Monday, March 12, 2012

a creative collaboration with my wife

Today my wife Kris and I finished working on a little creative collaboration that only took us a few days and was inspired by a visit to a local art gallery here in Leesburg, Virginia a couple of weeks ago. I consider myself a very fortunate guy, 'cause in addition to my wife being the most wonderful person I could have met and married, she's a fantastic artist and all around creative individual, which is how we met in the first place. That however is an altogether different, and much longer story. 

About two weeks ago we visited the PDMP art gallery in the historic part of Leesburg, because I read they had some genuine Audubon and Hokusai prints there. I had never been to this place and the few times we tried to visit, it was closed. Fortunately, this time it was open, and the gallery owner (who simply went by Bill) was more than happy to share his fascinating story of how he got into collecting and dealing with historic art prints. The Audubons were beautiful and I would have loved to have bought one of the couple of Hokusai prints (one from his 36 Views of Mount Fuji series), but that was five-hundred bucks I didn't have at the time. Still, not a bad price to pay at all for a piece of art by one of the greatest artists of all time, period. Anyway, later that night, Kris and I were searching online for a film to watch on Netflix. This time it was my turn to pick, and while she picks stuff more along the lines of "chick flicks", which I sadly admit getting into more than her most of the time, I like the documentaries and art films. I noticed there was an Audubon documentary ("American Masters: John James Audubon: Drawn From Nature"), so in the spirit of our day, we ended up watching it not once, but twice, that's how good it was. Originally I had never been a huge "fan" of Audubon's art, and of course while it was very disheartening to see how many birds he killed to bring his incredible work to life, he was an amazing individual with a tireless curiosity, who later in life became something of an advocate for the conservation of nature. After the film, I had learned to appreciate his work even more than I previously had, and as a strange coincidence, a few days later, Kris wanted to go to a local bookstore we never go to, where I discovered and promptly bought a great book called Audubon's Masterpieces, for sale outside the store's door. 

Perhaps some of my interest in Audubon's work has been inspired by the birds I've been painting recently as part of my graduate painting classes, and the photos I've based them off of. This interest also led to the collaboration between Kris and I, which was her idea, after we finally got some new "grown-up" furniture (as Kris calls it, after years of hand-me-downs and futons) in the living room. As artists, about 95% of the stuff we have hanging on the walls was created by us, mostly Kris. The paintings she made that were formerly part of the living room ambience weren't really working anymore with the three piece sofa, loveseat and chair set we bought last President's Day, so we were racking our brains out trying to figure out what to replace them with. Kris suggested we do birds, riding on the wave of inspiration from Audubon and the grad class. Her vision was that one would represent the Caribbean, namely Trinidad, her home country, and one North America, in this case Virginia and the eastern portion of the states. So we ended up going with the Scarlet Ibis and the Blue Heron, which surprisingly didn't take too much deliberation at all, as far as choosing was concerned. Kris described how she wanted to see them on the wall, in some frames, then we went and quickly found some very good, inexpensive frames at the local AC Moore last Saturday. Later that day, I printed out some images from the internet, cut some paper to fit with the frames, then sketched the birds out lightly in pencil, later inking them in pen (see above images). The image searching, sketching and drawing took me no more than two hours, and later the following night Kris managed to paint and complete the Ibis in a little over an hour. Today she managed to work on and complete the heron, painting both birds using her watercolor sets (see photos below), which turned out beautifully. 

Normally I don't like the idea of art being made to fit somebody's decor, and perhaps the work we made would fall more under the category of illustration. Whatever the case, people who like art will hang it on their walls, for both themselves and others to see, and in this case, we needed something on that bare wall desperately, and who else could get the job done the way we wanted but us (see below photos).

As a result of such a successful collaboration with my wife, we've been brainstorming lots of new and potentially exciting ideas which would result in further exploring this collaborative process even more. We'll see. In the meantime, I couldn't be more happy with the results.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

heron finished for now

Great Blue of Plaza Street
36" x 36"
acrylic on canvas

I took the photo of the painting above after work and before taking the piece to our first critique at the Spring grad class I'm taking. So we're over halfway finished with the class and this is all I've got done so far. It was to my relief that I wasn't the only one with one or two paintings to show, as I think folks who, like me, were in the previous class are also learning to slow down, focus and work more critically. I know that a lot of the reason it's taking me so long is the size I'm working with, though unlike with the last painting (the big turkey vulture), which was the same size, this one doesn't seem so large anymore. Still, I think the 36" x 36" dimension is about as big as I want to get for now. The painting itself is also, for now at least, finished, though I no longer consider a work ever quite finished, and I've got a feeling that in a week or so, things I haven't noticed before about this one will become painfully obvious, as far as touch ups, details, etc. are concerned, but I need to move on to the next one now and at least get two paintings done by the end of class (my original intent was to complete three, but that probably won't be happening).

I'm focusing now on the concept of how local wildlife adapts, survives and even thrives in increasingly congested, human populated areas, in this case, in the suburbs of Leesburg and Northern Virginia. I've amassed, over the last couple of years or so, quite a few photos of animals dwelling in both natural and man-made (and sometimes both) places in and around where I live. The heron was no exception, and it was something I would have missed if I had not been actively looking on my way home from work. One thing about painting and taking lots of pictures of your surroundings is that it causes you to look around more and mentally comprehend your surroundings more thoroughly. What was fascinating about this gorgeous bird was how it stood like an almost majestic monument to calm and stillness, in this relatively small patch of woods near a neighboring road, bustling with cars full of people in a rush to get to somewhere. I was really fortunate that it stuck around long enough for me to be able to get my camera (which I need to carry with me more), run down the street, cross the road and sneak up to it from behind, from about twenty yards away, where I got a couple of good shots before it quickly, gracefully disappeared into the trees. I knew right away that this mighty bird would be the first subject of my next painting, which for now, I'll call done.