Friday, December 26, 2008


On December 12, 2008 the full moon was supposed to be the largest in decades (don't ask me why or how - maybe Dana Wigdor knows)

I'd been nursing an idea for a painting of the Mettowee valley flooded with moonlight and dotted with fire as part of my AOA proposal so when George Bouret (of Game Supper photography fame) e-mailed me the news about the December 12th moon and asked if I wanted to join a group hike to the top of Mt. Haystack to see it I jumped at the chance.

We decided to start early enough to catch the last of the sunset. It was pretty cold at the top - less than 10 degrees - but we stayed for an hour and took in the sunset, the after glow, and the rising of the largest and yellowest moon I have ever seen. My hair filled with icicles but it was worth it. Today I painted this little study (6" x 9") from memory and a touch of imagination...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another Life

Last night I took a break from Art of Action Madness and went to my local life drawing group.

The Pawlet drawing group is something that Tom and I started about ten years ago. We meet at the library and - with shades heavily drawn - draw from the model every Wednesday night from October through April. It is a lot of work to run the group (among other things we have to assemble and disassemble the model stand every week) and with Tom now teaching twice a week at the Art Students League in New York, we finally decided to give it up. To our surprise and delight, other members of the group stepped in; the group continues and is better than ever. Plus I get to waltz in at 7, waltz out at 9, and enjoy the title of Drawing Group Leader Emeritus.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Number Crunching

With the clock ticking on the AOA proposal I finally sat down today to some hard paper work - and I don't mean drawing. In fact my mantra is "no fun drawing or painting until the bloody thing is finished"

I sketched out the narrative section a few days ago and, while it needs major rewriting, the ideas are coming together and it is burbling along. I figured it would be a snap to write down the specifics of the proposal - sizes of paintings and such - pop some numbers in and tie the whole thing up in a neat parcel.

Here is a question: will I ever get it that the fact that something seems clear in my imagination doesn't mean that the translation to reality will be simple? You would think a lifetime of painting would have taught me that but, no, harsh reality comes as a complete surprise to me time after time - like one of those cartoon characters that never realize they are never going to catch the bird, or the wabbit, or whatever.

As soon as I started to attach numbers two things happened: 1)the whole structure began to wobble as I tried to figure out how to make each of the three proposals seem reasonable (but, of course, the 40k, the most reasonable...)


2) It struck me in a new and thoroughly unpleasant way just how little money I make for the work I do. This disagreeable fact is usually hidden from me since I don't routinely calculate expenses for each painting. In real life, my husband, who is also a painter, and I spend money on art materials and frames in bulk (huge bulk) and collect money (um, much less bulk) when they sell. When I sell a painting I rejoice in the income and don't stop to contemplate how little of the cash is profit; since Tom does the bookkeeping I never have to put two and two together and find they make three.

Tom and I have been scraping by on painting sales alone for fourteen years. Every now and then we think it is all over; that one of us is going to have to bite the bullet and find a job, but somehow we always manage to pull through. It seems like yesterday that we were young folk just out of art school living in our studio and thinking about nothing but painting. Now we are twenty-odd years older, have a house attached to the studio, and still think mostly about painting. Despite a lifetime of tight budgets, we count ourselves incredibly lucky to be painting every day. Which brings me back to Vermont. One of the things that makes me feel at home here is the presence of the farmers. I don't know many of them - they work all the time, and so do I - but I am comfortable in the knowledge that there are people around as ridiculous as I am, people who spend their whole lives doing something that doesn't pay well just because they can't give it up; it is the life they love.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"It's not all about you" - or is it?

This figure will be in the foreground of The Game Supper

One of the overlooked aspects of this project is that it is not just about the future of Vermont as it relates to social issues, it is also about the future of Vermont art and redefining what it means to be a Vermont artist.

Way back at the beginning of this odyssey, when I was thrashing around for an idea for a project, I read most of Paul Searls' "Two Vermonts". He says that practically since its inception Vermont has been idealized as a place where the pre-modern and the progressive world live in harmonic balance and that this image of Vermont really gained traction in the late 19th century as Americans began to feel uneasy with their increasingly industrialized existence.

When I read that I finally understood why I live in Vermont and why I am a Vermont artist: I have always had "an uneasy relationship with modernity", to quote Searls; in my work I continually try to find a balance between the pre-modern and the modern. Like a 19th century Vermont tourist I want to believe that these opposing forces can be reconciled.

When I first looked at the other finalists' work (about ten seconds after finding out I was a finalist) I was struck by the fact that virtually everybody was a realist and had a narrative aspect to their work - yet the work looked contemporary and modern - the Vermont balance.

"It's not all about you" is a phrase I hear often these days; usually it is a sound reminder not to take myself too seriously - but I think the finalists might want to consider that a significant part of this project is indeed about them.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Oil on linen

I love to draw...but after awhile I get antsy and need to swing a brush, so a couple of days ago I prepared a small canvas and decided to start an oil study of the Game Supper. If all goes well I'll do this 3' x 6'; the study is 18" x 36".

My 'canvas' is actually Belgian linen. Tom (husband and fabulous artist, check his blog Dammi i colori) and I spend 3 weeks every summer preparing our linen for the year. We stretch the linen, size it with three coats of rabbit skin glue, and put on two coats of white lead with a palette knife; when we are ready to use a canvas we sand the surface lightly (wearing a mask!) and tone it with dry color brushed into another thin coat of glue.

I was happy to be painting again but things did not go well: I had trouble with the figure on the left and ended up wiping it out; the figures on the right are way too small. Kind of happy with the initial statement of the central figures though.

The truth is I jumped the gun. For a painting this complex I need to draw more. The drawings give me necessary information - does the figure's head tilt the head this way or that- but, just as importantly, the act of drawing gets the action of the of the figures and the rhythm of the painting into my mind and hands. It is like practicing a piece of music. Next time I pick up the oil study I want to have practiced enough to be free to move and flow and improvise and still be on the beat.

Back to the drawing board.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

On Drawing

Studies of a couple of boys at Game Supper.

I love to draw. If painting, for me, is all about passion: the loaded brush, the waiting canvas - drawing is all about tenderness, about intimacy. I set the drawing board on my lap and curl around my work; I caress the paper with chalks, gently rubbing in middle tones with a chamois; with a soft eraser I dab away the lights.

I tell my students that everything an artist knows is in their draughtsmanship; if you know what you are doing you can read an artist's work in their drawing without ever seeing a canvas - it is all there in black and white (or red and white as the case may be...)

It's true - drawing is the foundation of the painting structure: the design, the form, the light and the shade. Drawing is the Alpha of painting (and when I find out what the Omega is I'll let you know).

Apparently nature, too, starts by drawing:

From an article by Oliver Sacks in the New York Review of Books:

"While most of the flowers in the garden had rich scents and colors, we also had two magnolia trees, with huge but pale and scentless flowers. The Magnolia flowers, when ripe, would be crawling with tiny insects, little beetles. Magnolias, my mother explained, were among the most ancient of flowering plants and had appeared nearly a hundred million years ago, at a time when "modern" insects like bees had not yet evolved, so they had to rely on a more ancient insect, a beetle, for pollination. Bees and butterflies, flowers with colors and scents...would infinitesimal stages, over millions of years. The idea of a world without...color affected me with a sense of awe."

Me too.

That the world of black and white preceded the world of color, as drawing precedes painting, overwhelms me. Think of it: every time an artist does a preparatory drawing and develops it into a painting they mimic the evolution of life on the planet...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Fire Meeting

The Pawlet Volunteer Fire Department meets the first Tuesday of every month; this week I joined them. Five men, including the fire chief, one woman, and a lad of 14 were present. I talked about the Art of Action and my desire to use my project to highlight the fire department and its importance to the community; I gave them a sketch (no pun intended) of my proposal. I said that, if successful, I'd like to make a giclee of one or two of the images and donate the profits to the fire department - but cautioned that that is getting way ahead of myself! The firemen were thrilled and offered any and all help I might need. I spent the rest of the meeting sketching and listening. Afterwards half the group hung around for an extra hour talking about the challenges the department faces and regaling me with stories of Pawlet Fires Past. Plus I scored a video of them actually putting out a structure fire (new jargon) at night. Heaven.

There were a couple of things that took place at the meeting that went to my heart - and the heart of this project. The first was the fire chief's recommendation that the department cut out the October fund-raising breakfast. Not enough people come and it is not worth their effort. The June Chicken Barbecue is already gone. One by one, community events are slipping away. My stomach tightens. I want to stop the erosion; I want the rhythm of community life restored.

The second was about gas money. One of the fire fighters not present at the meeting has embarked on the basic fire-training course. This course is 180 hours - a lot of time, much more than it used to be when the older guys took it. Added to that, he must drive a considerable distance for the training. The issue under discussion was whether the man should be compensated for gas money. Ultimately the decision was to do so, but this conclusion was painful to all - not because they begrudge him the money, but because this decision means the thin edge of financial compensation has penetrated the fire house walls.

The firemen hold dear the principle of volunteerism. Everyone takes deep pride in receiving no compensation whatever for their many hours of service. This fact is a crucial part of their identity, their independence, their code. I encounter the attitude a lot in Vermont, the "don't insult me by offering money" attitude, and I love it. It is as refreshing and wholesome as a drink of cold water from a mountain spring. I'm hoping my project helps protect this crucial part of Vermont's environment.

Friday, December 05, 2008

What Can a Painting Do? A Response

Thanks to Clair Dunn I got to listen in on what sounds like a fascinating conversation she had with Dana Wigdor and Susan Abbott while they were all up at the webinar in Montpelier. Apparently they discussed the question: what can a painting do. I highly recommend reading Clair's post before continuing with this one: Vermont Directions

Back? Okay. Here is my contribution to the conversation.

I have become addicted to a site that displays a picture from the Hubble telescope every day from now until Christmas as a kind of virtual Advent calendar. Disclaimer: I am deeply troubled by the weird linkage between Christian practice and hard science. However, the images are astounding and the "image a day" concept just works, however it is packaged.

Looking at the images this morning I became completely mesmerized. When I returned to earth (so to speak) I realized that my visual and imaginative journey into space had stretched and shifted my consciousness: my sense of the proportions of existence was different - permanently and profoundly altered. And I realized immediately that this how a great painting acts on the mind and what it can do - it takes you to a different place and brings you back a different person with a new perspective.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

On Photography

I ran into George Bouret this morning and he asked me if I'd done anything with the photographs he and Karin DiChiara took (see Game Supper, a few posts back). Oh m'god - have I been that self-centered (yes). The photographs were crucial and here is the story of what I did with them.

George gave me the 473 (count 'em - 473) images on a disk (two disks actually but that's a detail...). I decided that the thing to do was to go through them on the computer, choose the ones I wanted to use, and print them out. This got the total down to 250 or so - too many to print. Back I went, this time limiting myself to the bare minimum, and got it down to 50. These I printed out and pinned up on the big wall in my studio. The process took two full days but I had a wonderful, multi-faceted, photographic portrait of the Game Supper.

I had asked George and Karin to get there early so as to document the food preparation and as a result there were many shots of firemen slicing meat and ladies cutting pie as well as images of all kinds of people going through the line and of course a huge variety of shots of people eating, talking, toasting. I was overwhelmed and didn't know where to begin. For a while I just stared; gradually I began to sort the photos by subject: pie-slicers together, serving line shots together, etc. My own sketches were vital as they were notes of the kinds of rhythms and groupings that I wanted. On a few occasions I had a scribble of a figure that the camera missed; sometimes I had both photographs and drawings of the same figure, or group of figures.

The hardest part was selection - I wanted to do it all. For the umpteenth time I cursed the short amount of time available - this project is being formulated at what is, for me, warp speed.

Finally I did what always works best for me - I followed my gut. There was one fireman in particular that I had found compelling. He worked the food line all night ladling gravy and serving up squash. Hugely tall, he towered over the others on the line, yet spooned gravy as if he were laying a baby to rest - a gentle giant. I had done a sketch of his head from life; there were many photos of him as well. I wanted to draw this man and that is what I did. Or rather, started to do, because as soon as I began I found I needed a ladlee - someone for whom he was ladling gravy and I combed my photos for a likely candidate - showering internal blessings on George and Karin for providing me with this wealth of material. I found an image of a young girl with a big winter jacket falling off her shoulders and bunching around her arms. Between the jacket and her long wavy hair she looked like an updated sitter for a Titian portrait. Bingo. I sat happily for a few hours making a sketch of the two of them and when it was finished I knew they would be the emotional center of the painting.

The rest of the composition formed (almost) effortlessly around them as I drew from my notes and the photos to find likely figures and ideas. I went back to the photo disks looking now with purpose and specificity. I found 50 more photos, including four of my young girl, printed those out and pinned them up. taking down others that were not needed; I was on my way.
Thanks George, thanks Karin.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Work Day

Spent the day drawing. This is a study for an old man in line at the game supper. When I do a figure painting I do lots and lots of preparatory studies. Some of the studies are drawings and some are small oil paintings. My working method is to start with broad compositional ideas, like the big horizontal study from the last post, then start making more detailed drawings for the principle figures. When I feel ready I do a study in oil using the drawings.

But what about all those photographs? I don't use the photographs directly. Rather, I comb through them looking for faces and poses that fit my vision and then draw from the ones I want. I often combine many photos into one image as I did with this drawing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Game Supper

The Pawlet Volunteer Fire Department Annual Wild Game Supper is a major community ritual. Traditionally held the first Saturday of hunting season it is an important fund-raiser for the fire department, frequently drawing over 300 people. Everyone - I mean everyone - participates. A couple of weeks ahead of the Great Event you get a card in the mail with your cooking assignment and a pointed reference to a number to call in case of fire (as far as I know this is not meant as a reflection on anyone's cooking skills...). My first year in town I drew "chopped salad". Sigh. Fourteen years later I have clawed my way up the culinary ladder and am now trusted to contribute "two pies".

The line forms early and stretches halfway to the church. Although Game Supper night usually coincides with the first bitter cold of the year, the mood is festive. People tend to come in groups; the savvy ones tote bottles of red wine and a corkscrew. Inside the hall you see an astonishing sight: hunters, hippies, people who grew up in Pawlet and people who grew up on the east side of Manhattan all crowding together as the disparate groups that make up the Pawlet community come together to share a feast.

That was the inspiration - but how to gather enough notes to make a painting in the short window of opportunity. I like to work from life but no one could sketch fast enough to take everything in - and I had students coming for a weekend workshop scheduled months before. Workshops generally last until 5:00; Game Supper starts at 4:30. Rescue arrived in the form of my friend George Bouret, a wonderful photographer who runs the PAC gallery in town. A week or so earlier he had volunteered to help with the Art of Action project saying that he and fellow photographer Karin DiChiara wanted to do something purposeful with their photography. They thought my Art of Action project might be a place their work could be of service to the community (!). Wow. I told them I needed the Game Supper photographed from A to Z and they cheerfully agreed to do so. The next step was to talk to the fire chief, explain my project, and ask if it would be alright for my photographers to be in their way documenting the supper (I'm feeling like a big movie producer at this point). We had a great conversation. I learned a lot about the department and its challenges and told him I am planning to be their shadow for the next few months...that I may be needing models...

Game Supper night I grabbed my sketch pad as soon as the last student was out the door and zoomed to the fire hall. There I found George and Karin hard at work and immediately joined them, sketching furiously and pointing out interesting faces for them to snap. At the end of the night we collapsed in front of heaping plates of game supper fare, but the haul was worth it: 473 invaluable photographs and four precious pages of sketches.

Friday, November 21, 2008

On Fire

My project is going to be about the community of Vermonters. It was my friend Eric Mach who inadvertently pushed me in this direction. He was the guy who told me he was optimistic about the future of Vermont because of the people. That really stuck with me and ultimately changed my focus - I had been leaning towards doing something about preserving the landscape.

From the idea of focussing on the community and its future it was but a short step to focussing on the institution at the heart of our community - the Pawlet Volunteer Fire Department. The firemen are at the center of Pawlet life. We rely on them not only to provide help and protection in case of natural disaster, but to provide a steady stream of rituals that bind our community together: pancake breakfasts on Mother's Day and New Year's Day, at the height of summer the Fireman's Auction (chance to get rid of your old stuff and buy someone else's), and, grandest event of all, the Annual Wild Game Supper in November.

These days the fire department is under stress. Every year at town meeting the fire chief rises to plead for volunteers. Everyone is busy and fire training takes many hours of commitment - not to mention time spent flipping pancakes. Our community grows richer and grayer by the year - that's fine for the library, but no help for the fire department. We need young people and, increasingly, they can't afford to live in Pawlet or, if they can, must work so many hours there is no time to volunteer. I want to do a series of paintings about the fire department, highlighting their role from fire-fighting to providing the means for people to reinforce their bonds as a community. The fire department's indirect work is to bring home the awareness that ultimately we depend on each other for our survival and our identity: "No man is an I-land..." The immediacy of this awareness is, I believe, one of the unique aspects of life in Vermont and one that I very much want to see continue into the future. Perhaps my paintings will inspire a couple of young folk to join the fire department or, at the least, spark serious consideration of how we are going to cope with our fire department's dwindling population.

And the idea of painting that Game Supper really gets my artistic juices flowing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different

'Bout time I posted some actual art work on this blog. The first image is a recent page from my sketch book. The other two images are from the life drawing group I attend in Pawlet. Click on the images to make them larger.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I've decided on a project for Art of Action and I'm very excited about it. Too soon to write about it though, I need to get some sketches going first - images before words. If all goes well I should have some preliminary drawings by next week. Took the whole stack of Vermont books back to library and heaved a sigh of relief...

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Inventory of Ideas

Though my fellow finalists are no doubt half way through their proposals by now I am still sorting out ideas. I've had quite a few since my search for a subject began so I thought I would list them.

In order of appearance:

1) Adam and Eve. Vermont as Paradise; Paradise Lost (work in something here about eating the Apple of Over-Development); Paradise Regained = land conserved; good public transit and infrastructure; alternative fuels. Tom [husband, fellow artist, best friend] liked this idea. I saw Eve as a sturdy young farm girl and Adam as a hardworking young farmer (he doubled as an allegory for the Working Landscape). Somehow I couldn't move this idea to the sketch stage so I moved on...

2) Inspired by the phrase "We are all living in someone else's future" which I found in one of the panel discussions (part of the information supplied by the Council on the Future of Vermont) I decided to do a series of paintings of various stages of Vermont's history showing how one era gives birth to another. The design was inspired by Ghiberti's Florence Baptistry Doors. I started an oil sketch of the first one and managed to pack Ethan Allen's conquest of Fort Ticonderoga, the primeval Vermont Forest and the beginning of husbandry into a 10" x 12" canvas. But it wasn't what I wanted to say at all.
As I read through the packets of information it became clear to me that of all the things that needed fixing in Vermont the first one, to my mind, was infrastructure. Good roads, excellent public transportation for both goods and people, and a state of the art cyber-network would boost the economy, create jobs, and save energy all at the same time - but go try and make a painting out of that. I decided that Land Use and the preservation of the working landscape would be my issue. It is after all something I care deeply about. And that decision led to my first really good idea...
3) A recreation of Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want" in which the feast being consumed would be a farm, not a turkey. I was in heaven - I had it! This idea had everything: ironic bite, an opportunity to paint figures, a reference to another artist and a famous work of art. Sadly, what it lacked was a couple of companion pieces. Looked everywhere, couldn't find 'em. Not that I didn't come up with any ideas that would fit with this one, but rather that the ones I thought of were awful -really, awful - so bad that I am embarrassed to write about them on this blog. And there was something else wrong, something deeper, and that is that I am not really a satiric artist. It just isn't natural to me: there is something in this approach that is too juvenile for what is, to me, the noble art of painting.

I tried to think harder about land use and the working landscape. Which led to...

4) Two wild fanciful ideas. The first was an image of a skyscraper that looks like a barn. It sits in the Vermont landscape; cows and sheep pour from its open doors; trees grow on the roof... The other was a landscape supported underneath with rotting supports like an old covered bridge. This bridge/landscape spans a deep chasm that takes the shape of a "V"...

I went to the Farmer's Market to sketch and search for information and struck up a conversation with a cheese maker. I explained the AOA and inquired into every detail of how she is able to live on her cheese-making. Then I asked if I might visit her farm and if she would consider posing for me - she cheerfully agreed. On election day I chatted up friends who were working the polls and got their views on Vermont's future. I told them about AOA and asked if they would pose for me -they cheerfully agreed. One, a native Vermonter, surprised me: he said he is optimistic about the future of Vermont because of "the resilience of the people". It turned out he is on the Regional Planning Commission. I learned a lot about land use and development that day but what stuck in my mind was what he said about the people. I realized that while I did not yet have a proposal at least I finally knew for sure what I wanted at the center of my project: the people.

5) Not allegory, not satire - metaphor - that is my real voice; everything else is forced. I'll do a painting of the farmer's market: the potato man, the cheese-maker, the guy who sells samosas. The metaphors will come as I work; they always do. There is a metaphor there about the land feeding us - the potatoes are roots...get it? And what about the scene at Mach's Market, the country store at the center of Pawlet. All day long it buzzes like a hive as all types of Vermonters come and go: farmers, carpenters, hippies, summer people ("summer people" as we all know designates a type, not someone who is in Vermont during the summer months...) the young, the old, and those of us in between. In summer a group sits on the bench outside, but if your family hasn't been here for a couple of generations don't try to sit down - be pleased you get a wave and an acknowledgement. Winters the conclave is on the bench by the deli counter. This group endures. Winter, spring, summer, fall, they are always there; to my flatlander eye they are always the same. Like rocks in the river they are our sign and our landmark. The river flows around them, ever changing, ever the same, life in Pawlet, Vermont.
This is better. I really am happiest painting figures and if I manage to get a commission it has to be for something I really want to paint. I crack open Paul Searls's "Two Vermonts" which I had ordered from inter-library loan. Searls was one of the panelists that the Council on the Future of Vermont consulted; I had been struck by his presentation enough to order the book. Bingo. The book is a revelation. It leads to idea #6 ...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

If this project does nothing else it has certainly changed my relationship with the state of Vermont and - for the moment - my relationship with everyone in it. Suddenly everyone looks like material, everyone potentially has something to tell me about Vermont, something that might clarify my thinking and help me with this project. I remember that in my book group I have a friend who used to work for the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences (at least that is what I think VINS stands for); I'm thinking I should take her to lunch - find out what she thinks about the future of our forests. I remember that the guy who delivers our firewood has a degree in forestry; I'm betting his perspective is different from that of my VINS friend - better call him too. Come to think of it, our State rep. lives in our town, has been a farmer all his life and is the gentleman friend of another book group buddy...this is starting to look like a dinner party. I send an e-mail to a friend and student, a watercolorist: she and her husband live on a 400 acre dairy farm that has been in her husband's family for generations; she grew up on a farm nearby. I remember she once told me that when she and Bob took over the farm, 25 (or was it 30?), years ago it was a "disaster farm". Now it is stunning, a treasure. We have always talked about art, now I want to talk about Vermont. I want to know what it was like to turn a farm around, what they think will happen to it and what they think will happen to Vermont - what they think should happen. They have two beautiful, talented daughters. One plays the cello, the other the violin. The violinist is in her second year at McGill where she is an academic star; she is passionate about anthropology. The younger one is graduating from high school this year. She is imaginative and artistic like her mother. Do either of them want to take over the farm, I wonder. Do their parents want that for them? I don't know Bob well; he seems like an incredibly kind man. Once I remarked that the farm was so beautiful; how amazing that it was his and had been in his family so long. "Yes", he said, "the land" then added "it's a burden". And as I looked at his beautiful valley and felt a pang at the thought of my immigrant, landless, family history I knew that he looked at me and felt a reciprocal pang for my freedom.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Artistic Hell

I had planned to write about how great the Art of Action Orientation day was but, sadly, that fabulous experience is now a memory - it was pretty great though: met amazing people; got to sit in the legislative chamber (how cool is that! Now I know why people go into politics - for the architecture). Quote of the Day from one of my fellow artists as we were ambling out and heading home "Their enthusiasm is contagious".

That was then, this is now: Artistic Hell is where I am. I can't believe I thought this would be easy. It is the hardest thing I've ever done.

Number one problem I am overwhelmed with material but none of it is visual. I read panel presentations from industries, foundations, politicians, and academics from all over the state; they are fascinating. I want to cover everything that has ever happened or could happen in the State of Vermont: this is completely insane. I move on to reading transcripts of forums conducted by the Council on the Future of Vermont on how Vermonters see the state and, of course, their lives - and I ache for pictures to put with the information: I need visuals, I need to be there, to feel the way people sit, the way they turn their heads, their presence; I need to see their stories in their faces. I look at the photos Sarah Waring has so thoughtfully posted on the Council on the Future of Vermont website; nothing jumps out. I go to the Pawlet library and come back with piles of books about Vermont and finally learn about the Green Mountain Boys, Governor Benning Wentworth's land grants (that's how Bennington got its name!!) and the dispute with New York. I am embarrassed that I have lived in this state for 14 years and know so little about its history. Now I want to paint that history but that idea doesn't really fit the project. Sigh.

I cover the walls of my studio with words, thoughts, ideas - but where are the pictures? I am having a hard time finding the visual metaphor that will summarize and express my thoughts. The good news is that I now have an answer to the third question they asked when we were being filmed for the AOA video, the one that goes "how does this kind of project change your creative approach?" Answer: it is completely different - backwards and upside down. Usually my inspiration comes from within and instantly and is pure joy - the painful fleshing out comes afterwards. The beginning is always pictures, always a vision; verbalization comes later. Now I am part of someone else's inspiration - I am the paint as much as I am the painter and it all starts with words.

Somehow, I need the words to become pictures. I have started off in many different directions; none of them seems completely right. The time is so short. I think with envy of my fellow artists - I am certain that ideas are falling into their hands like ripe fruit.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Art of Action, continued

Where was I? Oh yes, the more I thought about the Art of Action the more I thought that perhaps I should would be a chance to try out some new artistic ideas: a separate and more experimental place, away from my usual market. And as the economic clouds continued to gather, the idea of locking in some income for next year looked more and more appealing. I still had reservations about some aspects of what was required but I pushed those thoughts into the "deal with it when the time comes" category and wafted my hat into the ring.

Once I was in I wanted to win. The idea that this was just the project for me, that it was the chance I'd been looking for to spread my wings grew day by day; when I was chosen to be one of the 20 finalists I was completely delighted.

All along I thought that carrying out the project, for an artist of my vast talent and experience, would be fun and exciting but, ultimately, a breeze. I figured I could bat something out while spending the greater part of the year working on my figure composition "The Feast of Venus"; I assumed I would get the commission and I certainly did not imagine that any of the other finalists could possibly give me a run for my money.

That was then, this is now. The first reality check came when I looked up the work of the other finalists. Yikes. These guys look good, really good. I was tremendously impressed with both their work and their accomplishments and a strange new feeling dawned...I was proud to be among them; pleased to think that this is a group in which I belong. On the down side, my estimation of my chances went swiftly from certain win to 50-50 chance (there are twenty of us and ten will receive commissions). But it's an odd thing, I think I am happier with my new view of the situation - I guess you could say that what I've lost in arrogance, I've gained in self-esteem. Good luck, guys.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Art of Action

In late August an email from the Vermont Arts council about something called the Art of Action passed through my mailbox; I gave it a cursory look and reflexively hit 'delete' . Alas, just as it slipped into cyber-oblivion I realized that something on it had glittered. Oops. I quickly fished the piece out of the digital wastebasket and saw there was indeed something sparkling there: 10 commissions ranging from $10,000 to $40,000 and averaging $25,000 were to be awarded. Yikes. For an artist this qualifies as serious money - very serious. I read through the prospectus carefully and...concluded that this project was not for me. Art about issues - no! I never do topical work. Involve the community in the creation or presentation of the work - groan. I like to do my own work and do it alone. Demonstrate that the work has had an impact - um, I'm an artist, not a sociologist. Back into the trash it went where it sat for three days while my thoughts went something like this... be continued

Catching Up

A whole lot has happened since last I posted on this blog. For starters, I painted an entire show and had an opening at Tilting at Windmills Gallery in Vermont. The stock market dropped 20% (or was it 40%) in the two weeks before the opening so the timing was really, really bad. Nevertheless I managed to sell four paintings of decent size and price. Normally I would have been disappointed with this outcome but under the circumstances I was relieved and happy. One of these days I'll get around to posting some of the images from my show but meanwhile you can get a taste of it here

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

News: I will be teaching a still life workshop in my new studio on March 15th and 16th. Class size is limited to five students. The class will run from 10-4 Saturday and Sunday. Cost is $75 for one day or $130 for both days. Oils or drawing materials only - sorry no acrylics or watercolor. Anyone interested should contact me through the comments section or go to my website and send me an e-mail.
This is 99.99% finished (the front sleeve needs a smoother transition from light to dark). More on this piece later...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A great model who can hold a one minute pose for five; a piece of soft charcoal with just the right amount of grab; I love to draw.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Finished it. This one really sunk in on me in places (the whole blue-black velvet cloth and the area under the table); I will have to wait until I can varnish it to see the full effect. I am pleased with this piece and think it came out reasonably well. It is fairly large, 30" x 36", and is a satisfying addition to the pile for my fall show - feels good to have a big one in my back pocket.

I changed the way I think about finish with this painting. Instead of thinking about finish as a separate stage I tried to incorporate the finish into the painting from the beginning; rather than ask myself the question "what more can I do?" I asked "what does it need to be finished?" Readers of this blog know that for the past two years I have struggled to finish paintings. I would launch into a painting with purpose only to wander endlessly within: I kept seeing new paths, new vistas, new ideas and felt I had to explore every one of them. The 30" x 36" still life I did for my last show took me two months to finish. With a new show coming up, I am trying to cut the Gordian knot, to move straight through a painting like an arrow launched from a bow (very Zen and the Art of Archery, not I have ever read it...) This one took about a month. Better.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Vissi D'Arte, Vissi D'Amore

This is not a new painting. I painted this when Tom and I were still living in New York City, about 15 years ago. We lived in our 500 sq. ft. studio then; I did this painting standing in the kitchen. Tom was occupying the middle of the studio working on a still life and he was taking forever with it. For a few weeks I fiddled with landscapes in a corner while I waited...finally I decided to just paint him painting.
I am glad I did: this is one of my favorite paintings and one of the few we have kept over the years. I gave it to him on our tenth wedding anniversary, a few months after we moved to Vermont, in memory of our first decade togther in our little studio.
We both love opera and Tom is particularly fond of Tosca (I think because the hero is a painter). In the middle of the opera the soprano sings a great aria "Vissi D'Arte, Vissi D'Amore" which means, roughly, "I lived for art, I lived for love" For years I told Tom I was going to put that on his tombstone. One Sunday afternoon in Vermont I went for a long walk; when I came home opera was blaring from the studio. I peeked in, only to see Tom, up on a ladder, lettering a beam with the motto "Vissi D'Arte, Vissi D'Amore".
He has his own blog now, Dammi i colori (guess what opera that is from), the link is on the left, check it out.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

This is where I was at the end of last week; Sunday, to be exact. I worked both Saturday and Sunday hoping to finish this piece.

Usually I take Sundays off, but I love to paint on Saturdays. Last Saturday, Rossini's Barber of Seville was on the radio. I listened to the bright, skipping voice of Rosina while I painted the shimmering gold fabric; when the basses and baritones came on I found myself touching up the rich velvet...

I did not finish the painting but I did bring the piece to a good stopping point: gold cloth completely stated and just needing a final floating polish; pewter pitcher virtually finished, looking both crisp and subtle; pears, background, etc. going well; the only area that needs major construction is the front of the table. I wanted the surface nice and dry for the final assault so I let the painting marinate for two days while I caught up on computer work and played with the dog. Today I pick up my brushes again.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Here is the still life I am currently working on. As I say in the comments section of the last post the grapes I was working from were not black but pink-gold since I couldn't find any black grapes at the store. I worked from the pink-gold grapes transposing the color and values as I went along - a surprisingly easy trick.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The still life is finished; the ladies are still in progress.

The painting of the two ladies was inspired by a photograph by Chester Higgins, Jr., thanks Chester.