Playa: September 15 & 16, 2013

Sunday morning, Sept. 15

I am outside on the Commons deck, where the lawn and ponds and playa are quite beautiful and the laptop is almost readable in the sun.

It’s only 11 AM but I’ve already worked on a large painting on-site up by cabin 1.Cabin1BacktowardplayaWL

Cabin 1 from the front. The back looks out on the playa, and that’s where I painted, of course. There’s a wrap-around porch.

I got up about 6, heated up yesterday’s coffee, put on my boots, gathered my painting stuff and put it into the cart that Rachel found for me, the one that pushes like a dream. Rachel says it was made especially for her (along with all the others around the property) by a guy in Eugene. It can be converted into a bike cart just by unscrewing a couple of wing nuts and adding a bicycle widget. Continue reading

Playa September 14, 2013

(This residency recollection was interrupted by a 50th wedding anniversary orgy of photographs, which I shall post on Flicker as soon as I get a bit caught up here. My apologies to my faithful fans who have been waiting for the next installment.)

Saturday, September 14:

Yesterday I climbed up the hill across the road. It’s actually a kind of “front range” to Winter Ridge ( a set of small hills in front of the basalt of the Ridge) where I found a good wide view. I might have to paint from it. But it was hot and by the time I got back, I was sweating, dehydrated, and tired. Ah well, what did I expect at 4000 feet above sea level for an aging out-of-shape body.  But it’s always good to have possibilities for further exploration. I told myself that Saturday (today) would be a lazy day,  to make up for the exertion and excitements of yesterday. (So much for promises).

Here’s one photo of Playa-from-the-Hill:

PlayafromHillWL

The big excitement of today, however, really was neat. A huge white bird came into the north pond (the one Cabin 10 looks out on). It looked like a swan, but with an enormous beak like a pelican. It was bigger than any pelican I’d ever seen.

PelicanStandingWL

And when it raised its wings to lord over some ducks, I saw stark black undersides to them.

PelicanTakingOffReflected

PelicanGroomingI sneaked outside to take photos, although it didn’t seem to take any notice of my presence. I saw it eat a couple of fish with its tremendous beak, sliding them into its beak and down its gullet which was long and elegant.

It came right up to the edge of the pond where I was photographing:

PelicanSwimmingClose2wl

When it flew off I saw the black underwings again. Stark black against stark white. And not thin like a heron.

PelicanFlyingWL

This guy was substantial. So when Rachel came back from her work with the neighbor I asked her about it. She got all excited, found it in a book, and said they had never been seen on these ponds before. It was an American White Pelican, which is very scarce because of pesticides and human invasions. It can have a 10 foot wing span. The flight was stunning.

I think I’m very lucky to be in Cabin 10.

Afterward everything else was a kind of anti-climax. I laid in the shapes for a couple of paintings. I want to try to paint the morning mist that seems to rise in the south playa (there might still be some water down there). I saw it today, but couldn’t bear to take my stuff out at that unhealthy early hour.

Other than that, I finished off a painting or two and worked a couple more to see what would happen. And laid in the shapes for the ones I’d like to get at soon. I’m not exactly an early riser — Rachel volunteered, with a guffaw, to come and get me up. I have been waking up early, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to roll. And I’m still a bit sore from my hike yesterday (my little walk, actually) so I don’t know if tomorrow is the day I’ll get up at an hour that some people (you know who you are) deem acceptable. I also have an idea about what I can do with the very long view up on the hill but I’ll have to explore that some more.

PlayafromHillMorningMistwl

Rachel gave me three kinds of mosquito repellant so I don’t need to go to Paisley to get any. And my beer is holding out well, as is the food:-) Maybe spaghetti for dinner tonight. Haven’t decided yet. I’m starting to wear down, so it might be tuna fish instead. I had guacamole for lunch, with tomato and lots of onions and lemon juice. It was wonderful. The avocado was just at its best stage — perfection. I’ve been drinking cold ginger tea and liking that a lot. I see that there’s plenty of herbal teas for the taking in the Commons so if I run out I’ll have plenty of substitutes. –June

Paintings from Pine Creek: Finale

Morning Fog

Morning Fog

In preparing for our extended visit to the old family home,  Cedar Pines, along Pine Creek in northern Pennsylvania, I realized that the lush green landscape required more than my usual travel supply of small boards. I needed ampler materials so I could stretch myself into the landscape.

Lots of artists don’t work large, and the truth is that large paintings are impractical for most houses. But I love the physicality of working large, of waving my arms, extending my wings; and the actual space on the canvas acts as a challenge — more to fill up, more to detail out, more planes to commit to, bigger brushes to use — all kinds of things that plein air painters for the most part don’t get to play with.

So I packed a large roll of canvas in our 1995 Honda, along with ample supplies of paint, medium, and (big) brushes (I left room for Jer in the driver’s seat). At Cedar Pines, my brother and nephew found me a 4 x 8 piece of plywood to stretch the canvas on (using duct tape, of course) and gifted me a big easel left over from my niece’s wedding.

I needed to work outside as the light and space inside were inadequate.

One canvas sort of stretched -- it needed a bit more muscle.

One canvas almost stretched — it needed a bit more muscle.

I began with a 4 x 4′ piece of canvas, the painting for which I had notions but no fixed ideas. It was not to be a plein air piece, but rather a compilation of many scenes and memories. I propped it on the back porch, with my back to the scenery.

Back Home, in progress, on the back porch of Cedar Pines

Back Home, in progress, on the back porch of Cedar Pines

I started with it on the easel, but discovered quickly that the wind coming up the  Creek can pick up a 4 x 8 piece of plywood as if it were a sail. Jer and I ended up nailing the top of the plywood to an upper porch beam. That kept it from flying away.

After a while, I could go no further with that painting and needed to move along to another big canvas. So I took the 4 x 4 foot one off the board and stretched the 4 x 6 foot on on it.

I wanted this painting to be done plein air, painting the scene across the Creek from the back yard, painting as the fog rose with the dark patches of mountain on the other side, the snags forming their presence in the foreground. I drank my coffee in front of this scene every morning. It is, for me, the essence of Cedar Pines.

Big Canvas propped against the easel in the back yard of Cedar Pines

Big Canvas propped against the easel in the back yard of Cedar Pines

Ever the optimist, I thought I could tie the easel to the porch, fix the plywood to the easel with duct tape, and withstand the wind’s force. Of course, I was wrong; I painted a great deal of the front of my shirt as I spread-eagled against the canvas-and-board, trying to keep it from flipping face down in the grass.

So back to the drawing board:  although the view wasn’t what I had in mind, we figured out a solution that stabilized the canvas/plywood and raised it up so I could work on it. I sat the board on the canoe and drilled holes into the it, tying it to the porch railings.

Big canvas sitting on canoe, tied to porch, stabilized by two-by-fours

Big canvas sitting on canoe, tied to porch, stabilized by two-by-fours

Not elegant, but workable.

When the time came to take the paintings back to Oregon, unfinished as they were, we took off the duct tape, rolled up the canvases, put them back in the original box, and off in the Honda they went.

Then they hung in my studio while I studied them, hung in my living room while I studied them, and went back to the studio — where I studied them.

The final paintings, finally done, I think, are glazed and over-glazed — they probably have between 15 and 20 layers of paint on various parts. I was hoping to achieve the glow that transparent paintings can sometimes accrue through layering.

When I thought I had finished, I took the paintings off to my crit group, and showed them to my various critics and friends, trying to see what “bumped” at people. The biggest canvas, “Morning Fog” needed some tweaks — my crit group was good at seeing problematic areas —  as a conventional landscape, it was relatively easy to plan and execute and tweak; the fog gave me a bit of trouble, as did the half-snag, half-pine tree, but fixing those areas wasn’t too hard.

Morning Fog, 6' x 4', oil on canvas, 2013

Morning Fog, 6′ x 4′, oil on canvas, 2013

The smaller canvas (4 x 4 feet) was a different kettle of fish. In fact, there were times I thought I should just paint a bunch of trout over it and be done with the problem. Everyone had opinions about the piece and no two opinions were alike. What one person loved, another hated. The friend who sat on the right raved about the top, but the friend on the left found it totally baffling. The slate ledges were “wonderful” or, conversely, “simply don’t work.

Going Home, 4' x4', oil on canvas, 2013

Going Home, 4′ x4′, oil on canvas, 2013

In the end, I did what I wanted to do. I think this piece is finished, but perhaps not — I’m still pondering. However, in a few days, we’ll be off to the desert and all thoughts of lush green will flee from my head. So I think I may have to make my final decisions today and tomorrow. If you have any observations, make them quick, so I can include them in the notions I must discard:-) –June