Notes from the Garden: Happy Hydrangeas

TM9278 Notes from the Garden: Happy Hydrangeas 30 x 40 oil on panel

Distance can be good. I painted Hydrangeas on a sunny morning a few years ago, and for some reason kept it at the studio. I found it again when I was recently reorganizing, and decided it needed more life. The painting was satisfactory but lacked a sense of the life spirit of the hydrangeas – how they felt. Back on the easel. The newer version, retitled Notes from the Garden: Happy Hydrangeas, feels more real somehow. These hydrangeas are really saying Good Morning to me, and evoking my reaction of Good Morning to you too! Details below, along with the earlier version of the painting. Enjoy.

TM9278 Notes from the Garden: Happy Hydrangeas – detail from upper right
TM9278 Notes from the Garden: Happy Hydrangeas – detail from lower center

Technical painting notes: When I decided to rework the painting, I started by rolling and smudging brighter blues in the sky, then rolled semi-transparent grays and green into the flowers to create more interesting surface textures, (and to obliterate my idea of what the hydrangeas looked like). With the new surface, I went back to developing the lights and contrasts in the flower heads, rolling then adding details alternately. With the flowers becoming mor interesting, I acted similarly with the leaves, using small rollers alternating with brush work. I wanted to catch a sense of abandon, the way air circulates through the plant and the plant dances with that breeze.

(first version) TM9278 Hydrangea Morning 30 x 40 oil on panel
(final version) TM9278 Notes from the Garden: Happy Hydrangeas 30 x 40 oil on panel

Notes from the Garden: Peony Morning

TM9665 Notes from the Garden: Peony Morning 20×30 oil on panel

Flowers have personalities. Daisies seem hopeful and full of humility. Roses are elegant and, especially the famous ones, seem rarified and even haughty. But the peony is just as gorgeous, sometimes even more fragrant, but also more casual. They seem careless, tossing those blossoms casually in the breeze, even leaning through their fencing to say good morning and offer a sniff to anyone who chances to pass by. I love them. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9665 Notes from the Garden, Peony Morning – detail from center
TM9665 Notes from the Garden: Peony Morning detail from lower edge
TM9665 Notes from the Garden: Peony Morning – detail from left side

Notes from the Garden – Clematis

TM9664 Notes from the Garden – Clematis 18×30 oil on panel

My dog Boo and I take copious walks around our neighborhood, but one of our most favorite is the walk to the Victory Gardens. Established during the Second World War, the gardens were created to help feed the population during wartime. Now, run by local volunteers, the gardens are still thriving with many more flowers and perennials, along with herbs and vegetables. There are demonstration plots for teaching purposes and a handicap-accessible garden with growing beds on higher benches. Boo knows where to find his friends with water bowls and treats, I know where to find choice opportunities for painting subjects and a chat with friends. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9664 Notes from the Garden – Clematis – detail from left side
TM9664 Notesfrom the Garden – Clematis — detail from center
TM9664 Notes from the Garden – Clematis – detail showing use of layered roller strokes

Technical painting notes: I used Speedball soft rubber rollers to apply the first blocking-in of forms and colors, switched to soft brushes to develop details, then went back to rollers and mostly transparent pigments to finish the painting. Going back and forth between roller and brush introduces some chance effects that work well to suggest movement and the feel of air moving around the subject. Below is a photo showing the result of the first day’s work.

TM9664 Notes from the Garden – Clematis – showing the result of first day’ of blocking in masses and colors with the roller

As I worked on the painting, I found the need to add a hint of the chicken wire fence behind the clematis. The geometric linework contrasted in a subtle way with the organic shapes. One of the things I love about the Victory Gardens is the way everything overlaps, due to the tight quarters.

Young Hornbeam on a Foggy Day

TM9662 Young Hornbeam on a Foggy Day 36×54 oil on panel

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.

TM9662 Young Hornbeam on a Foggy Day – detail from center
TM9662 Young Hornbeam on a Foggy Day – detail from lower edge
TM9662 Young Hornbeam on a Foggy Day – detail from left side

Notes from the Garden – No Rain Yet

TM9409 Notes from the Garden – No Rain Yet 42×42 oil on panel

One never knows how a painting will evolve. The inspiration for this painting came while I was sitting in a parking lot during a sudden spring shower and looking out through a drippy windshield. I liked it so much I started photographing through the windshield. The blurry effect of the gray tones and springy yellow greens really sang. Later, in the studio, I painted No Rain Yet, which you can see below.

TM9409 No Rain Yet 42×42 oil on panel

No Rain Yet eventually went to a gallery just before the pandemic started. Nearly three years later, I asked for it to be returned – I loved the painting, but with three more years of experience I could see a way to bring the painting farther. The gallery graciously said fine. Looking, I began to see garden forms and a way to bring in some detail and more depth. What fun. I retitled the painting Notes from the Garden – No Rain Yet to honor the original and the new. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9409 Notes from the Garden – No Rain Yet – detail from upper right
TM9409 Notes from the Garden – No Rain Yet – detail upper left
TM9409 Notes from the Garden = No Rain Yet – detail from lower edge

Pond Edge, Early December

TM9661 Pond Edge, Early December 48×30 oil on panel

My pond and ice studies from last winter continue to inspire larger works, and the newest is Pond Edge, Early December. It’s a tight view watching ice encroach on the shallows. Oak leaves are visible under the surface, as well as the reflection of blue sky and clouds. The upper half of the painting is thin ice with a hint of what’s below. The abstractness of this close, vertical view is what intrigued me – the possibility of realism colliding with abstract expressionism. Plus, the sheer beauty of winter and its mysteries. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9661 Pond Edge, Early December – detail from center
TM9661 Pond Edge, Early December – detail from lower right with submerged oak leaves and ice formimg
TM9661 Pond Edge, Early December – detail from upper part of painting showing development of thin ice layers meeting open water

32 Degrees

32 Degrees 40×36 oil on panel

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.

TM9660 32 Degrees – detail from upper center with reflections and ice forming
TM9660 32 Degrees – detail from right side with reflections and leaves catching in the freezing water

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.

Poem in the Woods

TM9659 Poem in the Woods 36×48 oil on panel

Early April is full of the promise of spring but still has its starker aspects, like dark shadows and the brisk, cobalt blue of newly melted water. The strengthening sun lends some warmth, as shown in Poem in the Woods. Last year’s wetland grasses are just below the surface, though one or two blades are waking up. Details below. Enjoy.

TM9659 Poem in the Woods – detail from left of center
TM9659 Poem in the Woods – detail from lower right
TM9659 Poem in the Woods – detail from lower center with emerging blade of grass

Technical painting notes: It was the grasses just below the surface of the water that inspired Poem in the Woods, and at first, I thought they might form an all-over pattern. I blocked in the vertical tree reflections and drew dozens of the sword-like grass shapes laying horizontally across the surface, As I worked up the details and color harmonies, it felt too busy. April is about anticipation; too many details can obscure the imaginative leap that April requires. Emphasizing the shadows and sunlight with repeating rolls of fairly transparent color broke up the grass blades and submerged them, which is closer to the actual condition of grasses below the surface of the water. Accenting just a few blades where I needed a shot of color worked.