December 03, 2007

Receding Ridge Lines

"Aglow", 12" x 16", oil on canvas, Lydia Johnston

Recently I've been exploring the theme of receding ridge lines and hills in my oil landscapes, such a familiar sight here in Southern Vermont and the Berkshires.

Every so often I will pull out a small canvas to paint, usually when I have mixed oil paints leftover, after completing a large painting. While I prefer painting large landscapes, 30" x 40" or 36" x 48", I find a freedom to explore with a little piece like this one, just 12" x 16". Here the entire canvas is covered so quickly. Standing in front of it to paint, I can take in the whole picture at once, easily deciding where to place my next stroke, without having to continually step back across my art studio to view the whole piece.

November 20, 2007

"Sweep of Land"

I usually start my largest paintings with a monotoned under painting to set the composition. This one was done with thinned yellow ocher oil paint. I love the way this stage is so fluid. I can wipe away with a rag any part I don't like. I can lift or lower the horizon line, shift the trees, add another ridge. This is the step when I set the values and major design elements. I find with these large paintings it's very important to set these elements before beginning with the actual painting. Then when I'm fully immersed in the frenzy of painting, up close to this large canvas, I don't need to be concerned that the skyline didn't go in where I wanted, or that the trees got too tall. I can still change any part as I go if I feel the need. And I still take breaks and step across the studio to analyze the progress, but having the major elements already organized is immensely helpful.

"Sweep of Land" 36" x 48", oil on canvas, Lydia Johnston

And I love the glow this under painting imparts. I usually use a warm color, yellow ocher being a favorite. I have had fun experimenting with cadmium orange, cadmium red, hansa yellow light and others. Once I tried delft blue as my under painting for a large sea/sky scape, and then spent a lot of time layering on many additional coats of paint to counter the overpowering blue tone. Ultimately I worked it out, and it is this experimenting that adds to my excitement with painting, to always be exploring and learning something new.

This painting can now be seen at the Orvis Flagship Store in Manchester, Vermont. The Nancy Price Gallery, where my work is represented, has begun an art program at Orvis, rotating her artists' work through this large store. I just hung this in their furniture area, over a sofa. It looks stunning. It is always exciting to see the paintings in a setting, rather than just in my studio.

November 08, 2007

"Finding Flow"

"Pair of Swallows" 30" x 40", oil on canvas, Lydia Johnston

I've been so busy working on new paintings, I haven't taken the time to write a new post. Recently I have been reading a book called "Finding Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It seems to describe perfectly the way I feel when I am in the midst of working on a new painting. The author describes "Flow" as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."

Often when I start working on a new painting, I don't have a clear sense of where I am going. Sometimes I work from reference photos I have taken, but often I just rely on my memories of different places I have seen.

I begin with the barest sketch to set the compositional design, and then I decide on the color range I want to play with. Once I start painting, the piece takes on a life of its own. As one part goes in, it dictates what the next part should be. There is a delicate balance, a back and forth, of which I need to be keenly aware of.

It is very exciting when it isn't all worked out ahead of time. I love it when I am in the midst of painting, caught up in the flow of creativity. It is exhilarating.

October 31, 2007

Big Sky Series

"Sunrise Over Dornoch", 30" x 40", oil on linen, Lydia Johnston

One of the artists whom I have admired is John H. Twachtman. Many of his paintings are very subtle with little contrast in them, but they have a soft beauty I have always been drawn to.

After our trip this summer to Scotland, I painted three large sky-scapes. This one was done in very pale colors with little contrast. This painting has lots of subtle variations in color, a hint of wheeling sea birds in the sky and a glimpse of the ocean through the dune grasses. I want an air of mystery in my paintings. I love to hint at things, leaving just a suggestion, letting the viewers imagination supply the rest.

October 23, 2007

Setting Sun

"Setting Sun", 30" x 40", oil on canvas, Lydia Johnston

The fall colors just kept deepening and intensifying. This past weekend the sugar maples were glorious. Driving along Mt. Anthony Road I felt I was in a tunnel of color, a magical experience. Already the colors are beginning to fade and winds are blowing the leaves off the trees. Today the air is full of swirling leaves. I'm always amazed at how quickly the colors peak and then begin to fade.

It's the same with sunsets. One moment the sky is infused with intense color, mesmerizing me, and the next it is all draining away as evening comes on. I wonder, was it really as intense as I remember. And so I head into my studio to capture the memory on canvas .

October 17, 2007

Edge of My Field

There are still lots of sugar maples that haven't begun to turn color yet, but already we have had some beauties. I love how the air becomes infused with color at this time of year. The top corner of my field is lined with sugar maples, and they are glowing. I just want to step into the woods below them and be bathed in that light.

October 04, 2007

Columbus Day Weekend

It's looking like this weekend we are going to have beautiful warm weather, perfect for the Lenox Autumn Art Festival. I am planning to be working on a 18" x 24" landscape, about the largest I feel comfortable painting outdoors. Hopefully there will be no strong gusts of wind, and the sun won't be too strong. Here it is already October but we are continuing to have summer weather.

I will be set up at 71 Church Street in front of Firefly Restaurant.

In addition to painting, I will be displaying 18 small original oil paintings including some miniatures, as well as my giclée reproductions of "Tangerine Dream" and "Sapphire Dreams", both in the larger 22" x 29" size on canvas, and the smaller 9" x 13" on watercolor paper. I will be bringing both framed and unframed giclées.

September 29, 2007

Lenox Autumn Art Festival

This Columbus Day Weekend, October 6th and 7th, Lenox, MA will be holding their Autumn Art Festival, featuring 13 art galleries within a two block area in historic Lenox Village. The galleries will be exhibiting work by over 500 artists. In addition there will be outdoor fine art demonstrations and exhibits by up to 75 artists.

I will be participating in the Art Walk and Paint Out on Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon - 5 pm. I will be set up outdoors with easel and paint to work on a piece. Stop by to visit and learn more about my process. I will have small paintings for sale as well as giclee prints. Information will be available to locate artists.

In addition, I have a number of my large paintings in the Lenox Gallery of Fine Art , located at 69 Church Street. The Art Walk will take place rain or shine. If the weather is bad, I will be at the gallery to meet with people.

September 17, 2007

New Gallery

"Summer's Eve", oil on canvas, 30" x 40"

I have started exhibiting with a new gallery in the Boston area. I just returned from delivering six paintings, including this newest one, "Summer's Eve", to AZ Fine Art Gallery, at 339 Washington Street in Wellesley Hills, MA. It is easily located on Rt 16, set back from the road with parking in front. So please be sure to visit the gallery, meet Peter Ziegelman the owner, and see my new paintings.

September 12, 2007


One last large fence post painting. In Scotland there were fence posts everywhere. I had expected to be seeing many more stone walls, and certainly there were some to be seen, but most were in disrepair with fence posts running beside them.

So when I returned home, it felt right to continue working on and completing this last painting in my fencepost series. I'm sure I will return to this motif in the future, but for now it is time to move on.

August 24, 2007

Sea Kayaking in Scotland

Back home, after a fantastic trip to Scotland. We traveled by ferry to the Outer Hebrides for a six-day sea kayaking trip, the best kayaking trip we've ever had. We went with a guide, Tim Pickering who runs Adventure Hebrides. He provided the boats, and as it turned out, all of my kayaking and camping gear because British Airways lost my baggage on the flight over. Tim knows the area intimately, all the best places to camp, the waters and the tides and currents, the wind and the weather. And when the winds were too strong to paddle in one area, he transported us to another area where the winds wouldn't impede us. There are numerous small islands in the area, beautiful white sand beaches with turquoise water, natural sea arches and stacks, and sea caves to paddle into.

One day, on the open North Atlantic side of the Isle of Lewis, we found ourselves paddling among five basking sharks. As we sat bobbing on the water, the sharks, harmless filter feeders over 20' long, swam around us, passing under our boats, bumping us gently, so intent were they on their feeding.

Next a pair of porpoise came to feed, and suddenly it looked and sounded as though it were raining, as schools of small fish leapt out of the water, sparkling in the light, only to splash back down. Larger fish, mackerel or herring were feeding from below, chasing the fish up and out. What an experience.

We could have floated up and down on the swells for hours watching, but Tim noticed the wind changing directions and it was time to head into Loch Roag for protection, and to have the wind at our backs.

The sky and quality of light so far north is just beautiful. It would stay light until 10:30 at night. There was almost always a bit of wind, good for keeping the midges away, and this kept the clouds in continual movement, their patterns ever changing. I spent hours in the evening, sitting and watching and absorbing it all. I loved the sun low in the sky, sparkling on the water, creating a glow on the clouds. There were almost never any bright colors at sunset, but the play of light on the clouds was breathtaking.

So here I am, back in my studio working on some big sky paintings.

June 08, 2007

Fencepost Memories

This spring I have focused on a series of fence post paintings, exploring different ways to use the post as a design element in my compositions. Meadow close-ups with posts dividing foreground from background, fences delineating pasture from field, and expansive vistas with posts disappearing into the distance.

During the month of July, the Lenox Gallery of Fine Art, 69 Church Street, Lenox, MA will feature several paintings from my fence post series. Saturday, July 7th, I will be at the gallery from 12:30 - 5 pm. Please stop by to see my newest works.