Nature Abstractions

Attempt at a Conversation with Birds

This blog was titled Conversations With the Muse many years ago, and mainly that’s been happening. I make art, and then I think and write about it. Otherwise it feels so unfinished. With the mixed media expressive art there is often a verbal interaction attempted with the content of the piece, which usually contains a great many unanswered questions. . .like this one.

For my underpainting I used an unfinished experiment with dripping inks and blowing them across the page with a straw. Then I found pieces of deconstructed paintings I’ve been keeping for the collage. The result was something that totally short circuited all the rules of color, design, technique etc that i have been learning and relying on in my art for many years. Thank goodness. My favorite thing is to create something bizarre, unexpected, and fascinating to contemplate. Hopefully it will get me wondering outside the box of my usual thinking.

acrylic inks and fluid paints on w/c paper

You crows, all black and squawky on one side and cooing doves on the other.

You’ve laddered up from the lower realms and found a roost for your pulpit.

Now speak!         

(silence)

How can you be so silent now, as I sit expectant with pen in hand to take dictation?

What do you see and hear and feel in your vast communications network?

Am I too dense to plug into it and understand?

How long would I have to sit and watch and listen to receive even a micron of the information which sails unseen, unheard by us humans, between you  and your avian family each moment of the day.

Surely this painting entitles me to just a bit of all that? . . .a feather dropped that I might keep for a dream catcher? A song that I could learn and sing to myself?

Perhaps when the cawing meets the cooing I may at last get a feel, by audio transmission, for the freedom of flight?

a look at the process of construction from beginnings to placing collage pieces and drawing in the focal bird

Have you had any conversations with your art lately?

The Sky Up There

One morning this week I sat at my dining room table facing the sunrise view, watercolor paints at the ready, hoping to capture the breathtaking sky drama. The sky was streaked with salmon color and every variation on blues and dark strings of clouds with bright yellow-orange-red undersides, and I started to put paint down in great haste. Every few seconds I looked up and it had changed. And then it started to rain. And then it stopped and a whole new cast of cloud characters entered the stage. Fifteen minutes from beginning to end of my sketch and I admitted that I had just tried to paint several different skies and ended up with mud (which always translates to indecision!)

So I thought I’d try a different approach, and paint the inner sky, or at least the one I remembered. After all, we look to the sky to help clear our minds, and never has there been a greater need of that. I got out my gouache paints which I thought might help with the pastel colors I imagined. 

But it wasn’t long before the sky started jumping around, and what was at first clear, became muddled and even opposite. Sound like something else we’ve been experiencing a lot lately?

the sky we think is up

there but we live in our inner

sky where we float and bob

the day along

as up becomes

down horizons appear

and disappear

A whacky ride which

flips us on our ear

leaves us standing wobbly

teetering on the edge

with a faulty gyroscope

and no wings

My Woods

Trees and skies, that is the theme my group of Muse sisters is pursuing in our art exploits now. There is a beautiful birch tree by our driveway which has been enticing me to paint it’s white bark again. So I got out some Masa paper and wet and crinkled it, and did the thing where you drag your brush along the tops of the wrinkles. . .and instant trees without all the fuss of getting it “right”.

With these mixed media pieces I always poke around til I find something to add that might tickle the imagination. And, well, you’ll see what I found. . .a bit of enchantment.

India ink, fluid acrylics, crinkled Masa paper mounted on w/c paper and collaged on

I like to imagine a walk in the woods

And I’d come upon a native

Or maybe I’d be hidden in a bramble

And he wouldn’t know I was watching

(Though that seems unlikely

It being after all more his wood than mine)

But let’s just say he didn’t see me

And I was the stealthy one

Who picked up his scent of hide skin and smoke

With some tree sap thrown in

And it was I who wondered

What bird offered up its feathers

And they looked like they belonged there

On his head

 

But I’m imagining as a white woman

Who grew up in a house with central heat

And got her clothes from stores

And saw Nature as something altogether different,

Separate and wildly mysterious

And mostly out of reach

Hence my stories about

What might have been

If I’d slept in a teepee

And danced to drumbeats and

Cooked over an open fire

And learned to heal with herbs.

 

But back to the native here

This is after all my woods he has entered

On his horse with his rifle in hand

I do not fear him

He has entered my enchantment

Time to Winter

Do you ever try to think like a tree? Like in “Gee I’m so thirsty!” or “It’s getting so cold. I’d enjoy a blanket of leaf mulch to restore my energies.” This piece made me think like a tree.

I started by painting foliage and trunk shapes with water and droppering three acrylic inks into the water shapes so they moved and blended while I tipped the paper. Then I took a color shaper and pulled some of the wet ink out to create branches and spritzed the foliage lightly with water to suggest leaf shapes.

Daler Rowney acrylic inks: Antelope Brown, Indian Yellow, Dutch Blue

Time to winter

send roots down there

with the gopher and grub

under the shroom spore and worm tracks

While we sleep

they do the work

turn leaf mulch and water

into blooming flower beds

So take a deep

soul

quieting

breath

of loamy air

Settle into the perfection of this season

Bee Doodles

One day a week ago the blazing fall colors were what occupied the art-mind-space, so I squirted fluid acrylics paints on the paper and started finger painting madly with them. Then let the piece incubate a few days and did some drawing with inks. Playing with the inks on another piece of scratch paper (the bee and flowers with white), I ended up cutting them out and collaging them to the painting. A rather riotous garden emerged, and then the words.

I doodle at my table

strewn with pencils,

pens, paints, papers 

scissors. . .

bees doodle too

with pollen pastels

like this bug eyed one

whose trail I follow

to still the swirl of mind

Welcome to my studio! (video)

We built my art studio when we moved to Sebastopol, California from the SF Bay Area 20 years ago. It’s a simple building where my creative spirit has taken flight and supported me for these many years through the many vicissitudes of modern life. It has been the home for my workshops and the setting for many ongoing friendships with students. And for years I opened it to the public for open studio events twice a year.

Since the pandemic and sheltering-in-place began three months ago, it has become a kind of hermitage. I have had to cancel workshops and rethink the ways I use my studio, as well as find new ways to encourage myself and others to actively pursue art. In that spirit I invite you into my studio to imagine with art with me.

Since the video here has no voice over, let me just orient you. As you enter you will walk counter clockwise around the room, looking out some windows as well. Those of you who have been here for classes will notice the more open floor. I took down one of the tables to make room to move for streaming Jazzercise classes! The comfortable chair is an addition as now I have the space to read. The paintings on the wall are mostly mixed media acrylics. There are tables to do Muse painting/collage, watercolor illustration, a wall section to clip Muse pieces up as they are “born”, a section for portrait stories of homeless women, and of course birds, birds, birds and then the garden where they live outside.

Enjoy watching the video, while I enjoy imagining meeting you here in person!
welcometostudio

To watch, click on the picture or see it here.

Paint the Rhythms

The Tuesday Afternoon Muse Group just started a new 6-week session yesterday after a 2-month break. We really needed a way to get the Muse juices flowing again. So I pulled out a lesson from years ago which I created with inspiration from Gabriella Roth’s 5Rhythms dynamic movement practice, which I have experienced as a powerful and joyful way to tune up the body and mind.

My studio is a tight space so we had to drop the dance part, but we added our acrylic paints and inks, fingers and brushes and scrapers and misters and rollers and etc. and painted to music of the 5Rhythms: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. We had about 10min for each of the pieces (I played the music for each rhythm through twice) before moving on to the next. Here are mine:

RythmsFlowing

Flowing

RythmsStaccato

Staccato

Rythmschaos

Chaos

RythmsLyricle

Lyrical

RythmsStillness

and Stillness.

We held up all our paintings from the same rhythm to see how we had embodied the each piece of music in color and movement of line.

Not many surprises there. They were all different, yet with some general predominant color similarities, like blues for flowing and more reds for chaos. Chaos rhythm was a favorite of course. We all love to feel the freedom to pull out all the stops and let our hair down!

 

S.F. Botanical Garden

On Sunday I spent the day at Golden Gate Park’s Botanical Garden with over 40 nature journalers and John Muir Laws.  If you don’t already know, Jack is a Bay Area treasure; a naturalist, artist, author-illustrator of numerous nature guides, and entertaining guy who helps people to wake up and interact with the natural world by journaling about it.

 

sfbotan1

You can’t help but fall in love with the massive tree that greets you inside the gate. While Jack was talking, my eyes were tracing the curves, like a warm up doodle. I must admit, the tree got compacted to fit on my paper, but it didn’t seem to mind, and neither did I.

 

Next there were docent-led tours of the park to get us started thinking about what we might want to sketch.

sfbotan3

With such a multitude of exotic species to choose from, it was particularly hard to pick a subject to examine and sketch. I decided to try some of the more exotic varieties that would never be found growing in Sebastopol.

And started with a close up of this Snakebark Maple, which was labeled RARE. When you take the time to look closely, not only do you start to see so many different patterns and green mixes, but bright pinks and reds as well.

sfbotan2_1

The Ancient Plant Garden gives the opportunity to go waaay back in time and trace the evolution of plant life. Admittedly I used a bit of artistic license in the coloring here, but this giant fern was mostly in the shade.

sfbotan5

The leaves on this Gunnera plant from the Jurassic era were about four feet across, but I was drawn in by the reddish “fruit” cones, and the fact that there was a bench with a good view of this. There was also a lady from the sketch group who was drawing there. We engaged in lively conversation, which made it difficult for my eyes to follow the lacy folds . . .and I got quite lost and had to make stuff up. Once again lots of red in all that green.

sfbotan4

With just a few minutes to spare and no time to draw, I took a different approach, sketching a familiar plant, Anemones, from a distance and with watercolor. As my eyes began to focus better I caught sight of the familiar figure of St. Francis in the background.

A True Tree Friend

There are those trees that end up being old friends. I have lunch with this well-worn apple tree each day lately. I’m watching for birds in its boughs as I munch my salad, but it’s the tree memories that are revealed.

It remembers the day after we moved in over 19 years ago and a neighbor boy arrived to play with our boys of the same age. The boy climbed the little tree and landed on the ground as one of the major limbs broke off. The little tree kept growing and giving shade and shelter to animals in its hollow core ,and fed many generations of goldfinches and Jays and doves and even some flashy Orioles. The occasional squirrel noisily raided its stash. The cats climbed into its arms to see why the birds were getting fed before them! And then there was the time when an errant rooster, that was terrorizing the neighborhood with its untimely crowing, could be found returning to the tree each day.

appletree2

So after lunch I responded to the tree’s need to have it’s story told. It wasn’t the first sketch I’d done over the years. There’s somehow more feeling in it each time though – a kind of bitter-sweetness as we age together.

Yesterday we went around propping up the leaning towers of hollow apple tree trunks. It would be too sad to lose my old friend and the others which are bending under the weight of Gravenstein apples right now.

appletree1

My friend, twisted and bent, a bit like I feel sometimes – I study the beauty of your curves and knots. It’s my way to pay homage to your grit and endurance. . .I’m always listening for your complaints, but hearing none but my own. Stay with me a while longer dear friend.

Sierra adventure continued:

Laurie had done some pretty good scouting in the area and found a spot with one of those barns with the gorgeous weathered wood, and nearby a dried up bog with clay the color of the barn! Apparently it was an old Basque sheep herders’ camp.

So we followed her out to the spot where she dug up the clay, and adding gum arabic and glycerine (which she had brought along), proceeded to make watercolor pigment for us to paint with! Gotta love that enthusiasm for connecting with nature in our art.

Laurieintheclay

I took my little sketchbook out to the field to get a quick sketch of the barn and the wonderful cement? oven in another small building – kiln or bread over, we couldn’t tell. It would have made a great pizza oven too!

CarmenValley

Practicing sky, weathered barn, distant hills and grasses here. Greener and lighter blues on the horizon and warmer/darker ones higher up.

passthepainting

The last morning we drove out to the wide open expanse of grasslands with the backdrop of mountains and constantly changing cloud formations. The lesson was to go BIG! BIG brushes and paper. So that we wouldn’t get all attached to getting it right, but rather feel free to be more expressive with our brush strokes without fear of screwing it up, we played the pass-the-painting game.  With each new step of the painting a new person added their personal touch! Skies, distant mountains, nearer mountain, trees on the near mountain, grasses, fence, etc. Here are our creations all laid out before we said goodbye to our wonderful teacher and new friends.

LemonCanyonRanch

Before Bettina and Anni and I headed over to Sierra Hot Springs for an afternoon soak, I added this one to my travel sketchbook.

SalmonLake

Next day Bettina and I went to Salmon Lake for a bit of hiking and sketching. Sometimes even on a gorgeous day, there are times when it is almost impossible to get comfortable enough to focus on sketching a scene. Can you relate?  For some reasons the mosquitos were quite hungry – for me, not Bettina! – and the sun was so bright I couldn’t see my colors, and when I finally got enough bug spray on I could still see the mosquitos circling over my head as they cast moving shadows across my paper! And then I got numb-butt while sitting on granite. But hey, it was great.

FrazierFalls_Bettina

Later we headed up to Frazier Falls and took the trail out to the overlook. The sign read that the falls is at 6500′ and has a 248′ cascade. Here’s Bettina tackling the falls while standing. I found a little spot for my stool in the shade next to her. Meanwhile groups of sightseers looked over our shoulders as they arrived.

FrazierFalls

As we left our spot we passed 2 or 3 groups of men who asked “Did you put me in your painting?” Unbeknownst to us they had been watching us from the other side at the top of the falls.

So we headed to the spot at the top, where you can’t see the falls, unless you bend over the granite edge (no thank you). A fellow sits down at the edge for just long enough for me to sketch him and later build the scene around him.

He noticed me and came over to take a look and was delighted that I’d sketched him. (It’s interesting that it never seems to matter to people that it doesn’t look like them.) Soon we’re talking and I find out he’s a local physician who is writing a book about the mind/brain/spirituality or something and dictating it into a microphone while walking, as well as doing video for his vlog.

FrazierFalls_Paul So the caption here is Vlog meets Blog.

And that completes the bird’s eye view of a week in the Sierras.

Hope you’re enjoying your July 4th celebration! I’m delighted to be home, eating fresh picked plums off the tree, and leaving the roads to other people.