Art Journal – Plein Air Water Lilies and Zen

Sharon Leah

I went out four times in July to paint pond lilies and almost gave up after the second try. Every plein air painting experience has its challenges, but the rewards make it “mostly” worthwhile so I continued to try. This post is a summary of that experience.

Plein air paintings of water lilies

There’s just something about water lilies and lotus. They’re enchanting and beautiful in their simplicity, and many artists both before and after Claude Monet have painted them. Monet’s series of water lilies paintings, over 100  in all, have a tranquil beauty that both painters and collectors appreciate.

Monet Lilies

Water lilies by Claude Monet. Completion date 1917.

Monet loved gardens and painting, and it was to his gardens in Giverny that he retreated as World War I ravaged Europe. He was aware of the war and could sometimes hear the sound of gunfire in nearby battlefields.  “Yesterday I resumed work,”…

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Should Artists Keep Art Journals?

Sharon Leah

orchid-still-life.jpgI have journals and notebooks scattered all around my home. I love them. And I love to write in them. I’m just not very consistent about when I write or what the purpose of my writing should be. So sometimes, often, I have two or three journals going at once and I’m about different things that I do in each of them. I can frustrate myself when I want to find something that I wrote and I have to look in all the possible places. On the other hand, I’m often pleasantly surprised when I open an old journal and reread things that I wrote.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about possible benefits of keeping a journal while I do my artwork. Knowing myself as I do and knowing my propensity for starting a new journal on a whim, I decided to give this idea of an artist’s journal more thought…

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Why Paint in a Tradition

Sharon Leah

Bonnard-the dining room

Pierre Bonnard, The Dining Room in the Country, 1913

I’m a plein air landscape artist and I do some still life paintings when the weather is bad or it’s just too cold to stand outside for three hours. I live in Minnesota. Today, I can say that I paint in the tradition of painterly realism, but it took some time for me to identify the tradition—painterly realism—that I feel most aligned with. In college, I was infatuated with the French Impressionists, and with Pierre Bonnard in particular. Then as now, color and light are nearly the first things that draw my attention to a scene. The Impressionists used broken color to capture the sensation of light. Bonnard was actually considered a Post-Impressionist painter and criticized by some because he broke with his contemporaries, developing his own style. Reviewing an exhibit of Bonnard’s work, Jed Perl wrote:

“Bonnard is the most…

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Day One: A Crash Course in Navigating South America

I love this new blog by my daughter, who traveled solo throughout South America. It’s creative, adventuresome, and full of great tips for travelers.

I SPY BLUE SKIES

When the airplane touched down on the runway at Rio Galeão airport in Rio de Janeiro, I stared out the window in a state of disbelief. After planning this trip for nearly a year, I had finally arrived, and I didn’t want to get off the airplane. I was alone and terrified.

What did I get myself into?

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Of course, staying on the airplane wasn’t an option. I had no choice but to stand up, swallow my fear, which I would do many more times throughout the next four months, and make the long walk toward baggage claim.

“First time in Brazil?” the immigration agent asked before stamping my passport. I nodded. “Welcome, enjoy,” he said with an amused smile. I took my passport back and kept walking. It must be fun, I thought, watching all the bewildered and sleep-deprived gringos like myself filing through his line.

I collected my…

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Fields and Clouds

Don’t try to paint good landscapes. Try to paint canvases that will show how interesting landscapes look to you — your pleasure in the thing.
~ Robert Henri in The Art Spirit

When I passed by this Wisconsin farmstead on a summer day in 2015, I had to stop the car and just take it in. The cumulus clouds floating above a field of ripening grain was, as they used to say, “A Kodak moment.”

The small 6×6-inch oil painting was done on a birch board in 2015. I leaned into this painting, using a palatte knife to paint the field. I say “leaned in” because I’d only started painting again after setting aside my paints and brushes for 30-plus years. But something about this landscape gave me the courage to try. I gifted the painting to a friend, and it remains one of my favorites.

I’m painting the landscape again. This time on a 9×12-inch linen panel. The house is hidden, protected behind the windrow of trees. The small barn and silo, once so common in rural areas, are an anomaly in today’s world. Many of the older barns and silos have fallen into disrepair, or they’ve been replaced by sheet-metal barns and shiny aluminum silos. My motive for painting this little landscape (which still needs a little tweaking) is reason I stopped my car and took the photo — it was a beautiful summer day for watching clouds sweep past, high above the field.

It’s Never too Late to Begin Again

There is an underlying, indwelling creative force infusing all of life—including ourselves.
~Julia Cameron in It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again

Julia would probably say I responded to a creative force when I started this blog. And she would be right. I was riding a new wave of creative energy that I had (metaphorically speaking) caught in late 2014. That creative force also brought me back to oil painting—a practice I have not enjoyed since leaving school in the 1980s.

In the thirty or so years between packing away my paints and brushes and finding my way back to painting, I completed a bachelor and a master degree, worked in two career fields, and raised three children. I’ve learned from many of my new artist friends that my experience of turning away from creative pursuits to do other things is a very common one. Lots of people do it.

The urge to create—write for a blog, crochet scarves, grow tomatoes, photograph flowers, paint landscapes (which I do), up-cycle flea market finds, or any of a thousand other activities, including raising a family or working—is in every person, not only artists.

Julia also says that when we open our creative channel, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected. I agree and believe its the urge to create that keeps us interested and engaged with living. It’s also what makes us interesting, what attracts new friends, and what opens the doors to new experiences.

Before you move on to do or read something else, take a few minutes to think about where you are and what your relationship is to your creative self.

Imagine a large map—perhaps your map includes the places where you’ve gone to school, worked, and raised your family. Add to your map any places that have inspired you and fed your soul. Where were those places? When were you there? What were you doing? Try drawing your map if that will help you better visualize your journey, but keep it simple.

Now, imagine yourself moving across this map (your life). Think about the many crossroads you’ve come to. At each crossroad, in what direction did you decide to go? What did you leave behind? Where are you now? Do you feel the urge to change course again? to revisit something? Describe for yourself what you’re being urged to move toward. What do you see? What do you want to do?

It is never too late to begin again to paint or plant or do any of the things that can and will help connect you with your creative self and make you feel good about being alive.