November 23, 2017

How does inspiration work for you? Or more precisely, how do you capture a moment of inspiration before it evaporates into memory. How do you let that moment become part of your life or work?

I get inspired mostly by other artists. The challenge is to translate that feeling of liberation and upliftment into one’s own circumstances. Sometimes direct copying can internalise the technique and make it yours. Or trying out another artists palette or brushwork can open up doors in your own work. I find that copying another artists subject matter generally leads to a dead end. I might make one piece inspired by someone else’s take on the world, but until I engage with my own interests and preferences, the work will lead nowhere. Your work needs to be fed by your own experience, that way it will keep growing.

A friend alerted me to a documentary on Dutch landscape designer and garden master, Piet Oudolf. I don’t know exactly why what he does hit me so hard (in a good way), maybe the time was ripe, maybe I needed just this kind of example for my book on new directions in the arts, but he nails it. Oudolf is a vital 71 year old garden artist. His work is making large prairie gardens in urban landscapes. The High Line gardens in NYC were designed by him, as were the Battery gardens, and in Chicago the Lurie gardens, (an ex rooftop parking lot). (tried to reproduce some images here from the web, but they won’t take).


from the Piet Oudolf site     no photo credit found

I guess what grabs me are the expanses of colour, the swathes of moving, living colour- blond grasses interspersed with deep red purple echinacea and sage. Oudolf loves the garden in autumn perhaps more than in summer. And he has opened my eyes to the beauty in black seed pods, died out grasses and plants, crisp faded flowers, the whole range of charcoals, rusts, browns, and silver greys that take over when the summer’s riot of colour has run its course.

Recently, when my painting was at a low ebb and writing wasn’t moving either, I was itching to do something creative with my hands. I look every day at the stack of beautifully coloured wool felt I have in the studio and decided to start on something, anything!!

The little coils I’d already done, they show most of the colours I have.
So with the colours of Piet’s gardens still humming behind my eyes, I started to piece together 10 cm strips of felt. On my bulletin board you can see a pieced felt work I did a few years ago. I was inspired by the middle strip of warm pinks and yellows, set off by the soft neutral squares surrounding it.

So I kept making these felt panels with only a vague idea of wanting to somehow express my enjoyment of the Oudolf gardens without depicting them realistically. Below is the result.

felt panels5 002

hand sewn pieced wool felt,     5 seasons

I wasn’t finished yet and made a new panel, just keeping to the tints in the winter garden. Then I did one for late fall: with the low autumn sun hitting the golden grasses and with some of the most beautiful fall plants in bloom, these colours just sing. The technique also started to evolve, instead of just piecing like an inlay, (see bright orangey triangle between the white and black strips just under here), I started appliquéing the pieces right on top. You can see this clearest in the bottom third of both panels.

And finally, I worked on one just in tints of green and purple. This one is more descriptive, not sure how I feel about that, if I don’t watch out, I’ll be incorporating embroidery and beads and the whole thing will go kitchy. Maybe I’m just frustrated that I can’t get out into my garden now that winter is coming. Anyway, I wanted to show how inspiration from one man’s garden designs sort of came in sideways and started me off on this new felt work.

green purple

Bigger and bolder

November 8, 2017

bold tomatoes

Tomato plant bold     acrylic  50 x 60cm

The painting above was done in a rare mood of utter confidence. I knew where I wanted to go, sort of, and how to get there more or less. The background was a strong but rejected abstract which you can still see almost all of. I worked in big strokes, didn’t go back to fiddle (thank you dearest Robert Genn, r.i.p.) , and left the white lines (mostly) as accents against the dark background. This painting has gotten more appreciation from people who visit my atelier than any other work in a long time. Several are interested in buying.

Anyway, after the previous tomato plant series, and especially the one above, I found myself wanting  more space to ‘spread out’, so I ordered several 80 x 100cm canvasses.  Below you can see the proportions of the size I usually work in when I work big, 50 x 70cm.  The grey area is the extra space I get when I want to work really BIG!.
So I put this  (for me) gigantic blank canvas on the easel and………. Freaked Out!!! painting proportions

At first I tried an underpainting with a large brush and big swaths of colour, but it was way out of  control. So I did the normal thing (for me) and divided it all up into manageable little squares and rectangles (oh great, I finally get a big canvas and what do I do, start working small again!), and filled them in until I got a feel for the whole space. Once I got into it, it was lovely to work large, moving my arms in arcs instead of just a dab here and there with fingers and wrists.

Here is the finished work.

100x80 tomplant

Tomato plant,          acrylic on canvas    80 x 100cm

There is a lot going on in the composition, but it all came together pretty well. It did take a long time, though and used a lot of paint. But it was a good experience and I want to do more like it. For now, the inspiration has wound down some, and I’ve moved on to other things for awhile until I gather enough courage and inspiration to confront another big guy!