I Paint The Marge Because My Subconscious Told Me To

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I finished this painting a few weeks ago, and I decided to call it The Marge. Marge as in Margin or Marginal.

Technically, I suppose, it shows a figure (as usual, my husband Dan) walking the beach at Scott’s Landing. Scott’s is a preserve where the northern edge of Deer Isle meets the Eggemoggin Reach. Scott’s Landing used to be the ferry landing, but since 1938 the Deer Isle Bridge has carried people across the reach from the mainland.

The Marge, though, isn’t just about the margin that divides the land and the sea, it’s also about the space where light meets shadow. The liminal space, the space of transformation, of discovery, of anticipation. (Dan is anticipating finding blue beach glass.)

To me, the painting is about the subconscious meeting the conscious, something I’ve had reason to think about – a lot – lately. Because art to me has always been about reaching into the subconscious, figuring out what it’s trying to tell me. I suspect it’s exceedingly bossy.

Marge Moments

Sometimes I have marge moments where I understand how my subconscious is steering me. One day I figured out how it ordered me to pick up a ginko leaf.

When I lived in Washington, D.C., I took an abstract painting class at The Art League in Alexandria, Va., and I had to find a symbol.

I couldn’t decide. Then one rainy fall Saturday I went into the city to visit the National Gallery of Art. Afterward I walked back through the nearly empty streets to the Judiciary Square Metro stop, and I looked across the plaza at the Canadian Embassy.

Despite the Brutalist architecture I have fond feelings toward that embassy. I had a friend there, a public relations officer named Doug, who started his career as a stand-up comic in a Toronto nightclub with Howie Mandel. Then he went into the military, where I got to know him when he was with NORAD (long story, I was a reporter, he was a public relations officer). Then Doug went to the Canadian Embassy. He invited me to monthly luncheons with Canadian diplomats and military officers, along with U.S. business and government types. The food was great, the conversation interesting, and Doug always delivered a wildly funny monologue straight out of Monty Python.

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The Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

So on that rainy Saturday I was walking to my Metro stop and I caught a glimpse of the red maple leaf on the Canadian flag fluttering above the embassy. Then I looked down and spied a yellow ginko leaf plastered onto the dark wet sidewalk. I knew instantly that was my symbol for my painting class. And then, moments later, I realized why: because of my pleasant thoughts about the Canadian Embassy.

Yikes, I thought. My subconscious is in charge.

Cleveland Museum of Art

Which brings me to Janet Moore.

I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and as a little girl I spent hundreds of hours in the Cleveland Museum of Art. A print from the museum, Renoir’s Mademoiselle Lacaux, gazed at me from my bedroom wall.

When I got older I’d walk to the museum and hang out with the American and European painters. I always visited J.M.W. Turner’s Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons.

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Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons. Turner captures the marge where fire meets air meets water.

I loved the Impressionists, like Monet’s The Red Cape.

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The Red Cape. Another marge: inside meets outside.

And I always found David’s Cupid and Psyche entertaining.

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Cupid and Psyche. There’s something about his expression.

There often weren’t many people in the museum, and I got in the habit of roaming around, glancing at paintings until one really grabbed me.  I was in the Marge Zone.

Fast forward a bunch of decades and I moved to Deer Isle, Maine. Definitely the Marge Zone, the place where land meets sea and urban corporate nomads meet island fishermen descended from generations of island fishermen.

Janet Moore

A few weeks ago a dear old friend from Shaker Heights came to visit. Her name is Janet, and I remembered she was named after a woman named Janet. An artist from Shaker Heights who moved to Deer Isle.

When Janet arrived I got the full story.

Janet Moore (read more about her here) was curator of children’s education at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Her father taught at Dartmouth and had a summer home on Sand Beach Road in Deer Isle. When he died, he left the house to her, and she retired there.

I realized I had seen Janet Moore many times as a school girl on field trips to the museum. She would take us around to several paintings and talk about them. I’m sure she taught me to love Turner’s Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons.  In 1968 she distilled what she’d been telling us into a book, The Many Ways of Seeing An Introduction to the Pleasures of Art.

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The Marge. Oil on Canvas.

Back to the Marge

I wonder: Did my subconscious tell me to paint Dan hunting beach glass at Scott’s Landing because I loved that cadmium red cloak Monet painted?

I also wonder: Janet Moore certainly helped me feel at home in art museums. Because I feel at home in museums, do I feel at home on Deer Isle, as she did?

Questions to ponder.

 

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Spring Sale! Cherry Blossom Watercolors

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It’s a little painful to read my friends’ Facebook posts about cherry blossom time in Washington, D.C., when I’m swathed in wool and hearing the wind howl outside. Mother Nature is not nice to Downeast Maine in the spring. We don’t even have crocuses yet. All we have is some buds and ducks exchanging amorous looks.

Since the rain and cold have kept me indoors, though, I’ve cleaned out my studio. And I found a lot of old watercolors. Way too many old watercolors.

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Blue Cherries

This one, Blue Cherries, shows the cherry blossoms at Hains Point in Washington, D.C. Dan and I used to play golf there early on weekend mornings pretty much year round. During cherry blossom time we’d drive around the point for our own private cherry blossom viewing. It wasn’t at all crowded, which, if you know Washington, is saying a mouthful.

Cherry Blossom Time

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Cherry Blossom Time

The Senate Garden also offered a few uncrowded moments on Capitol Hill , at least when the protesters were taking a break. (I shouldn’t make fun; I often joined the protests myself.) The Lower Garden is far enough from the Capitol that the paramilitary doesn’t patrol it much either. There’s nothing like the sight of a semi-automatic weapon to jolt one out of one’s cherry blossom reverie.

Anyway, I painted these two ladies blissfully contemplating cherry blossoms in the Senate Lower Garden. I like to think they had a nice trip to the nation’s capital.

 

 

 

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Cherry Blossoms 

I probably stalked this poor woman because I liked the color of her coat and the way the light filtered through the cherry blossoms. When the right moment came I took some quick photos with my cell phone. I always carried a cell phone (had to), handy for snapping unsuspecting watercolor subjects on the streets of Washington, D.C. I took this somewhere near the House office buildings.

So … since they’re just a painful reminder that moving to Maine meant giving up spring, I decided to sell them for $100 apiece. I can’t even guarantee they’ll have a mat. But shoot me an email, [email protected], and let me know if you’re interested.

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Incite Art, Create Community

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A bumper sticker that says “Incite Art, Create Community” decorates quite a few cars here on Deer Isle (along with “Fish Forever”). Opera House Arts (aka the Opera House) has been selling it for about 20 years, and I experienced its full meaning just the other day.

Incite Art, Create Community

It all started last summer, when my friend Katy Allgeyer decided to incite art, create community by staging an exhibit at her Art By Katy gallery for me and another Leslie married to a Dan, Leslie Anderson. I didn’t know Leslie well, but got to know her during our show, which Katy called Leslie Squared. (You can see my paintings here.)

Then one day in the fall Leslie asked me if I’d like to go painting with her. Of course I did.

So on a gorgeous day in late September we climbed Kezar Mountain in Little Deer Isle and looked down at a smattering of islands. The children’s book author, Robert McCloskey, lived on the island that looked like a pie with a slice cut out – Scott Island.

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That’s Scott Island in the background, Leslie Anderson holding her painting.

I’d actually interviewed McCloskey, sort of, when I was an Associated Press reporter in Boston. Some kid from Boston College had stolen one of the bronze Make Way for Ducklings ducks in the Public Garden. When they found it – in the BC library, I think – I called up McCloskey and asked him what he thought of the theft. “No!” he said. Then he hung up on me. I didn’t blame him one little bit.

Up on Kezar Mountain I painted Scott Island on an Arches watercolor block, which has a flap that protects the paper. Then I took it home, left it on the block and forgot about it.

Scott Island. Watercolor, 10″ by 14.”

Sea Times

Six months later, the Opera House presented Sea Times – local actors portraying Deer Isle old-timers who’d been interviewed by middle school students in the 1980s. They told 20 stories of winter on Deer Isle in the olden days. One reenactor portrayed Robert McCloskey, who talked about the first and only time he spent the winter on Scott Island with his wife and infant daughter.

“Sea Times” intermission at the Opera House. Note that red sweatshirt says, “Incite Art, Create Community” on the back.

The next day I was looking for something in my messy studio and came across the painting of Scott Island. So I posted it on my Facebook page and wrote, “Funny thing…” and told the story.

Then a friend who lives on Deer Isle wanted to know if the painting was for sale. Of course it was. She had gotten to know Robert McCloskey’s daughter Jane and grown fond of her, liked the painting and wanted to buy it.

So hours later Dan and I dropped “Scott Island” off at her home. We had a nice chat about our community and then left with good feeling all round.

By the way, I later painted Leslie painting on top of Kezar Mountain.

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Kezar Mountain, oil on canvas, 8″ by 10.”

That’s how it happens. Incite art, create community.

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Island Life, Island Light

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Island Life, Island Light is the way I’m characterizing my latest six paintings. You can see them for a while at the Blue Hill Congregational Church, where the Blue Hill Concert Association graciously invited me to be the featured artist for early March. On Sunday, the Calidore String Quartet was scheduled to perform, and I couldn’t wait to hear them.

One can get a little starved for classical music on Deer Isle. (But just a little.)

Island Life, Island Light

I’ve been used to making small watercolor paintings, so these are big for me: Wood panels, two feet by three feet. I bought them on sale last fall. I hadn’t decided what to do with them. Then Ron Stegall called me one day and asked if I’d be a featured artist for one of the chamber music concerts. Duh. Of course I said yes.

So I chose the March 10 concert, which gave me a few months to (a) find a studio (b) order plenty of oil paint and (c) decide what to paint. I knew I wanted to go beyond pretty landscapes, but I wasn’t sure how.

Then I remembered what Jules Maidoff once said to me in Florence, where I was painting portraits in a studio with the Art Students League. My roommate knew Jules’ daughter, and we visited them at his home. “Why paint in a studio?” Jules said. “You’re in Florence, so paint Florence.”

I’m in Deer Isle, I thought, so paint Deer Isle. It’s not quite like any other place in the world. Not by a long shot.

But actually, one of my paintings, Mail Boat, is about Monhegan Island, not Deer Isle. In the fall I’d taken a trip to Monhegan with my husband Dan and my parents. We took the first mail boat, which left very early in the morning. The light was spectacular. Liquid and golden. Almost unearthly.

So as I stared at my blank panels, I kept thinking about the light on that mail boat. Hence painting No. 1.

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In Mail Boat, I try to capture early morning island light

Two and Three

Then I looked for other subjects, different kinds of island light. Every day on the way to the post office I walk past the green house with the pier, the shed and the lobster traps. On a gloomy January day when I felt blue I noticed how a sliver of light through the clouds gave a glow to the front of the house. Painting No. 2, Gray Day.

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Gray Day, another kind of island light.

Just past that house is the Fish Pier, where fishermen unload their lobsters and scallops. Refrigerated trucks then haul the seafood off the island. I’ve always wanted to do a nightscape, and the Fish Pier from my studio window has a lot of exciting imagery at night. So I had three ideas. I decided they were coherent enough as “Island Light, Island Life.”

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It’s very dark on the island at night, except when there’s a full moon and down at the Fish Pier/

Glazes

I wanted rich color, but I didn’t want to do wet-into-wet painting, which reminds me of frosting a cake, something I’m not good at. I remembered I’d written a story for the New England Historical Society about Maxfield Parrish’s glazing technique. So I researched glazing, and I bought a bunch of galkyd paints and solvents and mediums to go with. Then I put on my work clothes and spent a couple of cold winter months painting all day.

I started with underpaintings, or grisailles, either of acrylic or galkyds. I chose grays for some, umber for others and cadmium red for the most muted paintings.

One evening I walked past the old sardine factory and saw it glow in the late island light. Painting No. 4. The old factory is used for parking now, as the sardines are gone and the sardine factories mostly moved to the Far East. There are people on Deer Isle who’d like those jobs back. I think of this painting as Ruin Porn.

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Island light at the end of the day transforms the old sardine factory.

Island Life

I also had a bunch of photos in my cell phone of LDI Lobster, the lobster shack at the end of the bridge. They have, without doubt, the best lobster rolls I’ve ever tasted. I love the look of lobster shacks, how they evoke the glories of a sunny summer day. I’m sure no one has committed suicide while waiting for a lobster roll to come up. Painting No. 5.

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Best lobster rolls ever.

I wrestled with what to do for painting No. 6. One day in the summer I had gone to East Point for a book club meeting. It was hard not to notice the gorgeous views (I think that’s Cadillac Mountain in the background). So I returned the next day and hung out on the bait dock for an hour or so. I took a lot of pictures of the charming ruffian in the painting. We talked about the Wyeths and about cool stuff around the bait dock – the fish bones, the hidden salt marsh at low tide, the driftwood.

His image kept haunting me. I was struck by the almost magical light and the contrast between the tender way he held the fish bones and the offputting message tattooed on his fingers: FUCK OFF!

So I took elements from all the different photos and voila! Painting No. 6.  I thought about painting in his tattos, but then I decided I preferred a G rating. Maybe I’m just a coward.

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The amazing island light down at the Bait Dock. It does something to reds, so I had to include the bait shovel.

Anyhoo, that’s the story of my latest six paintings. I hope you like them!

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Working in the Winter Studio Toward a March Deadline

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During the dead of winter in Downeast Maine I feel a bit like the farmers who plant their crops and repair their tools. It’s time to stay indoors, order supplies and paint my butt off.

I’m fortunate to have a winter studio above the Island Agency on Stonington’s Main Street (thank you, Morgan!).  With a southern exposure the light is great for eight or so hours, and the window overlooks Fish Pier. So there’s always something going on as the fishermen jet off in their skiffs or bring in loads of lobsters. Even when I’m not looking out the window, I’m soothed by the glug-glug-glug of marine engines.

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The view from the window of my winter studio. Always something doing.

Winter Studio Work

I’m lucky to have an early deadline to work toward this year. The Blue Hill Concert Association asked me to be their feature artist for their March 10 concert. Of course I said yes. It’s a world-class chamber music concert at the Blue Hill Congregational Church, and I’m excited to be part of it. I especially like the pressed tin walls and ceilings that I’ll hang my art against.

I’ve wanted to paint bigger, so I ordered six 2′ by 3′ wooden panels. Then I struggled with what to paint. My friend Katy Allgeyer challenged me by asking, “What do you want to do? Just paint pretty pictures?” And I did want to move on from picturesque landscapes.

I decided to paint scenes of island life, emphasizing island light. Just by happenstance I gave them all two-word names: Mail Boat. Gray Day. Bait Dock. Fish Pier. Lobster Shack. Sardine Factory. 

After thinking about how I’d paint them, I decided the best way to capture island light is to paint in layers. I’ve always admired the paintings of Maxfield Parrish, and I thought his technique of glazing would work in replicating the intensity of island colors — when the sun’s out, that is. Glazing would  also create rich, warm grays, which is what we get here when the sun isn’t out.

I start off with a grisaille, a monochrome underpainting.

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Detail from a grisaille

Right now I have four grisailles finished, with two more to go. And on days when the wind blows and the snow falls, I comfort myself by thinking it will almost be spring when I complete all six paintings.

 

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Some New Paintings and a New Library Venue

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This summer I ventured beyond Deer Isle — not that far, but still I ventured. And then I finished up the year with a snowscape of Stonington that I’ve been wanting to do since, oh, last winter.

Stonington Winter
Stonington Winter, watercolor

The Stonington Library

You can’t quite see the Stonington Public Library in the painting — it’s behind the building to the right. But now about a dozen of my paintings are hanging on the library walls. I’d like to put up a few more, but I’ve got to find frames for them first.

The Stonington Library recently underwent a major renovation, and now it’s even more of a jewel. There’s a new reading nook, a handicapped-accessible public bathroom (a very big deal in an island tourist community) and a new energy efficient furnace. Sadly, the fabulous Vicki Zelnick, who has done wonders with the library, will retire soon. I’ll miss her.

Brooklin

I’ve already posted my first painting of Brooklin here, called Naskeag Point.  And my second, come to think of it — Wooden Boathere.

Recently I finished another one, a watercolor called Wooden Boat School Buoys for fairly obvious reasons.

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Wooden Boat School Buoys, watercolor.

I know the whole buoys-hanging-from-a-tree thing is a cliche, but these had so much energy I had to paint them. Besides, as an art history teacher once said, There’s a good reason cliches become cliches.

Monhegan

Monhegan, watercolor

Here’s a watercolor of Monhegan Island from the stern of the Laura B (or was it the Elizabeth Ann?) Anyhoo, I’d been immersing myself in Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, both at the Farnsworth Museum and at the Wyeth gallery on the second floor of the Port Clyde General Store. One Wyeth painting, an overhead view of a rushing stream called The Carry, really wowed me. Later, as I sat looking out at the wake of the boat I got inspired to paint this.

Then I did a couple of small oils, again inspired by a day trip to Monhegan on a sunny fall day.

Abie Rose, oil on canvas
Monhegan Museum, oil on canvas.

 

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Holiday Pop-Up Market at DIAA

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Some brand-new cards along with old favorites of mine are on sale for a one-day only pop-up market at the  Deer Isle Artists Association from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday, December 1 at the DIAA Gallery.

I’ve been wanting to paint a snow scene of Stonington for a long time, so this fall I buckled down and painted this watercolor of the town from the harbor.

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Stonington Winter, watercolor

I made cards of the painting, which are on sale at the pop-up market.

Cindy Bourque-Simonds, DIAA’s most tireless board member, runs the pop-up market by herself. “This is a different kind of a show for us, because many of our artists are trying something new and pricing them as affordable gifts,” she said for the official press release.

New Oil Paintings

For me, something new is an oil painting of the kayak launch at the Wooden Boat School in Brooklin, Maine.

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Wooden Boat, oil on canvas

That, too, is on sale at the pop-up market, along with a small oil painting of my friend Leslie Anderson. We painted together last fall on the top of Kezar Mountain in Little Deer Isle.  As you can see I painted it loosely, which was quite fun.

Next on my agenda: I have some big — for me at least — wooden panels. They’re two feet by three feet, and I plan to finish them over the winter.

 

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The 12 by 12 (By 12) Is Here!

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The Deer Isle Artists Association’s popular 12 by 12 (By 12) exhibit is scheduled to start Tuesday, July 31, at 10 am sharp.

Be there at the starting gate if you have your eye on a particular work of art.

The 12 by 12 (By 12) features paintings, prints and collages (also known as wall art) no bigger than 12″ by 12.” It also includes 3-dimensional art, such as ceramics, baskets, fiber art and sculpture, also no bigger than — you guessed it — 12″ by 12″ by 12″.

Every work of art sells at an extremely reasonable price of $144 ($12 X $12). The gallery hangs new work as pieces sell. The show lasts two weeks, as all DIAA summer exhibits do, until August 12.

The exhibit is important to the DIAA because it raises money for operating costs.

If you’d like to meet the artists, the reception will be held on Sunday, Aug. 5, from 3 pm to 5 pm. Wine and lemonade will be served, and there will be plenty of food as well.

I’ve shown my work in the past two 12 by 12 (By 12) exhibits. This year I’m donating three watercolors to the show.

They are: Farmers Market,12-by-12-Farmers-Market

Farmers Market, Watercolor, 12″ by 12″Caterpillar Hill and

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Caterpillar Hill, Watercolor, 12″ by 12″

and, finally, Cape Rosier.

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Cape Rosier, Watercolor, 12″ by 12″

These are all Maine scenes. Farmers Market, as its name implies, pictures a scene from the Stonington Farmers Market,

Caterpillar Hill is the view from a stunning lookout on Route 15 on the way to Deer Isle (or the way back). It overlooks Penobscot Bay, the island and the Penobscot River. If you happen to drive by, check out the informational markers. I believe they explain the disastrous Penobscot Expedition during the American Revolution. It didn’t go well for Paul Revere.

Cape Rosier is a part of Brooksville, also part of the Blue Hill peninsula. I’ve just recently discovered this beautiful part of the world and plan to paint much more of it!

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Porch Kitty

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Porch Kitty. Watercolor and gouache on 140-lb. paper. 12″ by 12″. Private collection.

This is the last painting I finished — just in time to send to my sister in Seattle as a Christmas gift. Usually I let my paintings sit around for a few days after they’re done. I wander into my studio from time to time and check them out to see if there’s some flaw I missed. In this case, I missed the splotch of gold in the lower right corner because I had to get it to the post office. So I guess I’ll have to fly out to Seattle with a paintbrush to fix it.

I’d wanted to paint this picture for a long time. When we moved into our house in Stonington, Maine, in September 2015, I took some photos to send to family and friends. This photo of our cat Brownie was one of them.

I loved the light and shadows, and envisioned a painting based on quinacridone gold. It’s one of my favorite colors. I bought a big tube of it once at Utrecht in Washington, D.C., and the clerk said I’d never go through it. She was wrong.

I thought long and hard, by the way, about making Brownie more identifiably cat-like — curled up in a ball so you could see her face and whiskers. But I decided against it. Part of the appeal of the image was that it conveyed a mood — complete abandon to the sunshine’s warmth.

I knew an artist who told me (haughtily) she never painted from photos. At the time she was in the process of taking her mother’s antiques to an auction house. Perhaps if she painted from photos she wouldn’t have needed to sell those antiques. Painting from life is limiting: You’re stuck doing still lives and stationary people and landscapes in good weather. Plein air snobs miss out on so much. And the creative achievement in art isn’t in the reproducing, it’s in the seeing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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