A Lily Pond of My Own | Painting Right in My Own Backyard

Right in my own backyard has double meaning in this series. Yes I have a pond outside my studio windows. Yet there is so much more here. And my pond doesn’t look like this!

Painting Right in My Own Backyard

In this story ‘my own backyard’ is inside me. I am painting these from within, NOT from any garden or pond that I have seen or painted. This is important. You may have read the beginning of this story last summer, when the first inkling came from a tiny watercolor I’d painted on my first day in France two years prior.

Water Lily Painting
A Lily Pond of My Own, oil

The unfinished paintings were clipped to a single board in the corner. Showing something else to a client, I moved a canvas exposing them to view. The one above was on top. Across the studio its colors coaxed me to stop what I was doing and listen.

I put her on the easel and sat in my chair across the room to hear what she had to say that was so urgent. An overwhelming urge for Ultramarine Blue in the shadow areas of the pond got me out of my chair. Mixing it up, I swung my brush rapidly at those places on the painting. More paint. More brush work. Sit back down.

Dorothy Fagan studio
The three canvases each took their own clip board, spreading out across the studio.

Color & Perception

In the photo you can see how I paint. The chair is on wheels back to the far right out of view ~ twenty feet from my easels. My palette is a large glass slab for mixing, a side table for tubes of paint, and a 7-drawer tabouret just below the cans of paint brushes.

Much of my color mixing is done by the viewers’ eye. Seen from across the room, you automatically blend color fields of paint. Seen up close, the paint is dry brushed like pastel over opposing colors. This creates a vibration in the way each color is perceived.

A Pond of My Own
A Pond of My Own, oil

A Lily Pond of My Own

Wanting to make everyone happy, to satisfy myself and keep the peace is a tall order. A bleeding heart I think they call it. An impossible role to fulfill sufficient to keep a person busy for a lifetime.

So. If peace is right in my own backyard and all I had to do was paint it how it feels to me ~ why oh why did it take me so long? And why do I feel like I can spend the rest of my life saying it over and over again?

I’ve always lived and painted in my own pond. Now I know enough not to mis-take everyone else’s as mine. Bleeding heart healed.

Expressionist Realism Pastels

People have often asked me, “what is your painting style?” For many years I resisted answering. I didn’t want to pigeon hole myself. Whenever someone asked, I could feel myself wiggling inside to get loose of the question, as if it was meant to entrap me!

This week I found the answer quite unexpectedly.

Expressionist Realism.

Jackson Pollock painting
Jackson Pollock’s paintings were an exploration of creative energy. While they appear like random splashes at first, the whole reflects the energy of the artist’s body and heart movement.

I am fully aware that these two terms are thought to be opposites! When you think of Expressionism, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko immediately pop to mind. Pollock with his larger than life calligraphy and Rothko with his color field paintings.

Mark Rothko painting
Mark Rothko’s paintings explore the juxtaposition of color energies.

Realism? Neither Pollock nor Rothko fit in the sentence. Realism conjures up photo-realistically, meticulously-painted images without any brush strokes. While Realism was first called such in the mid-1800s, an wonderful example of contemporary realism is Robert Neffson’s painting, Grand Central.

Neffson photo realism painting
Neffson’s paintings explores the genre of contemporary realism, taking what began in the early 1800s to new depth.

While I have enjoyed these artists paintings, I clearly am not either style. I have always been a colorist. And certainly my energetic calligraphic brushwork is an integral part of my paintings. It never occurred to me that my style is a hybrid, Expressionist Realism. That is, until this week.

When I picked my pastels back up, I had no intention of returning to large scale painting with pastel ~ much less coming home to my own distinct style. But once I did the tulip painting, I couldn’t help myself!

abstract floral painting
Lamb’s Ear & Poppies, pastel, 40 x 30

Abandoned in my stack of unfinished pastel works ten years ago, this painting helped fuse my heart-felt calligraphy and color field work together. Pulling it out of storage, the colors felt dead tired. I put her on the big easel and let her breathe for a few days. Still the colors felt heavy. I didn’t see much point in reworking it. I let her stay in the studio beside me nonetheless.

This week as I was painting something else, I caught a flash of bright sunny yellows in the field beyond the garden. Intrigued I moved the panel, a 40 x 30″ hand-gessoed marble-dust rag board, to my pastel easel by the window.  What can it hurt to try?, I thought.

expressionist realism
detail flash of yellow light, pastel

Did I know I was on a bridge between Expressionism and Realism?


I simply grabbed for the flash and cut Deep Cadmium Yellow pigment into the field behind the lamb’s ear. This muted the too-dark red poppy. Encouraged I continued took another step.

abstract floral painting
detail, Lambs Ear & Poppies

Warm and cool yellows alternating, lit the space behind the garden. Lavender brought life into the shadowed leaves. Finally pink cheeks on the lamb’s ear blossoms opened them softly, against the sunny disposition of the renewed field.

Finally, I saw them. Bright red poppies blooming in the foreground. I roughed them in. They shifted the eye to the left column, counter-balancing the sunny backdrop.

The thing about Expressionism and Realism didn’t hit me right away. Full expression, heart and soul, IS the only reality that is true and right. Each of us has a purpose in this life. Expressing who we are, fulfilling our purpose is the only reality that ultimately matters.

Why have I invested so much time and energy in searching for reality anywhere else?

Are you searching for your own creative outlet? Download my book, Discovering Joy’s Garden

Pastel Painting Lesson & Osteoporosis

Structure is a hot topic. I had lunch with two friends this week and osteoporosis was a topic of discussion in both conversations. One a writer, the other an artist, we chatted about creating both art and bones.

The Connection Between Art & Healing ~ Osteoporosis

I have been doing a lot of architectural paintings recently. Since my diagnosis of osteopenia in January, I now see the correlation to my attraction to painting buildings. This insight is helping me create a new daily structure of yoga, painting, eating well and enjoying friends. This is a healthier lifestyle than the workaholic one I was living without the support of exercise, friendships and regular meals.

Even my garden paintings are being impacted by this renewed awareness of structure. In the initial block-in, it’s easy to see the bones of this painting. Remember my post about the botanic garden last week? That’s where I first saw these tulips! To draw the tulip garden, I started with a gold ochre pastel on a 24 x 30 Ampersand sanded board.

Since artists are thought to be unstructured, these marks may appear random at first. So I will show you the structure I am using in this sequence, and how it is related to my osteopenia.

Pastel Painting Lesson

How Painting is Helping Rebuild my Skeleton

pastel painting lesson
Block-in on Ampersand sanded board with calligraphic drawing and bold shapes

Drawing is an extension of one’s signature. Everyone writes or signs their own name without thinking, a calligraphic expression of one’s heart. Like my signature, the scribbling calligraphy of my lines creates the specific foundation suitable for my painting.

Think of my canvas as a mirror. As I adjust each color, shape, and intensity, smoothing out or ruffling up ~ the same is happening in my aura reflected in the mirror. Like DNA, the wavelengths of my colors and shapes correspond to my own. I don’t need to see or want to know all the details. See that the colors work together, smooth out the hair, check for something out of whack, a little lip stick and off we go.

Like a prayer, my painting is simply a request for help and guidance. For a split second I let go of my fears and concerns about it turning out well. Yes, I still have them ~ without them I wouldn’t be able to paint!

Drawing is like holding a live wire. I hope you can see and feel the charge of glowing embers in these simple, rudimentary drawings.

pastel painting lesson
Block in warm cool balance show complimentary colors within shadow shapes.

Once I have drawn the image I use broad cool shapes to connect the shadows. The side of the pastel is perfect as a wide brush. You can see the wide triangle of cool shapes anchored along the bottom of the painting, coming up the sides, then slanting toward the center.

The tip of the cool triangle is missing. Instead it forms a V-shape in the center. This shape is open for receiving light from above.

In the second photo, I have added lavender pink to the cool shadow triangle. These pinks are part of the same anchor  triangle. The cool neutral greens and cool pinks are complimentary colors, opposites on the color wheel. Yet together they read as one dynamic cool shadow.

Again the V-shape is still open.

Shoring up the structure, I add a few more bones for the tulips and hyacinths with deep gold ochre calligraphy.  At this stage, I am not thinking about all this structure as I am painting. That would be like focusing on how to create bones when I do my yoga! As I move from one yoga pose to the next, cells in my body are called upon to build strength and bone mass. Painting the shadow structure of the flowers does the same in my painting ~ establishing an hospitable plot for my healing garden.

An Important Note About the Shadow Side

Without the shadow side, the flowers would blow away. Without the dark side of this story (my osteopenia), there would be no story, no painting, no friends to share it with. I shudder to think what would become of me if my bones dissolve!

pastel painting lesson
Block-in #3 shows addition of Highlight shapes and beginnings of integration with shadow shapes.

Integration of Light with Shadow

This third photo shows the highlights. Using a cool Nickel Yellow, I broadly stroke light shapes around the top of the triangle. You can see I have filled out the shadow with a few more cooler greens near the top of the triangle.

Notice how the light shapes begin to go in between some of the shadow shapes. And some of the shadow shapes reach up a bit to help define light areas. Without light, there is no color. It’s all shades of gray or pure intense pigment. I do not use black paint. White paint is only used when tinted with color. And with pastel, most of the color mixing is done on the painting itself.

Heart is the Healer

Now take a look at the placement of the three hot pink shapes ~ heart centers. These accent the shape of the triangle, tilting it back and open to the light. Seeing them now I realize they are my soul sisters. And the Deep Cadmium Yellow and Dark Gold Ochre calligraphy of the hyacinths brings the eye back down to ground in the lower right corner.

A bridge between earth and heaven, our heart connects us. A human being connects heart and mind day by day, moment by moment. No one stays connected all the time. The heart/mind/body/spirit connection is a pulse. Connect/Release, Connect/Release.

It only takes a split second to let this connection happen. Trying to stop it feels like holding the weight of the world on our shoulders.

What a gift to have this life on earth!

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