Art Challenge (Part 2)

First Stage in Painting "The Reef"

I am creating a four canvas set depicting a coral reef scene for Village Gallery of Arts annual Art Challenge.  Any media is acceptable, but I decided to use oils.  So I need to begin painting now to allow plenty of time for my work to dry before the May opening.  


Because I must work on 6" x 6" canvases, I need to be mindful of keeping the design simple and avoiding clutter or too much detail.  

My first step was sketching lots of "candidate fish" for the reef, and also filling a sketchbook with 6" x 6" sketches of possible arrangements of fish within each canvas.  There are so many striking and fascinating fish to choose from.  KISS.


When I got ready to move my drawings from ink sketches on paper to charcoal on canvas, I suddenly found that I needed to simplify the composition even more.  So now the sea turtle paddles alone, taking up most of the top canvas.  The two yellow tangs just beneath his flippers had to go.  The other three canvases lost fish as well, going from five fish to three, or four to two.  


After I finished my charcoal sketches, I happened upon a tee-shirt hidden in a closet that I had painted with acrylics over a decade ago, the year I lived in Hawaii.  To my surprise, five of the fish on my tee shirt are to be included in "The Reef."  The other two fish on the shirt are replaced by members of their same families, a butterfly fish and a wrasse.  So there is a longtime, unconscious consistency to my choice of what to paint.


Next I filled in the ocean background around the silhouettes of fish and coral.  This is to be a unifying factor indicating depth of the water and tying the canvases to each other.  The hues range from pale turquoise, to medium turquoise, to cerulean blue to prussian blue.  Each canvas shares a color from the canvas above (or below).  Each canvas has two background tones which are blended at the edges and shaped to evoke the gently flowing movement of the water.  


I want the canvases to dry completely before I start adding the details of the fish and the coral.  They hang on the wall of my studio to dry as they will hang in the show.  I think the colors are working to visually unite the four canvases.  The fish are to be the stars, so I am keeping the background as minimal as possible. Because I'm planning to use some transparent layers, I will need to be prepared to go through some ugly duckling phases, before (I hope) morphing into a swan.


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Art Challenge (Part 1)

Unicorn Fish in Maui

The Village Gallery of Arts is an artist's cooperative that I  joined this year in Portland, OR.  Their annual fundraising show called the Art Challenge, which is held in May, sounded like fun. Each artist must create four 6" x 6" x 1.5" canvases that will be vertically hung as a group.  They may use any media, but must have a common subject or theme. 


What should be my theme?  The requirement is that the four images be related - four fruit, four flowers, four birds, four paint tubes, etc.  I enjoy nature  and have long accompanied my husband on birding adventures around the globe. Bur at the moment I'm not feeling inspired to paint four toucans or four tanagers. 


I am intrigued by the vertical display.  I would like to make the vertical arrangement meaningful.  I want the paintings to work together as a set, but also be able to individually stand on their own.  All of a sudden inspiration struck.  My theme should be a coral reef.  Visually I could tie the images together through the many hues of the ocean from pale turquoise at the water's surface, to gradually deepening shades of blue until reaching the coral bed in the bottom canvas.   And each individual canvas would feature one or more creatures I have personally seen swimming at the top, bottom, or in-between layers of coral reef. 


I have enjoyed snorkeling while visiting the Florida Keys, Hawaii, Tahiti, the Great Barrier Reef, and Western Australia. But when we settled in Maui for a year, I took up fish-watching with the same gusto as bird-watching. I wanted to learn to identify the many families and over five hundred species of Hawaiian reef fish.  I bought all the guides and books about fish I could find. I shot many photos with a succession of underwater cameras.  


So I began to think about which fish to paint and where in my 4-canvas ocean to place them.  The top canvas belongs to a green sea turtle.  The last time I snorkeled, two summers ago, a sea turtle suddenly rose to the surface right beside me, and hung there a while, taking a deep breath before slowly gliding into the deep.  


The bottom canvas belongs to a large, male Parrot Fish amongst some coral heads.  He has a Cleaner Wrasse at his side.  Parrot Fish eat algae and use their beaks to nibble at the coral.  They excrete it as sand which helps build the beaches. I've often been able to hear them chomping on the reef when snorkeling nearby.  Tiny Cleaner Wrasses have a symbiotic relationship  with much larger fish such as parrotfish and groupers.  They consume parasites from the gills and mouths of  immense, often carnivorous, fish, who wait for their turn at the "cleaning station". 


 In between, on my two remaining canvases, I have many beautiful and interesting families of reef fish to consider.  I have made dozens of sketches but have yet to narrow it down.


Having put this much thought into the Art Challenge, I did not want to be left out.  On the first day of registration, I was in line even before the gallery opened.  By the end of the day, all 90 spots were gone, with a growing waiting list.  I feel lucky to be included in this year's event.





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Back on my feet in Sunny Portland

Blackwater Wildlife Refuge

I feel for everyone on the East Coast, especially my friends in Boston, who are still surrounded by mounds of snow higher than any I have ever seen in person. It is sunny here in Portland (Oregon, not Maine). Trees are covered in blossoms ranging from white to pink to crimson. Daffodils are everywhere.  I finally have the energy and stamina to take an hour long walk, and next week I am planning an overnight visit to the Oregon Coast, where I hope to take brief hikes on the beach and eat fresh seafood by the docks.  

Today I dropped off my oil painting "Blackwater Wildlife Refuge" for Village Gallery of Arts' March show. This  painting was completed last year before I moved from Virginia to Oregon.  I still don't have a studio fully set up yet, but I am making progress. The room in question has a beautiful view of open space parkland (including those trees in bloom).  I also have a new easel.  All I need is to rearrange a bit of heavy furniture and figure out how the windows open to ensure good airflow.  There's just one more week until Daylight Savings Time.  I hope Spring arrives soon for everyone else, too!

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New studio, new muses

I've just moved from Colorado to Virginia.  My old studio was in a basement.  My new studio is on an upper floor with dappled sunlight filtered through leafy trees.  In our backyard woods, the regular visitors are a young inquisitive deer who stops to graze, a fox who frequently passes through, a white-pawed squirrel who is always alert for the fox, blue-tailed skinks who skitter across the window sills, and a pair of Carolina wrens who enchant me with the posturing of turned-up tails, rusty bodies, long downward curved beaks, and white lines above their eyes.  Nearby are marshes teeming with shorebirds and ospreys, punctuated by the calls of the bull frogs.  And here was a bull frog who posed for my camera.    

After a gap of many months, look for new works on my website in a few weeks time.  

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Each year I make a calendar and each year I make a resolution.   

Last year, my New Year's Resolution was to paint every day.  That certainly did not happen.  I have switched recently from mostly watercolors to mostly oil paintings.  Considering that we often travel up to six months a year, I can only bring along my painting gear on road trips, not airplanes.  And often there is hardly time to sketch.  In Peru for a month, we took long birding treks during daylight with only candle light and flashlights after dark.  So my resolution never stood a chance.  Another flaw was that "every day" clause.  Once you miss one day, you're done!

I began creating the calendars after a wondrous three week safari to Kenya.  With Photoshop, I added children and grandchildren to the wildlife photos--Mike with his arm around a lion's mane, Charlotte riding a giraffe, Kenna and Sedge on their tricycles next to a rhinocerous.  In years that followed I made photo calendars of Yellowstone (bison, wolves, marmots), of Vietnam and Thailand (water monitors, elephant artists), of Borneo (orangutans and hornbills), and of Polynesia (stingrays and seaturtles).  For 2013, I selected the best of my photos from remote Amazonian and cloudforest regions of Peru (hummingbirds, macaws, toucans and tapirs). 

So it is time again for a new resolution.  After last year's failure, I tried to compose a more acheivable goal for 2013.  And it it took me all this week for an idea to hatch that seemed just right.

In 2013 I resolve to complete 12 paintings that are worthy of publication in my 2014 calendar.  There are always a handful of paintings I might use, but never enough.  I fall back on my photos instead, year after year.  As the year goes by I can measure whether I am on track, as I need to complete an average of one per month.  Yet if I fall behind, all is not lost.  Wish me luck!

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Once in a lifetime exhibition at the National Gallery of Art

This past weekend I attended the opening day of Jakuchu’s “Colorful Realm of Living Beings”.  All thirty of his silk scroll masterpieces are on display together at the National Gallery of Art for the first time ever outside of Japan.  They are on loan for just one month during the Cherry Blossom Festival in honor of the 100th anniversary of the cherry trees given to our country by Japan in 1912.    This is only the second time in over 100 years that all the scrolls have been displayed with their centerpiece, a triptych of the Buddha Sakyamuni from the Zen monastery Shokokuji in Kyoto.  As property of the Imperial Household, this is likely the only chance any of us will have to see them in person in our lifetimes.   So if you live near Washington DC or have any leeway to visit the city, please consider taking the time to see this show before it closes April 29th.   By the way, the National Gallery of Art has free admission and tickets are not required.


Jakuchu’s exquisite paintings celebrate the Buddhist belief that all living things have spirituality.  His work is considered the greatest achievement in the history of Japanese nature painting.  His finely detailed renderings of birds--from chickens to mandarin ducks to cockatoos--are more striking than Audubon’s.  His 30 scrolls also include shellfish, insects, frogs, tadpoles, and fish, artfully arranged amid appropriate foliage and flowers.   He celebrates the varying patterns of plumage and delights in the details and variations found in nature.


The paintings have recently gone through a six-year restoration project to preserve them for future generations.  This effort afforded new insights into Jakuchu’s method of working.  He uses both organic dyes that seep into the silk fiber and inorganic pigments that sit on top and provide surface texture.  He painted large portions of his paintings on the back as well as the front of the silk, achieving subtle variations and illusions of depth.   The scrolls have three layers of backing material behind the silk painting.  Jakuchu’s use of dark ink on the layer immediately behind the fine silk creates a dramatic luminous quality that enlivens the images.  


 The National Gallery’s exhibition space has the triptych at one end, and the 30 nature scrolls lining each side of the gallery, just as Jakuchu envisioned their display.  The impact is dazzling.  And the artistry down to the finest detail is enthralling.  The exhibition closes April 29th.  Don’t miss it.

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