I am looking to photograph and paint fruit trees, vines, and bushes that are in backyards, front yards, and patios in my general neighborhood (Melbourne.) If you want to learn more about my project, please read my plan below:
A series of photographs and paintings.
Zechariah 3:10 “’In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”
Micah 4:4 “Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.”
Landscape is often defined by what grows within it. The produce of an area often becomes its symbol (for example, Maine potatoes, Maine blueberries, Florida oranges). As a newcomer to Melbourne, I am in the process of discovering what defines this area – what is different, what is shared, what is unique. Food is one of the easiest ways to explore these differences.
I have always had a fascination with the idea of food just popping up out of the ground – what a miraculous process! We watch it in our own backyards, patios, and other personal spaces, and then we get to eat it! While the summer garden is the source of this miracle in Maine, I have noticed that here the fruit tree is the more frequent suburban/urban source of personal produce. I expected the occasional orange tree and other citrus, but have been delighted to notice other fruits, only a few of which I have been able to identify (mangoes, starfruit.)
I have observed that joy in the harvest is universal. Gardeners everywhere become excited when sharing information about their emerging crops, however modest they might be – the container garden on the patio or in the sunroom brings as much joy as the acre of backyard garden. I have followed with joy the Facebook conversations about the solitary pineapple plant coaxed for years from the top of a fresh pineapple (I now have my own pineapple top struggling to take root.) I smile at the photos of meals prepared from the garden. I know that joy.
God’s generosity in providing luscious food from a patch of dirt with a regular application of rain and sun becomes contagious—home gardeners everywhere often share the abundance of their harvest with family, friends and neighbors. (Think of all the jokes regarding excess zucchini and green tomatoes—be sure to lock your car in late summer!)
I am also intrigued by the concepts of fruit and the fruit tree as symbols of a life of abundance and peace – gifts from God. While God generously gives this miraculous gift to all – including the nonbelieving and the unrighteous – the ability to enjoy the fruits of our labor with peace and contentment is a product of an obedient relationship with our Creator. This concept is also intertwined with spirituality – fruitfulness as a symbol of a godly life, productive spirituality, nourishing (and pleasing) to those around us. This project is about fruitfulness in our personal spaces, our own version of “vine and fig tree” growing in the yard or on the patio.
Like all art, the symbolism will have to take root in the heart of the viewer of its own accord. These are the symbols calling to my heart right now, and God has the infinite ability to plant symbols in the hearts of others according to His desires and their needs. So the images will be about the fruits, the trees, the plants, and the places. The rest is up to those who see them.
The project will be long-term—at least one year, possibly two years. Gardens, trees, and their produce take time to develop and grow. The miracles and beauty exist in numerous steps: blossoms, early fruit, ripening fruit, harvested fruit, prepared fruit. Mature trees have a different feel from the young sapling or the patio tree.
The first and continuing explorations of these themes will be through photography. Much of this will be a learning process for me as I discover the seasons and cycles of a new region and new produce. I hope to visit and revisit these spaces and trees as the crops progress and seasons change. When possible, I will create some studies plein air, but I expect to work predominantly in studio from the photographs.
I will be experimenting throughout the project: some images will be digital paintings. Some images will be pastel paintings. Some images will be oil paintings. I want to emphasize a painterly approach – simplified shapes, mindful color, strong value range. Especially in oil paintings, I will aim for letting pieces of color form the image. In pastel paintings, I will utilize unblended layers of colors, letting the eye do the mixing. The digital paintings will mostly be for the purposes of the image compositions and experimenting in color placements. A slide show of photographs and digitally manipulated photographs may also be developed.
Image sizes will be in a significant range. Studies and small finished pieces will begin at approximately 9x12, especially for pastels on paper. I may prepare some larger masonite panels for some larger pastels, 12x16 and 16x20. Oils will be on gessoed Masonite, starting at 12x16, up to 18x24. I might paint a couple of large pieces, 24x30 or larger, depending on subject. I have not yet determined the number of finished images for this project. The images will be grouped into three themes.
Theme I: Edible Sunshine (On Tree and Vine)
This will be a focus on the fruit from blossom to harvest. Sun, rain and cycles of seasons – and maybe some help from a few bees – an intimate look at the miracle of our food forming and growing.
Theme II: Backyard Harvest
These images will look at the spaces and places of these daily miracles. The focus will pull back a little to see how our personal spaces in backyards, front yards and patios become our own bountiful mini-farms. Viewers are free to consider the implications of local ecology, locally grown food, and individual freedom and control over our own food.
Theme III: Edible Sunshine (On the Table)
This will be an opportunity for me to set up still-life arrangements to paint in-studio. When feasible, I will use fruits from subjects featured in Area I and II, but I will probably resort to store-bought fruit in most images. I would rather eat any harvested home-grown fruit I might receive, than risk having it spoil while I paint it. I might include a mix of photography of harvested fruit and store-bought still-life arrangements. Of course, it would not be the first time I’ve eaten a still-life.
Paintings will be displayed at the gallery and shows as they are completed, but as the portfolio is completed, I plan to present the collection of images as a cohesive show. Meditations on the overall theme and individual pieces will be a part of the show. I might present the collection as three shows, one show for each of the themes. That will depend on the number of images that I have when the project is finished.
The more I paint, the better I feel. And then, when I least expect it, an image seems to paint itself. I feel that way about my little “Windblown” (5x7). The day was too beautiful to stay indoors, even at the Strawbridge Art League Gallery, so I spent the afternoon out front painting “Sunny Corner” (12x12). Kathy was a good sport and let me play semi-hooky outside, but the daylight was heading into sunset and it was time to close shop. I hated to waste my leftover paint, and I had no extra panels to cover. I grabbed a little 5x7 panel that I had coated with leftover paints a few weeks ago and shortly I had a little windblown palm tree in the golden sun. Thank you, God, for that encouraging little tree.
I enjoy writing almost as much as I enjoy painting, yet when I try to write about my painting (or photography) I struggle to get the words on paper. Is it because the verbal side of my brain has trouble communicating what my visual brain is thinking? Or am I simply feeling insecure about my work?
Mostly I feel overwhelmed by the clutter and oversaturation of images and words we experience in our modern world. I want to share my peaceful little paintings and encourage a moment of calm in the world. Ironically, I find myself pressured to shout over the media noise, “Look here! LOOK HERE!” to let others know my images exist. I find myself vying for that split second of attention and the acknowledgement of a Facebook “Like” to let me know that someone out there at least saw the image. So much for inspiring that moment of calm I desire to share.
So here I am, virtually shouting “Look here! LOOK HERE!” in our virtual marketplace and feeling defeated by the whole process. The experience is almost as exhausting for me-the-introvert as standing in an actual marketplace shouting “LOOK HERE!” would be. Maybe the actual marketplace is less discouraging – the feedback there is direct and personal. Real-time discussion can happen. My images compete with the noise of the setting and weather of the day instead of being nestled between selfies, political rants, and lost dog notices.
Yet many of my friends cannot easily attend the actual markets – time and distance are true barriers. Social media is available on their schedules and at their locations. Social media means I am able to see their work too – although I know from experience that their creations are far more amazing in person than I can ever see on my computer screen. But I at least can have that taste of what they are creating and not feel completely isolated. Likewise, they cannot know what I am up to if I do not share. No one can enjoy my work if I leave it in the closet.
So with a deep sigh, and a deep breath, I shout “Look here! LOOK HERE!” and offer up some more paintings and photographs, and hope someone finds a moment of calm among them.
However much we love creating art, we still must devote regular time working on it. Today, I chose to refresh some of my computer skills and work on digital paintings. The results are a reminder that I must continue practicing my skills or they are quickly lost. I enjoyed working on these and look forward to better results as I continue exploring this medium.
Plein air painting with a group has several advantages, and yesterday I was reminded of one of the important advantages: safety. We were at a new location called The Oaks, which is one of those gems hidden in plain sight in the middle of the city. Located on the corner of a busy intersection amidst shopping malls and professional complexes, The Oaks is a park which boasts a small pond surrounded by large, old oak trees loaded with big gray beards of moss. Cabbage palms sprout here and there or intertwine with the oak branches. A neatly trimmed lawn carpets the wide spaces between the shady trees. All seems serene and tamed.
As more artists arrived, we all began chatting about the day and the place, which included a comment to one artist that they hoped the ‘gator wouldn’t come after her today. Say again? The artist in question explained that on a previous paint out, an alligator resident of the pond had made an unprovoked charge at her. She had safely retreated but remained very cautious. The rest of us embraced that caution and chose locations well back from the shoreline. We saw no signs of the ‘gator, though we did note an absence of birds on the pond. When ducks began showing up and swimming in the pond, we watched closely.
The paint out was wonderfully uneventful, however, and we had a beautiful grouping of paintings to share with each other. Our discussions about these paintings – what we liked about each other’s work and the struggles we had with our own – eventually developed into a discussion about what we were really doing (informally): critiquing.
Critiques are a valuable part of being with other artists – that is, if they are properly done. I have been fortunate in that a large majority of critiques I have participated in have been constructive and encouraging. I have, however, heard some horror stories, including instances where someone felt they had the right to tell another person to give up painting. That is NEVER what a true critique is about. Critiques should never be an experience of wondering when an alligator is going to suddenly eat one of the ducks.
A true critique is an opportunity for artists to encourage each other to improve as professionals. Ideally, it is a discussion where colleagues (and instructors, if it is a class or workshop) comment on the technical strengths they see in an image, possibly share what emotion or message they bring away from the image, and offer technical suggestions on how the artist might make the image stronger. The artist can then confirm whether or not his or her intent in the work was successful and what technical aspects they felt they were struggling with. Some of the technical aspects often discussed are overall composition, use of the space, center of attention, perspective (IF it applies to the image), values (lights and darks), mark making and color relationships.
No matter what skill level or style an artist employs, we can always discuss whether the viewer’s eye is drawn to the intended focal point: is something else competing for attention? Is the intended mood or message being communicated? What might be interfering with that message? Here is where having a group critique is helpful: some people might come away with the intended mood or message, and others may read the image very differently. The artist can then appreciate what a viewer brings to the painting and decide whether he or she wants to make changes. Maybe a particular subject encourages one message while the choices of color bring a different read to the image (for example, think of what impact a sky color will have on a landscape image even with all other parts of the image remaining the same.) Sometimes an artist’s exquisite detail can beautiful yet still pull the eye away from the real purpose of the image, or beautiful mark making might overwhelm the subject. Painting is a complex, mindful process. A successful critique should help the artist determine if he or she has succeeded in the purpose of the image, and if not, receive encouraging feedback on how to bring the work to the next level.
I find that regular participation in critiques helps me to better assess my own work. For example, I can be on the alert for times when my obsession with an object interferes with my intent in the painting as happened in this session. I became so fascinated with the wonderful masses of moss hanging from the trees that I forgot to focus on what the image really needed to convey the coolness and serenity of the place that I intended to share. Yet I still have the information that I did put in the image, the exercise of painting from life, and the visions expressed by my colleagues. I can revisit the subject and use all that information to create a better painting next time.
Sometimes the toughest part of plein air painting is simply getting started. Occasionally, a setting will speak to me in such a way that the subject of my painting will jump out at me. I immediately focus in on my composition and begin painting. So far, those days are rare.
More often, I feel overwhelmed by the excess of information. All around are interesting views and many subjects for potential images. Being in a new area has added to this challenge. Each new locale needs to be explored. I find my camera to be an essential tool in these circumstances.
I start out with just my camera, capturing an overview of the area and preserving images that might be hard to find again, such as a passing light condition or flowering plant. Today, I spent time photographing an osprey perched in a large bare tree. As I relax a little from knowing that I can revisit these images later, I begin to use the camera to help me compose potential views. When I find myself returning to certain subjects and exploring them with the camera, I start thinking of those views as potential paintings. The camera lens helps me select my location, and I set up my easel.
Then I bring out my sketchbook. In my sketches, I rough out my composition, perspective, values, and edit out excess ‘noise’. Then I can finally begin painting. Today was one of those difficult days. Downtown “Historic” Melbourne is full of interesting sites – old architecture and trendy shops, outdoor cafés, alleyways and arcades, and some hints of an incomplete renovation. The waterfront of Crane Creek is in one direction with its train trestle commanding the view. Archways span narrow side streets. Bright colors enhance the details of old buildings. Wrought iron gates narrow passages and protects old windows. Modern windows mark the new renovations. Palm trees of all sizes and many varieties grow everywhere, some shaggy with neglect.
Yet I am in a mood for simplicity, and I find it on the back side of renovated building. The windows are new, but the stucco is old and the paint slightly weathered. The textures of the wall create interesting shadows and highlights, and the green is an interesting study next to the palm trees. I have plenty of material for a more complex work on another day. Today is a wall, a tree, and the color green.
Welcome to my website! I appreciate your interest in my work and thoughts. I look forward to keeping you informed about new projects, upcoming events and venues where my works can be viewed and purchased. If you see an image you are interested in, feel free to contact me. Internet sales are generally too impersonal and remote for making effective decisions about the art that is best for you. I will soon post more information regarding other venues for reaching me.
Thank you for visiting!