Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tropical Twitters and Tweets

I live in the Tropics, or so I’ve been told. Fort Myers, USA is located so far South that its climate is tropical. This is the rainy season, known to many as “hurricane” season. Today is no exception. It is dark, dreary, windy and rainy.

A day like today pulls the plug on creativity. It makes you want to curl up with a good book, a Nook or a Kindle and eat ice cream.

Hand-held devices like Nook and Kindle are fast replacing books. You can download free or inexpensive books to read wherever you are. Hey, they fit in your purse, the pocket of a jacket, and they can be read almost anywhere. I must say I love mine, and I’m addicted to the word games I download free.

Perhaps the bookcases of today will become like the butter churns and carriages of yesteryear. I would miss that. I’m going to repeat an old blog – it fits!

I fell in love with paper somewhere between third and sixth grades. I remember the excitement of making that first mark on a white sheet and wondering where it was going to take me, either to capture a vision I saw in my head, or to write a few words hidden within my heart. It was magic!

My first visit to a public library was love at first smell. There is nothing like the fragrance of books, paper and binding material to draw the creative muse from the shadows. I literally sat at a table and sniffed the pages as I read my way through several children's books. A kind, and rather concerned librarian assisted me in getting my first library card. It was heaven!

But aside from "The Bobbsey Twins," "Nancy Drew," and "The Five Little Peppers," it was eighth grade before I read a real novel: "Les Miserables." From there I discovered the classics and the great artists in history. I lugged stacks of books home from the library each week, and I snubbed my nose at the coloring books mother purchased, requesting, instead, clean white paper.

I still like the smell of paper, and tremble with anxiety before each blank page or canvas. It's all about discovery; learning about yourself, and exploring the world around you. Using simple tools like pencils and pens, brushes and paint, paper and canvas, you can change lives. Heck, you can change the world!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Painting From Within Leads to Discovery

My last three paintings have been a diversion from the norm, at least for me. I’ve tried to let my imagination and the spirit lead me into new territory.

In each painting, I started with a vision, and then tried to develop it by looking for models, ideas, and supportive materials. I allowed myself to experiment and go with the flow of the moment; sometimes creating on the spot. I’m trying to challenge myself into being more experimental; more daring.

First was my ethereal piece: “Sand Crane Dreams,” followed by a mixed-media painting called “Broken;” a look at the effects of turbulance, poverty and conflict in people’s lives.

My current work-in-progress, introduced in a previous blog, will be called “The Lost.” The young Indian boy captured my heart and imagination. The legends and lure of India aroused my curiosity, and I made a decision to use crows as a symbol of death.

I’m using a 20x24 canvas which is prepped with yellow ochre and white Gesso. When it was dry, I sketched my drawing over it. Afterward, I used acrylic to draw with a paint brush and to cement the drawing in place. There maybe some problems with perspective at this point, but I think I have a nice structural framework to work from.

I like the impressionistic background, and may leave it almost as it is. I plan to use layers of oil paint over the boy and the two crows (center of interest). This will make the figures stand out even more. Whether I go back into the background with oils or acrylic is all up for grabs at this point.

I may do one more in this series before trying something else. I’m learning that when an artist’s skill reaches a “jumping off place,” magic happens; the mind and heart lead and the trained brushwork follows, not the other way around. I’m excited to see where my brush and my imagination lead me next!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Eanie, Meanie, Minie, Moe; Graphite or Color, I Don't Know?

I’ve always loved black and white; sophisticated, alluring, mysterious. My first experience with brush and black ink on white paper was life-changing. I won first prize in an art show for my linnear drawing of a nude. Charcoal and graphite drawings have always been my number one favorite. And then I found color.

I admit my paintings are flashy and friendly; but deep in my heart of hearts, I still get a thrill when a drawing is completed or turns out better than expected: basic lines, shapes and elements that need no color to define their essence or meaning.

But when I walked into a Ruby Tuesday for dinner on Sunday, I was surprised and pleased to see some drawings on their wall. Simple ink and pencil drawings were given a square splash of color set on a white background. Later in the day, I thumbed through a magazine where another simple graphite drawing became eye-popping against a yellow background.

What would happen if I added background color to some of my own drawings, I wondered? I was eager to find out, especially since a popular drawing of a young girl online had sold many prints. The girl appears deep in thought. Diagonal washes of orange and blue watercolor compound her sadness. A simple swipe of color, and the drawing is given another layer of meaning.

I’ve experimented with sepia washes on black and white. Online photo programs can do this automatically, and digital paintings are becoming more popular. I’m amazed at the genius that’s coming out of art schools today! The young artists think in new ways. Their paintings are unique, origional, and cutting edge.

Makes me want to go back to school. Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Things Every Artist Needs to Know

Painting is a process. We perfect our skill as we practice our craft: mixing colors, choosing the right brush, understanding the principles of drawing and composition, etc.

Here are some important things I’ve learned along the way:

  • Never put your coffee cup beside your turpenoid jar.
  • Don’t correct a small flaw in a painting before going out for the evening. A flaw turns into a major change, into an overhaul.

  • Don’t participate in an art show on a windy day. A damp oil painting attracts a lot of dust and gravel when the wind blows. Choose your infrastructure wisely: an easel turns into a toothpick under stress; even an expensive frame cracks and splinters when it hits the pavement.

  • If you’re into impressionism and paint outdoors (plein air), where you sit matters! If in a field or meadow, avoid the cowpies, the fire ants, the clusters of burdock. Trees make wonderful shade, but they also house a menagerie of problems. (use your imagination!)

There’s always a price to be paid for success. When you spend more time on your craft:
  • The house gets cleaned less
  • Meals are less appetizing and more frugal
  • You go out to dinner more and entertain less
  • Your closets are filled with painting supplies
  • Finished paintings are stacked in boxes under your bed
  • You have more painting clothes than regular clothes
  • Your friends tend to be artists
  • Your husband or significant other is becoming impatient
  • You wish you had more time, but you don’t

And so it goes……..

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Picking the Bones and Other Superstitions

From the time that crows started picking the bones of dead people during the “black plague,” both crows and ravens have been the brunt of superstition and fear. Labeled “harbingers of death,” “bringers of doom,” and “murderers,” crows have never outlived their bad reputations.

In mythology and folklore, crows are said to carry off the spirits of those who are dieing or are near death. This belief called out to me when I saw this struggling street urchin from India. Was he near death? Had he been too long without food? The possibility of a painting began to emerge.

I did some research. In India, crows are considered “messengers of death” Where they are called “house crows.” Unlike their cousins in the U.S., they have gray feathers on the scruff of their necks and underbellies. House crows are gregarious, unafraid of humans, and dependent on human habitation.

An American citizen who rented an apartment in India, moved a screeching nest of crows from his front porch to a nearby tree. Each time he left his apartment, the angry crows bombarded him with pecks and squawks. After a few months, he moved back to the States and didn’t return to the apartment until a year later.

The crows still remembered him and squacked and bombarded him whenever they got the chance. Crows are an intelligent bird and can recognize individual human faces and remember them even after a year’s time. I doubt any of us could remember an individual crow’s identity.

Hindu scripture mentions crows as descendants of evil spirits and demons (believed to come from Kakasure, a demon in the body of a crow.) They are still considered a negative omen.

I wanted to use the crow as a symbol of death in my painting of the young street urchin. I don’t have a canvas sketch, but some very preliminary drawings on paper (not complete enough to share).

There are thousands of homeless children roaming the streets of India. Diseased and showing signs of starvation, they are often abused, kidnapped or used in the sex trade. God bless each and everyone of them.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Summer is a Time to Explore

I recently attended a Twins baseball game in their new stadium. It was amazing! Right in the heart of Minneapolis, this huge stadium of bright green turf nestles between tall skyscrapers and towering glass.

We had dinner at the Lion’s Pub, and afterward walked the short distance to the game. The entrance to the stadium is an extension of the sidewalks that merge at the site. Lovely baseball statuary marks the pathway which takes your breath away as you enter and see the baseball diamond below.

This experience brought back treasured memories of other vacations that continue to bring me pleasure when I remember. One summer, our family camped and hiked in the mountains west of Boulder, Colorado and had some unforgettable experiences.

Hiking under the speckled shade of aspen and pine, we stumbled across an old abandoned mine. We warned the children to stay away from certain areas as we explored the surrounding terrain. The ground cover spread out before us like a tangled carpet of green. When we got closer, the vines revealed ripe red strawberries growing wildly in the underbrush.

We munched their sweetness until we were full. Their abundance surprised us, and we kept picking until we had filled a straw hat with our bounty. The next morning, I made strawberry jam for our pancakes. Our excursion was a lesson in survival for our children and a revelation of God’s plentiful goodness.

The next day we traveled southward on a dirt road that would eventually connect to a main artery leading into Utah’s southern parks. Again nature revealed her bounty to us. We discovered blueberries creeping over the hillsides on either side of the road. We stopped to enjoy a few, and ended up filling a pail with enough berries for blueberry syrup the next morning. It was great fun. I felt like a pioneer woman, braving the elements and the wild; depending upon God’s grace for food.

On another camping trip, I’d forgotten my skillet. When it came time to make breakfast, I learned how to improvise. After our fire had burned into coals, we placed a large, smooth river rock on the embers. When the rock was hot, a piece of aluminum foil was laid on top. I fried bacon, eggs, and pancakes on the hot foil. I felt like an amazon woman, strong and capable. After fighting the rain, digging ditches to divert its path away from our tent, I could handle anything! No city girl here.

Have a good summer everyone! Make memories! And don’t be afraid to explore and experience the beautiful world we live in.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My Father The Fisherman

To honor my father on Father's Day:
I grew up in an emerald green valley ringed on all sides by a craggy strip of mountains known as the Wasatch front. These rugged giants, and the springs, lakes, and rivers that divide them, were the guardians of my youth. From my bedroom window, the mountains rose like giant hands in prayer; casting benevolent shadows on the surrounding neighborhoods and farms.

On clear summer days, the sky filled our valley with morning light long before the sun had reached its crest on the jagged peaks and thrown off its coverlet of shadow cast by aspen, Juniper, and sage. A neighbor’s rooster proclaimed the break of day, and sounds of engines starting and cattle lowing struck the chords and the notes that play out in my head even now.

On the Western side of the valley, the distant mountains completed the circle, framing a patchwork of fields and farms that spread out on the valley floor like a farm wife’s quilt. At day’s end, the sun, saving the best for last, celebrated its descent in triumphant tones of amber and rose before snuggling deep into mountain shadow.

On evenings such as this, time stood still as I watched my father practice the art of fly tying. Like a true artist, he adjusted clamp and vice to secure the hook while he twisted and wrapped the tiny feathers into place. Although each fly was unique, he duplicated one lusty specimen many times over for its ability to snag rainbow trout and German browns.

With the same skill he used to cast his fishing line in a timeless dance over canyon waters, he cast his children out to experience life. If we encountered rough waters or found ourselves in over our heads, he would reel us back in for further instruction.

Sometimes his reprimands were harsh. At those times, his words cut through our disobedience with the sharp edge of truth. Then he would cast us out again, giving us more line from time to time, until we got it right.

Because of my father’s skill as an angler, I grew up with a man-sized appetite for pan-fried trout. Father cleaned them. Mother cooked them -- dusted in flour and fried in butter, without the cholesterol guilt or fat gram shame. We dined on fish two or three times a week. The extra fish were frozen for winter meals and to keep my father’s dreams alive for the next fishing season.

Sometimes the family went with him on his fishing expeditions, wandering the byways and dirt roads of Southern Idaho, Wyoming, and Northern Utah in search of the best fishing holes. He waded up to his armpits in the rivers and dams along the Wasatch front; the winding Snake River, the wide Green River, and the brilliant blue Bear Lake.

When my father could no longer fish, he shared the woven intricacies of fly tying with his grandchildren, leaving them an inheritance that would continue on like an echo in the same canyons and mountain streams.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Completed Painting – “Broken”

The title seemed appropriate. “Broken” describes not only the painting, but the pain and suffering written on the faces of people in the aftermath of death and destruction.

The urban setting, the poverty and lonliness that many lost soul’s experience also captures that feeling of brokenness.

I haven’t decided what my next painting will be about, but as I said before, Summer is a time for drawing and plein air experiences. I’ll be taking numerous photographs, and sketching scenes for potential paintings. Stay tuned!

I’ve never shared my “artist statement” with you, so here it is for the first time.

Carol Allen Anfinsen -- Artist Statement
Thanks to my grandfather, a former biologist and teacher; my uncle, a former professor of entomology at Berkely; and my father, a fly fisherman of great reknown; I was born an environmentalist, a lover of nature, and a lover of God’s remarkable handiwork.

I believe there is spirit, voice and emotion even in inanimate objects, but especially in living things. I have a wild imagination, and I envision each object, each life speaking out – no, shouting out to me. I try to portray nature as honestly and beautifully as I see it. Sometimes I exaggerate color and movement so others may share what my inner life sees and feels.

Portraits are a favorite of mine. The slightest crinkle in a nose or the twinkle in an eye can tell volumes about a person’s personality. Faces are as varied as the flowers in springtime; as deep as the roots of a tree or the depths of an ocean. I hope viewers will experience awe and joy when they look at my paintings.