Saturday, June 29, 2013

All About Teamwork

This week I had the pleasure of being asked to join up with seven other instructors under a tent at Indian Town Gallery on Hatteras Island for their first ARTigras event. Painters, jewelers, a potter and glass blowers offered classes throughout the day, from a thunderstorm morning with drenching rain, through a hot, humid afternoon.                                                                                                                                                                              
setting up the worktable
My goals were to teach basic skills for sketching in the field and hopefully encourage more people to document nature in their own backyards and begin keeping a nature journal. Fears were quickly put to rest when people realized they could indeed draw after learning a few skills and tips. But what pleased me most was that everyone seemed just as excited about the objects I brought with me as they were about the lessons themselves. Both kids and adults were eager to learn more about this habitat they had come to visit and fall in love with, and I was happy to discuss my "finds" that I had scattered across the table to be selected for the subject of a drawing. It's always fun to know what you are drawing and what part it plays in the natural world.
Knobbed and Channeled Whelks

The most popular objects were the whelk egg cases. Many people had seen them on the beach, some had not, and not one person knew what they were. Whelks are a type of sea snail with over 50 species that can be found all around the world. In our area, we are likely to encounter the Knobbed Whelk, Channeled Whelk and the Lightning Whelk. These animals grow by building their shells around a central axis, producing whorls as they grow.
Lightning Whelk on left

The Knobbed Whelks have small bumps or "knobs" along the whorls and the Channeled Whelks have flattened whorls. Lightning Whelks are unusual in that the opening is on the left side instead of the more common right-sided opening. Whelks are carnivorous creatures, feasting on mollusks, crustaceans and worms. And of course, these are the shells that you can hold to your ear and hear the ocean, the sound being produced by the vibrations from the air that occur inside the spiral shell.

Knobbed and Channeled egg cases
But the most amazing thing to my students was when I shook a strand of egg cases and they heard the rattling sound inside, resulting from some of the eggs that had not hatched. Cracking open one of the cases, tiny, perfectly formed whelk shells spilled out. Makes one believe in magic doesn't it?

"In the heaven of Indra, there is said to be a network of pearls, arranged that if you look at one you will see all the others reflected in it. In the same way each object in the world is not merely itself but involves every other object and in fact is everything else."       C. Eliot
unhatched whelks

Saturday, June 22, 2013

They Do Exist!

Tennyson asks,
"Who would be a mermaid fair
Singing alone, combing her hair
Under the sea in a golden curl
With a comb of pearl
On a throne?"

It's inevitable I guess, living on a barrier island, that I would eventually write about what lurks beneath the waves; not whales or dolphins or turtles, but the creatures that visitors only hear about and locals may only see in their dreams. This summer I am once again being pulled into the realm of mermaids and sea monsters.

Whether real or imaginary I can't say, but many still believe in their existence, and I am entranced as well to stories of sailors facing monsters of the deep attacking their ships and sirens luring them into the briny sea. This subject matter, along with my attraction to antique maps, has encouraged me to explore this theme further.

So this week I'd like to share a couple of new paintings of different kinds of wild creatures. Though not in my backyard, their home is only a half mile away from my back door. I thought you'd like to see how they evolved, so the photos show the paintings in progress and the final results.

I hope this fires up your imagination and encourages you to go look for the unexpected wherever you live, whether it be mermaids, faeries or little green men
from the red planet. What would life be like if we knew all the answers or stopped believing in what could be? I don't want to live in that kind of world. Let me dream on.

"Dreams are not made to put us to sleep, but to awaken us."

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Timing is Everything

for Cindy and Ron
The Crooked Little House Awaits Your Return

I thought of you the other day, Cindy and Ron, as I sat at the bar at Tortuga's with a friend, sinking my teeth into a teriyaki burger. I wished you had been alongside me enjoying the best burger on the beach.

Sometimes, for reasons unknown, you form a closeness with people you may only see once or twice a year. My friends, Cindy and Ron, visited my island recently from a land far away called Ohio. We have known each other for a number of years, beginning with their fondness for my quirky little paintings, collecting them as the years went by. It was
inevitable that we would get to know each other, sharing laughter and good food as each year brings us closer. Close friends know I rarely bring anyone into TCLH unless I know them well.  It's important to me that I keep the "vibes" in my house positive and loving. But Ron and Cindy have always been welcome.

Many discussions have evolved regarding their dream of transplanting themselves to the island. The time isn't right just yet but it will come; I am sure of it. I think the trick is realizing that the time is never going to be perfect for any decision, and one must always keep in mind the fact that time can run out. So until the day arrives when you, Cindy and Ron, are cresting that bridge with all your belongings, here are some pics I know you'll recognize from your visits. I hope they remind you of our friendship and know The Crooked Little House waits for you.

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their
melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another."

 Anatole France

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Getting to Know You (getting to know all about you)

Last week I took my students to sketch one of my favorite trees as I do quite often. This tree provides lots of opportunities for beginners as well as for seasoned artists and is quite beautiful in its own right. At one point, we began to talk about the differences between field sketches, drawings and finished paintings completed in the studio. And like thousands of artists before me I go to the site to capture my impressions of the subject and bring it back to the studio to aid me in completing a painting. I do not mean for the field sketches to stand on their own. They are a reference tool, even though I must admit I do find some of them to be worthy of a mat and a frame.

I'm most known for my whimsical animal paintings, and it occurred to me that people may not realize I couldn't produce those paintings without first going out to the field to sketch. This is where the concept of my work is born, where it grows its bones. So when I have time I head outside to sketch my chosen subjects, feeling the wind, smelling the marsh and listening to the rustling in the bushes nearby and the clear notes of birdsong overhead, using all those senses to understand the flora and fauna that make this habitat their home. When I'm back in the studio, I study those sketches and recall what it felt like to be on site. Sometimes I will reference a photo to check a wing marking or the pattern in the veins of a leaf, but usually it's those first impressions from the field that help me begin a new painting.

So this week I'd like to share a couple of sketches I've done of this tree. I have sketched and painted this sentinel more times than I can count, in all
seasons and at all times of day, learning something new each time. I've also included a few finished paintings that have resulted from my time spent in its company where we got to know each other. Some of my paintings may be anthropomorphic in theme but reality is hiding just beneath the paint and in my sketchbooks.

"A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral."       Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sounds of Summer

Step outside and sit down. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, empty your mind of all the junk that has taken up residence throughout the day and just listen to the orchestra surrounding you. Beneath the surface of the neighbor's barking dog, traffic from the street, and the stereo in the car drifting by, you will begin to hear the sounds of the earth, nature's voice.

We are a visual species, using sight as a first line of reference. And that's wonderful, especially for an artist that depends on this sense more than any other. But we have been gifted with five (yes, five) others and how often do we really use them? Do we smell the greening of the earth? Do we inhale the freshness of a rain shower? And do we ever stop to really listen to the intricate sounds around us?

red-wing blackbird on the right
At The Crooked Little House, sounds abound, pushing in through the open windows and greeting me as I step outside. I have one red-winged blackbird that comes to the feeder several times a day. I always know when he's here because he announces his arrival with a sharp, clear, single-note whistle. This sends the squabbling finches off in a huff. Then the blue jay flies in with a scream. And the two squirrels thump loudly onto the table under the pergola to gather the seeds I throw out for the ground feeders. The wind rustles through the ever-thickening foliage of the trumpet vine and the buzzing in the ligustrum is so loud you can almost feel it vibrate as all the creatures visit for these couple of weeks when it is at its peak of bloom.

But the sounds don't cease when the sun goes down. I have a small bamboo wind chime that is near my bedroom window, rattling softly through the dark accompanied by the frog that lives behind the shutters. The frogs have returned to TCLH this year, and this one issues his call throughout the night, invading my dreams before the chatter of Buddha and Erb rouse me in the morning light.

So as we sit on the cusp of summer, take a few minutes this week and listen to the language of the earth.

"I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming that comes when you suddenly find - at the age of fifty, say - that a whole new life has opened before you, filled with things you can think about, study, or read about ... It is as if a fresh sap of ideas and thoughts was rising in you."   Agatha Christie