This painting combines several ideas that I have visited before in my imagery: birds, terrariums, and landscape. However, by bringing those elements together in an invented space I have done something new for me right now.
The result - I now have more questions then answers about where I'm going with my imagery. I definitely see this as a transitional piece.
In the MFA program I am currently enrolled, I get a lot of thoughtful feedback from inside the art school world. This work was a part of my presentation to my critique group yesterday. So, I'm curious, from outside that environment, what ideas do you read in this work?
It's been rainy. This year's total rain to date in the Philadelphia area has already surpassed our annual average by 2 inches and it's only early October. In fact, as I write we have another flood watch from the remnants of Hurricane Michael.
I painted this scene in Wayne, Pa in May. The Wayne Art Center hosts a renown annual, week-long Plein Air Festival and with that they organized an open, one-day "paint-out." The rules were to start painting after 6 am, paint somewhere in downtown Wayne, then turn in the work (framed) by 1pm the same day. With such limited parameters, one generally cannot pick the weather. That day I woke up to the sound of heavy downpour, but I packed my things and started my 40 minute drive anyway. Thankfully by the time I arrived it was not longer actively raining. Working in watercolor...on paper... doesn't work too well outside when it's raining. However, it was still so dark due to the heavy cloud cover that the streetlight was on. This and the reflections in the puddles really set a mood that resonated with me.
When I turned in my painting I saw the other 20 or so other paintings that were also painted in Wayne that morning. I was a bit surprised to see so many sunny scenes! I know that we artists are skilled in creating light sources in our work and that higher contrast is generally more pleasing to look at, but, call me crazy... I happened to find that the most interesting feature of the scene was the weather.
I hope that someone who looked at that hallway of paintings understood. My poor "Morning Rain" among the work of all those sunny-day painters probably looked pretty sad. Finding beauty in the rain is not terribly common, but especially in this extra rainy year, I hope you can see it.
P.S. Morning Rain is still available at Borelli's Chestnut Hill Gallery.
Last week I set a challenge for myself - to draw/paint birds only from direct observation and memory, not from photos. This is quite a challenge because, as you know, they don't stay still for long.
I've been watching birds at my feeder for a few years now. With my backyard bird guide I've learned to identify most common birds in our corner of Pennsylvania, I know a few bird songs, and with my new challenge I decided to study bird anatomy, especially their skeletal structure. I felt ready.
Then, a great gift fell from the sky. The day after I set this challenge, my family found a deceased blue jay on the sidewalk near my children's bus stop. I came home as soon as I could to get to work.
I learned so much from my time with this jay. I made this painting from direct observation. When I was done, I gave her a proper burial.
I figured out in the following days that she was one of the regular birds that came to our bird feeders because, sadly, now only one blue jay comes when there used to be two. While I am certainly not glad that this dear bird died, I am grateful for the time I had with her and it just seems so uncanny that she came to me just when I felt ready for her.
The weather threatened just enough for me to set up my easel inside, rather than outside, the studio of Andrew Wyeth during the Philadelphia Watercolor Society’s On Location: Artists at Brandywine event this past June. Of course, I had to take special precautions due to the historical significance of the place. I brought in a 60 gallon unused trash bag as a drop cloth, laid it on the floor, set up, and began to paint.
The feeling was surreal. At once I felt a reverence for the space. It felt very private, a lot like the man who used this former schoolhouse as a studio for nearly 70 years. I also never shook the feeling that I shouldn’t be there. While I may have been sensing a little disturbance from the usual protocol from the museum security personnel, maybe I was also sensing the spirit of Andrew Wyeth himself. The sign on the door does still read, “I AM WORKING SO PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB. I do not sign autographs.”
The light diffusing through the window of the kitchen, whose appliances and accouterment speak of another era, interested me. As I painted I made choices about what to include and what to leave out. In the end, I am happy with the mood that this painting conveys.
Until September 27th you can see this painting in person at Borrelli’s Chestnut Hill Gallery just a few steps from the intersection of Germantown Ave and Gravers Lane.
Now that I'm commuting to downtown Philly most days, expect to see some more Philadelphia scenes. My new digs are at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (the oldest art school in the U.S.) as I toil away for two years toward a Masters degree in Fine Arts.
Today, I biked 13 miles from my house to the school. I'm glad I had my mini pallette of paints (in an Altoids tin) with me because, of course, I stopped to paint a few times.
Here is one of my sketches. On this 90 degree day, Swann Fountain at Logan Circle was a popular wading spot. Despite the fact that going into the fountain is not allowed. Thankfully, on a day like today, that rule is not enforced.
I decided to focus on the fish that I never noticed before in the sculpture. This figure with it is a Lenape who represents the Delaware River. The other two Native American figures not pictured have swans with them... pun intended by Alexander Stirling Calder, father of the more famous modern artist Alexander Calder... and they represent the Schuylkill River and Wissahickon Creek. The fountain is a memorial to Dr. Swann, who as founder of the Philadelphia Fountain Society made sure that horses, dogs and pedestrians had many places around the city to hydrate in the late 19th century.
Thank you, Dr. Swann!
Last week we visited family in North Carolina. This year we stayed near the Oak Island Lighthouse at Caswell Beach and the morning view from our front porch took me in the first day. The town of Southport is off in the distance to the left.
I couldn't help but think of a hilarious segment entitled "Watercolor Hotline" that my dear student Terry shared with me earlier this summer. I think their advice really worked! (Listen for yourself here.)
The view held me still that afternoon when I painted this cloud study. It might be missing something though. What's that number again? Ring Ring..Watercolor Hotline.
Ravenna, in the Basilica di San Vitale, flooded with midsummer light, is where I found myself on the day before my departure from Italy when I took the reference photo for this painting in July 1998.
I had made a solo pilgrimage to see the mosaics and pay my respects at the resting place of Dante who had been my guide to seeing Florence since the very beginning.
The Basilica di San Vitale, an ancient octagonal structure covered in sparkling mosaics, was completed in 547 AD and the experience of being there stands in my top ten moments of amazement.
In this painting I revisited a photographic image I took in 1998 with a medium format camera that my grandfather had given me. (Sadly the camera was stolen from me in Spain later that summer.) On that day I explored the roads that traverse the hill up to the Piazzale Michelangelo with that spectacular view of the heart of Florence. I was likely alone, like this woman pictured.
I also made a tiny etching (2 x 3 inches) based on this photo in 2011. Since then the image has been quite metaphorical to me. The wall is a barrier that has come to mean not just distance of place, but time. I was lucky enough to be in Florence a few weeks ago, but during that visit I could only travel alongside my memories. My experience there as a 20-something year old art student/English teacher lives in some sort of a parallel universe.
For several years now, I have keep travel journals of our family vacations. Sure, it takes a good amount of time to complete, but I find that capturing the moment in our family life to be priceless. For this trip, the travel journal doubled as my plein air sketchbook.
We went to Italy. It was a big trip. My focus was to show the kids some of the places I love in Florence and to discover the Eternal City (Rome). And, as a teacher, I couldn't help but to make an educational experience out of it, so I made sure that my kids knew about Brunelleschi, Galileo, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Dante as well as a few words of Italian before we left.
Personally, I prepared myself by reading several books. Caroline Murphy's books on Isabella de Medici (Murder of a Medici Princess, 2008) and Felice della Rovere (The Pope's Daughter, 2005) connected a lot of the history for me. E. M. Forster's A Room with a View (1908) and Mary McCarthy's The Stones of Florence (1959) despite their distance from my own time there (1998-1999) shared many similarities with the Florence I knew.
Also, I read my old journals. I think 20 years gave me enough distance to see my experience there in a new light. I was glad to carry that understanding with me as I walked those same streets with children in hand.
Fiesole, the ancient Etruscan town, was our first stop. Below the cathedral sits the Roman amphitheater. In the foreground are some remnants of the Roman baths that were once used here. As we walked through, the breeze was divine and the loudest sounds we heard were the birds and locusts.
On our last evening in Florence we climbed up to Forte di Belvedere. Fiesole is visible upon the distant hill to the right. We had a snack while we watched the colors become more and more intense. A glass of crisp white wine from San Gimignano may have been consumed. ;)
Following our four days in Florence, we spent four days in Rome. After a long hot march through the Colosseum and the Roman Forum we found respite at the pizzeria Massenzio ai Fori. I ended my meal with this lovely cup of espresso.
On the last morning, I went for an hour's walk by myself and painted this elephant sculpture carved by Bernini in front of the church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva before the heat rose considerably. Though we greatly enjoyed our entire trip, it was a good day to leave. Ciao Italia!
Ever since I left Florence (Firenze), the city has left a significant mark on my subconscious. I've had hundreds of dreams where I'm there and the realization of where I am elates me. This dream has recurred so many times I could draw you a map of my dream Florence...and since I am awake now I will tell you it varies from the real map of Florence.
This painting is a recent work that I made using a photograph I took in 1998 as reference. As I painted it, I liked how the work took my mind to this subconscious space. I want to spend some more time there as I prepare to take my family to the real Florence. Expect to see more from this series as I engage in my personal preparation for our trip.