Does this painting make my studio look big?

IMG_0172As mentioned in the previous post, my next project was a commission for the soon to be finished Exempla St. Joseph Hospital in Denver.   Earlier this year, they accepted submissions from artists for 10 very prominent large spaces on each floor of the building.

The thought of doing something that large (to fit a 14 foot niche) was a bit daunting, but I charged ahead. My idea used blue vines of various shades that swooped up and down across the expanse of 11 feet.   When the large committee had finished voting, my idea was in the semi final round, which meant there was a good chance that I would have some kind of art included in their project. It turned out to be the big one!

So, after some official correspondence, I ordered up some nicely made birch panels, and set to work.   Fortunately, I had some lag time to think about what my strategy would be for working on something this large-  would it fit on my wall? (Check!), should I mix up mass quantities of the major colors ?(check! cat food cans with those handy plastic lids), and would I have enough time to develop all these things in layers and not feel rushed? (check!).     So, here’s a very time lapsed view into how all this went down.  “Blue Vine Dance” to be delivered by early December.

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I’m glad I challenged myself to do something that was new and a step up, and very grateful that it will be in a setting where lots of people will experience it, and hopefully find it relaxing and engaging.

Innovative Atmospheres

I haven’t shown my work locally too much during the 19 years I’ve lived here.  But, it seems like my strategy this year is to connect with local folks more,  to show them what exists in their own back yard.

There’s been a lot of talk in my community lately about Creativity- how to attract it, how to mentor it,  and how to engage the whole community around it.  To that end, Fort Collins is the home of the regional Arts Incubator– an upcoming experiment in boosting the profile and success of artists and creative thinkers in several Western states.  Another exciting organization- The Rocky Mountain Innosphere  – is a local entity where fledgling businesses can develop their products and ideas with help from advisors and investors.  The building itself is built to take advantage of solar energy- (panels on the roof of a parking shelter) and collegial collaborative energy (lots of gathering places and small meeting rooms).  The building is set against a creek, with trees, lots of outdoor areas to gather and secure bike parking to encourage 2-wheeled commuting.

Rather than be satisfied with plain boring walls, they have interiors that excite with color, and also now display original art by local professionals.

My paintings are now placed in several locations-  When you enter the building, a small cafe area now has a vine painting instead of a flat screen monitor.

“Blue Arch” 28×42 oil ©Nanci Erskine   Now in the collection of Kaiser Permanente, CO

a couple of small ones are placed above drinking fountains, (a great little location, since everyone needs a little hydration during the day.)

left – “Midnight Tangle” 12×12 oil center- “Green Vines” 36×40 oil right-“geranium/ brown 12×12 oil

Three grace a hallway on the second floor,  right near the elevator.

and if you are a visiting adviser, you will be sitting here….

“Purple Evening Vines” 34×42 oil ©Nanci Erskine

thanks to all concerned for appreciating the work, and I hope it adds some inspiration to your day!

Memories of Fireflies

“Encounter” – detail

Yes.  This has been a very hot summer so far. But I can always take some comfort in the fact that it never feels really sticky on top of that.  I have lived in locations that were way more humid than this… Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Iowa (I am wondering how I managed to sweat it out in a third floor studio in grad school) … going back to my childhood in Pennsylvania.      One of the magical events of my childhood mid summers, each night, was the appearance of fireflies.  I can still recall them, dancing above the damp grass.  In more recent years, while on a teaching trip to Italy, there was a field,  filled with blinking lights in flight,  that we came upon while walking through the streets of town to get gelato.

Enchanting is the best description.

“Moonflower” – detail
“Midsummer Night Vine” – detail

We don’t see them in Colorado, except in rare sightings. So, recently, when hanging up a selection of my vine series of paintings- I was struck by how in several of them, I’d included some hint of blinking, glowing entities.  In one painting, I thought of them as embers, in another I definitely had in mind the fireflies of my youth or enchanted scenes from Shakespeare.

In another, they might have been little moths or floating petals.

But the upshot of all this, is a recognition of my attraction to things that are on the edge of nocturnal.  When the light releases its hold on the earth.

The newer series that seems to be literally developing from the ground up – grasses, weeds, little hidden pockets of darkness,  is almost asking for some little glimmers of light…..some enchantment.

I’m thinking fireflies

pruning and editing

Yesterday was a winter anomaly. A day in the high 50’s with sun shining.

Well, OK it’s almost March, but in these parts the snow can seriously fly this month.

prunings on the ground
30x22 charcoal, ©2012 Nanci Erskine

So, after consulting our recently made list of “stuff that we need to do around the house outside” I set out to get some pruning done on some bushes.  There is a lovely place by the side of our house where a natural doorway is made in a tangle of trees and shrubbery, that fleetingly bloom in late spring- but with winter snow loads, and time, it can get a bit out of control- bending and spreading in ways that become too dense; starting to shade out a bed where I put in some lilies a few years back.

As I began to sort and cut, deciding which branches and twigs to eliminate, I was struck by how analogous this process is to what I do in the studio with drawings and paintings now.  First, the impulse is to let things fly and get too overgrown,  and then I am compelled to go back in and start wacking away; removing and letting air and space back into the work.

It’s a process I like and find challenging, because it often means painting over passages, and then repainting on top of that, or scraping off something and rehashing how it works.

About that painting I thought was finished…..

Blue Winter Vine 30x32 oil ©2012 Nanci Erskine - finished? yes! (color is also more accurate in this shot)


…it’s happened again, another piece that I felt was wrapped up has been up on the painting wall again.

earlier version - with annoying leaf at top and other things I eliminated.... can you find them?

I know how this happens now. Aside from the fact that revision and editing is one of the pleasures of the working process for me.

It seems that I can’t get enough distance on things when working on them- either because I don’t allow myself enough time for simple garden variety rumination, or physical space (until recently,  my studio was about 12 feet long on a good day).

But there is also the space and distance of time- being able to look with fresh eyes at something that hasn’t quite revealed itself.

When I used to teach beginning drawing, and wanted people to really see what they had done, while we talked about the work, I would usually take them out into the hallway.   We’d lean the thing up against a wall, and then walk back about 20 feet to look at an 18 x 24″ drawing.  Now, that is some distance, but it almost takes on another identity. Something glimpsed… all the parts of the whole more visible…. formal qualities and elements standing at attention.

Hard for me to do that now- but, it seems to happen once I photograph a piece and then see it in a much smaller scale on the laptop screen.  Then the faults that are working against what I intended are more blatant.  This doesn’t happen every time, but it’s my version of looking at the painting backwards in a mirror. Flipping it on it’s side or upside down, whatever you employ to hit the refresh button.

So, now I am happy with the painting, and also with the other two – one finished, one almost revised- that are still living on the painting wall.

Authors often talk about the revision process- how many drafts they need to burn through before the prose is clear and the flow of the narrative works.  To me this is the same thing- not being complacently satisfied with what I’ve made, just because it’s a picture.  But not letting it be anything less than a successful painting.

another new one

12 x 16 oil on canvas 2011

Forgot to include this one is the last painting update. I have always given great thought to color I use, as a defining element in each painting. But interestingly, my palette seems to be evolving into a more limited one- yet, perhaps the subtle shifts in color are more important. Hey- I only go where my curiosity takes me!