Sunday, October 26, 2008

Recipe for Success

Before we left on our trip up north last week, I had the opportunity to share my experience with the Grand Island Sketch Club. They're a great group of dedicated artists who meet once a month to learn from each other and invited guests.

I started out with a demonstration, which is how most classes begin. The goal is to share the kinds of techniques and decisions one makes on the way to a successful painting.

I liken the act of creating a painting to being a chef in the kitchen. Follow along carefully.

When a master baker creates a beautiful weding cake, they don't normally start by putting out the tiny, delicate sugar roses. Not if they want a happy bride and goom they don't.

A successful recipe follows a certain, proven order. The baker beats the eggs, softens the butter, sifts flour and adds the ingredients in the proper sequence using the proper tools. The oven is pre-heated, and the mix is baked for the right amount of time. Even cooling the cake layers is handled carefully, removing the cooked batter from the pan at just the right time and letting it stand to firm up properly.

Then the baker worries about the frosting, or fondant, or whatever. Only when the baker is certain the frosting looks just right does she bring out all the frou-frou, the little icing do-dads. Then, and only then, does she delicately place a few perfect little roses in just the right place. Voila!

You can't hurry those people. If they try to rush the process, or change the order, the cake goes soft in the middle, the fondant falls and the roses roll right onto the floor. It's an unhappy time.

It's really no different creating a painting.

Make certain you're working with a good recipe. Use the best tools available to you. Get the foundation of the painting correct before you move on. Is everything in the proper place? If not, now's the time to stop and correct anything you're not sure of. Rushing the process is extremely tempting because those sugar roses is where the fun is. That lovely flourish is what people see first and congratulate you for. Who wouldn't want to dive right in to the best part?

However, putting those roses on before the cake is ready is a recipe for trouble. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that pun.) Adding highlights and final marks to your painting before you've got your composition down solid, or before you've got your supporting shapes and values in will lead you to frustration.

Just a little recipe for success from my kitchen to yours.

I leave you with a lovely photo from my trip north. We're still basking in the relaxation of our time there.
Enjoy our view from the top of Sugar Mountain.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Dear Hubby, Fine Son and I just spent several days in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with my Sis and her husband at their cabin. It's so far north that every direction is south.

It's a beautiful spot. Brilliant birch, deep dark pines, burning red maples. No neighbors, no noise, no traffic.

No electricity. . . no plumbing . . . no internet . . . no television . . .

Just each other.

It's amazing what people do when there's no distraction. We actually talked to each other. Laughed with and at each other. Watched the stars. Stared at the fire. Read books. Chatted some more, remembering when we were kids. (Did my sis and I have the same childhood?)

It was life unplugged. And it was lovely. We walked for miles kicking up golden birch leaves. The guys fished and kayaked. Hubby, casting for musky quite vigorously, tipped his kayak over into the icy, tea-colored water, besting any roller-coaster ride for thrills and chills. We ventured up to Sugar Mountain and imagined being the first among the miles of trails wandering through the wilderness.

At no time did we wonder what was on channel 5. Or channel 204. Or the radio for that matter. We were living fully and in the fullness of the present moment.

It won't be long and we'll be back among paved streets and tv satellite dishes. We'll settle into our forced-air-heated home, check the fridge repeatedly in hopes that someone actually cooked something, and stare at the television hoping to be stimulated. (Is that an oxymoron?)

And soon we'll take an evening to sit on the patio wrapped in blankets and watch the stars. We'll re-live the hikes and the laughter. We'll leave the tv off and dream.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Art of the Decision

My friend Mavis and I were having a discussion recently about making decisions. Conversation centered around just how one goes about deciding to decide. We shared techniques used to get us to the point where we're comfortable taking a particular direction, and laughed at some of the coin-flipping, universe-manipulating maneuvers in our repertoire.

What I've come to is this:

Sometimes action is what you have to take. In our search for solutions to our weaknesses we dither and wait for an answer from a greater source. Through prayer and meditation questions are asked and answers waited for. Sometimes we pray more and meditate more and wait more until we get the answer we're looking for.

I think Nike had it right. Just do it.

Take action. It's movement, active learning. Unless you're diving out of a plane, most things can be corrected if you decide you're on the wrong path. Pay a little bit of attention as you go and see what you learn.

Then again -

Action for the sake of action is actually counter-productive. My friend Kay calls is being bizzy. When you're being bizzy dashing about multi-tasking and committing to committees and buzzing about your bizziness, what are you not thinking about? What are you not committing to? What are you not attending to? It really doesn't hurt to pause ocasionally, look up and consider where you are. If you are on the wrong path, you'll know it soon enough. If you feel good about your progress, the short time you spend in consideration won't hurt anything.

So how to decide?

I suppose one decides in the same way one dives off a diving board. Get into position. Plan your steps (there's only room for a couple of them) take a breath and ... jump. It's part consideration, part preparation, a little practice and a jump.

Funny thing is, I was thinking about all this in terms of art projects. I was wondering how to proceed on a painting, whether to change directions or proceed as planned.

Maybe what's good for an art project is good for life.

What do you learn from your art?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Plein Aire Slapstick

I always thought being a plein aire artist was sort of a romantic endeavor. The artist, dressed in a really cool hat, would wander the countryside, setting up under a spreading tree in harmony with the world. That is, until I started actually doing it myself.

I wrote in a previous post about the insidious spreading of red paint after a mishap on an early plein aire trip. My plan was to show you photos of my latest excursion, only, well, there was nothing in the photo. Literally nothing.

I spent an hour or two "learning", which is a nice word for making mud. I remembered that I wanted to document the trip, so I walked with my camera about 4 feet in front of, and a bit over to the side of, my easel. Carefully I set the camera on a post and set the timer. My timer is set, I've got about 8 seconds to get back to my easel and act like I'm having a great time painting. I never made it.

Two steps into my mad dash I disappeared into a deep ditch that had been completely disguised by tall grass. After plunging for what seemed like minutes and miles I finally and luckily hit soft bottom. Regaining my feet, I rose to find myself eye level to the ground, face to face with a large green grasshopper.

Do you have those moments when you question your career choice?

I have a nice photo of my easel, standing alone by the side of the road.

So just to prove I'm somewhat capable, I'm going to share an image of another plein aire trip. Not a ditch within a half mile.