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

Paintings from Pine Creek, Second Issue

It’s now November and I have left the north-central woods of Pine Creek, had a brief visit with relatives¬† in Lancaster County, spent four days in Philadelphia, mostly at the new Barnes Museum, and am now back in Portland Oregon. Here’s some links to my non-painting adventures: the Saga; the Crick; the hike up Gamble Run Road;¬† and the last days.

And, just in case you missed it, the first group of paintings from Pine Creek can be found on my art blog, the post immediately prior to this one. Below are the paintings not shown there.

The Camp (Cedar Pines) and its Rock Fence, 12 x 24″, oil on board, 2012

Pine Creek and Stump, 18 x 24″, Oil on board, 2012

From Gamble Run Road (2), 12 x 16″, oil on board, 2012

Slate Ledges along Rt. 414, 12 x 16″, oil on board, 2012

Birches at Leonard Harrison State Park, 12 x 16″, oil on board, 2012

Cushman View 1, 6 x 16″, oil on board, 2012

Cushman View 2, 6 x 16″, oil on board, 2012

Each of the paintings carries its own anecdote, of course. The long, semi-panorama of Cedar Pines was done on a humid day on a hill across the road from the camp, another of those masochistic attempts to capture something of the feel of the place in which our family has so much history embedded. The rock wall is made from creek cobbles.

The stump, in Pine Creek and Stump, is one of hundreds in the area, left after a mini-tornado took out trees as well as roofs and telephone wires. I became fascinated by the stumps and the trees, many of them white pines. Somehow the stumps and trees became metaphors for my thinking about the homeplace, particularly as some of the snags and stumps showed new growth or sheltered new kinds of plants.

The Gamble Run painting was a re-visiting of another which sold; I was so smitten with that view that I tried to paint another. The second version, while painted from the same spot as the first, is different — of course.

The slate ledges painting, done in preparation for something else I had in mind, took on its own life, in part because of the challenge of the material and in part because I was sitting on a very narrow verge of a hill on a winding narrow mountain road. It almost certainly caused a certain amount of comment in the community, particularly as I was in danger of a) tumbling down the hill behind me and/or b) being run down by the vehicles of the locals who know every inch of the road (and drive accordingly) but didn’t know that painters had found the glories of the area.

The last three paintings above were from views of the Pine Creek Gorge. The birches with the Gorge in the background were a compromise; I found the perfect place to paint from but couldn’t get my materials down the trail to the lookout (I took lots of photos). So I sat along a comfortable and accessible spot in the main trail.¬† The two paintings from the Cushman Lookout were done in the sun and heat with waspish creatures bugging me, but were somehow important to me in a personal sense. My mother and father loved that view and I have old black and white photos of them with the two of them and Jer, looking out over the mountains. The Cushman isn’t a view of Pine Creek but rather of a tributary of a tributary of Pine Creek; it does, however, show the Allegheny Plateau going on and on and on. The two paintings were done on a single 12 x 16″ board, which I think will be cut in half some day.

Autumn and Snags, 16 x 12″, oil on board, 2012

This last painting was done at the end of my visit, after Jer had loaded up the big canvases and I had finished off the few pieces I kept back to ship before I traveled home by train. It’s one of my favorites, containing not just the snags and fog, but at last, some color other than green.

Finally, in the continuation of this post, are paintings which I sold or gifted; one of the benefits of being a painter is that it isn’t too difficult to give thank-you gifts to those who have helped. So if you want to see a few more photos of paintings, not tweaked in the home studio, continue on.

And, the two big canvases I started on the back porch of the Camp (as well as a few others) are still being worked on. More on them later. –June

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