Friday, June 25, 2010

Overgrown Studio

Not sure I should post this pic, it's kind of embarrassing. But this was the state of my studio right now, BEFORE I retrieved over a dozen paintings from Roger Williams University on Tuesday.  Somehow my old studio in Warren, though tiny in comparison to my "two-car garage" space, seems spacious when compared to all this clutter. Things have reached a critical stage, and a major gutting and purging of the studio is necessary, so I'm looking forward to organizing this weekend, the first days I've been able to have any studio time in WEEKS.

The first thing I have to do is find a way of fitting 10 pounds of paintings into a 5 pound rack, so to speak. I have no room to build another rack, so I bit the bullet and bought 30 sheets of big corrugated cardboard to use to create custom boxes for my paintings, which should save some space. Right now they're lucky to get a poorly-fitting recycled box scavanged from the Utrecht dumpster, with the accumulation of half a dozen painting titles and yards of ragged tape.

I'm keeping a corner in painting mode though, to keep working on my Great Sand Dunes Painting which is getting perilously close to using up its year's deadline.  It will feel great to slap some paint on canvas for a change.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Torrential rain drumming on taut nylon is actually louder than thunder, in case you were wondering. I, on the other hand, was wondering if the tent was as waterproof as advertised. And if lightening were to hit a nearby tree, would it travel through the ground and if so, would an air mattress be any insulation. Also I was wondering if the storm would ever pass. After what seemed like two hours of wave after wave of downpour, it tapered off to an occasional splatter of drips when the wind jostled the tree above us.

Maybe now I could drift off....until, a half hour later (repeat the first paragraph).

After the second storm passed I spent about 15 minutes trying to convince myself that I didn't have to visit the outhouse, but bladders never listen. I slipped out of the tent and was surprised to find we were not underwater, just wet. On the trail to the outhouse I met a fellow bioblitzer who asked me cheerfully if I was coming to check for specimens on the the shore. It was pitch black. The hour was ungodly. That's when I knew I was surrounded by insane people. Of the best kind.

I was finally able to catch a few hours sleep before my ipod alarm went off at 6:30. The night before I had arranged to abandon the frog hunt and instead tag along on a small fishing boat to find bio-stuff off the shore to add to our species count. I volunteered to deliver the crew (Mary and Grace, left)
to Captain Feather's boat. I dressed as quietly as possible, trying to avoid stepping on the floor, which had turned into a rectangular water balloon (first lesson in tent camping, set up your tarp so the water stays on the earth side, not the tent side) and headed down the ClayheadTrail to my truck, then drove back to Science Central for coffee and excellent bagels before heading for New Harbor. There we met Christian and his 11 year old daughter Stephanie, and after another coffee run to make sure our crew was fully caffeinated, we boarded Captain Feather's boat.
That's not to imply that the rain had stopped, but it looked really pretty on the swells.

I spent the next few hours trying to stay out of the way of the crew, fishing rods, flying fish hooks, crabby pinchers, sharks (ok, a little dogfish) and ferocious saber toothed bluefish. I also tried some sketching, but you know what? It doesn't take long for a drawing pad to become fully saturated on a boat in the rain.

Everybody on the boat was excellent at catching stuff, except me, who just watched. Some of the catch would be taken back to the Blitz, some was set free, and some, I fear, was bound to end up on someone's dinner table.

After catching sea bass, dogfish, bluefish and a skate, Feather then took us on a roller coaster ride at 20-knots over the swells and back into New Harbor where they checked traps, chucking dozens of ugly spider crabs back into the ocean. The 2 lobsters were allowed to stay on board.

Back in the harbor we picked a few more passengers, because there was plenty of room for 2 little girls and me in the cab and four adults, a big dog and equipment in the back, for the trip over the bumpy dirt road back to the Blitz.

The 12 noon closing bell had already sounded, so it was time to pack up our wet tent and head into town to wait for the ferry. I'll leave reporting of the results of the 2010 Bioblitz to the scientists, but I had a great time. With all the rain and hunting for specimins, there wasn't much time to do any artwork, but something will probably develop back in the studio, when I catch up on sleep!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Although I haven't yet caught up on sleep, I've at least dried out after a weekend of thunderstorms, ponds and boating on Block Island as part of the 2010 Bioblitz. About 200 people ferried over to document as many species as could be found on the northern half of the island.  And what a half it was.  Below is the field (click to enlarge photos) where we were to pitch our tent, as soon as Mr. Lapham — part of the family that acquired the property in the 50s and 60s then donated most of it to the Nature Conservancy — kindly finished mowing it for the anticipated tent city.

Since Mary and I had taken the earliest ferry (not that we were too anxious to get there or anything) we were the first to claim our spot. Then, since I was the only one who could manage the standard transmission of the ancient Dodge pickup, I was drafted to drive it into town to pick up two loads of folding chairs from the Abrams farm, home of llamas, emus, goats and even a camel. After navigating the boxy, creaky truck over the bumpy gravel access-road to the Clay Head trail, loading and unloading 80 chairs, we felt we had earned a reward with lunch and beer at the Oar in New Harbor.

Then it was back to our spot to pitch our tent. By then others were arriving and setting up. A surprising number had also just purchased their tents for this event, so I didn't feel like such a newbie and was able to check out other brands I had looked at online. I decided I was very happy with the one I picked, isn't it pretty?

Then it was off to explore a bit and check out the view from the bluff trail. We met up with Roberto Bessin, sculptor of beautiful, monumental and ethereal bird sculptures and we all hopped on a shuttle heading for dinner in town before the scheduled lecture by Providence Journal environmental writer Peter Lord, who wrote the Journal's award-winning report on how open space was preserved on Block Island. (Full disclosure: I worked with Peter on putting this piece together for the web.)

By the time we took the shuttle back to the campground everyone seemed ready to turn in, so after checking out the amazing stars from the bluff, we zipped up the tent and tried to get some sleep.

We woke to an overcast day. Mary went on the geology walk, but I decided to take a trail down to a pond and set up my easel. The disappointing result of 2 hours of painting might have survived to be judged back in the studio, but there were just too many witnesses who might ask to see it, so I wiped it off.  It was nice to spend some time on the quiet trail though, just me and the birds.

Back at Science Central we spent some time talking with the other artists until noon. None of us seemed to know exactly what we were going to do but all were excited to be the first artists take part. When the noon siren signaled the start of the 24-hour Bioblitz, it was off to look for frogs. The Lapham property is dotted with kettleholes, surrounded by dense vegetation, which seemed the perfect environment for the little guys. The dense vegetation proved not so perfect for us though, since there were few spots where we could access the mucky shore. But we managed to find a frog in Monument Pond, which our team leader Mandy swabbed as part of a project documenting frog diseases. By now persistent drizzle was falling, so after checking out a few more ponds where we heard bullfrogs, smugly out of reach, we headed back to Science Central. 

There we found that someone else had more luck. We were greeted by container filled with these funny faces. If they look like little kids, it's because they still have their tadpole tails.

By now the rain was coming down hard, but cleared in time for us to stand in line for some great food, socializing, and checking out specimens. The 20 or so artists gathered around a table to share our backgrounds and a bottle of wine, after which we climbed a small hill to check out the bat trap. No bats fell for it, but I was happy to find I could still catch fireflies.

Although cozy on my air mattress, I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, so I was looking forward to a good night's sleep in my little green tent. It was not to be.... (to be cont.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Although I'm not doing a National Park residency this summer, I do have an opportunity to do a 3 day "residency" on Block Island as part of the Artist Team for the 2010 BioBlitz. My good friend Mary Grady, who's into all manner of environmental projects, initiated the idea of asking artists to join the team this year, and so invited me along with around a dozen artist in all media.  In her own words she wrote "I thought we communicate and promote the work of the Bioblitz science teams, and at the same team provide an opportunity for local artists to be inspired by the work of the scientists and the beauty and diversity of the wild places in our own back yard."

So tomorrow I'll be leaving the mainland to pitch a tent on the beautiful Laptham Farm near the Clayhead bluffs. I'll have to remember to take the price tag off the tent so those around me won't know that I just bought it especially for this event and I dont' know what the heck I'm doing.  How hard can it be though, especially surrounded by dozens of environmental types? I'm also bringing my French Easel and oils, maybe some acrylics, and drawing materials. I was asked to pick a team to be on, so picked amphibians. You can't go wrong with amphibians.

Above, with sand is still embedded in the paint, is a sketch I did a few summers ago in the dunes of Block Island.  I'll post what I come up with on this trip when I get back.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

When the chickens come home to roost

Lots of shuffling around of artwork is going in the next few weeks, which, if nothing else, justifies my driving a pickup instead of a Mini Cooper which I would LOVE.

Today I dropped off the above painting which just barely fit in the bed of the truck for the Art League of RI show at the RISD Museum. The show is not going to be in the big new gallery after all, (I thought that was too good to be true) but instead it will be in the OLD new gallery (the Farago wing), which is still pretty cool and a nice big space.

So I headed up Benefit St., and you know how it is when you are trying to get down really narrow street and cars are parked on the other side so you can barely get by if a car is coming the other way as it is, and then someone makes it even worse by just PARKING on the wrong side so you have to wait till traffic clears and then squeak by them. Well that was me. Not the one squeaking by. The obnoxious jerk who parked. But my painting was big, and a gusty thunderstorm was threatening, so...tough!

And it's now official. I have a painting in the RISD Museum.

Most of my other paintings will be coming home to my studio though. Monday I'll be taking down 5 church paintings from my art window . It sure will be easier to take down than to put up.  A lot of the installation is made up of branches, shells and thorns and can go right into a composting bag, the canvas curtains can get wrinkled, and only the paintings need to be saved from demolition.

My show at RWU library comes down on the 22nd, which means I'm really going to run out of room in my storage racks. This will be a good time to reorganized and clean my entire studio, try to beat back the clutter sprawl and find space for all these damn paintings.

Luckily it's off to Colorado and the Great Sand Dunes for the painting I'm working on now. Now I just have to find good homes for the others...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

End of the Machine Age

Done, finally. I think the machines are over, at least for awhile. Back to the natural world. Which is really a big machine when you think of it.

I'm going soon to be part of a team that documents that machine when I join the Bioblitz on Block Island in a couple of weeks. More on that later, in fact, I may even blog from the island. Or I may just hunker down with a glass of wine in my tent after a day in the fields of BI with my paintbox. Good times.
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