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Art & garden

August 19, 2017

view with café

museum and café buildings with entrance to garden top middle

Gardens and art, art gardens. I’m reading a book about the wild garden of the imagination (it’s in Dutch, not easy reading in any language, author is Kris Pint).

And in the book I’m writing about alternative paths for the arts, gardens and greening projects keep cropping up. Everything for me, after an active career in the arts and graphic design, seems to lead back to the garden.

Yesterday my sister in law and I visited one of my favourite museums, Museum de Buitenplaats in Eelde. Roughly translated the name refers to ‘the outside’. The museum and gardens were designed as a whole, and when I first saw the building and gardens  about 10 years ago, I was already enchanted. Now, the formal gardens have matured, the garden artist’s vision has been realised, though as with all living things, it is still in constant development.

garden view

garden entryway

We went to see a show of the English portrait artist, Michael Reynolds. The paintings inspired me in their application of paint, and colour. Then we visited the gift shop (yummy), and afterwards, finally, the gardens. We ended with a cuppa in the café and a luscious piece of cheesecake. Nourishing on all levels. But the gardens lifted my heart most of all. The formal structure, balanced by playful details and strategically placed sculptures, gives a sense of order and peace. In August most of it is carried by form- in a symphony of greens. Flowers are present for sure, but the riot of flower beds contrasting with the high walls of green hedges is probably at its best in June and July.

sculpture

glass and metal sculpturee

I think what I love most is to be amazed- either by art, or by turning a corner in a garden like this and discovering a little water feature or sculpture.  The sculpture in the middle of the pond is by Lotte Blocker, I was deeply touched by her exhibition in Zwolle several years ago. How wonderful that her work has been placed here as well. It is perfect.

pond

pond with sculpture

Not shown is a new orchard just planted, with old apple races that used to grow here on this estate 300 years ago. The museum itself is part of a complex of beautiful buildings that are also full of art and sometimes open to the public for guided tours. Though the main museum building is ultramodern, a lot of attention is paid to the history linked with the location. It is a sense-around experience that makes me wish every museum had its own garden!

 

Eelde museum 017

espaliered pear trees

wisteria pods2

wisteria pods

Black & white

July 29, 2017

prelude and bernardo

There is a book of Juane Xue’s work called , ‘Color is my wealth’. I share this sentiment, as color is the driving factor in most of my paintings.

But lately I’d been craving the feel of charcoal in my hand, the smooth way it goes onto the paper, the play between dark, rich passages, and lighter ones lifted out with a kneaded eraser.  When I was 10 years old, I started out learning to draw with charcoal in my art lessons with Abe Weiner. It remains a medium I’m familiar and comfortable with. The fact that color doesn’t figure in charcoal drawings lets me focus on form and texture. Very relaxing actually. In painting you have to juggle form, value, intensity, all the while keeping an eye on color balance as well.

Our neighbor who keeps his horses in the field behind our house is very ill. Over the past 20 years, we have had so much pleasure from Bernardo, a large Groninger work horse and jumper. I rode him once, and D let me help train him, and taught me to fit him up with all the carriage equipment and harnesses. Whenever D was away, I attended to Bernardo’s sore hoof, and made sure that he had enough food and water. Now his owner is in the hospital, the horse will probably be sold.

I made these drawings for him to remind him of the good things in life, while he lies in pain in a bed far from his home and horses. The second sketch is of Junarla, and her new foal, Juno, quite a character already as you can see below. D bought Juno in a more optimistic time, to have a new horse to train because Bernard is already around 20 years old. I sent the drawings off last week, hopefully they are giving our friend some solace. I guess Juno, now 2 1/2,  will be sold as well.

juno n junarla

Juno and Junarla, ‘Come on mommy and play’  charcoal on paper 18 x 24″

sunlit table

Painting by Juane Xue

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this painter before, but ever since I saw her paintings for the first time, they took my breath away. One critic said that she must mix champagne with her colours, they sparkle so. This is one of a series of abandoned party tables she’s been painting since about 2009. This Chinese woman living in Holland has been painting since childhood. She received a thorough traditional art education in China as a young woman and has been developing her work ever since.

 

In a book about her painting this one in particular gobsmacked me. That explosion of colour and light right in the middle there with the high cadmium reds, oranges and yellows, wow.

So I decided to copy that one passage, see  below where I’ve masked off the chosen area:

xue copy

I can’t stop emphasising how helpful it can be to just get lost into someone else’s work and copy their methods for awhile. It is like taking on their identity, and it can be very  complex. For instance, what was the underpainting if any, what kind of brush did she use to get this effect? I don’t have much trouble duplicating the colours (though they vary here because of the lighting when taking the photos), but where I learned the most was in copying how it was painted. The detail is there but it never gets fiddly, the strokes are confident yet sensitive. Once again the key is suggestion rather than explaining. I’ve seen her paintings in real life, and up close they are simply thickly applied colour globs and slashes. When you move back, you see the actual subject.  Here is my attempt:

xue copy 007 copy

copy of a detail of Juane Xue’s table painting

Encounter

June 4, 2017

There is a buzzard living close by. I call it a falcon, but the Dutch names for these birds of prey are different than the English, and evidently the bird that I see around here is not native to the US. Here he is, buteo buteo, native to the UK and other parts of Europe.

Well, I’m in love with this bird. In the early spring I’d be walking the dog, crashing rather thoughtlessly through the grass and bushes and suddenly this huge span of wings would lift out of nowhere and circle away. Once I became aware of coming into his territory, I became more careful and I also started bringing the binoculars. He still took off when I was many meters away, but gradually, I began to approach that area of trees more cautiously. And I would be rewarded with him staying where he was and watching me as I passed by.  I began to recognise his and his sort’s cries as well. And would look up and see one or two of them circling high in the sky. My relationship to these birds has enriched my life so much.

So when I heard that in a nearby town there would be a bird-of-prey demonstration, I made sure I was there. To my delight there was a chance to actually have the birds perch on one’s arm with a falconer’s glove. At first he had a blinder on because of the crowds and noise, but then the hood was taken off and wow, there he was! I was gobsmacked, he didn’t regard me with one eye like many birds do, but turned to face me fully, with both eyes fastened on my face. I could hardly breathe from the power of that stare, and I must admit that it wasn’t comfortable. Those eyes are unblinking and black without a glint of light in them. No warmth at all.  I ‘got’ that you never really tame these animal- they remain predators who kill, or sometimes eat their prey alive. They are certainly not pets or pettable.

falcon 1a

But looking into those eyes and having that magnificent creature on my arm was so amazing. It was like seeing some gorgeous natural phenomenon with just a hint of potential violence, like a thundering waterfall, or a mountain, or sun flares. It was truly awesome.

falcon 2

Flogging the tulips

May 21, 2017

Well, that sounds misleadingly kinky.
But what I’m really referring to is the obsessive state one can get into when a painting isn’t working. I’ve had a couple of those recently, and have learned from them.

First I was working on a tulip-themed painting from a past photo of mine. The composition kind of inspired me, and some of the unopened tulip shapes as well. Qua style I was hoping to work loosely and spontaneously.
When I was a few days into it, I saw it tending toward my familiar way of working – more realistic and tighter than I’d hoped. I kept adding to it and changing it hoping to get more spontaneous as the layers built up. I like the right hand corner, showing some of the underpainting, but that’s it really.

flogged tulips, may garden 002 copy

I finally gave up on it because you can’t plaster a layer of supposedly ‘spontaneous’ strokes onto a boring painting and expect it to look as if you’ve been working that way all along, and:

  1. It wasn’t fun anymore.
  2. I didn’t like the original composition.
  3. I didn’t really want to paint flowers.
  4. It didn’t ‘sing, hum or give off light.'(one artist’s description of the work that soars)
  5. The painting as a whole wasn’t working.

So I stopped and started on some onions from a photo in a book on edible gardens. I ran into some of the same problems. I finally stopped flogging that one (oh, now the penny drops, ‘n’ést-ce pas’?) and gessoed over it.

Now I’m working on another onion painting from a photo and understand that the previous paintings were false starts in prep for this one. It is going well.

Here are the differences between flogging a painting/subject, and developing it:
Flogging
1 You’re trying to rescue or change the painting because it isn’t working
2 It isn’t fun and feels a bit desperate
3 It is hard to stop working on it and take some distance
4 You might be trying to lay some intellectual idea or style on top of a painting that is already fine in its own right
5 Most of your efforts only make things worse
6 You don’t have a clear idea of what you intended with this painting in the first
place

Developing
1 You have  a clear idea at the start about where you’d like to go with the painting qua style, composition, subject, colour, treatment. This doesn’t mean you know how it is going to look or that you don’t take risks, but that you have a general idea of what you want to do at the start.
2  Working on it is a pleasure, it can be challenging, but you are led step by step by your own good habits established over years of working, and by where the painting seems to be going.
3  Working on the painting feels like working with it. You are led by each stroke to the next, but there can be surprises along the way, new colour combinations, ways of applying paint, textures, different strokes.
4  Developing a painting means seeing it getting better and better because of carefully considered, confidently applied strokes, scumbles, slashes, dots, broad areas, etc.

These are the ones I can think of now. I’m sure you’ve encountered others, and I’d enjoy hearing any additions. Basically it comes down to this:

I started taking my painting seriously 6 years ago because I was in love with several artists’ work, and I discovered I also loved the medium; after a long career in graphic design and calligraphy, the minute I picked up a brush, I felt born to paint.

The works I admire look simple and easily done (Cezanne, for example, when in fact he suffered over every painting he ever did). Like many beginners/intermediates, I wanted to get to that spontaneous look right away. But that quality is reached only through discipline and eventual mastery, so that every stroke you set down is confident, because, guess what, you know what you are doing! And it shows. (Now there are some young talents out there to whom the technique comes easily, they have that ease, but they need to develop depth and content.) Here is one I tossed off in a half an hour and it has the quality I’d like in all my paintings. It worked because I’d painted the subject before and was confident and quick.

2 onions

So, if you catch yourself flogging, try to stop, get some distance, or start another painting, look for the joy, repeat the things that are easiest, work best and give you pleasure. Build on those, definitely reach out beyond your limits, but keep an eye on the pleasure factor.

And know when you start, why you’re starting a painting that you’ll probably be investing much time and energy into. Look into your heart and see if there is a connection there with the  subject, colours, composition etc. Try to have a clear idea of what you’d like to achieve at the end of those hours or days.

And go for it!!!!

Letterwork revisited

April 8, 2017

IMG_1667

Yikes, calligraphy. Here’s me about 10 years ago, (looking a lot younger than I do now 🙂  ), doing some heebie jeebie work for a friend of ours’ church.  I’m including it and a certificate done for the same person to show basically what my commissioned work was for 40 years or more. Precise, traditional, nerve racking a lot of the time. If you make a mistake you can start all over.

hugo's diplomaB

It took years to free myself up from the calligraphic, graphic design, and typographic training I had, to begin to find my own voice. Evert van Dijk, a dear friend of ours and fine calligrapher/artist was instrumental in helping me to get away from obsessive perfectionism and to find my own writing styles and rhythms. Also, the work I did with master typographer and calligrapher Jovica Veljovic helped me to allow small imperfections to appear in the work. He taught me that, if executed with knowledge and experience of spacing, letter weight, etc, the overall impression would be of competence and the little glitches wouldn’t be noticeable.

Well, I’ve recently had a chance to do some lettering again. And Jovica’s tip really came in handy. Rende and I made some signs for our local edible garden. I wanted them to be nice, but since there is a fair chance of them getting stolen or damaged, I didn’t want to spend hours and hours on them. So without lines, no sketches, no preparation except 3 layers of varnish, I just took a loaded brush and lettered them freehand. You will see that they are not perfect by any means, but (especially because they are read vertically) they make a convincing impression of good lettering.

bord peulvruchten

finished wood moestuin signs

The signs are to label the beds for crop rotation, which happens over a period of 4 years. The idea is the first season, to plant the vegetables (like potatoes) which take the most nutrients out of the soil in one bed, and the next season to plant much less demanding plants in that bed, moving the potatoes to a new bed. The translation of the Dutch is:

Vaste planten= perennials
Aardappels= literally Earth apples  or potatoes
Peulvruchten= legumes like peas, beans, snowpeas, sugar snaps
Koolgewassen= cabbage-like veg, broccolie, brussels sprouts etc
Bladgewassen= lettuces and other leafy greens including squashes
Wortel & knol= root veg, like carrots, onions, celeriac

And now for something entirely different. I was inspired by a friend’s book of poetry and photographs to pick up my pens and brushes again for some freehand calligraphic art.  Here are some of the results. And here is Jörg’s website (German language).

take me across1

take me across copy

The style used here is inspired by my piece, ‘Wage Peace’ which you can see and read about here.

Real felt birds

March 11, 2017

DSC06637_DxO resized

photo Rende Zoutewelle

Painting has been low key for awhile. I’ve tried showing up at the canvas anyway, but end up just rehashing stale ideas. It is a period where I need fresh input, so I’ll be giving it a rest until inspiration comes again.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on the little guy above. I’m not quite sure what got me started on making felt birds. I had made a flock of them as brooches several years ago.

Maybe it is because the birds around here (northern Europe) lift my spirits. Not only do I regularly see blue cranes on my walks, but also flocks of geese stringing across the big skies chattering and calling to each other; and that rare treat, a swan family, whooping above with the wonderful whooshing of the wings. You just feel like you got blessed when they have passed by.

My husband has rigged up several bird feeders close to our large dining room windows and we’ve come to know the regular visitors well. Sparrows of course, coal tits like the one above, chaffinches, blue tits, ring doves, and English robins are the main ones. I just love the coal tits with their neat little black fronts and soft yellow bellies and sides. They like sunflower seeds best and will perch at the feeder tossing out everything else until they get to a prize, then they retreat to a higher branch and crack it open by holding it between their claws and pecking at it until they get to the meaty part. Chaffinches and robins will sit on the ground gratefully picking up the rejects thrown out by the coal tits. Watching the interactions between the birds is also entertaining.

coal tit n finch1

So basically I made these birds to keep me company upstairs in my studio. The chaffinch is kind of crude, it was a first prototype . They definitely have some kind of presence, though, because our dog is jealous of them!

DSC06639_DxO resized

photo Rende Zoutewelle

If I do make more (not for awhile, they are So Much Work) I’d do a sparrow next.  They are incredibly beautiful when you stop to look – with soft grey feathers and reddish chestnut caps and streaks of black, and various browns on the head and wings. There are also white accents, bringing out the contrast of all the different feathers. And did you know there are dozens of different types of sparrows? I didn’t until recently.

Anyway, the weather here is more springlike, so instead of sitting inside making felt birds, I’ll be out in the garden enjoying the real ones!