Saturday, September 20, 2014

Paula, for Julia Kay's Portrait Party

8x10 inches, oil on paper

For the past few years I have been a sometimes participant in an online painting group called Julia Kay's Portrait Party.  I painted this small oil for that group.

It's a large group of people, although a fairly small number of participants are active at any one time. I tend to paint about one portrait a month, although there are people who create one each and every day.  Some paint, some draw, some use collage or mosaics, some use digital media.  All are interesting because it is clear that there are endless ways to approach a portrait, and almost always the result says as much about the artist as it does the subject.

I stay with the group, even though I am often put to shame by other people's skill and unique vision, because I believe that it is good practice to paint lots.  I believe that quantity eventually leads to quality, and in my case I think my portraits have improved since I joined. I know for sure that I enjoy rubbing shoulders with this large and diverse group.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hunting Pictures

Last week my husband and I took an early autumn vacation to Canada.  We flew to Calgary, then boarded a train, traveled thirteen hours to Kamloops, where we spent the night in an old but prettily refurbished hotel.  Then another twelve or so hours on the train through the Rockies, alongside Thompson and Fraser rivers filled with salmon returning to spawn and die, to Vancouver.  We spent a couple days there before flying home to our disgruntled kitty.

The entire time I kept trying to capture a little of the beauty I saw speeding past with my little "point and hope" camera.  It's hard shooting through a window, although sometimes I elbowed my way to the open viewing platform where folks with pricier gear set up shop.  Sticking my head out in the fresh air, I imagined how giddy dogs feel when they push their heads out open truck windows, ears blowing back, tongues flapping in the wind.

Anyway, today I visited my local consignment place and found a little book called Natural Histories: A Bestiary, by Jules Renard.  There are charming pencil drawings by Toulouse Lautrec that accompany word sketches of turkeys, geese, swallows, squirrels and many more animals.  But the first little essay charmed me completely, and spoke to my need to travel, to take photos, and to paint.

The Picture Hunters

He jumps up early from his bed and sets out only if his mind is clear, his heart pure, his body light as a summer garment.  He carries no provisions.  Along the road he will drink fresh air and inhale wholesome smells.  He leaves his firearms at home, content with keeping his eyes open.  His eyes serve as nets in which pictures are caught.

The first one he snares is that of the road, showing its bones of polished stones and broken veins of its ruts, between the hedges laden with blackberries and small wild plums.

Then he catches a picture of the river.  Whitening at the elbows, it sleeps under the gentle stroke of willows.  It glistens when a fish turns up its belly, as though a piece of silver has been thrown in; if a light rain falls, the river has goose flesh.

He picks up the picture of the moving wheat, the toothsome clover, the meadows hemmed in with rivulets.  He seizes in passing the flight of a lark or a goldfinch.

Then he enters the woods.  He did not know that his senses could take in so much.  He is soon impregnated with scents, he misses not a single muffled sound, and his nerves attach themselves to the veins of the leaves so that he may communicate with the trees.

Before long he is vibrating to the point of discomfort, he is in ferment, he is afraid, he leaves the woods and follows from a distance the peasants returning to the village.  

Outside, he stares for a moment, with eyes ready to burst, at the setting sun as, on the horizon, it divests itself of its luminous garments, its scattered clouds.

Home at last, his head full, he puts out his lamp and, before going to sleep, delights in counting up his pictures.

Obediently, they appear again as his memory calls them.  Each one awakens another, and the new ones constantly join he phosphorescent band, like partridges that, all day pursued and divided, come together in the evening, and, safe in the depth of furrows, sing and remember.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Summer's End

Labor Day weekend has always meant the symbolic end of summer for me.  Since I was a Walworth county farm girl, that meant the fair.  The end of August seems to me to be the perfect time for a rural fair, since now is the high season for produce.  I still enjoy wandering through the agricultural building to see boxes of dented seed corn, onions, apples and various squashes.  Then there are the tall tall stalks of corn, and the giant pumpkins.  I also like looking over the floral displays, the little centerpieces all centered on some theme.  Who makes centerpieces any more? I didn't see what I used to enjoy when I was a child, row upon row of gaudy gladiola spikes and giant dahlias.  Perhaps they were in another building I missed.  There is a lot to take in at the fair.

I went on opening day, before the midway opened.  It was sunny and not too hot, perfect really.  Lots of buildings still had judging going on, at least in the open class areas.  The 4-H  judging was complete, so all the art projects, woodworking, posters explaining electrical circuits or the life cycle of bees, sewing projects and plates of cookies already had ribbons or stickers.  But the adults were seated anxiously on park benches, watching panels of judges make hard decisions.  Hearts ready to be broken were worn on each sleeve.

My parents never let me take animals to the fair.  Mother said something about not wanting me to sleep in the barns, but I don't think anyone ever does that.  I suspect they just didn't want the hassles of transporting an valuable animal to the week long event, and the daily responsibility that entails. Still, I think I might have liked fussing over a cow, learning to show her. 

I walk through the dairy and beef barns, but I have grown to look forward to the goats.  We never had goats, but I like their gregarious nature.  Many of them seem to look forward to their visitors, and sniff and delicately nibble the hand that isn't feeding them.  Almost all seem to enjoy having their ears scratched, pretty much like my cat does.

Then there is food.  When I was a child I looked forward to hot buttered sweet corn, at the tent with salt shakers suspended by strings for easy access.  These days I don't bother with the corn, but head straight to the cream puff stand.  The one I favor is in the row with the 4-H building, the fair office, and the agriculture building.  The stand is ancient, wood clapboard painted white with blue trim, and it looks like it has been there since the 1920s.  Actually they sell eclairs, brownies and cream puffs, but I am a cream puff only woman.  No drizzled caramel or nuts, please.  Just a sweet pastry filled with whipped cream and dusted with powered sugar.  Wear light colored clothing when tackling one of these babies - the sugar shows less when you've finished.

Alas, I think I am too old for rides.  Maybe if I had a wee child in tow I might, but I don't.  I have to enjoy all that going round in circles vicariously. In truth, my stomach might not be a strong as it used to be, especially after eating a cream puff.  I just wander the midway, nodding at the carnies, and taking pictures when I can.

The fair is a fine way to usher out summer.  The sweet thing for me now, is that I do not have to go to school on Tuesday.