Art Blog

An Art and Nature Tonic

An artist’s retreat in the beauty of nature is better than a tonic for refreshing the soul and creating new inspiration.

The first artists retreat, The Art of Nature Immersion Weekend, was a wonderful and refreshing time spent in beautiful surroundings with fellow artists and some family and friends too. Reelfoot Lake State Park and Reelfoot Federal Wildlife Reserve were packed with inspiration at every turn. The most important factor was the time spent in gearing down and taking it all in. It was better than any man-made tonic!

Humans in Nature.org says. “The combination of art and nature allows people to explore the natural world, create more profound meaning for themselves, and connect people through understanding and viewing their artwork.” I couldn’t agree more. There is just something about being out in nature that inspires in so many ways and brings us humans closer together.

Somehow creating art out in nature rather than in the studio changes everything. It seems to make everything more vivid, more real. More inspiring. Our whole approach to art can change when spending time in nature. Nature becomes the art in all its myriad of possibilities. Art-is-Fun.com says, “The exploration of nature in art can take endless forms, because nature provides us with such a vast wealth of inspiring phenomena.”

Seeing what we did on our Art in Nature Retreat speaks for itself. The following are photos from our time at Reelfoot Lake State Park in West Tennessee and Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge. Our pontoon boat captain and guide, Colton, a recent graduate of Murray State University, shared a wealth of knowledge. He pointed out trees, birdsong, all manner of aquatic life and even a water snake (yuck!) sunning himself on a fallen log.

Enjoy the photos as they tell the story better than I can.

Hummingbird Hope

A Flash of color, a bright jewel in the summer sun, hummingbirds whisking by on the way to taste a bit of nectar remind us of hope and joy as summer has arrived.

A flash of color, a bright jewel in the summer sun, hummingbirds whisking by on the way to taste a bit of nectar.  These tiny little sparkles with swiftly flapping wings move so fast, all the eye can catch are bits of emerald, ruby, or sapphire as they stop for a second, then fly off again.  But that little second or two is enough to capture our fascination.

Emily Hannemann for Birds and Blooms magazine says hummingbirds are a sign of hope and good luck.  Maybe that is why we love these special little birds. Tammy Popple of On The Feeder says these tiny beauties are symbols of lightness and joy. Hope and good luck, lightness and joy, both descriptions make for great reasons Hummingbirds are so loved.

Hummingbirds are one of my favorite birds to paint.  I love it when I see the first one of the season show up at the feeder.  They are my sign that winter is over. The lightness, joy and hope of summer are on the way.

Paper Tales

Choosing the best paper for watercolor painting comes down to what the goal for the final outcome is. A little knowledge makes the process a snap!

Mixed media

Paper choices can be as difficult as which pencil to use when going for the watercolor over pencil technique. Cold press, Hot press, smooth finish, rough finish… the list goes on and on. The most popular watercolor finish paper is cold press. Hot press and Rough are fairly popular as well but may be a little harder to find. Artists will differ widely in their opinion on hot press vs cold press vs rough. Their are any number of reasons for each paper.

Cold pressed and hot pressed papers are named for the process that produces them. ArtNews says, “Named for a fabrication process that involves smashing pulp in heated cylinders, hot press papers present smooth surfaces with virtually no tooth.” Rough is paper known for its heavy “tooth” or very bumpy surface. ArtNews goes on to say that, “choosing a product for your needs is highly subjective.” It is subjective but also dependent on what you are painting. The surface can be as important to the painting as the paint.

Watercolor Affair gives a good description of cold vs hot as, “Cold pressed paper has a slightly bumpy, textured surface. But hot pressed paper has a smooth surface finish,” and “rough paper has a highly textured surface and a very pronounced tooth.” Cheap Joes Art Supply says, “The rough finish has an effect close to that of handmade paper and encourages a loose style.” Knowing the different attributes of each paper will help you decide which paper is better suited for what you want for the outcome of the final project.

When looking for which brand to buy, Kimposed has a great rundown of each brand. All of the covered papers are wonderful choices and here is where I’d say subjective reasons are the main ones to consider. Price may be a big consideration when all factors are weighed. Cheap Joes is a great option for comparing prices.

No matter what paper you choose, here are some possible issues you can consider. The red rose is on “rough” paper. It’s fairly easy to see where the paint bleeds out around the edges making it difficult to create sharp finished edges. The softer edges give the painting more of a romantic look. The dark purple iris is on hot pressed, smooth paper. Because the layers don’t absorb into the paper, the layers of paint can be more visible. One great option for the smooth surface is mixed media as colored pencils, ink and other media work well with the paint. The pansies and the variegated purple iris are on cold pressed paper which makes it easy to do to about any finish you you want. Versatile is a great word for the cold pressed finish.

Whatever paper you choose, having a little knowledge about the papers makes the choosing easier. Below is a you tube demonstration by Jenna Rainey. She is very knowledgeable and her videos are easy to follow.

Happy Painting!

Pencils and paint

When looking for a way to cut through hours of practice consider using the watercolor over pencil technique for Botanical style painting.

The technique of watercolor over pencil or graphite is a great way to get fine detail in botanical style painting. The finer points of a flower or leaf can be tricky requiring a good bit of practice to perfect accurate brush strokes. Basic drawing skills are somewhat necessary but patience is not. Patience is a valuable trait in an artist. Not everybody has it. When looking for a way to cut through hours of practice consider using the watercolor over pencil technique. Many hours of frustration can be avoided. Plus you’ll fool lots of people with your eye for detail!

A wonderful book, Botanical Illustration with the Eden Project outlines this technique in an easy to follow instruction with several examples. According to the examples, a detailed drawing of a plant is made including all shading. A beautiful finished drawing will provide the best base for watercolor to be laid over. One of the biggest considerations is the use of the proper pencil.

Knowing which pencil is which is one of the best tips for the watercolor over pencil technique. As Kevin Hayler of the Wildlife Art Store says, “Choosing the wrong pencil for an underdrawing will ruin your watercolor painting.” He has a great article on different pencils that is well worth a read here. Knowing your pencils can make the difference in a successful painting or one that looks like mud!

It was very discouraging, when first looking at this technique without knowing how vital the pencil issue was. My first effort, this delicate peach colored rose, resulted in particles of graphite coming up in the paint. The beautiful color was lost. Back to the drawing board. It looked like a total failure but instead of giving up, a pencil study was in order. And it was revealing. One of the biggest things I discovered was the use of H pencils instead of the standard drawing pencils in the B’s.

The H pencils are more commonly found in mechanical and architectural drawing. In art and office stores, that’s where the widest range can be found. Drawing supply areas in stores will usually just go up as far as 2H or 4H. The higher the number, the lighter the pencil. My experiments led me to stick with 6H up to 9H for most of the drawing. 2-4H pencils were better for the darker details. This technique has become the only one I use for botanical painting. Experiments are ongoing so that could change!

Until then, enjoy this video on watercolor over pencil. Happy Painting!

The Painting Tube

Here’s the book: https://www.amazon.com/Botanical-Illustration-Course-Eden-Project/dp/0713490748?crid=15XN3ZBEJODUF&keywords=botanical+illustration+course+with+the+eden+project&qid=1685996672&sprefix=eden+project+botanical%2Caps%2C98&sr=8-1&linkCode=li2&tag=marygwynsart-20&linkId=268cf1671e7e422b5f486504f2df5c73&language=en_US&ref_=as_li_ss_il" target="_blank">""Eden Project

Learn more about The Eden Project

A Joyful Jumble

What’s your favorite garden style? Peaceful Symmetry or a Joyful Jumble? Either way, Nature is healing.

Whether you go for a garden with planned space or naturalized plantings, experts agree, time with nature has many benefits. The benefits are so great that mental health professionals call it eco-therapy. The blog, EcoTherapy Heals is devoted to ways to take advantage of the healing power of nature. In a blog post, Self Care Seeker says, there are 5 Important Ways Nature and Mental Health are Connected. Goodnet.com has a post describing 10 Unexpected Benefits of Spending Time in Nature. It appears that the verdict is certain. All that’s left is to determine how you get your fill of time in nature.

Gardens are a wonderful way to get more nature into our lives. The blog, Love for Gardens says, “The presence of gardens in our lives can improve our lifestyle, and brighten our daily, modern world that is often obscured by buildings and artificial, man-made structures.” The first thing to do is to decide what style of garden you like and find one. Or build your own.

There are two types of gardens. One is the precisely drawn architectural garden, where everything is in its place, balanced and carefully manicured. The second type is a wild array of flowers, trees and various plants tumbling all over each other and outside of any boundary. Depending on mood, day or whatever is going on, one garden may be preferred over the other. Most sources say it’s the time in nature that’s important.

Cheekwood Gardens and Museum, Nashville, TN

Some days order is needed to counter the crazy chaos swirling around in every day life. A well-designed garden is the perfect place to get relief from the stress. One beautiful example of this type of garden is Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois, recently updated and redesigned by leading landscape design firm, Sasaki. If you are in the Wheaton, IL area and in need of some soul rejuvenation, check out this park. Pausing to take a deep breath in a well ordered space full of beautiful growing things can do wonders for peace of mind.

Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, Fayetteville, AR

My preferred type of garden is the kind that looks like everything is all growing together with color spilling out everywhere. Attracted by the color, butterflies are flitting around in happy circles from flower to flower. The bees, not to be outdone by the butterflies, jump in on the act too. The result is a kaleidoscope of color and movement. I can sit for hours and just watch the bees and butterflies as a gentle breeze drifting through the flowers gives them the effect of dancers on a stage. My heart lifts just thinking about the array of beauty. A Joyful Jumble is what I call this myriad of color and energy. Joy is popping out all over!

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Golden Pond, KY

Creative Gas for Thrivers

As spring brings thoughts of decluttering, the art studio should be first on the list. Some artists may argue that they work better in chaos and clutter. More power to them. Many decluttering authorities and pundits hail the benefits of decluttering home and office to bring on peace and calm. That would go for the studio as well. If uncluttered thoughts, inspirations, goals and directions are necessary for clear thinking and stress reduction, would that not be true of creating? It makes sense. The brain is an electrical circuit. Any nicks, tears or disruptions along the circuit are also going to be hampering the flow through the circuit. Good art flow needs a clean, clear circuit for most artists. It has made a huge difference for me. Once I had it all decluttered, I can easily get to just about anything I need. Even those seldom used items that are still important are just within easy reach.

Some of the best research on the value of decluttering came from a study on marketing professionals meeting the changing world of post covid, that appeared on the website for Accenture. The researchers found that they could divide marketers into three groups: Thrivers, Strivers and Survivors. According to the article, the thrivers, “…Focused on what matters, discarded what doesn’t and rewired the rest. As a result, they find greater meaning in their work.” As to the other two groups, “Strivers had some autonomy to meet customers needs,” and “Survivors,…who were burnt out..” and believing change was temporary.” Though these were marketing professionals, the research would pertain to artists as well. Focus on what matters, get rid of what doesn’t and rewire the rest. Be a Thriver!

“There’s a certain mystique attached to messy artistic types, as if true creativity is only possible amid chaos,” says an editorial in Artsy.net. In the article is a quote from artist, Rachel Schmidhofer, “I’ve started to view the inside of my studio as a reflection of the inside of my mind.” “There’s definitely a relationship between clutter in my space, anxious thoughts in my brain, and scatteredness in my paintings.” For the artist looking for scatteredness, it might be ok to stay cluttered. But what if your work has a certain order to it and you lose that order. You can’t find your inspiration or you feel blocked. Maybe decluttering is your answer if you can get through the struggle of letting unnecessary things go.

It may be something of a struggle to get past the thought of throwing away art supplies or other art things that may have had meaning in the past. Or were part of a special project or a special piece of work. It’s so hard to let those things go. The Simple Lion Heart Life says, “If you are struggling to declutter, sometimes the best approach is to figure out why you are struggling. Oftentimes, once you know exactly why you are struggling, it becomes easier to move past it and clear the clutter.” Good advice. Start with the why and let it take you to the what.

When you decide to start decluttering, a word to the wise from The Empress of Dirt: “Do NOT Buy Decluttering Supplies! Long-lasting Decluttering Does Not Require Buying stuff.” So don’t move the clutter from a shelf into a nifty new stackable box. It’s still there lingering. You still have to find a place for the box.

The best reason of all to declutter the studio is to simply rewire your creativity. Maybe the decluttering will lead to a whole new body of work now that you have space for it. The best quote on why decluttering will improve your art comes from Alice Sheridan: “Creativity is like gas: it expands to fill the space.” To become an artistic thriver, make room for a little more gas and watch for creative explosions!!

The Evolving Art World

Art is a universal language that is available to the world as a whole more than ever before.

Once upon a time art belonged solely to a select group of people who could pay exorbitant fees for art. Only the very wealthy could afford it. An artist had to be a genius to get trained or be from a wealthy family who could pay for the education. Some would-be self taught artists could not afford the costs of paint and supplies. Only the artists who could meet one of these criteria could make it professionally. Thankfully, that’s all changed. Art is accessible now to just about anybody who wants to make art. Is that good for artists or not?

In a thoughtful blog post, sculptor Kosmas Ballis states “Art has the power to enrich our lives, connect us with others, and bring joy and inspiration to our everyday experiences.” Art has immense power to change our lives in so many ways. Therefore it is a good thing that art is available to just about anybody. Ballis goes on to say, with more art, “we can open up new avenues for creative expression and foster a more vibrant and engaged society.” It can be argued that art uniquely opens worlds in ways that normal discourse cannot. Art is a universal language bridging most, if not all barriers.

On the other hand, in the realm of high end art dealers, galleries and collectors, there is a desire to define some art as more refined than others and deserving of a higher price tag. According to Kooness magazine, “The strong association that exists between power, status, luxury and Art make the Art World one which reflects social stratifications. In fact, for centuries this has characterized the Arts.” This definition of art would seek to keep art priced out of the reach of the common person increasing its intrinsic value. Those same dealers galleries and collectors get to define what art is worthy of the higher price tag. High end art is a gold mine for the artist who makes it to that level. Because high end art is defined by someone other than the person making the art, it is very difficult for an artist to break into this market. It is more often chance that provides that opportunity.

Is either direction a good thing for artists? If it gets down to it, both are market driven. Which market depends on the art and the artist. First an artist must decide their personal goals. Which is the best market to aim for? Where once there was one market to shoot for, now there are two with many variations in between. New variations in the art market mean there is also more competition. Competition is a good thing as it pushes the artist to seek new horizons and challenge limits. Competition leads to amazing new directions. So whether one is seeking the higher end or lower end in the art market, competition drives artists to stay fresh and creative.

Artists have more choices now than ever before. Does an artist want to go for the high end market? Does an artist want to seek success in one of the many newer markets that are available today? It really only matters to the individual artist. Choices are available.

As there are vast ways to make it as an artist, there are also vast ways the public can view art. The world of art can open doors in so many more ways than ever before. The language of art can bridge more gaps and go more places. Art can reach more people in positive ways. Art brings a more vivid world to both maker and viewer. Nothing else matters.

And that is a good thing.

This little chickadee pillow can be ordered here.

An Elegant Iris

The elegant simplicity of a white iris provides powerful artistic inspiration.

What could be more refined than the simple elegance of a white iris? The sparkles of morning dew resemble ice crystals on the pure white of newly fallen snow. The ruffles of the petals and falls are as velvety and flowing as a spinning dancer’s dress. The fragrance is more glorious than expensive perfume. It may be difficult to capture all that with paint, but I will try. So will others. It’s a subject that a painter cannot resist. Why do we do it? Because we must. The inspiration sits there screaming to be painted.

Since my iris was a gift, I am not sure of the variety. Susanne Holland Spicker writing for the blog of “The American Iris Society” describes a variety of white iris she grew up with called, “Skating Party”. She describes “Skating Party” as one of the first to bloom. My white iris is the first in my garden and far ahead of the others which don’t even have buds yet. Sticker also says “Skating Party” has “pure white falls and lavish ruffles” as well as a beautiful aroma. That would seem to describe mine.

pencil on paper

GardeningKnowHow lists a variety of white iris called “Immortality” as highly fragrant, with pure white, large ruffled petals. Hmmm.. “Immortality” would also appear to be my variety. GardeningKnowHow goes on to say that “Immortality” often re-blooms in the fall. I may have to wait until fall to know if I have “Skating Party” or “Immortality” in my garden and future painting but that won’t change the current artistic plans.

Susanne Spicker, in her blog post, states, “I’ve heard it said that there is nothing more beautiful than a simple white flower.” Right now, I can’t think of anything more beautiful either. Apparently, White Iris Dress concurred as they named their shop of beautiful formal dresses in Chicago for this lovely flower. Does it really matter which variety I have to be worthy of painting? Absolutely not. As artists, we paint what inspires us. Inspiration has struck with this elegant iris. Therefore, paint I must!

Accidental Artistic Assistance

Safety in artistic practice is vital. Are we paying attention?

The dangers of cadmiums and other paints are one of those topics artists don’t always pay attention to. Recently the issue became front and center for me when my  5 month old puppy decided to give me a hand with the painting by licking the paint off of a wet oil painting of cardinals. Safety in artistic practice should be our first priority but is it always?  If you’re like me you can get in the zone and forget what’s going on around you. I set this painting on a side table to go to something else and was not looking when my puppy decided she liked the taste of oil paint! Thankfully, she suffered no ill effects.

There is a wealth of information out there on the dangers of artist’s materials.  A teacher I had in school was adamant that no solvents be used with oil paint.  But its not just the solvents. It’s also the paint pigments themselves. Renee Phillips, in her blog, says Rubens and Renoir suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and Paul Klee from scleroderma that could possibly be linked to heavy metals, such as cadmium in the their paint.

Many artists have taken up acrylic paint for a number of reasons but one is that acrylics don’t require solvents.  However Artsy.net has a great article on this subject and says acrylics release chemicals into the air as they dry, such as propylene glycol and ammonia.  And for those who use acrylic medium with their paints, they could also be releasing formaldehyde.

Art-Is-Fun lists some of the known toxic chemicals in paint as cadmium, cobalt, manganese, chromium and lead.  All accounts say the main harm is inhalation or ingesting large amounts.  Minimal safety procedures can eliminate or reduce the risk of most of these dangers.  Read labels and follow all precautions.  Adequate ventilation is a must.

Consider Plein-Air painting if you must use solvents. Don’t eat your paint and keep it out of the reach of helpful wanna be artists. 

Fascinating Ancient Flower

Though frequently mistaken, the Lotus Flower and the Water Lily are not the same flower or even in the same family.

The Lotus flower and the Water Lily have always been mistaken for the same flower, but they are not even in the same family. The yonkipin flower is a beautiful sight to see at Reelfoot Lake during the summer months. My grandmother and great aunt would always look forward to seeing them in bloom. I’ve recently researched this flower and it’s origins, and found it to be quite fascinating.

I learned that Yonkipin is a variety of Lotus flower, and that Lotus flowers and waterlilies are not the same plant. Lotus flowers have deep spiritual significance for several cultures. Lotus blooms rise above the water and are rooted in the mud. Waterlilies float on top of the water.

According to Floraly, the lotus flower as been around for at least 100 million years and has been found in a number of fossils. The lotus flower is a symbol of spiritual enlightenment, beauty, fertility, purity, prosperity and eternity. It is the national flower of India and Vietnam.

The botanical name for the North American Lotus Flower is the Nelumbo Lutea Willd and is in the family of Nelumbonaceae Name That Plant tells us. The North American variety is primarily seen in the Southeastern states. The water lily may be similar in appearance but its botanical name is Nympaeaceae and it grows completely differently. Lotus flowers are rooted in the mud and rise up above the water to stand alone, a fact that partly contributes to the spiritual mystique surrounding them. Water lilies float on top of the water and do not have the ancient history of the lotus.

Growing up with a flower that is common to you can diminish appreciation for its uniqueness. I took for granted the beauty of the Yonkipins that begin blooming in late spring. It wasn’t until I began to paint them that they Took on a whole new sense of fascination. Learning about how fortunate I was to grow up with these beauties has made me want to paint more of them. One thing is for sure: I’ll never call them water lilies again.

Join us as we gather at Reelfoot Lake in remote West Tennessee to paint these beauties, as well as the stunning sunsets. For more information, see below!

Painting Reelfoot Lake as the Lotus Flower blooms.
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