Saturday, April 17, 2010

First Stop: March 2-4

(Painting #8, Tract House with Butterfly Plants, detail).

I'd planned to start my Rochester painting project in April, but my first hosts suggested winter. It seemed like a fine idea. How can a series of paintings of the Rochester area be anything like representative without some snow scenes?

My hosts, Steve Daniel and Joan Zeller, live just barely in Monroe County, near Powdermill Park, the Burroughs Audubon Sanctuary, and the Auburn Trail -- the latter a wonderful, little known resource that is currently threatened by a short-sighted development project proposed by the Town of Victor.

Because my NYSCA grant for this project stipulates creation of new work within Monroe County, I confined most of my sketching and painting to Powdermill Park and the Daniels' neighborhood. But my first paintings -- finished before I arrived at the Daniels' home -- were done near Burroughs Audubon. It's a special place and full of good associations for me. When my family first moved to the Rochester area in the early 1970s, one of our neighbors was Paul Ott, then president of the Burroughs Audubon Nature Club (BANC). Mr. Ott took me and my younger brother on birding trips that helped us get on more familiar terms with Western NY.

Anyway, the first painting of my first local Itinerant Artist Project (IAP) stop was a modest effort...but also the first IAP painting done in Winter. The second one (above) -- more of a lively oil sketch -- shows Irondequoit Creek as it meanders around one side of the sanctuary. This next one, below, is a wetland area inside Powdermill Park:

Adjusting to my new household for a few days was pretty easy. I couldn't have asked for friendlier, more congenial hosts. Nature walks with Steve were among the highlights. Steve is the director of Nature Discoveries and one of our region's notable naturalists. A nature enthusiast myself, I'd heard about him for years, even corresponded, but we'd never met. He and Joan heard about my project through the City Newspaper review of my latest IAP exhibit.

Here (above) is a view of Irondequoit Creek as it meanders around Powdermill Park. On this walk Steve and I found 3 or 4 species of flying insects and a centipede -- despite the snow.  We were excited, but I couldn't help thinking that most people might not be.

The previous paintings were done either from my car or inside, from sketches and digital photo reference. This next painting is the first snow scene I painted while sitting in the snow...after taking a dip in the creek, no less.  It was a bit hastily done:

Because of the nearby parks and Steve and Joan's interest in nature, I think we all assumed I'd paint nature scenes - trees, hills, the creek... And I did, for my first two days. When I finally got around to the paintings I wanted to do more for my own interest -- quirky suburban scenes reflecting the immediate surroundings - I only had a few hours left in my visit.

Tract House with Butterfly Plants shows a neighbor's house with "winter weeds" enlivening the foreground. It's painted from the Daniels' driveway, and the plants are (I think) verbena, planted specifically to attract butterflies. The scene might have appealed to me in a strictly visual way, but I was also drawn in by the thought that the verbena represented mindfulness in a setting known for a more formulaic, routine approach to landscaping.

I was hoping Steve and Joan would like my take on their side yard but didn't want them to like it more than the nature scenes. That seemed to be the case, though, so -- with 45 minutes before I had to leave -- I painted a second domestic scene so we could both have one. Feeder with Squirrel turned out just as interesting and more charming (getting a squirrel to look OK with just a few stabs of the brush takes a lot of luck; I'm grateful to have had it).

Here (above) is a detail of the Squirrel painting -- the one my hosts chose.  Oil paint on a gray-primed panel.