When a Landscape Doesn’t Work…

This painting is my second attempt at a landscape including someone’s house.

I tried to rush the original painting, since the (well-meaning) client kept asking, “Is it done yet?” and the pressure was driving me up the wall.

Heavy hints hadn’t deterred the client from being pushy. Saying, outright, “That’s not helpful,” seemed to get lost in the conversation.

The result: Great colors and a truly terrible composition.

After struggling with this work for months, and watching the painting get progressively worse following each comment from the client, I took out a utility knife one night and cut up the canvas.

(I also photographed the pieces, tacked on the wall, as an installation.  It felt very satisfying, though my husband was horrified until I explained what I was doing.)

Those pieces are waiting to be turned into something craftsy.  The colors were gorgeous, so I’ll probably use the shredded canvas as beads or dimensional art.

Several weeks later, I could distance myself from the steady pings by the homeowner. That’s when I realized I needed to make the house the centerpiece. It did the setting a disservice, to focus on it as an architectural rendering.

If the painting was about the setting of the house — as if the house was a gem — the imagery might work.

And frankly, I think that’s what the client wanted, anyway. It was all about her house.

Then, I spent most of a day on site, creating two plein air sketches of the house and its setting.  I began to understand the importance of painting lyrically.

Feeling a sense of relief and accomplishment, I gave those two canvases to the client.  I was pleased with them; I’m still not sure if she was.

(My experience has been: When I simply give art to someone, there’s less than a 50/50 chance they’ll express obvious appreciation of it.  It’s as if something free has no value to them. That’s okay.  I’ll continue to give art to people because… well, that’s what I do, sometimes.)

Then, I spent several days photographing the landscape from a variety of viewpoints, near & far, at ground level and from some nearby elevations.  That gave me a broader context for the painting.

northwood1aSo far, so good.  The initial composition worked — laid in with cadmium red paint — and it was building gradually but well.

The photo at left shows the work, as it was a couple of weeks ago.  Several of the red composition lines were still visible at that point.

Though the blue-gray area at the front is supposed to represent a road, I wanted it to connect with the water feature near the house.  So far, that’s not quite working.

Each layer of paint adds more features.  The background is (I think) mostly completed, though I may need to simplify & soften it for perspective.

northwood1Now, I’m working on the foreground.  Every layer and color is being added with the idea of how it will look underneath a later layer.

The photo at right shows its current level of completion.  Most of the red in the foreground is from the underpainting; it will be concealed, later.

Also, I’m altering the road-like proportions so it’s not quite such a flat echo of the golden area to its immediate right.

(When two areas of a painting are too similar, it can make the finished work less interesting.)

However, I’m rapidly approaching completion on this painting.  Well… as “rapidly” as one can, waiting three weeks or so between layers of paint.  (The thicker the paint and the more white in it, the slower it dries.)

In November, I predicted three or four more layers of paint, with a completion date in late January or during February. (That will depend on how frequently the client calls me, asking if it’s done yet. Clearly, she doesn’t understand the creative process. And I should have set the terms more firmly, before accepting the commission.)

The house will probably remain just a suggestion, with only a few more details than you see now.  It’s the centerpiece, of course, but the painting is about the setting that makes the house dazzling.

Keeping my focus on that is getting me through this, but there’s a good chance I’ll never accept a commission again.

I’m going to make this the best possible painting, anyway. So there.

Kennebunk Salt Marsh

This salt marsh in Maine has been a favorite subject for my plein air paintings for years.

The location is in Kennebunkport, Maine, across the street from the Bush compound.

I started painting at this location as part of my “look the other way” series. For that series, I chose subjects that are a 180-degree turn from popular tourist vistas.

When I started painting at this location in the early 1990s, George Bush (Sr.) was President, and tourists would drive past his family’s compound… and totally miss this lovely salt marsh across the street.

As the seasons changed, I became even more appreciative of this salt marsh. As an artist, I was (and still am) enthralled by the myriad colors in this setting. But, I also like painting in this relatively isolated location because–as a woman, alone–I always feel safe, knowing that there are cameras and security guards keeping an eye on me.

This salt marsh has changed over the years. The trees are larger and more mature. A new house on the other side of the marsh–barely visible–means fewer deer on that side of the landscape.

Today, even more people want to see the Bush compound. The street can be busy at the peak of tourist season.

But, the salt marsh is still one of the loveliest along the Maine coast, and this location continues to be among my favorites.

This oil painting is 8″ x 16″ on canvas board.  It was completed in May 2007.

Collection, J. Watt, California

Autumn pond

This is an oil painting from my years (1998 – 2002) in Nashua, New Hampshire.  The pond is at Royal Crest, and it is magnificent all year ’round, but especially during the fall foliage season.

I painted this over a series of afternoons, en plein air (meaning: outdoors, on location).

It’s one of my favorite paintings, and we displayed it in our living room in Texas, as a connection to New England’s magnificent landscapes.

As of late 2008 (shortly after our move to NH), this painting is still in storage.  However, I recall that its dimensions are about 16″ x 20″ on canvas.

Baby’s Blocks Gone Wild

In 1991, I designed and made this quilted wall hanging for a challenge in Salt Lake City, Utah. The challenge fabric was the floral that is in the Baby’s Blocks section, as well as bordering the top and bottom sections (not the actual border, which is black).

I thought that the challenge fabric was insipid. I struggled to find a way to use it.

Weeks passed and the deadline loomed, and nothing about this fabric inspired me.

Then, I realized that I could work in contrasts: meek with wild, and traditional with jazzy.

The finished wall hanging is 32″x52″, and at the time I called it, “Threads of the Past, Visions of the Future.” It is pieced and appliqued, with some stenciling (the small yellow dots) as a surface treatment.

This quilt took top marks, winning an award for originality and design.

Today I call it, “Baby’s Blocks, Gone Wild” and I’m eager to do more with contemporary twists and traditional designs.

Glastonbury Tor

England’s Glastonbury Tor is a mystical place. Its legends include fantastic Arthurian lore and unique Christian history.

In this painting, I wanted to capture the exhilarating freshness of Glastonbury in the spring.

The scene is the Tor late in May when the flowers are in bloom and the grass is a vivid, new green.

This oil painting was painted in an Impressionist style.

Close to the painting, the colors are broad and almost abstract. From 30 feet away, the painting looks photographic.

Like most of my work, this photo doesn’t accurately represent the range of colors and depth in the painting.

Collection, Vernon and Barbara Pope, Kansas