Category: All Blog Posts

New Studio

I moved a couple weeks ago, here’s my new studio, still getting organized!

I am pretty excited to be back in Portland, I have already been on a couple birding trips, a yoga class. There are just so many more options here it’s easy to make fun things work with my schedule. Tomorrow I am going to a tarot meet-up as I have finally reckoned with my mystical side. As someone who loves and appreciates science I felt a little squeamish about how drawn I am to tarot but there are a lot of people these days using it for personal growth instead of fortune telling.

What I like about the cards is the archetypes combined with art and chance. It creates an opportunity to see things from a new perspective and think different thoughts on an area of my life where I was stuck. Whether or not my spirit is drawn to particular cards based on a message it wants me to hear or if my own creativity simply makes a meaningful message out of the cards I happen to pick is a question I don’t feel like I need to answer. I’ve been reading for friends lately and they find benefit in the readings so I’m eager to learn more.

In the meantime here’s the first art journal pages in my new space.

Other Mysteries

Shotpouch Creek is lined with little homesteads and ranches, homes and barns on organic shaped plots of emerald grass between the highway and the creek protected by hills on either side. Some of these steads have tiny herds of livestock, perhaps 8 head of cattle, a dozen goats. Some have odd collections of alternative dwellings like converted buses, most run-down, or just cars sinking into the mud. It does not seem to be a very prosperous valley except for the tree farm on either side. Still, the enormous maples covered in moss and the rich green along the creek make it seem idyllically pastoral.

I am driving up the gravel road on my way to the Springcreek Foundation’s cabin where I am to do a 4 day artist residency. Of course I have been looking forward to spending 4 days in the woods painting trees. Taking 2 days off from the office job to do so felt like getting away with something even though there was no subterfuge required. As a relatively straight-laced person I derive an enormous amount of pleasure out of any sense that I a bucking an oppressive system. The discovery that I could wear flannel pjs under my work slacks, for instance, kept me in good spirits for weeks.

I had planned to arrive early this morning but now it’s just after 3 pm and my former excitement has waned to a dim hope that whatever I have become so desperately allergic to in the last few days is magically not present at Shotpouch. The organizer of the residencies did inform us that there is no poison oak on the land. This is the sort of miracle that could be followed by more miracles, I reasoned.

I arrive and settle in with great hope, chatting with the other artists between coughing bouts. I go for a walk in search of a place to hang a hammock. My allergies are not improving and sleeping outside is not a promising option. I hang my hammock anyway then spend some time admiring the art projects former participants left at the cabin, visit some more, journal, make a simple dinner and then head out for a dusk walk

I know I won’t be able to stay long and am strangely at peace with this lost opportunity. It is so calm here I can’t help but wade through the stillness and feel that things in the waist high nettles are as they are: answering to no one, accounting for nothing. The robins are making a late night of it, chuckling and flitting across the trail, their gray bodies easily mistaken for bats, mischievous fairies or other mysteries. It is not a peace I am sinking deeply into, I have a move to make, a housing application pending. Perhaps my psyche is so invested in future concerns I can’t fully grasp that my painting retreat is slipping through my fingers.

After attempting to sleep outside, feeling that each particle of pollen is a tangible presence in my lungs I go in to sleep on the couch and leave in the morning when I realize I’m losing my voice and I can’t not talk to the other guests.

I am a bit slow to the ways of the world. In a few more days it will occur to me that other people medicate themselves and go on with their lives when the pollen hits. But I will still feel magically as though nothing went wrong. The creek still winds through the homesteads and the cabin’s land. It is a place protected and cherished and there is another time for me to be there.

Inspirations: Francesca Woodman

House #3 by Francesca Woodman

Yesterday I decided to work with photography, layering drawings and pictures together. I felt I was betraying my tactile-painter-self but I admit, it was enjoyable. Today I encountered the work of Francesca Woodman on-line. I’m assuming most of my artist friends are already acquainted with her work, her influence has clearly spread long and deep in the arts. It’s just like me to be oblivious to anything outside my own tiny sphere. I am totally enthralled with her work. It is hard in this age of visual overload to find work that grabs me so completely I can be riveted by an artist’s entire body of work and not just a few things that look good on Instagram.

What moved me the most was how she seemed to be defining femininity as as a thing vulnerable and soft but imbued with wily, mischievous strength and wrought with the same luminous decay that fuels nature. Delicate blossoms command the lives of bees for a brief moment then bruise and rot into the ground, a nurse log in the forest gives up its structure to feed new roots.

There is much debate as to whether Woodman was a feminist. I believe the feminism we see in her work is simply that she was a woman making the work she wanted to make. I don’t believe her work is about resisting the male gaze, it may give that impression at times but only because she was too busy making her art to be concerned with the issue at all. She works completely outside the idea of a male gaze and men who can’t fathom such independence assume she is merely resisting their gaze, classic.

Francesca was raised to be an artist, a whole person defined by her passion, she did not relinquish that.

For as remarkably tuned in to the beauty of decay as she seemed to be it is ironic that she cut her own life short in her youthful prime. I feel heartbroken we didn’t get to watch her work evolve, let it be another reminder that metal illness should be talked about and treated instead of shamed and hidden.

Photo Experiments

The other day I started experimenting with layering drawings on top of photography. The next day I encountered the work of Francesca Woodman which had a profound effect on me. I was mesmerized by her photos and heartbroken to learn she ended her life early at 22.
After work that day I made another photo and drawing experiment, this one influenced by Woodman though I wouldn’t expect that to be obvious to anyone. Her work is infused with decay which makes me think of vultures who have the same kind of sweetness about them that Woodman’s work has. Obviously that’s subjective. I’ll write another post about  my encounter with Woodman’s work.
I don’t think I’m creating anything terribly unique with the photos I’ve made but it inspires me to try out a different medium.

Diary May 2018

Order by:
Mostly May 2018

Little Else

 
The day is brilliant, it’s the end of April but it is so warm I have to take my long sleeves off as I start up the trail at Bald Hill with my old friend Consternation. We have been inseparable since the day I realized that being a receptionist wasn’t exactly my calling and failed to come up with an alternative that could be found in the want ads. Consternation has been such a faithful companion, together we mull over each option, tear it apart and look for a new option that doesn’t involve possible failure.

I look around for a moment outside, the section of the trail I’m on usually feels like a magical passage through an enchanted wood. Today it is just trees and grass. Has something changed? I wonder, is it better walking trough from the other direction? I know I am just too engrossed in these escape plans to feel the day.

“There is no way to peace, peace is the way,” A.J. Muste once said. He wasn’t thinking of internal struggles and yet it is very sage advice for any conflict. I take a deep breath, consider the strength of my legs on the uphill and look for trees to sketch. I remember last week when I searched the internet with “jobs for people who are not detail oriented.” I’d received a couple work emails asking me to do things I am not good at remembering to do. Names, call-back numbers—shouldn’t a fax number suffice in the modern age? I’ve done plenty of job searches before but this one turned up something interesting, “Adult Recreation Instructor.” I already do this, which makes it real, within reach, something besides heart ache.

 
Not wanting to be left out Consternation piped up and reminded me how hard it would be to have a full schedule. We’ve been scheming around this ever since, but now I’m in the woods, its beauty is lost on me and I blame my companion. What if he is like a bad boyfriend who knows the moment I believe in myself I will walk out the door without a single glance backward? What if every time I start to see a new possibility Consternation snares me in a question of how to make my exit completely risk free, knowing it isn’t possible?

At the top of the hill I bask in the sun on a bench with two other women and watch a buzzard glide past. We talk about our shared experience of participating in the Women’s March the last two years. It’s a simple conversation but I am suddenly awash in a desire to be here in someone else’s existence, someone besides Consternation. My smile feels awkwardly uncontained but somehow I don’t mind being the odd, needy girl in the park.

 
Did he leave? Is this who I am without him? Was my whole curmudgeonly, cynic-self the only person I could be in his presence?

I head back down the hill, finally able to be with the fresh green leaves of the undergrowth, the lilies and irises along the trail, the mossy oaks breaking the radiant blue into odd shapes. Consternation is not gone. He still butts in and pries me away. But by some grace I have changed a little, I know the way out, all I need is a little courage and maybe a lot of patience.

When the woods get dense and the lighting is just right I stop to draw. Three firs sharing a triangular space, each beautiful, slightly different from each other. I don’t sketch much. I am done with my studies and it’s time to experiment with new ways of painting. I just record the things I find compelling and don’t take a photo for reference. This is new, it is a tiny risk, as it always is to begin with a blank sheet of paper, a desire for peace and little else.

Awkward on Paper

I have been remiss in my diary and my treescapes are all out of order. I started 100 at Hoyt Arboretum after making sketches for 99 at E.E. Wilson Wildlife Refuge but then I finished 100 and as soon as it was finished, it became 99 which makes what was 99 now 100, sigh. I know, it’s a small thing, really.

I have been besieged by fatigue and while it is possible to paint fatigued it has taken so much effort to do my day job and feed myself that the sketches from E.E. Wilson sat for three and a half weeks before I even looked at them.

And while it is possible to paint fatigued it is a sort of internal slapstick the way chess is a sort of sport. My normal battle with a short attention span was all but lost at Hoyt, attempting to paint en plein air for the first time since winter. It is odd to feel a resentment toward branches for their complexity when their beauty is the whole reason I am out there in the first place. Do I really have to add in the foreshortened branch, those are so hard! I don’t know if I’ve painted this one already, they’re so crowded. These long larch branches look awkward on paper. You’re kind of ruining this painting, long-awkward branch…no, really, it’s not me, it’s you. 

It is as absurd as it sounds, the root issue could be impatience. But also, I like to work symbolically, to illustrate. Painting does not think, it observes and records at varying levels of realism or abstraction.

I find it very uncomfortable to climb into the part of my brain that can work on direct observation. When I do the resulting paintings have a sense of breath that is so compelling, I’d like to think I could become that kind of painter full-time if I worked at it. But I’m drawn instead to tell the story of a place—to illustrate the moment of three trees growing together like old friends in a shroud of lichen on an island of unruly foliage in the middle of a meadow that was just like walking into a fairy-tale bog.

Having pursued an academic training in art I decided to make 100 paintings of trees and their surrounds from observation to develop my facility from which to tell stories. I lapse often into illustrating but have always maintained an uncomfortable effort to use more direct observation than I would normally be inclined to and now I am almost done with the project. I finished the awkward larch and dawn redwood from Hoyt Arboretum in my studio with the help of a sketch and a photo. Now number 100 sits on my table as a silvery line drawing, fine as lace and waiting for paint.

Singing Shamelessly

 
I wake up unsure if I will make it out to sketch today. After fighting off a sinus infection all week it seems like rest might be the more reasonable path. But as I mill about the kitchen making breakfast the room fills up with sunlight and Chickadee songs, the outdoors have a way of improving one’s health on sunny days. I decide that the truly reasonable path is the boardwalk at Jackson-Frazier. It is short, surrounded by wild, bird-filled wetlands and has no elevation gain what-so-ever that might tax my busy immune system.

I leave after breakfast and take a slow saunter into the park. Just a few yards in I hear an Anna’s hummingbird. I spot him flying straight up, diving dramatically downward and then flying off after his preferred mate. Another catches my ear, he is sitting on the tip of a branch turning from side to side, his magenta feathers catching the sun like a signal lamp every time he turns toward me.

The Juncos are up in the tree tops for once making their little chit chit noises while the Towhees scree over the ethereal round of Red-winged Blackbirds, their obliquely shaped melodies ringing electric at the height of each crescendo.

Along the boardwalk I greet another human. “What a beautiful day!” we both say because we are human and exclaiming the weather is our song. We share our excitement over the spring and all the bird song and continue on in our separate directions.

The sun is lulling me into a strange contentment, my own thoughts hold no interest, sifting through my attention while I tend to the more important business of listening for birds. I look up just in time to see a male harrier slip over the treetops into the meadow, the bright sun making dramatic shadows on his wings so they look almost black next to his white body.

Around the corner I hear a female Harrier squeak, she is sitting on the low branch of a tree at the edge of the meadow her chest glowing like last autumn in the sun. I see the male again, his formidable wingspan moving through the sky in the watery way only harriers do. He enters another little meadow I can barely see into through the trees. There he climbs into the air like the hummingbird did and dives straight down with such speed I think I see his wings ripple like fabric. He lifts up just before the ground. I have never seen them do this, did he catch a mouse? It was so stunningly acrobatic. Then I see him flying in circles with a female. So, it is she he is after with the splendor of his flight.

A bit down the boardwalk I stop a woman with binoculars to tell her about this, she confirms that’s what they do when they mate. Having built a modest ego for myself, one of having more control and class than boasters and name droppers, it is a shock to find myself blurting out all the tiny scraps of knowledge I have about birds anytime I encounter a birder. I am as amateur and unstudied as could be, who exactly am I trying to impress?

 
These threadbare egos of ours take such a beating when we decide we want to be evolved. Perhaps this compulsion is as natural as the territorial songs of my beloved birds. This is my trail, because I love it, I come here all the time. Those are my Marsh Hawks because I love them and read about them on Allaboutbirds.org. Also, that first bench on the sunny side, that’s my favorite, don’t sit there. 

I look for a spot to sketch and end up at the start of the walk where I saw the Anna’s. The trees before me are small and thin, it will be a challenge to make an interesting painting with them but I have always admired the stark and rhythmic lines of their branches, each one placed just so. An immature Anna’s lands on the tip of one branch and starts singing shamelessly. It’s his tree, his beloved home. I have been warned.