Monday, November 20, 2017

Braving the Elements

After a busy summer and fall art show season, the closing months of this year mean that it's time for me to turn my focus to preparing for 2018. An important element of my preparation for the year ahead is to gather source material and inspiration during these quieter months when I'm not in the midst of a packed show schedule.

I just returned from a brief trip to Chicago, where I delivered a large cityscape painting to a collector, visited family, and then slipped into downtown for a day to browse the Art Institute of Chicago and snap some reference photos. These opportunities to prowl the city and look at beautiful artwork while also gathering ideas are absolutely essential to sustaining my creative energy during my busy exhibition season.

Futago Islands, Matsushima by Kawase Hasui, 1933

With apologies for my reflection in the photo, this is
Futago Islands, Matsushima by Kawase Hasui, 1933

The Art Institute had a fantastic exhibition of Japanese prints on display. It was right up my alley: "City and Country: Prints from Early 20th Century Japan." Thanks to my past visits to the Freer Museum of Art in Washington, DC, where they specialize in Asian artwork, I've gained a great admiration for Japanese woodblock prints.

A rain-soaked view below the elevated train
platform in downtown Chicago

After spending some time at the museum, I ventured out into the downtown area of Chicago. A cold rain descended not too long after I stepped outside. While it made things challenging (digital cameras are not built for wind-driven rainfall), I was able to find several interesting subjects that will become the basis for upcoming cityscape paintings in the coming months.

This change of scene from nearby East Coast cities, such as Philadelphia and New York, is so vital for me. I love the different energy and subjects in new venues, so it makes braving the elements worthwhile. Besides, Chicagoans are so polite that they won't even step in front of me when I line up to take a photo. Not only is the city full of interesting architecture and cool vistas, the people are nice, too! Stay tuned in the coming months for the fruits of this labor.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The finishing touches on Finding Centre

Uff dah! I'm almost across the finish line for a local exhibition of brand new paintings featuring my home, Centre County, Pennsylvania. I'm really excited about this show because not only did I get to work with my friend and fellow artist, Alice Kelsey, we also partnered with a local land preservation organization, Clearwater Conservancy. Thanks to their generous support of this endeavor, Alice and I were able to visit beautiful locations that they've preserved within our community in recent years.

Painting en plein air at the Meyer Dairy Farm in State College, Pennsylvania.

Despite being laid low by a nasty respiratory flu for the past few days, I've been busy with the finishing touches on many new paintings, taking care of details that range from varnishing to framing. Shown here are a couple of "behind the scenes" moments from the work behind this new exhibition. I hope to see you at the opening reception at the State College Framing Company and Gallery this Saturday, November 4 from 4:30pm to 7:30pm.

Framing Frenzy! Putting the final touches on framing a small original, Winter Study, Upper Brush Valley Road.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

It's a Wrap!

Uff dah!

My 2017 outdoor art show season is finally in the books. This year featured travels from Illinois (twice) to New York and down to Virginia (twice), in addition to my home state of Pennsylvania. Needless to say, it's been a busy show season since April.

Tools of the Trade A peak into my cargo van with my trusty art show chair and carrier rack for large paintings. I don't know what I'd do without ratchet straps.

I've made some new artist friends this year and I continue to learn about the wild and woolly world of exhibiting my artwork and relating to the public about what I create. I was fortunate to be able to structure my schedule this year to avoid the hottest months of July and August. With any luck, I'll try to do that again in 2018 because if the science is to be believed, we're getting hotter and the environment for these art shows is changing.

Landscapes on Display A grouping of Pennsylvania landscapes, and one Wisconsin piece, on display in Illinois during a show earlier this year.

Per usual, I'm looking forward to trying some new ideas with my artwork during the quieter winter season. In the meantime, stay tuned for my local exhibition right here at home, "Finding Centre," beginning in November. I'll be busy finishing up new paintings for that show and it won't require any long distance travel - hooray!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Yeoman's Work

Springtime, Reeds Gap 8 x 10 oil on linen panel. I painted this en plein air in central Pennsylvania's Reeds Gap State Park.

My first "real" job after I finished college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was a full-time gig at a non-profit organization in Madison, Wisconsin. Back then, I did web site development and computer programming. My job with the non-profit was a new one within the organization and it had nothing to do with my recently-earned degree in art, but it paid the bills and it offered a pleasant place to work.

Following my initial 6-month probationary period, I received my first performance review. It was positive. One thing that my supervisor wrote stuck out to me because I didn't understand it: "Sarah is doing yeoman's work."

I had to take my 21-year old self to the nearest dictionary and look up the phrase yeoman's work:

of, pertaining to, composed of, or characteristic of yeomen: the yeoman class....performed or rendered in a loyal, valiant, useful, or workmanlike manner, especially in situations that involve a great deal of effort or labor

I was grateful for the acknowledgment of my effort and the compliment. Fast forward all these years later, and that term still resonates with me. Throughout my career as an artist, I've tried to maintain this demeanor throughout what I do. Traveling to outdoor art shows, gambling on the weather and so many elements outside of my control is hard work, even beyond long hours logged in my studio to create my artwork.

This past week, our family lost a loved one following a valiant battle against cancer. Like so many others afflicted with this dreadful disease, he was far too young. Witnessing his death and supporting my husband through this loss got me thinking again about this phrase yeoman's work.

I don't have kids, just a couple of spoiled dogs. For me, my artwork is my legacy in this world. Indeed, one of the biggest reasons why I jettisoned my bright career in computer programming and web site development was because it all seemed so empty to me. I felt that the very next day, I could be replaced and the next person could come in, re-write the code, re-design my projects and poof, there would be no evidence that I was ever there. I wanted to make use of my intrinsic drawing talent and my creativity.

Losing our loved one last week reinforced and reinvigorated this desire to create and to do it well. For as the definition above indicates, being an artist requires a great deal of effort and labor. In the coming months, I'm looking to renew my dedication to what I do. As I saw all too plainly last week, life is short, life is fast. It's such a cliché, but there is no time to waste. And it takes a lot of work to maximize the time we have.

Shown here is a small plein air landscape that is a kick start to this renewed devotion to my work. "Springtime, Reeds Gap" was begun earlier this season in central Pennsylvania's lovely Reeds Gap State Park. I was really pleased with the start that I got on this motif, but I wanted to polish it up in my studio with the final details. I brought it home and I looked at it for days, then weeks, and then a couple of months.

After returning from a harrowing family trip to support others in a time of need and loss, I found that I was having a hard time getting back into the groove in my studio. I was emotionally drained. Suddenly, I realized that I was finally at the perfect point to finish this painting. I rarely sign my paintings with my full name. But following the loss of our loved one, I wanted to add an exclamation point to the first painting finished after the emotional turmoil of shock and grief.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Finding Center, or "Centre"?

Work in progress on my field easel: From the verdant Buffalo Run Farm, just south of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

Despite a lot of heavy rainfall this spring (my garden tomatoes are giving me dirty looks), I've managed to thread the needle on a few beautiful days to get out in the field and do some plein air landscape painting as I begin work on a really cool and exciting project for later this year.

I'm partnering with a friend and fellow artist, Alice Kelsey, as well as a local non-profit land conservation group, Clearwater Conservancy, to feature the scenery of our home surroundings here in Centre County, Pennsylvania. The exhibition will open in early November at the State College Framing Company and Gallery and it will highlight the juxtaposition of our area's rural beauty with the small towns and notable landmarks of our area. I'll have more specifics for you later this summer.

Work in progress on my field easel: From the gorgeous panoramic of Everhart Farm, along the edge of State College, Pennsylvania.

We're calling this exhibition "Finding Centre," a play on our county's name and a reference to the balance between town and country themes. Thanks to Clearwater Conservancy, we've been out to some truly beautiful properties. Last week, we spent time on a farm that dates back to the late 1800s, and we got to meet a 3-week old foal! My outdoor art show season has begun in earnest, and after returning from a soggy, stormy, and exhausting trip to an event in Illinois, the opportunity to pet the muzzle of a baby horse was exactly the balm I needed for my soul. It did indeed help me to get re-centered and re-energized.

Baby Horses? Yes, please.

I'll post more photos of our outings as we work on this project throughout the summer. Stay tuned for more sneak previews!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Recent Figurative Work

I kicked off my 2017 outdoor art show season a few weeks ago with my first event in Arlington, Virginia. Since that time, I added an additional event to my schedule and I've been getting out of my studio a bit to focus on plein air landscape work as the weather improves in central Pennsylvania.

But as I head off to my second show, Art on the Square in Belleville, Illinois, I'm excited about some new figurative paintings that I will debut at this event. I'd like to share more with you about them.

Superflash 36 x 36 oil on canvas.

The first new painting is a large oil on canvas called "Superflash." I caught this individual during a beautiful, bright, sunny day in Milan, Italy. If you follow my artwork, then you know that anonymous passersby and storefront displays figure prominently in my cityscapes. I really enjoy exploring the interaction between people and mannequins or their own reflections. This motif was no exception. The bold shapes of this composition coupled with the brilliant touches of pure orange captivated me.

Come Along, Fluffy 8 x 12 oil on panel

The next new painting is much smaller, a brilliant jewel of color and energy inspired by a duo that I observed this past winter in Lower Manhattan. "Come Along, Fluffy" is my first cityscape to feature a dog, which is a little odd because I'm a fanatical dog person and I've been painting for almost 15 years now. But maybe this will be the start of something new? Stay tuned...

Arclight 20 x 30 oil on canvas

Finally, there is "Arclight," my latest interpretation of a frequent source of inspiration: Times Square in New York City. Look, you gotta understand: as a kid who grew up among the endless corn fields of southern Wisconsin, New York City was always a distant, exotic dream destination for me. Now that I live in Pennsylvania, I'm able to visit the city a few times each year. And I never tire of the ostentatious but exuberant Times Square.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Months in the Making

A crazy summer art show season is set to begin, but before diving into that, I slipped away to Philadelphia this past weekend to deliver my largest-ever painting (so far!) to a wonderful client.

"Little Italy Morning" is a 36" x 72" oil painting that grew up out of a study from Lower Manhattan that I created last year. I won't write much here, but I'll let you take a look at the time elapsed working process from start to finish, including its installation in my client's home. This was a months-long process for me, and I enjoyed the challenge of working in a large format for a cityscape. Indeed, this is one of the main reasons why I added oil painting to my body of artwork beginning a few years ago: the freedom to work in larger formats than what I could do with pastel.

Stay tuned, there may be more large format pieces in the future...

The Very Beginning - I work in freehand for everything that I create, so I don't use projectors or other mechanisms to "trace" my compositions into place. If you click this image to enlarge it and look carefully, you'll see that I've divided the canvas into four quadrants to help anchor the main elements of the composition. At this point, it's just a straightforward matter of sketching in the composition with earth tones.


Early Colors - The process of working in oil painting is very similar to my "native" medium of pastel in that I work from dark shadow tones forward to midtones and then highlights. In addition, I like to start in the distance and then work forward in a composition like this.


Almost Finished on the Easel - I have two easels in my studio, and when I finished this piece and removed it, my studio felt empty.


Final - The completed painting.


In its New Home - I'm here with my client and I'm pleased to report that I didn't pound a million mistaken holes into his wall...I hung it level on the first try - hooray!

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Whither Winter?

The Scotia Gamelands of central Pennsylvania after our first winter snowfall during the last week of January.

I love winter. This is probably because of my Wisconsin roots. I grew up in rural southern Wisconsin, just north of the lovely capitol city of Madison. In marked contrast to my life in Pennsylvania, the land back home was largely flat. The roads were wide, straight and true. Every intersection was perfectly perpendicular, unlike the narrow, meandering countryside roads that traverse the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania and then meet in all sorts of odd intersections.

With all of this flat open space, when it snowed in Wisconsin it also drifted in the unrelenting winds that howled in all the way from the Dakotas. The plow trucks were equipped with giant blades, and after exceptional snowfalls it wasn't unusual to see the plowed roadside banks rise up to better than half the height of the telephone wires running alongside the roads. Driving down the roads then became a weird exercise in shooting down a narrow tube-like corridor.

I love winter. And with 2016 marking the third straight year of record global warmth and early 2017 marking a continuation of this phenomenon, I'm concerned about the future fate of this season. Here in Pennsylvania, we finally got our first snowfall of a few inches last week. We got a little more this week, but then it was followed by rain (boo, hiss). We've had light, nuisance dustings of snow since late December, but this was the first reasonable amount that I could go out and work with for my painting. I'm sorely disappointed, although I know that snow alone does not signify or refute man-made climate change.

Detail from Scotia: A green fern peeks out from under a fresh snowfall.

Nonetheless, as an artist, I pay attention to the details of the world around me. I see that for the past two months of January (this year and 2016), the robins have already migrated back to my garden. I also see when the plants in my garden get an early start in the unusual warmth, lengthening my growing season but making pest management much more difficult, too.

As an artist, I also like to learn. I like to maintain a curiosity for the events transpiring around me. For this reason, a couple of weeks ago I attended the first of a series of free talks sponsored by the Penn State University Eberly College of Science. The 2017 theme is "The Quest for One Healthy Planet," and the kick-off speaker was renowned climate scientist, Michael Mann.

During his presentation, Dr. Mann illustrated how man-made influence is re-shaping the climate and our world. Did you know that absent man-made carbon contributions, we would actually be in a global cooling trend?

Based on what I've read, including the excellent but altogether horrifying "The Sixth Extinction" by Elizabeth Kolbert, I believe that man-made climate change is occurring right now, right here. I realize that some of you reading this may take offense or vehemently disagree with this, but based on things I've seen, research done by people a heckuvalot smarter then me, and my own reading, this is my conviction. In my future posts, I'll touch more on this topic. But for right now, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a little more winter before we get into another sultry summer. After all, winter makes for beautiful paintings.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What's New in the New Year?

Yikes! It's a new year already, and although I don't believe in making resolutions, I do like to use this time of a year as an opportunity to assess where I'm at with my painting and to set up new goals for the year ahead. It's easier for me to slow down and think at this time of year than it is during the summer or fall, when I'm usually up to my eyeballs in exhibiting at outdoor art shows or plein air painting while the weather is advantageous.

In a rather anticlimactic way to kick off the new year, I've been taking the time to clean up my studio space. Sometimes, you have to clear the cognitive clutter in order to focus more effectively on creative work. In addition, the re-organization of my studio space reflects a change in direction for me. This past year, I transitioned from working exclusively in the pastel medium to adding oil painting to my body of artwork. This year, my goal is to work exclusively in oils. New year, new me? Maybe.

Manhattan Mist 36" x 36" oil on canvas.

Why the change? A few reasons. First, pastels are exceptionally dusty to work with. I love the medium, but I hate the mess. And after more than a decade of dealing with it in our home (my studio is above our garage), I decided to pull the plug on it. Second, I participated in my first outdoor art shows with my oil paintings last year and it went well. Those "trial balloon" events gave me some positive feedback that I"m on the right track with my ideas and my approach. Finally, I've been ready for a change for a couple of years now. It's high time to do something different, and the new challenges of this medium have revitalized me. Thanks to some excellent workshops and instruction from other professional artists, I'm excited about the possibilities of this year and more years ahead.

My first new painting of 2017, "Manhattan Mist," is shown here. This is a 36" x 36" oil on canvas based on a smaller study that I completed late last year. This is a view across midtown Manhattan, along West 48th Street. Enjoy!