In love again: with my yard, my neighborhood, my painting


My husband retired in the spring. Huge, huge change. Life altering. For both of us. It took some real adjustment to go from 12 hours of being away from each other every day, to having TOO much time together. But we are catching the wave.

We started thinking about moving away from NY state, because the taxes are high, and the  housing values keep going down. Where to go? We tried going to central america to see if  we could live there, but it didn’t seem like a fit.

So we kept looking and wondering, is there a more affordable place to go? Massachusetts is wonderful, I grew up there. But it is not that affordable. Vermont? Not so affordable. Maine? I don’t know. Maybe interior Maine is affordable. But the governor there wants to get rid of programs geared towards older people.

Florida? Hmmmm.

Ok. I am meandering. Here’s the schzimel. Maybe we should stay put. So we planted a couple of trees, a few new bushes, and I am starting to love my yard again. I had been gardening for so many other people for so long, that our yard started to look kind of droopy. Unkempt. So we hacked and whacked some overgrown stuff, trimmed the crabapple leaning over the fence into our yard, and I put pots of plants on the deck. Now it looks inviting.

Inside the house, we redid our living room. Because we had a water leak. That led to, well, everything. MY NEW GALLERY! We kept having this ugly bulging stuff erupting in the plaster over the fireplace. I scraped it and re-plastered several times, but to no avail. It needed to be opened up and fixed. We hired someone, and he fixed our leak.  Having taken all the plaster off the wall, we discovered the original brick. And we really liked the exposed brick look. Our living room was taking on a new feel. We went ahead and redid the fireplace. It is non functioning, so we did a granite surround. Greys and peach colors. Beautifully simple. I painted the walls grey, the window trim clean, sharp white, same with the baseboards. We hired a young electrician, who installed track lighting, and suggested that we move the wall sconces back onto the fireplace where they were originally. We then got a woman wood worker from Beacon, NY., to make us a mantel. A black walnut, natural edged slab of wood for a mantel. It is amazing.

So all of a sudden, I have a gallery. Who would ever think it??? Our living room was long and narrow, and not very inviting. As a gallery, it is perfect. It’s perfect because the timing coincides with the Newburgh Open Studios. This is the second year for this event, and it will be nice. Last year I moved into a space which was wonderful. It was a house for sale, that the neighborhood folks had chipped in to fix up (very nicely), and put on the tour to enhance the marketability. It worked! The energy was great. I sold some paintings, and the house sold. What could be better?

Well, this year is better. We improved our house, and I don’t have to cart all my stuff somewhere else. I get to stay home. And show off my new gallery. How cool is that?

It was a matter of priorities. We discussed, earlier in the summer, which would be better? For me to take a class with some high profile artist, or to invest in us? Well you know what my vote was. Invest here. I can take a class anytime. There is never a shortage of artists and classes, or cars for sale.

So the Open Studios is coming quickly. The last weekend in September. Aughhhh!!!!

I am transitioning from working on the house, to working on my art. I will be showing some watercolors, batiks on rice paper, and new oils. It is exciting, exhilerating, and scary. What’s nice is that I have a lot of support from this community that I have invested a lot my energy in. And now that effort is being returned, and people stop by to see what I am working on. Some commissions do come my way. It is all good.

So here I am back at the beginning. I am once again loving my house, my yard, my art, and this tough little city. Should we then move? And start all over again?


The Essence of Framing

Framing paintings is a difficult task. Some people don’t have to worry about this- they never frame their stuff.

I do, because in my case, I have found that people overlook unframed pieces. It is like the paintings aren’t important if they don’t have a frame on them. Maybe this audience is your regular person, an art appreciator, not a serious collector. Collectors buy art for the work itself. I have had people tell me they would buy a painting if it had a different frame on it. Really? Spoiled, selfish people. If they really liked the piece, they would buy it and change the frame themselves. Then it would match their couch.

So anyways, I have been using a company out of Atlanta that sells only to businesses. I have my own business, so I can use them. They offer classic frames- usually wide board, 4-5 inch wide planks with edging and a liner if you choose. The frames are real wood, (unlike the junk that comes from China) and are your basic silver, gold, black or mahogany. These are good for some pieces, but not all.

Lately, I have had people ask me to use thinner frames. Well, I don’t have to frame anything at all, but I do it because the frames enhance my work. Therefore I have a better chance of selling a piece. So, a friend told me about another online frame shop that she uses. This company is good because they have the software that allows me to download my art to that site, and try out every frame that they have. What a great idea. I used to get samples from my old company, but a corner doesn’t really show me what the piece will look like. On this site, I get to see the whole painting with the frame. How convenient.

I have become a regular with these guys now, because their prices are really good, and the turn around time is great. I get custom made frames ordered and delivered in one week. Nice!

I had a painting, called October Snow, that I had just completed and wanted to use in a show. It measured 20 x 24 inches, and I happened to have a gold frame that size in the house. So I threw the painting in there, and put it in the show. That painting didn’t get much attention, and I knew that the frame was the problem. So with this new company, I downloaded the painting, and found that a gray driftwood frame was the perfect compliment for this piece. It changes the whole feel, and when I put this piece in my new show, I know this painting will get a lot of attention.


This happened with another painting. A little piece that measures 14 x 18. I don’t work on this size canvas often, but I happened to have a frame that was a really nice burl wood frame. A little banged up, but still pretty good. So I used it for this colorful sunset piece that I did from time spent in Provincetown, Mass.

Again, this painting was remarkably overlooked. I really liked this piece, and realized it wasn’t presenting itself properly. I used the new website, and found to my surprise, that a flat black frame with a gold liner worked perfectly. I had had a black frame that wasn’t a good frame, and it never seemed to look good on anything. So I was jaded. But if you find the right, good quality frame, it can make all the difference in the world. Sell or not to sell? If $60.00 means a sale, then I will invest the $60.00,  and mark my piece up $60.00 to cover my cost. That is a no brainer.

So, poke around, and find a good frame shop that you can afford. It is so worth it. When I sell pieces now, I reinvest some of the money in canvas, paints and stretchers. But I also put some towards new frames. I am really liking the bamboo frames, and the recycled barn board or driftwood frames. I want to be as green conscious as possible.

Since we have all kinds of on line options available at our fingertips, take the time and do some work. It will benefit you in the long run. I believe that frames are the ultimate defining part of the painting, they can make it or break it. And since I can now do it myself, without having to go to someone else to do it, I am getting the final result the way I want it to look. I am not at anyone else’s disposal, and I am in control of my work. I will occasionally go to a local framer, but it is rare. It is too damned expensive. I have one guy who charges me for materials only, so I use him. I then need to introduce him to other potential customers. This is a really nifty opportunity, which I actually feel slightly guilty about. But I try to hold up my end of the bargain. He comes to my shows and introduces himself and works his show. That’s cool. But really, how often does an opportunity like this present itself? Hardly ever.

So, after all is said and done, don’t get stuck in the framing rut. Use it to your advantage. Take some time and shop on line. You can find really nice quality frames that will show your work beautifully. And it is not that expensive anymore.

Hazards of Plein Air Painting

I’m back. It’s been a while. I haven’t been painting as much a I had hoped, but summer is like that. There is so much other stuff to do- garden, eat outside, play darts, mow the lawn, sit under a tree and read, just stuff.

But summer is also the time for plein air painting. Are there any problems with that? Nothing one would anticipate other than safety issues. Yet, lurking in the background, are a host of other things that can put a damper on the outing. First, depending on where you go, ticks can be a serious issue. That is not fun when they are climbing up your legs en mas. Next, could be goose poop. Wow, that stuff is nasty.

But then there are the people. Yes, people who decide that you are not welcome to paint near them. Not other painters, homeowners.

For example, when I was at Cape Cod, MA., our class was going to paint at the museum up on the hill. We had permission, and it was going to be quite the view. But upon arrival, there was a power outage that prevented us from entering the museum. It was closed until the power issue was resolved. So we went down the hill, and painted on the side of the street. Buildings, houses, in the morning light are always nice to paint. So we all set up on the side of the street and got to work. But within half an hour, out came a homeowner and said he had to mow the lawn and we would all have to move. Really?? But, hey, we did, and he did his mowing. Now, I’m just saying….. he had to do it right then? Maybe, but maybe not.

So this past Thursday, a friend and I went out to paint at a place someone had recommended. It was a beautiful park in the back of a wonderful neighborhood, with grounds that go right down to a peaceful river. Nice place, except that it is August, and there isn’t a whole lot of color happening. The grass was green, surprisingly for August, the trees were green, and the river was brown and muddy. Not particularly attractive to me. We had some trouble finding said place, and had driven around some nice neighborhoods. Funny thing though, the police kept showing up wherever we were. Mind you, I am in my mid fifties, and my friend is seventy going on fifty. Anyways, we decided to go back to a house that had beautiful gardens in the front yard, and all around the edge of the street. There were eight foot tall sunflowers, blue morning glories, sun-chokes, black eyed susans, and pink cone flowers. It was spectacular. So we parked on the side of this little street, and got out to set up. Of course, here comes a police car, watching us from a short distance. I walked over to his car, and explained what we wanted to do, and asked if it was a problem. He chuckled, and said he couldn’t see why it would be any problem, and to let him know if there was.

We were happy, and set up in 2 locations. My friend wanted to get closer to the sunflowers, so she set up over on that side of the street at the edge of the flowers, a driveway and the street. Not in anyone’s way. I was across the street because I wanted to get the mailboxes (three) with all the flowers surrounding them. These people must be really cool to have such wonderful gardens and nice house, thought I.

So we got going, and it was getting pretty hot, as we had driven around longer than intended. I got a decent start, and I could see she did too. The mailman came and put mail in the mailboxes just as I was starting, but that was a short inconvenience. Friend Ellen got a little hot, so she went to sit in the shade of the van for a couple of minutes. Suddenly this minivan comes tear-assing down the street and screeches up to the mailboxes. He almost clipped Ellen’s easel, but missed. I stood there motionless, hoping against hope that this fool wouldn’t do what I thought he might. NO SUCH LUCK. He puts the van in reverse, steps on the gas, and BACKED into Ellen’s set-up. Now why, you might ask, would someone do that? I couldn’t move- I was in shock. Ellen jumped up and ran over to her stuff- which was all over the place. Shockingly, nothing was broken. Her old sentimental french easel was good. Her glass palette was intact, and just her painting had some debris stuck in the paint. This man, young, probably around 38-40, acted like he was really sorry and didn’t know we were there. Again I ask, REALLY?????? I didn’t believe that for one second.

What is it about artists painting that makes other people angry? Oh yes, he was angry. He jumped back in the van without warning, sped off, only to turn around and come  tearing back and pull right in the driveway of the house with the beautiful gardens. He went into the garage, and started up his, guess what? His lawnmower, and proceeded to start mowing out back, hitting every rock he could find, to let us know what was in store for us!!!

I am not making this up. Who could make this stuff up? What makes people tick? How could he have those beautiful gardens? Is he bipolar, did his wife or significant other do those gardens? Did that person leave him that morning? Why take it out on us?

So painters, beware. Now you know why I carry a camera and take  photos. They can come in handy. And why was that police officer  really chuckling????

Summer Nights

I have  been cleaning my house for days now, due to COMPANY COMING!

Oh. The dreaded C word. I guess if I kept up with the house work on a more regular basis, I wouldn’t be scrambling. But on the other hand, it has been so darned nice outside, who wants to be in scrubbing and mopping???

As you know, the week at Cape Cod was great, but that particular time wreaked havoc in terms of putting me way, way, behind in the garden. I came back to absolute chaos. The bind weed, and all the other freaking weeds took over. Plus I had to build a stone wall, and put in a brand new garden to make up for the trees that had been cut down due to disease.

But having gotten through all that, things are now looking better. Everything is weeded, (as best as possible), edged, and mulched. Wow. I am really feeling my age. I am at the point where I get tendonitis, arthritis, and feel beat up. Yikes. It shouldn’t be this way. I still feel young inside, but my body is telling me differently.

So, after a long day of vacuuming and straightening up, moving paintings around, and sweating from the humidity, night time finally arrived. We had Chinese food for dinner, and talked and had some beers. Because the weather is so heavy, and the rain is on and off, it is a very quiet night. The air is dense, the rain is light, and it is just beautiful. It is not quite dark, so visibility is wonderful, but a bit misty. The colors are a bit exaggerated.  A neighbor’s white picket fence looks almost turquoise in this light. This is the time I love the most. Well, maybe the most. I really like winter, too. I find the colors of fall to be spectacular, but the feel of fall is melancholy. I cry a lot. I know what’s coming. It’s the dreariness of November that makes me dread winter. But when winter hits, with all its cold air and amazing light, intense storms and raging fury, I revel in it. Then February comes, with its dreariness again.  Ah, the life cycle.

Anyhow, I digress. Tonight, with all the softness of the light, the softness of the rain, and the real quiet, I decided to light some candles in the front and back yards. I really like the glass candle holders, the lanterns with the different patterns. Some are just copper lanterns with dragonfly insets, and others are stained glass. They each have their own appeal, and make the night light more interesting. I have done paintings of these scenes, and they are always a big hit. Yup, sold every one of them. Because we can all relate to that. It speaks of summer, of bugs singing, fireflies flitting, and night time colors. Looking at the soft orange light coming from inside a house- looking so warm and inviting. A curtain partially closed, making you wonder what goes on in there.

But also, with the rain, mist, and heavy summer air, comes all the wonderful nighttime smells. Tonight, it is the lavender in the air. I plant lavender near my roses, and they seem to be very compatible. There is a spicy quality to the air tonight, and I attribute it to the lavender. Sometimes the roses are more prominent, and they can smell almost peppery. But tonight, it is delicate and aromatic. Every day, every night is a treat. A feast for the eyes, and a feast for the sensory.

I have so many things I want to paint, I can’t keep up with it all. The light coming in to the bathroom in the morning, the light from the lamp hitting the wall in the evening, I have to record and photograph all this stuff. That way I will always have something to work on.

I find that if I take notes, keep logs whether written or just memorized, about the time, the senses, the smells, I can recreate pretty accurately what I’m trying to portray. In college, we were not allowed to take photos for reference. We had to memorize everything. I am grateful for that. I learned how to see, how to take notes, how to memorize. I would go to a spot that I knew I wanted to work from, and get the initial view. Then I would go back every day, at the same time, and memorize something else in the scene. And the next day, and the next, until I got the whole picture in my head. Over the years, I have gotten pretty good at seeing. But I still work at it. You can never become complacent, but now, yes, I do use a camera. I must admit, there are times I want to paint on location, but I am not comfortable being alone. It’s a tough world, and I’m not a kid anymore. So I am more cautious. Plus, I don’t like to rush. I really enjoy working a piece. If it goes quickly, then great. But if not, what is the problem with taking time to figure it out? There are no time limits for me, so I prefer to work at my speed, not someone else’s imposed time frame.

Ok. That’s enough for now.

I’ve got to shower, and get up early to hit it tomorrow. After this weekend, I will be spending lots more time painting. I have only done two pieces since returning home. And they both have been done in the last week. They are both plein air pieces. I started them on location, and finished in the yard with no reference photos. I wanted to test myself. It felt good, and I know that I am putting my “new knowledge” into practice. I am again excited and ready to go. Isn’t that what it is all about???

ruminations 4/28/11

Ok. This one is just going to be random thoughts.

I am sitting out back in my yard, on a spring evening. A storm has blown through, and I feel lucky to be alive. We got some rain, but nothing like what other people experienced. There are many people in this country that died in this powerful weather system that moved across the country. If I hadn’t been listening to the radio, or watching the news, I wouldn’t be able to tell that anything had happened. The birds are singing with all their hearts, the bushes are in bloom, and all seems perfectly spring like. I guess with all the catastrophies that have been going on lately, I sometimes wonder about writing about painting. It could seem superficial.

But, then, art is really important in the scheme of things. It can settle you down like a nice cup of tea. It can evoke many emotions, and they are all valid. I think if people didn’t create works of art that appealed to the senses, we would lose hope. Art is tangible. It is a reminder that there is beauty in this world. Even with all the destruction and corruption, beauty sneaks through.

I am looking at the soft light of the evening. Every evening is different. Every cloud mass, every sunset, the last birds to come to the feeders, the last birds to sing goodnight. They are all unique. Tonight, the air still has some humidity. But the feel and sounds are that of a quiet night. The Keria bush is loaded with beautiful yellow blossoms, the tulips are really coming into peak with colors ranging from yellow to orange and purple. The redbuds and magnolias are laden with blossoms, and the lilacs are getting ready to burst and perfume the air.

Why then, with all this beauty, do I sometimes feel guilty about waxing poetic about art? Because I know that for everything beautiful, there is an opposite. So the conundrum continues. Around and around.

At this point, I feel like creating art is my job. I have done many things in my lifetime, and here I am now, feeling like I hit the jackpot for work. It is what I love and want to do everyday.

I have seen artists go through drastic changes in style in their lifetime. I’ve seen painters go from chronicling the most beautiful landscapes ever, to painting the harsh cityscapes of factories and pollution in dark, dreary colors. The message was clear. I got it.

I choose to focus on the mysterious beauty of the every day life. The tree trying to hang on to its life force after a long life of crippling winds and winter storms. I saw a photo of a beautiful ornamental tree in full bloom while in the midst of devastation and destruction in the aftermath of the Japan crisis. There it was, maybe for the last time, coming through debris and devastation. Still spectacular.  How can we ignore that?

These are just random thoughts and musings. That’s what makes me tick.

Back to Painting – A New Piece

I started this painting a couple of weeks ago. Initially, I started a winter scene on this canvas but I just didn’t feel it. So, I wiped it off and started a warm weather scene. My husband and I had traveled to Nicaragua in January, to see what life was like there. No touristy stuff, no zip lines, no climbing to the top of volcanos. Just seeing what it is like to live there. No itinerary. I came away from that experience wanting to do scenes from there, but felt like I should be loyal to what we returned to: SNOW and ICE! Wasn’t happening.
So, I am showing you what the process was for this piece – it was a real struggle. But – It has a happy (and funny) ending.

After wiping off the grey stain and the drawing of the winter scene, I sketched in the Nicaragua scene. I didn’t really put in my darks as I usually do. I couldn’t wait to get into the big blocks of color, and therefore I got lost:

I liked the drawing, I liked the overall feel of light, colorful buildings, and hot weather. But it was too bland, all the colors had the same value, and nothing popped out as a focal point. I was stuck.

So, after lying awake at night thinking about it, I realized that I needed to really put some heft into the colors. I added alizarin crimson glaze into the roofline and some dark purple and the black lanterns. Then I was able to see where I needed contrast.

In the end, it worked out the way I intended it to look:

I sent a jpeg to our friends in Nicaragua, in whose B&B we stayed, and they sent back a photoshopped addition (a masterpiece!) to my painting. I could not stop laughing, so I thought I would share it with you:

Why didn’t I think of that??!! It is so balanced now, I may have to re-think this piece!