Monday, March 31, 2008

Sunriver, OR

Signs of spring are everywhere, but it certainly isn’t spring. Redwings call from the remnants of last year’s cattails, catkins fuzz out on the green-yellow willow twigs, little buds of green show in the brown grass. But snow patches abound and the flooded fields are still frozen, tempting would-be ice skaters. And it is cold, far too cold for me to paint outdoors. That leaves the shelter of the van, the lodge, or our room.

The room, the most convenient option, has a golf-course view. This means that the hills and trees are arranged more for the order of the golfer’s terrain than for my painting composition. Trees line up in unpleasing regularity, and the hills are all of a height. But the slanting morning shadows on the snow add a lot of interest to what might otherwise be a bland landscape. I rearrange some trees, take others out, and create a composition which is faithful in feel rather than in fact.

Most of the time, I am more inclined to move my viewpoint until objects and spaces offer a more ready-made composition. It is much easier to invest time in painting with confidence the composition that you can actually see. One side effect: it’s easy to forget that, even then, little parts will need to be moved. Some artists claim that you can just paint nature as it is, and all compositions will be perfect. Yet I notice that even they will leave things out. And even artists in the national magazines make mistakes, including things in their paintings that are better left out.

The room is dark, far too dark for seeing the painting properly. When I take it off my easel, I find far more variations in the greens, which is good, and much brighter snow, about which I am uncertain. Rick suggests adding some bright color in the brush front left. I will wait until I get home to decide with the painting in my studio light.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Yesterday I blocked in half of a painting. Today I finished blocking that one and three others. The benefits of batching.

Several factors contribute to this efficiency. First, the materials for the task are all out and don’t have to be organized. Solutions to the first project can be carried to the second, and so on, speeding the decision making and eliminating work time on side trails. The mind routinizes parts of the task, allowing you to perform more quickly and efficiently. I even feel as though my physical movements become more direct.

Another piece happens overnight. What was difficult one day can sometimes be trivially simple the next, with no apparent thinking about the problem. And never underestimate the power of a good nap.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Seaside, OR

There’s a group of trees along the promenade that I admire every time I come here. Their twisting trunks and dense needles are a testament to their struggle. Wind from the ocean curves nearly all major branches away from the prevailing blow, but new branches continually struggle toward the light and moisture, creating a counterpoint of swooping branches and cantilevered clumps of needles.
I set up my easel with a two of these sculptures silhouetted against sea and sky. Find that my medium is missing; I must have left it in Cannon Beach yesterday. Need to make a habit of checking my paint site AFTER I pack up. This reminds me of the time that we were skiing and Rick left his boots outside the car. (I think that he really just wanted a new pair of boots.) Anyway, need to remember to put a new jar of medium in the box when I get home. So I’m painting with straight oil paint, which is okay, just different.
I have a great time mixing a variety of greens and golds for the beach grass. In March, it looks even more dead than it does in the winter, more beaten down, defeated. When does the new grass grow? What happens to the old dead grass when new blades take its place? I’ll have to come back to see.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Cannon Beach, OR

Cannon Beach offered us a cloudy morning, but by the time my husband, Rick, and I have finished visiting galleries the gray is burning off, leaving behind a clean, cobalt sky garnished with golden mist. We find a small beach access park to the north of Ecola Creek, with a lovely view of the creek as it meanders toward the ocean. I set up my easel on a pile of basalt, about 6 inches above sea level, find a way to attach the latest umbrella to the back, and begin to paint, facing straight into the sun.
Across the creek, clusters of people wander across the sand, looking very much like the footless figures of stylized paintings, with their boxy chests and legs that disappear into points. A bit of leftover cloud sneaks around the back and at the knees of haystack rock. The sun reflects off the rocks at my back, and I feel warm and welcome.
Families with small children look at me curiously. "Can we go swimming? There’s a lifeguard." I point out that, since I am distracted by my painting, I would make a very poor lifeguard. A small boy wants to know what everything is in my setup. "Are those your colors? How does the box stay open?" Somehow, amid all the distractions, I finish the painting, and drag my supply case back over the sand. What a great first paint day of the season!