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.
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!
'West Chester Storefront Nocturne' is my first plein air nocturne painting. I completed it in October during the Brandywine Valley Plein Air Competition, so I had the support of at least another 20 artists working on the same street at the same time. One looks less crazy if others around you are doing the same thing.
How does one paint outside at night, you ask? Well I did a little research and I found that the best way to see what I'm working on is to wear a baseball hat with lights. Luckily, my dad had supplied my son with one (which I borrowed) in a nice camouflage print. I was styling!
I pulled up this painting because I am currently working on another nocturne painting...which I hope to finish for next week!
What I find most fascinating about the meadow on the top of the hill in High School Park is the fact that under less than 2 feet of soil there is a buried high school. Erected in 1904 and used as the Cheltenham School District High School until 1959 (Go Panthers!), it went up in flames in 1995 and what was left was imploded in order to create the park.
The meadow is mowed each year. This juvenile red maple somehow escaped trimming several years ago to show its spectacular autumn foliage last week before our deep freeze. It's shallow root system isn't bothered by its underground neighbor. What I think is Indiangrass in the foreground captures the light like a brilliant autumn flower that I feel like I'm discovering for the first time this year.
This may be my last outdoor painting for the season since I moved my operations back into my studio last week. But who knows? A 70 degree day may come our way some time in the next few months!
As I was enchantedly drawn out my door to witness this kaleidoscope of color, High School Park (located just one mile from my house) provided me with a lovely semi-private outdoor studio this week. The birds kept me company while I painted this and one other painting.
The ochre area in the foreground is part of the newly installed rain garden which has opened up the back area of the park. Not only will this work ecologically enhance the site, it also has opened up some space to create a great view of the autumn trees.
It is extremely impressive what the group of Friends of High School Park have done in the past few decades to take an abandoned high school building site and turn the space into a reclaimed ecological treasure.
Again, I'm feeling lucky to live in Cheltenham Township.
Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis, the publishing magnate who created the Saturday Evening Post and the Ladies Home Journal among others, once entertained in this ballroom. It's a lovely space, ornate and bright with all of its windows. The grounds are vast and filled with wonderful trees.
As I explore the sites of Cheltenham this one in particular has personal significance to me. In high school, I would walk to Curtis Arboretum to get out into nature. And, following that affection for the place, when I got married, we chose Curtis Hall for our wedding reception. On a most perfect July day we had this place to ourselves. It was amazing.