The Art Bridge ~ Coming Home to My Unknowable Self

When I decided to live in Tuscany for nine weeks, to absorb the Tuscan Lifestyle into my life and art ~ I’d hoped living the Tuscan lifestyle  would cure the workaholic in me.

A new friend from Naples got it completely.  “It’s unknowable,” she uttered, looking at my paintings scattered about the room. She was in my incubator and she knew it.

Immersed in the joyful way my new friends and neighbors went about daily life, I’d already realized how truly and dearly “I LOVE to paint! There is nothing I’d rather do. This isn’t work at all!”

My Tuscan friends had knocked on my door, bringing me ripe figs, plums, tomatoes, chestnuts, wine and more. They seemed to squeeze every drop of goodness from each and every grape. I looked for something to offer them in return. “Would you like to see the paintings?”

Tuscany
Olive grove in Poggio Alla Croce

“Oh yes, we’d love to!” Week by week, they knocked at my door and each time I answered I experienced “the art bridge” in a new way.

In those very last moments of October, they knocked on my door once again. This time Danilo invited me to come to the family’s olive grove to see how olives are harvested. Down the steep slope of the mountain, zig-zagging dirt path to a vista overlooking the Arno Valley, Danilo roared the four-wheel drive like any Italian driver ~ fast.

Late afternoon sun shone through silver olive leaves. Tiny Tuscan olives once light green, were now black and full of oil. Danilo demonstrated climbing a ladder on each tree. Pruning, shaking until ripe fruit fell from the branch into a fine mesh on the ground.Tree by tree, each olive in the 12 acres is picked by hand and hauled in buckets to the olive press in the next village.

IMG_6708Danilo reached for a bottle of the family’s own wine from a shelf in the tool shed and poured three glasses. Sipping sweetness, I felt the glow. Did I know I was ripe for harvest too? No. Sweetness of sharing friendship, beauty and bounty I thought was all about Tuscany.

I flew home the following week and immersed myself in a show deadline, a bid proposal, an application for a gallery and a national show. The last thing I needed was a new idea. When it first surfaced last week, it seemed so far off base from my Tuscan series, I put it out of mind.

Thumbnail sketches in my journal
Thumbnail sketches in my journal

A dream this past week urged me to take another look at the idea. Did I know that it was the “unknowable” I was searching for in Tuscany? No.

“OK” I thought, “I won’t have to stop what I am doing to make a few thumbnail sketches in my journal. ”

In less than an hour, I’d filled three pages with value studies a series of landscape designs I didn’t have time to paint.

Two more journal pages filled with thumbnail sketches
Two more journal pages filled with thumbnail sketches
palette
My pastels include Unison, Diane Townsend, Smichke, Sennelier and Rembrandt.

Intrigued, I decided I would “test” the designs quickly with pastels. I cut  several sheets of pastel paper into 9″ x 12″ rectangles.

I hadn’t used my pastels in over ten years. I laid my trays out on the table and sorted values. (Yes, I AM aware of how my own values changed in Tuscany. No mistake that I would have to come home and sort them out in my palette. Life is always a metaphor for Creator’s gifts.)

By lunch I had all the pastels arranged by values. Instead of searching hue by hue, having to check each value against my paintings one by one, I would be free to paint quickly, easily seeing subtle shifts in hue and chroma.

You can see how all the lightest (# 9 & 10 values) are in the far left of both trays. Cooler in the foreground tray, warm ones in the next tray up. Darks (#1 & 2) are all along the far right of each tray in the same manner.

In the center four rows of each tray, the cool and warm tones are sorted by values; #3 & 4, then #5 & 6, then #7 & 8 ~ warms in one tray, cools in the other.

The realization that my abstract thumbnails were my “pond in the woods” series came to me in the shower. Ideas seem to flow in the shower as they do in dreams. Why did I think my Tuscan residency was about painting Tuscany? Well it is and so much more. It’s about assimilating the Tuscan lifestyle here in Virginia ~ on my pond in the woods.

6 pastel studies brought my thumbnail sketches to life.
6 pastel studies brought my thumbnail sketches to life.  See the Pond in the Woods Series

Standing over the table with my view of the pond, I drew from 15 years of memory. By four o’clock I had a series of pastel studies. I chose one and took it to the easel. A 24″ x 30″ canvas I’d primed with gold under-painting for another project  awaited me.

Mixing my colors to match the pastel, I painted until it was too dark to see. The oil painting on my easel looked like pastels I’d painted as a young artist. I laughed out loud as I recognized the vibrant strokes.

palette
Pond in the Woods VI, oil, 24 x 30,

Another dream puzzled me the next morning. Writing it down created more questions than answers. My tried and true methods of deciphering dreams yieded a new direction.

Picking up the phone, I called a friend, a soul sister who leads a parallel life to mine. “How are you?” I listened intently as she explained how coughing was helping her clear out old scar tissue, making way for new tissue to grow, healing her lungs.

“Ummmmm,” I wrote some of her words in my journal. “Scar tissue” stuck out like a sore thumb. I knew immediately what mine was. Unfinished paintings I’d stacked up in guest room to get out of my way in the studio. I wanted only to work on new ideas from Tuscany.

I shared my sketches with her so she could derive inspiration of her own. After I hung up, I unrolled two unfinished paintings and sat down to look them over. I sketched a thumbnail of one. Then made a second thumbnail, abandoning the first completely.

palette
journal entries from my phone conversation and two thumbnail studies based on an unfinished painting. (scar tissue)
palette
pastel color study

Wanting to see my sketch in color, I used pastel to test it out. I liked the study, though troubled by the dark positioning of the cypress trees, went to the easel to block it in over top of the unfinished painting.

Tuscan Home
Tuscan Home, oil on canvas, 30 x 40  Prints Available
Pond in the Woods, oil 24 x 30
Pond in the Woods, oil 24 x 30
IMG_7482
Pond in the Woods, oil 24 x 30

The same day I also blocked in several other oil paintings. One based on a pastel, two others based on thumbnails in my journal.  Working back and forth from one to the other, I used ideas from each to help me see my way through the group as a whole. My “scar tissue” helping me paint the whole group.

Looking at the group of deadline paintings, now they look like scar tissue. The deadlines evaporated as checks arrived from the sales rep I’d hired in the spring.

Pond in the Woods Series>

Red Oakl
Red Oak, oil, 30 x 40

Watercolor Dreams

Experimenting with light and color, I sat on the overlook in Poggio alla Croce the other day and made this watercolor. I wanted to keep it simple. To leave white space between my colors. This has become my approach to life too. Space. White space between all the rest makes everything so much richer.

watercolor
Poggio alla Croce, watercolor, 8 x 12

This morning I woke from a dream that puzzled me. Not unusual, most dreams puzzle me at first. These last two weeks I haven’t been writing them down as I usually do.

Muse Chincia has had me busy with other inspirations. Yesterday she flew off to Paris and on to a full schedule of others to inspire. Having her here was amazing. She gave me a fresh view of many things, too numerous to mention here.  I will be incorporating much of it in my posts!

After writing the dream, I pulled out a few symbols. This raised questions I hadn’t thought to ask. With the questions in mind, answers started accumulating. Among them the synthesis for some experimental pieces I began at home.

This watercolor is the foundation for a series of handmade paper collages. Each collage is created with white handmade papers of various textures. Gesso is applied and the image is created with pigmented inks, watercolor and pastel pencils.

I am working on the set of foundation images now.  When I return to Virginia, I will complete them.  Poggio alla Croce is the first.  Tomorrow I will post another.

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Painting Dreams ~ The Magic Connection

The Magic Connection Between Painting & Dreams

Painting Dreams

It’s a little like which came first ‘the chicken or the egg.’ We think of dreams as those inexplicable things we have when we are sleeping. Well what if dreams were more than that? What if dreams are those inexplicable yearnings we have throughout life?

Painting dreams does not have to be in the literal sense of making a painting that looks like the dream you had last night. Painting dreams may actually look more like a life time of painting from the heart.

Letting each yearning out on paper, one by one,  creates a  magical life.

So much of life is planned out ahead of time. We become executors of the plan. This works well for many things~ except that our hearts get executed in the process!

What if there is one thing you can do for your heart that would make all the difference in the world? What if you took your heart on a painting adventure? Let your heart show you where to go?

How I Did it

Last fall when I painted Tuscan Sun, my head was swimming with questions.

How could I afford to spend an extended period of time in Tuscany without working? It seemed impossible. That’s why I painted Tuscan Sun.

Watercolors are fluid like dreams. I was working and didn’t have time to set up the studio to paint in oil. Instead I grabbed a small watercolor palette, two brushes and a few small pieces of Arches Watercolor paper and took them to work with me.

The Experiment

Now I am not a watercolorist. I took a class in college, then picked it up again when I went to France. I wasn’t trying to make a finished painting. I simply wanted a way to explore my dream ~ to bring it to life on paper.

During lunch I set up my palette, a cup of water and painted. I painted several more because I didn’t like the first ones. When I got home from work, I threw them all in a drawer and forgot about it.

I didn’t know my dreams were percolating in that drawer. I just thought I had painted some bad watercolors!

Six Months Later

When my Tuscan dream materialized, it took me all day to find the painting stuck down in a drawer. When I found it, I also found watercolor postcards from two years ago that I’d painted in France. One French postcard grew into a whole series of Abstract Floral Paintings. This showed me the artist I thought I’d lost 3 decades ago is alive and well, regenerated and better than when I left her.

When one touches the paper with a brush full of fluid color dreams flow.  Something intangible is suddenly real on paper. An adventure in possibility begins with one small stroke. One by one the strokes accumulate. The heart beats a little louder. It reverberates inside setting dreams in motion.

Page by page the brush strokes take on a life of their own. Then one day we recognize our heart in them ~ unmistakably our own.

 

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