The surface of a body of water is a reflective, moving, open expanse. Beneath it, the water roils with life—rooted or crawling or burrowing or swimming, lifeforms going about their business of feeding off of each other and reproducing and eventually dying. Above it, life also carries on.
One day last July, while staying on Otsego Lake near Cooperstown, NY, I headed to the dock to sit and gaze at the water for a few moments. Looking down at the dock to find my seat, I heard a throaty, loud honk/squack. We had been enjoying visits all week from a mama duck and her nine ducklings, so my first thought as I turned my head was, “that was not a duck!”.
Nothing behind me, but as I straightened to face the side I was now seated at, I saw an adult eagle taking off from the water about 25 feet in front of me. It had been addressing my intrusion, I think!
Shortly after, I decided to make a call to my friend Jenny, with whom I had been playing phone tag. I got her voicemail, and the message went something like this: “Hi Jenny, we’re playing phone tag but I am around today so give a OH MY GOD THAT IT THE BIGGEST *#!%ING FISH I HAVE EVER SEEN IN A LAKE GOTTA GO BYE”.
The fish was directly below my dangling feet, at least two feet across, lit up by slanting sunlight. I know there are fish in these waters, despite an altered ecology due to Zebra mussels—my husband has caught some other years from our small boat and I have seen them feeding off of bugs at sunset. And yet, it was as if this big fish had crawled up on land and joined us on the deck for cocktails, such was my sense of worlds colliding.
I am puzzling out, ever since, what was so startling about this fish sighting. After all, I have been among whales in our 16 foot boat off Race Point in Provincetown—including a pod of killer whales; froliked with a mola and some dolphins in the harbor; snorkled off St. Thomas among all sorts and sizes of sea life.
I think that my jolt of surprise was about expectations, so often the case. I had for days been focused on the surface reflections, and I lost track of the awareness of how much is going on underneath and that during my daily swims, I was intruding upon their busy world. Seeing this large fish directly under my feet brought that crashing back.
As artists we are concerned with both surface appearance and deeper function and meaning. The surface is mesmerizing and ever-changing, feeding our visually-linked emotional hunger, and soothing our quotidian bumps and bruises. The complicated churn beneath, however, mirrors life in its day-to-day, demanding a nuanced and dedicated attention.
This summer has served to remind me of how much I appreciate my galleries. It can be rewarding, sometimes, to hop off that train and do something self-generated like an open studio or studio tour; or an event at a non-gallery venue. But ultimately, a gallery is where people go to view and buy art. It is a business whose purpose is to exhibit and sell art, and therefore all effort is going to that end.
Invitations generally go out in a timely fashion, instead of getting buried in the more pressing things that a non-gallery venue might have to attend to. The galleriest installs the show, with beautiful results based on years of experience. Folks walk in off the streets who are interested in art; search for the local galleries when visiting; respond to invites. A showing of a grouping of selected works in a collector’s home gets on the schedule without delay, follow-ups are done to inquiries as a matter of course…and so on.
That said, the mom-and-pop galleries struggle to stay afloat, with many more friends and lookers than buyers. So collectors, please support your favorite galleries!
And if you are an artist with gallery representation, this is how you can help:
I had a lovely time teaching this past June in Woodstock and August on Nantucket, with a full house for my color-mixing workshop in both places.
These are the demo pieces that came out of the two landscape workshops:
My week on Nantucket was filled with not only with my wonderful students, but also with salt air and good food and warm friendship.
I organized an informal gathering at Thomas Henry Gallery so that my students could see my work there, all of the sea or the island:
The Woodstock School of Art invitational Monothon in July was a printmaker’s dream. Imagine having a printing staff at your beck and call, both master printmakers and monitors, facilitating your every move. Master printmaker Anthony Kirk guided and facilitated my hoped-for plan, my first monotype triptych (and then a few more).
One 8″x10″ was chosen from each participating artist, to be sold at the show there opening September 8th, 3-5pm This is my donation print that will be featured, followed by some of my other wave monotypes.
We will be featuring monotypes and my vintage series, along with oil paintings, in my grouping for the upcoming four-artist show at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck, NY, their yearly Luminous Landscape exhibition. The show opens on September 29, 5-8pm.
Several of my summer sales:
One of my favorite pieces from the past decade, Perceived Acuity pleases me for its simplicity, movement, elegant shapes, and unusual color:
Link to in-studio available works in oil and on paper:
Coming right up, my teaching week in Provincetown, Sept. 17th for Color Mixing and 18-20th for the Landscape Painting Intensive. If you are feeling inspired and spontaneous, come and join us!
Also upcoming: another residency on Nantucket in November. My focus there and in my studio will be on Atlas/Forms of Water, from the sky to the land to the ocean, and everywhere in between.
Deep, happy, exhalation—spring is here!
I recently delivered fresh work to Louisa Gould Gallery on the Vineyard. She is currently hanging her first show of the season, including my new work, and then plans a big 15th anniversary show with a reception mid-summer. Here are a few of my additions to the gallery walls:
In other shore news, I am very pleased to announce new representation on Nantucket at the Thomas Henry Gallery. I am still working on the pieces that will be delivered in early June, but here is a sneak preview:
_____________ _____________________________________________________ _____________
My solo show at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY, Atlas/Hudson River Valley, was very well received. I will continue updating the blog post on the show to label what has been been purchased, as the gallery has kept many pieces for follow-up viewing and acquisition. I have also labeled with a G the pieces still at the gallery.
Most of my spring sales have naturally come from this Chatham show, and have included oils, a pastel, monotypes, and a collage—a nice affirmation for all of these explorations. Here a is a handful of examples:
Sold, happily, as a pair:
This show was a wonderful experience for me from every standpoint. Parting words from them when I was done with pick-up—after expressing my deep appreciation for how well-handled every aspect of our interaction was—“happy artist, happy gallery”.
Those works that have returned to my studio are back on my available work post, as well a number of other pieces:
_____________ _______________________________________________________ _____________
Iconic Cloud recently came back to me and I just touched it up, brightening both hillside and sky. I’ve done that a few times recently—must be a shift in my mood.
_____________ ____________________________________________________ _____________
Here is a schedule of my workshops in Woodstock, Nantucket, and Provincetown. My color-mixing workshop has become very popular with painters of all levels and styles, so some version of that is being offered in the three locales.
I will participate in the Shandaken Studio Tour July 21-22. More on this as it approaches—it is such a pleasure for me to set up my studio as a gallery and host visitors both new and known.
Moving forward, a September show at Julie Heller East in Provincetown and the Luminous Landscape at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck later in the fall. Plus some as yet unknown opportunities will likely arise, as they usually do…
Lately I have been musing about how, as teacher and mentor, my ongoing job is to instruct and support, while my long-term goal is to nurture the confidence that leads to independence. The ability to solve one’s own creative problems springs from having the integrated information, skill set, and resoluteness to do so. By facilitating all of this, the teacher’s job is to work one’s self out of a job.
Most teaching is done in a group setting, and then camaraderie, cross-pollination, and sometimes competition enter into the learning process. The group dynamic is both a draw and a distraction.
Artists most often work in the solitude of their studios, which can be a major adjustment for those new to the process who are struggling with issues of a steep learning curve, motivation, and self-confidence. Most of my students and mentees are fiercely drawn to art-making, but then wonder why they have a hard time getting into and spending time with their studio practice. This leads to the undermining fear that if they were the real deal, true artists, they would be consistently highly motivated. Or at least have the discipline to get on in there, no matter how they feel.
Drawn from conversation with many dozens of artists over the years, my observation is that a perceived lack of motivation is most often internal resistance that stems from very common fears: fear of failure, fear of success, and most of all, fear of meeting one’s self. And therein lies the importance of the solitary activity — meeting one’s self is the life work of an artist or thinker, and will rarely be accomplished in a group setting.
The habit of the studio lies, therefore, in the discipline. There are various ways to get yourself over the resistance, something that I discuss with students and mentees. And once you’ve done this a few hundred times, the resistance fades. For many years now, my studio positively beckons, but I do remember being in my 20s and having to summon willpower to leave my apartment and walk to my studio in Union Square in NYC, as happy as I was each and every time when I got there.
The downside to being alone in the studio is that artists are working in isolation to the point where they can get locked up inside their own heads, losing track of the commonality of our problems, aspirations, and fears. That is when the group camaraderie is needed — some honesty, some laughs, communication and idea-sharing on the subject that we hold dear.
What is too much solitary exploration, and what is too little?
This comes down to the varying needs and goals of the individual. Some students aspire to great heights of skill and originality; others might be engaged in open exploration of the path, seeing what evolves; and still others are in it simply for the process. These mindsets can also change over time. In all cases, progressing in skill and understanding is the process over the long term, and is the common denominator.
But how we, as teachers, deal with the differing needs of our students is key. It is all too easy to be problem-solver-in-chief. It is much harder to assess where each artist is in their process — a moving target — and provide what is needed, when it is needed.
This might be a lot or a little, perhaps just planting a small seed and encouraging the student to grow it. As the soup of information thickens for a particular artist, they need less advice and more reminders of what they already know, and sometimes a question in answer to their question is most productive.
Some folks do need more reassurance than others —i t is hard, for instance, to absorb information while in the throes of anxiety. And I have often had students who enter my workshops with plenty of ability and a healthy awareness of it, who are coming to me to kind of top off their information. There are always many variables.
Teaching in any form is as much about the student as it is about the subject matter, but the subject matter is the vehicle. An experienced tracker and tracking teacher once told me that his students arrive in the woods looking for transformation, but he focuses on the tracking and lets the transformation take care of itself. This tends to be my approach, especially with painting, which, as an activity, is a challenging and rich world of its own.
That said, my next blog post is going to be on a topic that comes up frequently with my students — how easy it is to get locked into a mental loop of running yourself down. My first yoga teacher used to call this the “crap tape”, a litany that we start reciting in our heads when the mood slides downward. So there are times when I am fully prepared to step aside from the subject at hand — painting or art career — and talk about this emotionally treacherous habit that undermines any endeavor.
Artists need to follow a quiet, solitary, ignore-distractions path when they set to work, even when they are in a group setting. Sometimes we can get into the zone more than others — no guilt or self-blame (avoiding the crap tape). But distractions are increasingly a way of life, and can become a habit that destroys focus, the fertile underpinning of creativity.
“‘All of humanity’s problems,” the French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in 1654, “stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Three centuries later, the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky shared his single most urgent piece of advice to the young: learn to enjoy your own company. And yet today, in the golden age of solo living, Pascal’s words ring all the more urgently true and Tarkovsky’s counsel seems all the more unattainable. The age of Social Everything makes the art of solitude appear increasingly difficult to attain, even terrifying.”
~Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
Emersion in our chosen practice is what we need to ground ourselves so that ideas can flow. Following a creative thread takes time, thought, trial and error; the slow-food method of art-making. Through instruction and group learning, students can cultivate and enhance the habit of concentration. From needing substantial help from their teacher, they can progress to consulting their own thoughts and problem-solving toolkits.
We are ethically, as teachers, responsible not for creating a scenario where the student needs us forever and always, but for nurturing and informing each student according to their needs until they can, ideally, work independently.
It is bittersweet to see our students leave us to go it on their own. But we should be proud of that moment, the moment when, for a particular student, we have done our job well and made ourselves obsolete.
____ ______________________________________ ____
See my blog post on creativity and happiness for more: https://scheeleart.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/creativity-and-happiness/
This spring my mind has been on many of the seasonal imperatives, like creating new work for my galleries on the Cape and Islands and sorting through and shipping or delivering their selections. It has also, after a huge jump-start on my Atlas Project during my residency at the Nantucket Arts Association, been very much on advancing that exploration; and the spring has been spiced up by a few other new projects.
I have scheduled a talk to discuss my Atlas Project for July 15 during the Shandaken Artists Studio Tour, 4:30-6pm. I am currently developing the third sequence, Atlas/Hudson Valley segment. This means that, in addition to other work in my studio, I will hang a grouping of each of the sections that I have been working on this year: Atlas/Forms of Water/Snow; Atlas/Island (Nantucket); and the most extensive sequence to date, the Hudson River and Catskills work and mapping thereof.
In my studio work progresses on my third prototype map for this grouping, which will include mini-monotypes of the paintings involved; maps of various sorts of the area; and a number of other elements, both descriptive and visual. I am hoping that this map will be the working template that clicks for me so that I can use it for new groupings/exhibitions going forward. This involves lots of trial and error, applied problem-solving and then experimenting with the materials (maps, acrylics, printmaking, rice paper, collage, river mud, etc.).
I have found that when I pose myself a complex creative problem to be solved, following a simple process works quite well. I start by seeing how far I can think my way into it, often using moments when I am driving or walking, and when I hit an aspect or aspects that stump me, I plant those as a seed, and then let go of the conscious effort. Some time later—usually weeks—the answer will pop into my head, my subconscious having been at work on it all the while, sometimes aided by new information that comes my way in the interval.
Here is where I am so far with the latest Site Map and associated prints:
Above and below are a few of the Hudson River & Valley/Catskills paintings that are part of the new sequence:
My new series is bringing me ever closer to the many aspects of the natural world that I have in the past observed, researched and delighted in. Which of these things and how they can manifest in the work is the adventure. As is true of most meaningful new endeavors, the space this holds for me is both stimulating and disquieting.
My first gallery show of Atlas/Hudson Valley is scheduled for 2018 at Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham, NY.
To view more oil paintings that are currently in my studio, click here:
During spring I am always preparing to deliver or ship new work to my galleries in Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and/or Cape Cod. Below are some new pieces at the Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard. She always has a beautifully installed grouping of my work on display throughout the year, so please stop by if you are on the island.
My residency at the Arts Association of Nantucket in February resulted in many advancements in my problem-solving curve for the Atlas Project; a number of small paintings; and some monotypes (see my blog post on the residency):
The five monotypes hanging below are a the results of printing sessions in both Woodstock and Nantucket.
And a few others:
See more of my prints and pastels here:
In April I flew to South Florida to do a large painting for friends with a new house there. I managed to pack in one big suitcase everything I needed, including the 16″x20″ version of the wave image that I had painted ahead of time. The one thing that did not fit in my suitcase was the 48″x60″ stretched linen canvas, which we had shipped from my wonderful stretcher-makers in Vermont, Brickyard Enterprises.
I had exactly one week to do this large piece and so, concerned about the possibility of things going wrong, I put in long days for the first several, working under an overhang in the pool enclosure.
Happily, nothing did go wrong, so we had a finished piece on the wall ahead of deadline and then I got to play, spending time at the Morikami Gardens and the beach (more wave paintings to come!).
My winter-spring show with Albert Shahinian Fine Art wrapped up in early April. We had a nice run of of two receptions—one at the gallery and one at my studio; a number of sales of pieces small and large, old and new; and an interview with the Poughkeepsie Journal containing questions that I quite enjoyed:
Several of the pieces that went to new homes from our show “Gallery/Studio: A Symbiosis”:
I am teaching four more workshops in 2017, several of them new. In my workshops I emphasize composition as well as color, and share not only my techniques, but also an eclectic delight in many styles and aspects of contemporary and historical art.
The Woodstock School of Art:
I have plans for some new pastels in the near future—its a good time of year to approach these, with the studio windows wide open (ah, and I must mention sounds of birds and the creek behind my studio), mitigating any effects of flying dust. Below is a fairly recent one, in which I was pushing the color somewhat.
Over the years I have at times felt pressure from some of my galleries to work brighter. I am very often a moody painter, though I don’t ever want to limit myself to any palette, locale, format, or mood. I do love a bright sunny day, but painting dramatic clouds and subtle, tonal color often draws me, and many of my collectors will follow me into that terrain.
With the pastel above, I set myself the intention of not going as dark along the horizon as I often do in a seascape, and in general keeping the colors more saturated or desaturated with white instead of grey. I wanted to see if I could make myself happy with a lower contrast, brighter image. And I did.
This is turning a request, essentially, into a creative problem. When people ask me how and whether being a full time, self-supporting artist affects my decision-making in the studio, that is part of the answer—that if I feel that I am being nudged in a particular direction, can I turn that into an interesting problem? And after I work that one out, what else can I do that is generated exclusively by, to use Kandinsky’s term, inner necessity?
In representational art, the formal aspects of a painting can contribute to a narrative or mood just as readily as the descriptive. This is a theme that I discuss often in workshops, talks, and here on my blog. I recently finished two paintings of the same locale and time of year—same day, in fact—using a very similar palette that illustrate this point well.
In fact, the difference between them really boils down to the mood that the shapes create.
In “Lingering”, below, the overall feel of the piece is warm and welcoming, despite the weather depicted being overcast. Putting ourselves in the scene, the misty/drizzly day creates a sheen and depth to colors in the marshes and a sense of intimacy—privacy, almost— within the landscape. On these sorts of days there are fewer people about; the air is thick and embracing; vistas tend to be limited. There is a boundary of trees at the horizon, enclosing the space.
On the formal side, the eye is led into the piece by the wide open shape of the tidal pool at the bottom left, and then is invited to move around by the directionality of soft edges and dispersed accumulations of detail. Variations of color within the areas of orange marsh grasses encourage the eye to linger. Sky and water are a mauve, relating to the coolest of the reds in the marsh.
I would describe “Lingering” as warm; friendly; intimate. And descriptive, for sure.
In the second piece, the color is the same but the feel is much bolder. Now we have a highly structured piece with assertive directionality. The eye is swept into the image by the strong zig-zag created by the edges of the marsh and moves back to a open area with minimal detail along the horizon. The detail that does exist is necessary to balance the composition, keeping the eye moving within the painting rather than being swept off to the right by the strong edges of the tidal creek.
The description of “Edge of Discovery” could include abstract; expansive; dynamic. Movement within structure.
As I was working on these pieces–about a month apart—I decided independently with each that the image needed some interest in the marsh as it went back in space. To create this, I added the back tidal pools in both cases, and then the evolving paintings clicked into place.
Even here, with a similar solution to a common problem, the feel of these pools is quite different. In “Lingering” there is quite a bit of detail to the two glimpses of white, while in “Edge of Discovery” the bit of water is minimal, austere (and right in the middle!), jibing with the overall reductive composition.
So, when we talk about mood in a landscape painting, we are discussing two things. One is the mood of the moment captured—how would it feel like to be there? The other is the feeling that the lines, shapes, and surface of the painting create for the viewer.
Color relates to both. It reflects the seasons; light; locale; and time of day of the views that we see around us. It also is inherently linked to mood and personal preference.
Kandinsky in his 1910 “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” posits that abstract elements have emotive power in their own right. In comparing these two paintings, it becomes clear how the shapes with their edges and directionality and the overall composition that they create impact the mood projected.
Unlike with color, many people are not consciously aware that these particular formal aspects are actively contributing to their experience of a representational painting. It is up to the artist to be adept at exploring the endless possibilities of these pictoral tools as the painting is being shaped, narrowing the gap between a good painting and an excellent one and finding variation in feel from piece to piece.