Sunday, September 25, 2011

Watching Monarchs

Sometimes an art blog just has to be about art of another kind.

I’m a fairly lazy gardener, letting pretty much anything green fill the spaces between the black-eyed susans and the coneflowers, which are kind enough to re-seed themselves yearly.  When I found a common milkweed hiding at the back of the garden I was fine with it.  Not only would it add some greenery by the alley, it might also attract a few monarch butterflies.  In fact, I was delighted to find at least a dozen monarch caterpillars munching on its milky leaves.

Suddenly I’m a sixth grader again, dashing into the house in search of empty jars for housing my new family of potential butterflies. 

Many of my blog posts have been about reminding you, dear reader, how easy it is to find wonderful things right under our noses.
It is understandable that you may not have milkweeds in your well-tended gardens or may choose not to scout for caterpillars, and finding a chrysalis among the leaves is not easy.  Plus, there's the added responsibility of housing and feeding these creatures.  It took several forays into the countryside to find enough milkweed leaves to feed these voracious eaters.  And then there's keeping the jars clean; food in, food out, y'know? To spare you the trouble of putting on your own monarch rodeo, I’ll let you in on the excitement from a safe distance.

This is a great shot of 3 stages of development. About a week separates the  freshest chrysalis (middle) from the most mature (far right).

This one is just a few hours short of "blossoming". When I came back a few hours later, I found

this fine fellow clinging tenaciously to the lid, the skin of its protective sheath hanging empty beside it. If there had been snow on the ground I could have called it Christmas and been thoroughly satisfied.
Some moments in life are extra special, and this is one of those. I'll keep it in my memory to savor, and when I see the butterflies come back through next spring, I'll imagine that perhaps my little jelly jar houses played a small part in their amazing migration.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Thousand Words

What does an artist do when they just don’t feel like painting?

I snuggle up in big soft chair and leaf through my favorite books.

Disclaimer:  To be honest, I don’t actually read these books. I mostly page through them, every now and then stopping to peruse a chapter or a paragraph.  I’d probably be a better painter if I actually read the sentences, paragraphs and chapters in the order they were written.  I’ll start doing that as soon as I hop off that stationary bike we bought back when it seemed like a good idea to ride a bike inside instead of going for a ride outside, where we might get somewhere.

But I digress.

Here’s what’s piled up by my favorite chair:
Books about Claude Monet and John Singer Sargent. Duh, I look through these for the paintings,  of course.  Every now and then I actually read the words, but not very often.
     "Claude Monet, Life and Work", by Virginia Spate.  ©1992 Thames and Hudson Ltd, London (Out of print)
     "John Singer Sargent, The Sensualist", Trevor Fairbrother, ©2000 Seattle Art Museum
Another disclaimer:  I'm not an investor in Amazon Books.  These were the most direct links to the books I could find. Look them up yourselves if you'd rather.
I love paging through  "Alla Prima, A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Direct Painting", by Al Gury. (©2008 Al Gury, Watson-Guptill Publications). The paintings chosen to represent what Gury is talking about are beautiful.  Quite honestly, I get a little lost in the text; he is, after all, a college professor.  Skip the intro and go for the 'how-to' parts. Luckily for me he showcases diverse artists like Jon Redmond, Cecilia Beaux and WalterSchofield.  

     "Harley Brown’s Eternal Truths for Every Artist", by Harley Brown, International Artist Publishing, Inc. (Sorry, I couldn't find a copyright date.)
This book always makes me smile. It is visually gorgeous, and written with wit and a deep understanding of what it takes to make great art. Brown takes complicated ideas, like color theory, and shakes out the simple parts for his readers without taking himself too seriously.  I love it for the images, and the fact that I can read just one page and still learn something.
     "Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting", by John Carlson. (©1929 John Carlson, © 1953 Sterling Publishing Co., ©1973 Dover Publications, Inc.)
John Carlson would have been an amazing teacher. A huge plus is that his writing style is clear, concise, descriptive and charming. As I read, and re-read I find that I’ve already underlined many of his beautifully worded explanations and, in fact, have circled entire paragraphs.  The images of his work are in black and white, but still gorgeous and informative.
Of course, there's always Alyson Stanfield's  "I'd Rather be in the Studio", affectionately known as "IRBITS". (©2008 Alyson Stanfield, published by Pentas Press, Colorado.)

     "Composition, A Painter’s Guide to Basic Problems and Solutions", by John Friend.  (©1975 John Friend, Published by Watson-Guptill Publications.)

I’ve had this on my bookshelf for probably 20 years, and am just now realizing what a gold mine it is.  Reading about composition is not the most exciting, or easy way to spend a rainy day. There are no funny characters or fiendish sub-plots to keep me interested. To his credit, Friend is a clear communicator who uses lots of ‘before and after’ images to explain what good composition in painting is about.

 Mostly I admire the images. After all, one picture is worth a thousand words.

What's on your reading list?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lessons from a Big Yellow Dog

Early this morning Handsome Husband and I took off for our daily walk.  The weather was exquisite; cool, windless, quiet, the bright colors of summer sliding into muted tones of autumn.  As usual we were planning our day, or re-visiting yesterday’s tasks. I honestly don’t remember.
A few blocks into our walk we were joined by a big yellow dog.  I was going to say he followed us, but that wouldn’t be accurate.  Ahead of us, to the side, but rarely behind us, he loped, leapt and scampered along managing at least five miles to our three.  
Nothing escaped him, and everything delighted him.  Puddles hidden in high weeds by the road were a special surprise and he spent several moments in play, literally jumping up and down purely for the splash. 
While Blondie shared our walk, he rarely seemed concerned with us and never got close enough to touch.  It was as if we were there simply to watch him play.
©2011Patricia Scarborough  Song of Spring  30x40 oil
And then he was gone.  Whether he returned home, or found more interesting companions, we’ll never know. 
We humans could take a lesson from a big yellow dog. It’s actually a pretty interesting place we live in, full of smells and textures and hidden puddles waiting to be discovered.  It wouldn’t hurt us to take a different path, or no path at all once in awhile, just for the heck of it. Or splash in a puddle just to watch the water fly.
 If you’re too old to run through a grassy field, at least walk down the sidewalk with your chin up and your eyes open. 
You might meet a furry friend who would walk with you for just a while, and let you see the world through new eyes.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunny Dispositions

Much to the dismay and astonishment of my farming friends, I plant sunflowers every spring. 

In rural areas where farming is the main business, sunflowers are considered a weed of the first order.  Wild sunflowers, rangy and invasive, take valuable nutrients from “real” crops and their tough, ropy stems get tangled in farm machinery as it passes by. I’ve witnessed a few of these wrestling matches, and I appreciate the farmer’s frustration.
I, however, am not a farmer. I plant sunflowers because they make me happy.  I don’t believe it’s possible to look up at a towering sunflower, brilliant yellow leaves surrounding a dinner plate-sized face, and not smile. They're regal, and a bit silly looking, and are perfect for painting.

©2011 Patricia Scarborough  Salute!  12 x 12 oil
It's a joy to paint such a happy thing.  It's not often a painter gets the opportunity to squeeze out a variety of yellows, scoop them up unmixed and pure, and slather them onto a canvas - yet that's what it takes. The kindergartener in me is renewed.

Summer is waning and the sunflowers have begun to droop under their heavy load of mature seeds.  Cardinals, finches, flickers and others will sit atop the drying heads and reach over for a snack.  Nuthatches have the advantage, being able to climb under the drooping head to reach the tasty center seeds.  It won’t surprise me to see a squirrel or two to catch on and climb the sturdy thick stalks and munch on whatever is left. 
All I will have then are the memories of blue skies and wide, wide faces circled with sunny yellow.  That alone is enough to make me smile.