Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Plein Air Paintings of the Adirondacks

Here are some of my paintings from the Adirondacks trip. All are in oil; on linen or linen board.
Barn at Asgaard Farm, 15" x 10"
Rock Study, Bog River Falls, 9" x 12"
Bog River Falls, Morning, 12.5" x 16"

Two small studies of Heaven Hill Farm, both 7.5" x 11.5"
Heron Marsh, 10.5" x 16"
Painting and Fishing on Ausable River, 11" x 15.5"
White Pine Camp, Osgood Pond, 12" x 16"

Painting the Adirondacks

Oh, how I love plein air painting! I've always wanted to go to the Adirondacks, so when I heard that publisher Eric Rhoads (Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine, Plein Air Magazine) was going to hold another invitational paint-out at Paul Smith's College, NY, I signed up immediately.

It was even more wonderful than I imagined. First of all, there was no competition. So many plein air events center around competitions, and I know a lot of artists enjoy this aspect, but I enter my share of competitions so whenever I get a chance to just PAINT, with no pressure, no rules, no frames, no show--I jump at the opportunity. This 5-day trip was just about a group of painters getting together and doing what they most enjoy. Heavenly!

 Bog River Falls 

Heaven Hill Farm.
Overlooking Lower St. Regis Lake at Paul Smith's College

Farewell party at Eric's lakeside camp 
Time for one last painting at Heron Marsh before heading home

Portrait Society Conference Highlights

The first evening commenced with the "Face-Off," during which 15 artists painted from models for two-and-a-half hours. There were three artists per model, and I had the enjoyment of painting alongside Ellen Cooper and Susan Lyon. All the models were Colonial character re-enactors; our model was dressed as an Irish indentured servant.

Here we are in the first few minutes. I'm trying to stay calm as I block in the major forms. 

Putting the finishing touches on my painting.

On the second day of the conference, Mary Whyte, Daniel Greene, and I presented our new work. One of the most interesting things about the conference is having the opportunity to see what other artists are doing and hear them talk about their work. Okay, so I admit I also like to talk about my own work! But whether you are on the giving or receiving end, this kind of sharing opens up a dialog between artists, or between artists and other people. You always end up appreciating other artists' work more if you know something about the motivations and interests that underly it. The added benefit of talking about your own work is that, every time you do it, you understand your own work and articulate your thoughts a little more.

Cocktail hour: with friends Diana Ansley and Linda Vizi.

Son Julian, husband Steve. Thank you both for being there!

As the awards banquet progressed, I grew increasingly nervous. Luckily, my family and friends were there. My friend Diana, the subject of the painting, had flown down from Maine for the conference.

Artists Nancy Bea Miller and Mary Walsh: tension mounts as the prizes are awarded.

Here I am as I receive my award for Year at Sea.

Award winners on stage.

Many of my friends also received awards for their wonderful work. This year, there were 20 finalists and 30 semi-finalists, a record number!
After the ceremony, the conference-goers headed to the bar to celebrate. During the evening the amazing KAWAS (a group of women artists organized by Anne Nelson Sweat) posed for a series of group photos. Hardly anyone wanted to get down on the floor so somehow I ended up there along with some other terrific ladies. You all rock!!

The conference ended at noon Sunday, and the finalists' paintings had to be packed and shipped. This was one of those times when I was thankful the conference was in my home town and the painting fit in my car.
Nancy Bea snapped this photo of Mary Walsh helping me pack up.

Monday, June 18, 2012

First Place Award for "Year at Sea"

I knew Memorial Day weekend was going to be exciting because my painting Year at Sea had been chosen as a finalist in the big international competition held every year by the Portrait Society of America. And this year the conference was in Philadelphia, my home town. Plus, I had been asked to be on the faculty, and I was looking forward to that.

A big surprise was in store, however: Year at Sea won First Place! Here's the winning painting. 

Let me tell you a little about it. It's a portrait of my friend Diana, but I'm also using Diana as a model through which to express ideas that are both internal and universal. I call this a "figurative portrait" because it has elements of both figurative painting and portraiture. The whole process from first idea to finished painting took years. I first had an idea of painting Diana as a kind of modern pioneer woman, sitting on a large glacial boulder in front of her house in Maine. In my first idea she was turned sideways, but then I did an oil sketch of her in my studio and I realized the expression I had caught was HER, and if I did a larger portrait of her, it should have that expression or something similar. Meanwhile, I was trying different poses and backgrounds. I wanted dark trees behind her head, but then I realized she is more of a water-person and so the painting should have a background of water.

The idea became fully formed when, following the death of her mother, Diana began taking on some of her mother's characteristics, expressions, and preferences. I was fascinated by this, having seen this process in several other women I know, and being aware that my own mother's life would end soon. I realized it is a woman's way of internalizing her mother, of incorporating the real mother into herself. My friend was reevaluating her life, and realizing what was most important to her and who she truly was. She was searching, and in the process of change. The expression being "at sea" means being lost, but I did not see Diana as "lost." On the contrary, she was grounded and able to steer her course (thus the feet on the rock and the kayak paddle in her hand) though she was not exactly sure where the course would lead. The process of mourning and assimilating her mother took a little over a year; thus the title "Year at Sea." I like to give an expression a slightly different slant, suggesting different ways of seeing a person or situation.

When I am gathering the reference material for a painting, I want to make sure I have the best possible information, most importantly accurate color, perspective, proportion, and details. I took over a hundred  photos of Diana, and did oil sketches of the lake shore and rocks at her feet, at the same time of day. I sketched her in different positions. When I finally get down to painting, I have all the references at hand. Here are two oil sketches: the portrait head and the foreground rocks:

When I am designing a painting, I stay focused on the central concept and eliminate all things that seem unnecessary. Everything in the painting, from the background to the water to the dog, wedding ring and pink nail polish say something important about the subject and the idea. 

I am honored to receive this award for Year at Sea. Many thanks to to the jurors, judges, and to the Portrait Society of America!