The eye of the blackbird

It was evening all afternoon.It was snowing And it was going to snow. The blackbird sat In the cedar-limbs.

Today the true winter palette of Iceland was revealed.  The color and mood of this day are captured in Wallace Stevens' poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.  Here is the link to the whole poem...I'll wait while you go read it.

http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/stevens-13ways.html

Now you know what kind of a dream state I was in all day as I worked in the studio.  This is the mountain behind the farm, Laugarvatnsfjall, 16 x 20

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And a view across the fields from the window of the library in town, about 8x11

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Giant steps

Coltrane in the studio today, seems appropriate, as I am starting on my 16 x 20 sheets now, another milestone. I woke up this morning thinking that some monochromatic painting would be a good thing to do, since the black and white drawings have been so gratifying and fun.  With the fall colors fading to black and brown, the landscape is increasingly graphic and basically monochromatic on a gray overcast day.  I over-painted on two 13 x 16 paintings that were leaving me feeling ...meh.  I kept more or less the same composition, same mountain sides, just re-focused.  Here is one:

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It's good to be lost.

Painting larger is new ground for me, and going there has meant embracing uncertainty and the feeling of being lost. But it's good to be lost! I am learning that working larger entails detaching from the "observed" landscape where the painting began. Inside the studio the landscape is no longer in front of my eyes. Instead I have drawings to look at, and memories, and photographs. More new ground, working from reference images and memory. And not only that. The light is constant, no issues with wind or rain... new ground working on a painting over several sessions, days, maybe weeks. Where am I? Here is a drawing of a mountain side I have studied, painted and drawn many times already, and it is my jumping off point for a studio painting. Below it is the painting I am working on, about 14x18. (I know what you're thinking, but remember, "big" is relative, and size isn't everything.) IMG_2660Image

 

Kickstarter update

Here is a pic of the small relief print, 5"x7" that I am sending out to some of my wonderful Kickstarter supporters.  I printed an edition of 40 by hand about 10 days ago, and now they are dry and ready to go. I'll be mailing these in a day or two.

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To achieve consistency in the printing of the gray clouds, that was a little printing slight of hand.  I inked the plate evenly each time with the right amount of ink to achieve a rich black when rubbed down with my hand printing tool of choice, a bookbinder's bone folder. But before printing, I printed off the clouds onto a piece of scrap white paper, and then a second time, so 2 layers of ink were removed.  Then I placed the actual paper for the edition, I used Nideggen, and printed in the normal way.  Only a trace of ink was left on the clouds, so those appear as a consistent gray.

IMG_2126 Below are pics of my studio corner, with SOME work up on the walls.  There are many more paintings stashed away in a folder.  In the far corner is a view of the small sketches I have been using as reference images for my paintings.  Many of these small sketches will be mailed out to another group of my Kickstarter patrons in a couple of weeks.  I have selected a few of these to show here, just a teaser.  IMG_2815IMG_2814IMG_2723

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It bears repeating: Kickstarter is a powerful platform to help creative people reach a specific goal.  It connects the artist with a world of people who are open minded, willing to make a leap of faith, and eager to support the creative process.  I am over-awed at the gesture that total strangers, as well as friends and family, have made by responding to my project.  In exchange I can offer these pieces of artwork, all offshoots of my creative process during this residency.  As I am breaking new ground in my landscape painting, these small works have helped me to understand and interpret the forms I am fascinated by.  I'm working with an enormous amount of energy and focus, thanks to this gift of time.  I hope every one of my Kickstarter backers will appreciate these tokens of my sincere gratitude.

The Great Grayness

The Great Blueness and other Predicaments, a book from my childhood, is about a colorless, gray city. When colors spilled from the cauldrons of a magician/chemist, the population was in turns blinded, agitated and depressed by the introduction of the colors yellow, red and blue. When the 3 primaries were carefully blended, harmony was restored and the city bloomed with color. But imagine if the colors kept on blending, and blending again, their world would be restored to a nuanced, liminal, dreamlike gray. That is the world I am living in right now. IMG_2633

IMG_2635In a different world, five hours East of Laugarvatn, I saw the otherworldly blue of glacier ice floating in a lagoon.  This is a small quick sketch of the ice, with the glacier in the background, about 8"x 6".IMG_2637

It was incredibly exciting to sit with this view and try to capture some of the colors.  It was also a deeply peaceful moment, time frozen, with silence all around except for the muffled sound of dripping water.  I am hoping for two days of good weather in the forecast for October, then I can go back to this site for a two day ice-painting marathon.

Leaves are graygreen

More WCW today. Here, I'll just copy down the whole thing: William Carlos Williams, "Lines" (1921)

Leaves are graygreen, the glass broken, bright green.

Just a reminder to myself to be concise with selection and editing as I paint, and precise with color.

Here are some of the mountain studies from today and yesterday. Lots of graygreen moss around. The first one is 16" x 13", the second is a small acrylic sketch on handmade paper, about 6" x 5". IMG_2348IMG_2349

Alas, I bought a huge stash of Icelandic Lopi wool today, so it will take all my willpower to not get sidetracked with knitting hats.

"...I was born to be lonely, I am best so!"

The poem Danse Russe by William Carlos Williams was with me as I sat alone in the studio, enjoying the silence.  As a creative person I often crave solitude, and even the complicated and conflicted moments of loneliness that solitude brings with it.  That is the emotional space I look for when I paint.  In this sparsely populated country you don't have to wander far to find yourself completely alone in the world, physically anyway.  Not a person, not a car, at least for as far as the eye can see.  Here is the view from a lovely quiet hillside, in a valley protected from the wind, on an unusually clear and sunny day.

IMG_2083I did a few  paintings over the last three days, around 10"x12" or 9"x9" in that range.  I painted the one below from that quiet hillside.  It was a rare treat to sit comfortably outside and paint for a couple of hours, instead of inside the car.

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This is a studio painting:IMG_1905And here, my biggest painting yet, ever.  Really.  It was one of my goals of this residency to push my work to a larger format. It's about 16" x 14", so this is progress.  I'm still tweaking it here and there, but this is what it looks like right now:IMG_1966

Sounding my barbaric... yip?

I am thinking about Walt Whitman, as you can probably guess by the title of this post.  (I posted about the ModPo MOOC recently.) My barbaric yip is taking the form of 6x8 inch mountain studies in acrylic on handmade paper. Small studies, so not quite a Yawp, but still, for me, barbaric.

I used a limited palette, just to keep things from getting completely out of control.  Working in sets of 2, the first painting is based loosely on a photograph or a sketch, and the second painting is based only on the first.  I will probably keep working on them, but for now this is how they look.  I have 2 other sets in progress.

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second one of the set

I had a lot of fun with these today, cozy and warm in the Gullkistan farmhouse while the gale was blowing outside, working at the living room table, reading poetry and painting, relaxed, slow, and steady.

Anatomy lesson

My mother, Patricia Powers, was a much loved Professor of Gross Anatomy at the University of Vermont Medical School during the 1970's, 80's and 90's.  I am thinking of her now.  She visited Iceland a few times and loved it, and encouraged me to travel here.  As I am studying these hillsides and mountains I see the  shading of  bulges and depressions,  the jagged cuts made by shocks, and rivulets that carve their path down the slopes.  Drawing these contours I think of her anatomy lessons, and flesh, and sinew and muscle.  Also veins and arteries.  The earth is alive here, still growing, it is young.  As I paint, its as if I palpate, the way my mother touched me, deliberately, studying, trying to understand something deeper than what shows on the surface.

This is some work from today and yesterday: 3 smallish acrylic paintings about 8 x 10 and two smaller gouache paintings.

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Now I am painting. What was I doing before?

Today I feel like I REALLY painted.  I mean really flinging the paint around (lol), and creating a juicy loaded surface.  Well, everything is relative I guess, but it was a breakthrough for me and I was having fun: looking and looking, mixing the colors I needed, and getting them onto the panel.  Basic, right?  How satisfying to just work.  I may feel differently about these paintings later, they can use some tweaking here and there, who knows I might end up scraping them all off.  But for now I'll let them live as witnesses to a good day of work.

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Anyway, how can you go wrong in a landscape like this?

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ModPo MOOC

About 6 months ago, before my travel plans were set, I signed up for a MOOC that has been running from UPenn for many years, Al Filreis' Modern & Contemporary Poetry.  I wasn't sure if I would have the focus for this 10 week course during my painting residency, but I am finding, now that it is up and running, that it is a source of enrichment and inspiration.  I have always turned to poetry for that mind-opening sense of  falling into words.  I have never formally studied the reading or the writing of poetry, I just know that I respond to it in a deep way.  So with this course I am finally pinning the tail on the donkey and getting some context.  I love it!  There are 27,000 people all over the world currently following this ModPo MOOC.  Now THAT is some awesome transformational power!   Wiki - main syllabus | Modern & Contemporary American Poetry.

Time stands still on a low light day

Painted outside this morning in the mist, which gradually swelled to droplets, until a light rain eventually nudged me inside. I rearranged my corner of the studio to take better advantage of the light by the window. Laura and I worked side by side all day, and before we knew it it was 5:00 pm. The light has been constant and mellow these past couple of days. The mist rises and falls like a long deep breath in and out, covering the fields and the horizon in turn.  A veil shifting in the wind.  Time stands still on days like this.

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Creating connections

 Yesterday we presented our selves and our work to the Gullkistan community.   The directors of Gullkistan, Alda Sigurthardottir and Kristveig Halldorsdottir have created a wonderful nurturing space that encourages creativity and connection.  In residence along with me, for now, are: Laura Marconi, a painter from Philadelphia and my friend; Adrian McGruther, a composer and sound designer from Sidney, Australia, (www.soundcloud.com/sagebass);  Jeanne Borensztajn, student in fine art from Paris, France; Juliette Marie, student in fine art in Lorient (Bretagne); Noémie Letu, a photographer from Montreal, Canada (www.noemieletu.com) and Yasser Fadili, a videographer, Montreal, Canada (www.okamika.com)  It has been a wonderful experience so far, and I love the sense of camaraderie and shared adventure.

Here are some pictures from our presentations.

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ImageL-R  Adrian, Jeanne, Juliette, Laura, Grima, Alda

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On the way to Thingvellir

IMG_1389 This is the kind of landscape I came here to see! I have started making studies of the mountains,  the effect of distance and weather is endlessly fascinating. IMG_1396

For now I feel like a little ant gathering up seeds for winter.  The weather is still relatively good, so I am outside as much as possible painting small gouache and watercolors.  These will be food for the wet and wintery weather that is on the way, when I will be keeping warm inside the studioIMG_1407

And here are a couple of quick, small paintings of Hekla, white queen.  I wonder how many more clear days there will be.  She stays mostly hidden.

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Awesomeness

IMG_1294 Awe inspiring, this is Gullfoss, about 30 km away from where I am staying.

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Today, glorious weather.  I am beginning to take notes, sketching and painting outside while the weather is good.  Here is a shot of my work in progress.

Hello there, Mount Hekla

IMG_1270 I don't know the name of these mountains yet, they are beautiful in every weather...

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But now I only have eyes for Mount Hekla.  This snow covered beauty just revealed herself for the first time today...she was previously hidden behind the distant sheets of rain.  I can meditate on her beauty from the studio, what a wonderful surprise.

Welcome to Iceland

IMG_1229 IMG_1196 IMG_1195 Yesterday was settling in day.  I set up my corner of the large studio where I will work, and the view from the window is magnificent.  The rain clouds rush by dumping buckets of rain and then the sky quickly clears,  the landscape is constantly changing.

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The effect of sunlight through a distant rain is really capturing my imagination.  I am ready to work!

Thank you Kickstarter!

Thanks to my Kickstarter backers I have purchased RT air tickets, paid for the 2 month residency, and rented a car.  Now I just have to get on the plane and hit the ground running.  My first order of business upon arriving in Reykjavik will be to purchase Airmail postage stamps for the artwork I'll be mailing to my KS backers.  My backers at the $15 level (about 20 people, plus some extras I'll be sending as a surprise, ssssh) will be getting a relief print that I will cut and hand print at Gullkistan.   My backers at the $25 level (about 15) will receive in the mail a small painted or drawn sketch. I will be doing these sketches as part of my daily practice.   Making these sketches will help to sharpen my focus on the landscape in preparation for the acrylic paintings I will be doing as the core of my residency.  I have packed relief plates, black relief ink, a breyar, and a small selection of knives and gouges.  For the sketches I have my small watercolor kit and the water soluble colored pencils that I always travel with. The paper is already cut and folded, the envelopes are packed. I am estimating the postage will cost about $120 to fulfill all the orders.