Thursday, January 28, 2010

Introducing Some Red

There were such wonderful and thoughtful comments after my last post that I have decided to continue the discussion about this painting. Thank you if you left a comment. I love having other people's opinions, even when I choose to ignore them! It seems most of you were generously encouraging me to include what ever plants and animal combinations are appropriate to my artistic vision. But I am leaning more toward science in this one and have added some red twig Dogwood and some Oregon grape. Both are native to this area, though whether or not they would ever be found in a grouping like this I will not worry about.

I didn't mention that this painting is four feet wide so there is lots of room to play with. I want a dramatic effect as though we have come across this hare in a sunny clearing, with the foreground in shadow. This is causing me such problems and my always helpful family keep pointing out that the snow in shadow looks more like dryer lint than snow.

And this grouping of snow covered berries in shadow looks more like a manatee than anything else! Clearly I need to get back into the studio and work on this.

I am really enjoying the way the edge of the Oregon Grape leaf forms a zig zag. I could never think these things up. Nature amazes me as always!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Question

This unfinished painting of a snowshoe hare in a winter landscape has crystallized a question that has been looming in my work as, over the past few years, my paintings have become more realistic and less surrealistic. I used to invent plants and creatures and set them in imagined spaces but now I am happier painting "real" plants and animals copied accurately from nature.

But the accurate depiction of a plants and animals is still not the purpose of my work - it is just the language I use to tell the story. The animals represent me, or you the viewer, surrounded by a world of emotion. For this reason, I do not consider myself a "wildlife artist" or a "botanical artist". I suppose I am anthropomorphising the world, even though I don't dress my animals in cute clothing and give them cell phones and cars. I paint, not so much the world around me, as the world inside me.

I use nature as my language and she kindly provides me with plants and animals more fantastic than anything my imagination can conjure up. I also feel so humbled by the world around me that copying nature as accurately as I can has deep meaning for me. It now feels arrogant to try to invent anything to rival what nature has developed over the Milena. So I have reached a place where the plants and animals are as real as I can make them.

But how far should this go? In this painting I have invented a snowy landscape full of snowberries. This part is scientifically possible. Snowberries, snowshoe hares and snow can all be found together in nature. But now I find I want to introduce some color to this painting and have been tempted to paint one of those beautiful Yuletide camellias with the deep red flowers which would turn my nice sciencey landscape into something imaginary. Should I honour nature by assembling only the elements that she herself has orchestrated? Or should I clumsily throw in all sorts of plants that showshoe hares would never encounter in the wild? Would this be sloppy? Arrogant? I want to be sensitive to my environment. It feels right to honour the natural world and, as I write this, I feel myself leaning toward science and away from fantasy. Surely I can still tell the stories I want without messing around with the natural world.

I welcome any opinions on this "nature" vs "nurture" question. Really it is "reality" vs "fantasy". Robert Bateman vs Mark Ryden. Ouch my brain. Is it ok if I still indulge in a few flying weasels when the need arises?

Robert Bateman

Mark Ryden

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I am thinking about Haiti of course. The sunrise yesterday lifted my spirits a little. I took this one facing east.

And this one facing west. I have never seen the water so pink. The beauty was breathtaking but also vaguely unsettling.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

After the Storm

I love the drama of stormy weather. My cosy studio or my cosy coat and boots keep me safe from any real danger and discomfort. I suppose that is the difference between something thrilling and something truly frightening. I feel the same way about my emotional life. Usually I stay safe and cosy but sometimes I venture out into the big, beautiful, thrilling world to find adventures that make my heart beat faster.

This painting shows the snowberries that decorate Seattle in the darkness of winter and the beauty berries (calliparpa) that I love so much this time of year. It is oil on panel and measures 11'x14".

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Snowshoe Hare

I have painted snowshoe hares before but always in their winter white coats. This one is still wearing her brown summer fur and is looking at the snowberries as if wondering when she should change her own color.

I love these fluffy characterful animals and find them even more interesting now that I am aware of how much they are affected by climate change. I recently read an article that described how some hares are changing their fur color to white in the winter even though their habitat doesn't become snowy any more. This leaves them uncamouflaged and even more vulnerable to predation. Sorry to describe something so sad here on the blog.

A funny story about this little painting might cheer us up. When it was freshly wet I brought it down to the house to prop it on the fireplace mantel to dry over night. As I was doing this is slipped out of my hand and landed face down on the hearth rug, where the cats sleep. When I picked it up it was so covered with cat fur that I spent half an hour with a scalple picking the hairs off my hare. Yes I know I should vacuum more often but there are so many paintings that I want to make and I hate vacuuming, don't you?

This little study is oil on canvas and measures 8"x10". If you visit the article about climate change here you can see the photograph that inspired this painting.