Material gathering

14

Dear Artist,

“You are an idea-driven artist,” my Dad told me. “I am a subject-driven one.” Each year, with the support of my Mum, he took a trip for “material gathering.” Over the course of his life, he amassed innumerable drawings, studies and plein air work, as well as a collection of over 20,000 slides, catalogued by subject and housed in flat sheets above a large light table in the corner of his studio. Like a rainy day bank, the slide library offered a million possibilities for painting subjects, with notations for reference, location, names and dates, if needed. Like a diary of experience, my Dad believed that reference should be personally felt and collected — upholding the authenticity of his authorship and honouring a beloved process and tradition.

Snow Clouds, 1938 oil on masonite 96 x 121.4 cm by Franklin Carmichael (1890 - 1945)

Snow Clouds, 1938
oil on masonite
96 x 121.4 cm
by Franklin Carmichael (1890 – 1945)

When our family came along on these trips, we, too, were encouraged to collect our own inspiration. We were given blank books and cameras and expected to develop our powers of observation and feelings. I suppose, in many ways, my parents were teaching us how to love the world. I learned that when abstraction finds its origins in the environment, it gains strength in story and connectivity and retains its own kind of authenticity over the course of its life cycle, too. Here are a few ideas:

Leave the studio and pay attention to conditions. Make field notes that feel most useful.

Exercise with a colour story.

Connect landmarks to their origins.

Honour the poetry of names.

Silvery Tangle, 1921 oil on canvas 119.7 x 101.6 cm by Franklin Carmichael

Silvery Tangle, 1921
oil on canvas
119.7 x 101.6 cm
by Franklin Carmichael

Look for design, scale, form and colour relationships.

Seize the wonder and humility that nature provides.

Eliminate some elements and exaggerate others for the purpose of making them more powerful.

Attach a feeling to this place.

Zoom in, then out. Ask, “How can I make a meaningful record?”

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “Inspiration arrives as a packet of material to be delivered.” (John Updike)

Light and Shadow, 1937 oil on hardboard 96.2 x 121.6 cm by Franklin Carmichael

Light and Shadow, 1937
oil on hardboard
96.2 x 121.6 cm
by Franklin Carmichael

“A landscape clean and crisp in form and colour, rich in inspiration is all that an artist could wish for, begging to be used, and full of inherent possibilities…” (Franklin Carmichael)

Esoterica: Yesterday, for my birthday, Peter and I zig-zagged the devil’s elbow hairpins of the San Bernardino National Forest, past the Eye of God Quartz Dome, the Pinyon Juniper woodlands and the pale, grassy, dry bed of Lake Baldwin, to Big Bear. We rode silently hand-in-hand, peering out and into the vastness of the high desert, which flexed its wildness, polka-dotted with Joshua trees and boulder gardens, its tawny ridges morphing cool to warm under the shadows of disappearing clouds. I quietly committed the names to memory: Apple Valley, Sugarloaf, Fawnskin, Running Springs, Silverpeak, the Over-budget Ranch. Peter gestured toward the perfection of a landlocked bird box. Back in the studio by dusk, the lockdown-emboldened Mockingbirds deafened in their exultation. “It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

Spring, 1920 oil on canvas by Franklin Carmichael

Spring, 1920
oil on canvas
by Franklin Carmichael

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14 Comments

  1. I love your quote, Sara; “I learned that when abstraction finds its origin. In the environment, it gains strength in story and connectivity and retains its own kind of authenticity over the course of its life cycle too.”
    I’m moving in a less representational way, in my work and the posts seem to speak to me more now than ever.

  2. Wonderful post Sarah and Happy Birthday! I must admit to being a subject-driven painter as well. I just today opened the second room to my gallery with an online video tour. This new Room will include the work of three other artists along with my own and the focus is on west coast landscape paintings. That is all. Just this one subject, on ongoing, for this new room. I love the Rilke quote “It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” As we get near the longest day of the year, I still feel this way. The grandma rose and pavement rose are both blooming in the yard and the birds singing loudly. The sun is warm in the evening as I plein air paint down beside the sea and it all is better than good!

  3. Your words remind me what a luxury it is to have slowed down and to begin to notice again. I really love hearing all the things you notice and bring to our attention. Since each of us notices different things, I always value looking at the earth through your lens. Thank you- and happiest of birthdays to you and your twin!

  4. Happy birthday, Sara!
    So lovely that your post reminded me of where I grew up – the Algoma Highlands – where Franklin Carmichael painted. He was my grandmother’s favourite painter and definitely one of mine :)

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Join award-winning Plein air painter Sharon Rusch Shaver as she conducts her next exciting workshop to the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland. Painting daily in your chosen medium: oil; watercolor; pastel; pen and ink artists as well as photographers will find plenty of inspiration where the sea defines the life and creates excitement on this amazing Island. Daily demonstrations and one-on-one help will be provided for those wanting to learn how to work quickly capturing that changing light and color in their paintings.

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Los Angeles-based artist Lisa Chakrabarti works in a variety of media: oils, acrylics, pastels, watercolors, graphite and colored pencils. Focusing on a style she calls “romantic naturalism” – impressionism based largely on subjects in the natural world – her works have found their way into galleries in Los Angeles, Florida, Colorado and New York. In 1995, after being introduced to sumi-e and Chinese ink painting by Asian friends, Lisa became captivated by the apparent freedom and subtlety of this ancient medium.  This shift in focus has informed her work ever since.

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