Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lessons from the Dead

copyright Hannah Phelps
Pumpkin Wave

Here are some words of wisdom, humor and commiseration from some of my favorite artists who are no longer with us.   In the spirit of Halloween, there is a round coven of them.

"I never draw what a wave looks like, - I draw what it does."   
- Charles H. Woodbury, American, died 1940

“Learn to look for essentials and you’ll find that both painting and life are simpler than you suppose.”
- Emil Gruppe, American, died 1978

“ By and large I see a mess; it’s always for me unbelievably complicated.”  
- Neil Welliver, American, died 2005

 "To use all this for my own expression. That counts above all. It will be my own or nothing. May be both!!!"
- Blanche Lazelle, American, died 1956

“Spring is merely a state of the mind."
- Charles Burchfield, American, died 1967

“In every picture I’ve painted there came a time when it was impossible to continue. There was a hill I couldn’t climb. It’s then when that pressure bears down on the solar plexus, that you must keep on!”
- Cecelia Beaux, American, died 1942

“My work is going badly.....I made an attempt in the field, but the moment I had set up my easel more than fifty boys and girls were swarming about me, shouting and gesticulating....On a boat one has another level of difficulty. Everything sways, there is  an infernal lapping of water; one has the sun and the wind to cope with, the boats change position every a result of all this, I am not doing much....” 
- Berthe Morisot, French,  died 1895

“....the function of the artist in life: he must accept in deep singleness of purpose the manifestations of life in man and great in nature, and transform these into controlled, ordered and vital expressions of meaning.”
- Lawren Harris, Canadian, died 1970

“Know what the old masters did ...but do not fall into the conventions they established. They made their language - you make yours.” 
- Robert Henri, American, died 1929

"It seems as if those shimmering seas can scarcely bear a hand’s touch. That which moves across the water is scarcely a happening...It’s more like a breath, involuntary and alive, coming, going, always there but impossible to hang on to...Only spirit can touch this." 
- Emily Carr, Canadian, died 1945

“I don’t paint things, I paint the difference between things.”
- Henri Matisse, French, died 1954

“And so I started to try not to duplicate nature, but to endeavour to make my onions, etc., obey me, and not me them. To add my mind (aestheticism) to their contours and let my eyes be more controlled by my brain...”
- Margaret Preston, Australian, died 1963

“We are going after the money there is in art, but the art is there, all the same.”
- Louis Comfort Tiffany, American, died 1933

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rock On

copyright Hannah Phelps
On the Shelf
6" x 6", oil on canvas

When most people use the expression “like a rock”, they mean something solid, permanent, unflappable. To most eyes, rocks don’t seem to change at all. Especially when we watch huge waves slam into them during a nor’easter or a hurricane. After the storm is done and the skies have cleared, the rocks are still there. And we are happy to see that - that amidst temporary madness, something has held fast and survived.

The constancy of rocks comforts me too. Every summer as a young kid, I could return to the completely familiar tapestry of rocks and tide pools, marsh grasses and sand bars in Rye, NH.

But I wasn’t that old when I realized that, while most rocks did remain at their stations over the winter, some did not. Huge boulders would be flipped 180 degrees, others would be yards away from their normal spots and still more would have disappeared altogether. Soon, the very first thing I would do when we arrived at “the beach” would be to run across the street to discover what had changed in my absence.

Becoming “like a rock” is staying put only most of the time. It means sometimes feeling a bit pushed around. It can even mean total upheaval at times.

When you find yourself upside down or leagues away from where you expected to be, just make sure to be the same rock you were before the storm hit.

This painting will be displayed at the Precious Exhibit at Soo Rye Art Gallery in Rye, NH beginning November 13, 2010!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Painting the Fall

copyright Hannah Phelps
Loudon Marsh
8" x 6", oil on canvas

The wind has blown the leaves off the trees early this year, but there are still places where the colors are knockout bright. Outside my studio window I can see a neon pink that I hardly believe is natural.

All this color is lovely to look at, but really tough to paint well. One painter I know said, “You have to be careful with the changing leaves if you don’t want your painting to look like a bowl of Trix cereal.”

Of course, anything challenging is worth a try in my book, so I do usually paint a few fall scenes each year. Often, I tone down the outrageous orange and red. Sometimes, I just paint the crazy colors I see. Most of the latter end up as “studies” and don’t leave the studio again, since they end up looking like, well, a bowl of Trix cereal. I am still happy to paint them.

After all, this brilliance won’t last long. When all of New England is grey and brown after the leaves are gone but before the snow comes, we will all be missing this dramatic show!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Exhibit Announcement!

copyright Hannah Phelps
oil on canvas, 6" x 6"
Newest news:

Five of my little paintings will be on display at the Precious exhibit at the Soo Rye Art Gallery in Rye, NH!

Precious opens on November 13th (reception from 5-7pm) and goes right into January 21st of next year! (There is more information about the gallery in the sidebar.)

This is pretty cool for me because Rye is the special place I went every summer with my family as a kid. My grandparents bought our beach cottage in the 1950’s, so my dad had been going there since he was 10!  We were a short walk to the “sandy beach” and across the street from “the rocks”.

It was in Rye that I did my first wave watching and fell head over heels for the ocean and everything in it - animal, vegetable or mineral. I loved to swim in it, observe its movements, enjoy the ever changing colors and listen to its interaction with the shore. I attempted my first landscape there and have been trying to draw the darned place since I was a little kid.

I am glad to have some pieces depicting the beaches in Rye for the show, including the one at the top of the post. I’ll share more paintings from the exhibit in the coming weeks!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Help from My Friends

Copyright Hannah Phelps
Pumpkin with a View
8" x 12", oil on canvas

It is pumpkin time in York! Last week, I didn't paint any pumpkins - I started another rock/wave painting. It isn't ready for the public yet. But, since I mentioned the dogs last week, I thought I would share an example of how they “help” me when they accompany me on painting trips.

That is Hatrick on the left and Coast on the right. Coast's head is sorta between me and the rock I am trying to paint. It’s okay, he doesn't mind.

At one point I looked up and they were climbing all over my subject!

Warm days like this are becoming rare this year, so the three of us soaked up every minute of it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Right to Choose

copyright Hannah Phelps
Swimming Lab
9" x 12", oil on canvas

I am painter. And a printmaker. Oh, and I also train for and compete in dog agility trials with my golden retrievers. Is this too much? Shouldn’t I focus on one thing and try to be the best at that?

This challenge, spoken and unspoken, came up quite a bit while I was with other artists in the past month. One great reason to hang out with professional colleagues is to exchange ideas. That doesn’t mean all the ideas are good, or at least good for me.

One of my painting friends asked me about my printmaking. I excitedly told her about the types I have done and the methods I can’t wait to try. I explained that so far I prefer my white-line reliefs, but I want to know as much about printmaking as possible.

She eventually said, “There are so many types of art I want to try, but I feel that I need to concentrate on painting.”

She isn’t alone. There was a lot of talk in the last month about the number of hours artists spend every week painting. When you reach 9 or 10 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week, you are leaving little room for anything else, even other forms of artistic expression.

If printmaking is taking away from my development as an artist in the eyes of these people, imagine how they must feel about entire weekends spent competing in dog agility. When artists start asking questions about the sport, their interest is genuine. But whether they say it out loud or not, I know they are wondering if I can possibly be a serious artist if I spend so much time and money on my dogs.

So here’s my defense. For the record, I don’t really feel that I need one. If you are having trouble deciding between two or more fulfilling activities though, maybe reading some of my reasons for keeping all three will help:

- I am a better painter since I started printmaking. I am not sure exactly why or how this happened, but I have some guesses that would fill a whole new post.

- Because I hang out with printmakers and painters now, I hear about new exhibit opportunities for my paintings and prints.

I could do a year’s worth of posts about living with dogs. The dogs are staying and so is agility. The top three reasons for this are:

- I have learned skills from competing in agility that I use in my art life. Again, this topic could fill a few new posts.

- Some of my closest friends are from my agility life. We all know how precious a really good friend is no matter where or when you find them.

- “Agility people” were my first collectors. Dog portraits paid for the supplies I needed to learn to paint landscapes. Even if my agility contacts didn’t buy paintings like the one at the top of this post, the more people I can meet, the more likely I am to meet new art buyers.

Finally, here are a very few of the hundreds of notable artists who, like me, refused to choose:

Charles H. Woodbury was a very accomplished painter AND etcher

Pablo Picasso mastered many art forms, including printmaking, sculpture and painting

Aldro Hibbard was best known for his plein air paintings of New England scenes but he never gave up playing organized baseball

Blanche Lazelle is credited with bringing modern ideas like cubism to the US AND helped invent the white-line relief method of woodblock prints

And in contemporary times, artist Jack Johnson has successfully built a creative life combining competitive surfing and making music.

Geez, imagine how great these folks could have been if they had just picked something.