Saturday, April 22, 2017

World Book Day April 23

I never went to school for art. That surprises a lot of people. I rarely took an art class in high school either because I didn't want to spend hours working on something near and dear to my teacher's heart but not my own.

I was fortunate to have a mother that saw my passion at a young age, going so far as to convince instructors in adult art classes in the community to let me enroll in their classes. As a teenager, she encouraged me to continue to take classes at a local museum. And I talked to every artist I ever had the good fortune to meet, picking their brains asking how they did what they did. I also had a father who set a great example by pursuing his passion, turning it into a successful career as a professional golfer. A very good example for a budding artist.

But if asked how I really learned to draw and paint and develop my own style my answer would be - BOOKS. I read every art book I could find no matter what the subject, style or even if I didn't like the artist's work. I felt I could still learn something and I did. Being well-rounded so to speak, I even delved into the self-help and marketing books, a necessity for running a business, art or otherwise.

Books became incredibly important in my life. As I write this post, I am anxiously awaiting a book I have coveted for a long time but didn't or rather never felt I could justify the expense. But getting older puts a new spin on decisions. I ordered the book last week. What is it you're wondering? It's called, A Sea View, the work of Sarah Adams. She echos everything I feel. Her Alligator River is the Cornish coast with its sea caves and inlets. I am quivering with anticipation over the arrival of this book.

Books take many forms. I have tons of the usual kind, mostly non-fiction, ranging from field guides to art books to books on crystals and symbolism and many other subjects too numerous to mention. I have tons of sketchbooks spanning 30 years or so; my go-to field sketching, spiral-bound ones to my handmade artist books using antique book covers. Some books I've crafted are accordian style while others are housed in vintage compacts and old Mothene containers from the 1930s.

So this year, on World Book Day, take a few minutes, grab a cuppa and pick up a book, even if you just look at the pictures!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Lure of the Ooze

I live at the edge of primordial swamps; that borderland, that margin between the firmness of the earth and the place where you begin to slip into the ooze. I don't know why but this is the place I am drawn to. I love painting the dunes, but spending time on the beach doesn't do it for me unlike the thousands of visitors to our islands who come for just that purpose. I simply cannot drive by a patch of wetland without slowing down and stopping if at all possible to get out of the car and simply breathe in the greens, yellow slime and muck.

I've said it before, Alligator River Refuge is my all time favorite haunt. It calms me, absorbing any tension or worries into its mire, and I return home in a much better state of mind. I sketch it more often than any place else and visit every chance I get. To me, this primordial world is mystical, enchanting, enticing, luring me to come to the edge of the ooze, daring me to dip my toe inside.

One of my favorite book is by Barbara Hurd called, "Stirring the Mud", and I have read it more times than I can recount. She whispers things I feel but cannot articulate as well as she does. But the one thing I can't recall her mentioning is the subject of portals, and Alligator River is chock full of them.

I am considering doing a series of paintings - The Portals of Alligator River. These entries appear one day and close up the next, never to be seen again. I was speaking to my friend Eve about the portal we discovered the day the bobcat approached us, a magical day to be sure. We had both returned to the refuge separately a day or two later, and the portal had vanished like a primordial Brigadoon. To this day, when I venture down that side road I look for it but have never found it, and the spot where it appeared is now becoming hazy. Did we really ever see it in the first place?

Perhaps the bog elves or faeries allowed us a glimpse into their world by parting the sodden curtains of vegetation before changing their minds, deciding the human race just can't be trusted. These are the latest portals I've discovered. I returned to these spots just last week and couldn't find a trace of either of them. But I swear I heard rustling and soft laughter.

Finished Painting

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mellow Yellow

I had to travel to Elizabeth City on the mainland this week for a doctor's appointment. It used to be that the road was sided by field after field of cotton dressed in whites, maroons, ochre and sepia depending on the time of year. Things change as they tend to do, and now vineyards have replaced the cotton fields; the vines turning their tendrils up at the thought of cotton sharing their neighborhood.

But this week, besides seeing the newly awakening vines, I was awestruck at the fields I saw on either side of the road, mile after mile. Like saffron-clad monks bowing low in prayer, these brilliant, yellow fields are crops of rapeseed and will make their way into our kitchens as canola oil.

I've read that when the ancient Indians looked into the jungle they could always tell which leaves were about to fall from the trees, because they were either yellow, orange or brown. Consequently, in India, yellow became the color of renunciation. Monks and nuns wear yellow robes as a constant reminder of the importance of not clinging, of letting go, of giving up.

Change is hard because it usually relates to time. When things change, we are reminded that we too are aging. Things are no longer as they were. Some try to stave off time and change, but inevitably they too realize its time to let go of the past. Change doesn't have to be a negative thing. This week I was thrilled to put my past behind me, walking out of my oncologist's office with a clean bill of health. I will admit though, it still saddens me not to see tufts of cotton littering the roadside in the fall.

But like the monks I am learning to let things go, not to cling to past thoughts and ideals. This allows for new ideas and opportunities to come wafting in. I will no longer hold onto the image of cotton fields every time I cross the bridge to the mainland. Instead, I am replacing that past with the present rapeseed, imagining the fields to be blessed full of earthly prayers.

Copyright E.M. Corsa 2017

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Tunnel Vision

I am claustrophobic, big time. I begin to sweat at the thought of entering an elevator, preferring to climb the 20 flights of stairs. I don't like being placed into a tiny doctor's waiting room with no windows and mobs of people around me at an event is not my idea of a fun time. Even the phrase tunnel vision makes me think of that tunnel I keep hearing about you must go through upon your last breath before the white light enfolds you.
Copyright E.M. Corsa 2017

Merriam Webster defines tunnel vision as this:

1. constriction of the visual field resulting in loss of peripheral vision
2. extreme narrowness of viewpoint; also: single minded concentration on one objective

I find I do have tunnel vision myself, at times becoming so absorbed in my work that nothing else exists for me. Not always a good thing. If I'm not careful I fear I'll become one of those people that hole up in a cave wearing the same paint-stained clothing day after day, living on a loaf of bread and a pack of bologna. (My brother would laugh at this reference.)

But there is a tunnel I love, one that holds no threat to me in any way. It's at Pea Island Refuge on Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, my home. I have many memories of walking through this wild, wind-shaped sculpture of trees; limbs embracing you, keeping out the cold while birds flit back and forth across your path. This tunnel does not restrict your field of vision and eventually opens up to a vista of marshland and ponds full of herons, ibis, ducks and swans.

I can only hope the tunnel vision I now observe in politics, whether it be about the environment, the arts, or social issues will eventually open up like the tunnel at Pea Island, allowing the bright light to enter once again.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lessons from a Birch Tree

"I've kicked the habit,
Shed my skin;
This is the new stuff."         - Peter Gabriel

I was teaching a field sketching workshop last week on the banks of the Perquimans River in Hertford, North Carolina when I was exposed to the most beautiful tree I have ever seen. To some this tree is nothing special since it grows all along the waterways. But there was something about it that mesmerized me. I had grown up with white birch trees in New England, spending hours peeling the bark off in big white, chalky sheets for arts and crafts projects. But these trees, River Birches, were new to me.

I was struck by the colors of the bark and exposed trunk first of all as well as the immense amount of bark vibrating in the dappled light, twisting and curling off in huge sheets from the trunk. The beauty of these trees stayed with me for days, so much so that I decided to do a finished painting of them from my sketches.

I think I was meant to make the acquaintance of these birch trees at just this point in my life. For I too am finding I am shedding my skin, creating new stuff. People who love my whimsical work might feel they are being left out on a limb, but artists MUST grow and experiment, and the land that surrounds me has begun speaking to me, yelling in fact to be sure its voice is heard. I cannot ignore my yearning any longer. I want to share the secrets that are being shown to me. I can do that by taking more people out into the field to experience for themselves the magic awaiting their sketchbooks. I am even working on Yupo, a challenging new support for my paintings, and I like a challenge. Now this doesn't mean I won't ever do another whimsical animal painting again or an air angel. I love my birds after all. But I have so much more to communicate with my work. More that I want to share. More stories I want to convey.

Experts say that birches shed their bark in order to grow. They also believe it's their way of shedding "hangers-on" and ridding themselves of bacteria and unwanted insects. Sometimes we need to do the same thing; shed ourselves of the hangers-on that try to keep us from growing because it's comfortable for them and what they are used to. That means they don't have to grow or change either. Other hangers-on include people that exude negativity, perhaps not intentionally but it becomes draining on those around them. I have had to release some of these people from my life too in order to grow like the river birch.

I hope you will enjoy my new endeavors as I grow and shed my skin.
For this is the new stuff.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Burn Baby Burn

I think I've mentioned that I just cannot drive by the Alligator River Refuge without pulling in for awhile to wander the gravel roads, watching birds, bear, and whatever else may be about on a lovely spring afternoon.

So after teaching another class on field sketching in Hertford, I pulled into the refuge to see billows of smoke rising up from the horizon behind the fields. I did a couple of sketches and watched for awhile, puzzling as to where the fire was.

Upon pulling back onto the road home, I found the source; a control burn of the marsh. Driving by it was awe inspiring; a curtain of wavering air and flame. Controlled burns are common here, and after doing the sketches I decided to do a finished painting from them back in the studio.

The Burn

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Foiled by Rain

spring trees at the pond
I am so used to getting outdoors everyday to walk and sketch that it's a real heartbreaker when I wake up to the sound of raindrops.

I had planned to venture down to Coquina Beach today to beachcomb for an upcoming class I'm teaching on drawing beach finds. I certainly have a large enough collection that I don't really need to go out to look for more shells, mermaid purses or driftwood. But I can't resist. Who knows what could have washed ashore over the last day or two. And with the season fast approaching, I need to make the most of these days that aren't filled with visitors.

So I decided to reserve Monday for the beach. I still spent my day at the beach painting, only it was from my sketches from my sketchbook. I am quite pleased with this one of East Bonnett St. dunes from a sketch I did a couple of days ago. And I didn't get any sand in the house!

Both of these paintings were done with watercolor on Yupo.

Dunes   Copyright E.M. Corsa 2017