Day before yesterday, I saw a purple mountain on one of the oil paintings currently on my working wall.
With the purple mountain in my mind’s eye, I moved the oil painting to my easel and stopped. Instead of going for the paint brush, I walked across the studio and laid out 2 trays of pastel. I dug through the drawer and found a small sanded panel.
Stepping back, I looked across the room at the oil painting. A piece of luscious vibrant purple pigment on the palette caught my eye. I grabbed it and stroked the mountain into the gritty surface.
Artist Quest for Color Unleashed
This unleashed a cascade of color. Lavenders, yellows, golds, greens, blues and finally vermilion red rang across the paper. A chorus of voices singing in harmony, one behind the other. I hung on for dear life and let them lead me by the hand. When they quieted down, I clipped the pastel to my easel and replayed their song in oil paint.
Now I am not going to post the oil painting ~ not yet. I have been searching for something in my art. Since 2012 I have been looking for a deeper connection. A deeper, more fluent connection with my own unique voice. This connection between pastel and oil satisfies my quest.
New Approach ~ Find the Trigger
I have struggled to make my oils behave like pastels. Why? Why not speak first in my primary language, then translate.
Touching raw pigment triggers something for me. This first piece is the beginning of a new chapter. Rather than post the oil paintings now, I will hold them until I have several. In the meantime, I will use pastel to open my door. (No pun intended!)
PASTEL LANDSCAPE What many may not know is that pastel was my ‘first language.’ Although I have not used pastels much in the past 20 years, I first used them in college. Through the late 70s and 80s, my pastels won me entry to national exhibitions at Pastel Society of America, Pastel Society of Canada, Virginia Museum, and numerous others. My pastels are in the permanent collections of the City University of New York, Longwood University Art Museum, and many corporate collections.
I turned my back on pastel when clients asked for oil paintings. It IS time for me to come home! No more searching. Only singing with my own unique voice!
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?”
“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.
Danilo 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.