The Story Behind Any Painting
PAINT WHAT YOU LOVE
Career counselors tell you to do what you love and follow your passion when choosing a career. For me, to paint something I love is one of the best gifts ever. I just love birch trees! They are so interesting to look at, and sadly, on the East Coast they are becoming an endangered species. It seems that our winters aren't as cold as they once were and the elegant birch tree is facing extinction.
I have always said the reason I paint landscapes is because we are running out of landscapes. These elegant ladies and the landscape they inhabit are so important and we need to keep them in our lives as much as possible.
Over the years I have painted all these on-site outdoors in Manchester/Dorset, Vermont and hope to do so as much as time and Nature permit.
BEING IN THE RIGHT PLACE, AT THE RIGHT TIME
Have you ever wondered why a particular photo stands out thru all of history? Far too often they are horrific photos taken in war or are social commentaries. Sometimes they can bring joy and relaxation. Ansel Adams became famous with his box camera because he ventured into unknown reaches of the US West just to photo the deep valleys below and the majestic cliffs above. People never knew of these places
While I can't ever compare myself to any of these wonderful giants, I do believe in being at the right place at the right time. In my case, one very early, cold morning my ski buddy, Lenny and I were barreling along a VT county road enroute to the ski slopes. The sun was about to come up. We had been on this road a dozen times. No big deal. When suddenly the sun suddenly rose above the tree-line. What emerged was a landscape with the most amazing surreal colors...it almost looked like the sky was on fire. Those brief two minutes changed what looked like a sub-zero day in a "hot-house" of rainbow colors. The frozen ice seemed to vibrate with color.
I wasn't prepared with my iPhone and we couldn't stop because the road was too narrow. Boy, did I ever regret not having my camera at the ready. Even though we left for the slopes around the same time we never saw anything those colors again. I looked for weeks. Finally I took a picture of that location...and pulled from my memory bank what I could remember about that morning. Maybe it was better that I didn't have my camera. Shooting thru the tinted car glass wouldn't have given it justice. But I'll never know...I just am thankful I was there when Ii was there!
PAINTING A TOTALLY DIFFERENT GEOGRAPHY
When I told a friend I was going to New Mexico to paint, he said, "Bring lots of brown and red paints". Which I did...along with blues and yellows. Such a change from East Coast geography. And such a treat for the eyes! Because the landscape is so vast the colors change in the blink of an eye. Plein Air painters are accustomed to "chasing the light" but here, you truly are painting at full race speed. Don't like that cloud? Wait 3 minutes and it is gone.
Perhaps the numerous forest fires affected the clouds. Luckily we didn't have smoke burning our eyes but you could really feel for the people who had to flee their homes. I'm working on another SantaFe painting from the same location, so please be on the lookout for it.
"ARE WE IN A CULT OR WHAT?"
Recently a friend, who was new to plein air painting, and I were discussing promoting our artwork. We were in Santa Fe, NM painting with several artists from all over the US.
In time she noticed: how our fellow artists braved gale-force winds, sand storms, freezing or hot temperatures (depending on the day), blown over easels, the need to buy every art supply known to mankind, lugging around tons of equipment, and sitting at the feet of those artists we consider our heroes. To her, the rah-rah had all the signs of being in a cult or at least being nuts.
She might have hit upon something because I surely am guilty of some of these observations! I just love to paint! Nothing stops me from painting. (Not cooking dinner, not answering phones, etc.). In between all this fury I want to sell my paintings so I can paint more!!
I have 5 paintings that I need to be finish from Santa Fe. Here I was "Georgia O'Keefe Country" and I hope in weeks to come as I finish my paintings that you'll find a place in your home for one of my paintings done in the fabulous southwest.
As a member of the Greenwich Pen Women we often do some extraordinary, fun things. In early April our Music Chair invited us to 3 days of a concerts hosted by Music In The Woods, a nonprofit, with harpist Lisa Tannebaum, artistic director. Music In The Woods shared the spotlight with 3 million daffodils. Yes, that says 3 million! However Mother Nature wasn't about to cooperate: nothing was in bloom yet. So Lisa and GPW scrambled and planned the event for later.
Three weeks later Mother Nature cooperated: the daffodils were trumpeting in all their glory! Likely some of the 3 million daffodils naturalized on their own, but even so, I cannot imagine planting even 2 millions daffodils. All 3 Pen Women disciplines (music, art and letters) came to enjoy these delightful daffodils. Some wrote poetry, some meditated, and I, just painted to my heart's content. Below is my painting of those days where spring could no longer wait to announce itself.
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS...
This story is a tribute to two of my ski-buddy friends.
I love snow. As a 5 year old I built snowmen; a 9 year old: I built forts and had snowball fights with the teenager across the street; then at 17, I discovered skiing and I was off to the peaks. Now I am older and have had to slow down. But I have two friends who I skied with and they have kept snow and the mountains alive in my heart. Thank you Robin Rocchi and Larry Levack for sending me pictures of some of the best places in the world to paint!!
Because most art shows are in the warmer months I don't always get a chance to display my snow scenes. So today after our recent Northeaster I thought I would share a few of my paintings of snow. It's my most favorite thing to paint, too. Snow is a thousand different colors. AND unlike snow that melts over time, my scenes remind me of my friends Robin and Larry and the great times we had. Thank you, both!
Each year, around the holiday season I get asked to paint one of the most important members of any family. And this year was no different. Tom's two granddaughters asked that their Christmas present be a painting of the latest addition to their home. That would be Seamus, in the largest painting below. In the following row is the very tiny and super-shy Hazel, Atticus who I thought looked like Seamus until I seriously studied him ands saw a completely different pet, and finally Sprite who was so black I could hardly make out where her legs and arms were. Sadly, Sprite and Atticus are no longer here but their portraits have an honored spot above the girl's beds.
As every pet owner knows there is no boundaries for the love you feel for these special creatures. So much so that the older of Tom's granddaughters is considering becoming a vet!
Some people think cats are harder than dogs to paint because they seem to collapse their spine when they sit or lie down. My "issue" seems to be along the sides of their nose. A dark stripe running down the nose can look like a very odd bone. If there's one area I try to focus on the most...it's the nose. In the cases below, my canvases are 5" x 7" so I have to get a lot of information in a tight area.
NOTHING VENTURED, NOTHING LEARNED
For several years whenever I was enroute to Vermont I would take a cut-off road that afforded me a beautiful view of the valley, a narrow twisting up & down road, and two classical well-tended farms. I tried several times to take some pictures of one particular farm, Shadowbrook Farm (New Lebanon, NY), but it never seemed to work out for me: 1) there was no safe place to pull over on the road 2) the days I was there it was icy and dreary and 3) if I could pull over an oncoming automobile could plow right into me.
One spring day I was returning from Vermont and knowing it might be a l-o-n-g time before I returned to Vermont I decided to stop a the farm store to ask the owners if I could paint there someday. (I live 2 hours away). The very young lady who managed the shop (I thought she was 17, turned out to be 23), said she would ask the owners and told me to feel free to take some pictures. Wouldn’t you know it: a dark cloud passed over and again I didn’t have what I wanted. I waited a while, but the cloud wasn't going to move. Luckily when I got home an email arrived and this very same young woman said I could paint there, sent me some of her favorite views, and I choose the one she took.
I have since found out that 3 people work this 300 acre farm and she has been working in agriculture since she was 17. She wants to always work with the land, Farming is a hard lifestyle and in the current climate of farming they have to get very creative to turn any profit at all. A lot of places, including theirs, has a farm store, is an airbnb, conducts farm tours..etc. All sorts of things that are not farming to help them get by.
When I gave the farmer this painting, he told me he was speechless...nobody had ever done anything like that before! I really left feeling very good about this day.
WHAT I LEARNED
A while ago I was lucky enough to visit the tiny island of Turks & Caicos. Of course it has the most beautiful turquoise water you can imagine. T&C is known for conch soup and if you are lucky enough you might even find a conch shell on their white sanded beaches.
I had come to paint. But because of the flash-point of oil paints (the ability to catch fire), I could not transport oil paint in any of my luggage or carry-on. Luckily I had access to water-based oil paints.
I had never used them before. These paints combined with the humidity felt like I was painting with bubble gum. I had painted 5 paintings and I was struggling to finish this last painting before I had to charge to the airport in 1 hour
I wasn't sure how I wanted the background to look. They say you can have “happy accidents/mistakes” when painting. My “happy accident” occurred when a glass of water was knocked over & spilled across my painting. I quickly blotted up the water. The remaining outcome looked like flickers of light in the background. I was happy…problem solved.
Instead of focusing on my bubble-gum creation I focused on getting this sucker done and still get to the airport for that blasted check-in. I really scrambled instead of judging myself. It has since become one of my favorite paintings.
I just got back from a painting junket in Vermont and had the time of my life!
For several years I have been super lucky to paint on a beautiful, bucolic estate in Dorset, VT. The estate aka "farm" is adorned with wonderful birch trees. (Birch trees are one of my favorite trees and sadly are becoming endangered on the East Coast. Thus these trees have special meaning for me.)
Normally when you are painting outdoors you paint small and quickly just to get the information that you would need to then do a larger painting in your studio where the light isn't changing, winds aren't blowing and rain isn't on the horizon.
This year, I would be a happy camper if I paint a LARGE picture, on-site, that I truly liked and enjoyed doing, Going against the norm. I really think Dorset Birches captured the spirit of this wonderful "farm". I can still feel that wonderful Vermont air.
Below is the first painting I had done since college (which was decades ago). After many years working in advertising I decided now was the time to start painting again. I left my job in January but by June I still had not painted. I was afraid to put brush to canvas. What would I remember...what did I forget?
Remembering what I said about painting I signed up for a plein aire painting class in Vermont. Doug's Tree was my first painting in 40 years. Since I was going "big-time" now, I decided to enter this in my first art show and a "juried" show making it even more stressful. It was also a very hectic time for me. My best friend, Joani, had passed away and the entry deadline for the show coincided. I took the chance that I could get in and out of the art show and still make the wake. But there was a really long line of people ahead of me.I literally ran up to the Chairwoman and explained my time constraints. She graciously squired me thru the paperwork needed and let me get ahead of some people so I could make the wake.
Days later as I entered the Artist Reception the Chairwoman came to greet me with news: I had won First Place in Oils! What news! I looked up towards the ceiling, imaging the heavens and said "Thank you Joani you just gave me such good luck."
Our golden retriver Kerry was approaching ten years of age. While ten can be old for a Golden Kerry was in great health. Since she was extremely afraid of cameras and any attempt at iphone photography I didn't have many of those "cute" photos dogs owners often have. Kerry was also subject to epileptic seizures, which can be caused by many factors like allergies or stress, so photos were kept to a minimum.
One day, I was talking to a ski buddy of mine and he suggested I paint people's pets. (His sister did this in California and loved the people and experiences she encountered.) I just turned my nose up this suggestion because "portraits" were not "my thing". However, one day, I decided to paint Kerry before he got too old. This way I could remember him in good health. Did I ever get the surprise of my life: Not only did I really enjoy the whole process but more and more people asked me to also paint their pet! I did some research of pet paintings (done by Sargent, Goya etc.) and saw that these noble pets are not just accessories in a picture but important elements in the overall statement the artist wanted to make.
Not only has pet paintings replaced my first love, seacapes, but I really find my world really expanding because of these furry friends.
Kerry's painting will always have a place in our home & hearts.
CHUMS: DIESEL & CHAUNCEY
One day as I was rushing to get in my car so I could safely eat my pandemic-proof coffee and donut from Dunkin' Donuts I noticed the van next to me. The owner of the van was closing the side door but I had enough time to see this huge, black thing inside her vehicle. Could it be a bear? My God! How could this be?
I decided to wait for her to come out of Dunkin' and see if she would open the door again so I could see for sure if she was transporting this dangerous animal. In a few minutes she came back. Opened the door & instead of a bear I saw this huge teddybear of a German Shepherd/Golden Retriever mix. I jumped out of my car and told her, "I just have to paint your dog...he's so beautiful" and I gave her my promotion postcard. I never expected anything to seriously happen from this brief encounter but two days later she called me and wanted me to paint Chauncey. Turns out Chauncey is a gentle giant and this painting was a Christmas gift for Chauncey's owner, Jeff. I was told Jeff was so touched by her gift that he had tears in his eyes.
Amazing what a brief encounter can do.
INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE
I live in the historic Hudson Valley and as such have been afforded several opportunities not given to the general public at our local historic landmarks.
Because I use oil paintings, for example, I wouldn’t be able to paint (plein aire) at the NY Botanical Gardens for fear that the chemicals or fumes would affect their plantings.
(Watercolors, which I don’t use, would be permitted).
The summer before the pandemic, my 1st instructor and now friend, Douglas David, was coming back East to teach classes throughout New England. As any artist will tell you the Hudson Valley has inspired many an artist.
We planned on having an afternoon to paint outside of a class environment. It was a beautiful crystal clear, sunny day and our vantage point at one of our historic landmarks was perfect. I had to make several phone calls to get permission since painters generally are not permitted on these sites. Doug was merrily painting away…seeming to knock everything out of the ball park. I, on the other hand, was struggling. I so wanted to impress Doug. I did what I could but wasn’t getting what I wanted: a sparking pond just glittering in the sunlight.
Days later I was about "to chuck my creation”. But I decided to try an experiment: I turned my sunny day into a full moon evening with the moon beams of light twinkling across the water! For some reason this painting now reminds me of the Louisana Bayou. Hence I called this Interview with a Vampire after a favorite book by Anne Rice. Though a far cry from that glorious day...I feel "the night" had just as much to offer.