Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Froggie Serenade" -- end of day 1 -- 36x36" oil on canvas

Studio setup -- Day 1 -- "Froggie Serenade"

The last big still life I did was back in August, at my old house. Right after that, I bought a new house in NW Michigan and my time was devoted to moving. The two houses are about a 5-hour drive apart. I thought I'd go mad, packing everything, loading it onto rental trailers and trucks, making the long drive. Friends thought I was amazingly brave, but believe me, I had my periods of panic! Eventually I slipped into quiet resolution (no way to stop now!) and just "rode the wave" and got it all done. The weathers here along the NW coastline of Michigan can change suddenly, with blinding snowstorms. I'd heard horror stories of friends who had slid off the road into a ditch while pulling their trailers full of stuff. I was determined to be done moving before winter struck! The very last load I drove up was in my Explorer, which was packed to the gills, with my 2 cats in their cages, on December 10th. That morning Detroit was having a big ice storm and about midway up north, I ran into snow about Bay City. The rest of the drive was a white-knuckle, one-lane crawl up Interstate 75. As I pulled into my driveway, 3 deer bounded off my front lawn. Home at last!

So that is why you haven't seen any big still lifes from me in a while. I've been up here at the new house, unpacking since mid-December. And I had the big pole barn converted into my art studio, with large windows and an industrial heater -- and doors that lock. People up here say they never lock their doors. But I read in the local papers that there are thefts occurring all the time. No, I learned years ago, back when I first bought my old house, to keep my doors locked. I'd been standing at the stove in my T-shirt and underpants, cooking, when the front door opened and in walked Wiley Boley, one of my old friends from the trailer park! Living in a suburb of Detroit, I'd keep my doors locked ALL the time.

All the heavy lifting of the move did a number on my back. My sciatica came back with a vengance. I think the "straw that broke the camel's back" was when I made the gigantic snow squirrel in front of my studio building a couple weeks ago. I'd rolled the big snowball up and down the driveway until it was about 4 feet in diameter. Those last 15 feet of rolling were really hard. I don't think I'll be making any more of those!

So the past couple weeks I'd been spending 90% of my time in bed. Lying flat was the only way to relieve the pain. Massages made me feel good -- for an hour. I finally broke down and saw a doctor last week for some drugs! He gave me a 10 day supply of steroids, a pain pill and a muscle relaxer. Said this sciatica should go away in a couple weeks. I think this experience was a reminder to me to be very grateful for every morning I can wake up feeling good!

So this new still life: I knew that when I'm absorbed in a painting, especially a large still life, I forget about any aches and pains. Other people notice this phenomenon, too. I went out into my studio, thinking I'd set up a still life with the theme "Back Pain". I had a big hornet's nest and a stuffed possum (it hangs by its tail). It seemed like something I just had to do.

But when I picked up the hornet's nest, I turned it around and over, trying to imagine just how I'd compose the painting. It's a miraculous piece of construction, but there's something very unsettling about it. It reminds me of the cyclone in "The Wizard of Oz". I even could hear the music soundtrack going in my head (remember that flurry of violins, with the Wicked Witch & her cackling?). It's an ugly shade of gray swirls. Kind of scary. Did I really want to paint that?

I set it down and looked at my frog collection. Over the years I've bought all kinds of silly frog figurines of all sizes. There was something about the glimmer of all those shiny, beady little eyes that made me giggle. I'd just unwrapped a large, painted, cement frog that I'd bought way back in 1978. He's playing the clarinet. I've used him a number of times in paintings. Ah, I held him and just knew I had to paint this next still life with frogs! They make me smile.

Of course there has to be a background, and the wilder, the better! By some miracle, I happened to have a bunch of fabric pieces neatly folded nearby (as opposed to being buried somewhere and God-knows when the heck I'd find them). I knew the Asian-inspired fabric with the red, yellow and black tones would be spectacular. I've also found that it's a good thing to have a few brightly-colored scarves around, and I laid a yellow paisley scarf in the foreground. Then I remembered a pair of yellow sandals upstairs. I turned on my stereo and listened to one of Diana Krall's CDs. I've always got music going, whether it's in my head or on the stereo.

The unpacking can wait!

I decided to snap photos of the painting at the end of every painting session and post on this blog. Maybe people would like to see how my paintings progress. As you can see in the top photo on this blog, I start out with a lightly-toned canvas, with the composition forms lightly sketched in with lines of oil paint.

I'm far, far too impatient to take a slide of the setup, send the film in for processing, then project and trace onto the canvas! That can take weeks! And I think people can tell at a glance if a painting was done from life or if it was projected and traced. I just take my time to draw in the composition. There is always a lot of wipe-outs. Sometimes it takes days to draw it in. Having read "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards, I learned how to ignore that part of my brain that wants to go into a panic, that part that tries to say "this looks awful!". I just know to keep plugging away & re-measuring things, I'll figure it out. I do run into problems, though, when I step back to observe -- and I step back into a slightly different vantage point each time. That can be quite a problem at times.

I really love having a painting in progress! I wake up each morning, excited for sunrise, so I can get out there and work on my "new puzzle"!

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