Thursday, September 22, 2011

Coming Out of a Slump

"Slump? I ain't in no slump...I just ain't hitting. Yogi Berra

This summer, I found myself in a place that-for me-is highly unusual. For a period of several weeks it was hard to focus on the act of painting, let alone getting my gear together and schlepping it outdoors where I would be battling the elements, or facing the challenges of a completely new studio work.
It all started in July, when , as we know it gets hot as hell here in Arizona. We planned a trip to Virginia, to visit our son, and I sent my plein air gear ahead, looking forward to lush, cooler green ( very green) landscapes for inspiration. Well, when we arrived, the temps were still 100 plus degrees, with 85% humidity! Egads, mind you, I have painted under many conditions, but that's one I don't recommend.Needless to say, my output was confined to a feeble attempt.

When we returned, I thought I would go through my photos, and sketches eager to start on some painting projects in the comfort of my air-conditioned studio. My half-hearted fits and starts, when looked at with a critical eye, just did not measure up. Quite discouraging, as , quite honestly, the work really stunk. I really just didn't feel like painting.
The days actually stretched in to weeks. I mentioned this to a close friend who commented " I don't EVER remember your going through a period where you weren't inspired by something."
Compounded with this were a few rejections, and the slow sales that have been plaguing us all. ( Mind you, I had a few nice acceptances, but why IS it that the negatives seem to take over the good stuff? All of this added up to a case of " just what is the point?

I posted a brief mention of my dilemma on FB, and I did get some great feedback.Some of the suggestions were:
"Try a different media"
"Experiment with technique", both of which I practice as a matter of course, to avoid going stale;
also: "Give yourself simple exercises"- good,
" Sculpture"- I don't know about that one,;I have a whole studio full of paints, boards, papers, etc. that I was just not using- and besides- my previous attempts looked like the god-awful creations in the movie Beetlejuice...remember those?
and, I do have a few of my own like:
"Clean the studio"- works great sometimes, or:
"Prepare boards or canvases"...
I did work on my web site, so that was good.

So, I dug out my watercolors, ( which, as primarily a pastel and oil artist these days was different ) and went out on a hike , still in my black and blue funk. Needless to say my efforts that day were awful.

My biggest fan, dear hubby Wayne came up with a suggestion; to just go out with a sketchbook.

"Just draw, hon".

I've often said that this is what artists do not do enough of. Granted, I do almost always start out my major pieces with a preliminary sketch, and often do thumbnails with my plein air work...

But, just draw.

I have, for my entire career, had the habit of always having a small sketchbook with me. Unaware models have been in airports, restaurants, and, perhaps my favorite, the movie theatre, waiting for the lights to dim.
Of late, because I've been working hard on sharpening my plein-air skills, and the desire to continue raising the bar for my work as a whole, I've put great pressure on myself. It just wasn't fun. At all.

So, I allowed myself to not even worry about the next painting. I sat in the afternoons, and just leisurely drew the objects around me. The joy of watching how light filters through ice cubes in a glass was simple, but quite welcome. In the evening, I sketched my hubby as he watched television. No pressure.
This past weekend I went for a lovely hike. I let go of the voice that always says "I should be out here painting, or " where is a good spot to set up"?
I had my water, snacks, and a sketchbook. that's IT.
I enjoyed the simplicity, and surprisingly, I found I seemed to notice a lot more.
This doesn't mean that I've given up painting in any way, shape or form. It has become too large a part of my life. ( Maybe that was part of the problem.)
It just means that by getting back to basics, I can go back to the studio with literally , a clearer picture of " making art."

The current projects are coming along. Yesterday I went out and produced a decent plein-air piece. Sure, I'll have some stinkers along the way, but this break from forced creativity, in addition to the constant pressure of self- promotion, marketing, and competing in this crowded art- biz was just so necessary.

So I drew myself out of a slump.

" I never ever thought I was in a slump. As far as I was concerned, tomorrowI was always going to get my hits, regardless of what I did today." - Yogi Berra

Oh, sure, I'm certain that I'll still have some stinkers; as artists we all do, and I don't care who you are. This is part of the art game, and something I've always been able to deal with. I just put them aside, and look at them a few days, or even years later.

This time was different. I'm still working things out, but I realize that life is too short and precious to not simply, visually enjoy the moments we are given.

...and I can just feel some real gems coming right around the corner.

Monday, August 8, 2011


"Stickman " sculpture
Our ride
Nicoise Salad
Recently I returned from a trip to Richmond, Va, to visit our son, who was celebrating a special birthday.
As with most trips I take these days, I had intended to combine our stay with some plein air painting, and perhaps a gallery visit or two; conducting some business.
The temperatures in the high 90's and even some triple digit days said otherwise. Mind you, now that we live in Arizona, 101 degrees isn't really out of the norm, but combine that with 80% humidity, and the plein air painting literally went out the window.
Since I was purposefully " unconnected", this made for a true vacation.
Days and evenings were spent seeing the sites ( a few days in a '68 Chrysler Newport convertible fun in itself! ), going to the movies, visiting museums and botanical gardens, sporting events , and, oh yeah, a lot of good food. Some was in terriffic restaurants, some prepared at home... I discovered only a few years ago that I actually like to cook.
The sculpture at the top of the page is at the Ginter gardens, and was created specifically for the site, by Patrick Dougherty, . I was not familiar with his work, and loved it immediately. This was one of two formal gardens I went to... so nice to experience lush greenery and colorfully planted blooms at their peak.I also visited the Virginia Fine Arts Museum, where I spent a lovely, cool afternoon with some of my favorite impressionists, and also saw exciting contemporary works , as well as african and ancient egyptian pieces. Not something I get to enjoy everyday here. It was such a nice change to just look at art , without feeling any pressure whatsoever to try to emulate , incorporate, deconstruct, or judge!
The third photo is of a summer salad that I like to make, inspired by all of the great fresh fish that we on my return this was the version.
The recipe is simple, and will be for two:
Nicoise Salad
Fresh tuna steak , broiled aso desired ( or canned may be substituted)
Two hard cooked , sliced eggs, A couple of firm fleshed , sliced, cooked potatoes ( I used a handful of several small gold), Crisp-cooked fresh green beans , ( or asparagus will work)
Good black olives. Roast red peppers, if desired.
All of this is arranged on a large platter of spring greens.
It is drizzled with a very simple dressing of olive oil, white wine vinegar, and a sprinkling of
provencal herbs. That's it!
Now, you may wonder how it was a vacation if I cooked...the key was that I did just when I wanted to, and no more!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sixties Nostalgia

" Tina's Dream " detail from an oil at Ian Russell fine art,
"Blue Mood", a street in Clarkdale .
Of late, I've been thinking a lot about the times when I grew up, which was the early to mid-sixties. " Mad Men" trendiness aside, I'm not sure exactly why.
A fun way to satisfy the yearnings has been to paint a series of works with cars from the era as subject, placed in appropriate settings.The first one in the series was a Chevy Impala, which I placed in my driveway at the time. ( Apropos...always my dream car).
Living here, in Arizona, it's not hard to find subjects that fit this whim.
Many of the streets in Clarkdale are right from out of the 1950's, replete with vehicles that are still being driven. It's quite refreshing to be in a place where the corner gas station is still as it was, with attendants whoactually pump gas, and a " ding-ding " air hose. ( I did get depressed recently after I rode across the hose on my bike, and it went ding-ding; something that did not happen when I was a kid riding my bike on the hoses; I guess I'm lucky that the station didn't explode under my adult weight.)
Homes that were built in the early 20th century have been left intact, and there are no convenience stores, nor a Burger King on the corner. Of course, now and then I do need my fix of Target or Kohl's, and to stock up on enough cereal for six months and a gross of tissue boxes at Sam's, just like everyone else.
I do feel fortunate that live near a little town that's like a snapshot from the mid-century. All across the US are pockets where time has stood still. Sometimes you have to look, but they are there.
Must be a boomer thing.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Inspiration From Out of the Void

"Harvest Moon Memory" oil on panel, 9x12

Several weeks ago while listening to NPR I heard an interesting story about a ten -year old girl who had discovered a Super Nova. "Wow" I thought ; "How wonderfully exciting for her", and I got very excited. It sounded like this young lady is definitely headed for a very bright future in the sciences.
The funny thing is, that my enthusiasm carried over in to the studio, and I began to see things with fresh eyes. I had a very good start on a new painting that I had wanted to get going on. ( We all know that it does not always go well). And, later that day I learned that I had been invited to teach a workshop in another state. What a great day!
The experience really brought to focus the whole concept of a healthy interest in, and cheering on of others in the same field, versus competition and jealousies. It is human nature to feel envy; I admittedly have when I learn of an acquaintance winning a major award, particularly if I had been rejected from the same show.I've also been on the receiving end of resentment for my own good fortune. It really isn't any fun, either. But, I must say that I've been getting much better at dealing with those feelings.
It feels so much better to express genuine happiness with another's success. I honestly do get excited when I learn of a colleague's achevements; even more so when it's a personal friend. And, I now know that the "sharing" of good feelings can translate to productive creativity.
By the way, the young astronomer's name is Kathryn Gray, and she is encouraged by her Dad, who is also in the field. He certainly cheered her on. And, she in turn, really inspired me to carry on in my own work to help celebrate this universe full of wonder.
The above painting was done from memory. I had been out with a good friend ( we're always enthusiastic about one another's kudos) one evening, and witnessed the moon rising above a favorite orchard. Gorgeous!
The next day, I painted this, drawing upon my plein air nocturne work, and the numerous studies done in similar orchards.
So, the next time you may feel jealous pangs when someone has turned out a spectacular work, or sold a large series of work, or even won accolades in a completely unrelated field, celebrate along with them. You never know what the ripple effect may be.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Steamy Greens

Just a few weeks ago we returned to our Arizona home , after having visited NY state's Hudson Valley area. The main purpose was to re-connect with dear friends and family. It was wonderful to be with special people, and to see for ourselves that all is well.

Some of the special memories are watching the gorgeous " ponies" race in Saratoga, a private evening boat ride on the Hudson River, dinner out on a hometown ( Rosendale ) street where a movie was being made, going out painting with a good friend in a charming garden, ( the first image, " Magenta Corner " was from our outing), visiting NYC and seeing the beautifully restored Sorolla murals ... ( not to be missed, by the way- check out ) and a twilight in a friend's garden that felt like being in
"A Midsummer Night's Dream".
And oh yeah...I taught a workshop, too! The second image is a demo I did for the class.
What could be better than going out to a picturesque location, working " en plein air", and sharing some of the knowledge I've accumulated over the years ? The workshop was small, but that meant that I got to paint alongside of my talented students. It's always an honor to teach at the historic Woodstock School of Art.
I had been longing to re-visit , and really missed the 19th century ( and earlier) streets, the richly varied farmer's stands, the lush gardens, and the emerald woods.
I forgot about the humidity.
It's awfully high. It's steamy, it's dank, it's more than damp...
Anyone that knows the area, is aware that is all I need to say about that.
Steamy greens and all, it was a great trip.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Monsoon Season

Here in the land of seemingly endless deep blue skies, red rocks,and high desert scrub, one would not think that there is a rainy season.

Who knew?
I sure didn't, before I moved here. Right in the midst of summer's intensly scorching heat comes a respite in the form of occasional afternoon downpours.
We're lucky enough to have far-off views, so these intense storms are sometimes viewed at a distance. Other times, they'll come up over the hill suddenly. The skies will darken, the wind picks up to a fierce pitch, and huge raindrops, and even hail sometimes pelts the thirsty ground.

"Monsoon Study" , the second work,is a plein air pastel, looking in to such a storm, which is about 15 miles away.

This piece was painted in about 30 minutes, as the light was shifting at lightning speed!

The first piece, is an untitled oil, which I did in the comfort ( and safety ) of my studio from some photos I took in order to later explore these dramatic storms.
There is a great beauty in the intense darks, and highlighted bits of the landscape.
I do love the sunlight, but we all need stormy weather in order to thrive.

Yes, there is a bit of metaphorical musing in this. A recent favorite CD is Mary J. Blige's "Stronger".
She sings " I can see color"... A favorite line is "If April showers bring May flowers, then bring on the rain"...

Words to live by in these difficult times, I think.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I Like Lemons

Sunny yellow lemons are a delight to paint; in fact I don't know if there is a realist painters out there that has not , at one time or another, used them in a still life...The cheery primary color is irresistible- in fact even when I see them piled up in the grocery store, I linger, and enjoy the color.
This painting, "Siracusa Lemons"is a slightly different take on the subject. This small grove is in an ancient quarry , in Sicily.
It was delightful to see them on the tree.
Now that it's summer, and I do like to cook,I like to go for dishes that are minimal fuss, can be made and chilled ahead, and use the wonderful things that are now available. A lot of summer dishes call out for lemon. Here's one I use for green beans: ( I'm not a chef by any means, so things are approximate.)
It will serve two.
Two serving of fresh green beans, washed, and trimmed
Juice and zest of one lemon.
About 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil.
One clove garlic, finely minced ( if desired)
A tablespoon of provencal herbs.
A sprinkling of salt, pepper, to taste.
Cook the beans until just tender, and still retain color.
Whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice. add to this the garlic, herbs, and salt, pepper.
Place beans in bowl, cover with mixture, and chill.
I like to take this out of the 'frig a bit before serving- flavors are fuller at room temp.