Why so many birds?

How can you keep painting so many birds? No one but my inner voice actually asks me that. But she’s a bit of a nag, so I’m going to go ahead and answer her.

It’s simple, really. I am constantly changing the way I do it. Those birds? They are my little, light-footed, hyper-aware, graceful, elegant muses that lead me to new discoveries about paint, design, and color.

In the first painting of the splendid fairywren, I started with a charcoal sketch on a cadmium red/burnt sienna wash. I then used the palette knife to layer on thick (almost obnoxiously so) chunks of paint. When the bird was almost completely filled in, I scraped all the paint away using the long side of my knife. Scraped clean, the canvas revealed a ghost-like remnant of the bird. I then went in with a brush and added softer bits of color.

Painting two, the bluebird. I started with the same sketch and wash combo as the first painting, but this time used just one large brush– a flat size 10 which is HUGE for a 4×4 canvas. I worked with only a brush, careful to leave that red wash showing in select places where bird meets background.

Painting three, the cardinal. This one was an old palette knife painting from weeks ago; one I had scraped away in frustration. I took the old, splotchy painting and started to rework it. It was different from the fairywren painting because the original layer of paint was completely dry and those bumpy textures firmly set. I worked over the underlying mess with a smaller flat brush than I did in the middle painting. I wasn’t expecting much from this re-working but it turned out to be my favorite.

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, joy is approaching the same painting with new strategies time and time again.

Day 8: When it Rains, it Drizzles.

“Tiny Dancer” 6×6, oil on canvas Buy Now

Now that I’m on my fifth daily painting challenge ever, I think I’d classify day 8 as the day I find my rhythm. If everything before that feels anxiety ridden and a little self conscious, day eight feels wonderfully ordinary. This day eight in particular because yesterday I was moving my patio furniture and bird feeders to the shed for safe keeping should hurricane Nate’s winds have decided to make an unwelcome appearance. I went for a run at about 6pm and my shirt got a little damp from the occasional rain drizzle, but I’m not sure there was even that as we slept through a night when Nate was supposed to make landfall. I’m still waiting to see how my Mississippi coast friends fared as they were much more in his path.

I have a handful of people who are doing this 31 day challenge with me, one of whom is coloring from an adult coloring book every day this month. She shares with our group her thoughts about each page she colors, and yesterday she wrote this:

This evening I’m angry with Katrina. When my brother and I were kids, our parents would buy the supplies, board the windows, turn on Nash Roberts. My brother and I would play in the streets despite wind and rain and pretend to be newscasters reporting the latest. The video camera would come out. As we got older, my family would go to the lakefront to watch the waves crash over the sea wall. Now when a hurricane gets mentioned I panic. And I hate it. I hate that I feel like Katrina stole that happy childhood memory and that my kids won’t have that panic-free, stress-free hurricane prep of my childhood.

I feel my friend’s pain. Hurricanes and hurricane prep will never be the same. Even a category one brings a panic I have to be intentional about quieting.

I’m still thinking about music a lot, particularly the way it brings people together at times of joy and perhaps even more poignantly during times of grieving. I’m working on other music paintings, but I had to put them aside for day 8 and paint what I think is a pretty lyrical egret. I tried very hard to bring what I’ve learned from my music paintings into this painting. I wanted to let every single brush stroke show. I used to paint with rapid, often aimless strokes– their individual importance diminished by their sheer quantity. Think of a toddler banging on pots in pans in a kitchen. Now I’m going for slower, more thoughtful and intentional strokes– ones I hope will remain even when the painting is done. I’m not quite at symphony, but I like to believe I’ve graduated from plan ‘ole noise. 

If you’ve been doing the 31 challenge with me, what has day 8 brought you? Are you finding your rhythm? Does the effort feel less strained? 

Don’t forget every painting this month is 20% off only on the day its posted. If you don’t want to miss a painting, please subscribe to this blog by entering your email at the top right of this page. 

Life Is Like a Box of Pelican Paintings

Life Is Like a Box of Pelican Paintings

30x40in, oil on canvas. Buy Now

The pelican above has been my arch nemesis for months. We’ve been fighting. My weapon of choice– the palette knife. His– wings that reached on and on forever. They nearly knocked me out.

At first I thought the issue was the background. I couldn’t find suitable colors. They were either too bold for the pelican or too flat, forcing him to star in the painting in a way he wasn’t capable of. He needed to be part of his space. Not sitting on top of it or competing with it.

But the real issue ended up being those blasted wings. Perhaps it was a subconscious desire for him to extend his metaphoric reach, but sometimes you can only get so far before nature tells you, “That looks weird. Metaphors be damned.” (more…)