Never Give Up

Last year was not a good year for me artistically.  There were less places locally to exhibit paintings than there used to be.  And no one seemed to be interested in my work.  I signed up for Art Walk in October, when people visit local artists at their homes or studios.  In addition to the numerous paintings on the walls of my basement gallery, I put out a stack of older work I wanted to get rid of at greatly reduced prices.  The only painting I sold all year was one from that stack.

It made me wonder what was the point in painting if all I was doing was piling up art nobody wanted.  But for some of us not being creative does not seem to be an option.  We are simply programmed to be artists.  We can’t help it.  The same seems to be true of writers and musicians.  So I gave a few paintings as gifts and kept on creating.

Then came more bad luck.  My computer stopped working and went away for repairs for almost a month.  Computers are vital to just about everyone these days, including artists.  I couldn’t add photos of new paintings to those already on the computer or print them.  The records of my work were on my computer.  And I couldn’t write on my blog or enter art shows that these days have to be done on a computer.  When my computer finally returned I found a new Microsoft system on it and even more frustrating a whole new picture system, Adobe Elements 14, that is probably a good system if I could understand how it works.

But then suddenly things began to change for the better.  My daughter referred a woman to me who wanted a painting of a dog, now deceased, that had been her husband’s favorite.  She provided a photo.  I hadn’t done a dog in years but I rashly said yes and agreed to do it in pastels, a medium I don’t usually work in.  The result is below.  (I wanted to put it above but somehow couldn’t.)  The woman was pleased with the portrait of “Benny,” which was to be a gift for her husband.

Several more sales followed.  I participated in Art in the Park and sold a painting of a Bradford pear tree.  I joined the plein air painters at the Overland Park Arboretum spring event and sold a painting from it.  A relative bought a painting to give as a gift.  So I guess I’ll just keep on keeping on.  The process itself is irresistable.

 

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Seizing the Moment

Here in Lawrence, Kansas, spring arrived early this year.  All of a sudden the landscape was bursting with color, especially the trees.  While it was still late March the Bradford pear trees turned white with blossoms.  The redbuds and flowering crab apple trees soon followed.  Now the neighborhoods are also filled with lilacs and the young cherry tree in my back yard is covered with blooms.  What an inspiration for a painter.

But these very colorful sights are also very fleeting.  A tree that is in full bloom one day may in a spring storm send petals to the ground.  If you want to capture some of this beauty with paint you’d better not put it off.  Coming out of exercise class one morning I noticed a row of blooming Bradford pear trees across the street.  But I was in a hurry and didn’t stop to photograph them. Passing that way in the afternoon I did stop but somehow the scene was not the same.  The light was coming from a different direction and that made a difference.  Fortunately, I had enough sense to go back the next morning and photograph them and I have started a painting.

But actually painting on site is so much better.  When I was driving out in the country to paint at an artist friend’s house, I noticed her blooming Brandford pear tree long before I reached the house and that’s what I decided to paint chosing an 18″ x 14″ canvas with wide enough stretchers not to need a frame.  I was faced with a very windy day.  But I was determined not to waste this opportunity.  So I painted in my car, even though the car I have now is very small.  And I will remember the beauty of springtime whenever I look at that painting.

So when you see one of these glorious sights of spring, seize the moment.  Take a photo if you must or better yet don’t put off setting up your easel outside.  This is one of the best times of year to paint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plein Air, What’s That?

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Clematis, acrylic, 14″ x 9″

A friend of mine shares with me several art magazines that she has finished reading.  Since these magazines are just too good to throw away I then pass them on to others.  There was an interesting Publisher’s Letter in the November 2014 issue of Plein Air Magazine that I read recently.  The author, B. Eric Rhoads, was advocating that we plein air painters need to do more to promote understanding of the term plein air and awareness of this way of painting.  I had supposed that many people understood this term, although I didn’t come across it until I was middle aged and was in an art class that met outdoors and the teacher explained that the term was French and had originally been used to describe what the Impressionists did, paint outdoors what they saw in front of them.

I recently tried, unsuccessfully, to sell several paintings on eBay.  My daughter, who was helping me through the process of putting the images online and describing them, did not want me to use the words plein air to describe my paintings because, she said, nobody would know what that means.  So maybe Mr. Rhoads is right.  As a painter who prefers plein air painting, maybe I need to explain what I’m talking about.  To being with, above is my most recent plein air effort.

When I think about my own plein air experiences, here are a few that come to mind.  My first plein air experience in a college art class.  We were out in a field and I painted two of my classmates painting.  (Plein air paintings can also include the figure.) Sketching in a park in France and all of a sudden being surrounded by a group of soldiers, curious to see what I was doing.  Painting in a barnyard while a cat tried to crawl into my lap.  Painting with one hand while holding onto my easel with the other as the wind increased.  Drops of rain dribbling onto my painting as a sudden shower came up. Parked off the road in a remote rural area painting in my car when suddenly at my window the face of a highway patrolman appeared wanting to know what I was doing.   Starting out painting in comfortable shade only to have it soon disappear and feel the hot sun beating down.  Painting while my chair sat on a concrete surface only to have my glass water jar fall and shatter.  Painting in the mountains while husband was in meetings concerned because he did not know exactly where I was.

It has all been an experience I wouldn’t have missed for anything.

Among My Souveniers

 

The Front Range, acrylic, 12" x 24"

The Front Range, acrylic, 12″ x 24″

Husband and I do a fair amount of traveling.  And one thing we see wherever we go are those shops selling souvenirs to tourists. Especially in this country, the items vying for tourist dollars may not even be made in that region.   China is a more likely country of origin.  We do not buy this stuff.  Our souvenirs have tended to be the photos we take.  In the days before digital cameras and smart phones, husband amassed boxes of slides and I have  numerous envelopes of photos.  These are our memories of places we’ve been and significant times with family and friends.

I have some photos from when a was a young child because my mother put them in an album.  I did the same for my children and they have enjoyed looking at them.  I also put photos of some of our earlier trips in a photo album.  But now people are increasingly storing their photos on their smart phones or computers.  On Facebook I recently saw a photo posted by a relative who is taking her young son on his first trip to Paris.  But what will become of that photo?  When he wants to tell his children about that memorable trip, where will that photo be?

I am glad that I have some souvenirs that are likely to be a little more long lasting.  They are the paintinsg depicting various places I have been.  Some have been done from photos.  Others, like the one above, were painted on site.  I was visiting a relative in Colorado recently.  Fortunately, our trip lasted a week and was not overly crowded with planned activities.  I drove to a nearby park with a beautiful view of the front range of the Rockies.  Even though there was no shade, I painted on two mornings and then finished up inside on a third.  It was a great experience sitting there and really looking at the mountains and how the color changed as time passed and the sun was at a different angle.  The park is used a lot in the mornings.  People exercise by walking, jogging, biking or just walking their dogs.  Some commented or took a brief look at what I as doing, but fortunately they were really focused on their exercise so it wasn’t a distraction.   How a particular scene looks at a specific time and how the artist views it are really the purposes of plein air painting.   And that makes a very special souvenir.

 

Recorders of History

Boulder Creek II, Acrylic, 24" x 36"

Boulder Creek II, Acrylic, 24″ x 36″   

September 23, 2013

Some years ago I walked beside that creek in Boulder, Colorado, on a warm autumn day with husband, daughter and her family.  I painted the above scene from a photo I took that day.  After hearing the recent reports of flood damage in Boulder, I wonder what that scene looks like now.  It may never look quite like that again.

Last week I was painting on a Kansas farm and began a painting of a red barn.  I’ve painted a number of barns before.   Later I often learn they no longer exist.  Many farmers don’t use barns any more and so they fall into disrepair and are destroyed by wind and weather.  I’ve also occasionally painted silos, but they too are now becoming a thing of the past.

We who paint realistically may not realize it, but we are recording history.  If some of our paintings survive they will show what life was like in our little corner of the world in our time when the future may look very different.  Artists have been doing this for some time.  When we look at paintings from the past in museums or in our art books we can see how people dressed, what their homes and other buildings looked liked as well as the surrounding landscape of those bygone ages.

Impressionist paintings are favorites of mine and they show an interesting historical record.  While painters of the past had painted the nobility (they knew where the money was), in the late 1800s there was a rising middle class with the time and funds to go out and enjoy themselves and the painters of the time recorded that.  They painted people having lunch on a pleasure boat, men, women and children enjoying an afternoon in the park, couples dancing.  Something else that was new in the time of the Impressionists was the railroad.  Several years ago the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO, did an exhibit of impressionist paintings having something to do with the railroads.  I was surprised at how many paintings there were.

Next time you go out to paint think about the transitory nature of the things you see.  Your record of that building or scene may last longer than it will.

Talent or Persistence

Morning in the Park, acrylic, 14" x 18"

Morning in the Park, acrylic, 14″ x 18″

August 12, 2013

I recently returned from a trip to Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, with husband.  While he was attending a conference I enjoyed doing some plein air painting.  Fortunately, there was almost no wind so using a music stand for an easel worked well.  When husband’s clothes were put away in the closet and dresser, I packed my painting gear into his smaller suitcase on wheels and was ready to find a painting spot.  There was a large city park on a lake near our hotel so that’s where I went.

I set up near a walking and jogging path that bordered the lake.  Because of my location a number of people stopped to see what I was doing and make comments about the above painting.  The one I found most interesting was, “Oh, you are so talented.”  I don’t think so.  If I was, I would be more successful in terms of awards and sales.

I may not be talented, but I am persistent.  One cannot decide to be talented but one can decide to be persistent and that can result in some very rewarding experiences.  I was an art major in college.  But over the years after that I only sporadically took took art classes or found time to paint as child rearing, part time jobs, etc. took most of my time.

By the time the last part time job ended, my children were grown.  As I thought about what might come next, I decided that I would live like an artist.  And that has led to some very enjoyable experiences.  I’m a member of two art guilds and have met other artists,  I have occasionally taken art classes and have found places to display my work.  I’ve joined paintings groups.  I’ve gone on weeklong plein air painting trips.  Along the way my walls and those of my children and relatives display paintings of the beautiful places I’ve been. And sometimes even people I don’t know see my paintings on display and buy them.  By donating paintings to charity auctions I’m able to make a contribution to good causes.  Living like an artist can be a very good life but only if one is not focused on monetary rewards.

The Traveling Artist

Colorado Meadow, Acrylic, 14" x 18"

Colorado Meadow, Acrylic, 14″ x 18″

August 1, 2013

I recently returned from a trip to Colorado for a family reunion.  While younger members climbed a mountain, rode on a zipline, rode horses, swam, roller skated, etc., I chose to spend part of almost every day sitting outdoors in beautiful settings, such as the one above, painting.  It was fortunate that husband and I reached the reunion site in our minivan.  This gave me plenty of room to bring along everything I usually take with me when I plein air paint.  My equipment includes a heavy French easel, a lawn chair, a TV tray, canvases, palette, water, paper towels.  The list can go on and on.

But what if I couldn’t reach my destination totally by car?  There is a trip I’m planning in the future where I will need to take a plane to my destination and then rent a car.  Airlines are very particular about what a person can take, how much it can weigh, etc.  So I’ve been doing some advanced planning.  I don’t want to spend a lot of money on new equipment.  But here’s what I’ve come up with.

Instead of a heavy easel I’m going to borrow a music stand from a daughter.  I’m hoping that will work as an easel unless there is a lot of wind.  I found a large suitcase in the basement which my TV tray will just barely fit in.  I have looked on line and found that Dick’s Sporting Goods has a portable, fold up stool on sale for only 20$.  I plan to take three canvases that will each fit inside the other, 16″ x 20″, 14″ x 18″, and 12″ x 16.”  I’ll take my paper palette and only a few, mostly large, tubes of paint in basic colors that I can mix.  My water container will be plastic.

Now I only need to figure out how to include clothing, shoes, and kit for personal care.  I’ve never tried taking painting supplies on a plane before but I’m hoping for the best.

Stems Plein Air

Arboretum II, acrylic, 17" x 20"

Arboretum II, acrylic, 17″ x 20″

May 26, 2013

It’s been several years since I’ve participated in a plein air event and I’m so glad Stems Plein Air was available locally and that I have been able to be a part of it.  In the past I’ve had to drive some distance and stay in a motel to attend plein air events.  This one at the Overland Park Arboretum is only about an hour’s drive from my house.  I’ve even found a way to drive there that doesn’t involve rush hour traffic.

The weather has been just about perfect so far.  No rain or high winds and just a little cold weather one morning.  This arboretum is a huge place with both forest and flower gardens.  Fortunately, the flower gardens are near the entrance.  They are supposedly based on Monet’s gardens in France where he painted as a senior citizen painter.

This is a very laid back kind of event, which suits me perfectly.  Artists come and go as they please and there are not a huge number of them.  There are a couple competitive events, but I’m skipping those.  I just show up on the days that I choose, set up my easel so that it doesn’t interfere with visitors to the garden and paint.  Like Monet, I love flowers and there are a lot in bloom right now, poppies, irises, alium, peonies, etc.  There are also various water features, including a Monet style bridge.  When I go back to my car for lunch and a rest, I just leave my easel where it is.

A difference between this event and others I’ve attended, which were in small towns and the surrounding area, is that this is a popular public place so there are lots of visitors, who, of course, are intrigued by what the artists are doing.  On Monday a busload of school children showed up.  I didn’t mind them looking, since they pronounced my work awesome.  On Tuesday the Arboretum does not charge admission, so that day I saw a number of young families with children not yet old enough to be in school.  I overheard a parent admonish a little one, “You can play with ants and rolly pollies at home.  We are here to look at the beautiful flowers.”  In the restroom I heard, “Use three and save a tree.”  On Wednesday the gardens were swarming with volunteer Master Gardners who come each Wednesday morning to plant, weed, and do whatever is required to keep the gardens looking beautiful.

The above painting is just one of the souveniers I’ll have to remind me of a very special time.

What is Beautiful?

Wild Flower Sampler, acrylic, 18" x 14"

Wild Flower Sampler, acrylic, 18″ x 14″

Beautiful Weeds, acrylic, 14" x 18"

Beautiful Weeds, acrylic, 14″ x 18″

May 13, 2013

I’ve found that people have very different ideas about what is beautiful.  I paint with a woman whose husband is a farmer.   When we got together to paint last week, I saw a large swath of delicate lavendar blossoms on their land and just had to paint it.  I called the painting “Beautiful Weeds'” because my friend’s husband regards the hen bite with the lavendar blossoms that appears about this time every year as a weed that must be gotten rid of.  As I drove nearer to their house I saw in another field bands of yellow flowers that I hope to paint this week, weather permitting, if they have not been poisoned out of existence by then.  I was told they too are regarded as weeds.

Then there is the ever present dandelion which has appeared in a couple of my paintings.  I wonder who first declared them weeds instead of wild flowers.  Sometimes it seems to me that anything that grows easily and will survive almost any extreme of weather is automatically classified as a weed.  Plants that are harder to grow and that die quickly if conditions aren’t just right are more valued and are called flowers.

Next week I’ll be participating in Stems Plein Air at the Overland Park, Kansas, Arboretum.  I’m hoping for lots of genuine flowers to paint, along with an absence of rain, wind, and cold weather.  I can dream, can’t I?

 

A Meaningful Experience

April on Schwarz Road, Acrylic, 20" x 16"

April on Schwarz Road, Acrylic, 20″ x 16″

The Lawrence Art Guild’s annual Art in the Park took place the first Sunday in May, a cold and dreary day that saw artists wrapped in blankets  orcoats while they sat with their exhibits.  In spite of the weather  there was a fairly good sized crowd, many walking dogs of every description, others pushing strollers containing warmly dressed toddlers.  I sat shivering in my chair at the entry to my tent as people complimented my display of paintings and then purchased either a $2.50 card or nothing at all.

When I returned from a short break, a fellow artist told me someone had photographed one of my paintings.  Soon husband called saying he had given my number to a former neighbor who would call me.  She was interested in the painting pictured above.

I had painted that scene two years ago at a time when my painting group was meeting only sporadically and I was eager to be outdoors painting, since I think Lawrence is at its most beautiful in April.  I decided to do what Monet did as a senior citizen, paint on his own property.  So I sat in my front yard and painted.  To me it was a so so painting, but to the young woman who called me it had a much deeper meaning.

The brown house behind the hedges was where she had grown up, being raised by her grandparents who were now deceased.  She told me her husband had taken their daughters to Art in the Park.  When he saw my painting, he recognized the house and photographed it.  “I cried when I saw it”, she said.  “I have to have that painting.  Please save it for me”  She came by that evening to buy it.  I had not seen much of her in recent years, but I remembered the little girl who lived next door.  I am glad that she has a painting that means so much to her.