Sycamore Notes (blog)

A Band of Mothers

In art, as in life, sometimes the journey leads us in unexpected directions.

Such was the case with the twentieth kimono in my series.(you can see the entire seriesand how it came to be here )It has been a long and exciting journey with some very unexpected twists and turns and as so often happens the journey has been as important as the destination. Over a year ago (evidenced by scibblings in my journal) I started entertaining a final kimono in my series, commemmorating all the mothers, in my life. I started with the most obvious: my mother, my sister, my aunts, cousins, nieces, teachers, role models, friends …….those who mothered, not only my body, but my spririt, my mind, my soul, my heart, my art. The list kept getting longer and broader until it encompassed Mother Earth herself! Symbols of so many different aspects of these mothers percolated through my thoughts, including needles, garden books , letters, photos, fabrics, even clothespins! The “stuff” increased and the imagery became more and more complicated. The world events of the past two years created a complicated backdrop that included mothers visiting their children through hospital windows during covid; the mothers and grandmothers of Ukraine and the beautiful Polish women who welcomed them into their homes; bluebirds and nuthatches in their springtime nests around our home, the novel I was reading about the women of the Great Plains, young women giving birth, family stories…..all spoke of motherhood to me. Everywhere I turned I seemed to be met by mothers and their strength and beauty.

On an unusually warm early spring day, I sat near a star magnolia in my yard, and drew.


That’s usually where my head clears best and my heart can see through the clutter. This magnolia in all its pure white beauty spoke to me of life and motherhood. The branches were twisted and complicated. Some branches bore new buds not yet open right alongside spent brown and withering flowers. Some branches even had greening leaves. “Simplify, simplify, simplify

, “the magnolia said. I drew and then started to paint. Then I painted some more. I awakened at night sure I knew what direction to take to move this painting that had no real direction into a kimono, only discovering after another day down another path, that it too was not the right one. I “auditioned” ways to develop the core painting: weaving, piecing, stenciling, quilting, stitching by hand and by machine. I ended up rejecting them all after hours of unsuccesful attempts. The process itself became an integral expression of motherhood. I felt like the birth of this kimono was unlike any I had done before. I was in a very long hard labor, knowing as mothers do, that even the pain of creating is part of the beauty of motherhood.

kimono image and magnolia flowers
For All the Mothers

The final image here was done in memory of the women (and some men) in my life that mothered me each in their own unique way. It is really very simple but has layers that probably will only be recognized by me, or some very perseptive soulmate. It has been an amazing journey as this piece came to life. Every stroke of my brush awakened another preciouos memory. I am filled with gratitude.

Will it be the last of my kimono series? At this point I am not sure. At one point I thought #10 would be the last. But they kept on coming. I hope to stay open to the possibilities of things to come………

Moonrise

Let’s keep doing that!

It was Easter morning when I started to write this.  The sun was shining brightly if only for a few hours after a rising pink moon the night before.  I am overwhelmed with awe.  There are so many things that happen this time of year that are so very hard to understand.  You know, things like how blue eggs become bluebirds and white ones become tree swallows;  how the strange little song of a nuthatchbaby blue bird painting

is recognized by all nuthatches; how a leafless dogwood tree suddenly bursts into blossom; how hummingbirds find my feeder after a long flight from Costa Rica; and how my milkweed will be in bloom just in time to meet the migrating monarchs.  Wow.  I am in awe at the mysteries of nature and feel so privileged to experience the small and the grand moments that the universe shares so generously if we simply open our eyes to them.

Today I am also in awe at the creative process that I am able to share.  What a mysterious and womdeful journey to face a blank sheet of paper one day and then days, weeks or even months later a brand new image that has never existed before has somehow flowed through me and out there to share with you.

And this puts me at the edge of wonder at the technology that allows you and me to share these experiences together.  If you are reading this, no matter if you are down the road or on the other side of the globe, if we are related by family or complete strangers, if we have been friends for one year or 70…..we can be connected and can interact………………..Let’s keeep doing that!

There’s No Place Like Home

There’s No Place Like Home

If you happened to catch a segment about the John Denver hit “Country Roads” on CBS Sunday Morning the Sunday after Christmas, you may have heard the word “hiareth”.  It caught my attention and I had to explore it a bit more.  Hiareth is a Welsh concept that means a deep longing for something, especially one’s home.  As used in the CBS segment, it reminded my of another term, “Spiritual geography'” that a good friend uses to describe the place or type of geography that makes one feel most at home, where one belongs.  That sense of belonging or home happened for me when I moved to the mountains over 25 years ago.  Of course,  I will always call Erie, along the shores of Lake Erie, my home, but something different happened when my address changed to the Appalachians. A new sense of home emerged.

It seems we all yearn for that sense of home, whether it is a a specific place or a kind of topography or maybe a particular room in one’s home or neighborhood. I recall so vividly and sadly how my Mom, in the throws of Alzhiemers would beg my Dad and I to take her home, while all the while she was sitting in her favorite chair in her own living room.  The medical folks explained that she was really asking for that comfort and peace we feel when we are truly at home.  It surprises me that the mountains have truly become “home” for me. since the mountain landscape was not part of my earlier years.

So, how does that influence my painting?  More and more, I find myself desiring to paint or draw the landscape around me.  I tune into the changes of the seasons more.  I watch my garden grow.  I nurture birds and butterflies.  Perhaps “home” has little to do with this place, but more the opportunity my current life affords me to see and experience the life around me, to be aware and to cherish simple things.  Or perhaps I am at that coming-home age, midway through my seventh decade.  It’s a good place to be.  I have a working theory that I am drawn to paint that which brings me that sense of home.  And I falso think that when a viewer finds a painting “speaking” to them, even enough to make it their own, it is because it reminds them of the “home” in their own hearts.

Yes, home is where the heart is and there is nothing like it.

 

en plein air

 

“Spell check” may not like the expression “en plein air” very much but for some reason artists today still use this rather antiquated phrase for painting outdoors.  The term originated around 1800 and is attributed to Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750–1819)  who first expounded on the concept in a treatise entitled Reflections and Advice to a Student on Painting, Particularly on Landscape.   The concept is what I am most interested in and what I have finally come home to.  Years ago, I would ONLY paint from life either outdoors or in the studio.  When I think back to some of those paintings, like the ones I did on Presque Isle near my earlier home, I can feel a presence that I don’t  often feel from paintings I do from photographs. When I paints outdoors, I have to paint fairly quickly as the conditions can vary greatly within a short period of time. The light changes; bugs bight; temperatures vary; wind blows. Because of that I can’t get hung up on details.  I bring to the painting, not only what I see but also the smells and sounds and feel of the whole environment.  All of the senses become part of the painting.  Over the summer I was invited by a new friend and watercolorist in the area to join her and others at a plein air event.  I put it off until one day the group was scheduled to paint literally in my backyard, on the other side of  Sugarloaf Mountain, MY mountain.  How could I say no?

We painted along the Ocooee River for just a couple of hours and I fell in love again with plein air.  For the past few months I have been setting aside at least one morning a week to paint outdoors or  (if weather prohibits that) in the plein air state of mind.  It has become a weekly meditation.  The paintings are not necessarily spectacular but the experience definitely is.  When I draw or paint this way–outdoors, surrounded by the sights and sounds of flora and fauna–I am transported into another universe, no background music but the songs of the birds; no “breaking news” reports other than the breakthroughs of mindfulness. My preference is to paint alone.

One Sunday morning recently,  I spent close to two hours sitting and drawing near Cookson Creek.  I know the cooler months will not be conducive to sitting on a stool outside, so I  wanted to experiment with drawing and taking notes and then working from those to translate them into a painting back in the studio, kind of a hybrid of plein air plus studio work.   I wish  I could bottle the peace that came over me. Cookson Creek, which flows into the Ocoee River, goes right under the bridge on our quiet country road. The sun shone brightly filtered by thickets of trees just starting to turn to fall colors.  Carolina wrens sang.  Woodpeckers pecked.  Crows cawed.  Leaves fluttered and walnuts dropped noisily.  The slightly chilled  fresh air smelled of decaying leaves.  The drawing came easily.  My goal was to paint from the drawing, only using this short video to remind me of those peace-filled sounds and, to some extent, the scene itself.

 

This is the painting that came from that experience.  I called it “Remembering The Sycamore”.

Autumn scene
Remembering the Sycamore

That slanted silvery tree that is reflected in the creek is a sycamore, reminding me of my once Sycamore Gallery and this blog, too .  (Why “Sycamore Notes?” she said….)  My personal goal is to do more plein air painting as circumstances allow.  It doesn’t mean I won’t ever work from photos.  There are a lot of times when that works best.  It also does not mean I won’t experiment with combining media in my work or trying new surfaces to paint on.  But this old-but-now-new-again way of painting mindfully is what my soul needs to keep my work fresh and authentic.  My hope is that it will touch your heart as it has mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About that brand new box of crayons……

colorful kimono construction
A Brand New Box of Crayons

Do you remember the smell of a brand new box of crayons? I certainly do and loved the anticipation of what would become of those beautiful colors.  Someone who worked for Crayola actually was employed to give them names like cadet blue, razzle dazzle rose, and screamin’ green, a job I secretly envied for years.  Earlier this week I shared this quotation by Hugh Macleod on Facebook without really thinking it through: “Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.’ ”

I was fortunate that nobody every took my crayons away. In fact, “they” just gave me more crayons of a different kind to play with. Those crayons actually were some of those “dry uninspiring” subjects like biology and geometry and even chemistry. that were taught by teachers who showed me that they were crayons too. What is a crayon, after all, but a stick of pigment in wax, a tool to create something of beauty, a metaphor for a spirit of curiosity, creativity, and wonder?

One of my own former biology students challenged me to re-think what I had shared in that quotation. I did. The point being made by Macleod, I think, has to do with the disregard for the importance of the arts in education and the emphasis on the more “useful” disciplines (fortunately an attitude that appears to be changing). That was particularly true in earlier generations. Maybe we still need to learn and appreciate how all the disciplines can provide color in our lives. Then we can see the beauty of a scientist’s search to find the secrets of the genetic code or the origin of the Big Bang. We can marvel at the Fibonacci series in the whirl of a sunflower head. Then our minds can be opened to how a plant photosynthesizes or a bird sings a particular song. Then we can treasure the changes of the season and the evolution of life on earth and understand the reality of climate change. We can rejoice with Mission Control at NASA when a new satellite achieves orbit. We can ponder with amazement how a virus we cannot see was able to bring mighty nations to their knees and the world to a standstill.  We can delight in the stories that brought humankind to this moment in history. 

 ” I know artists whose medium is life itself, and who express the inexpressible without brush, pencil, chisel or guitar. They neither paint nor dance. Their medium is Being. Whatever their hand touches has increased life… They are the artists of being alive.”  Frederick Franck

 

TnWS…in case you were wondering…..

Perhaps you have seen me refer to this organization, but have you wondered what it is?  When I first moved to TN in 2001 I heard bits and pieces about the organization but did not join until 2010.  I quickly learned that TnWS is an organization totally dedicated to the promotion of watercolor as a viable and important artistic medium.  The organization is divided into five regions around the major metropolitan areas of the state.  I am in Region 3, the Chattanooga Region, and am the only member in my county.  Currently there are around 250 members across the state.  This year the organization is celebrating 50 years since its founding, not a bad accomplishment. The region I am in has had two exhibits already to celebrate the golden anniversary and currently we are joining with the artists from the rest of eastern Tennessee in exhibit at the art center in Athens, TN.  It is going to be a great exhibit featuring the work of 27 artists.  Next year,  a biennial exhibit from the entire state membership will be held in Chattanooga and will be juried by noted watercolorist, Stan Miller from the state of Washington.  He will select the exhibit next spring from all the entries submitted and the exhibit will hang at AVA in Chattanooga for a month before traveling to 5 other locations across the state.  Once a member is accepted into three juried exhibits, they receive what is called signature  membership meaning that the member has the right to add the initials TnWS to his/her signature.  It is an accomplishment and many members choose to do just that.  I received my signature status in 2016 but choose not to use the initials.  It was a personal goal to work toward signature and I am pleased and proud that my work was juried into those three exhibits in 2010,  2012, and 2016.  Of course, I hope to create something significant during the year to come and that it will be juried into the Chattanooga exhibit.  Thousands of dollars worth of prizes are given during these major exhibits.  I you would like to visit the members gallery or learn more about TnWS, you can do that at www.tnws.org.

Hurray For Our Side!

sunrise
The Fierce Call of Morning

“Hurray for our side!”……That’s what my Dad would say when someone in the family accomplished something worth crowing about.  All of us knew just what he meant: he was proud and wanted us to know that.  When I got the news that “The Fierce Call of Morning”  (12×18 woven watercolor on yupo) was accepted into the 2021 Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration exhibit of the Tennessee Watercolor Society, I was sure I heard Dad celebrating with me with that expression.  Then it got even better this week when I was invited to attend a virtual zoom awards presentation where I was pleased to receive an Honorable Mention award.  Yep, there was Dad, cheering once again.   On-line only, the exhibit represents some of the finest watercolor in the South.  Hurray for my side!  You can enjoy the exhibit in its entirety here.

I have been experimenting with woven watercolors since January 1, 2018sunrisewhen I decided to try “something different” for the new year and did a small piece I called  It’s a New Day which now lives in Springfield,  Missouri.  I have lost track of how many I have done since ,but they are fun, challenging, and surprising.  The technique involves painting two paintings about the same size and similar or complementary subject matter, then cutting the two in opposite directions and  weaving them together. The result is hard to envision in advance and some end up in the recycle bin!  This one didn’t! 

Number 19

blue kimono
Ambiguity

For those of you who have been walking with me for awhile, you are well aware of my ongoing kimono series. For those who have recently joined me, you can read about this series that is so very important to me right here. Today I am sharing the nineteenth kimono of what started as a ten-kimono goal. This particular kimono started a year ago. We had just gone into covid lockdown. Every next step seemed unclear, ambiguous, and, yes, more than a bit frightening. It was to be a year of ambiguity. That year is behind us as I write this, but there is still a lack of clarity. The fog is just starting to lift. We’ve all experienced the lifting fog some time, whether actual or figurative. We see it over “our” mountain frequently. Clarity starts to come at the bottom and gradually work it’s way up the mountain, revealing slowly the fields, the trees, the mountain top, the sky. That’s where I feel we are now. We are starting to feel we can plan a trip, or an event, or even a gathering with friends. But the clouds of uncertainty and the harsh warnings from the CDC give us pause and those year-old fears creep in again. That is what this kimono is trying to say. I have been working on it off and on over this covid year. It was larger for awhile. It was textured. It was even a totally different color prompting me to buy a new tube of Venetian Red! But this is how it turned out. If you look closely you will see row after row of small holes made with a dressmaker’s tool for transferring a pattern, along with row after row of machine stitching in “Yale blue” and metallic silver. As I write this, I am still not sure if the image is complete or even if it is the right image or if I need to start all over. I have tempered hope that the fog will lift and we will feel the freedom of a bright sunny day…..eventually.

Why “Sycamore Notes?” she said….

If you knew me before my move to the South in 1996, you may recall my gallery on the campus of Villa Maria College/Gannon University.  It was a special place for me that I called Sycamore Gallery.  There wasn’t a sycamore in sight on the campus, but I drew inspiration for the name from the only reference to a sycamore in the New Testament.  Remember Zacchaeus, the little guy who wanted to see Jesus but couldn’t because of the crowd?  Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree to get above the crowd and see!  For me, that’s what art does….music, poetry, the visual arts, dance….art of any kind.  It takes me ABOVE THE CROWD so I can get a glimpse of the divine.  It’s as simple as that.  The thought has stayed with me and is the inspiration for this blog and for all I do as I paint, draw, or write.  To keep reminding me to get above the crowd, the noise, the distractions, there are two sycamore trees planted on our property in Ocoee TN.

Dusting off a memory

Dusting off a memory

There are many wonderful reasons for maintaining my website and blog but perhaps the one that brings me the most joy is like the one that happened recently.  A name appeared on a contact form in my mailbox with a fun description of some antics in a biology class in the late 70’s when I taught biology at VMA in Erie.  Several emails were exchanged and stories told of all that has transpired on both ends of the story fleshing out some old memories from long ago.  I LOVE being able to do that and to learn about where life has taken my students.  So many have found me with a google search that lead them to my website.  Some visit for a span and others have become life long friends. It happens more than I ever would have anticipated.   This particular  reunion had yet another element.  “How did you happen to look for me at this time?”  I said.  “Marie, I think of you every week when I dust a framed drawing my mother gave me in the mid-90’s!”  After I asked her to send me a photo, I was gobsmacked (have wanted to use that word!) to see a drawing I did in Holland in 1984 while on a solo backpacking trip through Europe to draw and paint and visit the museums, under the direction of my friend and mentor Frederick Franck.  So, it became a double reunion with  my student Kathy and with Femke and her mother, the models in that drawing.  Who knew that dusting could bring so much pleasure?

Several of you who will read this post were likely students of mine at some time.  If so, thank you so much for finding me.