abstracted landscapes. What tools do I use? What references? What photos? Do I paint plein aire? The short answer to these questions is that I paint from my head – from my imagination. I don’t use photos, references, or attempt to paint a particular location. For me, all of that would be laborious and not really fun (and that’s why I have a camera:).
I begin my mornings with mindfulness meditation – sometimes 5 minutes, sometimes close to or over an hour. Taking slow deliberate breaths, I focus only on the breath, while also feeling the edges of my body and my connection to the earth. This ritual settles me and brings my awareness to the present. Eventually I hear and feel only my breath, no longer deliberate or paced, but natural. There is a natural rise and fall of my body around the breath. After getting to this point, I go to my studio and approach the proverbial blank canvas. My primary goal is to come to the canvas “empty” – with no expectations – where anything is possible. Being "open" is the secret to my painting process.
Using an ochre-colored gesso, I prime the surface. I love this – the yellow feels happy and promising to me. Once during a gallery show opening I met a Shaman. She seemed to float into the room. We chatted for a few minutes and she told me that I was glowing. “What do you mean?” I asked. She said my aura was yellow – “bright like the sun filling the room”. (My husband was completely puzzled by my aura being read as yellow. The Shaman explained to him - - “Don’t be surprised. On a bad day she can go to purple sometimes. . .” My husband replied “that makes much more sense.”:) I’ve never forgotten that encounter and wonder if that’s why I’ve always started my paintings with a yellow base.
The next 3-5 layers of paint are swatches of color and texture – blotchy and unknown, this underpainting process is where I begin to see what will happen and where I am going. Within the blotches and strokes of color, I get a feeling: often of expansiveness. The expansiveness often becomes a big sky, or flowing water, pouring over layers of sienna, sage, or blue. Color choices are derived from the underpainting and the next days and weeks are spent applying additional layers. I enjoy using dry brush, hands, and large palette knives. I also work wet-into-wet which simply means that the layer of paint on the canvas is still wet as you apply additional paint. In some instances this leads to dripping if the canvas is vertical at the time (I alternate between painting on a flat worktable and painting with the canvas on an easel or hung on my studio wall). In my early years of painting I would quickly wipe these drips and kind of freak out when they happened (the “oh no” reflex). I now view them as part of the process and meant to be. My belief is that allowing what happens in the studio to happen (and not to control or prevent it) is an authentic expression of self – of me on the canvas.
Reliance on my gut tells me when a painting is complete. My husband serves as the litmus test: when I am finished with a painting, I ask him to take a look. He pulls the canvas outside into the light where it can be clearly seen - - and often verbalizes what he feels from this first look. The majority of my paintings are named from his reaction.
Over the next several days the painting sits alone. I need to leave it before I am sure. Once I view it again I can tell immediately if I’m done.