Teacher Appreciation

As an itinerant art teacher, my "classroom" is where ever there are tables and chairs available.
As an itinerant art teacher, my “classroom” is where ever there are tables and chairs available.

This is the week students (and former students) show appreciation toward their teachers. It never occurred to me what a challenge being a professional educator was. All I saw was what happened in the classroom. Not the Sunday afternoons of catching up on grading and planning. Not dealing with the difficult student who irritated everyone, both teacher and classmates (and probably parents, not that they would admit it!). Not the frustration of teaching students who did not work to their full potential (me). So when I see former teachers and professors, I tell them that I now realize what a privilege it was to have been their student. I have also been able to tell several of them how much I learned from their lessons and how I am passing it on to my students. I think they appreciate the acknowledgements.
One of the reasons I became an art teacher was to have the opportunity to make art without having to worry about selling it to make a living. This has worked pretty well for me. Nearly every day allows me a chance to draw or paint with my students without worrying about the laundry, what’s for dinner, or other daily routines that steal time and life out of me. Student artists do not realize how lucky they are to have a specific block of time reserved for the to draw, paint, or create something from nothing. “Enjoy it now,” I tell them, “because it won’t be long before reality will hit you hard with more obligations than you can ever imagine.” Except I don’t say it like that.

Playtime! As the students used oil pastel to make a fauvist style landscape, I played along with them.
Playtime! As the students used oil pastel to make a fauvist style landscape, I played along with them.

I am thankful for my daily playtime in the classroom. I hope those who will become my “former students” will remember the good things they accomplished in my class. Or at least that they received some good advice, like “Enjoy it now, because reality is coming and will hit you like a truckload of bricks!” Except I don’t say it like that.

Azaleas Under the Trees

Azaleas Under the Trees

About twenty-five years ago a collection was taken at Dutchtown School to purchase azalea bushes to plant along the front of the school under the oak and pine trees. They were in five gallon buckets and were planted by the custodians. I remember how dinky they appeared when they were first put in the ground. The azaleas survived heavy traffic passing on Highway 73 from Interstate 10 towards the chemical plants on the Mississippi, a road-widening project to meet the needs of an exploding population, and the heavy-duty lawn mowers of the maintenance crews. Some of the remaining bushes must be over ten feet tall.

After all twenty-five years I thought I could predict the week the azaleas would be at their best; I was probably off a week. One day after classes were over I took my old Julien easel, a hastily prepped pastel board and a set of student grade soft pastels outside the classroom and captured those magenta flowers before they faded away. Even though it’s just a sketch, it was great to be outdoors with the bumble bees, breeze, and occasional observer. And the never-ending traffic on Highway 73.

Azaleas Under the Trees
Azaleas Under the Trees

Breaking Blocks

I finally broke the artist's block by making a quick painting of a cat. Roberto monitors my progress.
I finally broke the artist’s block by making a quick painting of a cat. Roberto monitors my progress.

During the month of December I usually do not paint. My husband and I decorate the house with a large Dickens Village, at least fifty Santa Clause figurines, wreaths and garland on the doors and over the mantle, and a medium sized tree covered with 1600 tiny colored lights. With all of that, we have to have several get-togethers with neighbors and friends. I bake a few things and make milk punch to share. We wrap gifts on any flat space not covered with other stuff. After traveling to visit family we come home to take everything down and store it in the attic. The process keeps me busy for a month, but usually by New Year’s day, I am back in my painting room.

Except this year. What began as the Christmas hiatus became January. Then February. I stayed busy doing laundry, cooking, and working. I made two trips to visit my parents and spent time in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I began taking a yoga class. When I finally realized that it had been nearly ten weeks since I painted, I knew I had a case of “artist’s block.”

The prescription is easy. Just finish something, anything. Nothing will happen if I don’t keep up with the laundry or fix supper. It is a certainty that nothing will happen if I don’t get back to my easel!

Gambling On Art

As an educator, I work too hard for my money to fritter it away gambling. During football season I may put a couple of dollars on a board or purchase a lottery ticket when the jackpot is over $50,000,000, but that is the extent of my gambling. Except when entering a juried art exhibit.

I began submitting work for juried shows back in the day when images were presented on slides. Taking good photos, processing and labeling them, and filling out the forms was time consuming. Results were sent by return main in a SAS envelope, and more often than not, I was “rejected” from the show. I always thought being rejected meant at one time having been part of something, but that was how the letters read. In today’s era of making everyone feel good about themselves, the terms are “declined” or “not invited.” Anyway, whatever the terminology, I was not juried into many exhibits.

In the digital age, entering exhibits is easier than ever, and more expensive too. It is easy to fork out $50 to send in three images that may not be chosen for inclusion. And that’s why I call it gambling. You just don’t know what the juror will choose.

I recently submitted work for a local exhibition. I knew the juror and thought I may have a chance to get something in the show. The results were posted recently for the Brush With Burden exhibition, and the piece I thought would surely make it was not the one chosen. At least my gamble paid off – I have a place in the show.Pasture-on-Highway-73

The Brush with Burden exhibition will be open to the public in the Steele Burden Memorial Orangerie and the Ione Burden Conference Center in Baton Rouge, LA, 1-4 p.m. Sundays and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. other days March 23-30.

The event is sponsored by the Burden Horticulture Society and the Botanic Gardens. The event includes a free opening reception from 3-6 p.m. March 22 at the Orangerie.

The exhibition’s art awards categories are Best in Show, Judges’ Choice, People’s Choice and Merit for the best artwork in various categories, including paintings, 3-D work and photographs.

 

En Plein Air

It’s too bad that October has only thirty-one days because it is one of the most beautiful months of the year. The sun has a special glow, the sky is intensely blue and the temperatures and humidity begin dropping. In Louisiana, this is the time of year of festivals, football games, and other outdoor activities such as plein air painting.

 

Painting from life in the open air doesn’t seen unusual today, but it is a relatively new thing in the history of art. Before the Impressionists revolutionized the art world by painting outdoors with brighter colors and heavy brush strokes, most paintings were completed in a studio environment. During the past decades painting en plein air has become a popular past time, with thousands of artists pursuing the activity because it is fun, not to make perfect artwork. Plein air painting is like golf for artists, so there must be a competition!

 

The walls at FW Gallery are waiting for the Plein Air Fest entries.
The walls at FW Gallery are waiting for the Plein Air Fest entries.

On October 19, 2014, FW Gallery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana sponsored its first Plein-Air Fest. The day was perfect with cloudless blue skies and no chance of rain. Registered artists picked up their canvases at 10:00 am. One of the assigned areas to paint was a former artists’ colony located behind the gallery. We hiked through some fairly heavy underbrush, looked for the perfect composition, set up our gear, and started working.

 

For me, painting outdoors is such a rush. I have to think and execute quickly, and since I am a rather slow painter, this pushes me from my comfort zone. I am a rock star when I am in front of the easel outdoors. I worry less about the results and enjoy the process.

My painting of a dilapidated building just off of Highland Road.
My painting of a dilapidated building just off of Highland Road.

 

We returned our canvases about 2:00 pm. Rozlan Fransen framed the paintings and installed them for the Wet Wall Reception that evening. Viewing the different works by the participating artists was a treat; even though we were in the same area, no one had the same perspective. The show was a lovely end to a beautiful day.

 

Wet Wall Reception
Wet Wall Reception

I wish there were more weekends in October so I could get out and push some paint around…

 

 

A Sea of Elephant Ears
A Sea of Elephant Ears

 

 

Deadlines are a Good Motivator

Notice Curio, the studio cat, supervising.
Notice Curio, the studio cat, supervising.

Even though the first week of August, 2014 is not over, I must return to my full time job of teaching tomorrow. This is the career that enables me to purchase art supplies so I can pursue my passion. Even though I teach art, the job responsibilities often consume me and I don’t spend time developing my own work. So, with the opening of school bearing down on me, I knew I better get busy.

Robert Genn wrote in his twice-weekly newsletter years ago that a good way to get motivated is to complete a project. With unfinished work hanging over our heads, it’s hard to work on anything new. I have taken his advice in the past (I learned so much from his writings) and found that by finishing a piece I was more confident about the next project. I began about fourteen paintings from life since the beginning of the year and finished three in the last three days. I am a slow painter, so that was pretty good time for me. If I don’t start anything new, I may be able to catch up by the end of the year!

New Orleans Art Day

In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggested making dates to go out and experience art. Even though the time is not spent at the easel, computer, piano, or dance floor, seeing what else is out there is developmentally important. Plus, it’s a great excuse to go have lunch somewhere.

My Wednesday morning plein air painting group decided that it is too hot and humid to work outdoors during the summer months. We concluded that a visit to some galleries on Julia Street in the New Orleans Arts District would be fun. Call it a “field trip” and it becomes an educational experience.

Let me tell you, driving in New Orleans is not my idea of fun. I don’t know where anything is, there is always some kind of road construction/destruction,  and I am very uncomfortable driving a Chevy Tahoe on some of those one way streets where there is very little parking. (We have had it nearly a year and I have yet to try parallel parking in it—not that any parking places would be large enough!) Anyway, I volunteered to drive, and with Ms. GPS we made it there and actually found parking on the street.

For the first week of July, the weather was not unbearable. We spent several hours wandering through the galleries and met several of the owners. We knew some of the artists exhibiting at one gallery, so it was like being home. There were venues with contemporary work, some with work in different (for us, anyhow) media, and others with more traditional work similar to what we create. The group ended the tour in a craft gallery and spent a little money on jewelry, which is an extremely important souvenir. We went on to lunch at a lovely restaurant and headed home. That was when the weather did become unbearable and we drove most of the way in a thunderstorm.

Taking time out for an Art Day (or morning/afternoon) can give one a new perspective on creating and marketing art. I am glad we arranged the trip and look forward to several more, at least until the temperature in south Louisiana returns to the not-so-uncomfortable range and we can get back to painting plein air.

Lunch at La Petite Grocery
Lunch at La Petite Grocery

Walter Anderson

The Community Center at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art
The Community Center at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art

On the return trip from our annual vacation in Gulf Shores, my husband and I stopped in Ocean Springs, Mississippi to visit the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. The museum is on Washington Avenue, a quaint tree-lined street that takes one back to mid-twentieth century. The museum, along with the Community Center and his cottage that was moved to the site, survived Katrina. It is a beautiful, peaceful spot. Every time I stop to visit there is a new exhibition of his work as well as that of a new generation of artists who paint the indigenous landscape and wildlife of the Gulf coast.

Clifford and I arrived just as a large group of teachers was leaving. There was only one other couple in the gallery. They appeared to be retired and from a different part of the country, maybe doing the Fodor’s must-see tour of the Mississippi coast. The woman was obviously enchanted with Anderson’s unique style; the husband was clearly unimpressed. “This isn’t real art,” he said.

Such blasphemy against the van Gogh of the South! I was appalled…then I recalled the first time I was exposed to his work. I did not appreciate his approach to design until I began to study the work of Vincent van Gogh in order to teach middle school students about him. I really never understood how great his paintings were until I had to study them, and about that time I was re-introduced to Walter Anderson’s amazing body of work. In time I began to realize what a passionate genius he truly was. (I am a slow learner.)

The husband looked around the work in the gallery and started on his way out. His wife continued to look at the watercolors and passed the entrance to the “little room,” the cottage where he painted the four walls and ceiling that was not seen by others until his death in 1965. I just could not help myself. “Ma’am, you have to see the room in there,” I said, and she went through the doorway. I followed to see her reaction, which was amazement. I would have hated for her to miss that treasure.

After touring the Community Center again, and discovering new images in the murals, we left and had lunch at Lovelace Drugstore, then hit Realizations to purchase prints (Clifford ran into one of his young cousins and her baby there). What a lovely way to end our vacation.

Painting Vacation

Since I began working in plein air several years ago, most locations I have painted have been near enough that I only had to pack my gear in the GMC and drive to my destination. Even when I head for northeast Mississippi from Louisiana, it’s not a big deal, as long as I remember to bring something to protect my wet paintings from ruining the interior of the vehicle.  So when one of our Paintin’ Posse (we finally have a name) suggested a painting trip to Lake Gaston on the North Carolina/Virginia border, I only hesitated a few minutes before committing to flying there on Memorial Day weekend.

Packing for travel is one thing, but packing for both painting and vacation is something else. I researched online, asked my  art colleagues how they managed, and tried to minimize what I put in my two suitcases. I have several easels for outdoor painting. I tried each and finally decided on the Soltek. The tubes of oil were carefully placed in the paint boxes I saved (I’m a box hoarder) and the number of brushes limited. The Best Brella took some room, but I knew I would need it at some point. Since we were going to a lake house I took a very limited wardrobe that included the hat I always wear when painting outdoors. It all fit and came in under the weight limit. Just learning to pack to paint was huge.

The house at Lake Gaston (AKA Artists' Retreat)
The house at Lake Gaston (AKA Artists’ Retreat)

The house was situated on an inlet of the lake. The weather was perfect every day except the day we left. We were able to paint several different areas and even took a trip to a winery. Our host family provided us with refrigerators full of food and beverages, prepared several meals for us, and

Sunset at Lake Gaston
Sunset at Lake Gaston

took us on boat tours around the lake.

I quickly acclimated myself to the artists’ retreat concept. I began five paintings, scrubbed one away, and pushed myself to paint more quickly in order to keep the light.

Now that I have learned to pack and paint, I think I am ready to head for new places, like Tuscany and Provence. After I finish the five paintings (and quite a few others) I have in my “to be completed” stack.

First painting (and the only one I finished).
First painting (and the only one I finished).

The Challenge of Green

The Challenge of Green

One of my painting friends said that plein air painting during spring was not as interesting as during the autumn season. Everything is green. That’s the problem with some landscapes. There is just too much green. Spring has a range of palest yellow to a medium range accented with colorful flowers. The richness of summer foliage can be almost blinding, especially in the dazzling sun. Autumn’s green is rich and more varied, touched with reds and ochres. Here in South Louisiana, green is part of the landscape year round, even during winter.

An artist commented that he counted over twenty different hues of green in the prairie landscape of North Mississippi where I grew up. Really? Was that all he could count?

I started painting outdoors about fifteen years ago after working almost exclusively from photographs. I took a workshop with Allayne Stevens through our local art guild. Not only was it my first plein air adventure, I was using oil, with which I had little experience. I was amazed how differently I saw colors in life as opposed to photos. It was challenging to figure out how to make them.

Pasture on Highway 73
Pasture on Highway 73

Green is one of my favorite colors, but it is frustrating trying to make the correct hue and value for all of the different ones out there. There must be hundreds of different tube colors of green. I collected quite a few from workshop instructors’ supply lists as well as from reading what other artists use. I try to limit the number of colors on my palette, not only to keep the amount of paint I carry to a minimum, but to achieve a more harmonious composition. I am still struggling to achieve the green I perceive. I love bright colors and have a difficult time neutralizing them. Or maybe that will just be my thing…brilliant greens, and lots of them.

Pasture on Highway 73 - Beginning Stages
Pasture on Highway 73 – Beginning Stages