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The Artist’s Life

Volume 22 Number 2 December 2017

All my life...

I have been documenting the wild places I have visited. I paint the sanctity of the natural landscape that is disappearing rapidly. In that way, I create icons for meditation and peaceful contemplation. My lifelong goal has been to record what I have seen and felt to share with others.

At one time, I could pretend that the areas without road or even trail were pristine and untouched by the influence of man. Now I see that during my lifetime there have been massive changes in all the world as a result of human activities.

When I first moved to Seattle in 1967, I was astounded by the Nisqually Glacier on Mt. Rainier that was so very close to the road bridge. I thought a glacial surge would destroy the bridge over the river. I had the same experience when I moved to Juneau, Alaska in 1977 and wondered at the possibility of the newly constructed visitor center being destroyed by the Mendenhall glacier advancing. Now, both of these glaciers have retreated more than a mile from their previous location when I first saw them. In less than 50 years, a huge volume of water that had been stored as ice has run off to the sea.

Watching the shadows change as our spinning top of a planet hurtles through space every year reminds us that nothing stays the same for very long. In fact, our idea of the unchanging mountains is an artifact of a generalized observation. If we study the lesser details, a mountain is one of the most changeable sights in nature. They always provide a fresh challenge. Cezanne recognized this changeability of Mont Sainte-Victoire, and painted it more than 60 times. He gloried in studying the changing light and colors of the seasonal cycles.

I watch Mt. Rainier with its cloud caps and peek-a-boo disappearances from my studio window. Only the top 2,000 feet or so are visible because Queen Anne Hill blocks the rest. I welcome the sight of the top when it emerges from the clouds and fog. Sunrise or Sunset Alpenglow is a special treat. Then I remember the experience of climbing it and the smell of sulfur coming from the crevices in the rocks around the summit crater. It is a volcano after all. Sometimes a sudden warming under the mountain melts the ice and snow. Then the cycle starts again with more snow than summer sun can melt and glaciers growing once more.

The phenomena of Nature’s generosity never ceases to amaze me. The immense flux of energy that streams from the sun in all directions, with only minor variations in strength, is almost beyond comprehension. According to the article about Sunlight in Wikipedia, when the sun is at the zenith, the radiant energy at the earth’s surface is 1050 Watts per square meter. This is more electricity than ten 100 watt light bulbs use when illuminated. Sun and rain are ours in abundance on this marvelous blue planet.

Now, consider that this energy is dispersed in all directions in space and only a tiny fraction is captured by the surface of the Earth or other bodies in orbit around the sun. Where does the rest of the energy end up? It is a generous source of heat and light for us to freely use. We don’t have an energy bill from Sol.

As a painter, I am especially cognizant of the effects of sunlight on the Earth. Having lived as far North as Alaska and as far South as North Carolina, I have witnessed the differences in the color of the sky that correlate to Latitude. I especially love the long light, when the sunlight travels through 2 or 3 times as much atmosphere compared to when it shines down from directly overhead. It is this filtering that changes the the color of morning and evening light and even the color of the light of the midnight sun. Subtle and gentle warm light effects are seen at these times. The effect is more pearly in the North and somewhat like firelight in the south.

My paintings are records of these observations of ecological niches in different seasons and times of day. Whether I am painting the delicate, rosy greens of spring budding trees or the bold golds and crimsons of fall, it is always the light of the sun that has given me the gift of seeing the natural beauty. For this wonderfully varied sunlight, I am always grateful.

s you may have noticed, I have been painting a lot of trees lately. I have always loved trees, feeling especially safe and comfortable in their near vicinity. Their size, longevity, leaves or needles and cones or fruit have always fascinated me and still do. They have been featured in my artworks all my life, either as a solitary tree, a grove or a mass of trees in a forest.

I have been renewing my acquaintance with Acrylic paint, which I used extensively before having a separate studio for my art. This space allowed me to switch to oil as I had more room for the works in progress to slowly dry. When my favorite oil paint was reformulated and no longer met my needs, I started trying many other brands of water soluble oil and decided to try Acrylic again as well. Many new products have been added to the acrylic lineup and I think they solve a lot of problems for artists.

I have also tried some cradled panels, all museum quality, from Ampersand as part of this exploration. These panels are glued to Birch plywood frames that are called cradles. I worked up from some smaller panels to a 24 inch by 36 inch size with a 1.5 inch cradle. It has been alternately frustrating and energizing, depending on what the problem of the day has been. I also found I needed to try some new brushes for acrylic as well, so lots of learning curves. While in learning mode again, I decided to try oil painting with knives, so that I don’t need to wash brushes. Knives are easily wiped clean, so no solvent needed for cleanup of brushes used for regular oil paint.

Taking advantage of the glorious light of summer, I painted some flowers to start with, and some tree portraits as well. The flowers were from my garden, via slides, and the trees from trips to Alaska and Yellowstone again via photo technology.

My latest large painting is a view of a braided river in Denali National Park, probably the Toklat, with a fine stand of fireweed in the foreground. I find it easier to paint flowers with water media than with oil as I love the feel of a springy brush. It is easier to draw the painting with the brush as there is so little drag and the brush holds so much more paint. More like working in egg tempera but with better covering power when needed.

Beauty nourishes the human spirit. When I experience the piercing beauty of a mountain after a rain, my soul is nourished. Joy and peace expand in my consciousness until the overflow creates an urge to paint the scene, capturing it to show others. I paint because the camera does not always capture what I experience. I have taken a lot of slides with SLR in my life and I have carefully stored them to later paint. Now is the time I am mining these treasures to share with everyone. Sometimes these scenes are no more, and sometimes they were fleeting or in an inaccessible area. These are the gifts that the light of the sun has given me and I, in turn, am creating goods to pass on to others. Perhaps these paintings will brighten your day as I intend via this newsletter to deliver good cheer for this holiday season.

The nights are growing longer rapidly, so daylight hours are precious. I am so glad to have all the windows in my studio during this time of year. There is nothing as wonderful as the light of the sun for painting.

Wishing you all much joy and pleasure in the coming year.



Volume 22 Number 1 June 2017

My earliest memories ...

Are of exploring mountain woods, creeks and wild flowers. My mother sometimes hiked with me and my brothers to a nearby ravine with a nice sized creek to play in. I spent my time splitting shale and sandstone to find fossils of plants and animals. Meanwhile, my brothers turned over rocks in the stream to find crayfish and built dams. When we visited Grandpa’s farm, I would be hiking up to the top of the pasture hills or trying to ski down them in the winter using skis my Grandfather had made. The joys of being a kid in a rural environment.

When I first moved to Seattle, one of the first hikes we took was Paddy-Go-Easy Pass. As a relatively short day hike, the name drew me in. Easy! Maybe good for a little kid? And it had a gold mine, which meant lots of interesting rocks to examine in the area. Actually, it has a long steep section with many switchbacks, but lots to see along the way and at the pass as well with better views the higher you climb. Sometimes the weather is better there as a bonus, with the snow melting earlier than hikes on the west side of the Cascade Mountains. I painted this from one of the early season hikes, with the pass itself still covered in snow. That did not stop us from scrambling up the ridge to take photos.

Is there a gene for loving the wild mountains? For being obsessed with jagged peaks and snowy slopes? For feeling most alive when breathing the thinner, sharply pine scented cold air? Painting these large portraits of wilderness mountains is my way of remembering my wonderful hikes and climbs. I wish you could have been along to experience them as well, but perhaps you will feel you are there as you gaze at the painted views.

Now I am taking a break in these larger paintings as I have been distressed by the decrease in quality of the oil paint that I have used for 25 years or more. So I have been testing many brands of water soluble oil paint to see what is now the best to use. For my testing, I have included some newer paints, both oil and acrylic, to determine what works best for me. As a result, I have been painting more small works, not wanting to commit to painting a 30” x 40” canvas with paint that does not work well.

Exploring the small format in unfamiliar paints, I have painted some fruit trees and a pasture as well as beach scenes at Golden Gardens. Two of my small works were sold in a Benefit exhibit in March. They were painted using a faster drying matte finish oil paint that handles well with a painting knife. Although it is not water soluble, a knife is easily wiped clean of oil paint, so cleanup does not require solvents. I plan on doing more of these, as they were fun.

As I am moving into more sales on line, it is important that these works dry with a tough surface. Also, a matte surface photographs better than a shiny surface, so seems like a win-win. So many things to think of besides the usual “What shall I paint next?”

After such a gray and wet winter, I am ready for some searing, scorching sun that burns the color right off the lush flowers and playful exercise clothing that I see right now. Could I put in a request for some “cold sunshine” so it won’t be too warm for a house and studio without air conditioning?

It seems that 25% of the new apartments in Seattle feature air conditioning. That was non-existent when I moved here. No need of air conditioning when the air is dry and cools off at night. Have our needs changed, or is it the expectations have changed? Air conditioning will definitely drive up the cost of electricity if it becomes the new normal.

My latest large painting is a misty sunrise on Mt Shuksan that I saw and photographed some years ago. I would plan on being at Mt. Baker Ski Area at dawn or as close as I could make it, to do some photography. Sometimes it was pouring rain, sometimes it had just rained, or was threatening to start raining any minute. There is a reason Mt Baker has such tremendous snowfalls. The high mountains in the area wring the moisture out of the clouds coming in from the ocean and water the area frequently and thoroughly.

This makes for dense and towering forests, striking glaciers, productive farms and fisheries. However, it is sometimes inconvenient as well. But better to have lots of rain than the forest fires of several years ago caused by dry summers.

One of the most wonderful attributes of this area is the magnificent trees of the forests and orchards. Whether hiking through old growth forest or along a high ridge with dwarfed alpine tree forms, it is the trees that talk to me. They tell me tales of the challenges a rooted being faces. Not being able to migrate if the neighborhood deteriorates! We forget their stoicism in the face of fire, landslide, avalanche, lightning and drought.

Yet the trees persist, often bearing scars of past assults. Some years ago I visited Cape Cod and was absolutely entranced by the beautiful Pine/Oak forest along much of the seaward side of the highway. These trees are twisted and gnarled, much as the twisted trees I see on ridge tops have been reshaped by buffeting storm winds. I have done a series of 6 images on 8” x 8” cradled plywood. I investigated different lighting, time of day and weather conditions affecting these interesting trees.

I finally painted a tulip farm scene that I had drawn on a mounted canvas many years ago. It was lost in a stack of various boards and mounted canvas supports that had been stored since I moved my studio. Who know what treasures await when cleaning studio (or house)?

May you all enjoy a lovely summer, highlighted by fresh fruits and vegetables that grow in the well watered mountain valleys nearby. It will soon be time for fresh cherries and raspberries, followed by blueberries. Let us celebrate the bounty of July with family and friends at the picnic table.



Volume 21 Number 2 December 2016

Cascade Pass...

Is a wonderful day hike, with all sorts of rewarding views. The wild flowers used to be amazing in season, but I was last there in the 70’s, so I don’t have current knowledge.

The view I painted of the pass is as seen from the glacier below Triad and Eldorado, looking East towards the pass. It is easy to continue the hike up Sahale Arm to the north for even more views.

Even when I first visited this pass, it was heavily worn and denuded of vegetation at the top. The damage created by foot traffic and camping. This was and still is an important route for crossing the mountains on foot. It was used by hunters, traders and eventually prospectors.

Some serious protection work was done later, providing some stone surfaces for sitting and walking. Replanting damaged vegetation was also done in the 70’s to prevent further erosion.

This is the kind of work that could be done on many trails. When younger, I volunteered for trail maintenance work parties. I enjoyed the comradeship and taking care of a system that had provided so many hours of enjoyment for myself and others. I liked using a pulaski so much that I bought one at a hardware store to use on work parties and in my yard. I am a member of the Washington Trail Association to support their work on trail maintenance. If you hike, you might enjoy their wonderful magazine that comes with membership.

The Forest Service and the National Park Service both have inadequate staff to keep up with maintenance on the trail systems that cris-cross our mountains. If we had something like WPA or CCC again, trail maintenance, road maintenance and facility maintenance and construction could provide jobs for young people. I have been in a number of lodges built in National Parks by these workers and they are treasures.

Not everyone wants to sit in an office all day, every day. Nor do they want to join the “down-looking-tribe” that I see walking the city streets, phone in hand. I understand that a city in Germany has just installed the first sidewalk mounted traffic light to keep those living in phone land from walking in front of a bus! What happened to lifting our eyes to the mountains and skies?

I make a point of painting in water media in the summer months when my studio is warmer and drier. I did some watercolors, including a view of Windy Arm at Tagish Lake in Canada. As I contemplated the finished painting, I remembered my stash of mounted Arches paper and thought that if I used acrylic on the mounted paper and sealed it with a couple of coats of satin acrylic medium, it would only require a very simple, light weight frame, no glazing required. This would be easier to pack and ship as I am now marketing my paintings on Handmade at Amazon in the shop Rosemary Antel Fine Art and on Etsy in the shop OilColorsOnCopper. I have shipped work as far as England so far.

I started a series of acrylic paintings on Arches watercolor paper mounted on board. These are focused on mountains and skies that I have experienced over the years and captured as sketches, slides or digital photos. Often, the most dramatic skies occur in response to weather changes channeled by mountains.

At the same time, I started work on a large egg tempera on stretched canvas. I stretched a fine textured canvas on a 40 x 20 inch stretcher bars and then put 3 coats of absorbent gesso on it. I then drew an outline drawing of the creek above the bridge at Myrtle Falls in the Paradise Meadows area of Mt. Rainier. This is now one of my favorite areas to visit during the wildflower bloom.

I rarely can see the mountain from this point, as the clouds start just above the area much of the time. The filtered light enhances the vibrancy of the colors, so I won’t complain.

I transfer the drawing on tracing paper to canvas that has been prepared with an absorbent gesso designed for water media, using graphite for tracing. Before I start applying color to a painting, I have carefully planned ahead. I make value studies and color studies so that I have my desired image well developed in my mind. This allows me to confidently place color in the larger areas, starting with the top and working down.

The first layer should be accurate in value, but may well be a complement of the final color notes. I find this gives more vibrance to the painting. Egg tempera is a slower process for me than oil, but allows me the chance to draw in details with my brush in each color layer that modifies the image. I save the finest details for last, working back and forth adding the lightest lights and darkest darks. When is it finished? When I can no longer improve it.

This winter my calla lilies had foliage out of the ground and 12 inches tall 2 weeks ago. Needless to say, this is hard on the plants as earlier this week it went down to 28 degrees and left the plants looking burned. There were many more plants of various species acting like spring had come and putting new shoots up out of the earth. They should have been dormant when the freeze hit. But we had daily temperatures in November that were more like May. Our first hard freezes used to come at the end of October, but this year it was December. Of course the plants are confused. I am too.

It snowed last night, heavy wet snow that at one point piled in 4 inch ridges on the plum tree branches. By breakfast it was gone from the tree and only an inch on the ground. Strange weather. Last year we had only 1 inch of snow, one time, all winter long here in Ballard.

The mountains looked glorious in their fresh snowy robes on the last sunny day we had. The sight of all the snow has the skiers delighted.

Tomorrow night we will have our last Second Saturday Studio Open House. Ballard Artwalk is changing to Third Thursdays in January. If you are in the area, hope you can visit BallardWorks, 2856 NW Market St. Seattle, 6-9 pm on January 19th, 2017. It would be great to see you then.

As the Winter Solstice approaches, the sun is setting further south and so much earlier. I enjoy the brief but brilliant red light as it slides below the clouds heading for the horizon. I am ready for longer days again. Keep warm and dry and enjoy a good book as we await the New Year.