|Orlemann Art - the artwork of Valerie Orlemann|
|Orlemann Art - the artwork of Valerie Orlemann|
I am back from the 2018 Escalante Canyons Art Festival. The Escalante festival offers a chance to gather with the tribe of other artists. Which is good, because many artists are introverted geeks (especially me!). But there’s more. Escalante is a small town in the middle of south central Utah. It is amazing that such a small number of people can create such an array of events every year. There are three different Plein Air events, numerous demonstrations and workshops, a film festival, parties, talks, a regular art festival where vendors sell things, and...well, I’m probably forgetting some things. One impression I get from all that is of astonishing generosity. These people have given many, many hours to this outpouring of events. And they are all volunteers. Another impression I get is of love. All these events are a gift of love from the festival volunteers to us artists. Thank you, Escalante! We love you back. See you next year.
I am back from the 2018 Escalante Canyons Art Festival. Some festivals are only about showing art. Vendors come with finished products, set up tents and sell what they brought. The Escalante festival is more than that. It includes Plein Air painting competitions. Which means that artists show up with frames and blank canvases and make art outdoors. That creates a different experience altogether. Making art outside is hard. Bugs bite, wind blows, rain falls, light changes. Artists get lost, get stuck in deep sand, get stranded when roads wash out. We paint all day and get together after dark to eat, make music, and swap stories. We catch up on each other’s lives. Then we bring in the art we have created. Some of it is amazingly good. Some less amazing. But there is a feeling of fellowship in having overcome obstacles to share our individual takes on beauty. There is a fair amount of hugging. Sometimes some tears. We go home feeling encouraged, inspired, befriended, understood. My time there was brief this year, but it’s always worth it.
Yup. Artists are a road hazard. There's the basic problem of painting on the side of a narrow road. A friend told me that a passing motorist clipped one leg of her tripod as she was painting. I suspect that didn't end well for the art, though she was unharmed. Then there's the hazard presented by artists behind the wheel. Maynard Dixon quit driving entirely after going off the road a few times. Artists get distracted by beauty. Beauty goes by really fast at freeway speeds, and that can make it hard to watch the road. Finally--maybe least hazardous, but most annoying--artists try to deal with beauty speeding past by driving slowly. I painted last week in Cedar Canyon on Highway 14. I pulled over frequently, but was passed and passed some more by impatient motorists for whom I was in the way. Impatient motorists do some scary things in their pursuit of speed. I mention all this because I am about to go to Escalante for their annual Escalante Canyons Art Festival. I'll be on Highway 12 soaking in the beauty, mentally framing up compositions, and looking for places to pull over. Hopefully I won't go off the road. And if you need to get by me in a hurry, make sure nobody's coming, OK?
So, I was outdoors painting in the cool of the morning. I decided to paint this country road because the reflections in the puddles caught my eye. Halfway into the painting, there was some movement on my right, and a furry, black-and-white head poked up from the roadside grass. It ducked back down, then poked up again a few times, checking me out. Then a fabulously fluffy, black-and-white skunk emerged from the roadside ditch and studied me with bright, curious eyes. It must have decided I was harmless, because it ambled out onto the road and made a couple of trips across and back, sat up and studied me some more, then trundled off into the grass on the other side. I would have loved to get a picture, but I didn’t want to make any sudden moves that might be misinterpreted by the skunk. I had never seen a live skunk. They sure are cute.
You might think that a landscape painting is just a record of what was there--That a painter finds a beautiful place and tells you all about it. But that isn’t the case. Reality is big and a painting is small. Every painting ever made represents a choice made by the painter to tell you about something in particular. Painters are devious people. Even me. I see something that touches my heart and that seems important to me, then I create a composition that highlights that thing. It isn’t a broad sum of facts, it’s a process of focusing in on something--on the shapes, movement, or the moment of light-- that has inspired me. There are many ways to do that. Value, line, placement, color, can all direct your eyes to what the artist wants you to see. Other features can be altered to play supporting roles for that main idea. Like Mr. Coelho (see below), I am attempting to build a bridge. To share my story, my vision, with you.
“...it is within our power to build a bridge to be crossed. Even if my neighbor doesn’t understand my religion or my politics, he can understand my story. If he can understand my story, then he is never too far from me. I can always build a bridge.” -- Paul Coelho, introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of The Alchemist.
I have been reading books from PBS’s Great American Read," and Paul Coelho’s, “The Alchemist” is one of them . I loved this quote from the introduction because I think it expresses the core of art-making—-connection with others. It seems to me that all art seeks to communicate and build the kind of bridge Coelho describes--a bridge that can span theological, cultural and ideological differences and create a shared human place in which we can understand each other. For an artist like me, painting landscapes, that means having another person feel the thrill I felt in the presence of beauty. A fairly small bridge! For someone like Shakespeare, it meant communicating the joy, pain and misunderstanding of young love, or the tragedy of betrayal. Coelho says he builds bridges so that he will never be alone. That might be why art is created.
This week a friend emailed to ask me about developing a personal style. How can an artist just learning to paint with oils outdoors have their own style rather than mimicking the style of their teachers? I don't think of myself as a Wise Woman, but I sent my friend an answer and I think it's true, so I thought I'd share it here.
I think style results from persistence. You paint until you like what you've got. Maybe even go back another day with fresh eyes and improve on it. Then apply what you have learned to your next painting. The solutions you find in one painting show up in the next. The sum of your solutions, carried over into a body of work, develops into a recognizable style. You may get some of your solutions from your mentors, but the more you paint, the more your preferences and problem solving will create a unique style.
Part of the look of my work comes from the type of brushes I like to use. Part comes from my choice of colors to mix (Cerulean and Yellow Ochre for sage brush). Part comes from my compositional choices. All of those developed through trial and error, and they continue to evolve. The sum of them makes a painting that looks like one of mine.
Artist and art guru Mary Gilkerson recently sent around an email regarding the importance of identifying one’s creative purpose. Or, as she put it, “Finding your Why.” Gilkerson reasons that an artist’s purpose will attract fans both to their work and their reason for making it. Plus, it will make it easy to write an artist’s statement. All good things.
At first this seemed simple. I’m motivated to make art as a response to the beauty I see around me. For me, part of that response is spiritual, and part is a practical desire to share with others (Look! Beauty!!). But then I get stuck. Why does that response result in a painting? Why not take a picture? Compose music? Do interpretive dance?
I think it must be the way I’m wired. The beauty that catches my attention is most often visual—colors, forms, backlit edges. And I feel most able to communicate by painting—I don’t want to tell you what I see, I want to show you. Plus, painting is really fun.
That’s not a compelling artist’s statement, but maybe it’s a start.
People are easily offended. My mother recently groused at me all afternoon because I wasn't ready to eat lunch at eleven (I never said she couldn’t). But that’s nothing compared with the ire generated by differing political and religious views. So I am usually very quiet. Like a rabbit hiding from a hunter, I freeze when opinions are being aired. I show sympathy, but keep quiet.
So, you might not have heard me say that I’m a believer. As the Nicene Creed puts it, “I believe in God, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth; of all that is seen and unseen.” (I love the whole Creed, but we don't have to talk about that here).
That belief is relevant to a blog about art because it impacts how I see the world. My art is all about seeing. I see beauty in colors, lines, and shapes, and it takes my breath away. But behind the Wow! of it I feel that I’m seeing the passion, creativity and joy of a Person. Seeing beauty brings me joy, but also feels like communion.
You, the art appreciator, are welcome to come as you are, feel whatever you feel and cherish your own beliefs. That’s fine with me. But I wanted to tell you where I’m coming from. Because it beats hiding.
Wow, I've been gone a while. Since my last post I did a lot of painting. And several shows. But then I was diagnosed with cancer, had major surgery, and radiation treatments. Somehow the desire to blog evaporated. Well. Here I am again.
In the aftermath of treatment, I was a wreck. Tired, in pain. And painting badly. A kindly friend made it her mission to get me out painting again. It was hard. It hurt. Still does, some. But after a couple of months I started being able to turn out a good painting or two. Then I did a solo exhibit featuring my new work. It went really well. Then weariness set in. I've been through a few cycles of post surgical depression, so I assume it was more of the same. My kind friend has moved on, so this time I have allowed myself to relax. I paint a little--I have a huge supply of unfinished plein air paintings to clean up--but I'm also enjoying time with my husband and daughter, biking, hiking, cooking, doing a little gardening. I'm doing a lot of thinking, trying to recover my sense of joy and purpose in life and in art. Some of those thoughts may make it into this blog.