Welcome to Red Twig Studio!
There are many ways to think of time – like looking for patterns in events that create meaning. One thing follows another – repetitions that we are meant to learn from. But some experiences and my responses to them change with time, and some do not.
Maybe I outgrow a belief, a group or individuals. But there are very few things in my life that my feelings never change about. These few things to me, are a great wonder. They resonate so clearly as to be underpinnings to the whole. When strongly felt; it is like nearing the mystery of a life, of steps taken. When in close awareness of them – they have the capacity to pull me into a luscious, velvety embrace.
This June I had an experience of this. My husband and I rented a houseboat…a cabin on floating pontoons. We were at Lake Billy Chinook and could move around the grand river confluence within steep canyons of basalt rock. The canyon cliffs expose 10-12 million years of basalt lava flows at the confluence of the Metolius, Crooked and Deschutes River. The rivers are wide and calm – 800 to 90 feet deep.
Being in the river canyon is to be held within the earth and her folded ages, and the same time deepened and refreshed by the rivers. In the center -surrounded by the three rivers is “The Island”, a 208-acre peninsula, a pristine desert landscape of juniper and sage. It is preserved as a National Natural Landmark and has been off-limits to the public since 1921. It has a timeless and still quality to it – effecting everything as far as you can see.
On our last morning we took the houseboat to the convergence of the Crooked and Metolius River. The canyon rises 700 feet above the water. We killed the engine – there was solitude and calm. We sat in silence. I looked above us at the sheer rock face and was overtaken by thoughts of my great grandmother. It was inexplicable, but my memories were swept into a flow of her life.
As a young woman she had taken a train and then walked the rest of the way to the Oklahoma territory – to be in the Land Rush of 1889. She described her young life as having been lonely. In time she built a life homesteading and eventually married. Her marriage was described as a love story. I owe much to her. She had the vision to be a homesteader on her own. She sent her only daughter to college. All the hallmarks of resilience and vision – to me, exist in my great grandmother.
She died at 104. I was held in her arms as a baby. When I was 16 – my grandmother gave me a hand-sewn quilt she made, two flower vases, a candy tin and eventually a diamond brooch that she gave to her (my grandmother) for graduating from college. The candy tin was painted. It had a stark rocky desert on it, and one rose grew out of the rock, eclipsing the landscape.
I wish I could know my great grandmother, Alice Needham. My heart becomes wide when I think of you. My footsteps echo yours. Just knowing you as a child, when you were in your final mist years, I know I am issued from you.
Someone Elses Magic
Late last summer I camped in one of Oregons’ high desert state parks – Cove Palisades. This magnificent place is a deep canyon etched in time by three rivers that converge at the bottom. The sheer vertical basalt rock cliffs are stunning and form an “island” in the middle. There is deep peace in this place, surrounded by huge boulders balanced atop the high plateau with petroglyphs carved in rock. The rivers are dark green, wide and calm. I fell in love with it. We were going to travel further south, but I decided – why? It was amazing and peaceful right here.
Before I left home a friend sent me an image of a painting completed in the 18th century. I was so taken by the mastery of the artists’ work that I became very influenced and “caught up” in his process. When I arrived at Cove Palisades I started painting everyday and feverishly, I admit, I was chasing this artists’ style and approach. After a few days I had a bad gnawing feeling that I was wasting my time. There was a sense that what I was chasing wasn’t really real for me.
I went down to a perfectly abandoned dock and worked on a few images that reflected my own approach and theme. This felt like I was coming home to myself. As I sat there working, a group of otters snuck up on me, they had silently approached and without any pre-warning or sound, jumped up in front of me at eye level – quickly looking at me – then went directly under me and made a lot of noise…..I think smelling and looking for bait. When they had enough of that fun, they came around in front of me again, dived below the water and I never saw them surface again!
For the rest of my stay at Cove Palisades, I focused on what I love best….at the waters edge with the distant shoreline and reflections on water – but I had learned an important lesson. It was clear to me that I had fallen under a spell of another artists work. I nearly wasted my entire trip going in that direction.
And so it is: Never fall for another artists’ magic.
Favorite Places/Favorite People
Even though I try to wean myself off of painting fog, I love visiting Deep Lake at Miller-Sylvania Park in the fall and winter. The park is really deserted and quiet. Deep Lake is perfect for painting, it has groupings of trees on the far side and is large enough for fog to accumulate and move around. I like to set up close to the shore. In the early morning I have been visited by a group of otters. Because they are so curious, they stay near me; watching, diving, raising out of the water to see me better. I am not afraid of being alone in the park, mostly because I like being uninterrupted. But, there are two frequent visitors in the winter. One is a small woman – around my age (60’s) and the other is a tall man – also older. They both have dogs. The woman has a small black dog that she tells me is partially blind. This dog is so happy and walks in front of her, apparently not aware of any sight issues. She arrives at the park and puts him on a leash. After awhile she just lets go of her end of the leash and the dog walks in front of her with the leash dragging behind. There is something about this that makes me happy. This lovely woman is very mild….an unassuming person. She has kindness in her eyes. I am glad when she is at the park. It is not that I need anyone there, I am just like it when she is there. One day she soundlessly came up behind me to see if she could look at my drawings. The fog had concentrated since I had started so I had just three bands of grey on the page….with no features. I was waiting for the fog to move around …. and was just drinking some tea. She came to the easel and moved her face almost touching the page. With great concern, she turned to me and said, “I sure hope this fog clears up for you.” Delighted with her response, I agreed.
Before traveling in New Mexico I planned to spend time drawing in that big space place. There is so much to take in, so it can be difficult to decide what to focus on. So, as usual, I use a kind of internal guide as to what to choose. I look around and eventually something speaks to me. That “something” feels relevant in the moment and often mirrors dynamics of the larger, more extended present period of my life. These images hold an energy of vibrancy in them, as I work out emotions that I feel. Examples of this can be the lone tree, or tension between forms, or open space – all are images that call during certain times in life.
In New Mexico however, I was lost on what to work on, until heavy rain clouds swept across the mesa in enormous dark sheets from high in the sky and long falling to earth. I was very interested in working with the images so I painted on site and continued painting this series for a few months at home in studio. What was unique is that I could not really understand my fascination with the images.
Then – in my life – there were three consecutive nearly overwhelming events. Large ones at first……..that effected hundreds of people in my community and future land use that I care about deeply. I felt responsive to effect this issue through our local government. Attached to this were three very difficult personalities I needed to deal with. Then following this, our home plumbing sprang leaks under it and inside a wall. All constituted challenges that had to be dealt with.
Each of these events were handled, each started forcefully, then lightened then left. After much of this had passed I came back to the studio. Looking at the dark images I could not help but feel reminded of how often work is a premonition and a parallel universe with the whole of my life. Nothing ever seems to stand alone – periods of time come with cohesive marks of events and their meanings.
Across the Water
A unique image was on my minds’ screen when I woke one morning. It struck me in such a personal way that my first conscious breath was a gasp. There was a man, on a horse, in a boat, with a child being transported across the water. I don’t like explaining a symbolic image. I like the essence of a thing to speak for itself. So simply I will say that to me, the child is innocence and he/she is being carried calmly and safely back home. To me this is a souls journey. And I love the image.
Sometimes I find myself being drawn into a conversation with an image that is unique to me – maybe off the path that I am currently on. The issue of art transitions is a sticky one for me. I was walking past my neighbors house this week when the teenage boy who lives there drove into the driveway. He excitedly told me about getting lost and having to call his Dad for directions twice before finding the way home. He was exhilarated and did not choose to get lost. What interested me was that he was never more than 20 minutes from home – no matter where he was. And sometimes getting lost is like that. We feel disoriented but we just can’t see how things are all connected.
So while learning to paint fog, I also learned how much detail was actually needed to convey a place or subject. And when it came to this unique image, I had enough understanding of minimal imagery to engage with it in a natural way. So lately I am beginning to leave my fear of being off my path. Instead I can see that the paths converge as I am the eyes, I am the voice of the path and I bring to everything – what I am.
I was online and ran across a website whose opening phrase was: the internet is a loud place. What struck me about the line was how often I feel those words. It feels like the world is a loud place and I wonder if other people feel this way as well.
So, I was thinking about art I see. It is obvious that my work is quiet. Painting fog is naturally quiet. I began to see a trend in my own perceptions of current art. Firstly, there is artwork that is decided exciting. But, I sense that I would like a way for my work to have power, but not necessarily drama. And like everything else in life you make the decisions that fit you and let go of the rest.
But, then I dug deeper. I realized that, especially over the last year, when I needed to find a new place to work – one that would provide me with space and landscape features conducive to my work…..I found myself confused. Should I go to a location that has obvious dramatic features? That on the surface seems easiest to work with? A dramatic landscape holds within it many possibilities to work with and can feel more exciting and visually accessible.
However, as the year progressed I felt myself drawn to locations that were mild and undramatic. Small rivers, low fields and not many imposing shapes. But, what was really interesting, was not why I was choosing the modestly visually appealing locations. The internal mechanism of image making is one where – if I am presented with something magnificent, I feel a sense of urgency or importance in capturing this great place. But, my own internal homing device was looking for something else.
Placed before a less dramatic landscape, something else has a chance to happen. I had been visiting a nearby lake. Just a short drive from my house. My expectations were low about what end results I might create. The lake has a nice but very small bay on it. As I drew this location something really nice happened. I did six small images from the same spot. By the fourth image I was starting to make changes in my approach to the image. I extended the foreground, and started working with open gestures and editing my image by simply feeling what it should be. I started to follow my instincts of image making. I forgot whether the location was important or not. The end results were that I made a leap into what I was able to do – that I had not made before. It was freeing – and now I look back and see that I was just waiting to make this leap.
So it goes that the small aspects of the world are often the places that I find transcendence. Leaving some habits behind and finding a quiet and receptive place to create something new. This is where the magic often is for me.
On Location (with wildlife)
Today I found a spot to draw- off a quiet road away from traffic. It was within the Skokomish Tribal Center, giving me a view of Hood Canal with emergent trees and shrubs growing out of water. I liked the simplicity of the view with soft grays in the distance and darker trees close to me. I set up my collapsible easel and started working. Traffic was scarce, so I feel a mostly peaceful feeling, but I don’t want to linger. I become very focused when drawing, seeing all I can and keenly listening. It is noisy – there are gulls, ducks and with great happiness I hear eagles surrounding me from every angle. They are talking to each other. It feels like they have softened their voices in the dense fog and are having a kind of personal chat between themselves. It takes a few minutes to register that one of them is just over my head, which flies off when it sees that I see it.
After about five minutes there is a ruckus in front of me. The noises seem loud and I imagine that my ears are not adapted to the way sound travels in quiet places, but even so there is an especially strange sound coming from the water………like fins or wings slapping mud, or maybe a human with oars awkwardly moving into the mud, sand and silt. I continue to work becoming more deeply engaged and quiet – and then (to my astonishment) in my view is the noise source – a huge sea lion swimming along the surface, breathing heavily out as he skims the water. It is at least 8 feet long. I can see it’s beautiful round body moving up and down gracefully like a whale. Then there is another one, brown and then another that is creamy and lighter in color. They are all fishing the salmon and this a good spot.
I am gratified and filled with bliss when my concentrated drawing flow is united with the joy of being with wildlife – as they live their lives and I am just another part of it. This feeling is a pure happiness for me. It satisfies me that I am so quietly focused that they don’t notice me, or if they do, they are OK with me.
Recently I went to see Seattle artist, Mitch Albala talk about landscape painting and his work. Mitch is an outstanding teacher and artist and we share a love of atmospheric images, so I felt I would enjoy hearing him talk. He was sharing that just because a place is beautiful, doesn’t make it a good painting. Spatial cues, contrast, form and structure are all needed to create a satisfying image in 2 dimensions.
This brought me to the subject of why do I choose one location over another? It was pretty easy for me to notice and feel that most of my landscapes hold something in the distance and that it is about longing. Maybe that is why I like fog – it is mysterious. Longing comes from the body or heart and is hard to explain. Out in the field, longing generates an intense presence for me which carries the artwork forward.
I long for that experience of something beautiful and distant. However, longing can also be an elusive and unsatisfying experience. So, considering this I came to feel that the experience of painting a landscape is about movement through a space. That when beginning a painting, this space is unknown, and by engaging with a painting the space becomes more fulfilling and more known. Georgia O’Keefe has many quotes on this subject expressing similar emotions. One simple quote is “God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it”. To that, I would add that the landscapes I paint – I choose that they be added to my soul’s memory of places I deeply love.
Building and Dissolving
One of the most satisfying experiences I have had this summer, has been to more fully understand how to dissolve and build shapes. In the process of painting, I often see elements that are discordant or do not fully integrate into the image. For a long time they were just an undesired element that I didn’t know what to do with. However, for fun, I went out to paint at night along the dark gravel road where I live. I had no idea that the experience would be so exhilarating. The simplicity and lack of distracting details allowed me to focus on what I love best, which is light and atmospheric space. It also seems to have a connection to drawing as I remember it as a child. As a child I could draw with very little concern for the final effect – it was all sensual and immediate with no concerns to spatial relations or composition. Taking away too much detail, and not being able to (frankly) SEE very well in darkness was liberating.
Experimenting with these images taught me that I could eliminate whatever I want and that my shapes can be there, or dissolve. With time, I began to alter shapes and make them flow into each other with less boundary between them, as if my trees flow directly into the sky. I have always loved Russell Chatham’s capacity to knock down whole areas of his paintings, so the focus was where he wanted it to be. The softness and subtlety of it – often in grey tones – I find that they “read” so beautifully on the page.
One of the challenges of moving from printmaking to chalk pastels has been to search for connections between how I approach them both. My screen prints use “air” or space as a predominant element. People have responded to my prints by saying they look like Japanese art. The use of space or air as a conscious subject does seem similar. In the chalk pastels, I have looked to find a similar feeling of spaciousness. It was a surprise to find that drawing fog or mists on our Northwest mornings, was a subject that felt at home for me. The unique quality of fog is nuanced and not empty space. Distant hills take on an atmospheric blue color, but fog takes on a subtle complex of colors that are more layered.
Finding these qualities bring to mind a childhood memory of a multi-colored water fountain in my small hometown of Chanute, Kansas. The fountain had lights that smoothly changed from red, to green, to purple etc. It created a sense of wonder and magic in the early evenings when we would drive and visit the fountain, just to watch it change colors. The fog and mist are a little like that to me now.
During the last year as I grew into creating art from open spaces, I noticed how I was drawn to different types of music. The music and musicians in my studio became co-creators with me………so often setting the tone in the studio. I was especially attracted to music that “felt” like open land. Fields and beaches – anywhere that I could see for a long distance. I noticed during this time when I felt stressed about something in my life, I would also go and just sit and stare toward the horizon and this seemed to create answers and inclinations that I could rely on. The first musical attractions were toward the slide guitar – with the long drawn out notes and usually without words. I like Ry Cooder’s CD called Paris, Texas. This music and many similar artists has become a part of the studio process. I see the long horizons and the resonances that I feel about open fields and spaces reflected in the music.
Completing new work takes time. Beginning with a day in the field – hopefully working without interruption and then followed by months of working with the image. In the end the image may come close to what I felt and saw the day it was begun, but most often it feels like a metamorphosis – an exchange between the image and me. What do you want me to do? that is what I am saying. The image gets stuck and then one day I know what to do – what happened in between I don’t always know. So my files are full of artwork that waits to be communicated with. And many that will never be finished. This pastel is from March of this year. The day was one of really beautiful floating fog, changing the trees and field as it moved. It is called March Path.
I began visiting fields and farms close to my home in spring. I was trying to catch fog and early morning misty conditions to draw. Many low places hold the fog for a few hours before it burns off. Sitting outside at 6 am in these quiet places was addictive – so whenever there was rain followed by sunny days, I would get up at 4 am to drive and wait for these great light and fog conditions
Sometimes I was lucky and found fog plumes or fog clouds…..or in the early evening I found sunsets and fog combined. My favorite location is Scattercreek Wildlife Preserve which is a prairie of large open fields with shrubs and trees along the edges. Fog sometimes has rainbow like effects early in the morning….with soft transitions of blues, purples and magentas as it filters the light. More of these images are in the pastel gallery under the Work section.
Exhibits / Available Work
Original Pastels and Screen Prints Olympia, Washington
New Screen Prints Seattle, Washington
Art Representation, Bellevue, Washington
New: Giclee Prints – Available for order, please contact me.