Monday, November 30, 2015

Emily Carr's Trees

I have just discovered Emily Carr, whose painting "Forest Interior" just sold at auction for $200,000. Carr, an artist who painted the forest of Canada, lived from 1871 to 1945.  Considered "eccentric", she determined her own path at total odds with the Victorian times in which she lived, hiking deep into the forest to paint.  At one point, she became so discouraged with the lack of interest in her work, that she almost quit painting but, after connecting with a couple members of the Group of Seven, she was reinvigorated to keep painting her beloved trees until her death.   

The following is from this website: 
Untitled (Forest Interior Black and Grey) - c.1930   by Emily Carr 

The facts: Emily Carr, born in 1871 in Victoria, B.C., studied art in England and was a competent watercolorist (instruction in oils being reserved for men). She made a meager living teaching art classes, renting rooms out in her house, and taking care of people's dogs, but her passion was for the wild--the vast primeval forests and Indian civilization vanishing around her. She studied painting (oils this time) in pre-World War I France, discovered Impressionism and the Fauves, returned home and really painted, to the horror of the critics (see above). Like most independent women, she was seen as eccentric, and ignored.  She finally achieved national (if not local) recognition when, at 57, she was invited to show her work in the National Gallery in Ottawa, where a critic declared her art "as big as Canada itself." (Emily was "thrilled purple.") After two heart attacks and a stroke, she kept on painting, saying, "Don't pickle me away as done!" She died in 1945.

Emily Carr's Trees
Emily Carr experienced an ecstatic identification with the spirit of nature, particularly as she found it in British Columbia. There the cool, gray climate, the proximity of water and most particularly the presence of trees offered her endless opportunity for artistic reflection and growth. 

To speak of Emily Carr's trees is to seize on the central subject of her work, both as metaphor and form. Like a great axis mundi, the tree centers and grounds most of her paintings. And as a mythico-ritual subject in Carr's work, the tree corresponds in importance to the centerpost often present in her paintings of the homes of native peoples in the Pacific Northwest. 

In 1935 Carr spoke before a literary society in Victoria about her art, a talk later published as "The Something Plus in a Work of Art." That "something," Carr explained, was what characterized great works of art - a kind of spiritual connection between the artist and an ideal. It was a connection that echoed Plato as well as the transcendentalists, whom she quoted. But it was more. Carr also brought the Japanese concept of Sei Do into her definition: "the transfusion into the work of the felt nature of the thing to be painted." Like Georgia O'Keeffe, Carr was receptive to principles and practices of Asian art. Carr's influences were received via other artists, particularly Mark Tobey, whose advice and teaching she had sought a few years earlier. 

The felt nature of the thing - its essence, its distinguishing core. For a painter whose chief subject was trees, Sei Do was treeness, and the expression of it her life's work. Carr had begun to discover its power very early in her career, when she animated trees in a 1905 political cartoon for a Victoria weekly periodical. Captioned "The Inartistic Alderman and the Realistic Nightmare," the cartoon was accompanied by the following poem:
"Ye ghosts of all the dear old trees, The oak, the elm, the ash, Nightly those gentlemen go tease, Who hew you down like trash."
Carr, it seems, had already seen the dangers posed by unrestrained tree cutting, a cause she would champion all her life. Trees, she suggests, possess a life of their own and should not be wantonly felled. It was an idea that was rarely popular in British Columbia, where the logging industry yearly consumed ever more of the virgin forests. Cartooning could not hold Carr's interest for long; she was after something more deeply expressive in the forest. In 1934 she chastised herself for flagging in her work: "I am hedging, not facing the problem before me how to express the forest - pretending I must do this and that first ... but the other should come first; it's my job."
By that time Carr had spent years investigating the forest, absorbing all she could of tree existence. Her journals are full of her communion with trees, her admiration of them, and, ultimately, her close identification with them. Because Carr wrote so much about her life and her artistic struggle - unlike O'Keeffe - we can more readily see how she projected her feelings onto trees. Typical are her remarks "Trees are so much more sensible than people, steadier and more enduring" and "I ought to stick to nature because I love trees better than people." The latter statement echoes that of O'Keeffe to her friend Hartley. 

In their paintings of trees both Carr and O'Keeffe made transcriptions from visual experience, and each artist searched out rhythmic patterning and movement within arboreal structure, although there is no evidence that either painter knew the other's work before 1930. Both often cropped trees, and both made much of the negative spaces between branches. Carr's work in the 1920S usually stayed closer to gritty, palpable realism, while O'Keeffe's toyed with space and pressed toward decorative abstraction. The differences are significant.
In 1930 Carr's and O'Keeffe's interest in trees intersected. That spring Carr visited New York, where, in the company of Arthur Lismer, an acquaintance who was a member of the Group of Seven, she sought out new painting. At An American Place a number of O'Keeffe's paintings were still on exhibit from her annual show. Most were based on her previous summer's visit to Taos, including The Lawrence Tree. Carr and O'Keeffe apparently discussed the painting at some length, during which O'Keeffe related the work's connection both to her experience at the Lawrence cabin and to Lawrence's passage about the great pine in St Mawr. Apparently these ideas lingered in Carr's mind, for later that year she copied Lawrence's description into her journal, though with a qualifying comment: "It's clever, but it's not my sentiments nor my idea of pines, not our north ones anyhow. I wish I could express what I feel about ours, but so far it's only a feel and I have not put it into words." 

More information on the Group of Seven: 

The Forest Lover,  a novel written by Susan Vreeland about Emily Carr's life follows the rebel Canadian painter into the British Columbia wilderness. 

Thanks for reading!  

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Magic Lilies and Hollyhocks 112415 S 12x12

As the days grow shorter and  grayer and the nights grow longer and colder,  I thought it would be nice to paint a cheery, summer, flower scene to remind us of warmer, lighter days that will return.

I start with a sketch made with a brush dipped in a mix of magenta and cerulean blue. 
Then I start by mixing some deep, rich greens, blocking in the darkest darks using a palette knife to both mix the colors and apply the paint.

Then I block in the colors and values over the entire panel.  I block in a goldfish pool in the lower right area and lay out where hollyhocks rise in the back.  Magic lilies appear in the pumpkin patch.

Once I have the basic blocks of shapes and colors I go into the details and fine tuning.  Queen Anne's Lace and marigolds dance across the surface and details added to the overflowing flowers.  I pull out any shapes that need to sit in front of other background shapes.  Here is the finished painting, "Magic Lilies and Hollyhocks", oil on panel, 12" x 12", 112415 S 12x12:  

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Happy Trails! 


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Enchanted Forest Sunset Snow

We had our first snowfall of the season yesterday!  At times, big, fluffy, thick flakes fell covering the ground but it was too warm for the snow to stick too long.  Because it is the firearms deer hunting season, I do not go out to paint in the woods although I still go out for a daily hike.  I keep Kendra on a leash so everyone stays safe, including the deer which she can flush out for the hunters.
To commemorate the first snow of the season, I want to share the creation of this little painting.  I love these sunset scenes in the snowy forest and never tire of painting them.  They are hard and rare to capture on location, "en plein air", so I like to re-capture that energy back in the studio.  The peace and beauty of the forest is unsurpassed at that twilight hour!

As usual, I start by blocking in the darks first.  Then add the snow with the blue sky, turning peach, reflecting off of it.  Then I block in the sky.

At this point, I start to add the trees.  First the major trees then the smaller ones and branches criss-crossing the landscape.  You can see where background elements cross over foreground elements as I work the entire surface.  I add the reflection in the water on the creek.

I make sure to pull out the foreground trees and branches from the background so they sit forward.  Here is the finished painting:
"Sunset in the Snowy Forest", oil on panel, 6" x 8", #111015 s 6x8 no1
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Warm regards,


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Flowers Galore!

This painting is done in the studio.  I started with several sketches to figure out how I wanted to set it up.  Plein air paintings I have done over the years were used for inspiration.  Here's one page from my sketchbook.
I sketched out the painting on the panel with a brush dipped in linseed oil and a magenta cerulean blue mix and started blocking in the colors.
 I start with the darks first and then block in the bright flowers.
  Continuing to lay in the values and colors.
I work over the entire surface of the panel at the same time. 
 I block in the sky last.  Lightening a dark is much easier than trying to make a light value (with white) dark.  In fact, it is impossible!  Now the fun really begins! 
I go back into the painting adding the details of the flowers and leaves and flowing water.  Again, I work over the entire surface at the same time.  Since I work wet into wet, I have to work as fast as possible and stay with it over several days until it is done. 
 Finished painting.  "Flowers Galore", 24" x 36", oil on panel.  #110615 24x36

Thanks for tuning in!  Happy trails!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Painting a Small Snow Scene

I thought you might enjoy seeing how I create a 6" x 8" painting in the studio.  I use a plein air painting I did on location as reference and inspiration.  The plein air painting was done on a snowy afternoon as dusk set in and turned the sky a peachy rose color.  The color lasts a very short amount of time before the pitch black of night sets in.

I start with a quick sketch on a tinted panel and then block in the darkest darks first.

Gradually  the lighter values are added.  Since this is a snow painting, there are darks and then the snow whites. Not a lot in between.  I work over the entire panel at the same time, going from the background to the foreground and back again.  I block in the scene based on the color and values over the entire surface.
In the end, I pull out any feature that is in the foreground to make sure it pops forward and the background recedes back.  The finished painting:
"Snowy Forest at Dusk", 6" x 8", oil on panel.

Thanks for tuning in.  Please post your comments or questions.  I plan to answer questions in future blogs.  If you are asking it, probably other people are too!  I love hearing from you and appreciate your interest.

Happy trails!

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Plein Air Painting in the Woods, "Waiting For Teddie"

This blog shows how I create a painting "en plein air" out in the forest.  Kendra and I are heading out on the trail to a spot a good mile back on the ridge with a gorgeous view.
The pochade and tripod are set up and ready to go.  I lay out my palette back in the studio before heading out on the trail.  I try to put out as much paint as I think I will need. I start with a panel that has been tinted with a Naphthol Crimson Red.
I lay out the initial sketch using a small brush dipped in Cold Pressed Linseed oil and picking up a mix of transparent magenta and cerulean blue. 
Next, using the palette knives, I lay in blocks of color and values.
The painting progresses. I usually block in the sky near the end of the painting.
I know this photo is hideous and I only include it to show that I was finishing the painting at dusk, as it was getting quite dark.  Before I started packing up, a coyote very nearby started to howl and scream and it was most unnerving!  I was sure glad I had Kendra with me.  She started to bark at the coyote and it must have moved away because I didn't hear it again.  I walked home a mile in the dark using my headlight flashlight to light the trail.
The finished painting is an oil on panel, 12" x 24".  I named it "Waiting for Teddie" because this is a place on the trail we would stop and wait for my old dog, Teddie, during the last two years of his life, to give him a chance to catch up with us before moving on.  He moved slower and slower towards the end of his life but he always wanted to go with us out into the woods.  I still often stop here and sometimes I think I see him in the distance catching up with us on the trail.