The Project from Hell

The project from hell is the one that has at least 27 more steps to it than initially envisioned, and each step consists of 1 step forward followed fairly quickly by 1.9999 (or sometimes 4.999999) back.

So, take 20 miles of a dry lake bed, Summer Lake, seen in September from a relatively inaccessible spot on Winter Ridge approximately 250 miles from home.

SunriseWithCloudsThen add in a decision to use cedar planks from an torn-down homestead from the Playa Art Residency compound as surfaces to paint the irresistible 20-mile panorama on.

StackedBoardCroppedwl

 

[The pile of planks, fondly patted, until reality set in.]

Continue, on arriving back in Portland, with the questions of how much to sand the 2″ thick planks (after the initial grinding off the nubbins at Playa), with what to seal them (white gesso, clear gesso, linseed oil, Liquin), and what paints (acrylic, oil, transparent, opaque) wouldl use the wood grain most advantageously.

SandingDecisionsWLL

Sampling PossibleSandingsPaintsSealingsWllThen throw a minor surgery to the mix, and you find yourself dealing with The Holidays, after which or in and around which, Decisions Must Be Made.

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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

Petrified Forest, Relationships Grouped: “Natural Monuments”

As I have been stumbling to explain, my plein air experience is infinitely larger, more amazing and important, than my plein air paintings. It’s inevitable, the smells, the sights, the history, the culture, geology, geography, the wind and sun and sky — only tiny bits of this can be encompassed in any single painting. And so, trying to give a slightly greater insight into the experiences of the paintings, I have grouped seventeen of them from the Petrified Forest into five “sets.”¬† My hope is that each of these sets has its own “verse” which then resounds into a greater chorus of the whole.

I’m going to go through the sets, one at a time, over the next couple of weeks. This is set #1, “Natural Monuments”:

Natural Monuments: Petrified Logs, The Tepees, Blue Mesa Hoodoo, Oil on masonite, 2010

These are all paintings I’ve shown previously as individual paintings. These three have a similarity of style, which is due to the way I painted them, of course, but is also related to the nature of the formations themselves. The Logs are the smallest of the “monuments,” being about 3 — 5 feet in length. The Tepees are the largest, perhaps 200–300 feet high. The Hoodoos are perhaps 6 –8 feet. And yet each stands apart from its neighbors, forming some kind of isolated grandeur. The logs are not eroded; they are hard minerals. But the hoodoo and the Tepees are both part of the formations that wind and water sculpt and shape, the hoodoos of hardish sandstone, the Tepees of concentrated ash and clay.

So these are all of a kind and yet differentiated and isolated, grand in their separate ways. As the first set, they practically chose themselves.

In general, the pulling together of the sets was remarkably easy. In part, the colors helped choose the sets, but in part, the landscape and environment forced the style of the painting.

This is the formalists’ heresy, that the style comes from outside the painter. Yet, for the plein air painter not to be manipulated by the¬† scene she is painting seems unfathomable to me. Just as I manipulate the scene, the scene forces me to paint in particular ways. It’s a mutual act, which results in a third thing — neither my vision nor the landscape itself, but something that is a force from both.

More next time. –June

In the continuation, I have the separate views of each of these paintings.

The Blue Mesa Hoodoo, 16 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2011.

Petrified Logs, 16 x 12″, Oil on masonite, 2010

The Tepees, 24 x 12″, oil on masonite, 2010