Sunday, October 14, 2012

the rhythm of life...

the camera can't capture the motion of the ripples, but
this is the spot and the morning light.
I'm sitting by the shore, gazing at the lake in early morning. The softest of smoothest ripples slowly move toward shore - only a breath of wind. And they are reflecting the slanting sunlight up on the overhanging birches, the white bark acting like a projection screen capturing their slow-motion rhythm. And as I study those delicate, linear reflections shimmering above me - amazingly - I discover that they move up the birch trunks the way a caterpillar's legs move: they spread out, come together, spread out, come together with a rhythmic start - stop kind of thing...  If you ever studied multi-legged insects, one leg will stop briefly while all the legs behind come closer together and then all the legs out in front spread apart; and if I track one ripple's reflection as it moves up the tree it goes start - stop, start - stop, with the lower ones catching up and then the upper ones spreading out, just like a caterpillar...
How can that be?
I study the ripples in the lake closely; they are seemingly even, moving toward shore in a steadied, regular pattern. Yet there is obviously some kind of start/stop pattern or quality that is undetectable on the water's surface, but made obvious - magnified - by their reflected light. Together. Away. Caterpillar legs. Waves. The movement pattern is shared, and is itself a reflection of the wave motion of all the energy that resonates throughout the universe.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


I stepped out onto the screened porch of a cabin on Belgrade Lake and I beheld an inspiration... a display of visual coherence. The cabin is just two feet of pine-needle-covered-path from where the bank drops to the water, and about half way down the bank a fern's fronds spread in the morning sun. The soft movement of leaves in an overhanging birch filter the sunlight and spatter the bank with quivering splashes of deep gold, and as the fern's fronds tremble in the slight breeze they shimmer rhythmically. The dual movement patterns of shifting light and fluttering foliage overlap, vibrating with morning's energy.

Looking just beyond the fern to the water's surface, alternating ultramarine and cerulean surface reflections move in a soft ripple pattern akin to patterns the flowing tide leaves in the sand. Gleaming through this blue surface pattern are gold strips of focused light moving across the rock shapes on the lake bottom; each individual ripple creates its own gold refraction line.  The gold lines merge and fluctuate like vibrating zebra stripes, passing from left to right as the waves respond to the slight breeze; their changing shapes illuminate the topography of the lake bed.

As I stood there transfixed, it was obvious to me that these patterns of movement were the same, juxtaposed for my benefit. The rhythm of the golden refraction pattern fluttering across the lake bottom danced with the same energy as the individual fern fronds vibrating in the breeze under the shifting sunlight. So different, but pulsing with coherence.  Energy and matter - essence and form; it is shimmering all around us.

Friday, June 22, 2012


"At Rest" - 3" x 3" - very simple study of
wave action and evening light in
pinks and blues. And for not being a boat
person, I think the boat reads well.
I remember in middle school we were put through a series of interest tests - like career aptitude stuff, and many of the questions would get into the basics of working conditions, like whether you were happier working outside even if it meant being in cold weather, or if clean, office-y conditions were preferable even if it meant being stuck inside all day. I remember there were a bunch of questions regarding work pressure - like your ability to work in groups, or a preference for working alone, or working under a deadline. And I remember at the time thinking that that word, DEADLINE, just seemed dreadful. I obviously had no idea how to translate "deadline" into what it would mean in a working environment - I thought it meant that if you did not get your work done by the "deadline", then punishment (and as a twelve-year-old I assumed corporal punishment or general humiliation) would follow - and it seemed like a working condition definitely to be avoided. I also remember that most of the art based jobs, like anything in the creative field: fashion design, graphic artist, illustrator etc, seemed to be linked to the concept of deadlines. I remember thinking very clearly that even tho I loved being creative - because of this whole "deadline" thing, a real career in the creative fields probably wouldn't be for me.
"Ghostly" - 5" x 5" - the gray/green foggy color was achieved
by mixing Cerulean Blue and Yellow Ochre. 
Just slightly later in my development years, "deadlines" were more clearly explained to me, thank goodness, by some helpful guidance person. And NOW of course, I am painfully aware that without deadlines, NOTHING in my entire life would EVER get done. I am completely deadline driven. For instance, all winter long (also known as painting season) I have been telling myself that I gotta get some ocean scenes painted - I am going to be on the coast five different times this summer: twice in Bar Harbor, twice in Southwest Harbor, and in Belfast. It doesn't take a marketing degree to know that ocean scenes sell on the coast... so: "get 'r done!"  - but... when is the "deadline?"  :)
"Ocean Sunset" 3" x 3"- a quick study of
a classic view on Route 3 in Bar Harbor.

"Ocean Cliffs" - 3" x 3" - a familiar
scene near Sand Beach, 
Sooo... as I write this I am in a motel in Bar Harbor with the alarm set for 5:45 a.m. so I can get set up for my first show of the year. About about twelve days ago I set up six coastal paintings. Yesterday I finished and found frames for four of them. They are safely tucked into my transport boxes and ready to hang  - how's that for meeting the deadline? 

Friday, May 18, 2012

ten minutes for me.

ten minutes - that's all. 
This past Sunday, our minister spoke of the word "abide" and how in the gospel, Jesus tells us to "abide in him" -  he took the time to speak of the word: abide means wait, stay, with a hint of stillness, if only inner stillness... also patience, and consistency, be-ness. Then he related that to a simple period of quiet at the beginning of the day - like a short meditation, but he didn't use that word so to not muddy his meaning with other religious viewpoints. Personally, I lean toward Pantheism - the omnipresent "god" - the universe or the creative force in the universe is god - so to me, abiding with "god" really means just being still with myself with no intent... letting everything "in." I mean, I'm often still when pondering colors or next steps or zoning out to let the point of what I'm creating come back to me... but just to be, that's different. 
Here's the first page in my handmade paper blank book. Loose and
fast - this came together very quickly. I did find, however, that I need
better quality brushes to go with my little half-pan set. Next time...
May 14, 2012
So, it being the first day of the rest of my life, and a Monday, which is just a good time to start new things, I took those ten minutes. I just sat in the front window on the cedar chest - which has a cushion on it for just that, but I don't sit there and just look out very often - and opened up to the colors: the yellow greens of May, the fog over the hilltops across the lake, I watched the birds - crows, chickadees - I didn't try to stop thinking or focus or edit, I just drifted.  I also didn't time myself - just allowed it end organically... And at the end, I remembered something I've been wanting to do for months that I just never remember to do. At Christmas I was given this lovely handmade paper book  - beautiful, blank, textured square pages - and I've been wanting to be more instantaneous with my art, so I have this travel watercolor kit and I brought it upstairs months ago and put it all together and placed it underneath my coffee table just awaiting my inspiration - and there it has sat since January! So I picked it up and sat right there and painted the green/grays of a foggy May day. Just for me.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

as easy as breathing...

"d'Archangel III", 8" x 10", gouache on black paper.
Copyright Pamela Jo Ellis, 2012

I attended a conference once where one of the presenters was telling us to find the things in our lives that are as "easy as breathing" - that if we put our energies toward these things, then we would find our "bliss." It was put forth as a way to find fulfillment in your daily life and work, as well as greater financial independence. !! Well, coming up with that list was a challenge - I mean, what comes absolutely naturally?  ummmm... reading? talking with friends - laughing with my children? then I went deeper - dancing - I'm always dancing... mostly in my kitchen... and, even tho I don't do it just for fun very often, I do love to draw. It's one step removed from "breathing" because you have to first pick up utensils and substrate (paper and pencil or whatever is at hand) but it does comes easily - always has. It's as if the image just comes in through my eyes and out through my hand onto the paper - and I don't have to think about it. I relate it to MY amazement when I see a pianist (like Sue or Andrea or Terry) just open a book, look at the music, and the music just flows through her eyes to her fingers onto the keyboard and into our ears. Drawing is like that for me - it just flows. Not that it didn't take her studying key signatures - music theory - and actual practice time playing, and not that I didn't have to learn about perspective and color - value - line and practice drawing, but I never felt I wasn't getting it - that I couldn't do it. I always could. 

"d'Archangel IV", 8" x 10", gouache on black paper.
Copyright Pamela Jo Ellis, 2012
Dancing.  Drawing.  When I was in college I applied for a big grant that would have taken me to Paris and Kiev to draw dancers at the ballet companies there. I didn't get the grant but only because the Ballet companies wrote back to me and told me my presence would be too intrusive, so they wouldn't grant me permission to sit in on classes. (I think the grant committee liked my proposal though...) After all these years, the urge to combine my two interests is still running in the background. So I set up a photo shoot with one of my mature dancers, and here are my first forays into the two things combined.  It is a new direction I want to take my art; an entirely new type of imagery. (But yes, I will continue with my landscapes, as I do continue to desire to eat.) These first few are just getting me started; I actually want to experiment with more movement and less visual accuracy, however, I was satisfied with the tonality and freshness of this first set. I expect at first that the time I'm devoting to these two things that "are as easy as breathing" may actually contribute to more strife (financial, that is) if people don't respond to this new set of images, but I've always felt that if you paint what you love, people will see/feel that and respond in kind. Well, I can hope for that anyway :) 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

some day...

     Some days were not meant to be filled with accomplishments, however, under pressure and time constraints, amazing things can happen. I had a day filled with meetings and classes, with small time slots in between, and as I was sitting there trying desperately to make headway on the big commission I was working on in the 45 minutes available, I had to make a change: scrub out the location of the apple tree stump and move it because I had changed the proportions from the original drawing and needed to re-center the stump. So, the normal way I do this is to wet the area and painstakingly "scrub" off the color with the tip of a firm brush. I had bought this "scrubber" brush from Cheap Joes decided to give it a try - it's a very short, hard-bristle brush - it worked amazingly well: in just a few strokes, the color was gone right back to the white of the paper, leaving it easily reparable to be painted over with the blue of the water. I couldn't believe how quickly and completely it removed the color from the paper, and I just sat there a minute and had this inspiration come to me. How about an image that starts with dark, and you use the scrubber to lift areas of paint - like a reverse watercolor - the way a mezzotint print is crafted: starting with a dark tone and lightening areas. 
A quick trial of lifting paint off Yupo -
just to see if it worked. 
     So I imagined a dark gray winter scene with the white snow on the branches lifted off, kind of in a foggy misty kind of way. So I grabbed a small watercolor block and mixed up a mess of payne's gray and ultramarine blue, and laid down this deep color wash, leaving the lower edge white for snow. Then I set it aside (it would have to dry for me to attempt the lifting of color) and got back to work on the foreground grass texture on my commission. 
My second attempt - utilizing the unique qualities of Yupo
to add clouds and background tree texture.
     When it dried and I tried it, it didn't actually work as sweetly as I had imagined; it was too much work to get the effect I wanted on Arches paper. But then I tried the same thing with Yupo paper - and it worked perfectly! It's more of a graphic statement/sketch of a winter scene than my normal painstaking level of detail, but it is still works and the result is fresh... and it's FUN.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

the struggle, part II

There is No Easy Way Out.
Hard Work Is The Only Formula.     I sound like my dad.
     I am struggling with this new set of paintings. In my mind's eye the finished pieces will be fresh and instantaneous but I am finding that achieving this effect is anything but quick. I sit hunched over these tiny heads captured in full sunlight - trying to balance the lights and darks, limiting myself to minimal "layers" (glazes) so that the colors can stay translucent. In attempting to have the highlights appear to glow it's necessary to push the darks down in value, but then they tend to get "heavy."
     This set of images came to me while I was zooming in on a painting of mine to check the resolution in my photo editing program. Unexpectedly there appeared on my screen just the corner of a head and an iota of blue background and some sweepy strokes of wispy hair entangled in the sunlight. It was perfect. My work had suddenly been simplified for me. This was all I was trying to render, the beauty of life in the sun: beings connected to their surroundings. However, in my effort to render a full figure, this main point had become a sideline thought, "oh... and look at the hair!" Suddenly I could focus in on just the head and the play of light on hair and angled face, pare the image down so that there isn't a fully realized setting or a complete figure to render; find a way to be quicker, fresher, and maybe even produce more art... But the bringing of something new into the world is anything but easy. And if it's to be ART, then quicker is never an option.
     I've done this one image three times - and I think I'm going to have to do it again.
First try - I'm happy with the hair but once the
face was obviously overworked, I continued to
experiment with layering color for different effects.
Second attempt - this time I limited myself to
just two colors: Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna.
I've used this combo before to great effect, but
it still got overworked.

Third try - I brought the full palette back and
managed to keep it from the brink, but I'm still
not completely satisfied with the result.  
     When the third drawing was complete I planned to be VERY brave - with the first wash being an intense value, and then just keeping the second wash the warm skin tones - and only slightly tweaking the final details - three layers would be the best - but no matter how I try, it seems to move into five, then tweaks, and I sit there for HOURS going forward and back between warm and cool in the darks, mix more ultramarine in... nope, too blue... more alizarin, nope... more Naples - searching for the right balance of shadow depth and glowing skin. I squint to judge the value range, then look away and focus on the ceiling to let my eyes re-balance their internal color processing. I lean back to stretch, warm-up my cold fingers near the light-bulbs in my swingarm lights, have a sip of tea, then hunch some more - it's a constant push-me-pull-you between freshness and depth of value - more pigment in the mix... more water... test... squint... more pigment. 
     I've overworked this image again... Maybe I won't be able to achieve the freshness AND the value range with watercolor... 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

the struggle... part I

     Formulaic and Anecdotal are two descriptions of art to be massively avoided - this is what I learned during my study of the history of art. Only fresh interpretations of imagery, deft use of line, and original use of media would be worthy of study by future generations of artists. If an artist had a settled way of rendering an image or pattern of composition (a formula), or if the subject matter was worthy of note only because it was quaint, titillating or in vogue (anecdotal), then it wouldn't "stand the test of time." wasn't ART.  And as a student of art history, I know this, I can see it, I have internalized it. So how can I approve of less in my own work? There are shades of gray - I mean, Picasso's blue period? ...he kind of had a formula going... but then he moved on to discover new things. So, is Alex Katz is formulaic? He certainly sticks to a color palette... Is Norman Rockwell anecdotal? He certainly told anecdotes with his images... If a body of work has similar characteristics, does that make it formulaic?
 This 3" x 3" image is one of a set of new
works I am struggling to help emerge.
I feel I'm not quite there yet. But will
I frame it for sale? Yes.
       If it takes me my whole life to find what I'm trying to say (and how to say it so I feel others grasp it) but manage to sell some of the stuff that was created during the struggle, does that make me a hack? still emerging? never emergent? an also ran?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Limitless - finite

     I settled down in my oversized chair, knees up over the heavily padded arm with the remotes in hand. No firm idea of a goal was in my head, just an unfocused need for mental escape mode. Clicking through the options on my Netflix screen, I saw "new releases" pop up. I'd been feeling the winter blahs ... that stuck-on-the-couch, treading-water mindset of just getting by, not going forward... something new had to be more appealing than the next episode of even my favorite TV escape. Flipping through new options I saw the movie, "Limitless", which I had heard about this past summer and remembered the desire to check it out. With a new sense of direction I clicked on it.
     It's basically about this guy who has found the bottom. A creative person with no will to create, and on a course of self-destruction. By chance he is given this new (imaginary) drug/chemical substance, and within seconds of ingesting it his mental synapses fly open: it's as if he moves to another plane where he can see all the possibilities, all the paths, he has access to everything he ever knew, heard or read, and can synthesize it to now fully direct his life. It was like he could inhale all the information directly into his mind and like a "popper" dancer, direct the energy wave throughout his whole body and SNAP, he was in control. It was a fascinating concept - that with a substance you could gain access to all of your brain power - (some people think it happens when on a current drug of choice, but of course, it doesn't) - and yet watching the actor move through this transformation and seeing the directorial decisions about how to relay the character's feelings and perceptions on screen, I had the feeling that it was almost more a state of mind than a drug induced thing... that the drug didn't actually do anything except give him the will to think, to focus, to be mindful and driven, to never stop doing, thinking, creating, planning - in short - to choose to use your brain.
     We so often get drained by a project or something we are required to do - and therefore in our "off" time, we want to 'zone out'. However, I find the most draining things are those that require little brainwork. The monthly bills, cleaning the bathroom, dishes (ugh), laundry, completing a bibliography page, forms and paperwork, driving to work, meetings where I'm only a passive participant... Our brains are actually energized by newness, creativity, the need to focus and add our two cents. We get energized by brainwork so why, when tired, do we feel we need to 'zone' even more?? 
     So after watching this inspiring movie - I decided to try my best, whenever I could, to keep the focus: keep thinking, planning, doing, synthesizing, making lists and following up on details, NOT letting anything slide because of "lack of energy" - finding the energy.  Most of what goes into my day is mental - so it's not really about physical energy, but about the focus it takes to stay on task, and when one is done, to instantly take up the next. And this, in itself, can be energizing.
     Choose to use it.    However, there's nothing wrong with Netflix. :)
Winter Sun, w/c on clayboard, c. 2012
[along those lines, here's the first of a series for a new set of cards - I've found that winter sells well - there not being many artists doing winter - so I have (another) new project.]