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.