watercolor

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A poetic inspiration

painting of early dawn
Dawn in the mountains

“In Gentleness and Kindness”

I was introduced to Mary Oliver several years ago and since then have grown to love her poetry and recognize it even before I read the by-line.  Her writing is full of awareness.  The day I painted this I had read her poem “Why I wake up early”    From that poem came the title for the painting.  It just seemed like such a good way to start a day.

 

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Inspiration from John Muir

imaginary landscape
Nourishment for the soul

Beauty and Bread

John Muir may not have had art in mind when he penned this: “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”  I know he had places like Yosemite and Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks as he talked of places and I think I did too as I painted this.   I suggest that “places” can also be non-tangible spots where our hearts find some reprieve from whatever may be troubling us.

You can view additional paintings inspired by land or sea, click here.

 

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Morning Moments. the story behind the exhibit

Moonrise“Morning Moments: the Story behind the exhibit”

Well over a year ago I started preparing for another hometown exhibit, painting images of a variety of subjects in a number of my favorite styles, some detailed and planned; others, loose and spontaneous.

Then 2020 happened.  The show went on hold.  Life itself went on hold.  I continued painting but something different started happening.  I found myself drawn to small pockets of time on small pieces of paper, usually in the morning before the noise of the news cycle got in the way and with a fresh abandon, perhaps freed from exhibition expectations.  I started thinking of these painting times as “morning moments,” not necessarily because of the time of day but because I was fully awake, alert, and aware of gentle stirrings that seemed to bypass my brain.  The small simple paintings became heart-filled responses to an anxious sleepless night, a line of poetry, the song of a bird, or the whisper of the wind.  What was common to all was an absence of thinking and planning.

The results of those morning moments are collectively some of the purest and most honest paintings I have ever done — simple, spontaneous, and highly personal.  When the opportunity came about recently to revisit an exhibition time at Glass Growers Gallery, I knew that I wanted to share them.  My hope, my prayer, is that they will communicate between my heart and your heart and that they will stir something in you and bring you some of the peace they brought me as I painted them.

I am grateful to Debby Vahanian and Glass Growers Gallery for giving me this opportunity to share these paintings with you, to have this “heart to heart” conversation.  In my nearly 40 years of painting and exhibiting this may be the most unique exhibit I have ever had. Thank you for joining with me on this journey.

This exhibit is now over.

 

Marie Spaeder Haas

August 1 – September 8, 2020

Glass Growers Gallery, 10 E. 5th St., Erie PA

gallery hours:  11-3 Tuesday through Saturday; Monday by appointment (814-453-3758)

 

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The darkness of the morning news

painting of a dark landscape
Embracing the Darkness

“Embracing the Darkness”

I’ve been working small during these days turned to months of the pandemic.  I work fast too without analyzing or questioning the strokes that find their way to the paper.  Some times it takes days or longer for me to understand what my hand has revealed.  That was the case with this painting.  It came after a particularly dark and depressing morning news.  We have a lot of those lately.  I felt rather down with it all, with thoughts like “why art?”  “why bother?” creeping into my thinking.  This morning I looked at it again and the words of Wendell Berry came to mind….”In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter, war spreading, families dying, I walk the rocky hillside sowing clover.”  A friend reminded me that clover nourishes the soil.  Ah, yes, I said.  And art nourishes the soul.

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