Rhythm and Blues

Rhythm in art refers to the arrangement of shapes in a way which creates an underlying beat. It is similar to the rhythm of music, but instead of notes and sounds, we use colors, shapes and lines.

A friend recently asked me what my newest landscape painting was about. Immediately the title “Rhythm and Blues” popped in my head. I hadn’t previously thought of a title but the words seemed so apropos.

I had been gifted a lovely, prepared arch-shaped canvas a few years ago but was saving it for the right moment. Apparently the right moment finally arrived, as I placed the canvas in my car before I drove off to paint in the morning. This was the first time I painted on a semi-circle shaped format and it won’t be my last. I love it!

I appreciate the flow created by the semi-circle format; the eyes move easily around the top curve and to the sides of the canvas.

The subject I chose to paint was a view just down the road along the coast. There were a few large trees with long limbs in the foreground, and ocean with crashing waves along the lava coastline in the background.

The spacing of the trees trunks creates a rhythm that moves laterally across the canvas. This then creates an alternative pattern of ‘negative shapes’, the spaces between the trees. The depiction of the lava coastline moving back in space is interspersed between the trees. This allows the eyes to shift back and forth, alternating between background and foreground.

Another visual flow is created by the various hues of blues to depict air, water, and the cool of the shadows. A pattern of shifting colors and brushmarks skims across the surface of the painting.

Painting is a visual language and like music, the use of patterns, rhythm, and beats within a work of art engages the viewer that much more.

Rhythm and Blues painting

Rhythm and Blues, oil on canvas, 17″ x 34″

Is it finished?

Who is to say when a painting is finished?

The first twenty minutes of a painting are usually the most exciting moments of a painting. The lines are fresh, the colors are bold, and the image is clear.  A painting can be considered finished within the first twenty minutes, yet rarely does an artist stop that soon.

In my experience, I often seek a return to the original freshness of the first twenty minutes when the initial strokes express mystery and magic, when the painting reflects a direct response between painter and paint.

The looming question that nearly every artist ponders is: When is a painting finished?

It is a very tough question to answer and for that reason, many artists work far longer on a painting than is needed.

In my practice, I need to discipline myself to pause and step back. I paint quickly and my painting changes shape rapidly. It takes a lot of courage to call a painting done at an early phase. When I paint in group, my artist friends often tell me I need to stop, since they can see my painting is still fresh and most likely finished.

Several years ago I visited a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City called “Unfinished”. The show displayed numerous paintings from the Renaissance to contemporary. What all these paintings shared in common was a freshness and a peek at artistic process.

In some paintings one could still see bare, untouched canvas where much of the surface was not completed. In some artworks only a small part of the image was fully defined, leaving the rest of the image barely suggested. Each work of art seemed to pose the question: Is it finished? Yet every piece felt alive and fully expressed.

So often as artists we have in mind what a finished piece of art should look like. We aspire to complete a painting, but often we overlook the beauty and expression in an ‘unfinished’ state. That amazing state of becoming is what breathes life into the painting. Looking back at the development thus far in my painting, I can see that I want to reintegrate the energy of the first twenty minutes.

Those Pesky Inner Critics

“Things are never as they seem.”
This writing prompt inspired a valuable lesson that I learned as an artist. We all have inner critics whose voices don’t serve our highest good. Learning how to quiet those voices is an ongoing challenge in life as well as art.

“Ugh!”
“What gaudy colors!”
“There’s way too much definition and those shapes don’t work!”
“Who am I kidding calling myself an artist?”


This all too familiar conference of critics called out their insults as I stared back at my canvas.

For weeks I’d been struggling with a large painting and I began to hate it. It was an abstract composition based on tropical plant forms. I had been inspired at first, but the painting had become complex. I lost myself in a mesh of colors, lines and shapes. After a while, I just couldn’t see it clearly. The more I worked on it, the more I thought of it as a failure.  “It’s probably the ugliest thing I ever painted”, I thought to my horror.


I couldn’t look at it any longer. Finally I wrapped it up and hauled the painting down to my storage unit. I turned it to face the wall so that no-one could see it, not even my other stored objects. Shutting the light off and locking the door behind me, I walked away thinking I could paint much better than that.


A year passed before I looked at my painting again.
I’d been searching for something that I had stored away when I spied the back of that canvas squeezed tight against the side of the wall.


I had forgotten about it.

Pulling the canvas out of hiding I held it out to the light of day and looked at it anew. My eyes were met by an array of exotic shapes, juicy colors, a celebration of tropical flora. “What an amazing painting!” I thought.


The critics were silent. I could see my artwork with truly fresh eyes… with objective eyes. 

It needed just a few strokes to complete it and I soon sold it at by next show. It’s still one of my favorites.

Big Island painting on wall

Big Island, oil on canvas, 36″ x 48″

Blank Canvas

The Blank Canvas
Prompt: Things are surfacing.

Gazing into the abyss without a foothold, I know not where I stand nor how far the surface is from me. We’ve all heard of the blank canvas, but does it mean the same to each of us?
Blank is a place of limitless potential. Blank is floating nothingness, the place we call the empty mind. Blank is a rare commodity, a goal to strive for, a point of departure. Blankness is by no means an easy achievement.
For me, the struggle to arrive at a blank canvas is more complicated that it may seem. I’ve got piles of projections to climb through before I can get through to the other side.
What should my art look like? Images from art books, art history, centuries of painting styles and ism’s fill my mind. I question what to paint? How should I paint? What do I want to paint? Or, why paint at all?
The layers of ego are so stacked that the blank canvas can feel like an eternity away from where I am now. Yet, still I strive. I strive to be free from the shackles of history.
Open mind. Empty mind.
Sitting at a blank canvas I pray for the lightness of being from whence I begin my flow. Only from that sacred place where nothing can be foreseen or expected, can I be ready for that moment when things truly start to surface.blank canvas image

Contrast and Values

In addition to painting, I love to write. I’m part of a local writing group where we meet once a week and free-write from a prompt. The prompt can be a word, a phrase, or a sentence. Members of the group toss out a prompt and we give ourselves 10 – 20 minutes to write freely on the subject, or about anything that comes up for us. Afterward, we take turns reading out loud to the group. Recently a prompt inspired me to write about values and contrast.

The Ineptness of Light is Better than Dark

Contrast and values are the name of the game. It’s what life is about after all, the entire gamut of love and light, sadness and grief, all of that happening simultaneously. Wouldn’t one get bored with just light alone? It wouldn’t offer the variety and depth of the human experience… the challenges that create character.

I tend to paint in the mid-tones. Not too dark. Not too light. Subtle changes in value is where my strength lies, and it is also my weakness. My paintings often beg for more contrast.

As an artist, it’s good to know where to focus and how we can grow. Might this also be a metaphor for life?
Embrace more contrast. Choose your darkest darks and the lightest lights. The edge between light and dark is where excitement and the unexpected occurs. A sudden jump or a smooth transition? How do these changes help move the eyes through a composition?

It’s all about values. When you nail the right values everything clicks into place. Light, dark and everything in between.

Values in Painting
The following two images are from a portrait I painted recently. One is viewed in full-color and the other is a grayscale image of the same painting. A good painting will hold together even when the color is stripped out and just the values remain. By looking at just the grayscale image I’d say that the painting needs more contrast. What do you think?

Guoqian full color
Guoqian values only

Pandemic Paintings

Certainly the pandemic has affected all of our lives, although my everyday experience has not actually changed all that much. Being a painter, I am already used to spending many solitary hours in my studio or painting landscapes outdoors ‘en pleinair’.
I was fortunate and grateful to receive not just one, but two commissions in the last few months. One request was from a local collector on the Big Island who wanted one of my Red Road tree tunnel paintings. Specifically, he wanted a large size canvas with lots of details. My natural style is to paint expressively and painterly, so I had to shift my style to incorporate a more defined landscape. The result is Ke ala ʻula (Red or Flaming Road), 20″ x 48″, oil on canvas.

Ke ala ʻula, landscape painting

Ke ala ʻula, 20″ x 48″, oil on canvas

While I was outside painting Ke ala ʻula, a jeep pulled up beside me one day. I was so busy painting I barely took notice as two young women got out of the jeep to see what I was painting. They both loved my painting! However, I was so engrossed I barely engaged with them nor gave them my card, which I usually do.

Several weeks later I was quite surprised to get an email from them out of the blue. They were so excited to have tracked me down and they requested an original landscape painting of the Red Road tree tunnel, just like the one they had seen me painting.

It’s important to note that commissions are a double-edged sword. On one hand, I’m thrilled to be paid for a painting even before I begin. On the other hand, I am painting to please my client(s), not just myself. Fortunately, I was delighted by both my pandemic painting commissions. Observing the view twice from the same spot, I deepened my appreciation for this particular stretch of the Red Road. The large Kamani trees that formed the tunnel, the large branches, and leaves, as well as the patterns of sunlight and shadows, are now engraved in my vision and spirit.

Though I repeated the same view and used the same size canvas, my second commission is unique. I can’t paint the exact same painting twice, nor would I want to. The second painting I called Mau lālā he Nui (Many Branches). My clients and I were all pleased with the final pieces.

Mau lālā he Nui, 20″ x 48″, oil on canvas

Mau Mau lālā he Nui, 20″ x 48″, oil on canvas

Beautiful, giclee prints of my paintings on canvas are available for purchase. For prices and more info please contact me.

Fronds in Moonlight

Last night the moon lit up the sky as I awoke from my slumber. The night was very still with only a few coquis singing in a small chorus, so I decided to seize the night, as it were. I grabbed my iPhone and slipped outside to see if I could capture the tropical night sky as the light of the moon glowed behind and through banana leaves and palm fronds.

 

Hawaii Painting Retreat 2020 (Pre-Covid)

Hawaii Painting Retreat 2020 (Pre-Covid)

Hawaii Painting Retreat in Hawaii, 2020
Painting inspiration, shared meals, creative growth, support, and fun. A magical time was had by all.
Here it is late August and I realize I have not posted a single blog post this year(!) Thus goes life in the time of a pandemic.
Pre-COVID I held the most wonderful art retreat here on the Big Island of Hawaii. A fantastic group of women traveled from across the United States to join in a week of creativity, nature and bonding. We met daily for pleinair painting sessions along the coast on the famous Red Road, just minutes from my home. We ventured out on excursions to local hotspots, ate healthy catered meals together, and shared in critiques. The final evening we drove into Hilo to attend an opening of a juried show of pleinair painting at the Wailoa Art Center, where I had five of my paintings on display. Indeed, the retreat was a success for all who attended.

I had already scheduled more art retreats in Hawaii for the summer and fall, but then Covid happened and everything changed.
For now, like many events, in-person art retreats and classes are on hold until things feel safe again to gather in person.
These photos are from this past winter’s Tropical Painting Retreat and Winter Getaway, 2020.

Portrait of Princess

It was a pleasure to present Princess with my finished oil portrait and the other paintings and prints by other members in my drawing group. I had seen Princess bartending at Uncle Robert’s Awa night market for some time and had been inspired by her classic and beautiful Hawaiian features. When I finally got the courage to ask her to pose for us she graciously accepted the invitation and came to pose for us not just one, but several times. It’s rare to be able to paint from the same model and pose over a long duration. It’s the closest I have come to painting true royalty.

Princess portrait

 

Phases – reflecting while refilling palettes

Phases
Like the moon, each one of us is in a specific phase.
Do we know which phase we are in? Are we in a phase of our own choosing?
If I was a lunar phase which one would I be? Waxing? Waning? A full moon or a new moon?
Perhaps we go through cycles where there is no end or beginning, but rather an ongoing flow in this space time continuum.
Today however, I paused in the cycle.
Coming to the close of my 30 paintings in 30 day challenge, I took time to reflect back and set a new intention on what’s next in my path as artist. Contemplating colors while I refilled the wells in my paint palette, I picked out new tubes of colors to try while I cleaned out older colors. I felt a gentle shift while I set up for a new painting phase.
I also refilled the watercolor palettes my students will use. I teach art regularly now.
Sharing and supporting others is a form of pay back and a way to pay it forward.
They say that teachers aren’t in it for the income, bur rather the outcome.
Holding this new intention I will see where this new phase leads me.

Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain™

Using the Picture Plane to draw and see more accurately.
In this week’s drawing workshop we continued exercises from Betty Edward’s book Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain™*. I had ordered some acetate “picture planes” from her site that we used to trace our hands in foreshortened view. Afterward we used the picture plane drawings as guides to help us drawing directly from our hands. Foreshortened views of the hand are challenging for artists at all levels. My students were able to focus their attention for over an hour as they completed their drawings. I’m excited to see how they expand their seeing and drawing abilities as a result of these workshops.

Join us! The next class is scheduled for October 13th, 2019 in Seaview Estates, Pahoa  Register
*Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain™ is a book by Betty Edwards that since 1979 has been helping individuals learn to draw by tapping into the power of their own “right brains.

 

Drawing and Painting Workshop

The focus of my most recent drawing workshop was about how to draw and paint more accurately.

We warmed up with right brain exercises which helps the mind let go of the thinking side and move toward the intuitive side. I had my students get get their paper and pencil ready to draw, but and then asked them to turn their heads to look away at their other hand. They were then asked to draw blind contour drawings of their hands. They could not look at their drawings until they were done.

Then we shifted to drawing using direct observation to study some beautiful orchids I had just gotten at the orchid show in Hilo last week.  I had the students start with pencil line and do drawings of the flowers as accurately as possible. Afterward they could add watercolor wash over the pencil drawing to augment the drawings with color. My students created some beautiful studious artwork that I’m very happy to share. 

Alcohol Inks – An exercise in Surrender

I finally did it. I took the plunge and decided to explore alcohol ink.
Since joining instagram two years ago I discovered and started following my favorite artists using alcohol inks. The fluidity, globular, diaphanous, featherlike, dripping, vibrant, and windblown qualities of alcohol inks were just too compelling. So I spent the last few weeks weeks studying Youtube how-to videos, learned some techniques and decided to offer a workshop using them.
The class was well attended and luckily for my students and myself, we found there’s almost no way to go wrong.
That is to say, you can go WRONG if you try to CONTROL them. Believe me… I have tried! 
Using alcohol inks offers the ultimate opportunity of letting go and remaining non-attached to outcome. One really has to stop trying to control the outcome and allow the medium to express itself. Results are beautiful, unexpected and best when we just let alcohol ink do what it does without forcing it. One has to let it flow, expand, bloom, merge, drip, dry and do what the medium does, without fussing or trying to make it do something specific. It’s harder to control than watercolor at the level of experience I have now, but I suspect it will always lend itself to the truly unpredictable.
That’s why it’s so fun. The vibrancy of the colors are also exciting. I am challenged to explore alcohol ink further and perhaps take it beyond making just another pretty abstract painting.

Intuitive Watercolor Painting using the Circle

Mary love circleThis week marks the first 2019 art workshop I led in Intuitive Painting using Watercolor. My commitment for this year is to offer a monthly art workshop in my studio in Hawaii. Sharing the creative process and encouraging others in their artistic pursuits is as important to me as an artist as it is to do my own artwork.

This week we worked with the circle as a format. I have found that the circle lends itself to abstraction more than the rectangle.  The rectangle is ubiquitous, the shape that we so often choose in making art that we don’t even question it form. Most paintings are done on rectangular shaped canvases or rectangular pieces of paper. Even the shape of our computer screens, tablets and phones are all rectangular. Our eyes are saturated by seeing and reading in rectangle format.

The circle is less commonly used in art and therefore offers a bit more of a surprise. There is less to associate in the circle with previous forms of art.  The circle is a wonderful choice in formats because it lends itself to abstraction. There is no implied vertical or horizontal and it can be tilted and seen at any angle. I was pleased to see the beautiful paintings and creative exploration in this Sunday’s workshop. Stay posted as I will be offering first Sundays each month as dates for my painting workshops for 2019. See Workshops

Hawaii Contemporary Art Show

Hawaii Contemporary Art Show
I’m very pleased to be showing this month in the juried exhibition at the East Hawaii Cultural Center. I created a triptych of three new abstract watercolors to submit to this show. I had been focusing on my representational work for a number of years but returned to my abstract work for consideration to this exhibit. It was refreshing to let my intuition be my guide and create purely abstract forms, colors and shapes.
The show represents contemporary artwork by Hawaiian artists and is juried by Henry Bianchini, a talented and well established Big Island sculptor and painter. The show opened September 7th in Hilo for First Fridays art walk. It’s exciting to be a part of the community of many talented artists who have made Hawaii their home and developed their art here. The show was well attended and will stay open for the month of September.
Available to purchase