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. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Collage and Paint

11x14 inches, collage and oil on canvas

This is another painting that incorporates collaged papers in the background, under the oil paint.  During the summer I go to a community figure drawing studio on Monday evenings, and this was based on a sketch from one of those sessions.  The model is usually brightly lit against a dark background, and I wanted to make the dark areas interesting without being distracting, so I adhered prepared papers and bits of wallpaper samples before I laid in the dark paint.  I rather like the effect. At some point I may lighten the top of the pillow o which the model is resting her arm, just to make it stand out a bit more - but for now it is done.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rainy Days and Mondays

Dang - it's raining again on Monday, the day that, at least during the summer, I like to drive to Whitewater for figure drawing.  But the rain today has been noisy with rolling thunder and constant.  It is one of those gloomy days where the lights need to be switched on to read or do any artwork, and I'd just as soon be asleep, thank you.

But I did spend a few hours up in my little studio working on a piece that I started about a year ago, and had no trouble abandoning - more than once.  It's turning out to be a mixed media piece, although when I originally planned it I thought it would be acrylic with gold leaf.  I'd done a series of 8x8 inch acrylic paintings with gold leaf backgrounds, and I wanted to try the same technique with something larger.

So, I drew out three seated children reading together from a flea market snapshot, and quickly realized I was in trouble.  I had primed the canvas in red, and started the under painting in black and white, and I knew that I did not know how to work out the background.  What to do?

Nothing.  I put it aside for several weeks and on a winter workshop day I hauled it out and dutifully worked on the value part of the painting some more. But the love was not there.  So, once more the painting leaned against the wall in the studio, neglected but not forgotten. 

Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Then I had an idea. I had done a 11x14 inch nude study, with collaged papers in the background, glazed over so there was an interesting pattern behind the figure, but subtle.  Why not try something like that with the painting of the children?  I couldn't like it any less than I did already, so nothing to lose but some time.  So, I hauled out some of my bags of printed papers, wallpaper samples and the like and used gel medium to paste them down.  Then I used burnt sienna acrylic paint to tint some clear gesso and went over the whole thing to unify it.  Suddenly that old lovin' feeling began to return.

Now I am using water soluble oil paint and painting in the figures.  The background will be mostly dark, and I hope the patterns peek through.  We shall see.  But at least I'm moving forward.

What a relief!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Little Validation

Gothic Gazing
5x7 inches, oil on paper

I have an art friend who has told me, more than once, that "validation is for parking passes."  In other words, it is important to feel satisfaction with your own work, and not be dependent on positive strokes from other people.  There probably is wisdom there, but I couldn't help but be excited to receive an email from the Wisconsin Regional Art Program (WRAP) that my wee painting received an award at the annual state show, held this year in Wausau.  

I was told the award is the Aaron and Ruth Bohrod Memorial award.

 First established in 1977 by well known Wisconsin artist Aaron Bohrod, this award is now a memorial award honoring Aaron Bohrod and his wife Ruth.  It is currently sponsored by Katherine Schmitt and her sisters.   It is given for "outstanding excellence in painting" and active participation in WRAA.

I'm not entirely certain  that my painting should be mentioned in the same breath with Aaron Bohrod, but I am thrilled that this year's judge liked the painting well enough to recognize it.  I will admit here, that I like the painting too.  I spotted these two young men at the Art Institute a while back, peering intently at the iconic Grant Wood painting, and I surreptitiously snapped a photo (no flash). It tickled me to see two people who looked more likely to be skateboarding than gallery gazing so wrapped up in what they saw.  It's dangerous to pigeon hole people. Anyway, the contrast between the two boys and the pair in American Gothic appealed to me.

 There is a cash component as well, which will offset the cost of traveling to Wausau to attend the show and awards ceremony.  It should be a fun weekend, viewing the other paintings, seeing art friends, and enjoying a short road trip to central Wisconsin.