How many people does it take to hang a large commissioned oil painting?
Let me explain.
There are certain things that we modern people accept as truth:
Electricity magically pours out of the 3-holed portals in our walls to drive our vacuum cleaners, e-readers and lightbulbs.
Water comes from a spout, refrigerator, or a washing machine with just a touch of a hand.
Hamburger, vegetables and mashed potatoes originate from the grocery store.
And behind the last coat on your beautifully painted wall is plaster in the guise of drywall. Behind that a stud, that beacon of strength that holds up the house. It is always exactly 16 inches from another stud, which is exactly 16 inches from another until it reaches a corner and starts all over again.
That is the myth. No one knows for certain where that 16 inches starts. And whether the individual who hammered the stud in was using a tape measure or merely eyeballing, or maybe trying to stretch a dollar just a bit by saving that one 12-foot stud for the next job.
So, five people are required to hang a painting. Four people to offer suggestions and opinions, who will hold, balance or otherwise get in the way, and who believe the certainty that houses are built on studs 16 inches apart.
The fifth is one who is willing to operate a drill like a brain surgeon, carefully exploring the mysteries that lay beneath the paint on the wall. The first four people are fairly expendable. That last one must have the patience of Job, cat-like reflexes to balance a drill, tape measure, pencil, and to juggle questions from the audience.
Another myth is that this job will only take a few minutes.
Yet five people putting the totality of their skills together can accomplish much, and commissioned paintings of cabin views can be hung with certainty in lovely homes.
And that is a fact.
The Muse of Inspiration and the Muse of Realization are my dear friends. By now I know to be careful inviting them over at the same time. When they're together in my studio, there can be pushing and shoving and someone just might get hurt.
MI is a bit giddy, a fart in the wind as it were. She gets all wiggly and wants to start at the end, skipping all kinds of important stuff in the beginning and middle.
MR can be a bummer. With her arms folded in front of herself, one eyebrow up and half a smile, she says, “What made you think that was going to work?”
Like your favorite grade school teacher however, Ms. Realization says that with love and a nudge, so that you get the feeling that while the inspiration was a bit flawed, there really is something there that needs exploring.
My inspiration this time around was a thicket of plum bushes. They seem to be everywhere now, riding fence rows and tucking under knobby trees. The attraction was the subtle colors, the tangle of twigs and branches fighting to hold back the sky.
I was not long into the painting when the realization came to me that the subject was going to be more work than fun, more obstacle than open door.
It’s been my experience lately that if I smile sweetly at Ms. Realization and agree with her, she takes her arched eyebrow and sits quietly in the corner. If I hold Ms. Inspiration at arm’s length she calms a bit, taking a seat in a different corner. Both are handy, but on their best behavior.
I’ve got a little more realizing to do here, but I’m close, and that feels good. The painting has taken a different direction than I first imagined, and that’s okay.
Between the three of us we’ll manage just fine.
Inspiration for writing finds me most often on my early morning walks.
This is most annoying. By the time my shoes are untied and a pencil is at hand, nothing is left of those lovely strings of words brought on by the rhythm of trees and the sounds of creatures waking up.
Let me tell you about it this way -
Our little community is laid out like a Mondrian painting; right angles, straight wide streets, cars and trucks in staccato rhythms.
The snowy yard with its purple shadows and old shack is a Monet painting.
Jackson Pollack is woven into the tangle of branches in overgrown ditches.
Nikita Fedosov would be right at home here.
As for me, it really stings when the words I’ve carefully crafted dribble out my ear and into the garden…
I have kept track of the four of them for decades, those giant ash trees that look like geriatric cheerleaders, all knobby knees and elbows akimbo.
Today all that is left of them is s single massive torso laying heavily on the ground, cut open like a diagram to show a lifespan of growth, lightning strikes and termites.
It should be no surprise. The years and the wind and the ice have taken their toll. The empty spots where heartwood should have been housed countless birds and squirrels and other creatures that resided quietly within the depths of each limb. Often on our walks under the twisted trunks I would announce to Handsome Husband that it was time those trees came down. Public safety and all that. Finally, the emerald ash borer was threat enough to bring them down.
Despite my practicality, I miss them. The space in the sky is surprisingly empty now. No arthritic fingers to catch the wind, no elbows or crooks for nest-building birds. It’s quieter too.
That may be why, in part, I paint trees. As memorials to all they’ve seen and all they have held in their arms and nestled in their shadows.
Out here in the Great Wide Open, opportunities to show artwork are few and far between.
It’s up to us to create our own spaces.
This past weekend was the perfect opportunity to hold a Pop-up gallery; a short-term one-time shot-in-the-dark event designed to call attention to the work I’ve been piling up over the last long while.
The Geneva Rural Living Expo! had a space just right for my needs; across from a furnace guy, next to a garden business and just down the way from a window guy, a lady selling homemade noodles and the Boy Scouts of America booth.
It wasn’t fancy. Instead of cheap wine and stale crackers patrons wandered by with Walking Tacos or egg salad sandwiches from the food stand. Nonetheless we had some terrific conversations about art and I came home with less than I started out with.
Many thanks to John and Sue, Sharon and Cecil, Brandy, and so many others for stopping by
P Scarborough’s Rural Living Pop-Up Gallery and gabbing with me. Your questions and observations were stimulating.
Hanging out there reminded why I love living here. And who knows? There may be a pop-up coming just in time for sidewalk sales.
One of the finest bits of advice I’ve ever been given was a moment of silence accompanied by a shrug. That came to mind this week while I’ve been pondering how to show you the wonders of mixing your own amazing greens.
My initial idea was to whip up a bunch of recipes for you. A cool green for distant trees, a warm green for foliage in the foreground, greens for shadows and sunlight and everything in between, multiplied by the number of seasons…
I'd mix glob of this, a dab of that, add a molecule or two of another, and wow you with my amazing-ness.
Have you noticed on Facebook, or the internet in general that there are jillions (at least) of artists of one sort or another who promise you 3 Easy Ways to Get Started! Or 10 Steps to Success! Or How To Make Skies / Water / Bright color / Dull Color / Singing Color / Cows / Chickens / People in Only One Afternoon!!!
And what does that have to do with a shrug??
During the halcyon days of taking workshops and classes and scouring magazine articles that had the answers, I had the pleasure of visiting with an artist I admired so very much.
Something Much Admired Artist said stopped me in my tracks. What he was doing, whatever it was, differed from what the workshop/magazine/class gurus assured me would lead to certain success.
Armed with deep knowledge gleaned from the pages of a how-to art magazine, I stated: "So-and-So says to do it this way."
He smiled thoughtfully and shrugged his shoulders. Which surprised me. It took a day or two before I recognized the power of that shrug. In a kind, knowing way, Much Admired Artist was giving me space to learn on my own. To learn there is no recipe, no 3 easy steps. He left it up to me to figure out what my questions were, and more importantly what the answers might be.
I hope Much Admired Artist’s shrug will inspire you to find your own answers. Cook up your own recipe.
Find some quiet time all by yourself, hours of it. With no other plan in mind except to learn about green, open up some tubes of:
Warm blue, cool blue. Warm yellow. Cool yellow. Warm red, cool red. White.
To get you started, Ultramarine blue with Cad yellow and a bit of Indian red makes a fabulous green. On the other hand, cerulean blue, Naples yellow and transparent orange make an entirely different fabulous green.
Mix a glob of one, a dab of another. Add a molecule of something else …
Recently I posted an image of a painting I’d had in mind for months. It had to be green; deeply, intensely richly green. The feeling of being surrounded by, smelling and hearing the richness of green is what I remembered, and it was what I wanted to share. Concerned about how to accomplish this task - green is notoriously difficult to control - I sat on the idea until the discomfort of not trying was greater than the fear of not doing it well.
First of all, thank you for your kind comments. It’s always really nice to know I hit the mark.
So what’s with green? It should be easy. At last count manufacturers make up to 19 different greens. Greens so dark they appear as black. Some so garish they seem unreal. One can buy greens that are minty, dusty, blue or yellow, muddy, golden or brown-ish. Transparent or opaque. So why is it so hard to find the right one?
It’s a tricky color, green is. The question is, which green do you think you need?
The green of distant hills in the spring? Shadowy summer foliage? The warm verdant tones of fall? Leafy grey-green of elm trees? The blue green of firs, immature cottonwoods, young maples? Grassy meadows in shadow, or in intense light? The worn out grass of October or the energized pastures of spring? Water green from algae or tinged blue with the colors of the sky? Any of the preceding scenes in morning, noon or evening?
The speckled-y green/blue of Handsome Husband’s eyes?
You get the idea. (Plus, my quota of question marks is nearly up.)
To those of you who wondered which greens I used in the painting, the truth is this: none.
Go back to kindergarten, would you? How do we get green? By mixing blue and yellow, that’s how!
And the kicker? A red or two. The addition of a complementary color to a combination of primaries gives richness and depth that cannot be achieved with only 2 hues, especially when it comes to making green.
My palette holds two blues, a warm and a cool. Two or maybe three yellows, again, a warm and a cool, and naples yellow, considered a neutral. A couple of reds. Yep, a warm and a cool. White, of course. Not one pre-mixed-tube-straight-from-the-manufacturer green. By working from the warm and cool side of each hue, and by adjusting the amounts of each pigment added, one can achieve a combination of colors that can only be understood using higher math. Since we don’t do math here, let’s just say it’s a lot of different greens. At least eleventy-nine.
Which is exactly eleventy-eight more than you can get by buying a tube of pre-mixed green.
The temperatures are soaring into the upper teens, the calendar pages have been flipped over, and a stack of brand new shiny resolutions wait like little puppies, hopeful against all common sense to be adopted.
If you’ve been keeping track of me, you know that I’m not a resolution kinda gal. There’s nothing about January that inspires me to change, unless it is to move south. Even the word, resolution, gives me the chills. It’s the kind of word that requires a three-piece suit and a 14-foot conference table. Sensible jewelry and stern hair. Chin up, shoulders back. Stiff upper lip and all that.
Resolutions seem to be stamped with an expiration date, which means you either did it - or you didn't. It’s a win / lose kind of thing. And once you've done it, well, what next? And if you didn't do it? Then what? Sit in a corner and beat yourself up?
Rather than resoluteness as an improvement plan, I’ve been using one word each year as a guide. While it sounds very simple, and indeed comes with few rules, one word can serve as a guide for deeper, more honest living.
In past years I've used words like allow, up, moxie (yeah, that was a bad choice. I allowed myself to give up that one). Engage was so engaging it lasted two years.
After trying on all kinds of verbs, adverbs and nouns over the past few weeks, the word open came to me this morning. I don’t even remember what context it came wrapped in. I caught a sweet little whisper in my ear. Open. That’s usually the way it works. Despite an intention to pick muscular, flashy, energetic words, my experience has been that the universe knows best where I need to go.
So, open it is.
What will that look like?
Perhaps, maybe, it'll look like this:
Open for business
Add to the list if you'd like. Better yet, pick your own word. Share if you'd like. Here's your opening for a brand new year.
My annual Holiday Letter!
If the amount of ads landing in my mailbox and the hours of tinny music wafting in the air is any indication, the Great Day of Gift Giving is nearly upon us.
Some of you are behind the eight ball. You’ve postponed your shopping safari for the creative individual in your life and now your heart pitter-pats when you realize you have no idea what to do. Monster storms are bearing down bringing feet of precipitation in its worst forms, all of which will land on your doorstep.
Take a deep breath, I’m here to help.
The following is my handy dandy idea list for those of you who have loved ones who construct, discover and imagine.
(Sadly for you, Handsome Husband is already taken. He’s one of a kind and he’s mine, sorry ‘bout that.)
Otherwise, consider offering -
A quiet space to work. It doesn’t have to have 12 foot ceilings or skylights or north windows - although that would be really awesome. A space all one’s own, even if it's just a comfy chair and a card table, is important.
Acceptance. Of them, of their field, of their output. Of their clutter, their staring while you talk, of their frustrations. And of that chair and card table piled high or piled under.
Time. Time to ponder, time to wonder, time to put down in whatever medium they choose the results of that wondering and pondering. Time to grow.
A self-cleaning work space. (Oooh, I wanna get me one o’ those.) In that same vein, self-cleaning brushes, pottery wheels, pastels, etc etc.
An ear. No, not like Van Gogh. I was thinking more in terms of listening. We creative types need to vent, mostly in a way that lets the fears and frustrations and delights and victories and annoyances out. Even when you have no idea what we’re talking about. Notice I didn’t add ‘advice’ to that. Ears open, mouth shut. To help you out with this, toss in a few open-ended questions. Something like; how do you feel about that? Tell me about…, or how does that..?.
Exhibits. Go! Spend time looking with your sweetie. Use a few of those open ended-questions to find out what they find interesting.
Support. Every now and then say something like, “You can do it” or “you’ll get there”, or the holy grail of support – “I believe in you”. No need to grab your pom-poms and jump around.
Pick one, two, or all of the above. Wrap them in ribbons and a hug. You're welcome.
Today I’m pushing back.
You may have noticed that I keep things pretty light here. It’s not that I don’t have powerful feelings or strong opinions. However, I hesitate to add my voice to the raging judgement factory that is the internet these days. Our measure of angst has been met for the year.
Recently an article was published that tripped my trigger. Three weeks later my trigger is still quivering with indignation.
The issue was how, or even whether to purchase art as a gift for someone. It’s a sticky wicket isn’t it? Collecting art is so very personal. Each patron has their own attitudes about what has value and what doesn’t. I myself enjoy collecting original pieces from artists I know. There’s something really lovely about holding a turned piece by Harold Adams or enjoying a Nicole Gustafsson illustration. A friend loves her entire collection of stuff from the Thomas Kinkade machine. We’ve agreed to get along despite our differences.
Trigger Number One: The author’s conclusion? Because buying something original for a loved one is hard, a museum membership is a better choice. Awful advice on two counts.
Count 1. Any artist I know would be delighted to help you make a choice, create a gift certificate, do damned near anything to get their artwork into someone’s home. The hard working creators I’m familiar with would bend over backward to help you out. Why not give them a chance to do so?
Count 2. A membership to a museum is a fine idea as far as it goes. But it’s a little like a gift card to a big box store. You’re saying, “I couldn’t think of a thing, and you wouldn’t like it anyway. Plus, I’ll never know if you actually use the card, or just scrape your windshield with it. Either way is fine by me”. It’s the (lack of) thought that counts.
And Count 2a – Museums are doing fiiiiiine. With complete respect for any and every art museum in the entire universe, your little donation isn’t going to do much to keep their doors open. It may, however, keep that artist going back to the drawing board.
Trigger Number Two: The author’s conclusion that lovely art isn’t “real” art. Decorative paintings are simply boring, and balanced ceramics are blah. Hm. He would have us believe that our walls should be hung with stimulating (yes), thought provoking (okay), and irritating (huh?) art. His list of artists that we love to hate would include those whose work reflects our capitalist cynical culture, accentuates the awful, stresses the miserable.
Really? Claude, Leonardo, , Mary and Joaquin are only a short list of those who would raise their eyebrows to that. In fact, there would be such an eyebrow raising that hairlines the world over would lift from their moorings.
Dear reader, it’s okay if the artwork you choose does not make you miserable. It’s fine if your new art piece matches your couch. Or your recliner. Or even your curtains. And if it doesn’t match any of those things, that’s okay too. You’re the one who gets to live with it. Positive emotional engagement does not make you a hick.
Before Santa loads his sleigh with membership cards and generic gift certificates, put in a little effort and contact an artist you know. Have a chat and let them know what you’d like. Give them a chance.
Let them bend over backward to make you, and your friends, happy.
I've been sharing the odds and ends of my art life for the last 8 years.