Friday, February 8, 2019

What Happens, When You Can't Not Paint

When the desire is strong enough, the means seem to magically appear, as they did for me on a trip I made to the California Coast a few years back.

In Pacific Grove ©Theresa Grillo Laird

For some unknowable reason, California has always held some kind of crazy pull on me. Even as a young child, I begged my parents to move from our east coast home to that place of promise called California. I spent leisurely childhood  hours with one of those old Walter Foster painting books propped in front of my myopic eyes, dreaming my being into a painting of Mission San Juan Capistrano.

April rain at Mission San Antonio de Padua ©Theresa Grillo Laird

 I didn't actually make it out to the west coast until about 8 years ago. For a too brief period of 3 years, my husband and I made frequent trips to the central coast to maintain a property inherited by his family. Though I haven't been back since the property was sold, I just have to close my eyes to smell the hay filled scent of the fields surrounding the orchard the house stood on. A moment's thought, brings me back to the eucalyptus filled air of Hearst Memorial Beach or to the feel beneath my feet of the rocky ground of Big Sur's cliff tops. Warm dry air filled with scents of coastal plants, the colors, the ocean breeze through the mountain passes, all live in my senses daily. I'd move there in a New York minute if it wouldn't mean throwing my family life over the cliff.

coastal pines ©Theresa Grillo Laird

Traveling up highway 1 for the first time through land that gradually turned to countryside, it took less than a day to start feeling half sick that I didn't bring my paints and easel. A quick trip to a San Luis Obispo art store took care of the paints and canvas. I figured I'd just sit on the ground to paint, making an easel unnecessary, until I discovered how pernicious poison oak can be. By the third trip there, I knew I'd be looking at several weeks of steroid packs back home to fix the purple welts that plagued me after each trip. Ah well. Every paradise seems to have it's serpents.

On my first  night, surprising chilly for April to this Floridian, I eagerly packed my new paints and brushes and waited for sunrise. Various kinds of rose bushes lined 3 sides of the house, and their scent lingered in the room and mixed with the sweet fruit wood burning in a pot belly stove. There was no TV service and the mellow lamp light and country night sounds gave the house a peaceful gentleness that I wished I could have bottled for future enjoyment. I slept well that night.

I woke the next morning to sunlight edging over the mountain tops and flooding the orchard. A day trip to a place I knew nothing about called Big Sur, was on the menu. I grabbed my new paints and made my way out to the garage where some faint hammering had been going on. "How's this?" said my husband, and presented me with a folding easel he had constructed out of PVC piping he'd found in the garage. Be it a dining table big enough for unexpected house guests, or an on-the-spot easel, he has a remarkable ability to turn out at a moments notice, whatever is needed! Here's a picture of it in action.

painting in Cambria 

That humble but sturdy easel served me well for the next 5 weeks whenever we took time off from working on the property, to explore the region. A photo of it in use, still graces the back of my business cards and reminds me that those things necessary to feed the soul, like sweet dreams of a golden land, clifftop splendors and a means to paint will somehow always find their way to you.

In Big Sur-almost heaven!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Recipe for Peace

Winter Beach ©Theresa Grillo Laird- info here

In this season of gift giving and receiving, there's sometimes more focus than ever on things we have and don't have. It doesn't take the Christmas Season to sometimes feel like everyone else got all the goodies- the best toys, more money, better education, unbelievable opportunities and uncanny good luck. If this is you, here's a link to a story that will both inspire and encourage you. In it, a young woman asks what if what you have is all you'll ever have, to accomplish what you were meant to do on this earth?

What if

Ponder the thought. What if what you have is all you'll ever have? It's an excellent question. What would you do? Would you proceed with confidence, or would you believe that you have to accept a smaller dream? Could you abandon the anxious urge to continue striving for what you don't have, and hoping to make conditions better before take action?

I know for myself that I'll follow this young woman's advice, confident that I have plenty despite shortages, and satisfied in the knowledge that I have all I need to find success, truth and beauty in life and in painting. What peace!

Happy New Year! And do read her story. It's pretty amazing.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

No Snoozing Here

"Painting must be so relaxing!" The words reach your ears as if from a distance while standing before your easel in front of an inspiring scene. "Uh, no, not really" you might be inclined to say, at the same time not wanting to seem like a complaining ingrate to your temperamental muse. "Relaxing" is one of the last words I'd apply to the act of painting.

A walk in the woods is relaxing. Laying on the beach listening to the surf with your eyes closed is relaxing. Melting into a hot tub surrounded by the shapes and greens of a Japanese garden is relaxing. But painting is problem solving. And problem solving, at least for me, means rapid fire of all the little grey cells.

"Summer Evening" - ©Theresa Grillo Laird-oil on linen-18x24"
Displayed in Oil Painters of America Eastern Regional 2018. Contact here for information

Transforming your intention into a painted canvas, takes thought, effort and recall of the things that worked and didn't work in prior paintings. It's a balancing act with constantly shifting pieces. When you're really in the flow, the answers appear one after the other in front of your eyes as if by magic -though that special gift isn't bestowed every day. A painting session is a workout even though the painter seems to be exerting little physical effort. Like any workout, you feel both tired and exhilarated at the end of it. And hungry for more.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Just Plein Fun!

Put yourself here!

I love plein air painting! I love being outdoors for hours at time, quietly absorbing the sounds and rhythms of the land I'm standing on.

Painting outdoors adds a dimension to the process of creating that's absent in the studio: the outdoors itself. Working on site, it's impossible to not become quickly aware of the many subtleties of color, line, shape and material of the  environment. All of it works its way into a painting.It's as if the place and the painter work in concert to produce the result. It's an intensely rewarding experience.

I invite you to test this for yourself at a workshop I'm teaching this month. On the 28 and 29  of September, The Eastern Shore Art Center is sponsoring a plein air workshop that I'll be teaching on the bluffs above Mobile Bay in Fairhope. I invite you to join me for two days of instruction, demos and painting. But sign up quickly! Space is limited. Here's the link.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

In Search of Silence.

While listening to the radio recently, I was intrigued by a story about a project called One Square Inch of Silence. I won't go into the details of the story here. You can read about it on the link above. Basically it was about finding and preserving silence in national parks.

A Soft Light - ©Theresa Grillo Laird - oil on linen covered panel - 14x18
see it here

Finding silence. It can have so many meanings from the inner silence of meditation to the freedom from the everyday noise that's so hard to escape. When was the last time you entered a shop or cafe or a public space that didn't have some sort of sound track running? Quiet is so uncommon that the silence seems deafening when you enter such a space with the sound turned off. You could say we're  addicted to noise.

One of the joys of painting outdoors is the relief from manufactured sound. Painting in my coastal area with just the sounds of the breeze or surf or birds calling or even the sounds of land animals moving discreetly across the sand, makes focus sharp and is intensely relaxing. Try it! The next time you're at the beach, turn off the music and listen! Hike across the land rather than navigating it in some noisy vehicle or flying fanny fan. Listen for the silence.You just might find a whole new world opening up to you.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


I have so many things to be thankful for. I'm thankful for this love for painting that I had nothing to do with acquiring, that has fueled my soul since childhood. I'm thankful for all the people I've run into this year who have aided, inspired and supported my efforts.

I'm thankful for the people who've been placed in my life from my sister who taught me to never give up on my dreams, to my mother who just celebrated her 100th birthday!, to my husband who makes it possible for me to pursue a life in art.I'm thankful for all my family, those I've come from and those unfolding the newest generation. 

I'm thankful for the people who have appeared in answer to spiritual quests making life so much fuller. I'm thankful for the example of compassion, patience and keeping priorities straight of the young woman who helps me care for my mom.

For so many things large and small that drop unexpected gifts into daily life, I'm thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving !


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Out in the Wilderness

A 12x16 plein air sketch from Apalachicola ©Theresa Grillo Laird

How does it happen that you reach out and the universe answers in multiples?

I've been in a world of places literally and figuratively, for the past 4 months. In May I attended a 4 day event of demos, lectures and painting at Plein Air South in Apalachicola. With this year's roster of talent, it was well worth the time and expense. July gave me a Best of Show award at  the Outdoor Magic exhibition in Sandestin's Foster Gallery. The next stop will be the Oil Painters of America Eastern Regional Exhibit coming in November in St Simons Island. And though my private art lessons schedule has been filling up, there's still room for a couple more students. It's been an active time, but in my own mind, I've been out in the desert. Not a desert of bleak desolation, but a place where the air is clear, the lines are simple and it's possible to see into great distances.

This journey into the wilderness all started a few months back, when the impetus to find meditation's place in my life became too strong to ignore any longer. Traveling a road of inner discovery has led to the question of what this gift of art is, that I had nothing to do with acquiring, and where I really want to go with it. I keep coming back to the same point, that the most compelling direction has always been and still is, to push the experience of searching to the limits. In other words to confidently travel the long and often surprising path that ultimately brings your work closer to a more fully realized expression of your unique gift.

An artist I met in Apalachicola who has successfully  traveled the route, advised me that every artist needs to choose between the art path of painting for the tastes of the day and with the aim of sales and recognition, or painting for themselves and for what fulfills their personal vision. He added that they are not the same path.  

I've been enjoying this place of quiet, reflection and exploration. If I remain somewhat absent from this space and from social media in general, you'll know where I am. 

How about you? I'd love to hear about your journeys of discovery.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Steps in the Process

Through the Dunes - ©Theresa Grillo Laird - oil on canvas - 12x16
Walking a pathway to where ever the road leads!

I remember when I first tried to learn how to paint in oils. I was 12 years old and had been given a Christmas gift of Grumbacher paints, bristle and sable brushes, canvas boards and an easel. What a treasure! But no one in my family was an artist. Nor did my parents know any artists. I assumed I was just supposed to plow ahead, so I did.
The first 3 of those canvas boards were covered with a still life of a bowl of fruit that my mother had set up for me, a painting of white and red flowers that I copied from a postcard, and a scene of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh that I painted from imagination, placing them on a footbridge crossing a brook in my town. I found these first paintings again years later. The first two weren't bad at all, especially for an absolute beginner. But the last one was my undoing. Not knowing anything about perspective, the bright blue brook flowed vertically from the top of my canvas to the bottom. I remember being disgusted and frustrated that the vision I saw in my head was so far from what appeared on the canvas.

When I teach, I see the same frustration, and the same unrealistic expectation that an intended vision will immediately appear on the canvas despite the student having no experience with the materials, and sometimes no experience drawing. Often a beginning student feels more confident copying a step by step demo rather than trusting themselves to apply whatever knowledge they've gained. Copying rather than learning to see, unnecessarily deprives you of the pleasure of traveling your own path of learning with all it's joys and discoveries. 

In high school I finally received the instruction I'd been longing for, when I took a painting class taught by a teacher who was actually a working artist. From there on, as I wrote in my last post, I had to be my own teacher. And let me tell you! There's nothing like the excitement of traveling the road from knowing little, to being capable of expressing your artistic intent. I wouldn't choose to shortchange any portion of it. Each step delights you like an stunning vista that opens up unexpectedly beyond the curve of a path.

I tell my beginning students that if all they are capable of in the beginning is to divide the shapes of their subject into correct values with a light and dark side, well then, revel in it! Do 50 paintings like that, and what you learn will guide you to your next step. Be patient. Be attentive. Be sensitive to the little gifts that are dropped in your lap in return for your efforts. You will be repaid with a way to experience life unlike any other!   

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Should You Look at the Work of Other Artists?

Though I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be an artist, art school- or any college for that matter- was not in the cards for me. Books became my art teachers. This before YouTube and the world of everything at your fingertips. At one time, I had an art book library 200+ strong, and I'd read every one of them.The large coffee table books with full page illustrations were the most useful. Later, for some reason, publishers started printing just the inside area of the paintings for their full page illustrations. They should have asked an artist first since any artist could have told them that cropping a painting in any way completely changes the composition and the painter's intent. 

I poured over these art book treasures, trying to fathom the mystery of how an internal sensation or vision becomes a concrete reality with the capacity to lift a viewer out of their ordinary experience of day to day. How did these artists with just a few tubes of paint and a flat surface manage to make so clear a picture of the channel they experienced the world through?

The large pictures in the art books made it possible to see the actual brushstrokes and the layering of paint. After wandering through that tapestry, I usually turned the pictures upside down or sideways to better study the design without my mind telling me what it thought I was seeing.

For several years, each of my days started in front of a sunny window with an art book, a cup of coffee in hand, and my cat Gillian curled up beside me.  I worked my way from Rubens, Hals and Velasquez  to the French Impressionists, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Sargent, World Impressionism, Russian painters, American painters, California Impressionism, and even ink painting of the Chinese and Japanese artists. I studied the works of individual artists. I studied about pigments and about using archival materials. Sometimes I read books for inspiration, following an artist's struggles and explorations. All the while, I kept painting. Eventually I had more paintings that were OK instead of awful.

I'm not sure when the tipping point occurred, that looking at other artists work became limiting rather than helpful. Maybe it was when I started looking more at contemporary artists. The inevitable comparing that's bound to result from too much looking, began to sap my confidence and eat away at the excitement  that art making had always brought me. It was time to pull back and spend a bit more time looking inward.

These days I limit the time I spend looking at other artists work. I've been spending a lot of time painting solo outdoors or in my studio. The resurgent sense of focus is liberating!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Waiting for Perfect

Waiting for the perfect time to embark on your dream.
Waiting for the perfect conditions to paint.

A lot of us dream about the perfect studio. I can see mine. It would be as spacious as the ones in a William Merritt Chase painting, with room on one end to gather and sit. It's huge windows overlooking an inspiring vista, would flood the room with light . My perfect studio has high ceilings, plenty of room to step back while painting, a gallery, and storage space. While I'm dreaming, I might as well dream up an assistant too to help with the mundane studio tasks!
But back to reality. My studio, though mostly adequate for my present needs, doesn't remotely resemble my dream studio. If I waited for my perfect studio, I'd have never started painting.
Water Cave-© Theresa Grillo Laird - oil - 9x12 - (sold) 

This painting, Water Cave was selected a few years ago for an Oil Painters of America exhibit. Let me tell you how it was created. My parents has become unable to manage their household, so I left my home and traveled north intent on staying with them for a few weeks until I could find a permanent caregiver. The weeks turned into months, each day filled with the tasks of daily living and caregiving. At night after my parents went to bed, I would break out my paints. My work space was the corner of a desk already filled with books and a computer. Dark paneling lined the room giving my dim little corner the ambiance of a broom closet. To paint Water Cave, I pushed back the computer keyboard and monitor, clamped a light to the desk and started working. At about 3:30 in the morning, I'd finished. In the morning light it just needed a few small adjustments. No one seemed enthused about the result but me. So, I submitted it, and it got in! If I'd waited for perfect conditions, nothing would have happened. So, wait for perfect? Not me!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Winter Exhibits

Setting up, K.C.Williams, curator at Mattie Kelly Art Center

It's been a busy two months. I've barely been out of my studio, preparing works for shows and art festivals. One of those shows is the Southeast Regional Fine Arts Exhibition being held at the McIlroy Gallery at the Mattie Kelly Art Center in Niceville Florida.  After the excitement of seeing the pieces of artwork arrive, the exhibition opened two weeks later on a night of unusual winter thunderstorms. The weather didn't stop the crowds who were also treated to a beautiful photography exhibit of last year's first place winner of the Southeast Regional. This year the curators cast a wider net for the exhibition, including artists from California, Colorado, Texas, Georgia and New York as well as artists from the southern US. 

awarding prizes

Jennifer McComas , curator of European and American art at the Eskenazi  Art Museum in Indiana, served as juror. With each prize she awarded, she included her impressions and reasons for her choices. I love when a juror takes the time to enlighten the audience with their thinking process! I felt honored when my entry, The Stillness of Winter, was awarded honorary mention! You still have time to see both exhibits until March 3rd. Here's the link for information.

I guess my studio time was paying off because the next bit of good news I received was that my painting Gulf Islands National Seashore-Coastal Path, has been accepted into the American Impressionist Society exhibition Impressions:Small Works Showcase in Costa Mesa California. I'm honored and thrilled!

Gulf Islands National Seashore-Coastal Path
Each season in a coastal environment has it's own special beauty. Now that Spring has arrived in Pensacola, I'm eager to be back outside painting in my favorite local spot, Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Unfinished Business

Sunflowers-still unfinished

The year will soon come to an end. For an artist in business, that usually that means formulating goals and plans for the coming year.

Surveying my studio today with it's piles of plein air studies and unfinished paintings, it seemed like a metaphor for the current shape of my life. An expanding mixture of duties has meant that many of my intentions for 2016 have only been partially realized. The furniture that crowds the studio while renovations go on in the house, adds to the feeling that my mind too is crowded with unfinished business. 

So, where to now?

Since I know exactly where I want to go, I'm clearing the clutter of everything that doesn't aid me on my path, which means spending much less time on social media, and much less time fact gathering and looking at what other artists are doing.  Obstacles I can do nothing about, I'll patiently ignore. In the space that's left, whatever good I can accomplish will have room to grow. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving Thanks in Uncertain Times

Chesapeake Autumn - ©Theresa Grillo Laird - oil on canvas (sold)

On this Thanksgiving Day, the election is over and the country stands more divided than ever. On one side of the chasm, people fear the dark rumblings of nationalism, the legitimizing of white supremacist views and wild conspiracy theories, and a blatant hostility to a large part of the citizenry. The protection of the natural environment so important to landscape painters, is in the cross hairs.
On the other side of the divide with those who would like to roll the clock back 50 years, stands the hard working middle class who have all but disappeared with the policies and practices of the past 35-40 years. This segment of America has placed their money on the hope that the companies and shareholders who've sent their jobs overseas since the 1980's are somehow going to be persuaded to now pay a much more expensive American workforce that envisions the return of a work place minus today's automated technologies.
"Make America Great Again" has two entirely different meanings depending on which side of the divide you stand. Meanwhile our worst enemies are rubbing their hands in glee.

So, where are we artists left? Where are we, the majority of Americans, left who didn't vote for a dark vision?

I've been talking to parts of my community who have long suffered the effects of hostility and discrimination. Unlike me, they are remarkably calm. I sense a kind of patient forbearance when I hear their dignified "It'll be OK." As if they've seen the ebb and flow of years of hate filled rhetoric that many of us are just now finding ourselves face to face with. For these people and their example of strength and grace I'm thankful.

For people who continue to exercise their right to protest in the face of personal harm, like those at the Dakota Access Pipeline, I'm thankful.

For people like Pope Francis who entreat us to look at what we are doing to each other and to the earth, I'm thankful.

For leaders like Bernie Sanders who don't freeze in stunned disbelief at defeat but calmly continue forward pressing the issues that need to be addressed, I'm thankful.

For the segment of humankind that clearly sees the wrongness of policies that bring harm to each other, I'm thankful.

For everyone who provides the example of how to come together in the face of deep division, I'm thankful.

And for the gift of being an artist that enables me to see and to bring beauty into the world, I'm very thankful, and will always be thankful no matter what happens on the political stage.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Community Among Artists

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Mirror - oil on canvas - 14x18
see here

How grateful I am for the community of artists!

Like many people, I've been watching the campaign season and wondering what is happening to our country. I guess I shouldn't be surprised considering how many years we've had to endure "news show" personalities sowing division and hurling vitriol at the political persons and party they disagree with. It makes me wonder how the country can survive the divisions these people have worked so diligently to foster. Even within families you find clashing personalities and viewpoints, but usually the greater good of an intact family prevails over self destruction. 

Contrast this sorry picture, to the community of artists. During the past month I've painted with 2 different plein air groups, participated in a paint out, and started a new round of classes and workshops. Each day I find myself in the company of artists, I come back revived, energized and happy. Of course there can sometimes be petty jealousies or prima donnas, but somehow, there usually isn't. What is there is a diverse bunch of people with varying degrees of experience and knowledge. There's generosity, goodwill, and an eagerness to explore and to share the results of different approaches to painting and marketing problems.Though we all paint differently and have different goals and ambitions, we recognize our commonality and celebrate the enormous good luck of finding ourselves here on this earth living as artists. -kind of like the incredible good luck of being born in this country.

If as artists, very different in many ways from each other, we can thrive together and celebrate what each brings to the table, is it such a far fetched idea that we can do the same as a country? Maybe the voices we hear too much of on the airwaves, need to take a look at how it's done in the community of artists. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Color Black

Woman with a Parasol - Claude Monet
Recently I found myself in conversation with a fellow artist about the color black and the manner that one popular instructor on the workshop circuit uses it. Rarely has there been a color who's use elicits so much debate! Throughout history there have been artists who have used it to beautiful effect.The impressionists on the other hand, tended to shy away from it, viewing it as the opposite of outdoor light which was their primary concern.

Laughing Cavalier - Frans Hals
Velazquez, Rembrandt, Hals, Manet, Degas,Sargent and Zorn all used black. Modern painters who include black on their palette are Jim Wilcox, Sherrie McGraw, Ned Meuller, Mitch Baird, and Kenn Backhaus.  Some of these artists use black with yellow to make greens. Some use it to make grays that they modify colors with. Some use it in place of blue. Artists who don't have black on their palette like Scott Christenson, Jim McVicker, Brian Blood, and Derek Penix, mix their black from the dark colors they use.

Berthe Morisot with a bouquet of violets - Edouard Manet
When I began painting, I had a much more extensive palette than I do now, including several earth colors, a violet, 3 blues, 2 or 3 reds,various greens and 2 yellows. I had black on my palette too for making greens. You wouldn't think I'd need it with all those blues and yellows! Over time my palette became smaller until it contained only 3 colors plus white. I worked for more than 2 years with that palette. A tried and true 3 color palette that contains black is an earth yellow, ivory black and a warm red. Personally I tend to avoid black. The simplicity and harmony of the palette is appealing but black's reputation for cracking is worrisome. I usually paint outdoors and my current palette has 1 or 2 blues, a violet, 2 reds and 2 yellows. Sometimes I'll add another red or substitute one red for another. Occasionally I'll add viridian green and cadmium orange. Sometimes I'll drop one of the yellows. 

 The Misses Vickers by John Singer Sargent
The particular colors you choose to put on your palette are really less important than the relationships between colors that you create in your painting. You'll find that there are also multiple ways that you can arrive at the same color, as the photos below show.

In this photo the inside greens were made with ivory black and either cadmium yellow lemon or cadmium yellow medium. The outside green patches were made with ultramarine blue, permanent red deep and either cadmium yellow lemon or medium. They took about a minute to mix. With a little more care the color match could have been made even more exact. Just for fun I've included another mixture that I'll use in place of tubed yellow ochre and golden ochre.

The mixture on the left is cadmium yellow medium and quinacridone violet. The one on the right is yellow ochre from the tube. You can vary the shade light to dark, yellow to golden depending on how much yellow or violet you use.
So, how about you? Do you have black in your line up of colors?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Building Your House on a Solid Foundation

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Officer's House- Gulf Islands National Seashore - oil on canvas - 24x30- click here to purchase

I met an artist last week, a woman who in her prior life had been a highly successful architect. Working in a traditionally male field, she had reached a level of international success that any man would be proud to list as his life's accomplishment. Entirely self made, she had started from a very humble beginning attending school while waiting tables and supporting her children.

I love success stories so I asked her how she threaded the path to fulfillment and prosperity. She is a gracious woman and immediately said part of it was serendipity. But as I listened it was apparent how much her success was due to intelligent foresight, determination and good decision making about the options in front of her. 
I wondered, considering the many people have these qualities yet haven't ascended the heights of success in their field.I guess she perceived what I was pondering because she suddenly said- You know, if I was to give one piece of advice it would be to have integrity. She said self integrity had been her hallmark from early on and clients recognized the standard she held herself to.

So, what is integrity? Honesty? Doing what you say you will when you say you will? Not cutting corners?
I can see how all these things would apply in business, but in art?? Though highly admirable qualities to have, they don't seem to be what would put you over the top in the very crowded field of artists.Then, bingo! She added, In art that means to be true to your vision no matter what everyone else around you is doing. Hold to the unique gift of perception and creation that you've been given, and work unswerving from within it. She said she had found that maintaining integrity had brought her an ever expanding success in a way that blowing your own horn doesn't.

So folks, words of wisdom from one who's been there. And something to remember the next time you find yourself banging your head against the wall trying to make something happen, or confronting the snake of artistic self doubt slithering across your path.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The people's parks turn 100!

 Gulf Islands National Seashore,© Theresa Grillo Laird -Golden Hour- 24x48 -oil on canvas
for purchase contact The Studio Gallery 
If I wasn't an artist, my perfect job would be working as a ranger in the National Park Service. What could be more amazing than greeting everyday surrounded by the beauty of nature! I think half the reason painters paint out in the open air (en plein air), is because being out in nature so perfectly revitalizes the creative soul.

Last week on August 25th, we celebrated the hundred year anniversary of the National Park Service. I'll forever be grateful to Teddy Roosevelt for his vision and foresight in preserving lands for future generations!

In Pensacola, we have the good fortune to live in a town with a National Park. The Gulf Islands National Seashore stretches from Mississippi to Florida in parcels of coastal land and barrier islands. Parts of it like Horn Island in Mississippi, made famous by artist Walter Anderson, can only be accessed by boat. 

Minus a boat, I explore my park on foot, which in my opinion is the best way. It's slow enough that you can take in all the details and side paths that you miss with faster modes of travel. 

Gulf Islands National Seashore - ©Theresa Grillo Laird - Just Passin' Through- oil on linen 14x18
click here for purchase
Until I moved here, I'd never seen coastal land like this. Sugar white sand covers both the beaches and woodland paths, and is never hot underfoot despite the Gulf Coast's intense heat and humidity.The Gulf itself has crystal clear emerald colored water worlds apart from the bone chilling grey water of the Atlantic Coast. Various pines, live oaks, holly and wax myrtle cover the dunes and fill the coastal forest.

I particularly like the National Seashore in the Pensacola area. The land is bordered on one side by Pensacola Bay and on the other by the Gulf. One side has the beach and the other is full of coves that wind in and out for miles. There are dunes and marsh and fresh water ponds. The land seems to shimmer under the light of the Florida sun, and the scent of salt water and beach rosemary fills the air. Can you blame me for wanting to spend tranquil days hidden in the dunes with my easel and paints, peacefully attuned to the sights and sounds of my coastal Paradise?

Gulf Islands National Seashore - ©Theresa Grillo Laird - Through the Dunes - oil on canvas -  12x16
click here to purchase 

Monday, August 8, 2016

How Do I Start a Painting?

©Theresa Grillo Laird

Well, lately I don't have any one way. Sometimes I paint on a colored ground, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I block in a value pattern and build the colors up on top of it. Sometimes I cover the canvas in colors roughly of the shape of the objects then let the objects emerge from the field of colors. Lately I've been starting with my area of interest and building outward. Each method has it's advantages and drawbacks. 

One thing that does stay constant no matter how I begin is that I start with a very loose sketch in thin paint. The sketch is so loose that often it's hard for an onlooker to see what's there. But I know what the marks represent and they're enough to remind me of what I intended. I don't do a detailed sketch because it's going to get quickly covered up anyway.

So, let's take a look at these starts. Actually, each of these paintings are just a little bit past their beginning stage.

©Theresa Grillo Laird
This painting is part of a year long project to celebrate the centennial year of the National Park System. Go here to read about that project. As you can see, the painting was started on a toned ground. I've been working with a warm undertone, playing it against the cooler tones of the outdoors. One of the distinct advantages of working with a toned ground is that bits of the color show through the finished painting. This is especially useful when you're aiming to finish the painting quickly in one shot. Untoned, you get a lot of jarring bits of bright white showing through. You can barely see the original reddish sketch lines in the bottom right and between the unfinished houses in the background. With the shadow shapes changing rapidly, I started with the fort since I want it to stand out more than anything else. As I finished the walls, I painted the colors around them to make sure I had the values right.
Working section by section, rather than all over the canvas at once, I'll have to check that it all still works together when it gets close to the finish.

©Theresa Grillo Laird

Here's one, again on a toned ground, that started with value shapes. After the sketch, I blocked in the value and shapes of the land and coastal brush. From there I started applying colors keeping the colors lighter and greyer in the background. Next I'll focus on the area around the tree using stronger colors and thicker paint.

©Theresa Grillo Laird

This was not started on a toned ground. The advantage there is that the colors look the closest to how you've mixed them. The white of the ground shines through giving them a bright clarity that you don't get on a toned ground.You can just barely see the outlines of the original sketch in the tree reflection area. In this one I started right in with color focusing on getting the value relationship between sky and water, trees and tree reflections accurate.

©Theresa Grillo Laird
Finally here's one on an untoned ground.You can see the as yet shapeless strokes of different greens. To finish this one, I'll start pulling shapes forward and pushing other back using warm, cool and greyed colors. It's a fun way to work! Bit by bit the sense of depth and dimension comes to life in the scene. Right now the vegetation on the dune in the back and the vegetation in the foreground, read as being equally close to the viewer.

So, try different approaches. Study artists who teach to see how they begin a work, and choose what works best for you in whatever painting situation you find yourself in. And if you want to learn with me, now is the time to sign up for fall classes at Pensacola State College Continuing Ed.Click here for information.

Happy painting!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Bluebird Rules

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Canyon Trail - oil on canvas - 16x18
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When I joined the Campfire Girls as a 7 year old Bluebird, I was handed a 10 item list of Bluebird rules to memorize. Most of the rules didn't stick in mind, but the one that has always stayed with me is "Remember to finish what I begin".
As a patient and focused kid immersed in my own inner world, the rule mystified me. Why wouldn't I finish something I'd started?

Now, all these years later, that phrase has so many more meanings.

Remember to finish what I began for my life at 20? How easy it is to get off track with life's unexpected twists and turns! Some of those twists are opportunities. Some are deep canyons that you can spend years trying to find your way out of.

Remember to finish art projects that started with such enthusiasm only to feel like chores several months down the road? At that point, you need to pause to recall why you were so enthused about the project in the first place. Do the same reasons still apply but there were more obstacles than you expected? Or was the original impulse flawed from the start?

Remember to finish mastering that skill that you know you still need in your artist's toolbox? Well, daylight's burning! Get on with it!

Remember to finish walking the path you began on that feeds your soul and makes you eager for what each day will bring?
Sometimes it's beneficial to stop long enough to take stock, and remember where you were heading before all those beckoning side paths opened up before you. If your beginning still has any meaning, discard any accumulated baggage that's impeding your progress. Simplify everything down to your one personal most basic thing, and remember to finish what you began.

How about you? Do you need to remember what to finish? Or even what not to begin?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Not Just for Children

©Theresa Grillo Laird - Pensacola Pass - 14x18- oil on stretched linen
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Painting in the National Park all day in solitary union with the elements, is like being a kid again when your only business was to play and take in the impressions of your world. Maybe that's why I keep being reminded of the early incidents that pointed the direction to the future...

I looked up the hill towards the evening sun. The summer- tall weeds and wildflowers were lit up with golden halos. Alive to every tiny detail surrounding the dilapidated sand box I sat on, I leaned against the gray wood of a fence post, my eyes tracing a weathered crack in the grain.
I glanced at my dad who was in conversation with his sister and her husband. I was aware that they had forgotten about me and that was the way I liked it. I was still young enough to be sent off to bed if they'd remembered I was there. So I sat quietly and took in the show of light that enveloped everything.The hour was dazzling, saturated with a haze of warm colors and lengthening shadows. Everywhere was gold, red, yellow and faded green, shimmering in the heat. Against all the color, the weather-worn fence post stripped of it's bark, glowed like platinum. I sensed I was experiencing a moment I would always remember, a moment different from all the other moments.
Over the years, I've been gifted with more of these ultra-real moments both in waking reality and in my dream world.  They're the atoms of the impulse to create. The artist's job is to illuminate the wonder of these moments by finding the way to transpose them to concrete form. I can't think of a better job to have!
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