

Monday, February 09, 2009

First Plein Air Painting of 2009!


My first day out was a balmy 37 degrees! I didn't think I could stand the cold below 40, but determination, calm air, warm February sun this afternoon made my day a success. That and my Zippo Handwarmers!!! (see them in their little soft black pouches lying on my easel? They were in my jacket pockets the rest of the time.) I Love Them...two thumbs up! (Thank you to my husband for a very thoughtful Christmas gift) I had to spend an inordinate amount of time negotiating the back roads looking for A. sun, B. ice-free spot to stand on, C. good scene with water and D. parking space for Prius that I thought I wouldn't get stuck in. It all came together finally and this is the 11 x 14 painting I did on UArt paper mounted on board with an assortment of quite soft pastels. It may get a few touch ups in the studio but this was how it looked when I left the field today at 4pm. Beebe Hollow Road

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Recyling Pastels Sticks

For several years I've been throwing scraps of pastels into a box on my workbench, knowing some day I would try turning the tiny chips and bits into new sticks. I had purchased a delightfully heavy granite mortar & pestle for the purpose of grinding the pieces into a fine powder.

4 or 5 years ago a friend and fellow pastel artist presented me with three pastel sticks she had made herself at a Santa Fe workshop. They were very lovely colors and I saved them...they seemed so precious. A part of me wondered why anyone would spend time recycling used-up pastels when you can buy thousands of colors in varying hardness/softness grades at the flick of the mouse.

Sunday was the day for me to give it a try. Who knew it would be so much FUN! As is often the case with making something by hand it is an incredible thrill to see the project unfolding magically; whether it is baking, woodworking or music. It is just plain rewarding to have a simple project turn out well.

It is basically; select for color, grind thoroughly, add enough water and not too much, roll into a stick-like form and let dry. More thorough directions can be found here from Richard McKinley.

As far as color goes, I had some control, but the results are serendipitous; not a reasonable way to obtain that mysterious shade of smokey blue you forgot to buy. I was surprised at the cost effectiveness, though. I produced 22 pastels at an average retail value of about $3.50 - after deducting the cost of the mortar & pestle, I'm still about $20 ahead! Artists are always aghast at the price of their supplies. Feels like I made something out of nothing!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

E. I. Couse at the Rockwell

I finally dodged the ice and snow storms to travel up to Corning, NY to the Rockwell Museum of Western Art to see the excellent showing of one of my favorite "western" painters; Eanger Irving Couse; A Place In the Sun.

Couse (1866-1936) has influenced me for quite some time. Born in Saginaw, Michigan he was classically trained at the Chicago
Art Institute, the National Academy of Design in NYC and the Academie Julien in Paris. There he studied under Adolphe Bouguereau. Three large Bouguereau canvases are part of the Rockwell exhibit, showing his influence on Couse.

Many of Couse's early sketchbook pages, photographs of his models, plein air oil sketches and figure studies in oil are included in the exhibit; most of these from the years previous to his membership in the Taos Society of Artists.

The exhibit highlights are the figurative pieces from New Mexico...mostly Native Americans, many lit by the moon or firelight. Couse's strength lies in his incredible skill at portraying the (often) crouched human figure and the way light played off of it. His paintings literally take my breath away and it was a very worthwhile afternoon viewing pieces from the Saginaw Art Museum's collection as well as from the Rockwell's permanent collection. I love his unconventional use of strong color.

Couse was a successful artist before he even got to Taos...his wife feared he had made his reputation as a painter of sheep...lovely French pastorals (four on display). His success escalated throughout his life and later.

BTW this museum has some wonderful pieces of very contemporary Native American artists work. I always love visiting to see what they have been adding. The museum building itself is quite the showpiece...all lovely old Victorian structures should be so lucky as to get a facelift like this! Couse show only through Feb. 8!

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