I have been looking for something here in Tuscany. Some something indescribable ~ knowable only when it shows itself on canvas.
Autumn in Tuscany
Last week on our way home from a day of painting en plein air, I saw three golden trees against a backdrop of rich, freshly tilled earth. Late afternoon sunlight lit them against the mountain.
A triangle of trees standing on a patch of lush green in the middle of that deep lavender red earth ~ I couldn’t get them out of my mind.
The following week, I woke from a dream with a vision of middle ground. The neutral earthy hue that is both warm and cool at once. And with it a realization about painting.
I have been painting from the outside ~ in. I have been painting from the extremes of the spectrum ~ to create balance in each painting ~ to balance myself.
Suddenly, I feel myself at the center, a neutral place. From this center, each brush stroke swings wider out into the spectrum of light.
I scrubbed the warm/cool earthy violet neutral into my panel. Thinking of my paint as if it were pure pigment of pastel, I used a palette knife to paint back into the neutral tone. First shadowing the mountain with cool blues. Then warming the earth with reds.
The earth divided into warm and cool tones itself. Cool lavenders dropping into the distance, warm reds moving closer into the foreground.
The trio of trees followed suit in the green-yellow range of the spectrum. The last strokes of paint, pure Cadmium Yellow.
The entire process flowed as readily as if I had pastel in hand.
Revelation in Brilliance
I know it sounds bizarre for someone who paints as much as I do to say this. Yet I have wished for years that my oil paintings would flow like my pastels. I had given up the notion that it was possible to do in two mediums.
Yet here it is. And I am surprised at how dark the painting is, when there is so much light coming from it. This is what I came to Tuscany to find.
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.