Yesterday I taught a workshop on spring blossoms and boughs at the Mercer Island Library; participants were all ages, but primarily 8 to 12 years old. I was so impressed with what the kids came up with--I had brought a huge bunch of lilacs to share and some big orange poppies from my back yard, a branch of a currant, and they'd gone to the library woodland garden and observed ferns along with other woodland plants. They did recognize all the plants but weren't sure of some of the names--I was really glad to be the one to introduce them to the pleasures of the lilac!! Both its fragrance, appearance, and the joy of painting it! And any child, or child at heart, can't help but love the big splashy orange poppies. I often think I should take them out of the garden, as they don't really go along other colors I have planted, but I can't bring myself to do it, and yesterday was further proof of how special those orange poppies are.
I am delighted today to share some of the work being done in my spring weekly watercolor classes at University Heights Center in Seattle. These two sketches were both done with a playful and light touch, employing watercolor and pen and ink.
Last fall I traveled to Siena with the class I taught for Il Chiostro. One of the highlights of our visit to that incomparable city was the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. Siena's greatest masterpiece, the Maesta Altarpiece by Duccio, inhabits its own dark, mysterious room in the museum where it glows incandescently with ruby and sapphire-hued colors and radiant gilded backgrounds. Zbigniew Herbert wrote an entire chapter on Siena in Barbarian in the Garden, and once again, I found a kinded spirit in him and his insights about Duccio. He mentions that the American scholar Bernard Berenson compared Duccio to Giotto and found Giotto the greater artist because he looked forward to the Renaissance, where Duccio looked back to the Byzantine world. More recent scholarship has corrected that view; Duccio exemplifies all that is great about Gothic art, as Herbert writes, "its exaltation, naturalism and inclination towards drama." Another thing that Herbert admires about the work is its history. " It is the one of the earliest described homages of ordinary people to a work of art."
That homage was described by a contemporary account: "On the day the picture was carried to the cathedral, shops were closed...The townsmen with lighted candles went side by side, trying to take up the places closest to the altar; behind them, with great piety, went women and children. And on their way to the cathedral they walked around the Campo...and all the bells tolled joyfully in honour of the great painting...
Herbert wrote, "after Duccio, one really has no desire to look at anything else." My group and I visited the rest of the Museo, but I found nothing else of interest there after the Maesta...and I know there was much that was great there, but the Maesta simply overtakes you and the rest of the collection seems pale and lifeless by comparison. We went to a room of reliquaries which was rather fascinating, but it was so Baroque and decadent, compared to the genuine religious feeling of the Maesta. Interesting to think of the "progress" from the Duocento to later centuries!
I recently completed this relief print, and thought it would be fun to share what inspired it. I spend alot of time observing birds, both in natural areas and in my garden and try to have my camera ready when I see something interesting. Western juncos nest in my yard and are present year-round, so they aren't at all rare, but one time early last summer I saw one hopping around in a big hydrangea bush. There was something very striking about the contrast of its brown plumage and the rich green leaves and the blues and violets of the flowering shrub. The junco had fluffed himself out that particular cold wet morning, so didn't look typical of the species, thus I opened my bird guidebooks to find the general characteristics. I am really fond of Roger Tory Peterson's illustrations. I think they are especially beautiful, so I use him most of the time. I don't slavishly copy--that wouldn't be right, but I do like to make sure I am drawing certain things correctly, like feather arrangement, and coloration, bill type, and general proportions.
Yesterday I drove up to Darrington and Granite Falls to offer programs for their libraries, both part of the Sno-Isle Library System. The theme for our journals was Nature Play, and our subjects were birds' nests and eggs, and early spring wildflowers. The drive was spectacular, in spite of the rain, heavy at times. The cottonwoods, alders and bigleaf maples in the Stillaguamish River Valley were all in their earliest stages of leafing out, presenting a diverse tapestry of greens--really it was almost heartbreakingly beautiful...I thought of Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "God's Grandeur." one of my very favorite poems. Here are some lines that seem very appropriate for Earth Day weekend:
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And, for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things...
I'm including a few of the paintings participants created yesterday, and they all capture this beautiful spirit of nature's freshness.
Two weeks remain for the exhibit at Seward Park Audubon Center. I am showing several of the relief prints, 4 of which also appear in Pomegranate Communication's boxed set of notecards--included is this print of a cedar waxwing that I saw at the Magnuson Park Wetlands. I'm also showing several watercolors of wild places I have traveled to, a solar plate intaglio print of an American Dipper, and an egg tempera diptych of a cedar waxwing and Western tanager. I'll be teaching a relief printmaking workshop at the North Cascades Institute in May; the enrollment is going well and the workshop is close to full, so if you're interested, sign up now!
A few weeks ago I met Kay Reinhardt of the Padilla Bay Foundation. She and her husband own Bad Penny Press of Anacortes, Washington and together they created this beautiful notecard as a thank you to donors to the Foundation. They own many historic fonts for their press: here you see how they used them to describe the myriad wildlife that can be seen in the Padilla Bay estuary. I am delighted by the idea of letters expressing ideas, and even further, expressing actual objects, creatures, habitats, currents, watercourses. How wonderful to think of letters flowing like water!
On Thursday night my students had an opening party for our exhibit at the new Frame It Gallery's location across from Northgate Mall. Juanita and Chris of Frame It did a marvelous job of framing all the work for the show, and we had a great turnout.
To the left is Susan Hamilton enjoying John Tubbs's watercolors and oils.
To the right are some of the guests and students at the party.
To the left is a photo of Atit Marmer with three of his paintings. The show stays up through the month of April, so please stop by to see some beautiful work!