I have been thinking about the word sanctuary. Recent events in the news illustrate again the desperate need to provide sanctuary for all. Earlier this week I was walking the perimeter of my favorite pond, welcoming the recent rain and relieved to see the frogs and fishies are able to swim again, a reprieve from our summer-long drought – a sanctuary, however brief, from the effects of climate change. I too need this sanctuary in the woods, away from the vehemence and anger of politics.
So, what is sanctuary? A place to rest and repair heart and soul, to recover, to resume the work and joys of life with a degree of hope. Providing sanctuary is about empathy and taking responsibility for more than one’s own life.
Walking the path around the pond almost daily allows one to appreciate the small (and large) changes over time. This year the bullfrogs are thriving, croaking their little hearts out to each other in a playful syncopated chorus. Meanwhile, the smaller frogs are finding more felled trees along the water’s edge. They are taking advantage of the new habitat options, sunning themselves on the branches that skim the pond – at least until they feel my footsteps and they plop! plop! plop! back into the water. It pains me to see so many mature trees succumbing to the fierce storms we’ve had this past year, but at least here at the pond the newly renovated habitat has helped some of my little friends.
Each day, the trees are getting greener, as is the pollen film on the pond! My pondly mirror is interrupted by slender bladderworts in the shallows – slender stems carrying hooded yellow flowers. The flowers are so small they almost disappear in the reflections. After missing them for years, I now know where to look, and enjoy their emergence with the warmer weather. Add a blue sky and passing cloud, and it turns into a moment of simple joy. Details below.
Technical painting notes: The painting was “blocked in” with thin, dark, greenish brown oil paint applied with a soft rubber roller. I let the roller skip across the surface to create a broken, interrupted pattern. Spritzing the wet paint with solvent, and re-rolling the surface added more textures, while scrapers were used to indicate some of the branches. Once the first layer was dry, I glazed the painting with shades of blue and green, then started working wet into wet with a brush and broken strokes to suggest the foliage and reflected sky. I used the roller again to lay on thin, mostly transparent blues, then used spatter to suggest pollen. A very narrow roller detailed branches quickly, and provided a diversity of “marks” to keep the painting interesting.
I walk the woods so regularly I feel I have dear friends among the trees. I’ve known and painted so many of them. Hornbeams are definitely among my favorites. Also known as ironwood, they are incredibly dense. Also slow growing. Perhaps most distinctive about them is the way they hold on to their leaves all winter and into the spring. Pale, papery, dancing leaves stand out in the winter woods, the light sienna tinged color made more striking against so much blue and white. Even in spring, when signs of green are returning, the hornbeams stand out. Eventually they will shed their old leaves for new, and for a short while be camouflaged in their neighborhood. My view of hornbeam saplings on a foggy day in early spring salutes their grace. Details below. Enjoy.
Water, that elusive substance that changes form so mysteriously. 32 Degrees is about the time in autumn when temperatures keep hovering around the freezing point. As you watch the pond’s surface you can see the film of ice grow, though when it is thin enough it still behaves more like a fluid, even bending with the wind’s ripples. Sometimes there are strips of thin ice interwoven with open water, and you have to wonder how and why? Not only is it strangely mysterious, it is also incredibly beautiful. In October, with warm colors still around, the pondly reflections and crystalline surfaces become magical. Who could not be inspired? Details below. Enjoy.
Technical painting notes: Knowing that this painting would be about thin ice overlaying a pond with reflections, I started with a bold underpainitng, using blackish browns to strongly indicate the major tree trunk reflections and massing branches. I wanted lots of texture to suggest leaves and debris in the reflections, so I manipulated the wet paint with my silicone scraper and drips of solvent. I used a narrow roller to draw some of the branches. With a solid lay-in, I let the paint dry. Coming back later, I glazed color onto the panel and started painting the negative spaces of the sky, working intuitively to create interesting patterns. Modelling the major branches with highlights, and using a 1/4″ roller to add more branches, provided the density of tangle I wanted. When this layer was dry, I used fairly transparent gray-blue or warm gray rolled glazes to control the ice film, then went back and color corrected some areas, adjusting values in other areas.
November is a dark month at my pond. Everything goes silent, the days shorten, and films of ice form and reform on the water, obscuring and blurring both reflections and the mysterious shapes beneath the surface. I love the quiet colors of November and the mood of introspection. Even the pond seems to be looking within. Details below. Enjoy.
Technical painting notes: The painting is based on sketches and photographs from the site, but once the painting was underway, I let my intuition and memory lead. The accidental dark shapes and textures on the base layer (achieved using monoprint techniques) were so interesting I decided not to bury them under leaves. The pond revealed itself through the process of painting – who am I to interfere?
The rapid cycling last winter between frigid temperatures and thaws produced incredible patterns on the pond. I did many photographic and oil studies of the ice as it melted and reformed, embracing and embedding leaves in its surface. The results are both terribly abstract and exactingly realistic – a hybrid condition that I love. The painting was constructed using many techniques, starting with monoprint-based rolls of thin, dark paint which were spritzed with solvents, re-rolled, scratched and wiped into, then glazed. I was looking for a few bold, dark shapes that would anchor the composition – dark enough to glow through the later layers of transparent ice. The base layer also set the ground of textures. Details suggesting leaves were developed with soft brushes; additional glazes introduced more color. While the paint was wet, I used a roller loaded with transparent soft grays, off whites, and blues to subdue the detail and suggest the ice layers. A few final edges were delineated with more brushwork, layered spatter, then more rolls. The process was partly intuitive, partly based on myriad photos and studies. In many ways, the painting has a strong kinship with pattern painting. Details below. Enjoy.
A ramble is an undetermined destination walk, taken for the pleasure of the moments. This walk from a Concord forest preserve certainly qualifies. I like to stop and close my eyes, absorb the smells and sounds as well as the sights. Later, working on the painting in the studio, I get to relive the experience. Such a treat.