I have a perfect life for an artist, living in seclusion in an isolated rural acreage, the closest village with less than 300 people. Our 60 acres of wild land includes pasture, rows of cottonwoods planted in the 1950’s, a great variety of shrubs, grasses and wildflowers and through it all the crown jewel – Blue Creek – winding its way out of the Ogallala Aquifer springs to the sandhills to the North Platte River on the south. Our yard abuts the creek, blue grass lawn mowed to the edge. Birds feed at our window, a blue heron fishes along the bank, Sandhill cranes fly over during migration seasons. We have seen deer, skunk, raccoon fox, coyote, mink, otter, beaver, porcupine and small rodents.
This is also a perfect life for a dog. Oliver is our Weimaraner rescue dog, that is, I rescued my daughter from his craziness. Oliver is best described as an ADHD Olympic athlete, muscles rippling as he runs across the prairie. He has boundless energy, an explorer of every smell and animal track. He often corners a rabbit or small animal in a hollow log or irrigation pipe, working for hours to extract his prey.
In case you are imagining this perfect artist life as one of beautiful sunsets, winding trails and glowing grasses, you are correct. There is another side to nature however, a side that reflects the shadow and darker side of existence and here Oliver is also a reminder of the fullness of life.
I often hear, "How long did it take you to do that painting?" I will share a little of the process for this pair of vegetable paintings.
First, one day I was inspired by two red buckets full of vegetables that I had picked from the garden. I loved the way the sun was hitting the vegetables and shining through the bucket so took a bunch of photos inside and outside of my front door. Then I selected my favorites, messed with the lighting on my computer and then cropped the photos into being square since I thought that shape fit the subject. Next I bought a couple of deep-wrapped canvas and did an orange underpainting - showing here - and then sketched on the subject trying to catch the pattern of light and dark. Then I get to paint! In oils, first dark and working lighter. I have the zucchini and cucumbers pretty well done and the shadows. Now for the tomatoes and red basket.
Here is the nearly finished pair hanging in my studio. To answer the question of time, paint and brush time was about 20 hours - or about 40 years of experience!
Sometimes when I am painting I get excited about the colors on my palette. The one on the left is done with three primary colors - ones that are more muted Nebraska colors. I used these same three for about ten paintings in a row including the November and Abandoned series. The palette on the right includes a bright red and Manganese Blue - more of an aqua blue. These are great for flowers. I had a great time making yellowish greens and blue greens for the leaves.
We have had so many cloudy days, I thought I would share this recent painting of our little walking bridge across Blue Creek. My daily walk starts with crossing this bridge and heading out through the pasture and around the lagoon. Each day is different as the seasons and weather affect the color and light.
When painting I am trying to turn a flat canvas into the appearance of three dimensions so the viewer sees into the distance. A trick that is based on reality is to make the back objects lighter and cooler. This is readily apparent on a misty day but true anytime.
(On a side note - thanks to the Scottsbluff Star Herald for great coverage Sept. 26. Read here.)
I set out from my house for my daily walk – along a leaf strewn path lined with poplars and garden beds, around a bend in the creek, past an old barn and onto a driveway under huge cottonwood trees losing the last of their golden leaves in the fall breeze. It was at that point that I realized I had missed all of it, lost in my own thoughts. The words “Look up and live!” came to mind, a safety advertising campaign of the local electric company. Their warning is to keep people aware of power lines overhead. My message was to look up and see what was in front of me, the world I was walking through that moment. Look up and live. Stay present. Appreciate that glorious warm fall day, the breeze through my hair, the crunch of leaves under my feet, turkeys slinking through the grass to avoid the dogs.