When I was in my first year of college, a friend of mine put Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers into my hands and taught me how to use the key system to identify the wildflowers we were finding.
It was the beginning of my life-long love of plants. I enrolled in botany courses and, having decided I would become a botanical illustrator, I took my portfolio of plant drawings to the University of Michigan herbarium.
To my delight, I was given a job, not with flowering plants, as I had expected, but with Sphagnum mosses. For the next year I made pen and ink drawings of the mosses and cross-sections of their leaves, working with a microscope and camera lucida, stippling in shading with a crow quill pen.
I've forgotten much of what I learned in my botany classes, but my love of plants is undiminished. In fresh bloom, or in the skeletal remains of last year’s roadside weeds, even the simplest forms of plants achieve an elegance in their own right; that is what I’ve tried to capture in my latest paintings.
In December 2020, the Juneau Cares Artworks program sought proposals from local artists for public art in Juneau. It felt like the continuation of a great tradition, an extension of the Works Project Administration (WPA), and I am honored to have been selected to participate.
You would think that record breaking rainfall might put a damper on outdoor painting, but that just hasn't happened! Due, in large part, to “the buddy system,” my painting in Juneau's rainy climate has continued without a break. Making commitments to meet and work with my friends and fellow artists, rain or shine, has kept the dark and wet summer lively and bright; getting outdoors to hike and paint has kept up my spirits up through Juneau's rainiest summer in history.
A collection of my summer work will be shown at the Annie Kaill Gallery in Juneau in December. I have posted a preview in my photo album on this site labeled, “2020, Summer Paintings." My recent paintings can also be seen on my Instagram account.
Sure, the big picture is important, the overview, but there is joy in the details! I've been having so much fun in my new studio! I'll post an album of my recent work, but, in the meanwhile, here's a preview...details of my newest paintings.
I can't imagine a more scenic road system than the one we have here in Juneau, Alaska. No billboards allowed; instead, attractions include shimmering waterways, majestic mountain ranges, a busy fishing fleet, and the salmon themselves, jumping free of the sea only to slap down hard again. The seals poke their heads up from the sea and the whales spout in the distance. For a Plein air artist, there is nothing more satisfying than to take a little bit of all that home with you; the sights, sounds and scents, are all wrapped up in the painting of the day.
For painting watercolors outdoors, the weather this spring has been wonderfully cooperative; it's a tricky medium in rain country, and I've yet to find an umbrella that will stay put in the usual accompanying winds. But, no worries this week! The weather continues fair for the holiday. Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!
A collection of my small watercolors will be shown at Kaill's next First Friday event, July 6, 2018.
In a weaving, one set of fibers is strung on a loom in a consistent parallel spacing, while the other set wraps around them, creating a design or pattern. The warp is the steady constant; the weft is the variable element; the options are limited only by the imagination of the weaver.
My new paintings are a different kind of weaving; the variable element comes in the initial color glazes as pigments blend, pool, travel and interact. After guiding initial washes by tilting the board, blotting, brushing, and drying, I weave in specific, structured, and representational imagery. The warp and the weft here are color and image, the weaving is a blend of abstraction and represention.
Coppa will feature my new paintings and the paintings of Barbara Craver on First Friday, June 1st, 2018. There will be an opening on that date from 4:00 to 6:00 pm and the paintings will be on display through the month of June. I hope you can stop by.
It's been only a few weeks since Spring Equinox and already the days in
Alaska have become luxuriously long. Suddenly we have more hours of
daylight to work and spend outdoors. A recent stretch of sunny dry weather,
following what seemed like a particularly long dark winter, brought on a
fury of activity-- in the home, garden, and studio. At home, I tackled
Spring Cleaning at a frantic, fevered pitch and in the studio, I dealt with the sorry
half of "win some, lose some," that unfortunate stack of paintings I'd
accumulated over the winter that just didn't work. I hauled them into the yard to determine what might be saved. For work on canvas, sometimes only the stretcher bars can be salvaged, but Gessobords can be sanded down to the original surface and re-gessoed to make way for new and better work.
Inside my new studio, I've installed shelves and a pegboard on the wall in
the eternal quest for organization. I washed the windows, cleared drawers
of junk, and sorted and cleaned brushes. Best of all, I've assembled a
travel kit, hanging by the door, ready to grab and go. In it I've packed
paint, brushes, easel, water, sketchbook, pens, pencils, and bug dope in
anticipation of the next sunny day. The fever is broken; it's time to ditch the broom and dust cloth, and venture out with those beautiful new painting surfaces, so full of potential and promise.
Sure. Yes. Live in the moment. But...I also need to set goals for the future! Goals are what motivate me. In my work as an artist, it is thinking ahead to scheduled shows that gets me into the studio. Life is a playground of distractions: books to read, a garden that needs work, cleaning and organizing, meeting friends for walks and swimming; activities that require living in the moment, being physically and emotionally present.
Yet, once I'm at work at the easel, living in the moment, the moment slips right out of the space/time continuum and I am nolonger present. Deep into a painting, I disappear into what the work demands. I see and obey. The painting requires color here, lines there,shapes here and there, more color, more lines, more, more, more, until it's three in the morning and I've had no sense of the passage of time.
And when I return to the studio and see the painting, I study it in wonder. How
did I do that? How did it end up the way did? How? The answer is inexplicably simple; the painting told me where to go and what to do, and even managed to stop time while I was working at it. Weird! Awesome! Hard to get started. Hard to stop. If not for working toward the future, I would never experience getting so lost in the moment.
Forget painting in the quiet evening sunset by the side of a slow flowing canal, trees swaying in unison with the passing of a warm breeze; forget painting outside the café, sipping strong coffee, watching the light change on the cathedral across the square or on fields of grain and haystacks in the sunset. Of course, Monet did it all, and so well, in the loveliest of circumstances...well, okay, he did have the pressure of needing to feed a large family by brush alone. But, forget Monet. Who goes painting en plein aire in Alaska in December
My art buddies, that's who! Sometimes it takes more than one artist to make some paint come out of the tube. That's where the art buddy system comes into play; our mantra, "If you'll go, I will, too," is really put to the test in winter.
We dress in layers, layers, and more layers, and end up looking very much alike in our long coats, multiple scarves, hats, and gloves. All but one of us, one who is impervious to the cold; she who sits at her easel wearing a jaunty straw boater as the wind whips the icy cold water on the channel into tiny cyclones that speed north toward town.
The rest of us, after a walk up and down the beach and around the old mining buildings, beat a retreat to the relative warmth and shelter of our car, there to devour a picnic of scones with jam and butter, a treat provided by our good friend and neighbor who knew better than to actually join us.
We took photos, made sketches, and banged our hands together in futile attempts to get our blood flowing down to our fingertips while our intrepid friend completed her small oil painting. Not a lot of art was committed onto paper or canvas that day, but, dazzled by the beauty of sunshine sparkling on the water, ice on the beach, and fresh snow on the mountains, we went home with our fellowship confirmed and our heads full of imagery that might someday become paintings, but that was already securely locked into our memory banks.
There is a corner of my little lot that has an unsurpassed view of Mt. Juneau. From inside my home, you can't see the mountain at all, but from that corner, the view is spectacular. I've been planning a little studio/view room for that corner for years. I have files and drawers overflowing with careful drawings of floor plans and elevations, photos from magazines, and books about cabins and tiny houses; I've talked to builders, looked at portables, DIY kits, and searched the Internet for ideal little structure. Then, one day on Craigslist, I found a little building for sale that would suit me perfectly. The roof line matched that of my home. It was well built and in my budget. Most amazingly, the seller would help me move it to my home.
This simple 8'x12' structure came to me like a life ring. Cast out of my studio downtown because of remodeling, I was without a decent place to work. Having infinite possibilities and a minimal budget had left me petrified; there were too many choices and there was not enough moolah to make any of them from scratch. Before my new studio came to me, I was trapped in the Paradox of Choice.
In the process of preparing the foundation pad, my energy reached new heights. In the cold rain of October, I built a frame, dug out the soil, and filled it in with three tons of gravel and four tons of sand, wielding my my little shovel and pushing my wheelbarrow with real joy. We pulled the building off the trailer with a truck and pushed it across the yard on scavenged PVC pipes.
After years, literally, of planning so many structures, it was a huge relief to be presented with a simple, ready made, solution! I'm so grateful to the young man who sold me this building and helped me move it with infinite care and a hearty can-do attitude. I've added insulation, and got myself back in the habit of showing up for work! Come spring, I'll add a few more windows, and pull in some more of that spectacular view.
Juneau isn't Barrow; even in the middle of winter, we get relief from the darkness. We see the sun from time to time, but, mostly, we live in a light diffused through the mist of light rain or fog. It can feel like winter lasts forever, but there is something comforting about it too...that cocoony kind of feeling that says, "It's okay to stay home today and read your books, sip your coffee, and just watch the world from inside." Never mind that you're wearing your long underwear and at least two layers of down...and that's with the heat on!
I really don't mind the winter. If it gets bad, I can go visit my sister for a week. One week in the dense population and high-speed heavy traffic of Seattle is enough to cure me. It won't be long til Spring!
Letting go of stuff isn't easy; it takes practice. The goal is simplification...getting down to the essence of life, the bare necessities. I've been trying to unclutter my brain, my home, and the paintings I've been working on.
Nature is an animated clutter of animal, vegetable, and mineral...a weaving of life that can be hypnotic and overwhelming. For decades, I've looked at the vast complexity of nature and tried to capture that in my work, so, for me, it's a new challenge to work on simplification of forms in nature; to let go of the big noisy picture and focus instead on the quiet curl of a spent fireweed flower or the color of sunshine passing through a dark cherry leaf. It's like trying to reduce a great classic into a haiku. I'm loving the challenge.
There are times in life when it's easy to fall off the tracks; when wandering is the default; the main path is obscured. Detours on tangential journeys may or may not lead toward joy and fulfillment; at every fork in the road, all choices seem to have the same potential. You can't know until you've gone as far as you can or dare, whether or not you've chosen wisely.
My residency at the lighthouse in Norway...rewarding, but isolating...led to a time of wandering. After my residency ended, I spent time traveling with friends and family. I enjoyed visiting new places but after being away from home for so long, I felt untethered. Returning to Juneau, happy to be back in Alaska, I found that my lovely studio was about to become a stairwell; it took some time to find a new place to work, but, at last, I've stumbled back onto the right path. I have a studio again. I'm painting. Life is good. The world is beautiful. I'm back on track.
Like so many who sign the guest book, I can hardly believe that "I was here!” ‘Here’ is Ryvingen, the southernmost lighthouse in Norway. This small island is the first stop for wind and waves crashing in from the North Sea. Migrating birds rest and nest here. Visitors come when the weather is good, and it's an overnight destination for every sixth grader in Mandal schools. It has also been my home for the last six weeks as Ryvingen's first artist-in-residence.
I've spent my time exploring and making paintings of the pink granite, grassy fields, and rocky shores, working en Plein air, mostly on my own, occasionally in the company of friends, and almost always to the tinkling bells of the sheep that graze here in the summer.
Amazement - that I had this opportunity.
Panic - that I might not be able to meet my goals.
Confidence - once my painting got in the groove.
Surprise - at the energy that infused my work here.
Excitement - at sharing my paintings with others.
Nostalgia - thinking of the experiences I've had here and the people I will remember when I have moved on.
There will be an opening for a show of my work this Sunday, June 26th, at 12:00 noon in the lighthouse. To my dear friends from home...I know you probably won't be able to come, so please check out my work in the album to the right. To my new dear friends...vi sees snart!
When I made this painting I was thinking only of the eagles; their fierce and joyful presence at Eagle Rock, the retreat built by Ernest and Dorothy Gruening in the early 1950's. Only later did I come to think of the eagles as spirit reminders of Ernest and Dorothy Gruening themselves. They were leaders in national and state politics and the arts, great original thinkers, and strong believers in public service; their legacy is one that has been honored by the creation of Ernest Gruening State Historical Park and the Artist-in-Residence Program that was recently established there.
In June, last summer, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks at Eagle Rock, painting as the AIR Program's first resident artist; my work from that experience will be shown at Kaill's Gallery on Front Street in Juneau next month, with an Opening Reception on Friday, February 5th, from 4:30 to 7:30 pm. I hope you can stop by!
Amidst the jumble of vegetation in our fields and forests, individual plants grow in patterns held in common with every member of its species, every species of its genus, and every genus of its order. Alternate leaves or opposite, single or multiple stems, flowering or non-flowering; there is consistency, regularity...order...in the vast and overlapping abundance of Nature.
In this series of paintings, as in Nature, I search for order in the chaos. I begin with an underpainting that allows pigments to blend and swirl, creating colors and accidental effects that support the detailed forms of plants and flowers, branches and twigs. Paints, applied in color glazes, mix both physically and optically, creating depth and a smooth ceramic-like surface on wood panels.
These paintings are about the search for order in the big chaos of Life; they will be on display this Friday, November 6th, at the Artique Gallery in Anchorage, Alaska, with an opening reception from 6:00 to 8:00 pm.
I'm in my studio for the first time since my artist-in-residency, where I spent two weeks living in a cabin rich in history, in a setting wild and wonderful. The salmon were jumping, whales were spouting, sea lions feeding, berries ripening, and the wildflowers blooming, all to the regular rise and fall of the tide, the sweep of the sun, and the changes in the moon. Immersed in nature, inspired by the beauty all around me, I spent my time painting, painting, painting.
I'll have more work to show from this experience in the next weeks and months. Meanwhile, many thanks are due to the people who imagined, created, and now support this program. Thank you, Alaska State Parks, for making this opportunity available!
Now that the packing is done, and the shipping arranged, I can really get excited about my first solo show in Anchorage! On Friday, March 6th, there will be an Opening Reception from 5:30 to 7:00pm for my show at the ConocoPhillips Gallery at Alaska Pacific.
In the spirit of the Academy Awards, I need to thank those who have helped make this show possible: Jannah Atkins, Curator of Exhibits at APU; Andrea Noble-Pelant of the Alaska State Council on the Arts; my amazing dentist who gave me back my smile in time for my opening; and my Art Buddy, Barbara Craver, who is also having a solo show at APU at the Leah J. Peterson Gallery at the same time. Wow...it would have so much harder and not nearly as fun to try to do this without her help!
These thanks could go on forever, all truly heartfelt, from daily support from my sister, Naomi, all the way back to my daddy, who first put a crayon in my hand, and my mom, who told me I could do anything I set my mind on. Thanks, Mom and Dad!
If you can't make it on Friday, I'll be in the gallery on Saturday as well, from noon to 2:00pm. I'd like to express my appreciation to each and every one of you who have supported my work for so many years... Thank you!
It's a rare painting that doesn't influence the artist during the process of its creation; paint has a way of making itself a key player in the production of art, often nudging the artist off course in unanticipated directions. In these paintings, I've embraced the power of the paint and made use of the accidental and unanticipated effects of colors mixing, swirling, twisting, and traveling. Incorporating these features, unadulterated, while detailing images in and around them, has been both challenging and rewarding.
Whether separated by a clear layer of glazing medium, or applied simultaneously, the colors affect each other in predictable and unpredictable ways, but they were applied with intention and purpose; drawing on nature, memory, and imagination for inspiration, these paintings were made in celebration of the magic and beauty all around us.