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.
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.
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.
At the reception for the Artist in Residence Exhibition last Sunday, the most common question viewers asked me was "What is a nocturne?" (This was second only to, "What do you mean by Ghost Chickens?" See my post from 12/7/17 for the answer to that one.)
Simply stated, nocturne paintings capture something about the twilight or night time. It was already known as a musical term when James Abbott McNeill Whistler first used it in the titles for several paintings in the 1870s. Nocturnes aren't that common and I have 5 of them in the show right now at the Cheltenham Art Center. I suppose that might strike some as strange.
What caught my eye during an evening pass of the Wall House in my car, is the window lights. They almost make this old house seem inhabited in the gloaming.
This was the last painting I completed for this year-long residency at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts. Personally, it marks the end of a body of work where I worked hard to keep focused, and now I look forward to a little experimentation and outdoor adventure. Watch out for the plein air cyclist!
This tree is the same American Elm featured in my last post, except at night. Which brings me to the theme that emerged in my work for this artist residency... night and day.
There is something I find very pleasing in the way that the dark layers of paint allow the lights to shine.
I find it hard to believe that the end of my residency at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts is upon me. The studio, the community, the commute along the creek... pretty soon will not be a part of my daily routine. I am so grateful for the support I have received in building this body of work!
All of the paintings feature aspects of my hometown, both during the day and at night. I hope you will have a chance to see the exhibition between May 20 and June 12. The reception is on Sunday, May 20th from 2pm - 4pm.
Including figures in a landscape painting is a challenge. Why include them? Scale and interest. Do I include them in my landscapes? I'm working on it. Look, there are a few in this painting!
Howard Watson first brought this concept onto my radar last year. It was a profound moment when I realized how the narrative of a work could suddenly become so much more. For example, instead of just showing a spring house, I could tell a history that there used to be a chicken coop in the upper part of the structure by including some chickens. See Ghost Chickens.
In this painting here, I was first interested in how the light creates the space at this time of day. However, when I added those commuters who are coming off the train and either walking home or going to one of those cars...there is a whole new story. In fact, is that you in my painting? Maybe.
I'm currently attending a short course at the Wayne Art Center with Mick McAndrews on this art of putting figures in a landscape. Mick is a great guide. (See his amazing work here.) So, I feel there will be more figures to come in my work.
Be careful, if you haven't already...you might find your way into one of my paintings.
So, High School Park got a new sign. Now rather than just being inside the heads of those who know, anyone from anywhere who drives by Montgomery and High School Road can know that this is, in fact, a park. It's so simple yet so profound!
It's a new year and I find this always to be a rich opportunity for goal setting. As I develop my watercolor painting practice, my next step up is to work larger. I have dearly enjoyed painting a (usually) 5 x 7 inch work each week for two years (plus some), but I feel a need to change the pattern. Gasp!
In 2018, as I paint larger, I'll post every other week.