Monday, December 31, 2007

Crow sketches

I was fascinated by the crows in the scene below. Crows are purposeful creatures, and their movements are not random. They are fascinating in the way they move: almost lumbering but with an unexpected grace that suddenly emerges. So I began trying to capture some of that grace in quick sketches with a graphite pencil. (Very quick: they are constantly changing position.)

Though I knew there would be little detail in the painting, I wanted the attitude and relationships between the birds to be accurate. When I got home, I went online, and found a video showing a flock of birds interacting in a similar environment. It was lovely: I could pause the video and do a quick study of the patterns of movement. Here are a few of those sketches.

The thing that intrigued me most when I paused the video was that the images of flying birds became transparent-- I could see the background through them. This is not merely an artifact of the video-- it is actually how our brains perceive the images sent by the eye, and is the reason film and video work. Then our brain fills in the blanks, as it were, so that we think we perceive solid objects (because we are programmed to "know" they are solid).

We all experience what we think of as an ordinary transparency effect of fast motion (think of fans, or hummingbird wings). Yet we also experience other kinds of transparency, all the time. Birds flying suddenly by are good at this, and so on occasion are cats who are determined to be on that side of the door and not this. If we notice it, we think it is because it was so sudden that we weren't focusing. But that's not it. It was so sudden that the brain didn't have time to stitch it together in a seamless solid. (There are a few unfortunate people who experience this all the time, because the "stitching together" part of their brain doesn't work.)

But imagine what fun painters can have with this. If we let it happen, we can experience a lot of things this way. And paint them.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


After the Thaw: Incoming Storm

pastel on paper with pumice ground, 33x23cm (12.5x9 in)

Driving home from my daughter's late on Christmas day, I watched a snow storm moving in over the mountains, and a batch of crows feeding on something in an iced over wetland in the Otter Valley. It is amazing to me how many colors ice can have. I stopped and took some photos and did some sketches, and a day or so later made this painting.

The keepers of such things tell us that December was a record-breaker for snowiest December in a lot of the Northeast. It sure was here. It snowed every day but one. That day it rained, and rained hard. That day, of course, was the day before Christmas. The only reason we woke to a white Christmas was because there was so much snow to start with.

Christmas Day it snowed just enough to refresh the landscape. Then it all melted. Then it flooded. Then it snowed again. But we are used to that. We are now solidly in the January thaw, with snow predicted for tonight (the flood warning is still in effect).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Old Stage Road, framed

I framed this for my daughter, and hung it behind the Christmas tree for her to find. It is the painting I worked on as her father was dying of cancer a few months ago. When our children were young, we lived in the foothills of the Siskiyou mountains, and there was a special place along the Old Stage Road where we took our kids to picnic. Painting it was an intensely emotional experience, with layers upon layers of memories, so much so that I have absolutely no objective sense of the painting at all.

Framing and hanging it was an act of letting go for me, and at the same time a gift of memory to my daughter. It is where it is supposed to be.

The week before Christmas....

My Christmas plans got somewhat rearranged. The week before Christmas, the town plow pushed mounds of snow into my property (illegally). I was completely blocked in , with no way to get out, and unable to move the heavy, compacted snow. No shopping, no tree. no preparations for Christmas eve dinner. The town came and looked, but did nothing but make more promises.

Two days before Christmas I finally found someone who had the time to plow me out (the town will get the bill).

My daughter hosted Christmas eve dinner, and cooked the goose. I arrived bearing boxes filled with home-made dinner rolls, my own cranberry-orange relish, pumpkin pie made with almond milk for the lactose intolerant among us, fixings for dressing to go with the goose, and a large pan of my special oozy cinnamon walnut rolls to eat while opening presents the next day.

We have sort of an ecumenical family that includes a semi-lapsed Catholic, a pagan, a devout Wiccan, and a practicing Buddhist. Some of the others we are not sure about, but there they are. The nice thing about this holiday is that it truly is an trans-cultural holiday, whose original purpose kind of threads everything else together: the day that the sun lets us know it is returning northward, and that the cycle of life is beginning again. A time of sharing and community.

May yours be as well.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

High Desert Mountains

I've been absent because I've been trying to learn to build a website using javascript to display popup images. My website builder is ancient and does not understand this language. Neither do I, though I do ok with just plain old html. New website builders that a visually inclined artist can use are expensive. So I've been muddling through trying to sort out CSS and javascript in text editors.

It is a slow process, as this is not something I am fitted for. Though I am gradually starting to "get" it, I may end up bailing and just doing my old thing of making thumbnails that are links to pages with the full images. But I so want those cool javascript popups that then just disappear when you click on them!

We'll see.

Somebody like me can only do that sort of thing for so long. I needed to get back to my easel. Some artist friends are having fun doing mini landscapes. So this is my entry: early spring in the basin and range country of the American west, from a photo I took long ago in another lifetime. I much prefer this pared down approach to painting landscape.

"High Desert Mountains" 10x10cm (4x4 in)
pastel on beige Tiziano, pumice ground added