Tennessee Quartets


There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.
—Thomas Jefferson

Light's Last Caress

Have you ever stood in the middle of the crossroads, wondering which direction would be best for your journey? And when you finally choose one, will you wonder if you made the right choice?

Creating a work of art opens up the artist to countless crossroads, which is probably why we have a reputation for going a little nuts sometimes. Too many choices can be overwhelming in any type of activity.

If you are an artist, you are more likely to see creative possibilities all around you. I certainly cannot speak for every artist, but having read a lot of biographies and articles about my fellow artists, I believe one thing we all have in common is a heightened perception usually referred to as the Artist's Eye.

So when I was invited to visit a friend in northeastern Tennessee in January of 2007, I knew my Artist's Eye was going to get a workout. I was correct. We drove all around the area, enjoying the well-built but twisting roads, while I soaked up the vistas, the farms, the mountains, the colors, the cows... There was little snow during my visit, so we were able to explore the area easily, even driving up a narrow road to the peak of a mountain named Round Knob. Lack of leaves made the contours of the land far more visible. The air was crisp, cool, and a delightful change from Florida's humidity for this flatlander! I especially loved my late afternoon walks up the hills and along the roads near my friends' home.

As a child, I'd wanted a farm with a big barn filled with animals more than anything, so discovering a patchwork quilt of small family farms filled my heart with delight. And respect. As I grew up, and studied agriculture (not in school, but on my own, still nurturing that hope), I realized how difficult the lifestyle was, and how, unless you were born into a farming family, it wasn't an option for most people. But still, whenever I see a barn, my heart lifts. Now that I know what goes into being a successful farmer, especially one who maintains the family's property over generations, my respect for their courage is boundless. As I paint my Tennessee memories, I intend to show my appreciation for these hard-working folks.

Elsewhere on this website I've included a step-by-step gallery of the horse portrait I painted during my three-week visit. The tawny hillsides behind this magnificent black Clydesdale are still in my brain, begging to be explored in paint again and again.

These past three years, I've brooded over my hundreds of photographs countless times, making sketches, waiting for the right moment to indulge myself. But more than that, I needed the right approach. Should I choose just one and work on it for weeks or months, savoring every small detail? I am not the world's fastest painter. Plus my life is one which pulls me from my easel far too often.

So I decided on painting smaller works. You can say a lot on a 10" by 8" canvas. This would allow me to move quickly through the built-up backlog of intriguing images which sometimes make my heart feel as if it will burst. But! Would I then lavish too much love and attention on this single small painting? If my desire was to get it out of my system, would I linger, and make it too picky?

Well, what if I painted two canvases of the same scene at the same time? Hmmm. But it would be boring to make them identical twins. Hmmm.

When I paint in alkyds (a fast-drying oil paint) and oils, I prefer to start on a toned canvas, just as when I paint in pastels I use toned paper. That's because white paper causes the values to start off incorrectly; colors change according to their neighborhood.

I especially like to lay down an imprimatura, which is a fancy Italian name for an initial wash of color over the white canvas. As oil paints are much more transparent than you might think, each succeeding layer of paint, if it's not too thick, will be influenced by that initial layer. The results can be magical, obtained in no other way. Red is one of my favorite imprimatura colors as it lends vibrancy to the upper layers of pigment.

After a lot of "Hmmm-ing" it hit me: why not do four paintings, each with a different initial color wash? That would allow me to travel each direction from that first crossroads. Four would be better than three, because I do crave balance in my wacky life! And as you can see from the paintings at the top of this page, four 10" by 8" canvases fit nicely on my easel.



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