Searching for small pastel papers to continue my journey back into pastel, I came across 3 plein air studies I’d done in 2013. Just after Dad died, I attended a plein air painting event in western Maryland. Mountain Maryland Plein Air in Cumberland and Allegany County is a wonderful intimate event. I welcomed the chance to paint in some beautiful private gardens.
Stumbling across the old paintings in the drawer, they felt dark and lifeless. It got me wondering how they would look today. I set one beside a fresh pastel paper and began blocking in the background shapes.
I resisted the temptation of painting back into it directly. Moving on, I worked with the new palette for awhile. Nothing like it’s inspiration piece, I felt unsure.
I sucked it up and kept going.
A Peek into Joy’s Garden
Setting it in the frame helped me step back and see it away from my previous vision. I like to keep a few frames in the studio for just that purpose. So many times I can’t see a painting’s strengths and weaknesses until I see it in a frame.
A day later I found myself in the botanic garden photographing tulips. Sitting in the cafe garden with a cold drink, I felt at home. Mind racing with painting images, colors for the new palette I’d ordered. I can taste the sweetness. Can you feel the shift in the two paintings?
I sure can. The difference between saying goodbye to Dad and stepping into Joy’s Garden is profound. I hadn’t realized until I finished writing this, that today is the anniversary of Dad’s passing. Rest in Peace Dad.
Will this story inspire you
to pick up the brush
and try an experiment?
I haven’t thought about this postcard painting inspiration since I painted it two years ago in France. I found it stuck down in a drawer when I went searching for my Tuscan Sun watercolor. When I pulled it out, it looked better than I remembered it. I threw it on the worktable thinking I might mount it and hang it beside my bed.
It floated around on my studio worktable niggling at me for a week or so. Finally the urge to paint it again ~ bigger ~ became so overwhelming it distracted me at every turn. I figured if I just gave in and painted it I’d get it out of my way. Wow, was I in for a surprise!
When I set up the first canvas, two others nearby shouted to be next. I gave in and blocked them in with toned primer. Letting go never felt so comfortable!
It was then that I remembered planting a small water lily in a crock on my deck last summer. I had just moved it to a pond of its own because its roots overflowed the small crock. When I repotted it I discovered it had sprouted four lilies. Recognizing myself in the lily made me smile inside. Assured I was in the right place I kept painting.
It took a week or so to finish painting all three of these. Snippets of time between other obligations were hard to find. Yet each time I touched them ~they came to life ~ and so did I.
Hollyhock Dream led to Something Blooming, then to A Lily Pond of My Own. ~ I am astounded to see the abstract floral landscapes I painted in pastel as a young woman dripping with wet paint before me . I never dreamed I would find her again. I truly thought she was lost forever.
How is it that painting such a small insignificant watercolor could be such a life affirming action?
This is the inspiration that leads me to create The Painting Lesson Virtual Artist Residency. If my small story inspires one person to pick up a brush and stroke color on paper, to feel the color energy beating in their heart a little faster ~ my joy will double.
Blooming Essence Regenerated in Mixed Media Paintings
As a young artist, I painted large scale abstract floral landscapes What most people don’t know about me is that I created multiple panel murals ~ large scale pastels, 40 x 60 inches side by side. Installed in banks, hospitals, resorts, corporations, universities and private residences, they won me recognition early in my career. I stopped painting them the summer I turned thirty.
I’ve been working on my book ~ my healing story, why I stopped and how I found my creative voice again. In four weeks I leave for Tuscany. The book has to be finished before I pack. My editor returned the manuscript Friday. “Not much left,” she said. “You’ll be able to finish. You just need a few more details and an ending.”
This morning I wrote the details of my first hours in France. That’s when I began to feel it . . .
The urge to paint was overwhelming.
A watercolor postcard I painted two years ago beckoned me loud and clear.
Hollyhock Series Came to Life in my Studio This Afternoon
FRANCE July 28, 2013 ~ Two years ago today
Surrounded by blooming hollyhocks the garden at Mas d’Ariveux felt like a dream. A hideaway where a soul could forget ~ or remember herself ~ in a heart beat,
I stuck my toe in the pool.
Cool and inviting, I let myself down into the water. I swam to the deep end and floated on my back.
Clouds drenched in evening sunlight drifted in slow motion on a light Cerulian canvas. Tall hollyhocks swayed to and fro, puppet silouettes. I rested, letting Tarascon permeate my thoughts.
When I finished writing, the copy spilled onto the next page. I moved the two watercolor postcards to a double spread of their own. That’s when I saw it ~ a large scale painting of the hollyhocks.
The postcard was buried in a drawer of scraps. When I found it last week, I set it aside thinking I might put it on my nightstand. It was still in the heap of papers on my work table.
I really didn’t have time to paint. I needed to finish writing. The next thing I knew, I had cleared the cluttered table and discovered five jars of matching paint I bought at Lowe’s last week ~ exact ly the colors of the watercolor hollyhock sketch from two years ago.
Three verdigris primed canvases from last week waited for me, as if they knew something I did not. With one positioned on the table, the other two called from behind me ~ a series ~ not just one. A set of three in the same palette, not a triptych ~ a trio of sisters. A triptych is three images tied together, continuing a single design from one to the next. A trio of sisters would each stand on their own.
Swatches of hand painted satin I had dug out of the closet two weeks ago clamored onto the canvas when I finished mixing the paint. Surprisingly they showed me examples of the loose brushwork and colors that were swirling in my head. I plunked them on the table and took the photos.
My custom chalk paint recipe calls for marble dust and a lot of stirring. I created this recipe years ago when I painted gritty textural underpainting for my large scale abstract floral pastels.
A wide wash brush loaded with water soaked the canvas quickly. I dipped it again encouraging the blue paint to run down the canvas. Wet in wet, I let the paint be thick and thin. It would dry overnight.
The sketch felt like coming home to my pastels ~ with a twist. It was just enough to get my hand loose, to help me remember my calligraphy, how it felt to sign my name. The block in needs to be simple, bold areas of light and dark, warm and cool. Since the watercolor was so small and detailed, I wanted a stepping stone to the bolder large scale 46 x 36 inch canvases.
The second block-in is warmer and deeper than the first. Verdigris paint peeks out from between the warm green leaves and pink red hollyhocks to create the zing. This is a colorist principle: to balance warm with cool and vice versa.
The third painting shows the cool colors dominant with the warm green as the counter balance. It is striking to note that the green on this canvas is the same as the one on the other two. On the first it appeared to be dark green, beside the light pastel colors. On the second, it appears more neutral beside the red. Yet here it seems much more yellow, especially in areas where it is thickest. This is because color is relative. How it appears to us depends on what is beside it.