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We form a book club of two. She lives in NYC. I live in Portland, Oregon. The distances between us are magnified by the pandemic. We did not see each other this past year, as travel is severely limited by the ongoing global pandemic. We decided to share readings about pandemics of times past while staying in touch via the internet and phone. Each of us brought books and articles to the table and our first reading list looks like this.

The Great Influenza, by John Barry; The Plague, by Camus; Year of Wonders by Geraldine Books; Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter.

The books we choose tell stories of pandemics occurring in the last 400 years. We read of plagues and pandemics between the years 1660 and 1918, seeking to understand the one in 2020. The stories we read might just as well have been written about the plague we confront today. Reading them is proving cathartic. It is somehow reassuring to learn of other pandemics, of plagues past, and how lives were lost. Yet eventually, the incidence of illnesses and deaths subsided and things went back to normal. That is, if you can call enormous loss and experience with paralyzing fear, normal.

Previous plagues did not subside without stress, tragedy, conflict, pubic protest, political in-fighting, devastating illness and untimely death, family upheaval, lonely migration treks, escape attempts and economic loss.

It is clear from these stories that there are ways to prevent or reduce the numbers of deaths and illness even under the direst of circumstances. But it requires community cohesion, respect for the rights of others and acknowledgement of one’s community and family responsibilities.

During one of our discussions, I asked her, “Did you ever study the history of any pandemic while you were in high school or college?.”

She said, “No I did not.” I agreed with her that I did not either.

We both remembered references being made by teachers to a “plague” of some time or place, but what was missing was an historical description or analysis of what happened. We remember no required readings in our coursework of historical or fictional accounts about pandemics. Perhaps there were some readings and we did not take note of it, figuring such horrible experiences were all behind us?

Thus, it would seem that when our global pandemic was officially announced on March 11, 2020, we were not prepared. One would have thought that it was the first pandemic humans had ever experienced.

“It is happening over there, not over here.”

“It is their fault.”

“It will never get to us.”

“It will be brief”

“It will take a while”.

“It looks like it is increasing but it really isn’t.”

“It will be resolve quickly by medical technology.”

“It cannot be managed unless we all participate in this together”

“Data are being repressed”.

“Do you know anyone who has had it?”

“Do you know anyone who died from it?

“No need to change our behavior.”

“Our rights are being taken away.”

“Our responsibilities are too many.”

“I am so sorry for your loss.”

“Glad that you are feeling better.”

“Will it ever end?”

“It feels like it is coming to an end, but how can I be sure?”

“We have a vaccination, now.

“When will I get it?”

“For how long must wear masks and stay socially isolated?”

As time marches on, the seriousness of what is happening cannot be ignored.

What can we learn from reading books about pandemics? I would say, just about everything. Through books and book discussions we can start to come to grips with what happened. Reading these stories offers a better understanding of how we might cope. It offers a way to imagine our future during these bleak hopeless times. It suggests the healing process that we must go through when the pandemic subsides.

Below is a Poem from the Irish Times sent to me by a friend of mine.

When, by John O’Donnell

And when this ends we will emerge, shyly

and then all at once, dazed, longhaired as we embrace

loved ones the shadow spared, and weep for those

it gathered in its shroud. A kind of rapture, this longed-for

laying on of hands, high cries as we nuzzle, leaning in

to kiss, and whisper that now things will be different,

although a time will come when we’ll forget

the curve’s approaching wave, the hiss and sigh

of ventilators, the crowded, makeshift morgues;

a time when we may even miss the old-world

arm’s-length courtesy, small kindnesses left on doorsteps,

the drifting, idle days, and nights when we flung open

all the windows to arias in the darkness, our voices

reaching out, holding each other till this passes.

When, by John O’Donnell

It isn’t over yet, the pandemic still rages in parts of the world. Many of us have only shyly begun to return to our former selves. 

Or at least what we think is our former selves.  

I  wonder, once this global pandemic subsides even further, what will we remember?

Photo taken during “Stay at Home” measures, November 2020.

Landscapes

Landscapes we paint, no matter how big or small, are wondrous moments witnessed through our abstraction.

When thought of this way, there is nothing real about a landscape, other than the fact that light is shifting, objects are reflecting and atmosphere hovering, and we experience constant movement of ideas and thought, while traveling through these variable, natural compositions.

Nature is for painters, our most wild and beautiful challenge. Lucky for us, nature is everything, and we have many opportunities to paint, to write, or simply observe its amazing show.

There is no right or wrong painting or poem as all abstractions are personal.

Knowing this, brings freedom of our own thoughts and choices of shifting moments we remember.

Watercolor

Oils

Oil

Watercolor

The Bird Won

Alone, oil painting

It wasn’t so long ago, but almost forever and a day, before the sun fully lifted into the sky.

The light broke, and now Freely into Blues.

Together alone

Variations of the same oil painting while playing with glazing and color mixing on birch wood.

Oil painting variations were completed during the period of time that I participated in an art class called Painting on the Edge taught by Michael Orwick, offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

There are people whom I carry with me, in my head and my heart.  I am finding the time, through my paintings, to bring them back into view.

Street children  have lingered in my memory for decades.  In this case, I recollect two boys playing cards on a heavily utilized footpath near the dhobi ghats where their parents were working as laundry washers, on the streets of Mumbai, India. I call this painted moment, “Unity.

I took notes describing the scene.

“The boys play their game as though they are alone. Yet, in fact, they are surrounded by people swiftly walking past them. The boy’s feet touch, defining their play area. The sidewalk patterns mimic the shape of their feet and legs, further symbolizing the boys’ sense of land ownership and unity.”

Personal notes
“Unity”, Oil painting

I took a quick photo of the people walking nearby.

Walking area, personal photo

Most likely, the children’s parents were working in the dhobi ghats where laundry workers wash and dry clothing. The urban work space looks like this.

Personal photo of Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat area, Mumbai, India

Each laundry washer, or dhobi, has a small area to work from where clothing and bedding are washed and hung them out to dry.

Clothing drying on lines, Mumbai, India, personal photo

Children are around the scene, and on the streets, as many of their living arrangements are very nearby. In some cases, children are living on the sides of streets, with family members, some under difficult conditions.

Children living on the streets of Mumbai, India, personal photo
Home of mother and son, on the side of a busy street, Mumbai, India, personal photo

Cars and trucks hurriedly stream by some of these tiny home shelters.

Street shelters, Mumbai, India, personal photo

Successfully capturing the surrounding light and colors, depicting the boys’ levels of intimacy, illuminating their likely concerning situation and yet at the same time, highlighting the strength and endurance of these children, abstractly, is the challenge for this painting.

Work developing ideas for this oil painting are showing in an earlier blog, here. This oil painting has been completed during the period of time that I have been taking the art class called Painting on the Edge taught by Michael Orwick, offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

Walking the Line

Somewhere between the art of tonalism and luminism is a painting of all the colors seen on the horizon at the moment of sunrise. It depicts the time when a night-darkened horizon line breaks loose from the underground with bright light. Colors go from soft grey to white streams of light that allow colors to jettison through the atmosphere, bouncing onto the grounds and waters below.

It is a moment of rainbow color craziness, lasting only a few seconds before the plain morning light breaks, leaving the simpler blues and yellows of breakfast sunshine.

An en plein air painter might have 10 seconds to observe the shifting array of sunrise colors.

Photography and painting alter it, limited by the technology, techniques and mechanisms used to depict it.

I call this painting, Alone Together.

These sketches were completed during the period of time that I have been taking the art class called Painting on the Edge taught by Michael Orwick, offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

Alone Together, oil painting

These sketches are notes prepared for planning a future painting.  In the process, I  play with brush marks and edges on cardboard, first in black and white and then adding some more abstract color perspectives. 

I am thinking about a simple painting of a person and a bird on an ocean beach, and am wondering what direction to take. 

Where should the person and the bird be positioned?  Should their lines be hard edged and realistic or might these objects be better depicted in a more  abstract and reflective way?  Should they stand out and burst with color or be more tonal in nature, positioning themselves smoothly between water, sky and beach?  When and where should the sky, and the water erupt into being?  How does light run through this?

These sketches on cardboard are for me, a form of meditation.

They are a kind of warm up where I roam about the gessoed cardboard with ink, some acrylic and finally oils, while playing with shapes and soft edges, varying the texture to see what affect it has on the person and the bird.

Person and Bird, Acrylic on cardboard

How important is this bird?

Water Bird, acrylic on cardboard

What about reflections, and of what?

Water bird with reflection I, acrylic on cardboard

Playing with water reflections and edges.

Water Bird with Reflection II, more abstract, acrylic on cardboard

Let’s try mixing it up a little, who has the sharp edges and who is soft and fuzzy?

Sketches for future painting called Alone Together, acrylic on cardboard

A person and bird on an ocean beach, with greater emphasis on the bird.

How complex should the textures be when sketching the bird and person? How about varying brush strokes and types of edges and how these variations create differential emphases on the sky, beach and ocean? How much color should I add?

There are five parts to this simple painting: bird, person, waves, beach, sky, However, this bird seems to be taking over.

Person and Water Bird, (oil paint on cardboard)

Shifting to color when thinking about the horizon and light, I paint some potential perspectives on the background.

Abstract I, Oils on cardboard, hard horizon
Abstract II, oil paint on cardboard, soft horizon

How to depict with horizontal lines, those beautiful shifts in color, the blended statuses that occur, between sky and the imagined ocean horizon; repeated when ocean waves become still waters and beach sand?

Abstract III Oil Painting on Cardboard

And how would it look if it all turned out in blues?

Abstract IV, oil paint on cardboard, lines upon lines

These are early thoughts about edges and brushwork that I might use while preparing a future oil painting of a person and a bird, positioned on the soft and often merged horizontal lines between water, beach and sky.

Time will tell how this all turns out.

These sketches were completed during the period of time that I have been taking the art class called Painting on the Edge taught by Michael Orwick, offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

Calligraphic messages seem to be everywhere in nature. They emerge from our natural surroundings and are etched into our consciousness.

By referring to “nature’s calligraphy”, I refer to a form of art that is inspired by nature, yet looks like handwriting or calligraphy, and has artistic implications that go beyond the written word.

Sauvie Island Calligraphy, oil painting on birch wood

How do I ever know what to paint when standing in such beautiful natural scenery? Where does land end and water begin? What color is the in-between?

I know by my feelings when to start painting. I will sense when that moment is here.

It is when my eyes stop at a point, where I ponder what I see, where I wonder how this place even exists it is so ephemeral. Then it is time to paint.

This quiet moment is in March and occurs while walking off-road at Sauvie Island, near Portland, Oregon We are standing in a field, looking at almost still waters. The scrub bushes and small trees on the other side of the pond are sending what looks like a calligraphic message, punctuated by clouds.

It is our first time out in a long time, owing to COVID constraints. This is also a global pandemic moment for us, an outing free of other people, social-distancing not required.

There is no noise, but for soft sounds of birds. It is a perfect moment.

It is now a painted moment.

In my mind’s eye, I see this same scene in another way, as calligraphy.

I plan to paint this again, but in a much wilder, simpler way, via the style of a notan.

The above painting was completed during the period of time that I have been taking the art classes of Michael Orwick, offered by the Oregon Society of Artists.

Clouds as Art Form

When I was a child, some of the first things I thought to draw were pictures of the sky. It would seem that clouds were the easiest thing to draw in the world. I took my crayon, put up a white oblong shape, perhaps with the yellow sun peeking out, and was done. Voila! I had painted a cloud.

Clouds over Water, oil painting

Now that I am an adult, painting clouds as part of a painting exercise for an art course, I am amazed how elusive, expressive and complicated they are. Where does a cloud begin, and when does it end? How does the sky manage to peek through the clouds in such soft and unimaginably subtle ways? Do I ever really paint a cloud, or rather an allusion to one?

The more I paint them, the more amazed I am with the ephemeral nature of clouds.

Clouds over Island Sunrise, Oil painting

It is a challenge to use less and less color in a painting, yet still have the colors of the atmosphere roaring through, bouncing everywhere, not respecting boundaries. I think this happens often because of our focus on light streams and reflection, in addition to shape.

This seems to be true, even when painting clouds from the light of the moon.

Clouds in Moon Light, Oil Painting
Clouds in Moon Light, Water Color, Ink and Gesso

Now that this idea of painting clouds has become part of my daily art routine, I expect to see many new ways to relate to them with canvas, brushes and paint. Once discovered, never forgotten.

The above paintings were completed this year, during the period of time that I have been taking the art classes of Michael Orwick, offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

The whole reason for taking an art course it to break into new territory, and that is what I am doing. Since the beginning of this year, I have been following the courses taught by Michael Orwick through the Oregon Society of Artists. Knowing what kind of teacher he is, I decided to carry several pieces of work through his entire set of courses to see what I might learn about each aspect of art that he teaches. The first course he taught focused on The Value of Design. The second course, that I am now taking focuses on Creative Color and Luminescence.

After several weeks of reading, painting, thinking about color, and trying various ways of approaching this painting, I feel that my painting of a Winter Bridge is now reaching a point that the painting shows new growth and development on a color perspective. I appreciate the commentary and critique of our instructor, Michael Orwick, and the many talented art students who have offered observations and suggestions about directions to take.

Michael Orwick’s course is three hours per weekly session for six weeks and on Zoom, leaving us all deep in thought and happily tired from all the thinking and planning that we do during these intensely focused three hour sessions. I look forward to discovering next steps in this art series.

As a suggestion to anyone who decides to take this course, I have found it very helpful to carry several paintings that I want to complete through the entire series and adapting them according to what I learn as I go along. This approach, thus far, has resulted in some adaptive best practices for how to adjust and rearrange my existing art plans to meet current needs.

Valuing Color

Below are photos, sketches and paintings that I prepared for our class called Creative Color and Luminescence taught by Michael Orwick offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

This is an unfinished painting. I have ideas how to soften the red water on the right side and want to do some glazing to smooth out certain parts. For now, I am not touching the painting because it needs to dry a bit before proceeding.

This painting is of a Portland bridge that I started sketching back in January when I prepared ink sketches of it for variations in Michael Orwick’s earlier course on design and composition. I have now carried these earlier sketches into the current class on Creative Color and have begun painting it using oil paints on a birchwood panel.

Portland Bridge, unfinished oil painting on birchwood panel

This week we turned our attention to color value and as an assignment, we broke down colors on our palette into gradations between very light and very dark values of the same color. We also began painting color perspectives of our planned composition. Michael Orwick spent three hours with us on zoom, detailing ideas and illustrating color value. It was a very good explanation and I learned a lot.

He asked us to summarize our aha moment and here’s mine.

In landscape paintings, clouds are a big part of the sky’s atmospheric infrastructure, bending light and casting shadows altering colors and their hues. Similarly, on the ground, trees, buildings, hills and mountains are important parts of land’s infrastructure again bending light, casting shadows, altering colors and their hues. Paying attention to the horizon helps to illuminate how these big natural infrastructures interact when light is infused into the picture.

We use our paints to sculpt and make textures while also measuring brightness and shadows. The system of mixing colors for specific purposes may create moods, alter reflections, enhance shades and encourage brightness and may intentionally create feelings of harmony or disharmony, as needed. We spent time considering how color does this, by shifting values, varying brushwork or color marks and color mixing. Here is my takeaway from this week.

Color is all about perspective.

Colors may have value which can be deepened or softened according to whether they are:

in the sky;

their proximity to the horizon;

how light is being infused (i.e. angle of the sun); and

according to the shapes and angles of objects around them.

Understanding this about color, we ask as we plan a painting:

  • Where is my horizon;
  • Where is my light source;
  • What is my color harmony (could be seasonal, time of day, mood, feeling.; and finally,
  • What is my mother color? Reference to mother color summarizes the predominant color of a perspective.

If I understand correctly, the mother color is not a “true” color based on the facts of an observation. It is instead, the color we might choose to mix in all the other colors of the palette while painting, to encourage harmony. In the case of my painting up above, I consider purple to be the mother color. I mixed up all the colors in this painting to see what color I would get, and here it is. This would indicate that I will get soft shadows from the palette I have chosen. It is late afternoon in this painting, and the soft purple light over the Willamette River pervades.

Learning to use color in a painting is like learning how to drive a car. One’s beginning understanding may be that we must know how to turn on the car, stop, go, and turn the steering wheel. With time, we learn the necessity of checking our mirrors and estimating angles of the car to comprehend where we are and how moving our car will impact on others and their locations.

Color, like design and composition, complicate art in the most wonderful ways. It is much the same way mirrors complicate driving…but also improve the experience.

I expect to add glazing to this painting for harmonizing colors and will prepare some speculative drawings for figuring out options on the glazes.

Sketch paintings and glazing options appear below. I have prepared them on on cardboard since I do not plan to keep them, except for this planning stage.

Color options for painting
Color options for painting

Below, is the graph that I prepared for the class showing four possible variations in color value for each color in the palette.

Illustrative example of color value changes prepared for the course as an assignment.

It is turning out to be very useful that the same painting ideas I chose for the first course are being carried through the next course, so that I continue to work on the painting across the big art concepts that we are being taught. We did not have to do this, but I chose to, as a learning experience and I would recommend doing it again.