Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cannibalism Isn't All Bad

I don't save my good dishes for the holidays. I enjoy eating my meals on beautiful china and antique plates. I don't keep "good" clothes reserved for going out to a special event. If I want to dress up for no reason, I do. And I don't have cartons of stored treasures in my attic or garage. If it's not something that brings me pleasure each day, I let it go to family, friends or a thrift store. Because to me, I see no benefit in keeping things packed away where they never have a chance to shine or fulfill their purpose, only to be dealt with after one's passing by family members who don't want the stuff anyways. And an even greater crime in my opinion is artwork packed into a drawer where it's never seen or appreciated, a crime I am guilty of. That brings me to today's subject.

I have spent a fair amount of time doing plein air painting, hauling my easel, watercolors and assorted accoutrements into the field where I would stand with wild, wind blown hair, paint brush in hand and a crazed look in my eyes painting my impression of the scene in front of me. I enjoyed the experience immensely. The paintings were so-so; not good enough to garner praise or the exchange of money for art, and not desired by my collectors who preferred my whimsical subject matter. But I liked them so I kept them, tossing them into a drawer of a bureau in the spare bedroom. They joined the year's worth of cloud paintings I had done for a show. But living in a little beach house, there just isn't enough room to hang everything. And one day when I opened that drawer, I felt a sense of remorse and melancholy seeing those images peeping out into the morning light.

So began my foray into cannibalism. I suppose a more polite way to say it would be to use the word recycle. But honestly, cutting these paintings apart, a bit here, a bit there, felt more like ripping off diseased limbs, painful yet necessary. The saved pieces would be used as backdrops for my other subjects. Really it's a wonderful way to combine my two loves, the whimsical elements and my love of place. Someone can now look at one of these Frankensteined paintings and recognize the location yet still see it through my eyes.

If you look at my previous entry showing Coquina Beach dunes, you can see the Dune Buggies backdrop in its previous form. These photos show two works in progress along with a finished painting featuring my beloved Bodie Island. So now I have given them new life, a new outlook and hopefully they will find a new home upon someone's wall instead of tucked away in the darkness. And my easel might be moving back into my car.

My favorite spot, Bodie Island.

Look carefully and you'll see dune buggies at Coquina Beach.
My Buddha at Kitty Hawk Landing, catfishing.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Where have all the flowers (I mean critters) gone?

A grasshopper walks into a bar and the bartender says, "Hey, we've got a drink named after you!"
The grasshopper replies, "Why did you name a drink Bob?"

All joking aside, is it because we've had such crazy weather, or could it be the constant spraying of poisons that supposedly kill mosquitoes but also kill everything else that gets covered by this stuff? Or is it the relentless pursuit to clear every inch of land for more humanity bringing a proliferation of outdoor lights? I've read studies about lights having a negative effect on lightning bugs - like most of us, they prefer darkness for more intimate activities. Maybe it's just the natural cycle of things, but whatever it is, I am missing my friends that used to make The Crooked Little House their home.

I used to wake up to the sounds of my frog who thought he was a rooster and lived in the shutters of my bedroom window. Now it's quiet until my chittering wren begins to taunt the resident squirrel. And I would enjoy my second and third cup of coffee under the pergola with my octopus lizard who would rise each morning at 8:30 exactly to greet me. He would then take the same path down the same beam and disappear into the trumpet vine to find his breakfast. The space behind the wooden octopus by my front door now remains vacant.

Every evening if I saw my orb spiders making interesting webs, I would plan on getting up early before they would take them down. Some spiders remove their webs each morning and string a new one each evening. Then I would carefully collect the webs and frame them. (I'll tell you how to do this in a future blog.)
But so far this year, there are none to be found. Then again it's only June. Maybe there will be some late arrivals.

Here's a list of past residents I no longer see. I am sure there are many, many more.

Garden spiders, frightfully large and beautiful
Walking sticks that would hang out by the front door
"Flat" frogs that would stick to everything
Glass lizards by the woodpile near the dune
Carolina Mantis that loved the rosemary bush
Assorted butterflies, all sizes and colors
Quail that would bob up the drive in single file
Snails near the kitchen door
Fox that would show up at 6pm hoping for a dog biscuit by the stump
Hognose snake, flaring his neck like a cobra but playing dead when that didn't scare me

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
In fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

                            - Wendell Berry

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Longing for Bodie Island

 For a while now I've been longing for a free morning to go to my favorite sketching location, Bodie Island. (pronounced like body) 
Still feeling a bit suffocated from too many demands to make others happy, I know I'll be able to settle in by the creek for a couple of hours and get my head together. I'll get lost in sketching the ever-present kingfisher, low flying ibis, the cormorant spreading his wings to dry and the fish that swim in a flurry, back and forth under the bridge to the sound and back. And they will expect nothing of me nor I of them - just varied life forms sharing the same space for a bit of peaceful contemplation with consideration on both parts.

Bodie Island is my "go to" place, my meditation room, my sanctuary. It takes on a different appearance depending on the weather, time of day and time of year of course, yet it is always familiar, like a good friend I haven't seen for awhile. This location appears in many of my whimsical paintings, and the plein air watercolors I have done in the past live in a drawer in the spare bedroom because quite frankly, I don't know what to do with them. You see for me, it's not about the finished painting but more about the emotional experience and the process of learning what goes on in this small space of air, water and land. By frequenting a favorite spot you become a close friend, noticing subtle changes and learning the life cycle of it's inhabitants.

I've painted and sketched these scenes in hot, humid temperatures and on cold, winter days when a stiff north wind fought for control of my paper. I've turned my eyes west towards the mainland, south towards Pea Island and most often east towards the sea. And each New Year's Day I end up spending part of it here on Bodie Island, reflecting on the year past and the one to come usually meeting another person or two lost in thought as I am. I can't think of a better place to welcome in the new year. 

So finally, this past week, the time had arrived. My sketching friend and I decided to drive down to Bodie Island to spend the morning exploring and drawing, then we'd planned to go to lunch and talk shop. I was full of anticipation, wondering what would be waiting for us. We parked the car, slung our packs across our backs and headed to the trail. And within the first couple of steps we were covered with hundreds of hungry mosquitoes from all the standing water leftover from the last storm. Even with the strong northeast wind, they managed a few quick bites before we escaped back to our vehicle. We ended up sketching the sand dunes across the street at Coquina Beach. (And lunch was She Crab soup with Mahi Mahi fish and chips.)

But Bodie Island still waits for me, and when I do get there it will be exactly what I need.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Bit of Salt Does a Body Good

Most people find it hard to believe that I rarely go to the beach even though it is less than a half mile from my front door. For one thing, I work, a  lot, especially in the summer. And even though my studio is in my house and I'm the boss, I still have to crack the whip when I get a bit lazy. The other reason I don't go to the beach is that I just can't bear the thought of baking in the white-hot sun on a pile of sand amidst people using outdoor voices and screaming, sand-kicking children. And yes, I do like children, at least some of them. But honestly, give me a canal, salt marsh, creek or the maritime forest to wander and I'm in artist heaven.

However, on those rare occasions when I find myself yearning for a taste of salt on my tongue or a chance encounter with a pirate who looks just like Johnny Depp, I make my way to the beach.
Once there, I will poke through bits of ocean debris and watch the birds as they eye me, sizing me up to see if I have brought any food for them. And when the weather turns fall-crisp and the crowds thin out, I grab my sketchbook, settle in near the dune line and sketch for a couple of hours.

In the past, I did a fair amount of painting en plein air (on location). A friend of mine would join me once a week and I got hooked on painting the dunes, exploring all the colors of the vegetation and sand in various weather conditions and at all times of day. We would return home windblown and refreshed, proud of our attempts to capture nature at its wildest.

But truly, my first love is and has always been field sketching, trying to not only replicate what I was seeing but also what I was feeling. So my portable easel has changed residency from the trunk of my car to the spare bedroom, and my Walkstool has filled the vacancy in the car next to my straw hat and sketch bag. Since I am all about change and flexibility though, my car trunk could soon become a condo.

"The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea."        - Isak Dinesen