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After doing primarily digital work for the last ten years, I’ve been experimenting with a new (for me) way of including traditional paint in my work. For the past six months I’ve been combining digital prints with acrylic paint. I start with reference photos I’ve taken over the years, cropping, cutting and pasting, and then doing some computer work with filters and adjustments to set up the composition for a satisfactory piece. Then I print the image on canvas, stretch the canvas, and begin painting with acrylics. One of the filters I like to use in the set-up both flattens the image and reduces its color saturation, so part of the acrylic painting process includes increasing the illusion of depth and expanding the color range. Of late, I have enjoyed the effect of using small patches of color to create a kind of impressionistic collage, although sometimes the desire to bring out detail comes to the fore, and I include some realistic rendering.
Returning to the use of actual, real, wet paint in all its glorious color and messiness has been a great pleasure, and has reminded me that working with real material has some qualities that the digital experience cannot replicate. Particularly in this pandemic year, it’s been satisfying to stand in front of the easel with paintbrush in hand, rather than sitting in front of the screen to make artwork in addition to all the other activities one does in front of the screen.
Most of these images are derived from local areas, from woods and fields in Tompkins County, some close to my house. A few are from further afield, although within a day’s drive. I’ve been attracted to the same subject matter for over fifty years—the textures and environments of trees and grasses, and the light illuminating them. These are endless in their variety and fascination, when I slow down and really look.
For forty-eight years we have lived on the same hill in the town of Caroline, surrounded by acres of trees including, maple, ash, cherry, and pine. Some of the woods have been forested wisely and some are drifting through years of benign neglect.
Recently I have started paying attention to individual trees—some still alive, some dead, and some only stumps. Shapes, textures, curves, and faces have popped into view on the same trees I have passed by for years.
Each tree has a story. I’m fortunate to have the chance to imagine what that story might be. I try to find the best angle and best light to make the picture I see in my mind. The tree is quiet and doesn’t have human wishes to just get on with it. If I’m unhappy with the picture I take on one day, I come back and try again. After returning to the same spot many times, a sense of place begins to grow. I settle in to wait for best light and just be there.
Most mornings I sit at home for twenty minutes to practice thinking of nothing. Just sit—no thoughts. When thoughts arise, let them go. My morning expeditions into the woods, the time of best light, were interfering with my practice until one day, after the light became too bright, I simply stopped. For twenty minutes I rested on a log—eyes closed, empty mind. Trees communicate without words. Slow down, listen to the trees and the creatures that call them home. For me, peace settles in that place, even during a year when so much trouble surrounds us all.
I was a potter for many years before I discovered what else clay can do. For now, I have a clay that works well for this purpose and a way of starting with a very simple form that easily allows the addition of a head (thereby telling me what kind of creature I’m making), and arms/wings/fins (which convey whatever mood the creature wants). What I have now is a cast of characters that love nothing better than to entertain people and make them smile.