Faith

Inspire: To fill with the urge to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

Fr. Mascarella’s service dog, Pace, patiently waits.

Louisiana,You Inspire Me was the theme of Associated Women in the Arts’ Spring Exhibition at Louisiana’s Old State Capitol. While many things about my adopted state motivate me to paint, I had difficulty pinpointing what truly inspires me.  I only saw Fr. Mascarella once when he said Mass at the church I attended. This retired priest, who was blind, often substituted in different parishes throughout the diocese.  Considering the logistics of his traveling anywhere, I was impressed that he got around as much as he did.  The faith he had in his service dog, Pace, was in a word, inspiring.

In January, Urban Sketchers Baton Rouge sketched in St. Josephs Cathedral.

I joined a group of artists sketching at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge several days after Fr. Mascarella passed away. Sitting at the rear of the church (because that’s where I always sit) my perspective included stained glass windows between the arches. It was pretty dark but the watercolor sketch was all right.

Several days later, my husband came home with a photo his friend, Paula,  took of Fr. Mascarella with Pace, sitting in the area of the cathedral I had drawn the weekend before. I knew then that would be my painting.  He persevered when he could have easily given up, continued to serve his community in retirement, and even took art classes at LSU though he could could not see. Thank you, Fr. Mascarella, for being an inspiration not only to me, but hundreds of others.

Yellow=Happiness

“Let there be Light,” said the Creator, and there was Light. After seeing the Light was good, He broke it down into the Spectrum and there was Yellow. He thought Yellow joyful and made it the color of the sunflower, which brings happiness to all who see it. Positive energy, cheerfulness, and optimism are a few of this hue’s emotional properties. Because it is such a warm color, there is no wonder so many of my artist friends have been making paintings with lots of yellow during these cold winter days. I love bright colors.

This yellow Craftsman style house with green shutters was fun to paint, even though it was a very cold morning.

Maybe that is why I enjoy painting flowers so much, whether they are in a landscape or a still life. To me, painting flowers is far easier (and enjoyable) than planting them. Yellow flowers and foliage are so much fun because I can use pure pigment and not worry too much about toning down the color (I’m kind of lazy like that). So when I was commissioned to paint a bridal bouquet with sunflowers contrasted with darker colors, I was pretty close to being in Yellow Heaven.

Sunflowers = Happiness

Yes, I exaggerated the color of every blossom in the bouquet, but painting it was like listening to great jazz. With every stroke of brilliant color I found another note in the spectrum that added joy to the composition. Light is good, and yellow = happiness.

New Year, Blank Book

 

New Year, Blank Book. The dining room table serves as a desk as I try to catch up on correspondence and daily writing. At least I am out of the kitchen.

Several years ago I received a weekly planner as a Christmas gift. I liked that each date had lines to write on (I don’t like writing on blank paper–my lines start sloping downwards with the the first sentence) and began keeping a Happiness Journal at the first of the year. I have had three of these books (thanks, Barnes & Noble for keeping them in stock).  I enjoy looking through them, remembering what the weather was like each day (because it often affects my happiness) and one thing that made me happy. Sometimes it’s just seeing a tree in autumn decked in glorious golds and reds or a delightful meal at a favorite restaurant. Funny how the same event or weather condition repeats on or near the same date from year to year. Painting with my friends is a frequent note in my Happiness Journal.

Here is to filling my blank book for 2019 with many entries of happy painting occasions, documentation of gorgeous weather, and notes of time spent with good friends. Happy New Year!

December Light en Plein Air

Light is twinkling everywhere, now that the Christmas season is upon us. Retailers have had decorations up since the beginning of November, and neighbors try to out-light each other with displays in the yards and on their houses. 

The view across the lake at City Park. The foliage was stunning.

At the end of November and beginning of December here in South Louisiana the leaves finally turned to yellow, orange, and scarlet, and their contrast against the blue sky was amazing. The light reflecting on the foliage resembled sparkling jewels; the display lasted about ten days before fading.

A grey day will not keep me from jazzing up the color of the foliage. This is the initial block in.

It’s been a few weeks since I have been out in the field painting, and it was not hard to see I was sorely out of practice. I am not an outdoor person, but there is something about being in nature trying to capture a feeling or image that makes putting up with the cold/heat/damp/maybe rain/once snowflakes a pleasure. For me, painting en plein air is not so much about the product but the process. Of course, getting a good painting every now and then is pretty cool.

Painting on Location

I am not an outdoor person. My favorite outdoor activity was tanning until I discovered plein air painting. Now it is my passion.

Own the Original

Recently, the studio where I have space had an open house. The front gallery was filled with artwork by all of the members, and in the studio spaces each artist had even more to show. It was our effort to show work accumulated over the years (and hopefully sell some as well).

My wall in the studio gallery.

I repeatedly heard this comment, “I want to buy only original art.” I appreciate those who make an effort to purchase original work and especially those who also want to know something about the art and the person who created it. That information adds such value to the work.

One of the paintings I sold had a bit of a story. One morning my painting friends and I had to forego our plein air date and stay inside due to a thunderstorm. We had some flowers from the garden, an old pitcher that was my first purchase when I moved out on my own, and a Tuxedo cat. After setting up the still life in my kitchen, we each made a painting, and took photos of the cat for future reference. I explained the setting of the composition to my client and wrote it on the back of the panel with a Sharpie. It gave a special meaning to the work that will not be forgotten.

Thank you, Madeline B., for making my day!

As you think of gifts for others, or even yourself, consider original artwork. There is so much good work available, and much of it is very reasonably priced. By purchasing something from an artist, you not only receive a piece of beauty, but hours of practice, education, angst, and a few moments of joy. You also enable that person to continue pursuing a passion. 

Thank you for purchasing original art!

The Appearance of the Teacher

For much of my art education and career, I thought I knew enough and all I really needed to do was practice. Which may explain why my years working on a degree in art and the decade afterwards was so lackluster. I failed to appreciate what was being imparted to me by highly respected teachers. After finally graduating with a BFA in Commercial Art (pre-Graphic Design), I did not take a workshop for at least ten years. But I didn’t practice my art either. Because, I thought, I was a good artist and already knew enough, right?

Watercolor was the medium I started using when I decided I just might have something more to learn. The supplies were left from college days, so it was inexpensive to start again. I began to read articles in books and art magazines. Back in those days most of the photos were black and white, but I could tell the work possessed qualities that mine did not. So I started looking into local art associations and workshops.

Walking into a meeting of people one doesn’t know is challenging, but fortunately the members of the local art guild were welcoming. Several of the members were nationally known artists who taught in the area.

Mary Jane Cox was a watercolor painter and teacher. When I first met her, I was a bit intimidated. She was a well known artist who taught in different parts of the country, wrote and self-published books, painted prolifically, and was accepted into many, many juried shows. She was such a good painter I found it hard to believe that she took workshops too! I signed up to take one of her workshops, thinking I would be lost in the class. I was surprised that she reached out to me and offered to pick me up to go to the workshop site. It was the beginning of a good relationship.

After working with her I realized how approachable she was. Mary Jane had much to offer and gave willingly. I learned more about composing a painting from her than in my years of design classes. I became one of her “girls” because I respected her artistic ability and generosity with her gifts. So why did Mary Jane Cox make such a difference? After all, I was the same person I was ten years earlier.

Because the student was ready and the teacher appeared.

It has been ten years since Mary Jane Cox passed away after a long battle with cancer. Every day I go into my study I look at the watercolor of the Madison County, Mississippi courthouse that she painted and see something different. I use many of her phrases and call them “Mary Jane-isms.” She opened my eyes to the knowledge that we are all students who should never stop learning.

I am eternally grateful the teacher, Mary Jane, appeared. I am glad I was ready! I hope one day someone will feel the same about me.

Watercolor

My first experience with watercolor was like that of many other students, using the Prang eight pan box with a brush that dropped hairs on 20 lb paper taken out of the ditto machine or large 80 lb drawing paper if we were lucky. We didn’t get a whole lot of direction and maybe fifteen minutes to paint something that always turned out sort of pale and wrinkled. That was enough to turn me off.

One of my degree requirements was three hours of watercolor. I had a highly respected professor who showed a few basic techniques, but his preferred method of teaching was to let students figure it out ourselves. On location, away from the campus. Hope you have transportation! And sunscreen and insect repellant! That experience kept me from taking further watercolor instruction in college. Not to mention that I made a “D” in the class as well.

When I decided to become an art instructor, I realized I would have to teach some sort of painting and that watercolor would probably be the easiest and least expensive medium. I also knew I had to practice myself. So I took my tubes of paint from college days, my two or three brushes (one of which I still have…Big Bertha), the old palette, bought some paper, and started trying. And it was not fun because I was so impatient to be good. But I persevered. I was going to overcome that “D” in Watercolor 101!

I took workshops, read, and practiced occasionally. One workshop instructor pointed out a great piece by a member of the class, stating that she must have a huge stack of paintings at home because her watercolor was so good. Still, I didn’t get it. But after years of piddling I finally started turning out some decent watercolors and getting a few commissions. Now, I love telling the story of my “D” in watercolor. (I also made a “D” in fifth grade religion, but that is another blog.) Half of the work I do for others is in watercolor.

Many believe that watercolor is a challenging medium to master, partly because corrections can be difficult. Some think that works on paper are not as permanent and less valuable.

And then others absolutely love them.

Thank you to my clients who are in love with watercolor paintings.

And to my watercolor professor, I think I did just fine.

Career Change

When I mentioned I planned to retire at the end of the school year, a lot of people said, “Congratulations! What are you going to do?”

“Not wake up at 5:15 in the morning,” was my usual reply. I did not understand the question. After all, I was an art teacher for thirty-six years. I just may do some art of my own for a change.

Since my last day of teaching about a month ago, I really don’t have that retirement feeling. My friends tell me that will happen when school begins in August. However, I do have the challenge of changing careers and becoming, finally, a full time (sort of) artist.  Painting in my new studio space is like going to work, except I don’t have to be there at a particular time and stay a certain number of hours. I don’t even have to go every day.  I get to work with great artists and learn from them. I do not have to put my supplies away at the end of the day and can wear jeans every day of my life if I choose.

Friends took my comment that I may become a painter seriously and gave me this "uniform."

But somehow, I cannot let go of the structure of my educational career. Each afternoon I write my goals for the next day. I like to schedule days for plein air painting with my friends and times for keeping up with the business side of things. I still pack a lunch to take to the studio, just as I did when I taught school. All the years in the classroom prepared me for this new phase.

Will I miss teaching? Yes and no. I will always be a teacher. I will miss many of the students and other professionals with whom I worked. I enjoy helping people reach their potential. But no, I will not miss waking up at 5:15 in the morning.

The Fine (and Disappearing) Art of Calligraphy

 

The first project in a middle school art room is usually a portfolio for the students’ artwork. In Mrs. Strong’s  eighth grade class, we decorated ours with a cute little doodle made from our name written in cursive. Then we wrote our names in uppercase Roman letters. With serifs. Made with a Speedball C1 nib. Dipped in India ink. I cannot even imagine how much ink was spilled while learning the alphabet. I am pretty sure there was a lot on my fingers.

I learned Italic in high school, mastered the alphabet in college, and taught it for many years. Many of my former students tell me they still use their lettering skills. With so many fonts available on computers, hand lettering is becoming a lost art. Students no longer learn cursive, so when several of my high schoolers  said they were interested in learning to write Italic, I was excited to teach the alphabet. To me, it is a bridge between printing and cursive, which many young people cannot read. 

I don’t think the students realized how much practice was involved. They spent weeks mastering the letters before choosing a quotation for final pieces that had personal meaning. At one point, one of the sophomores almost gave up because she had several spelling errors, but with patience and a double edge razor blade, they were “erased.”

Today I read in the old school print newspaper, that “writing by hand is making a comeback” and “the humble notebook has become trendy again.” (I keep my old notebooks so I can look back and see what I purchased at the grocery two years ago. A little eccentric, I suppose.) I tell my students repeatedly that they will remember what is written by hand. Hopefully their beautiful Italic will be used to make notes that will not be forgotten.