When I started painting so many years ago I was drawn to tiny places of light away in the distance. A tree lit by the sun at the end of a worn trail through the pines, the last light of day shining through a line of trees along a jumbled fence or a hidden roof across a garden or set on a steep far hillside. It was as if the place I hoped to be was over there somewhere ill defined, clearly out of reach.
As the years passed, those beautiful places I wished to paint became closer. Like a camera moving towards the subject pulling the boundaries of the lens frame tighter, never drawn to majestic panoramas or iconic structures or landmarks. It was a reflection in the lake with a glint of light or a floating leaf, or the trail of a small wake behind a flock of geese. My messy cottage garden blooming or fading pulled me. Closer in to an intimate moment was what I sought to know.
I spent a good bit of time standing painting places in the wild. In the stillness, working the brush on canvas i became part of the landscape. The animals wherever I stood for that quiet time would carry on around me without fear.
I had a small camera in the beginning. I carried it with me to take a quick picture of what I was painting or to document the days work. But then I found more reason to use it. I would pull it out to film an otter working the side of the lake. Or to snap a shot of a curious mare or pair of jet black Percheron horses leaning over a fence putting their velvet noses in my paint. I started watching the movement of the deer and the way the light shone through the pink ears. The Canadian geese skidding their landings on the water or flying in formation changing leaders mid-air. Watching a singular blue heron gliding or a red tail hawk riding the thermals on a warm afternoon below where I happened to be standing. The bees gathering honey from the goldenrod next to my studio door. Once painting a still life of flowers outside the fat slow buzzing bumbles collected their sweet payload from my cut flowers. So they were painted right into the emerging composition. I kept that that small piece, for the bees. It was a thrill to try and capture their movement but I depended on my camera to study the way they moved and lived in the sea of warm summer air.
In Colorado the magpies are favorite of mine. They are an unpopular bird there, loud and demanding. Little campsite robbers. For me though I would slam on the brakes to catch a quick video or snap a shot. I loved the way the black, white and blue patches would flash as they swooped chattering to each other. The short videos shot became mini workshops in sketching their flight patterns. Their aerial sparring tossed the white patches against luminous black and blue shapes changing as they deftly moved their wings in flight.
And then during the summer of 2011, the bluebirds nested in my garden. I spent an embarrassing amount of time sitting still on the porch waiting for the sky blue male to come and go from the house they had constructed their nest. I concentrated hoping to capture the essence of those sweet birds in a snap of the shutter. Their brood hatched, grew and learned to fly all on my watch. Hundreds of photos were taken but only a handful of shots captured a fragment of what I was experiencing.
The next summer while I was doing a demo in an alpine garden in Breckenridge, a hummingbird came to feast. At first I politely asked if the students would mind my stopping to photograph the small illusive creature. I had only my phone with a camera. The bird stayed for almost an hour, a tease really, coming into view and providing as many pieces of movement for my reference as a full summer of bluebirds. I would paint on my demo then stop and shoot, then paint some more, with the little green flirt coming and going, showing off like a teenage girl in front of her older brother’s cute friends.
I still love to paint my trees, reflections in the lake, shadows on snow drifts in the Rockies and flowers from my garden. But what pulls me in more now are the small wild beings I have met while standing staring at the expanse of Nature. The air the surrounds us all. We are baptized in its abundance, mostly taking its substance for granted. In that spaciousness we all are steeped together. Our essence mingling with those around us. We may feel it at times or forget to notice. But we are together bathing in its breath. That is what fascinates me most these days. The space in-between. I want my paintings to be alive with the life force I am swimming in and trying to experience it more fully with the help of my camera.