Bridge at Kensington

Bridge at Kensington

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Michigan Horse Country

I did these two pochades a couple of Sundays ago in horse country, just east of Ann Arbor, Mich. The week earlier I had visited a friend who rents a room in an old, circa late 1800s, farmhouse on 40 acres. Behind the house is an ancient Black Walnut tree. estimated by the county to be between 600-900 years old. Yes, you read that correctly. I was in awe.

Behind the house and the black walnut was a collapsed old barn, dropped by a powerful straight-line wind that blew through the area about 4-5 years ago. And hidden from sight beyond the barn wreck and assorted other dilapidated farm buildings was a beautiful little pond and a wide open grass field backed by woods. When I came back the next weekend, the fall colors were waiting.

It was about the last warm, sunny Sunday in mid-October and I was almost giddy to be out painting such a simple but lovely landscape. There were lots of greens to challenge me, along with more yellows than usual, plus some fabulous reds. I had to hold myself back on the reds -- I think we're so thrilled to see them in the fall that we think they look redder than they are.

Overall, I'm pleased with the way this piece turned out. I like the variation of blue and white in the sky and the way the leafless trees fade out above the rest of the woods. I was able to capture the grasses and shrubs around the pond, as well as the reflections.

For whatever reason, this is an area of southeast Michigan I haven't explored. It wasn't far from home, around 30 minutes by freeway on a Sunday, but I had no idea there are horse farms so close to the metropolitan area. Shame on me. While there are no horses on the old farm my friend lives on, there is a Morgan farm next door and several others on the half-mile or so back to the main road.

After finishing the first, I turned around and focused on the barn next door that belongs to the landlord. I'm not sure if it's in use but it didn't look neglected. I was attracted by the orange leaves behind the red barn and the interesting shadow play on the grass in the foreground. This view presented numerous challenges: The pine tree in front of the orange tree on the right, the sinuous shadows on the bright sunlit grass and the skeleton of the leafless tree in the background.

At this point it was getting close to late afternoon and I was going to lose this great light soon. I did the barn first, then put in the orange trees, then the green tree and shrub on the left, then the shadows in front. The leafless tree was one of the last areas I painted.

Now that I've had a few weeks to look at this one, there are some areas that don't satisfy me -- the leafless tree in the background looks too cumbersome and the green pine on the right needs more form. I'm also not too sure about the short side of the barn; I think the back corner needs to recede more to be more believable. I'm also still deciding if the shadows in the foreground work as well as they could. Nonetheless, a very satisfying afternoon. What is it Radar would have said in M*A*S*H --"slaked."

Let me know what you think. I've changed the requirements in the Comment box so you don't have to have a Google account to leave a comment. And I've added Feedburner, so this blog is available as a feed sent to you as it's updated. Feedburner also reformats the posts so that they are more readable by search engines, which in theory, could generate more traffic. We'll see!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dried Flowers

Here are the last of my North Carolina work, two still lifes of flowers that the lady-of-the-house had cut from her garden before they left for Oregon. Walking by them one day after they had long died and dried, I noticed the lovely lines and gestures.

This first one, above, was intended to be a quick sketch so I could get a feel for the flowers. I haven't been much of a flower or still life painter and wanted to get a sense of how I worked with these flowers. Plus, I rather liked the straight forward lineup of the bud vases in the wooden rack.

I decided I didn't want to paint this on my usual 6 x 8 in. canvas because that would have rendered the flowers as mere dots. So I gessoed a pad of watercolor paper I had with me and sat down one evening. It actually took me several hours, much longer than I expected.

About a week later I took the flowers outside into better light and decided to try again with a 9 x 12 in. canvas board I bought in town. I put the crumbling flowers into one bud vase and when I set it against the exterior siding, realized the color of the siding was a perfect complement to the other colors.

Again, my goal was to look like these flowers were gestural, with the brush strokes quickly showing the shape, line and direction of the petals. I'm reasonably pleased with this second still life, as the treatment suits the dried, fragile nature of the flowers and gives a sense of quickly they'll be gone.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Cold Mountain

Yes, this is the same Cold Mountain that was the subject of the book and movie of the same name. Cold Mountain is west of Asheville, NC, close to the western edge of the state and within sight of the Great Smoky Mountains. (Smokies in the distance in the left photo.)

My sister, Sandy, connected me with the man, Ron Clark, who has set up the last two golfing vacations she and my brother-in-law, Bob, have spent in Western North Carolina. Ron is one of the nicest, friendliest guys you'll ever want to meet. No wonder; Ron has combined doing what he loves with where he loves to be -- he loves to golf and he loves the North Carolina mountains. So promoting golf in the mountains is as normal for him as breathing.

When Sandy told Ron I was a painter and was going to NC to paint, his reponse was "She has to paint Cold Mountain." Ron took time out of his super-busy September schedule (October is a huge tourism month in NC for the fall color season) to meet with me twice. He and his wife have just started to build their dream house in the mountains in Clyde, NC, the spot from which these paintings were painted and photographs taken. They looked for three years to find the highest building site they could find (above 4,000 ft.) and waited another three years until they found the right log home design and builder. To give you an idea of just how awesome their site is, you look down on the medical helicopter that flies by every afternoon to the local hospital.

After meeting Ron in Clyde and following him up his mountain, I got started painting about 4 p.m. on a sunny Monday afternoon. To say it was breezy is a given; it's pretty much always breezy at this elevation. My first piece that day (left) shows a narrow slice of the view of the valley below and the Smokies beyond. As I set up I thought I would try and capture a wider section of the valley, but ended up narrowing it to get the most interesting juxtaposition of the mountain peaks in the distance. I also decided to include more sky than I have in previous paintings to create a greater sense of depth.

I spent about two hours on this first piece, until the light had changed so much I was done whether I wanted to be or not.

I turned around and was excited to see how the setting sun was changing the colors and shadows on Cold Mountain. (photo above right)

The mountain looked so sculptural I decided to put my brush down and use a palette knife, not my typical way of painting. I had to mix up more paint anyway, so not mix up even more? And the 6 X 8 in. canvas seemed much too small, so I painted this one on a 9 X 12 in. canvas board I had in the van.

The light was changing rapidly, changing the color of the sky and increasing the shadows so I worked very fast, finishing this piece (above left) in about 30 minutes. At that point the light was so incredibly beautiful and different from what I started with that I didn't want to stop, so I grabbed another 6 X 8 in. canvas, told myself I had 15 minutes and I had to work with whatever colors were left on the palette.

Truth be told, this last one (right) is probably my favorite from the day. Minimal brush strokes, interesting color and simplified shapes. The photograph is more blue than the actual painting; the rear range of mountains are more gray-blue in the painting.

Not only was I anxious to catch the last light to paint, I was anxious to have enough light to clean up and get my gear back in the van. When I was there in September the builder had just started to stake out the house in preparation for building. Translation: there was no electricity and no lights, except those twinkling below in the valley. While I knew I could slowly feel my way down the mountain road, I wanted to leave myself a little dusk to light my way. I've included a photo of dusk just before I left. Watching the sunset from this height, I realized I had not seen the sun set in the mountains yet this entire trip. What a glorious range of colors!

For those of you who would love to golf in the Western North Carolina mountains, visit Ron at He's also got some great photos, many of which he took himself, on his website.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

French Broad River Fields

Just outside the southern city limit of Brevard, North Carolina, you cross the French Broad River. One of the main rivers in Western North Carolina, the French Broad plays a major role in the history of the region, as all rivers do. It was a means of transportation for the Native Americans before it saw the first settlements of Europeans, primarily the Scots-Irish fleeing religious persecution in Scotland.

The flat valleys along the French Broad are still farm land along much of the river's course. I crossed the French Broad numerous times as I drove throughout the region, especially as I traveled farther west. But I didn't have to go far to find a beautiful, quiet expanse of farm fields. Less than three miles from the entry to the subdivision where I stayed was a picturesque, tranquil scene rimmed on two sides by distant mountains and depending on the time of day, traversed by a herd of cattle.

As I drove to and from town on an almost daily basis, I looked for places I could set up and paint. I considered the parking lot of a large church at a far corner of the fields, but it was too far away. I tried a corner opposite the fields on what appeared to be a substation for the local telephone company. But that angle faced directly west and I was squinting into the sun and telephone lines early in the afternoon. The road shoulder was narrow and I didn't want to be a hazard. Finally, I stopped at a daycare center adjacent to the fields and asked if I could set up and paint near the road, far from children's activity.

For my first 6 X 8 inch painting that afternoon I isolated a section of field with the mountains behind. This time I felt a bit more ready to tackle the values of the mountains and pushed myself to work fast and not overthink the image. One of the primary reasons I was so attracted to this view was because of the interesting patterns of the cattle herd I frequently saw. What I didn't realize is that cattle have schedules. The field was empty while I painted, and empty for most of the rest of the afternoon. The herd appeared and started to move across, from left to right in this view, as I finished the second painting and was packing to leave. I have reference photos, so there are still cows in my painting future.

I then turned 90 degrees and squinting into the late afternoon sun in the west, decided to paint the field on the opposite side of the road from the first painting, my side of the road. You can just see the road and the bridge where it crosses the French Broad, in the top right side of the canvas. The river is not extremely wide at this point.

It's very interesting how juicy and fluid oil paint becomes when the sun is beating down on your canvas. No shade nearby and too breezy to set up my unstable plein air umbrella. But the sun lighting up the corn fields in front of me was too luminous to pass up. I was even visited by several curious horses, separated by a thin wire fence.I'm not sure if that is a house or barn behind the trees in the distance. Metal roofs are common in this part of the country so that roof was indeed, white.

As much as I enjoy painting the garden vignette, a large part of me leans toward the traditional genre of long-range-view landscape painting. On the other hand, it's highly intimidating to be faced with a 180 degree scene of intense beauty and attempt to translate a small slice of it into paint on canvas. My left brain always argues to include more of the scene, more details, while my right brain, my visual brain, is working feverishly to reduce what my eyes are seeing to simple, elegant images. Suffice it to say that after an afternoon of painting in the sun, your eyes aren't the only part of you that is glazed over.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Late Summer Garden Paintings

This is much delayed and I have much catching up to do.
Let's just say I had all the technology with me that I needed but high-speed connectivity was not convenient.

The month in Western North Carolina was fabulous and much different than I expected. Ideas, plans and ambitions crafted while still in the city looked almost silly while I was there. Then I got a chest cold that had me sleeping and resting for most of a week. Anyway, these next posts will not be so much in sequence of when the pieces were painted as by place or subject.

These are, again, vignettes of the gardens around the home where I was staying. The lady-of-the-house has an eye for pleasing arrangements of color and texture and I couldn't resist. And why should I?

The predominantely yellow and green painting, Late black-eyed Susans, is the first time I've used a different yellow, Cadmium Yellow Medium, for outdoor work. I typically use its lighter sister, Cadmium Yellow Light. Cad Yellow Medium is a more intense deeper yellow, and right from the paint tube, almost exactly the right color for the flowers. I mixed it with Chromatic Black to get the rest of the greens in the painting, which is why the painting has an almost monochromatic feel to it. It was painted in early evening and into dusk, which I think I was able to capture in the soft grayed yellows and greens. (For non-painters, most black pigments have a lot of blue in them, so mixing them with yellow produces interesting, earthy greens.)

I was attracted to this section of the garden for the shapes and repetition of the flower heads, yet I didn't want to try and paint dozens of small black dots. Actually, I started down that patch and quickly painted it out. I resolved the challenge by using my palette knife to create spots and dashes of dark, which is really what it looked like to me when I squinted my eyes.
I'm not sure if in preparing the file for the web that I got the colors of this piece just right; the yellowed greens are a lovely olive green with a bit of brighter green here and there. You don't realize until you come inside how your eyes adjust to the fading sunlight, and I was thrilled at the mood this one captured when I viewed it indoors.

This piece, Orange Flowers and Jug, seems to be everyone's favorite. This was another late afternoon session and a frustrating one. The flowers are a passionate, intense orange that I couldn't capture in paint no matter how many mixtures of different reds and yellows I tried. And, I was more frustrated by the fact that I didn't have that many paint colors with me, so I still wonder if there is some combination of more intense red and vibrant yellow that may give me a color closer to what I saw, because that's the reason I sat down to paint this vignette.

Part of my challenge in painting swaths of flower beds is to not try and paint every petal, but give the viewer enough visual information that their mind fills in the rest but their eyes enjoy what they are seeing.

The lady-of-the-house expressed an interest in buying this piece, so I'm not going to offer these paintings just yet.

And what do painters do with all that leftover paint when a painting or session is done? Some scrape the palette clean and throw it out. Others scrape it into a jar or tube and save it for another day. Some mix everything together to create a rich, neutral "mud" that can be very useful to tone a canvas as a "ground." Or, you can spread it all over a fresh canvas and see what you get. Hence, this oddity, Palette Scrapings Cad Red. Cad Red is just too expensive a pigment to throw away, and I love the color. I don't think this really stands alone as an abstract, but it may be the start for something else in the future.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Blue Ridge Parkway

I spent Thursday afternoon painting the mountains -- finally. I finally got up out of the deep forest of Pisgah (I'll go back) to several miles of higher elevation. The first overlook I stopped at, Pounding Mill Overlook, had more than enough vista for more than 180 degrees, to make me happy.

I can't say I'm at all happy with these first two mountain paintings. Painting the mountains is much more difficult that it looks. For my artist friends, it initially looks like a simple gray scale, with lightest in the back to darkest in the front. Wrong-o, I was.

At right is my first painting during this first Blue Ridge plein air session.

As painters know, adding white to a color not only lightens the color, it brightens it. The atmospheric perspective in these mountains is cool and blue-gray. To add to the difficulty, the green in the mountains in the foreground is warm and yellow and also has areas of the cooler, blue-gray-white mist. The light changes every 30 minutes or less.Yikes.

This is how the view from Pounding Mill Overlook changed a couple of hours after I started painting.

This is my second pochade during this plein air session. This time I painted from back to front, instead of foreground to background, and the view I was painting was more to the right of the above photo, as you can see below right.

All that said, it was one of the most exhilarating paintings sessions I've ever had. The temperature was cool, the sun was in my face and I never felt the sunburn I got because of the constant breeze at 4,700 ft. Lots of people came over to say hi and make comments. One man, after seeing my Michigan license plate, said "That's a long way to come to make a painting. " I heard quite a bit of "That's purr-tee. You sure got a touch." I'm not so sure about that, but I'm going back for more.

To the left is the view from Cherry Cove, about a mile south from Pounding Mill Overlook. As you can see, the choices are almost endless!

Check it out: The Blue Ridge Parkway

(My apologies for the weird spacing and formatting in this post. I've tried and tried but can't seem to fix it.)

Pisgah National Forest

I spent about two-and-a-half days in Pisgah National Forest, a magical place of more than 510,000 acres that transverses several counties in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. There's a tremendous amount of interesting natural and conservation history here.

More than 85,000 acres was originally owned by George Vanderbilt, who built the incredible Biltmore Estate in Asheville. After Vanderbilt's death, his widow sold the land to the U.S. government in 1914 for $5 an acre.

At left is Looking Glass Falls, accessible from the road and said to be "the most photograhed falls in America."

The man responsible for building and maintaining the Biltmore grounds and gardens, the well-known landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, recommended Vanderbilt hire a forest manager. Gifford Pichot , who was later the first chief of the USDA Forest Service, created what was the first forest management plan in the country, for Biltmore Forest. He was followed by German forester Dr. Carl Schenck. Schenck had a degree in forestry -- unknown in the United States at the time -- and started the Biltmore Forest School in 1895, the first forest conservation school in this country. It was the start of modern forest conservation in America. I spent an interesting afternoon at the Cradle of Forestry in America, a 6,500-acre historic site nestled in Pisgah Forest.

All that to say that for someone like me who adores trees and forests, I was in my element. Pisgah has more than 1,734 miles of forest system trails, plus about 330 miles of national trails, including 226 miles of the Appalachian Scenic trail. I only did a scant couple files hiking into a delightful waterfall, Moore's Cove. Three of my many photos are below.

This one is from behind the falls. So cool, so peaceful.

Learned some interesting things from one of the senior volunteers at the Cradle of Forestry. The Forest Service provides an RV park with full hook-ups, well-equipped kitchen and dining room and shower house for its senior volunteers. The volunteers, all in uniform, are expected to work about half the time they're on assignment, leaving them lots of time to hike, explore or enjoy. The several I talked to clearly enjoyed the work -- mostly service jobs -- and loved where they were doing it. The gentleman I talked with had lived a number of places, including Ann Arbor, Mich.

From the trail to Moore's Cove, at left.

I became fascinated with brilliant orange tree fungus, as seen in the next two photos.

The railroad ties, below, are part of an old railroad trestle used in the early 1900s in Pisgah and are now part of one of the historical exhibits.

Forests, blue hills and ambitious plans

My apologies for not posting for more than a week now, after saying I intended to post daily updates. While I am digitally well equipped I am not well connected. I'm now beginning to understand the coffeehouse culture, because this is where I can get high-speed internet besides the library.

I mentioned the lovely old house I stayed at in Cincinnati, spending the night in a four-poster bed. This photo of the window at the top of the stairs should give you a flavor for its elegance.

Here's a photo of my charge, Simba. He's very mellow and tolerates me but misses his people. Like all older cats he sleeps most of the day, and scared me the first few days when I couldn't find him. I finally discovered him sleeping in the owners' closet, curled up on his mom's t-shirts. He was named Simba because in the winter he has a full chest mane that reaches the floor.

After resting from the two-day drive and intense push to get here, I began painting in the gardens last weekend. The house is on five acres, with lovely perennial gardens around the house and extensive raised-bed vegetable gardens in the back. The rest off the property is woods and I can't see any neighbors. That doesn't mean I don't know they're there -- I can hear lots of dogs, music from the neighbor behind and traffic from the paved and dirt roads. Just like home in Ferndale -- almost.

I'm fascinated by the light and mist in the trees, the woods and on the hills. It's incredibly difficult to capture well in paint. I decided to paint the garden bed with the woods behind for the sharp contrast between the warm yellow of the evening sunlight on the grass and flowers and cool blue shadows in the woods. This one took about two hours to paint.

The next evening, I got back to the house late and gave myself an hour to capture the dusk mist in the trees. Because I started at 7 pm that was all the light and time I had. I'm not entirely pleased with this first one.

It's easy to get lost in the forest, watching the dappled light dance off the leaves and branches. The woods around the house look completely different in the morning, from the afternoon, from the evening.

Here's a photo of what greeted me the other morning when I woke up and walked outside -- a common sight in the morning.

Here are a few more I hope you enjoy:

Friday, August 31, 2007

Greetings from Brevard, North Carolina

Hello friends and visitors.

I arrived in Brevard, NC, yesterday late afternoon after two days of driving. Wednesday I drove from metro Detroit to Cincinnati, a five-hour trip, then drove about seven hours on Thursday from Cinci to NC. It's the first time I've traveled that far down I-75, a common trip for many people I know. For orientation purposes, I'm about 45 minutes south of Asheville in Western North Carolina. Hello Blue Ridge Mountains!

I spent Wednesday night in a fabulous old house in one of Cincinnati's old neighborhoods. Built around 1850, it has a fabulous staircase with a glorious golden-yellow stain glass window at the top of the stairs and antiques and original art throughout. My hostess has made some stunning renovations in keeping with the spirit of the house -- the bathrooms made me feel I had stepped into a Restoration Hardware catalog! I slept in a four-poster bed. Sigh.

The home I am staying near Brevard at is at the end of a dirt road, nestled into gardens and woods on 5 acres. It's less than 10 minutes from town. The central section of the house, the living room and kitchen, is a great room with skylights. The lady of the house is a gourmet cook and caters, so the kitchen is well-equipped and the pantry is full of interesting oils, vinegars, salts and mustards. The large, screened-in front porch has a bed suspended on chains in one corner -- I slept there last night, swaying and listening to the crickets and cicadas. The cat, Simba, is a mellow 10-year-old male with long black hair. I'm using the husband's woodshop as a studio. You may see numerous paintings and studies from the gardens.

My intent is to use this blog to update my friends, with paintings, photos and messages. So please, follow along! Leave a comment here, or email me at

Talk to you soon!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Storm Sky II

This is the second of the paintings I did that stormy summer evening on Belle Isle. I'm not sure which I like better.

For those reading this blog who are not from Michigan or the Detroit area, Belle Isle is a gorgeous island park in the middle of the Detroit River. Owned by the city of Detroit, it has a +100-year-old conservatory with a fabulous plant collection, the Dossins Great Lakes Museum and used to have a riding stable and, I believe, a casino early in the 1900s. The Detroit Grand Prix was run on Belle Isle for several years.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Storm Sky I

This piece was painted on a summer evening on Belle Isle in the Detroit River after a windy, stormy day. The wind was relentless and seemed to blow straight from the river. I have never painted so fast, chasing clouds, chasing patterns and swirls, chasing colors. I did this piece, and the piece I'll post this coming Thursday, in rapid succession.

It was an interesting evening as well. The group I was painting with attracted numerous visitors. Two friendly Detroit police officers stopped by to check out our work and wish us well. A group of high school graduates stopped to have their picture taken with the Detroit skyline in the background. A man picking through the trash watched from a respectful distance. And a man in a van, who said he was a painter himself, stopped to see what we were doing and tell us about what he was doing.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Kensington Pond

This was great fun to paint. It was one of the first hot, hazy days of summer, with a pleasant breeze. There were sandhill cranes feeding in the shallows of the pond off the right side of the canvas. The two swans were lazily feeding all morning.

Kensington Metro Park was busy that day, with bus loads of kids on field trips. I had many kids come up to look, ask questions, say "Wow! Nice picture." About halfway through the painting a camerawoman from the local public television station came up behind and asked me if I minded her taking a shot of me painting. I don't know if it ran that night, because being a non-TV watcher I forgot to watch. Oh well. Immortalized in paint and pixels.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mill House

This painting was an interesting challenge. I can tell you from first-hand experience that it is possible to paint with oils in the rain. The oils get stiff and difficult to move on the canvas, which is slick with water, but it is possible. The family of ducks on the right bank were in their element. This old mill, in a park in Milford, Mich., has been restored. I want to go back and paint it in summer, autumn and winter from the same small bridge straddling the river.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lupine Field

This field of purple lupines, wedged in a quiet field between two stands of trees flowing down to a lake, is one of those brief moments of color you catch out of the corner of your eye while driving. It was a stone's throw off the jogging/biking path at Kensington and I wonder how many of those sprinting past really noticed it.

The choices seemed endless that painting morning, with a high-contrast composition of graceful trees against straw-colored grass to my right, lupines in the center and more ideas beyond to the lake.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Rowboats in Summer

This painting was painted on a hot summer weekday morning. The sky was clear and beautiful and the small marina, at Kensington Metro Park in Milford, Mich. was quiet except for a few gulls. I expect it's quite different on the weekends.

There were lots of painting opportunities here. The lake, without any boat traffic, was fairly clear and the dancing shapes of the underwater weeds and sunshine were fascinating to try and capture.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Welcome to A Painting Journey

A Painting Journey is about moving, moving from words and a keyboard to paint and a brush.

This blog is about honoring process. As a writer, I understand what it means to trust the process and surrender to it. Show up, sit your backside in the chair long enough and the work will come. It won’t always be great on the first go, but it will arrive. Making art is the same. The only way to grow as a painter is to push paint around, just as the only way to grow as a writer is to push words around. Consistently. Persistently. Patiently. Passionately.

I’ve worked under deadlines my entire career, yet only lately come to love them. Deadlines make you get things done whether you want to or not. Things happen. Look for two new paintings a week.

Creating limitations is another new love. Fewer colors on my palette, a small canvas, a limited amount of painting time before the outdoor light changes and the impression vanishes. In writing, Haiku is a perfect example of elegance created by limitations.

Writers and painters are observers and interpreters of the world around them. This blog is an opportunity to combine parts of my life that have been separate – words, writing and deadlines with paint, light and the web.

Because I can’t deny the writer in me, I’ll record thoughts in words as well as pa
int. I don’t intend to
wander into hyperbolic art speak metaphor. Hopefully, there will be a good number of my former colleagues – professional writers, journalists and editors – who will be interested enough in my wanderings to subscribe to this blog. I expect they will relish the chance to catch me straying into jargon.

Like a good story, a painting should speak for itself.