Saturday, November 11, 2017

I Don't Write About Politics

I really only write about painting, never about politics, so I’m going to stick with that:

Whenever I paint, if I’m open and inclusive, drawing my ideas from a diverse number of sources, the work is stronger, effective and more original. If I think provincially, the work suffers.

Diversity makes a painting strong, interesting and beautiful. One kind of mark making is fine, but just watch what happens when a whole vocabulary of marks is cultivated!

I need to work the whole, and view my painting globally. As a matter of fact, each piece comes into being because of the obvious universal principle that a thing cannot exist on it’s own. A something is only a something relative to a something else. Think about simultaneous contrast! So, I must pay attention to every bit, even the smallest, seemingly insignificant element or my piece will fall apart.

I must love the work. If I get into a hateful orientation towards it, I will hate it. Hate cultivates hate. Love cultivates love. So, even when it’s hard and I don’t really like what’s going on in a piece, if I persevere in love, love is what I’ll get.

I need to be truthful with myself and to my viewer. I cannot look at a section of a piece and say to myself, “there are the most marks ever here!”  If I were to continually do this, my work would have no meaning for myself or to anyone else. Being honest is not self-hate. Being honest is a form of love. It can be done in love.

It’s important to strive to be eloquent. One cannot be eloquent on the fly. It comes with clarity, certainty and mastery. When one is not eloquent, it shows up quickly as amateurish, unpreparedness and unconsciousness.

Gesture matters. Nature provides us with infinite examples of beautiful gesture, trees, clouds, wind…Humans recognize gesture, both human and non-human at the level of the subconscious. As painters, we have to recognize what kind of gestures we are putting down.

Generosity is important in painting. You need to burn through some paper, paint WHATEVER it takes. Then when you are done, it’s important to give it away as often as you can. You cannot take all those canvases with you.

Lastly, I’ve found that when something is true for painting, it’s true in life.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Embracing the Unfamiliar

I’m sitting in the lobby of Daku Resort waiting for a taxi to take me to the airport and my next destination in Fiji. I’m headed for Tavenui for three days before a meditation retreat. Upon arriving in Fiji it felt quite like outer space; a totally unfamiliar and foreign landscape. The air was different, the sun is backwards, people drive on the wrong side of the road. My students all speak with an accent, though they told me that it’s me that speaks funny! People smile and greet you warmly, so warmly that you could be slightly suspicious that it’s somehow disingenuous or mocking.

And all that says nothing about how to paint the landscape…beautiful as it is, it’s not the Northwest, United States! It seemed daunting! How to capture the swaying movement of the palms in the wind and the water shimmering in the evening sunset? How do you paint the morning light when it feels like evening?All of this was quite disconcerting at first. Then came a beautiful and unexpected embrace. Instead of looking for differences, I looked for how I felt here. The sun, the wind, the light, all the flowers and the aromas. Fiji is so very alive that you can’t help but feel the energy that animates everything.

For me a rhythm quickly settled in; meditation, yoga, teaching, painting, sketching, swimming, meditation. My students(who came as a group of friends), quickly took in the lessons and put them to use. They are all receptive and strong women who took on the challenges of the lessons. We all worked together to make the most of the time, balancing painting rest and relaxation. There was frustration and there were breakthroughs. There was delight and there was fatigue.

We painted at a variety of locations including right on the grounds of the beautiful Daku Resort, a beach location with absolutely stunning views of the shoreline near the Jacques Costeau Preserve and in town looking out and the boats in the harbor. There was literally something for everyone and one needed only to plop oneself down to find a suitable scene to paint. `

We spent time working on thumbnails and planning out compositions. Especially challenging when painting Plein-air, but even more so when tackling an utterly different kind of expansive landscape.  We experimented with under-painting and it’s opportunity to provide a spontaneous and playful start.
We talked about Carlson’s Theory of Angles, aerial perspective, prismatic play of mark making, composition and lots more! Critiques were sprinkled in throughout the week, so as to offer some suggestions on how to proceed the following days.

Each day after intensive painting, we took a breather in the pool then enjoyed dinners on the veranda. I did some evening/sunset demos which were were finished by flashlight! This is where having your palette arranged by hue/value/saturation becomes an absolute necessity!

We even managed a delightful shopping excursion in Savusavu. We bought colorful dresses and trinkets to bring home.  The ladies in the shops going out of their way to help, pulling dresses off high racks and offering alterations on the spot.

For me a highlight of the trip was the invitation to a local village to join in their Fiji Day celebration; traditional singing, dancing, games and a Kava ceremony. We were served a homemade meal of traditional Fijian fare, then treated to a tour of the village. Although these people lead very simple lives they certainly seem happy to be living as a working community rather than individuals in isolation. It’s very inspiring and humbling…challenging my Western lifestyle.  We were pretty overwhelmed by the hospitality and generosity extended to us.

I most definitely want to come back to these exquisite islands. The expansive panoramic views of the turquoise waters have me captivated. I hope I have enough photos and memories to let Fiji seep into my paintings for a long, long time.
Daku resort could not have been a more perfect venue for this kind of workshop! It’s a friendly and relaxed place. The staff or “Family” as they referred to all of us, went very far out of their way to ensure that we were having a great experience, that we were comfortable and safe. Everything was organized and communication clear and easy. Thanks you Wilma, George, Peggy, Mareha and all the family!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Letting Fiji In

It's Saturday and I'm in Fiji.This year has been an amazing, adventurous year, but none of my trips were as anticipated as this one. I've actually had much resistance to coming (for a homebody like me to travel is always a "thing"), but this was especially hot and heavy resistance. I'm here teaching but also going on a meditation retreat after the workshop. So, although there is much to happily look forward to, there were endless details and what felt like a arduous slog of a trip.

But arduous is only arduous in the anticipation. In the moment it is just the moment, neither good or bad or hard or easy.

So three flights lots and lots of hours of waiting and a 90 minute cab ride has finally landed me at my first destination...Daku Resort. I was very warmly welcomed and nurtured. Wilma took care of me. Made sure I had water, food and peace and quiet to rest. If I'd been left to my own devices, I don't think I would have taken very good care of myself.

I slept. this surprised me, even though I hadn't really slept since Tuesday night. I had a light breakfast, kept my promise to myself to fill a sketchbook page and met Candace who was instructing a two hour meditation and yoga class. I went. She opened me to Fiji. My body and my heart is ready now.

So, I'll meet my class tonight at dinner and I hope I can pay this forward. I hope that we can fill the next week with the sun, the wind and maybe even the stars of Fiji. I hope our paints and pastels can be filled will the exuberance, warmth and passion that this place so exudes.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Two Minds

I was driving to the store yesterday and got completely lost in thought on the way there, but somehow found myself parked in the parking lot in one piece; no dents and I don't think I hit anyone! Clearly, some other part of our brain kicks in while we are driving and takes over the primary functions of moving through space at a fast rate and navigating other vehicles on the road. All the while I can be thinking about what paint to buy and what my mom was talking about the day before, what calls I have to make tomorrow, etc., etc. I'm not saying this is a particularly good thing or optimal driving function. I don't think it is at all! But it points to the complexity of our brains and how we can be functioning on a variety of levels at once.

Painting is like that. Many of my students are trying to integrate new information with old information. They are also trying to find a flow and a rhythm to their work that is not in the realm of the analytical mind but something more intuitive. I'm not sure that this analogy of driving is the perfect one, but it does point to the different types of processes going on.

Some action doesn't appear to emanate from the mind at all. It appears as a spontaneous arising of action entirely independent from thought that you can watch from a witnessing perspective. There is a great part of painting that is of this sort.

How to pay attention to the intuitive part of painting and also to the stuff we learn?  Stuff like the concept of aerial perspective and how it influences the landscape. And by the way how do we do this as older learners? One of my students was talking about this and pointed out to me that much of what I know as a painter, I've been working with since I was very young. What if you are coming to it as an older adult? Is it harder? In response, I've been doing a bit of research on  brain plasticity and art. Here is a link to just one article:

Start doing the work, and the brain responds, allowing one to build and retain not just technical knowledge, but also the imaginative capacity needed to utilize it fully. 


How much of this goes back to the question of "are artists born or made". Of course, I'm a firm believer in the latter. I like to think that everyone can and probably should, if there is such a thing as "should", make art. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Home Sweet Home

With sunny weather and a relatively free day, I took to the streets of Milwaukie, Oregon for an afternoon of Plein Air painting. I've been wanting to try some urban street scenes that are subjects that one might overlook or find not so beautiful. I roamed the Sunday Market and some sides streets of our little downtown and ended up at the end of a street near our post office. I found some shade and a cool view of the railroad trestle, a parked van and some interesting cast shadows.

I'm working pretty small here, so it was challenging finding the right balance of large masses vs the detail that I found interesting. Even though I really tried to keep it small, I think the truck is a little to large.  I'm working on my brushwork; I think I need some bigger strokes in the final piece but I really enjoyed the process and pretty please with the end result. There was a lot to take in!