Friday, October 29, 2010

"Tropical Water Lily" (oil on linen; 6" x 8") sold


There is a beautiful conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul, Minnesota.  It is landscaped outside with a floating garden of water lilies.  A sign that reads "Tropical Water Lily" that stood among the flower stems gave the painting its title.  They look like lotuses to me. 

The lotus plant has a great symbolic meaning in Buddhism.  These sculptural flowers grow in a standing water, which is usually muddy, algoid, and not pretty looking--just as you can find peace and nirvana wherever you are.  I grew up in a Buddhist family in Korea.  On the birthday celebration of the Enlightened One (April 8th in the Lunar Calendar), thousands of Buddhists made a colorful procession holding lanterns shaped like lotuses, with candles glowing inside in the evening streets in downtown Seoul.  Ah, sweet memories of my dear mother, excited like a little girl, dressed up in a Korean traditional dress, getting ready for the annual procession ....

I am happy with the way the painting turned out--lyrical and watery.  It may be the best painting of water lilies I have ever done so far.  I am sure I will be painting many more.  Not because of Monet, but for my mother.  With love.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Room of My Own--My Studio Tour

Do you have an ideal studio?  I don't.  There is a Korean proverb that goes like "if you don't have any teeth left, use your gum to chew with."  I guess it originated in the days when there was no dental service.  I live by the principle of making do, plan B's, if life gives you a lemon, make a lemonade, etc. 

I have been a part-time history professor and stay-home mom since my daughter was born.  I painted whenever I could.  Since I get depressed if I don't paint for a while, painting is a kind of therapy as well.  So I needed a home studio.  For several years, I painted in a small spare bedroom, which also served as an office, sewing room, and storage space for paintings and framing supplies.  When it became overcrowded, I decided to repurpose the dining room as my studio.

My husband was not thrilled with the idea, but I persuaded him with an argument that the space didn't get much use.  It's not big--about 10 x 10 square feet.  It has a chandelier, East-facing window, and wooden floor.  It is located right next to the kitchen and opens to the living room that has a northern exposure.  Whenever I stepped back (although the above picture shows a chair prominently, I paint standing up), I bumped into all manner of things, including the chandelier.  So I surreptitiously began to push the art table toward the adjoining living room.  Now my studio space is about 10 x 14 square feet.  My husband did notice the encroachment, but was told that the living room was used only by our daughter for her home work.  He just shook his head.

If I had been using art supplies with noxious odor, all my efforts to divide and conquer space would have been futile.  My husband happens to have allergies to various smells and I do care about his health and emotional state.  How did I get away with it?  I am a big advocate of water-mixible oil paints.  I use mostly Winsor and Newton paints with occasional Holbein Duo Aqua oil paints (more expensive, but more choice of colors).  So far, nobody in the family has complained about bad smells.  I am happy because I can paint whenever I wish.  If I choose so, I can even paint on the Thanksgiving Day while the turkey is roasting in the oven--so easy to check how it's coming along.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Zen Moment at Crissy Field" (oil on linen; 8" x 16") sold


You don't need me to tell you what the bridge is.  The view is from Crissy Field, which my family visited three years ago.  Do you know it used to be an old airfield?  After it became a park, indigenous flowers were planted and a tidal marsh that runs to the San Francisco Bay was restored.

That day a silver-haired gentleman was practicing Tai-Chi as his faithful dog was watching.  Then something strange happened.  My daughter, then nine years old, sat down on a piling; instead of staring at the man out of curiosity, she looked out at the Golden Gate Bridge for a very long time.  Fog was lifting, a large ship went by, and birds flew over.  It was a mesmerizing scene.  Three beings existed in perfect harmony with respect and contentment.  A true Zen moment.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Early Autumn Wildflower Meadow" (oil on linen; 8" x 10") sold


Have you ever painted with a palette knife?  Sara Linda Poly, my teacher, challenges her students to try new things, and painting with a knife is one of those things she pulls out of her sleeve every now and then, just to torment us.  I gave it a try twice, hated it both times.  On a gorgeous day in September, she urged us again to put aside trusty brushes and wield a palette knife.  Ugh.

Perhaps it was the perfect weather with no humidity, no breeze, no clouds, no bugs, and no pestering persons around.  Something magical happened.  I found a spot down the wildflower meadow, looking up the manor house at River Farm in Alexandria, VA.  After a quick sketching with a brush directly on the canvas, I began to flourish a knife without fear.  When I got to the sky and the house, I briefly switched to brushes for control, but other than that, the above painting--"Early Autumn Wildflower Meadow" (8 x 10")--was created entirely with a knife.

In an earlier post, I mentioned my trouble, even fear of texture--trees, grass, sand, dirt, leaves, flowers, hair, etc.  How do you render these things with paint?  How do you suggest them without painting every single blade, leaf and floret?  I found an answer--use a palette knife!  I could lay down a large, flat area; I could also dab, skip, and scratch with it.  What freedom!  What joy!  Isn't painting supposed to be fun?  There you have it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Day at the Dock" (oil on linen; 8" x 10") sold


Water is hard to paint.  Winds, currents, and clouds keep changing the shapes of reflections.  As I have been watching my self-confidence erode lately--no sales in the two group shows in which I participated and rejections in the Art League shows month after month although I have worked so hard all summer--it was perhaps unwise to paint water.  But I did anyway because I am always drawn to the fluidity of water.  Besides, I am an Aquarius.

I struggled through the first attempt.  My mentor and teacher, Sara Linda Poly, who was there busily helping other students during a workshop in Easton, MD, basically left me alone to figure things out on my own.  I tried the second time--the same scene zoomed in on a slightly larger canvas.  Colors got more intense, shapes were simplified, and water reflections less belabored.  There is something to be said for persistence and painting the same subject twice.  I am going to keep painting water.

Monday, October 18, 2010

"Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde" (oil on linen; 8" x 10") sold


As a watercolorist, I have always had trouble with texture and edges.  My paintings were design-driven and full of hard edges; I resolved the issue of texture by not painting grass, trees and such.  Since I turned myself into an impressionist landscape painter working in oil, I have loosened up quite a bit, although I continue to battle with trees.  As my teacher, Sara Linda Poly, says, you just cannot do without trees in a landscape.

Recently, however, it dawned on me that the reason why my watercolor paintings were so full of hard edges was often because of the subject matter.  I am drawn to geometric, linear, man-made structures.  The above is a plein-air painting, titled "Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde" (8 x 10"), that I did in August.  I was attracted to the famous ruins like a bear to a beehive.

The ruins and rock formation didn't take much time.  It was the spruce trees that made me sweat; I had to work on them after I returned from the trip.  As I am beginning to understand better what I desire to paint, I now allow myself to include in a landscape painting the man-made, geometric stuff (buildings, sculptures, bridges, etc.)  A happy compromise, I think.  You have to paint what you want to paint.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Art of Journaling

I want to share with my readers a secret.  Not really a secret, since quite a few of my friends know about it, but a habit of mine.  Three years ago, a dear friend of my husband died of illness.  He was only in his 50's, a good man, funny guy, brilliant economist, terrific friend, you name it.  It shocked and saddened everyone.  It also painfully reminded me of the brevity and uncertainty of life.  So I started keeping a visual journal to celebrate life.  This was even before I discovered Danny Gregory and his Everyday Matters philosophy.  A mundane everyday does matter; life is no more and no less than an accumulation of every days.

The above picture is the front and back covers of one of my typical journal books.  I use good heavy watercolor paper, cut it to size (9" x 9"), and recycle my old paintings on paper as covers.  After laminating the covers, I take the book to a Staples store to get it spiral-bound.  Then fun begins.  I used to sketch in the book everyday, but couldn't keep up because of everyday responsibilities.  Instead of giving it all up, I switched to photo-journaling.  When I am traveling and find myself visually stimulated, I draw, collage, paint, and write in the book.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Spring Robin" (oil on linen; 4" x 5") sold


When you see robins busily building nests, you know the spring has finally arrived--a welcome sight especially if you live in a place with a cold winter such as Minnesota.  I lived there for six years, so I know what I am talking about.  The picture was taken by a naturalist neighbor down the street. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Agapanthus and Yellow Wall" (oil on linen, 5" x 4") sold


This is a wall of a motel in Eureka, CA--painted in bold yellow.  Then the management had had the ground landscaped in a complementary color scheme with blue flowers.  Their color sense was impeccable.  I love California!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Yellow Calla Lilies" (oil on linen; 5" x 4")

click here to buy

I had a bit of time on my hands before I had to pack up and go home near the end of a plein-air painting session.  So I sat down in front of yellow lilies at River Farm in Alexandria, VA.  This painting was the result.  Not too many hard edges and just a few suggestive strokes--not my usual modus operandi.  But I love it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Saintly Garden at Carmel Mission" (oil on linen, 5" x 4") sold


While travelling in California three years ago, I found  this statue of a Franciscan saint at Carmel Mission.  It probably is Father Serra, who died in 1784.  He is gently holding a crucifix in his arms in the midst of a beautiful garden.