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Last Chances: October Roses in Watercolor

October Roses, Ink & Watercolor 8x6"
October Roses in Annie's Vinaigrette Bottle, Ink & Watercolor 8x6"

It seems like fall is a time of last chances. These might be my last roses of the year and the last chance to paint them so I couldn’t resist, even though they’re a bit stunted and scrawny. The lovely Indian summer we’re having in California has that feel of Last Chance too. Under the warm gusts of Santa Ana winds I can detect the hint of coming chill. Each peach I’ve eaten in the past month has come with the thought, “This is probably the last peach I’ll have this year.”

There’s a feeling of sweet longing and sadness that fall brings. Artist Dee Farnsworth painted the Last of the Summer Corn last month and I saw that same sense of loneliness and loss in her painting. I’m trying not to grasp after summer, resist fall or regret the coming winter. I know acceptance of what IS allows me to live in the present moment and enjoy it. I try to remember that each day is the last chance to experience that day. It will never come again.

Sorry to sound melancholic. I’m actually happy (despite the changing of the season, the terrible news in the world, a tweaked back, and losing every cent I’ve saved this year in the stock market) because my dear neighbor fixed the light over my easel today and now I can paint in good light again. Yippee!

About the painting:

I drew with my long neglected Lami Safari pen, forgetting that the Noodlers Ink isn’t completely waterproof. It seemed even less so on Arches hot press paper, smudging like crazy and then melting and bleeding into the watercolor. I do like the effect here though, the way it creates a softer line than my usual Micron Pigma pens.

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Roses in a Bottle

Roses in a Bottle

(Larger) Watercolor on hot press paper, 5×7″

This was intended to be a study for an oil painting the next day, but during the night the kitties knocked over the bottle, and all the water spilled out, pooling on the studio’s hardwood floors overnight. After their rough night, the lovely roses were no longer such perfect specimens. So this is both their opening curtain and their final curtsy. Mine too, for today. Amazingly (for me) I can’t think of another thing to say!

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Zen & First Spring Roses

First spring roses

Ink & watercolor, 9×6″ (larger)

When I picked these roses yesterday evening, they were heartbreakingly fresh, new and beautiful. I put them in a vase of water in the kitchen, planning to paint them today. This morning I found them laying on the counter where they’d obviously been without water too long and looked limp.

Either they jumped out of their vase or my cats had a hand (er… paw) in their escape. After a few hours back in water they plumped right back up and were a joy to draw. I only had about an hour and that was just enough time to make a happy ink and watercolor.

But why do I feel so sad seeing the beauty of my seven rose bushes and thick patch of irises all loaded with flowers? It’s as if I’m already mourning their demise, knowing how temporary their burst of color and vibrancy is before winter comes again.

Is it my enhanced awareness of the cycle of life and death as I approach one of those milestone birthdays this June? Or is that time seems to be moving so fast these days that I can picture the blooming season flying by like those time-lapse films where the flowers sprout, bloom, shrivel and die within moments.

Instead of feeling sad about their demise (and my own, for that matter), I need to remember the Buddhist teaching of being in the present moment, accepting that everything changes, everything dies; that desire and clinging cause suffering and that letting go relieves it.

So with that, I will allow my flowers to live and die as nature sees fit (as if I had any other choice!), and will enjoy them while they’re here. I’ll try to make the most of my own moments while I’m here too, with as much acceptance as I can. And maybe I’ll finally return to my Zen meditation practice which always brought me such joy and peace, and made all of life more vibrant.

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Wax On, Wax Off (Breathe In, Breathe Out)

Rose in a Jar

Oil on panel, 12×9″

The title of this post refers to words from the 1984 movie Karate Kid and also my process in this painting except for the painting it would be more like “Paint On, Wipe Off (Breathe!) Paint On, Wipe Off… ” (click on “Keep Reading” below to see photos of the steps). I’m not happy with the front flower but I’m ready to move on to the next painting. With each one I learn so much more, including how much more there is to learn!!!!

I had two main goals for this painting/learning experience:

  • Think in terms of “Whole Canvas”
  • Keep trying to understand how to work with oil paint so that I’m taking advantage of its wonderful qualities rather than fighting them. (I’ll keep trying!)

In my many years of watercolor painting, I worked hard to capture what excited me about my subject. I often worked close focus without much background, or just using the lovely white of the paper as my background to set off the glittering glass or glowing flowers I was painting. If the composition didn’t quite work out–no problem, just crop as needed with a mat and frame.

In oil painting the background has to be an integral part of the painting–you can’t just leave the glaring white of the gessoed canvas as your background. And you can’t crop a stretched canvas or panel like you can paper. I was struggling with this concept and finally it clicked. It’s just another way of seeing and, like peeling layers of the onion, the haze peeled from eyes and I could see that a painting is not subject & background — they fit together to complete the picture, just as night completes day. While an object that interests me enough to paint it is the focal point, I need (for now) to think of the PAINTING as the subject.