When the backyard is too green…..

Yesterday I painted two small oil sketches, the one shown here and one of the poppies in the back of the house.  When I looked at the grayscale versions of the paintings I felt the shapes were not puzzling together in any sort of interesting manner.  The choice was to either scrape them off or try a few possible solutions.  I’ve posted the reworked version of the coiled garden hose.  The poppy garden painting was scraped clean, leaving a much more interesting underpainting that might lead to something better.

As I worked diligently on Coiled Garden Hose I recalled a painting I did while in art school many years ago.  The students’ painting studios were on the third floor of the Vatco Building where automobile seats were manufactured on the first two floors.  The studio space was totally open from one end to the other, divided only by easels, canvases and garbage cans.

I was at a loss for a subject to paint.  I abhorred still life set ups.  The only object that interested me at all was a large, green, plastic bag filled with garbage, tied off, waiting to be carried away.  Sunlight poured through the wall of windows on the west side of the building and drenched the bag with yellow and orange highlights.  I grabbed a 30″ x 40″ canvas and devoted my attention to the lumpy form leaning against a paint splattered wall.  Turns out that I was the only one in the painting department that found it fascinating.  There was an uproar over my choice of  subject matter.  I thought that odd since it was the era of abstract expressionism.  I was painting shapes of colors and values.  What did it matter that the inspiration for the painting was a garbage bag?

Most likely, I would receive a similar response if I were to bring Coiled Garden Hose to one of the galleries that represents my work.  Taking a break from gallery work is liberating and refreshing.  I learn a lot by allowing a painting to be ugly.  I learn from the paintings I scrape clean.  And…… I totally enjoyed searching for solutions whether I find them or not.

Another Sunrise over Randy's Barn

When I work from reality it seems that I have to bore myself almost to death before I can allow myself to let go and manipulate the scene or object I’m painting.  I’m locked, blocked and altogether hindered by my eye, brain, and hand coordination.  Once I reach the point where I am totally bored by my painting, I stop looking at the scene and focus only on what I see on the canvas.  Often I will make arbitrary strokes hoping to breathe a bit of life into the image.

The shift from left brain to right brain activity is a physical sensation, as subtle as the popping of a soap bubble.  Once I am in right brain mode it is incomprehensible to me that I had interpreted the scene in such a lifeless manner.  I wish that I had taken a quick snapshot of the sunrise painting I did this morning before my right brain stepped in.  I would have liked to post both the before and after versions of the painting.  The first version had more hard edges, less variation of edges from sharp to blurred.  Even the most subtle change in an edge allowed more movement through the space of the scene.

Last night I primed fifty more little boards.  By the time I have painted all of them I hope my right brain has influenced my left brain enough for it to stop getting in the way when I paint.

Snap Peas, 5" x 8" oil sketch

I’ve come inside to warm up a bit before starting another little painting.  For the middle of April it is surprisingly cold.

For the sake of tradition I planted peas on March 15th.  Soon the little sprouts poked through the dirt only to be devoured by the crows.  Much to my delight I discovered that seven or eight plants had survived and on this cold, overcast day I chose one of them as my subject.

A bit later…….

Joy just sent me a link to a great site where you can design your own fabrics from your images.  The site is spoonflower.com. What fun!  Here is the snap pea painting as a mirror repeat pattern.

Snap Pea oil painting as a mirror repeat pattern

Spring Oak Branches

The leaves are beginning to form and the pale green blossom chains still cling to the branches.  Soon the wind will tear them from the tree and pile them on the ground below.  As I travel through the countryside I marvel at the delicacy of spring branches acting like colored lace against the landscape.  We don’t have any pinks or purple blossoms in our yard right now.  I would have liked a contrast of color in addition to the variety of pattern that spring offers.  Instead, I found the oak trees laden with pale green fringe catching the late afternoon sun.

Morning Light Through my Bedroom Window

Along list of views I have wanted to paint hangs above my head invisible to all except me.  These small color studies have given me a pleasant opportunity to cross off items that have been on the list for years.  Naturally, new items are added on a daily basis.  I doubt my list will ever be short enough that it doesn’t reach high up into the clouds, way beyond the tops of the trees.  That is how it should be.  As long as I can keep crossing older entries off the list, the list will be an inspiration rather than a reminder of what I haven’t yet done.

The practice of making written lists of what I have done rather than what I need to do has been beneficial in all aspects of my daily life, especially painting and drawing.  My new lists reinforce habits that I desire rather than reinforce habits that get in my way of progress.  I rarely forget the never-ending neglected chores and projects.  I don’t really need a list to remind me of them.  What I do forget is the never-ending list of things I have done during the day.  By not remembering those accomplishments I have robbed myself of the satisfaction of completion and commitment to those activities that nourish my heart, my mind and my soul.  With a strong foundation of satisfaction it is easier to tackle a few of those don’t-want-to-do chores that gather together to form a dark cloud above me, blocking out the wonderful long list of views I want to paint, places I want to travel, drawing techniques I want to try.

It isn’t a matter of painting the view successfully, it is a matter of simply showing up on site with paint and palette in hand and giving it a try.

Garden Rocks on a Sunday Morning in April 5" x 8" oil sketch

Rocks and trees are difficult.  I floundered about creating mixtures that were too purple, too green, too red.  I stuck to my limited palette of Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine Blue, Viridian and Permalba White.  I spent far too long on the tree trunk and the pattern of light on the rocks changed drastically.  The quickly changing conditions forced me to be inventive, eliminating all of the brambles and the weeds behind the trees.  I squinted so hard for so long that my eyes couldn’t focus at all anymore.  Finally I stopped fighting and became playful.  By now I should know that I can start off being playful.  I learn far more and I enjoy myself.

Gray scale image of the above painting

Daffodil on a Sunny April Afternoon, oil on board 5" x 5"

The first three attempts at painting a single daffodil were wiped off the canvas.  The overall shapes were boring and the interplay of shapes was static.  No amount of dabbing and playing with color satisfied my need to see a bit of life reflecting back to me from the canvas.  With nothing left to lose, I allowed myself to play.  I chose a bloom that appeared to be dancing to a different breeze.  Whereas all the other daffodils were following the movement of the sun, this little rebel was moving to its own inner light.

Late Afternoon Daffodils 5" x 8" oil

What a glorious day!  It was already 4 pm, but I had finished the bookkeeping, planted the zinnias in little peat pots, got the falafels dehydrating and posted some of my rambling thoughts on seeing the Picasso and the Avant Garde at the Philadelphia Museum last Sunday.  By 5 pm, the light had changed drastically and I called it finished.

I’m becoming more familiar with my limited palette and my instincts are showing signs of having been reprogrammed, upgraded from the previous version of bad habit overload.

I’ve learned a lovely new word, pochade, a french word meaning rough sketch.  I don’t know why I didn’t know it already.