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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Painted Feathers?

It's a question I'm asked very frequently whenever I do a show or other public appearance.  In fact it's probably the most commonly-asked question, right after "Are those eagle feathers??" but that's a whole other topic!

I got going in this twenty years ago.  My mother had a large flock of peafowl that ran loose on her ranch.  Consequently, every summer we'd have shed feathers of all sorts everywhere!  My mother could sell the long beautiful tail feathers easily enough, and my sister would craft beautiful earrings from the iridescent neck and back feathers. There wasn't any use for the wing feathers.  As attractive as they were, there just wasn't a need or want for them.

One day as I was thumbing through a magazine, I saw a Louis L'Amour color ad.  This ad, while showcasing his set of leather-bound books, also presented a nice array of western paraphernalia...Navajo blanket, wooden cartridge box, and oh hey, a big wing feather that had a few blotches of paint dripped on its end and ornate multicolor lines and stripes down its quill.  That turned on a light for me!  I had a few jars of acrylic paints because I had been painting blown eggs, so I proceeded to experiment and see if a feather really would hold paint... not just the quill, mind you, but the body of the feather.  Let's see if we can actually do something that's more than drips.

I tried the dots first, and they held fast.  So it does work!  Next I tried Native pictographs.  It was tough going as the feather tends to want to split, but I eventually figured out how to avoid that and create what looked rather like cave paintings on the body of the feather.  From there, and still on a Native/Southwestern theme, I tried still lifes of pottery and lithic artifacts, then some very unrealistic animals that incorporated the quill as part of the animal depicted... that quill tip makes a dandy lizard's tail!  Ok, this is turning out to be a lot of fun!

My painting ability was very amateurish at best.  Other than a few egg shells and a bit of watercolor play when I was a child, I didn't know how to paint.  It was the feathers, over the course of these twenty years, that taught me to paint.  Fortunately in that time I have progressed from cave paintings and cartoonish animals to works of a much wider range and higher detail.  I've taken a few classes from great artists like Fred Oldfield, Robert Walton, and LeRoy Jessfield.  Their expertise in handling paint on traditional support has helped me immensely in understanding how colors work.

Then and Now
I had a very rewarding task recently, in painting the same subject matter that I did twenty years ago for my cousin.  When I was beginning, I had given him a painted feather with a mountain lion.  It was far from realistic, rather cartoonish, but represented the best that I could do at the time.  Much to my surprise he still had that feather tucked safely away.  His wife contacted me and asked me to paint another mountain lion at my current level of ability. 

I felt a bit intimidated at this, and wanted it to be the very best I could do.  The first try was unsatisfactory.  It was on a striped peacock feather like the original, but I knew I could do better.  The second try was on a Sweetgrass turkey feather, and probably would have been ok had it not been for a sudden deep freeze in this region and half-frozen paint in the studio.  Tip: This is when I learned that dropping your jars of paint in a bucket of hot water helps immensely in warming them up and making them workable. I learned that too late though and had unfortunately irreparably split the feather.  The third and final effort was successful- of a mountain lion at rest but ever watchful on his mossy granite perch within the confines of a blue slate turkey feather.

The framing you see posted here represents twenty years' worth of progression in this artistic journey.  For that it is truly one-of-a-kind.  I don't know how many of my earliest efforts are still floating around out there, but it would sure be fun to try this again.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Clarity through Seven Words

Slowly but surely I'm getting things migrated over to the laptop.  My husband's got my email set up here, but it appears that the old desktop computer has swallowed some of those pertinent emails.  Please be patient with me as I get things fully integrated with the new system.  and find these bits that are currently MIA.

Recently Todd Henry on Accidental Creative issued a challenge:  create a seven word bio.  How can you condense what you do down to its bare essence in seven words?  It's absolutely brilliant, because 1) it forces you to cut the clutter and focus on the simple basics of what your art, your business, what have you is all about. 2) By trying to concentrate this concept into the confines of 7 words, you try to explain it with great clarity, yet with enough creative punch to compel your reader to want to learn more.  It's not an easy task!  His is outstanding, by the way:  The arms dealer for the creative revolution.  Mine is a work in progress, I'm not yet satisfied with it:  Detailed wildlife paintings on naturally shed feathers.  I've also considered Portraits of nature on nature's own canvas.  See?  It's not so easy! 

Have you ideas of a seven word bio for yourself?  Please do share it here in comments.  You'll be surprised how it will inspire you to employ it, or at least its influence, elsewhere.  This little challenge has already compelled me to cut all the clutter on the 'about me' portion here on the blog and pare it down to its current simplicity... but that, too, is a work in progress. :-)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Making more technology adjustments

Well, the camera wasn't the only thing that's reached the end of its life, it appears the old desktop computer is nearly there too.

It's an 8 year old Dell and has served me well, but has reached that stage where not even dumping the entire system and reinstalling would be worthwhile.  The processor can't keep up with everything online anymore, the RAM is far below current minimal requirements, the hard-drive has LONG since been far too small (using an auxiliary hd these days for images and iTunes)... the poor old thing has to think hard just to process a right-click.

My Navy son did me a great kindness and has gifted me with modern technology.  He's just completed Basic and has gone on to A-school.  He'd been having a lot of trouble with his new laptop before he left.  Now that he's in Florida, he's gone out to get a new laptop and told me to fix up his old one and keep it.  My husband dumped the system and reinstalled Windows and now it works like a charm.  I'm used to the great Beast that is the desktop, so this is taking a fair amount of getting used to.  In comparison to the dinosaur, though, this little Acer is incredibly fast.  I don't like the way it shows images though, so I'll need to keep working with the Beast a while longer, at least on that level.  It's becoming obvious I'll need to get a new desktop at some point, just for the image-processing if for nothing else.

But for all other functions, I will be migrating to the little laptop wherever possible.  It will take some time, and I've things I need to pull off the Beast and put here... things that the Beast wouldn't let me work with and has been cantankerous in even letting me retrieve.  I should be back up to full speed  soon, and it'll be a little while more before I can take care of those much-needed website updates.  New paintings will be along soon... I hate that these blog updates have been so devoid of imagery!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sweeping Up

2009 is not quite out the door yet.  I still have a few remaining commissions to complete before bidding 2009 a fond farewell.  The going has been slow as I have been under the hammer of migraines for the past several days, which all but brings any chance of doing detail-work to a complete stop.  I'm finally starting to feel human once again and have vision back for the most part, so I hope to have the last of 2009's requests done within the next several days.

The poor old digital camera has met its demise.  There's a new one waiting to take its place.  The old camera had been my companion for 7 years now.... my, how digital cameras have changed in that time, even the simple ones!  Photos of new works may be a little slow in coming but they will come, just as soon as I've figured out the new camera.  When I am once again photo-capable, expect to see newer paintings added to the website, as well as to the blog.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Starting off with 2010

Whoops, something looks different here!  It's about time I put some proper work into blogging, and to get things started on the right foot I thought it should start with a new look.  No more dark and moody colours, let's go with bright and clean and crisp, like a new canvas awaiting that first swipe of paint, just like this new decade that lies before us.

 A Word, Not a Resolution.  Last year as I was hammering out plans for 2009, I read Christine Kane's blog post about theming your year around a word instead of setting dry resolutions.  Just one word, the right word, can bring clarity and purpose to your goals in a way that a list of resolutions never could.  Recently she had several guest authors on her blog who gave stories about their Word Of The Year, very inspiring reading!

Last year I had some pretty huge goals looming, and I was more than a little intimidated by some of it.  I set my Word of the Year, Commit.  By committing to these dreams and ambitions before me, I resolved to see them happen.  The goals were constantly in sight, especially that seemingly impossible one, the 3-week solo trip around Scotland.  That was the one in which I most feared I would fail, so that was the one I worked hardest toward, and consequently became the 'easiest' goal to achieve as everything fell into place.  I bought my airline tickets early in the process, which indeed made the whole thing a true commitment.  By clicking 'purchase', I wholly committed to the intent of making this trip a reality.  But I didn't do so recklessly, I'd done a lot of research beforehand!

I spent much time roaming Trip Advisor's Scotland Forums, talked with many friends who had been there and who live there, learned where and what is permissible in wild camping as well as the locations of campsites and backpackers hostels throughout the country.  It was to be a true adventure, with the only reservations made at the start and the end of the trip, and everything in between left wide open.  I'd browsed Flickr in search of inspiring photos of where I wanted to go, and turned them into a screen saver on my computer.  the same sort of dedication went to shows I participated in, commissions received, paintings completed...  Commit was at the forefront of most things done last year.

This year I gave the word theme a lot of thought.  Where do I want to go?  What goals to I hope to meet?  How do I want my art and my business to develop?  After a lot of thought, the word finally came - Grow.  A nice simple word, yet filled with so much potential.  Professionalism, dedication, my in-studio inventory, the level of shows I would like to participate in, gallery representation, marketing efforts... all of these aspects would do well to grow.  Growth in courage and character to step into new and bigger things.  Growth through education and professional development.  Growth through much studio time in practice and improving the art.  I'm thinking of it as a seedling that needs nurturing - with proper care and attention it can blossom.

Lisa Call has gone a bit further and has set a word theme for this new decade, a brilliant idea.  Her word fits her perfectly - Joy.  She inspired me to set a word for this new decade as well.  Unlike the word I chose for 2010, the idea of theming the decade actually came much easier - because I fully believe I began living this last year... so Adventure seems to fit perfectly.  When you live it fully and without apprehension, life most definitely is an adventure!

Roll on 2010, let's see what we can grow this year!