I’d lived in and around Chicago for nearly 15 years by the time September 11, 2001 came about. I worked in healthcare, managing a series of community health programs for a local chapter of a national nonprofit, all of them concentrated in the Hispanic and multicultural neighborhoods of Chicago’s west side. Most of my program’s clients were Latino, but Chicago being the cultural microcosm that it is, we experienced a much broader ethnic mix than just Puerto Rican and Mexican. We had blacks, some Polish kids, a smattering of Asians, and even a Palestinian teacher. I loved this cultural stew I found myself in, and I felt I was finally experiencing the real Chicago.
Dave and I lived in a large condo building in Berwyn, a west side suburb adjacent to Chicago, at the time of September 11, 2001. Berwyn is a working class neighborhood with a larger percentage of Mexican immigrants, but there are other groups that live and work there as well. Every morning I’d walk to the gas station next to our building and buy a Chicago Tribune to start my day. The gas station was owned and run by a couple Middle Eastern men. They were efficient, kept the place clean and orderly, and quietly dispensed change to me and standard pleasantries on my daily trips to their business. I never asked them where they were from. It never seemed necessary. They blended in with the rest of my experience.
I began to wonder about the two men after September 11 and hearing reports of incidents of harassment of people locally who looked Muslim. It concerned me that regardless of the atrocities in New York we would indiscriminantly turn on others just because they appeared to be Muslim. A few mornings later, as I handed my money through the safety window at the gas station to one of the Arabic men, I asked him if anyone had given him any trouble. He looked at me ,perhaps a little startled, and said,” Pray for me.”
I told him I would and wished him good day.
He and his partner left several weeks after that, turning the gas station over to someone else. I never heard of what had happened, why they left. But I still pray for him, and all of us, that we look beyond appearances and seek out what lies within each others’ hearts.
This is the beginning of a new series of horse paintings. Not only is it new in the sense that it’s a new painting, but I also decided to finally try the clayboard that I bought last year to see how it worked. It seems a lot like the watercolor canvas I got at the same time. More challenging than paper because the paint moves around much more on this surface. I know some people like it better for that very reason. You can lift off mistakes a heckuva lot easier. I’ll have to use it more to get used to this property.
The horse is Matt, a friend’s quarterhorse who they show regionally and who is revovering from surgery for a problem with his intestines. Dave and I went out to their place in the early Spring to meet him and take pictures. Even though it was a gray, rainy day, I liked the way the light hit him more subtly. He’s a pretty gentleman with a speckled forehead. Thanks, Debbie, for having us.
To give you one small update, I didn’t get awarded the featured artist for the up-coming Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital Arts Ability show which will be this Fall. I consider it an honor to have been invited to submit just the same. There have been other things, however, that have come along that have been even more rewarding.
Sometime shortly before the Lower Town Arts & Music Festival I received a call from Easter Seals West Kentucky art program manager, Darlene Davenport, asking if I’d be interested in providing a workshop for their adult clients sometime in June. I have a soft spot in my heart for Easter Seals having worked at the Chicago Metro Easter Seals for six years about a decade ago. It remains one of my most memorable and rewarding jobs. So in spite of my trepidation I gave Darlene an enthusiastic YES! and scheduled a time to come tour the studio and discuss my eventual workshop.
The Easter Seal adult program here serves adults of all ages from early 20’s and up. Their disabilities run the gamut from cerebral palsy to autism to traumatic brain injury. They participate in special activities such as the art program, as well as attend adult day care. The facility is bright and open with caring, capable staff. It’s a happy place in spite of what one might think given the seriousness of the disabilities seen among their clients. The art program is managed by Darlene and her assistant, Hope Boone. They’re both friendly, welcoming and infuse the small room with a sense of fun, color, and contagious creativity. When I visited, Hope was working with about 8 clients on a project drawing trees with colorful crayons and paints on muslin to be turned into wall hangings. The pieces were tremendously individual, each with its own strengths and personality — tall, skinny trees, trees with movement, trees of every shape. I went around the table and talked with each of the clients, and I knew immediately that the workshop would be a lot of fun if I could come up with a way to accommodate my watercolor style to their abilities.
The workshop I’d been asked to do is part of a grant program through VSA Arts, an international organization where people with disabilities learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts. (I happen to be a member and participate in their registry due to my deafness.) Artists are selected to provide workshops with clients developing a collaborative piece of artwork that will then become part of the Easter Seals West Kentucky 5th Annual Heart and Soul Art Celebration. This annual fundraiser features art from clients and local artists, as well the collaborative pieces created through these workshops.
I decided, after a lot of deliberation, that I would simply sketch out the painting I had in mind and then begin working on it while the clients began painting their own “practice” pieces using watercolor paints that I supplied. My choice of subject was a pool of koi because of their colorful nature and fluid, flowing shapes and movement. I figured everyone could related to these fun fish that don’t rely on a lot of detail. The painting would be all about color and movement and hopefully reflect the fun of the workshop.
Once I’d started the two main fish in the composition, and with the six or so clients busy painting their own fish at the main table, I called individuals up to my easel one at a time and asked them to paint sections of the painting on their own.
I chose the colors and dipped the brush in the paint to ensure the right amount of paint and water, but each person was free to paint their area however they chose and to their level of ability. Lines and detail weren’t so important. Dribbles and drips were allowed and not fussed with. The colors washed on and the painting began to come together in a delicious way. I was touched by each person’s concentration and enthusiasm to be part of the painting. I sensed that something more than a painting exercise was going on. A shift in energy within me had transpired as the painting came to life, as it most assuredly did.
My worries had been that something meaningful wouldn’t result from my workshop, that I’d lack the ability to communicate or integrate my experience with that of the clients. Would they be up to it? But I needn’t have worried as each of them approached the work with a calm self-assurance. I was the one who was scared, not them.
So, I made some friends who helped me paint some koi in a way that I would not or could not have done on my own. I had one of the best creative days ever and more than anything felt so lucky to have participated. Afterall, it wasn’t just my painting. It became theirs as well, and that’s reflected in the signature I affixed, “Stefanie Graves & Easter Seals Clients.”
If you’d like to see the finished painting in person and be part of the Heart & Soul Art Celebration, mark you calendar for Thursday, September 16, 6:00pm at Maiden Alley Cinema. Tickets are $20 and can be reserved by calling 443.1200 or 444.9687. I can’t think of a more worthy cause or a better way to spend a Thursday evening this Fall. All proceeds from the art auction benefit Easter Seals Western Kentucky.
By the time I get to the final leg of a painting it sometimes seems to paint itself. That was true in this case. The egret is really only a couple of washes, the last being some finer details to denote feathers and definition of the wings. I added a little permanent rose to the blues to give the shadows a bit of warmth. There’s also a touch of raw umber in there that reflects some of the earth tones of the river this fellow is standing in.
I also went back to the water to add more shadows in the upper right and filled in the one floating leaf as a separate point of interest. A fun final element was painting shadows around the bubble reflections. Kind of squiggly loops.
This one’s photo went out today on a CD along with 5 others for the Bryn Mawr show. I’ll see if I can wait as splendidly as my egret for the answer to my application.
Today is a bright sunny day so I’m not sure how much of the blue I’ve added to the neck of my egret you can see. That’s the trouble with photographing a white subject in bright sun light, it tends to flatten out because the contrast goes away.
I’ve filled in the beak and the eye so he’s got some life to him for sure. Now I’ve got to give him a couple legs to stand on. The frilly feathers off his tail were once again masked out so that they remain white against the blue shadow of his left side. I want the white back and feathers to sparkle against the depth of the blue water beneath him. I’ll add more blue to his side and neck for more contrast and definition. He’ll become a three dimensional bird rather than the flat object he is right now.
Still very much a work in progress. All those little white dots sprinkled throughout the water are reflections of sunlight. They’ll get a touch of color here and there to give them definition as well. Funny how much color they have when you look at them up close. Your eye registers white, but there’s a whole lot more going on.
I’ve had my eye on this guy for a couple years to find the right moment to make him into a painting. I love Great White Egrets for their elegance and dazzle. A boy do they dazzle in full breeding plumage like he’s wearing.
The painting is toward the middle of completion. I seem to get so involved in laying in the background that I forget to take pictures as I go. But once the water is on you have to go at it fairly fast and direct. I’d need someone standing over my shoulder clicking away to get pictures of the thing in progress.
If the egret looks a little ghostly and legless that’s because I’ve covered him in masking fluid to protect his white while I painting the background. The legs I’ll re-draw once I’m satisfied with the water around him. I’m not that concerned right now that they’ve gone missing under the paint.
Once completed, I intend to include this as my new painting for my submission to the invitational for Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital. The contrast and richness should make an impression.
An interesting letter greeted me yesterday in my mailbox. The folks from Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital just keeping it comin’ it seems. A big envelope showed up yesterday from them, giving me hope that they’d sent my check for the painting I sold from the Arts Ability 2009 exhibition. Wasn’t that, though something just about as good. They’ve invited me to submit artwork for the 2010 Arts Ability show as the featured piece for show promotion. I must have touched a nerve with them since they kept my other painting for continued exhibit in their new gallery on campus and now have chosen me as one of the candidates for consideration of this honor. I can submit up to 6 paintings. Gotta start some new work to have at least one hot off the palate for them.
I’m realizing, too, in looking back at my archives that I’ve been at this blog for a year now. Wow, a lot has happened since then – certainly a lot of paintings and new energy in doing this. Thanks to all of you who check in to see my work and what I’m up to. You’re a valued part of my process.
The weather is playing tricks with us here in Paducah, warming to the 50’s one day and then dipping into the 30’s the next. We had a warm spell over the weekend and so I let the feeder stand empty, knowing that the birds would have enough seeds in the dry grasses and barren flower beds to sustain them. But the past couple days have turned bitter again and so I had Dave fill up the feeder again. The sparrows crowd around around in mad confrontation, and I noticed that the male cardinal has finally learned to muscle his way in with them and stand in cool contrast on the edge of the feeder getting a seed or three while his less refined cousins squabble to get their share. I even had a purple finch (at least I’m calling it that since they’re so close to House Finches) and his mate this morning visit for a while.
With all this activity outside to inspire me, I took one last look at my painting, which had been resting on my drafting table for several day, and added a bit of burnt sienna and french ultramarine in a few places on the three sparrows with their backs to us. They needed a little more definition and color I decided.
So here they are finished, four sparrows on a sycamore limb, waiting out the cold and their turn at the feeder.
Snow forecast for tomorrow. I’ll have to restock their supply.
The little fluffy sparrows are filling out on their limb. I’ve created a composite composition from a couple of the photos I took when they were all feeding during the cold snap from a week or so ago. The two at opposite ends create a nice pair of bookends of action for the two still sparrows in the center. There’s less detail in those two, creating small ovals of quiet that want to fade into the grays and browns of the bare tree and the solitude of winter. The detail in their fellow sparrows creates a nice counter weight.
I’ll post the final outcome tomorrow of this winter scene in miniature. In the final stretch I’ll do the tree branches and add a little more color and details to the birds to bring the composition together.
The days have been cold, really cold, for over a week and have just today climbed above 40 F. I’m a sucker for the birds who are here during the winter, especially if I’m suffering from the extremes. So I’ve been religiously adding food to their feeder almost daily from the beginning of the cold snap. The sparrows are the most frequent visitors, with cardinals, juncos, and a few titmice and black capped chickadees every now and then gracing my presence. The feeder is just outside my studio window so it’s a constant distraction, source of entertainment, and for today, inspiration.
I took pictures last week of the sparrows sitting on a distal limb to the side of the feeder, waiting their turn. They line up in a plump row, little balls of fluff. I’m not particularly a sparrow fan, but everybody’s got to eat. And they’re kind of endearing at this time of year, so round and fit so well with the browns, grays, and sepias of winter.
I sketched out a composition and am in the middle of putting in the sparrows. The only one facing forward has come to life today. The background is a very direct wet-on-wet wash of French Ultramarine Blue, Indigo, Sap Green and Windsor Blue with a tiny touch of Permanent Rose. While it was drying I added a strategic sprinkle of sea salt for effect. Look for the little sparkley circular flares as the taletell sign. Come back tomorrow for another progress report.