Thursday, February 5, 2015

snow and paint

It's been a frigid, snowy few weeks here in Boston. As I type this, it's 10 degrees outside. The city saw a record snowfall of 40 inches in just seven days, and with that immense amount of snow comes parking and shoveling woes, subway shutdowns, driving bans and just general misery when trying to get anything done outside. During these snowstorms I've been hunkered down in my studio, enjoying our fireplace and the snowy view and getting a lot of painting and organizing done. 

During the first blizzard there was a 24-hour driving ban and subway shutdown, but Mike still had to make it to his lab in order to check on his current experiment so we bundled up in all our snowboarding gear and walked across the Mass Ave Bridge to Cambridge. It was funny to see this normally super congested 4-lane bridge completely empty except for the occasional plow and a few people on skis.

It kind of looks like there's not a lot of snow on the road, right? That's because the wind was blowing over 40 miles per hour, whipping it onto the frozen Charles River and at our faces and nearly blowing us backwards in the middle of the bridge. At MIT, where Mike works, it was desolate… not a single other person in his whole lab, and no other buildings or businesses open. Even after living in New England for ten years I'm still excited and impressed by winters here… it takes a crazy storm to shut down New England and this was that storm. Here's my studio building and my street, totally deserted.

That's not to say it wasn't beautiful though. I don't live on some majestic sweeping prairie or up a forest trail where things are already pretty and made extra ethereal by fallen snow… however, a blanket of white does favors for my normally (overwhelmingly) bustling neighborhood. The train outside my studio windows stopped running and the thick flakes stifled what little sound was left from crunching boots and skis. When I went outside to snap a few photos after the storm, the air was so still that I heard the bouncing of each kernel of birdseed thrown by the priest next door and the flutter of chickadee wings swooping down from their evergreen homes before I even saw them around the corner. Holiday lights still wrapped around trees and hanging on brownstones made icy snowdrifts glimmer in the fading dusk light. Here's Commonwealth Avenue, three blocks from my studio:

Snow storms are a massive pain but kind of a blessing as well… they force most of us to snuggle in and turn down just a bit. Because I couldn't drive out of the city I had to reschedule my painting drop off at a local gallery, in turn giving me a few more hours with "Ghosts of the Coast," and I made some changes and additions that I otherwise wouldn't have had time to do.

When we last left off I had prepped a big canvas with old book pages for strength and dimension, and glued down some corrugated cardboard and newspaper. I'll be totally honest… one of my goals this year is to explore some new color territory and to help with that I'm picking paint swatches at the start of each painting and taping them to my canvas to keep me honest. I really wanted this piece to be a little neutral in color and let the found paper and textures do a lot of the talking, so I settled on this palette full of suburban beige, grey plums and arctic lavenders.

(Special thanks to Economy Hardware, whose employees are generous with paint chips even though I clearly am a renter with no walls to paint.)

For most of the rest of this painting I focused on texture, adding a lot of unexpected layers and objects.

One of my favorite new materials to work with was this discarded fishing net that I found on a beach pier in Maine during my last road trip. I have a totally new respect for my cousins Erica and Christina, Alaskan fisherwomen who have each lived on boats for weeks at a time hauling up salmon and halibut in the Bering Sea. Because this. stuff. stinks.

It stinks so bad!
It smells like fish in the worst way.
The worst.
Um, probably because it was used to haul fish and then left to rot on a pier in the sun for who knows how long until some naive trespasser thought it would be a great thing to bring home and then leave in a ziplock bag for three months. I was almost afraid to use it because it could have made my painting smell like THE WORST FISH (I really hope this is getting across how terribly terrible this rope smelled)… but luckily soaking it in ethanol took away the smell and the sealant I used put an impermeable layer over it. And it looks great! The texture is fantastic and unique, holding in little bits of paint and really roughing up the bottom edge. But really. It was gross at first.

I really love incorporating text and lettering into my paintings but it's not always necessary for the text to be the focal point, so I did so really subtle stenciling over the resting space of this canvas. The text was big enough to be a bold detail but not so heavy that it overwhelmed the main image.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the finished piece. However, it's currently hanging at Wedeman Gallery in Newton, MA at my first group art show, aptly titled Paper/Cut: The Contemporary Collage Show, until February 21. If you're in the area I hope you'll check it out! That is, if we're not all buried in snow by then...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

first steps on 'ghosts of the coast'

A whole mess of good things came together today! My Belize art adventure trip is half full already, we received the OK to lease our home/studio for another year, I am getting really good at making Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon, the sky is blue and, after a few days of struggling to get back into visualizing work on canvas, I got this big painting flowing smoothly.

36"x48" on canvas… Chubby Boots for scale.

With this painting, tentatively titled "Ghosts of the Coast" (it may end up with a slightly less creepy title when it's done), I knew immediately that I wanted to hold back a little on the color and focus on built up textures and layers to give it it's personality and weight… I want there to be a whole thick, beckoning world going on behind the main imagery. 

These are just a couple quick shots of the base layer (discarded book pages adhered with a Mod Podge/water mixture) and the first flat layer (a nautical chart of Penobscot Bay, blank atlas pages and gift wrap) and the first texture layer (corrugated cardboard, book pages, old newspapers). One important thing I've learned over the last few big paintings is that it works well to approach the areas of visual detail and textural detail at separate times… working on them at separate times leads to a good level of contrast, which can then be softened/the areas combined later if I want.

Though my paintings don't always evolve in a linear, ordered process, I'm also making an effort to pay attention to how this one emerges so I can better understand my work flow, both for my own sanity (half-finished paintings, ugh) and to channel that flow into tangible steps for my workshop. Hopefully I'll have a few blog posts detailing the various phases this one goes through, but you can always hop over to my Instagram to see real-time progress posts and more Chubby Boots.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

join me on an art adventure in belize!

Big news… this year I am hosting a mixed media travel art workshop in Belize! 

Mixed media is such an incredible way to create artwork and the result is truly unique to every artist. I love sharing my process and techniques, and since so much of my artwork is inspired by the process of traveling, exploring and using found materials, it only felt right that my first workshop would incorporate all of that.

This April, I'm teaming up with Arts & Cultural Travel to host a 9-day art adventure that will take us from an eco-lodge in the lush rain forest of Blue Creek, Belize to an ocean-side cottage on the beautiful, remote island of South Water Caye on Belize's unspoiled barrier reef. Local guides will show us the best things each area has to offer culturally and environmentally, including hikes, markets, local artists, snorkeling, boating, dancing, music and more. We'll use all of these experiences to fuel the beautiful artwork we create on our trip!

Throughout the trip I'll be hosting art workshops each day. Using provided supplies, photos and our own found materials from the area, we'll explore all the same mixed media techniques I use in my paintings, and create beautiful art-filled travel books inspired by our time in Belize. You'll learn collage techniques, paper image transfers, photo manipulation, paper stitching and the best way to seamlessly incorporate a variety of textures, surfaces and found objects into your travel journal.

We envision this trip to be more playful and less intensive than average art workshop! During our 9 days together we'll focus on exploring a new place and seeking artistic inspiration from our experiences, so you don't need to have any professional artistic experience in order to enjoy this adventure. Just have an urge to travel and create! You'll return home with a gorgeous travel book full of  your own mixed media paintings and lots of new techniques to incorporate into your own art.

We'll start off our journey with four days at the Cotton Tree Eco-Lodge in the interior of Belize, where the adventurous (thats you!) can hike the Rio Blanco waterfall or explore the caves of Blue Creek, then relax and create art in their open-air, sustainable, solar-powered lodge...

...and then travel for five days to the rustic, remote island of South Water Caye:

On South Water Caye, we'll spend our days snorkeling, swimming, boating, creating art and even enjoying drumming lessons as we relax at this UNESCO heritage site.

We spent a lot of time perfecting this trip for those who want to really get out there, explore and see a new part of the world with a more adventurous twist. It only made sense to pack this trip full of incredible activities -- the same way I do when I travel -- in order to fuel our creativity and give us delicious inspiration to channel into beautiful, vibrant art. I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am! 

All the details are here on A&CT's website, and there's an interview here on my travel art process if you really want to know the nitty gritty! Use the contact form to get ahold of Sharon, the trip director (she is awesome!) or contact me if you have art-specific questions. I really hope you'll join us!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

caribbean new year, growing up, saying yes

So… It's 2015! I turned 29! I'm engaged!!
I have so much to tell you.

Mike and I rang in the new year camping in White Bay, on the little island of Jost van Dyke, British Virgin Islands. A few months ago I found a pair of cheap plane tickets as a surprise birthday present for Mike, and we set up our little tent right on the shoreline and spent five days relaxing at Ivan's Campground, one of my favorite places on earth. We've done this trip before (at $25 a night it's a great budget vacation as long as you don't mind a lot of sand in your sleeping bag) but this time we got to experience the famous Old Year's Night party at Foxy's beach bar.

Other than celebrating New Years, there isn't much to do on Jost besides relax on the beach in front of your tent with your campground neighbors, snorkel the shoreline, chat with the bartenders at Ivan's (who keep your week's tab going in a notebook, when they remember) and occasionally trek to the other end of the bay where tourists on boats swim to shore to visit Soggy Dollar and the other beach bars. Sometimes there's electricity and running water, sometimes there isn't. I collected shells and even made my way to the next harbor over to buy glue to make a sign for Ivan's wall… but then I just sat on the beach instead.

A lot of people spend weeks or even months camping at Ivan's because it is so peaceful… the soft waves lapping at the shore and the gently waving palm trees feel like one big life exhale. I was a bit burnt out from an incredible open studio/holiday market/sale season so spending a few days doing nothing was exactly what I needed.

We also celebrated getting engaged! After seven years together Mike proposed to me on Christmas Eve morning in our home. It was so sweet and personal. We'll probably wait until Mike finishes graduate school next year before getting married but it's already been fun to chat about our wedding. Wedding! Married! Eep! I am excited.

After five days on Jost, we took a ferry back to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where we camped at Cinnamon Bay in the National Park. Cinnamon Bay is a more official campground, with designated campsites and a much busier beach, so we spent less time there and more time scuba diving and hiking.

We went diving with Low Key on the Hey Now, the same boat we were certified on two years ago. What can I say about diving that isn't already obvious… it's amazing to be so deep under the surface of the water, the ocean floor so full of weird, cool things unlike anything on land. Last year we were treated to a swim-through cave, sharks and a few eagle rays. This year we dove a shipwreck and a few reefs and had an awesome encounter with a sea turtle, who swam right up to us and casually munched on some sea grass beneath us.

After our four daytime dives, Mike talked me into doing a night dive during the full moon. I never thought I would voluntarily jump into pitch black ocean water a mile offshore at night, but someone on our day dive said "If you're going to do it, do it here and now" and the dive master said "what's the worst that could happen?" so we signed up for it, and there we were, jumping into the dark water and silently floating sixty feet below the surface only the sound of our regulators bubbling and the clicking of fish speech.

At one point I swam away from the reef, turned off my flashlight and held my breath and just stared into the infinite blackness of the sea… it was very surreal and otherworldly, and just one more reminder that facing fears almost always leads to these awesome new moments. It was a fun way to kick start the new year and I hope it will set the tone for 2015. As my friend Caitlyn said, "'tis the year of YES!"

We got home on my birthday, had a fun weekend celebrating with friends and now I'm back to work. In addition to a new sketchbook and several new paintings, I am brainstorming and planning an incredible travel art workshop happening April! All the details a little later this week… happy 2015!