portraits

The Energy Required for Change

We don’t generally look at a beautiful butterfly like this Gulf Fritillary, fluttering fairy-like on my studio wall, and think about what it takes for this creature to get to this point in their life cycle. But yesterday I was treated to a partial metamorphosis in progress – the part where the caterpillar stops munching the passion vine leaves and turns itself into a paper sack.

It was an extremely windy afternoon, so you can hear the moan of the wind in the (one minute) video I took, but don’t be fooled. The movement of the caterpillar is not the effect of the wind blowing it, though I couldn’t help but worry that the tender filament by which it had attached its entire body to the wood was extremely slender.

I watched transfixed and imagined what it must take in the way of energy and endurance for this little creature to so thoroughly surrender itself to its transition to the paper body (chrysalid).

In some ways it’s not entirely dissimilar to spending ones days as I have lately, wrapping my life in paper and boxes for a move, not really knowing how it will be on the other – unwrapping – end. It’s a kind of temporary stasis.

Will that fragile casing of the caterpillar be strong enough for it to endure the upcoming change? And what about my own fragile casing? Will I have enough energy to see me through? Haha! Of course I will! But oh, so much still to pack before the truck arrives Tuesday morning. . .

and I take the big leap!  Hopefully with elegance and abandon, like this dancer I sketched for practice last week!

Back to packing now. See you on the other side. . .the next post will be from Olympia!

Packing Memories

I’ve had the strangest feeling about moving lately, that I’m not so much packing belongings as memories and layers of personal and shared history. And if I had a more efficient/useful/reliable way to accomplish the memory thing, there would not be so many things to find boxes for!

For instance, the wind chime, a gift made by my friend Ellyn that reminds me of her warm and wonderful heart every time I see and hear it. Or the beaded talisman made by Muriel to guard my studio door. Or the metal frog fountain-head from our pond in our Albany home, dating back to when the boys were into tadpole-ing and bringing critters home to take up residence there.

The boys (well men now) are a great deal less in need of these reminders of childhood than I.  They are too busy writing the big scripts of their lives, while I am enjoying the reruns.

So these things got packed today along with birdhouses and nests and rocks from my collection. The nests that were too fragile to pack have been distributed to key locations in the yard.

This one is my favorite, nestled in the bosom of the old apple tree behind my studio, inches from the tiny new apples. The history that I leave behind is somehow as essential as that which I take with me to re-plant in the fresh soil of the north. I can finally imagine how all these mini tasks are the structure of ceremony, that of continuance as well as rebirth.

Meanwhile the evening portrait painting continues, as I pursue a variety of poses on Sktchy and much needed practice with gouache.

I have more control and dexterity with watercolor, but love coming in with the opaque white gouache at the end to perk up the toned paper and make the eyes sparkle.

Characters

white pencil and gouache on black toned paper

We all love characters! They wake us up and make us realize that being a human is an amusing business, capable of endless entertainment. And Derek McClure, of Sktchy fame, is one. . .or many as you will see here. I have sketched him in his many personas. He photographs himself at angles that distort and amuse. My lack of skill with gouache and BLACK paper help me to relax a bit and just give it a go. 

watercolor on beige toned paper

Here he is again! eye popping and jaw dropping his challenge to “paint me!!” I draw it with pencil and then just, gulp, dive in anywhere to start painting. Eventually it starts to look like someone, and so I throw caution to the wind, and keep painting, glad that no one’s looking. Telling myself that I don’t HAVE to post this on my blog. The best part is the end, coming in with white gouache for the highlights and white pencil or pastel for the hair. And, well maybe I’ll post it after all. I always do.

The Mothers of Bears Ears Monument

Bears Ears in southeastern Utah is the first national monument ever created at the request of a coalition of Indigenous tribes and is one of the most extensive archaeological areas on Earth. But it is being threatened by fossil fuel development and other uses which do not acknowledge the sacred status of these lands to the indigenous peoples who are fighting to protect these lands. These peoples recognize the authority of their matriarchs and it is these tribal women who are leading the way. 

As I painted them I realized that I am envious of their relationship to the land where they live. Especially perhaps now that I am leaving the home where I have lived the longest (a paltry 21 years!) As a child my family moved every year or more until I was eight and then only somewhat less frequently. Although we always made friends, we never lived near relatives, the people we “belonged” with. And there was no ancestral land I was aware of.

So no wonder I have been so drawn to the words and pictures of these indigenous women and their lands, which I have never visited.  

Mary R. Benally: gouache on beige toned paper

We have been birthed into these lands. The umbilical cords of our ancestors are buried here. Our genealogies are intertwined.”

Cynthia Wilson

“Our histories run deep. We relate to these lands who are alive. We know the names of the mountains, plants and animals who teach us everything we need to know to survive. We have within our cultures a familial bond. We know these lands as a mother knows her child, as a child knows her mother.”

Ahjani Yepa

“We are praying for Bears Ears National Monument and our nonhuman relatives. It’s not just Bears Ears we are praying for. Every tribal nation relates to these sacred mountains and their own ancestral lands. We are praying for them, too.

Please pray with us.

Please pray for us.

The mountains are reaching out to us.

The plants and animals are trying to reach us.”

Elouise Wilson

For more information about the Bears Ears inter-tribal Coalition visit the website. Indigenous peoples have so much to teach about how we may be able to heal our earth by relating to it in a more “familial” way.

Mother’s Day Packing

I have now trudged back through three decades of accumulated art, books, and papers, armed with a tape gun, an essential tool these days. Wrap those sturdy boxes up tight, they advise, so even if the movers throw them onto the truck, the contents will land intact.

My flat files are empty, if not flat. My bookshelf is empty except for a cow’s skeletal head, which I want to keep, but haven’t figured out how to pack yet.

And I’m collecting various treasures off the walls, like the art studio quotes which have sustained me through the treacherous narrows of brutal self critique. Here’s one:

When you’re in the studio painting, there are a lot of people in there with you – your teachers, friends, painters from history, critics. . . and one by one, if you’re really painting, they walk out. And if you’re really painting YOU walk out.

-Philip Guston

the pink tape will go on boxes headed for my studio

Notice that although the boxes are filled, I have not finished taping them shut. I have a terrible fear that I will forget something important and be unable to locate it on the other end, or even next week. My memory relies too much on things that I must locate, like keys, and sketchbooks and old paintings.

But you’ll want to know if I will have a studio again in my new home in Olympia, Washington. Yes, but it will be a garage conversion and take a bit of time. And it will be quite lovely and spacious and I will find spaces to make art until it is completed. And thank you for asking!

Sunday was of course Mother’s Day and I was blessed to be able to spend it in person with one son and on the phone with the other. It was a packing day, but ended with martinis and sketching in the garden.

yes, it was my first martini, in memory anyway

This is an old game we play and both enjoy it. Sketching each other quickly. The martini loosens the inhibitions. Whether that helps the result is debatable. Here’s Andrew’s of me.

by Andrew

I was very happy with this one. It was flattering and made me look quite pleasant in the way I like to think of myself!

And then today he sent this picture to his brother Ben (who lives in Nashville) with the message “You’ve ben my muse for so long”

Andy draws Ben on the front step of our house, circa 2001.

We all got a chuckle out of that. I hope I saved the portrait he did in one of the mystery boxes in the garage!

Packing is letting your history sift through your fingers again, losing and finding chunks of memory and having to decide which are important enough to keep. Touch decisions, every one. No wonder I’m so exhausted!

Caterpillar Time

Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar

My orange spiked beauties are munching their way through the pipevine which carpets the upper studio garden. Their exponential growth is a sobering reminder that my own remaining time here is rapidly dwindling. They are already making their way down the path to their hidden places where they will transform into their paper-like cocoons to sleep until next season.  Meanwhile I am supposed to be packing for my own transition to a new (cocoon)home. 

But there are so many other things to do first! Travel arrangements, insurance, health care, moving boxes and schedules, consultations with owners and buyers and decisions about what furniture to bring/not bring/leave, and more. And then there’s the precious time to sit with friends who I won’t see for a while. 

Sylvester

And time to spend with Sylvester, who seems to know something’s going on, and plops down in my path throughout the day, purring and baring his irresistible tummy, while never allowing me to touch it! This takes time . . . to slow down and talk sweetly to him and not startle him away in my impatience to “get things done”!

Caterpillars, human friends and Sylvester. . .These feel like stolen moments, and maybe that’s the appeal. Like cutting extra thin slivers off the chocolate cake when you’ve already had “enough”.  And then there’s the stolen minutes after dinner, painting portraits.

White pencil and white gouache on black toned paper
White gouache and a touch of watercolor on black toned paper

The more playful I get with gouache, the more I like it! Like what happens with the dry brush in the hair. I’m learning to not smooth everything down.

gouache on beige toned paper

This woman is one of the indigenous Clan Mothers of the Bears Ears southwestern lands that are being threatened by fossil fuel development. You can read about them here. Their voices are powerfully moving. . .

When the land calls — you answer.

When your mother calls — you answer.

I’ll be doing some more portraits of these matriarchs who can inspire us all! 

And now, back to the packing (which I haven’t really started yet!)

Mission Accomplished!

We have a new home in the Pacific Northwest! Last week, about ten days into my Washington state odyssey, just when I was feeling a touch of despair at soon being “homeless”, we found an Olympia property that we fell in love with. When I say “we” I mean me, and my husband Bob (at home here in Sebastopol and with me on Facetime), and my dear friend Janet who was with me every step of the way, driving me around, helping me with sanity checks, while we explored the area with walks in the woods and on the beaches. And then there was our tireless realtor Connie, whose energy in this thoroughly nerve wracking endeavor never flagged. Our offer was accepted and we move in June!

My best estimate is that moving takes up 95% of ones mental real estate for weeks/months, and possibly a larger percentage of physical energy! For three days after our offer was accepted I took an average of two naps a day. So in between naps and phone calls to arrange details, I would pick up my brush and paint a bit. One day I even walked to a park across the street to sketch a “living table” for a half hour!

watercolor and pen in Stillman and Birn Beta sketchbook

And then a couple more portraits. . .

watercolor on beige toned paper

My weariness shows here! I couldn’t bring myself to finish the clothing!

watercolor and white gouache on beige paper

(Both portraits from pictures posted on the Sktchy app)

And now I’m home in Sebastopol again, enjoying the spring garden explosion, looking forward to seeing friends, and little by little packing and clearing. Will it never end? Ah, but yes!  Now I can see the end and am breathing deep again.

Thanks for hanging in there with me! The blog isn’t going anywhere and I hope you’ll stay with me.

Loving Gouache on Toned Paper

Catching up on posting some more recent portraits here before I head off for house hunting in Washington on Saturday! I’m taking my toned paper sketchbooks with me to continue Portrait Art for Sanity Sake 

gouache on black toned paper, Stillman and Birn NOVA Trio sketchbook

I never pursued oil painting due to the smell, which I loved but couldn’t tolerate. But gouache is similar to oil in many ways, the viscosity and opacity, so it’s a great way for a watermedia artist to play around with challenging new techniques. While I’m painting with it, it tends to feel wrong, due to so many years now working with transparent pigments, but by the end I’m usually happy I tried.

gouache on black toned paper

Pretty intense looking guy, huh. Pure soul in those eyes. I’m getting these wonderful poses courtesy of members of the Sktchy app who are artists sharing pictures of themselves or others for the purpose of creative portraiture. The most recent 30faces30days challenge/course is finished but there are always new courses coming up, if you want to check it out.

watercolor on grey toned paper finished with w/c pencil

My efforts at this pose were a reminder that, when you’re painting children, you need a lighter hand. This girl is at least five years younger than my portrait! Something to practice. . .

w/c and white gouache on grey toned paper

It would be hard to go back to painting on white paper! So I ordered another NOVA trio book to take on my trip.

When I come back in about a month, the garden will look different, so I’m taking new pictures every day of the garden as it explodes into blooms, each one of which is occupied by a butterfly at least once each day.

a busy spring palette!

Andrew here, holding a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, drying its wings after newly emerging from its chrysalid. Now they are fluttering in dizzy mating pairs and laying eggs in the vine. I hope to see legions of those munching polka dotted caterpillars before we’re gone! 

Portrait Art for Sanity Sake

watercolor on beige toned paper in Stillman + Birn NOVA TRIO sketchbook

I always learn a thing or two from Canadian artist Margriet Aasman on Sktchy. In the demo that inspired this portrait of mine she used red and blue pencils for some strategic lines and then proceeded with watercolor. It just really perked things up! along with some white accents on the toned paper. The hard part, as always, was getting the nose in the right place in this slightly off center pose.

It was easier to draw the second time. Figured I’d try it again, this time with gouache, for me a more difficult medium.

gouache on white paper

Honestly I almost gave up on gouache again, enough to throw caution to the wind with the hair. And that turned out to be my favorite part! The lesson in this, as always, is relax, take a chill pill. Painting is not meant to be torture.

watercolor on white w/c paper

Another of the Sktchy lessons in the 30faces30days March series was with a Russian artist Michael Solovyev. He uses the strangest scraggly looking brushes and makes it look like magic. He kept saying you don’t paint the figure, you paint the light!  By the end I was ready to give it a try. He’s right of course. The other brilliant thing he said was to keep the contrast down in the shadow areas. 

colored pencil, watercolor on gray toned paper

Then Andrew posted a picture on Sktchy and I couldn’t resist painting it. I got this far and it was really looking like him and that scared me. So instead of adding more paint and possibly ruining it, I stopped and photographed it. The look is androgenous and angelic, neither of which I would use as adjectives to describe my son. 

So I kept going, and then stopped again. The values weren’t right. 

So I added darker value to the side of his face and called it quits. It’s always an arbitrary stopping point. I run out of patience, time, skill, whatever and it’s time to move on!

gouache on black toned paper

The NOVA Trio toned paper sketchbook has three tones: Grey, Black, and Beige. For a while the beige was my favorite, then grey, and now black!! I love the drama of it, and by the time I finished this one, I’d decided to go over to the gouache side for a while.

Gouache on black toned paper

And today Andrew and I both decided that gouache is where it’s at. It’s F’in lit! (Can you tell I’ve been hanging out with a 28 year old?) I mean, so much drama at your finger and brush tips! especially on black toned paper.

Meanwhile we’re showing our house for sale, which means vacating the house a bit each day after making everything shipshape. Even a bit of art making helps keep us sane.

Faces in Endless Variety!

This month’s Sktchy app’s 30 faces in 30 days event has turned international with so much variety of poses! I’m way behind in posting my efforts. Although I signed up for the Sktchy School with a different teacher demo each day, I’ve not been able to watch most of them, but I’m enjoying looking at the teachers’ choice of model and approach. It’s all watercolor and gouache, and each teacher puts their personal stamp on what they do. I’ve been enjoying alternating between watercolor and gouache and trying some new techniques.

watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal with Fluid Watercolor Paper

This was Michael Creighton’s lesson. Not at all the way I usually paint but I really enjoyed this almost pointillist method of painting in brushstrokes! My impatience made it needlessly messy, but I liked the overall effect. Thank you Michael!

gouache on beige toned paper

Gouache makes for a more sculptural effect, and I like the creamy texture of the paint and the ability to paint light over dark.

pen and watercolor

I’m finding that I spend a lot more time trying to get the drawing “right” than with the painting. This one feels unfinished to me, but it was getting late and. . .so I grabbed my pen . . .What a fun subject though! He really had that blue hair with beads in it!

Pthalo blue and Quin Rose watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal

The idea for this two color portrait was from the teacher Kate Tsunoda and with an outrageously wonderful model.

watercolor

It took me forever to get this drawing close, and then it almost painted itself.

watercolor and white gel pen

This Indian gentleman with his mahogany skin was a great subject for layering of pigments.

watercolor

Another one of those characters that I would like to meet. He personifies delight! and don’t you just love his hair? an opportunity to make all those curlicues.

I just bought some more gouache colors and am looking forward to putting the paint on thicker in my next portraits!