This little croton beauty was my last painting of 2015. I was considering doing the 30 paintings in 30 days challenge for January, but this painting helped me to decide against it.
Doing a painting every day means you have to work fast – which is a good exercise for so many reasons – but at this time I just couldn’t get myself to jump on that hamster wheel.
For 2016, I want to take better care of myself. That means getting more sleep, eating better, exercising more etc. It means not stressing myself out unnecessarily. Having more time to spend with my family, and friends.
This painting holds a special meaning for me – similar to the adage “stop and smell the roses”. It reminds me of a larger croton painting I did a few years ago, “Exuberance”. I spent almost 2 months on that painting – the longest I have ever spent on one image. The longer I painted, the closer I looked at my reference photos, and the more details I added to the painting.
Then one day I realized something. I realized that in the midst of all of the colourful leaves, there was the occasional stem covered in tiny white flowers, like little starbursts. I had seen the stems with the buds before, but for some reason I never noticed the flowers.
Growing up in the Caribbean, there were croton bushes of all sorts surrounding us. Striking, and yet common place. But it was only when I slowed down, I could really see what was in front of me the whole time.
That is what I want for 2016. To be able to slow down, and appreciate the beauty already in my life.
How about you, what are your hopes for the new year?
One of the things I love about tropical landscape is its resilience. Even with drastic weather – drought and hurricanes – Nature persists, it finds another way to exist. If a big tree comes down, it lets light in for smaller plants to flourish.
On one hand you have beautifully manicured lawns and flower gardens, which take regular maintenance to upkeep or else the wild will take over! On the other hand, left to itself, it turns into a big tangle of bushes, trees and flowers that are strangled by vine and bloom anyway! There is a intensity about this lush vegetation, the sunlit leaves and bright colourful flowers scream with optimism, with a great gusto for life.
The landscape endures natural and man-made changes, and outlives us all. You can stand under a coconut tree and look out at the seascape, and the view, the feeling of the gentle breeze on your face, the sun on your skin and the sand between your toes is the same that someone would have experienced hundreds of years ago. Being in Nature makes you realize how small we are, how insignificant in the flow of time, and it gives you perspective.
This painting is based on photos I took in an elderly friend’s garden, when I visited the island many months after she had passed. The aging house had been left to rot away, she didn’t have family or means, and only minimum maintenance was done in her later years. New owners had plans to level the building to the ground and build something new and big in its place. Her beautiful and bountiful garden was left untouched, except for neighbours and passersby picking fruit off the trees. The roses, ginger lilies, bird of paradise flowers etc. that she used to make bouquets as gifts for friends were strangled in vine.
It was sad, and yet so beautiful.
I took so many photos that day, and then on subsequent trips. Later, I did the same thing with my Grandfather’s garden, I was drawn to it. As an avid horticulturalist he had some amazing things in there, and although it has not been completely neglected, little by little the magic slipped away.
At one point I was going to do a series of paintings based on this theme, but I guess I got busy with some project, followed by another project and it’s just been sitting waiting for me.
I feel as deeply about this idea for a series as I do about the one yesterday. And although the theme/sentiment is different, the paintings seem to go together. I think it has to do with the personification of the flowers. I’ve always maintained that I’m not just painting a flower, the image usually has more meaning to me that that … which is sometimes reflected in the title.
Hmm. The cogs are turning … time to figure out what I’m going to paint for Day 30!
Today I painted in the conservatory at the Burlington Art Center with my friend, Bridie. We haven’t painted together in a long time, and we probably haven’t painted in the Conservatory since last Spring, so I’m really happy we finally made it out there.
Although I paint from my photographs most of the time, I also enjoy painting from life. I changed the background to a sky blue – to simplify the composition. Overall I am happy with it, and although there are a couple things I can see to tweak, I’ve learned that an observational painting is best done in one session. If the weather was warm, instead of bitter cold and snowy, I would have loved to paint outside for the whole month.
The IDEA of plein air (outdoor) painting as a regular practice fascinates me, but to be honest I haven’t been able to make it work for me yet. I’d have to be organized/motivated enough to have my art supplies, lunch etc. packed the night before so that when I take the kids to school I could drive straight to the location. Usually, by the time I get to the site, set up my easel etc, choose a composition, it’s later in the day that I’d like. Then I have to leave to get the kids before I’ve had enough time to bring the painting around to a satisfactory level of finish. Today I didn’t have to pick them up, so I had an extra hour, which really helped. At that point anyway the light had changed enough – as you can see in the photo of the painting on the easel, in front of the actual vine – that I had to stop anyway.
The remedy for this is just to make it a habit, then I’d develop systems to make it work. As it is, especially in this cold climate, I’m much more comfortable staying in to paint.
The other thing I have to figure out, with repeated trips and experimentation, is what media I want to work in for plein air. I’ve found that in the summer, or in the Caribbean, my acrylics dry out too fast. A good mister (spray bottle which puts out a very fine mist) helps to keep the paint wet but not runny. Still, I do really like using my Staywet palette in the studio, but I’ve found it awkward to use on location. The small version gives very little room for mixing, the big one is too heavy to hold with one hand while you paint with the other. I’ve thought of bringing a side table, but that won’t be practical for some locations.
Today I worked on a disposable paper palette pad (the kind with a hole for your thumb), and it was strange how much it felt like working with oils, because of the thicker consistency. I guess I’ve been using a Staywet palette for so long, I’ve figured out the tools (eg. bristle brushes) and techniques (eg. dry brush) that work well for me in the studio. I use heavy body acrylics most of the time, because they absorb water from the Staywet palette – if I used a more fluid acrylic the paint would spread too much and the colours would mingle.
However today, I found that my heavy body acrylics were both drying out/getting hard too fast on the disposable palette, AND it was also thicker than usual, which somehow feels messier. That may be because the paint doesn’t have time to dry in between layers as much so the colours blend together even when you don’t want them to, and in general it feels like I’m just globbing on colour, and don’t have the control I’m used to. Of course, if I were outdoors and painting a landscape, instead of today’s painting subject which is more like a still-life, then I could have taken a looser approach and it would have been smoother sailing.
I suppose that’s all relative though, just how much you render or imply something in your painting is a matter of taste.
I realize that most of what I’ve written is boring – even for another artist – because the process of painting is so subjective. There is no right or wrong to the thickness of the paint, just of how appropriate it is for the intended application. And yet this level of scrutiny when it comes to the materiality of paint … probably speaks to how long I’ve been using acrylics, in that I’m noticing a slight loss of control.
By that I mean, in the studio if I want to add some thicker paint to a painting I push aside my Staywet palette a little to expose the glass palette below and just mix the colour there. And I have a few bottles of fluid acrylics that I use all the time … raw sienna for applying straight onto the canvas with a wide brush as a quick background colour, or titanium white for quickly tinting a colour on my Staywet palette.
Anyway, I’m going to give pastels, oils and watercolours each another shot outdoors – or maybe just skip ahead and invest in Golden’s Open Acrylics because they sound like they’d work out better on the disposable palette.
It’s all part of the journey, the creative process. An artist is naturally a life-long learner, because the nature of art is to study, explore and express our interpretations and opinions of the worlds within and without.
I’m exhausted, my eyes keep closing as I write this, I went down the rabbit hole on this painting. I knew yesterday before I started on it that I was already drained & and I should rest first, but I had several things to do first, and then I had a second wave of energy. I think now it must be some sort of adrenaline that kicks in, because I went till 5am on this painting, slept till 10 am and still put in another 2 hrs this morning.
My older boy tried to remind me, “Mom it is supposed to be a fast painting, not your best painting”. But there’s this thing that grips me, an obsession I guess, this thought that maybe I’ll get it in the next few strokes. So much can change in a few strokes. Changing the colour or the shape of something can make everything click into place & redeem the time spent.
The way I paint by blocking in colour and then pushing & pulling to build up the forms, then refining – as opposed to doing a drawing and then adding paint to it – means that I need to think through the paint, I can’t just dial it in. Or else the painting will be overworked, instead of fresh & loose. The key is to work smarter, not harder.
The problem is that when you’re overtired, your brain is impaired & it’s harder to see your way out of the spiral. Not that I was actually feeling tired at the time, but I was on autopilot. I had my headphones on, watching some series on Netflicks while I painted. It’s a bad habit I’ve picked up from my weekly sessions at a friend’s studio where she plays movies for background noise. Usually it works well for us, but I’ve been cheating & watching movies & shows I haven’t seen before, which means I’m not concentrating enough on my work. Confession time.
I have family stuff to do today, so I am going to post an older work tomorrow so that I can try and get back on track. I need to recharge my batteries so that I can start tomorrow’s painting full of energy and excitement.
BLUE ROOTS ART STUDIO – acrylic paintings of Caribbean & Canadian landscape, flowers & foliage. Burlington, ON, Canada. 905-639-3419