As the name implies, this painting is about balance. I challenged myself to combine some realism within an abstract design, and am pleased with the results. I am going to enter this one into a few shows and see what happens.
I find myself wavering between abstract design and realism - and as is my nature, try to strike a balance between the two. In this piece, I knew I wanted to paint waxwings - the top bird is a bohemian waxwing, the bottom one is a cedar. In researching the birds, I found that they often intermingle in flocks. The background design is purposefully left very graphic. When I first started the painting, I painted in the lines to get a feel for how the eye would travel around the painting... but I liked the stark contrast to the birds, so I left the lines visible, and even accentuated them. I also purposefully left the two circular elements rather ambiguous - is that bright orb the sun or the moon? Is the shape on the right a bush or a planet? Does it really matter?
Lately I have been challenging myself to not overwork pieces - to leave some areas unfinished. Not everything in life has to be sewn up tight - in reality, nothing really is set in stone. We exist in a constantly changing and evolving universe - and that is what I want my paintings to embrace. The ebb and flow of life.
"South by Southwest"
One of the reasons I love where I live is the incredible views we have from our deck. On a lazy summer afternoon, clouds building silently in the azure sky, a soft breeze whispering through the trees and fields, a meadowlark singing in the distance...all is well with the world!
I am involved in two plein air events this summer, so thought I'd better practice my "on location" painting skills. One of the pitfalls of painting from life is that you are painting a constantly moving target. Oh sure, the lay of the land stays the same, the trees don't (usually!) jump up and move off...but the clouds move, the shadows move, the colors shift as the day progresses...and, of course, if you are painting animals in the scene, they DO move!
One of the biggest challenges in plein air painting is to rough in the "design" of the painting: where are the shadows and sunlight? What "story" are you trying to tell about the scene you are painting? I pretty much have to get everything down in about a half hour, and then force myself not to look at the scene again, except to define rock formations, trees, mountains - in other words, to refine the drawing part but NOT the colors and values. Those I refine only by what is working/not working as I tell my story.
For instance, in this painting, the focus in on that beautiful golden yellow field glowing in the afternoon sun. Everything else in the painting has to support that. As I was painting, the shadows shifted, the clouds built up and actually muted the yellow field. At one point the clouds were quite dynamic - and I almost "lost my head" and started painting them - but as I did so, I realized that I was taking the emphasis away from the field and putting it in the sky. So I had to refocus and remember not to change my story mid-painting!
For me, painting is like meditating. As I practice mindfulness, I find my mind starts to wander. Instead of just "being," I am making mental lists, thinking ahead to something I have to do later. When I find myself doing that, I gently refocus on my breathing, which brings me back into the present. When painting outdoors, the "present" is the painting itself, the emotion and mood I wish to evoke. Everything else is distraction - the things that change outside of the painting have to be let go, as I breath in the experience of being outdoors in nature: the warmth of the sun, the buzz of insects, the stillness...or perhaps the rush of the wind, the dance of trees, the swirl of clouds...and breath out, reaching further.
If you are interested in purchasing this painting, click here.
TC Barn, Joseph, Oregon
I recently returned from a short visit with my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. They live in a tiny town in a tiny county (population: 7,000) whose claim to fame is that they have no traffic lights. Or big box stores. Or fast food franchises.
Shannon and Dave bought an old house, built in 1910, which they are in the process of renovating. The house is about three blocks from town. Arek and Aimee, (10 and 8) can ride their bikes anywhere in town: to the little grocery store, to the fishing pond, to school, to the bakery, to their friend’s houses.
One weekend they went to a neighboring ranch to help with branding. Other weekends find them snowmobiling in the national forest, or up skiing/snowboarding at the small volunteer run ski slope, or camping, or hunting for morels.
The economy in their small town is what we would consider bad. It’s never been a great economy there – no industry to speak of. The largest employers are the forest service (my son-in-law is a wild land fire fighter), the school system and the hospital.
But, and here is my reason for rambling on…entrepreneurship is alive and well in Wallowa County (northeastern corner of Oregon if you are curious). Most of Shannon and Dave’s friends, if not employed by the forest service or hospital, own their own businesses. The restaurants are family owned and run. The hardware store is family owned and run. The coffee shop (Gypsy Java – if you are ever in Enterprise, you must stop in!) is owned by two friends. There’s a micro-brewery/restaurant called Terminal Gravity that serves up delicious brews and delectable gourmet meals.
At TG’s, regulars have their own beer glasses – all made by local glass artists. No plastic cups – regulars purchase their glasses and the brewery washes them and puts them on the shelf for next time.
Which leads me to my next point. Because of the lack of big box stores and fast food franchises, artists, crafters, restaurateurs and other small businesses thrive. You need soap? You want to give a gift? You don’t run into Walmart. You wander into BeeCrowBee in Joseph (an up and coming arts destination one town away from Enterprise) and purchase some lovely locally made soap or lotion. Or you saunter through To Zion and find one-of-a-kind locally created jewelry.
Such is life in a tiny town in a tiny county, 90 minutes away from the nearest Starbuck’s. And life is good.