Yvonne Henry is the genius behind the Ekphrasis show, which continues at the Calistoga Art Center through Saturday, April 20th, from 1 to 5 p.m each day. Her idea - what would happen if you combined a photographer with someone working in another medium, and the second artist began with a photograph from the first artist as the inspiration to create something new? Hence, Sharolyn Townsend's wonderful drawing, using Michelangelo as inspiration (one work of art begets another)....
Yvonne presented the idea at the Calistoga Camera Club show late last year, and artists and photographers began pairing up. I was absolutely blessed to be able to work with Wes Thollander, whose photography I have long admired.
But in my case the inspiration works in multiple ways....
Long before I met Wes, I knew of his father, artist Earl Thollander. Wes's and my grandparents were friends – Swedes in Cloverdale, a small Sonoma County town with a reasonably good-sized Swedish community. After my grandparents moved to Santa Rosa, Wes's grandparents would visit whenever they came down to Santa Rosa, and Earl would drive them. My grandmother would tell me about Earl, and he autographed a copy of Bug Haiku for me.
I loved the way he drew - with a freshness of vision, originality, and humor that inspired me. I was a drawer, too (it was many years before I thought of myself as a painter), and I was enchanted by his work. Such beautiful lines! (Oh, what he could do with a bamboo pen!) When Back Roads of California, and later Barns of California came out, I loved looking through them.
Wes, as it turned out, was accompanying his father on some of those sketching trips, and photographing the scenes they found – the beginnings of his photographic career.
It was not easy to choose only one of Wes's photographs as my inspiration – his work is profoundly beautiful. I narrowed it down to two images, but kept leaning to the one you see on the left, Mund Road. The trees twisting their way up to find the light, and the light streaming down to the forest floor, create a magical scene.
I wanted to give a sense of those trees nearly dancing in their places, and the light filtering in between them. I used to live in a forest – Wes and his family live in one, too – and there is something about it that feels magical and reverential.
I wanted to begin with Wes's composition, which required subtle shifts to make the painting work, because the canvas's proportions were different. Some people might have found that direction too literal, but that was part of what I so loved about it. I wanted to work with the image in black and white, so the painting could find its own color. It feels to me that it still wants more color – so I may see where else it may want to take me after the show. But I love the dancing of the trees – I think we caught them behaving as though unobserved, celebrating? – perhaps conversing? - in the circle of the light.
I am absolutely honored to have Wes's photograph as my inspiration for this show, just as his father's drawings have inspired me for so many years. There's a wonderful circularity about it, even though I never got to meet Earl. I just know my grandmother is up there smiling....
A five-star review for the Napa River Inn, taking special notice of my artwork! Barb and Barbara called the Calistoga Art Center to confirm the time, and then joined us for class. It happened to be on a day when my students had asked for a demonstration. I'd begun the painting the week before, and worked on it while we talked about it and the process of painting during the class. We had a wonderful time – but how particularly nice it was that they mentioned it in their review of their time at the Inn!
What a wonderful weekend! The weather couldn't have been better, and the town of Yountville and Yountville Arts pulled out all the stops to create an event – Taste of Yountville – that drew thousands of people from all over. And many of those people stopped in to look at the artwork of Napa Valley Open Studios artists, in the special exhibition we have presented annually for three years now.
This is the only place where you can see so much work in one place by many of the artists of Napa Valley Open Studios. This year, Yountville Arts added special lighting to a second large room, giving us two exhibition spaces and extra room for each of us to present our work.
One reason I enjoy the weekend is that it brings new people to see our work, people who may not have heard of Napa Valley Open Studios before, or met any of the artists who live here in the Napa Valley. We have a chance to meet and talk with them, sharing what we do and love, and, in my case, sharing what I love about this place that makes is special to me.
With the extra space, I was able not only to hang more paintings than before, but to put them together with more of a gallery-setting eye, hanging them with work of a similar palette, or with work that was similarly framed.
This year several of us also gave demonstrations. Although it is challenging to engage in conversation and make any real progress on a painting at the same time, I gave it the old college try. I set up my plein air easel and a table with all my materials, and went to work on a painting whenever I had an opportunity.
It was a wonderful weekend, altogether. I sold four paintings, as well as some small matted reproductions, met some delightful new people, and got to visit and talk about art and the Napa Valley with all the visitors, friends, acquaintances, and family (including my cousins, newly arrived from Sweden!) who were able to stop by. My thanks to all of them (especially the people who loved my paintings enough to take them home)! And my thanks to Napa Valley Open Studios and Yountville Arts for all they do to share our artwork with the community of both locals and visitors!
I'm looking forward to this next weekend's show at Taste of Yountville, with my other Napa Valley Open Studios colleagues. The opening reception is Friday night, March 15, from 5 to 7 p.m., in the Yountville Community Center, from 10 to 5 on Saturday the 16th, and from 11 to 4 on Sunday the 17th. I'll also be giving a demonstration on Saturday and Sunday.
So I've been working on new paintings to debut at the show, including Mustard and Mt. St. Helena, which you can see in process in my previous two blog posts (I'll post the final stages later).
I'll also bring The Colors of Dawn, above. It began one morning at dawn, a few years back, when I lived at a ranch across the road from my current home. Perched higher on the ridge top, we had a perfect view of the back of Diamond Mountain – and on this morning, the colors of the light suffused a layer of ground fog behind the trees on the next hill with a radiant apricot–colored glow.
I began this painting as a workshop demonstration piece, and brought it to a degree of completion later, but something wasn't quite gelling. I've come back to it this week, recognizing what it needed now that I couldn't see before, and this is the result. Sometimes paintings just take as long as they need to take before they're all grown up....
I've continued working on Mustard and Mt. St. Helena some more tonight – it's developing! Each successive layer brings a little more fine tuning.
You can see here how, besides the evolution of the sky, there's more development of the details of mustard flowers in the foreground and the purpley winter vines behind them. But I'm not done yet. The joy is in the process... it's as much a process of discovery as anything else.
Mt. St. Helena rises above the Napa Valley floor just north of Calistoga. This field is part of an old farm called The Yellow Rose, on the upper edge of town. Every year the field is filled with mustard flowers, and the winter vines of the vineyard behind them looks vaguely purpley. I've painted it before, in a different, cooler, palette, and a very different size - 36"x48", in contrast to this small 8"x10" painting on panel.
Mustard and Mt. St. Helena is another one of the small paintings on panels I'm working on for my show at Taste of Yountville in three weeks. I begin with the basic composition, then with blocking in the large areas of color.
It's a process of painting successive layers of color, with each layer underneath influencing what's on top of it, and breaking down the large areas into smaller and smaller levels of detail with each layer.
One of the things I appreciate about painting with acrylics is that its quicker drying process makes layering so wonderful, and enables me to leave bits and pieces of the painting underneath, as I continue painting new layers.
There's still more to come!
Time is flying by – and the Napa Valley Open Studios show at Taste of Yountville is only a few weeks away. I have so much work to finish! I have somewhere between half a dozen and ten pieces in process. To mis-paraphrase Samuel Johnson*, deadlines do concentrate the mind wonderfully....
Ridgetop Vineyard is painted of a view just down the road from my home, where vineyards line either side of the road down to Calistoga.
* As Samuel Johnson actually said, "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Preparing for a show is quite a different sort of hanging altogether!
I think I've finished this painting... but you never know. I just finished it today, and I'll have to see what it's telling me tomorrow.
On Wednesday, I brought my giclee canvases of The Red Tree to the Napa River Inn, so the good folks at the inn could hang them Thursday morning, just in time for Valentine's Day. When I emerged, it was just that magical twilight time when the sky is not yet dark – still a little apricot-colored above the horizon – but deepening up above. I thought, what a perfect time it would be to walk around to the river, and see the view.
Walking along the north side of the building, towards the river, the walkway to the courtyard was lit and looked enchanting. The Inn is in a complex of buildings at the site of Napa's historical mill - you can see the mill's silos above.
It's just a short stroll past the courtyard to the Napa River... looking north towards the bridge and the last remnants of the sunset, I was enchanted – and ever so glad I had brought my camera in the car. The Napa Artwalk is back here – a series of sculptures sited near the buildings, and facing the river. It's a lovely place to stroll and enjoy the artwork.
Turning south, I passed along the back side of the inn – see the balconies above, lit ever so captivatingly? There's a little garden with a fountain tucked in between the walkway and the building, too. My artwork may be in some of those rooms now....
Past the back of the inn, and the little garden with the fountain, is the courtyard behind the mill. With palm trees! Palm trees have such engaging silhouettes....
Continuing along the walk by the river, I came to the back of the Napa General Store. The tall metal spirals, lit up, are grape destemmers used at the beginning of the winemaking process. Bins of grapes are poured in troughs where the destemmers are turning. I like them as lights, too, though they do look wickedly sharp.
Here's the view of the river heading south of Napa. Far off (you can't really tell here) there were a couple of folks in a little boat, slowly rowing. It was actually quiet enough for me to hear their oars splashing in the water as they drew closer. I thought it seemed like a wonderful time for a boat ride (especially if there'd be enough moonlight to get home by).
I wasn't the only person out for a stroll. Spring has come early (let's hope it holds!), and the weather was lovely and balmy. This view looks back towards the back of the mill, from where I'd come. I like the sign on the side of the restaurant, and the appealing little lights across the tops of the building.
Then it was around the corner, back to where I started my delightful twilight stroll. I'm so glad my artwork has gone to such a lovely home!
Last spring, when I was first contacted by a designer who'd been looking at my artwork on the internet, I had no idea where it would lead. The design project was for the Napa River Inn, in the historic Napa Mill, on the river right in the old, and wonderfully revitalized, section of downtown Napa.
Ultimately, I was one of four local artists whose paintings were chosen for four newly redesigned luxury suites. And for the first time I was reproducing my work – four giclees on canvas, one for each of the four rooms.
What's a giclee (pronounced ZHEE-clay - it's French), you might ask? It's basically a reproduction printed on a very large, specialized inkjet printer, with multiple colors of archival (very long-lasting) inks, able to print on large, heavy papers or canvas.
For these, my printer, Dave Courtney of Dacor Imaging, builds stretcher bars and stretches the canvas over them, then sprays them multiple times with his own special mixture of an archival, protective spray.
Last weekend I learned that Napa River Inn wanted six more giclees in time for Valentine's Day! Dave worked hard to get them done, along with giclees for one of my favorite local painters, Beverly Wilson, and Gail Toland, whom I haven't yet met. All three of us were chosen!
So, the day before Valentine's Day, I drove to Napa to collect them - six big (30"x40") reproductions on canvas, all looking absolutely gorgeous, in protective bags for the journey. I signed each one, and we loaded them carefully in my car. The Inn has promised us painters a tour soon, so we can see how these look in the rooms - I can hardly wait!