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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Over the River and Through the ... Swamp

Nothing is nearby.

My island is two hours away from everything. No Barnes and Noble here to squander an hour or two browsing through racks of books, no Target or Pier One to purchase those necessary things you don't really need, and no museums to haunt for inspiration. The lack of these things keep my island charming, but sometimes you just need a fix of traffic, people, and clothing without starfish or dolphins on it. 

This week I had the pleasure of conducting a workshop on Drawing Birds in the lovely town of Hertford - over two hours away. Four or five bridges, (I lost count) and mile after mile of swampland later, I finally reached my destination and was greeted by 10 of the most talented women ever. Their 20 hands produced some incredible art that day.

Drawing birds is hard work. Getting the proportions correct, the posture, eyes, beaks and bills, etc. It took a bit of time but soon everyone got the hang of how to accomplish what they were after. Nothing makes me happier than to see people realize how gifted they truly are. 

One student told me she could look at the first drawing we did and see how much she progressed in three short hours. That made my heart swell as did the fact that two students are coming back for the field sketching workshop in two weeks and two others are joining me at the bird park workshop in April.

If I'm going to drive two hours for a reward, I think I found the best one in Hertford, and I can't wait to go back in a couple of weeks. 


Sunday, March 5, 2017

Jockey's Ridge, one more time

As I say over and over again, nothing is as fresh as my first sketches done on location. You can see why I say that by scrolling down to the original sketch of this dune posted a little while ago.

But the value of those sketches is this. Not only do they bring back the memory of that gorgeous day, working in a light breeze as the dune changed colors, but these sketches allow me to go back and work from them. No, I do not like this as much as the sketch. It's too "finished," too careful. But it will be turned into a concertina book, and I think when it's extended out on a table or mantle, it will still have that aura of the dune about it. And perhaps it will still carry a memory or two of a visit to Jockey's Ridge for whoever purchases it.

the finished book

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Merry Mermaid

As I pulled out a stack of mail from my post office box, hope ran high. Maybe there would be something really cool among the advertisements for pizza and car tires and the usual clutch of bills. Perhaps there would be a real letter or even, just maybe, a check!

As a child I loved to get mail as most kids do. I was happy to be handed all the occupant mail and when a birthday rolled around, I was thrilled to receive a stack of cards wishing me much joy and many happy returns.

Now as children, we've all gotten notes from the Tooth Fairy and perhaps a letter from the big guy himself, Santa. But what about a letter from a mermaid at that beach where you vacationed. You swore you saw her once, playing in the waves just offshore.

So I have partnered with The Merry Mermaid who resides right here in the waters surrounding my island to bring a little birthday wish to a child. She and her friends have joined up to host a seaside birthday party. Check out the letters in my Etsy shop:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Eruption of Spring

More than any other season here on my island, Spring erupts almost overnight with no regard for what the temperature may be or what the date is on the calendar. And Spring has landed.

I too feel an urgency to try to capture everything about the first few weeks before the lightning fast changes occur. I can't seem to get enough. I find I look at everything differently, even the humble little honeysuckle shoots under the pergola, their translucent "skins" drinking in the sunlight.

It's like I woke up and realized the world had turned to living color. I suppose only another artist would understand this. I am not gifted enough to write cohesively about what it feels like. But Dorothy would understand. She felt it when she landed in Munchkinland.

Herons are everywhere, tiptoeing through the marsh now that the frogs are abundant. Their heads and necks remind me of an arrow; pointing then released to strike.

Yesterday, after my morning walk at the pond, I just couldn't bear to return home and head into the studio to work. So I ambled off to Jockey's Ridge, the largest, living, sand dune on the East Coast. The new grasses closest to me were shining with greens, catching the early spring light. And a glorious cloud bank was building behind the dune to the west. I hoped I'd be lucky enough to catch those clouds in a painting when I returned home. But alas, as clouds are fleeting it didn't happen.

I did a couple of sketches and at last, finally felt full, ready to return home.

Jockey's Ridge

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Into the field I go!

My first love, as most of you know, is field sketching. Nothing can take the place of being out in nature and studying your subject firsthand.

I teach a lot of workshops on location, a joy for me, and my students come away happy and fulfilled. The first question I am always asked is this: What do I bring with me in my pack.

So here goes. First off, I have a Walkstool. It is a fabulous, lightweight stool with three telescopic legs. But any lightweight camp stool would suffice. I also wear a baseball cap to help with the sun's glare. And I bring a large bottle of water for me and to use if I decide to add a splash of watercolor to my sketches.

Now for the inside of my pack. My Canson sketchbook with spiral binding is the one item I cannot live without, followed closely by my Pitt Artist Pens, F, S and assorted B tips. I also add a General's Sketch and Wash pencil, Papermate mechanical pencils, and ball point pens.

I have never taken to watercolor pencils. So I took an old watercolor container and outfitted it with my own Daniel Smith paints and a few old brushes. Can't forget the paper towels and water holder. Another old container carries a few sticks of Nupastels for some color accents. And finally, a pack of post cards. I love to do one after I'm done working in my book.

All of it fits neatly into my old thrift store bag. Of course I better not forget my glasses!

And that's it. Easy enough to carry and chock full of everything I could possibly want in the field.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Postcards from the Edge - of the Ocean

I have begun an interesting sideline to my outdoor sketching. I thought it would be a nice alternative to the photo postcards everyone buys on our island to offer an original watercolor one. This postcard can be sent through the mail and framed as a reminder of an Outer Banks vacation.

I had done a couple of them years ago, and after finding them buried in the back of a drawer, I decided to give it another go. I love the small format since it doesn't allow me to overwork or spend too much time on each one. Now, they are not all successful as you can see, but I think some are rather charming.

So now, while I'm outdoors sketching in my book, I do a little postcard too.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Being Still

Be still and surprising things will happen all around you.

Though it's still bitter cold, I went to the pond this morning. I have never been there on a Saturday. Only two people strolled by and they weren't as friendly as the weekday people. Perhaps they had a bad work week and now they had to exercise on the weekend to boot. I understand. I rather liked having MY pond to myself.

I "flew" around my laps, keeping to my promise of no sketching till the exercise is done. I was just so eager to get to sketching all the birds I kept seeing at the edge of the water.

Now here is one of the benefits of documenting one place. Finally I got to sit and I saw two Cedar Waxwings perched above my head; WAY EARLY for them to be showing their masked faces. But what a gift to me. Waxwings stand for gentleness and courtesy, something we all need to foster within ourselves these days.

I teach a class on how to draw birds, so my work this morning will be a good example of what to do in the field. Birds rarely sit still for you. You need to work fast - start by just observing them; are they rounded, long tail or short, thick bill or thin. Then lay in some basic shapes and a line for positioning. Now these sketches may not look like much to you, but I am now able to use them for reference to do an accurate drawing of that bird.

But back to the topic of this post. People are always in a rush. Keeping a nature journal forces you to slow down, relax and be in the moment. But you don't need to be an artist to enjoy nature. If you want to truly experience Mother Nature, you have to just sit and be still.

You will be surprised at how soon nature will resume and forget you are there. This little Yellow-rump Warbler got so used to me this morning he spent many minutes at my feet, poking through the grasses!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Pond Stories

I am discovering a new love - walking. It's been a few weeks now, and I spend at least five days of the week walking around the pond behind my post office. At first, it was a chore. Then I began to look forward to it. It gives me a chance to clear my mind and be present in the moment, noticing things like the turtles and leftover cattails.

But it has now become more than that. As a reward for walking the five laps, I then get to sketch something around the pond. I have just realized I will be documenting this pond throughout every season and hopefully every year. This to me is invaluable. I will learn more about the trees and plants and life in and around the pond. I am preserving my memories of a favorite place, sketching the changes taking place on a daily basis.

I have done this once before when I painted clouds "en plein air" every day for a year. It was fulfilling. This is giving me the same feeling. And each day offers a story.

Today, there were six people walking the pond, and one by one they veered off back to their cars or other destinations. Soon I was alone. Suddenly, about 8 seagulls swooped in on one end of the pond feeding eagerly for a few minutes. I have no idea what they had found, and I had never seen them there before.

I spoke with a policeman who told me he walks miles here every day though I hadn't seen him before. He had his full uniform on and was walking in his street shoes. I learned he has done marathons wearing his complete uniform because he is proud of who and what he stands for.

Spring is inching its way onto my island. It arrives early here. The light is changing and the first, pink blush has seeped into the branches and bushes. Spring is dipping into the pond, weaving trails through the air currents, and fluttering last year's dried leaves. It even wrapped around a handsome older gentleman who offered to pose for me.

So much to learn and enjoy just by walking.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Pond Stalker

Yes, I am proud to say I am still walking.  I have not given up as I have years past, and I now walk 5 laps around the pond behind the post office each morning. That is a bit over a mile at a brisk pace. I'm feeling great and sleeping like I used to as a teenager. And I have a stalker.

I've begun to notice this one turtle, a large,Yellow-bellied Slider that is nowhere to be seen on my first lap around the pond. But by lap two, he has appeared on his log and is looking right at the pathway as I go by. He does not look away or change position.

He watches me as I round the bend on each lap. And at the end of my walk when the show is over, he disappears beneath the water. This has been happening every single day. This morning I brought my sketch book and as soon as I was done, I grabbed my book and pencil and raced back to the spot where he resides and did a quick sketch. He posed for a few minutes then disappeared under the water once more where he no doubt tells all his friends about the old lady huffing and puffing her way around the pond. He's most likely thinking, there goes the neighborhood.

We're due for two days of heavy rain this Saturday and Sunday so I won't see him over the weekend. But I'm guessing he'll be there on Monday.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sit and Sit and Sit

I sit a lot. I am either meandering around the swamps or sitting at my worktable all day. It's the nature of my business I guess. I had thought roaming the marshes and doing yard work would suffice as far as exercise goes. But my son, the surgeon, had a long talk with me and suggested I begin a regular walking routine.
One of my favorite spots.

I complained of course; I don't have time, my hips hurt when I walk fast, It's boring, etc. He wasn't moved by my excuses. He said I could make the time and suggested I give up watching Project Runway. How dare he! Not a chance that's going to happen. He also said the pain would ease up once I got going.

As much as I hate to admit my child is smarter than I am, he was right. I now walk briskly for 30 minutes a day. The hip pain is almost gone and to defeat the boredom of walking the neighborhood, I have a little pond I love with a walkway. I have taken students here and sketched this pond numerous times. It's right behind our post office so when I check mail in the morning, I swing in and do 4 or 5 laps. And it's actually enjoyable. I put all the day to day stuff aside and breath in the fresh air, listen to the wind and watch the local otter at play.

But I will never give up Project Runway!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Year Round Field Sketching

Like everywhere else, it's cold here. I've been sketching the birds through the windows because it's just too cold to do so outside. But I'm happy to report that things will begin warming up tomorrow.

This coming Saturday I have six brave souls signed up to take a field sketching class. I have been concerned about what the weather would be like in mid-January. Our days here on the island range from 70s and sunny to 20 degrees with a strong wind. But all looks good for Saturday.

As I have said over and over, field sketching is my favorite thing to do. It keeps me inspired, in practice and brings a freshness to my studio work. It's also a wonderful form of meditation for me since I put everything aside and focus on the present moment.

I love teaching and seeing the look on students faces when they realize they can draw and create a pleasing page in their sketchbook. Years from now, they'll be able to look back at that page and remember what the day brought them. Hopefully it will open a new world up to some of them, and they will continue to use their sketchbooks for the rest of their lives.

If you're ever in my area, give me a call. We'll pack a lunch, and I'll take you to some of favorite haunts where we can spend hours observing and sketching the wildlife. Now doesn't that sound like a fun day?