Painting is an adventure. I started this painting almost two years ago – a somewhat abstract view through trees in early winter. I worked on it off and on all year, tinkering with the mood, the amount of snow. and, finally, the intensity of the wind. Eventually, the painting became a blizzard with white out conditions. I wasn’t sure a white whirling void was really my intent, so I put it away for a few weeks. When I returned to it, I knew the winter had to go. I couldn’t stand looking at the blizzard – so cold. I picked up a roller and started attacking the panel with yellows and grays, greens and blues. It certainly changed the mood! At some point, it struck me that I was painting a brilliant, partly cloudy sky, and at the same time the yellow shapes began to resemble blossoms. Oh dear, I thought. Where did that come from? I took out my collection of photos from the Victory Gardens and shots of my friend Christine’s garden and started to purposely paint the gestures of flowers and leaves. The painting is certainly about transitions and spring, and the joys of looking up and down. I think it also is about learning to trust intuition, letting go, and having loads of fun skiing along the edges of the roller shapes and dancing with the lines. Details below. Enjoy.
Gardens are amazing. When I was young, the farmer next door’s wife, Mrs. Kroll, had a sumptuous, showy, flower garden running along a huge stone wall that ran nearly the length of their side yard. I was fascinated by the exotic, and HUGE, flowers. Gladioli, mammoth dahlias, sky high sunflowers, platter-like zinnias. Maybe it was all the free manure and compost. Maybe it was her diligent, daily tending. Each day she cut and tossed away the fading blossoms. We raided her floral compost pile, and what joy we had finding nearly perfect specimens to bring home. Much more exciting than the marigolds and baby’s breath, phlox and snapdragons our grandmother planted. Midsummer Garden is my ode to Mrs. Kroll’s gardening achievements – radiant sunshine and a feeling of lush summer every day. Thank you Mrs. Kroll. Details below.
Technical painting notes: The initial base layer of browns and dark green oil paint was applied with a soft rubber roller. I used a scraper and paper towels to draw and blot in the forms and lights. When the base layer was dry, I used brushes and oil paint to glaze and define the subject further, then used my rollers to soften and blur edges. I rolled more layers of semi-transparent oil paint to modulate the color and keep the effects soft, as if from memory. I was so small when I first saw Mrs. Kroll’s garden, and the flowers seemed to reach up forever, as if they could disappear into Heaven. Her yellows were the sun. At first, I had a bright blue sky behind the flowers, but it seemed too bold and heavy. When I rolled grays into the bright blues, taking down the saturation, the more neutral gray tones seemed to make the yellows sing more loudly. Go yellow!
I’ve been revisiting my old monoprint techniques, starting with a dark value and working my way into the light with wiping, lifting, and finally rolls of translucent paint. Pulling an image from darkness can feel like pulling a memory from the darkest recesses of the mind. Chance and the veracity of fiction vs. fact. Do I really remember this? Or am I inventing the memory I would like to recall? In any event, the resulting paintings can seem more otherworldly. Either way, I think I’ll try this again. Details below. Enjoy.
The hydrangea offers so many challenges. Not only are they lovely in bloom, but the range of colors they assume as they fade is nearly endless. Then there’s the off-symmetry of the flower heads, and how to paint the airiness of them. This painting is based on some photographs I took last summer. After working on a couple of hydrangea paintings, I’m beginning to see the potential for more….enjoy. Details below.
My grandmother had a gorgeous bank of peonies curving along the driveway. Every spring, I spent hours sniffing them, and hoping they would bloom at exactly the right time to bring one to school for my teacher. This seldom happened. Peonies bloom when they are ready, not for us, and their magnificent blossoms don’t last long, especially if stormy weather is in the forecast. Last summer, I spotted my neighbor Peter’s peonies in the Victory Gardens. They were blown over by the previous night’s storm, but still beautiful – perhaps more so because the storm emphasized their fragility. I knew I would eventually paint them. Here they are, in all their glory. Details below.
Technical painting notes: I used mostly monoprint techniques and soft rubber rollers to create this painting. The base layer was a mix of dark greens and black, rolled onto the panel then manipulated with solvent and rags. I “drew” the image with silicone scrapers while the paint was wet. When the initial layer was dry, I rolled on transparent glazes and painted into the wet glazes to add denser color to the highlights. I used 1-3″ rollers to block in the leaves and flowers, refining some of the strokes with traditional, soft watercolor brushes. A 1/4″ Takech rubber roller was used for finer details. The layering of roller and brush work in wet paint has the advantage of fostering unusual color blends and a variety of soft and crisp edges.
I’ve been rethinking my approach to painting my garden subjects, looking to include more of the mystery and poetry inherent in the subject. With that in mind, perhaps less is more? This new painting leaves more unsaid – I tried to capture the feel and gesture of the flowers but leave the mystery. In some ways. it resembles a series a small monoprint and colored pencil works on paper I did many years ago, also of garden subjects, but somewhat fanciful. The great spiral at work again, revisiting familiar ideas in new and, in this case larger, ways. And thank you Elizabeth! Details below.
Technical painting notes: I used my soft rubber rollers extensively on this painting, both to lay in the dark base layer (which was then manipulated with rags to suggest highlights and silicone scrapers to “draw” the shapes and forms). Transparent glazes were added later, then refinements were painted using a brush, manipulated with rollers. The layering of brushwork and roller work helped to keep the image suggestive and not too defined. Subtle color effects were a by-product of the wet into wet rolling.
Maybe it’s still winter outside, but my thoughts are turning toward spring and summer – especially working on garden-themed subjects for my paintings. Hydrangea Morning, with its light, sunny palette reminds me of morning walks with my dog along the streets of Boston, and especially through the Victory Gardens. We stop and sniff, saying hello to our favorite specimens. Details below. Enjoy.
Technical painting notes: I used my soft rubber rollers extensively on this painting. For the first layer, I rolled a mixture of dark greens mixed with black and brown, then proceeded to wipe away the highlights. I spattered solvent on the panel, then re-rolled areas to lift and distribute paint. Scrapers were used to draw the image, especially for stems and leaves. When the first layer was dry, I rolled on transparent color to block in the leaves and blossoms, letting the roller skip and jump across the panel. Some brushwork helped to define the patterns, which were then re-rolled to suggest motion. For the flowers, I purposely picked up dots of tinted white paint on the roller and rolled out the paint, letting chance intervene.
The Fenway neighborhood of Boston has an urban jewel that is not often mentioned – the Victory Gardens. Begun in 1941 the gardens helped the war effort. Now they provide an oasis of greenery (flowers, herbs, some vegetables and fruits) and many paths for delightful meandering. Although major roads circle the park, the gardens allow one to experience a different, slower pace and immerse oneself in nature. Last year, I started a series of floral and garden subjects based primarily on my daily walks through the gardens with my dog, a smallish rescue named Boo. We sniffed our way along at our own levels, sharing the best smells. I miss those walks, so I decided to recreate the feel of being out with Boo in the gardens on a 36×72″ panel. From the Victory Gardens shows a lush bank of coreopsis and hydrangea trying to escape a wire fence, all framed by a vibrant blue sky. It is supreme summer, warm and breezy. Put on your pretend hat and join us. Details below.
Technical painting notes: From the Victory Gardens was painted primarily with rollers. I used an assortment of Speedball soft rubber rollers to build the image, starting with a base layer that ranged from black through various greens and golds. Mixing some Liquin Impasto medium into the oil paint speeds drying and translucence. The rollers can be manipulated to create various shapes by “dancing” them across the surface, allowing skips and hops. You can pick up paint on only part of the roller then roll out repeats of whatever shape the splotch creates. You can blend two colors on the roller. You can also get lovely gradations of color by rolling into wet areas of adjacent color to blend and soften edges. I used a 1/4″ Takech rubber roller for some of the line work, and a regular nylon square-tipped brush for other refinements. Painting with a roller encourages risk-taking and helps me to keep the subject fresh and lively.