Sunday, November 22, 2015

More Paintings from Acadia National Park

I still have more sketches from Maine to scan-- it takes a while to scan even a fairly small selection of sketches from three sketch books, and the past couple of weeks I've happily been spending time painting rather than sitting in front of a screen. But, it's dark now and I'm a bit tired from hiking in the Catskills today, so I figured I'd sit in front of my computer for a little while. Of course by now I have some local paintings I've done, so I have still more to scan and post. I'll get to those sometime after I've posted my Maine paintings and sketches. For now, here are a number of the watercolors I did in Maine, along with a couple I've finished up at home.

I struggled a bit with my painting while I was away. For me, sketching is usually very relaxing and calming, whereas attempting to do a finished watercolor painting can sometimes be a bit stressful. It depends; sometimes it flows and I feel completely caught up in painting and time passes without my awareness. Other times, though, the wind chills me and dries my paints too fast, my fingers get stiff and don't do anything I want them to do with my brush, the light changes so fast I can't keep up with it, and I get frustrated.

When I was first at Acadia, I had a couple of easy painting days, then a few days when it felt as though my brushes were bewitched and wouldn't do anything they were supposed to do. I felt discouraged and had to take a step back, to spend some time hiking, sketching and praying to recenter myself. When I had started getting frustrated, I had begun comparing myself negatively to other artists, so I had to remind myself to paint in a way that is true to who I am and not feel that I need to paint like other artists.

Schoodic Point at sunset
After a day of reflection, I returned to my painting with more focus and a more relaxed confidence that allowed me to immerse myself in what I was doing and paint from my heart and out of my connection with whatever aspect of creation I was observing at the moment. This was one of the biggest lessons I came away with from my time as artist-in-residence. The concentrated time immersed in art with no other distractions brought the issue unavoidably to my attention and pretty much forced me to deal with it, which then set me free to move forward. Again, I am so thankful to the Schoodic Institute and the park service for the opportunity to develop as an artist through my time there.

Arey Cove
Little Moose Island
Before sunset at Schoodic Point
Schoodic Point sunset glow
Schoodic Point Sunset
Eider Duck (male)
Storm Clouds coming in on Schoodic Peninsula
Little Moose Island
Schoodic Point low tide rocks
The next two paintings are ones I did from my car at Schoodic Point during a tremendous storm. The waves were HUGE and the spray was rising up higher than the parking lot, which is quite a bit above the water.
Schoodic Point storm
Schoodic Point storm

Friday, November 13, 2015

More Sketches from Acadia National Park

Back home now (I got home a week ago), I am still putting finishing touches on some paintings, as well as getting back into the routine of life at home. Actually, I should say that I am working on developing a new routine for life at home. During my time away I had lots of time to think and evaluate how I do things on a daily basis, and I realized that, much as I have valued quiet time and solitude, I haven't done a great job of consistently living with a peaceful rhythm to my days. Somehow the demands of life in an overly connected world, along with the alluring draw of the internet have resulted in a feeling of being scattered and constantly available and pulled in several directions at once. While at Acadia National Park, I had no cell signal (what a blessing!) and, as a result, I found that I was more focused in a relaxed way that caused me to be much more "present" with myself and my environment. So now I am working on incorporating some of the lessons I learned, so that I can live with a peaceful rhythm even as I am connected and involved with the world and people around me. I haven't gotten it all figured out yet, but I am hoping to make progress.

Here are some of my sketches from my time away. I have still more that I will post sketches in another few days. I've also posted some of my finished watercolors on my website (Melissa Fischer's Art ). If you click on the images, you'll be able to see them large enough to read my notes.)

Gannets diving
Maine coast rocks

Otter sketches

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Acadia National Park: More Wonders all the Time

I can't believe I've already been here a week and a half, more than half my time. I could stay here for months and not see and experience all I'd like to, but I am making the most of every day I have in this rich place. 

Today the wind is blowing hard and it is raining. The rain started when I was in the middle of a plein air painting, sitting out on the rocks of Schoodic Point, painting the tremendous surf. I'm not sure yet how I'll finish that painting, but it's likely to have some interesting effects from getting rained on.

Earlier this morning I saw the otter family again. They cavorted their way around the edge of their pond, then saw me and waited a while, swimming back and forth and sticking their heads up to look at me, making occasional squeaky sounds. Finally they came up the bank and loped across the roads-- so funny looking! 

Shortly after I saw the otters, I saw a huge number of gulls along the shore, some on the water, some on the stony shore, and some in the air (all in the air when an eagle flew by). While I was looking at them, I saw a bird in the water that stood out as something different. Heavy, thick bill, very clear black and white pattern with a small whitish area in the black of the side of the head. About the size of a small duck, but with straighter neck and bill held out fairly straight in front. When it dived I saw a sharp black tail. Razorbill! Another new bird for my life list!

Below are some of my sketches and paintings from the past week. If you click on the image, you'll see a larger version.

Great Black-backed Gull field sketch (he posed for a long time)
Herring Gull field sketch (also posed patiently)

Raven's Nest- beautiful but scary place to paint
Rocks and Surf (artistic license with colors)
Rocks on Little Moose Island
Sunset from Cadillac Mountain
Rock and autumn blueberry bushes

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Overload of Wonder

I am on overload of wonder. Whenever I open the windows or walk outside I hear the constant roar of surf and the frequent crash of waves against granite shore. Everywhere I look there is splendor and beauty and awesome power, from numerous songbirds and brilliant lichens to Cadillac Mountain in autumn glory gilded with evening light. The stars at night are overwhelming in their number and clarity. Venus and Jupiter have shown themselves each morning, joined today by Mars and Mercury in the cloudless predawn sky. Sunrises and sunsets are brilliant and always different.

Rather than write out all that I am seeing in detail, I am going to simply post some of my sketches and photos for now. I will say, though, that this morning I was especially wonder struck, as I had the opportunity to observe, photograph, and sketch a porcupine at close range for over half an hour. I had startled him a bit earlier while he was eating rose hips when I was walking along the road, and he had gone into the woods. I had a feeling he might come back, so I found a comfortable rock to sit on and I waited. Sure enough, he returned and resumed his feasting, quite near to where I was sitting!

The words of this hymn by Isaac Watts keep coming to mind:

I Sing the Mighty Power of God

I sing the mighty pow’r of God, that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command, and all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky.

There’s not a plant or flow’r below, but makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God, art present there.

(If you click on the sketches, you'll see a large enough image to read my notes.)

Sunrise October 16
Porcupine sketches Acadia National Park
Porcupine sketches Schoodic Peninsula
lichen on Schoodic Point granite
Schoodic Point surf
Schoodic Point sunset
Porcupine on Schoodic Loop Road

Monday, October 12, 2015

My Acadia Adventure Begins...

My art supplies (probably half my studio) are packed and loaded in the car. The small amount of remaining space is stuffed with warm clothes, hiking boots, and field guides. The time has finally come; tomorrow I leave for the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park to start my time there as artist-in-residence. I rarely feel that the clock moves too slowly, but it seems like much more than 18 hours till tomorrow morning, when I will start my drive into the fall foliage of New England and into an extended time of focusing on nature and art.

From time to time when I need a quiet day without interruptions, I go to a nearby monastery. Once I stayed there overnight, and experienced the "Great Silence," during which everyone refrains from conversation, except in case of emergency, from 8:30pm to 8:30am. I loved it. Time to think, to be silent long enough for my mind to stop churning, time for the quiet whisper of creativity to be strengthened to a clear call. I'm told there's almost no cell phone signal at Acadia National Park, so I can count on being pretty much uninterrupted-- a Great Silence, this time surrounded by mountains, coast, forests, and surf.

During my time at Acadia I plan to immerse myself in the unique wonders and beauty of that piece of creation, sketching and painting what I see and experience in order to more deeply ground myself in the present moment and place and also to be able to share it with others. I'll be working with a group of middle school students (an age group I love working with) one evening, doing night sketching, something I love to do. I hope to help them develop a sense of wonder at the awesomeness of the heavens and the quiet beauty of the night. I'll also be sharing some of my sketches and paintings one morning with a group of artists who will be there on an art retreat. That should be a great time of sharing and learning together, as I always appreciate the opportunity to see what other artists are doing. Other than those times and perhaps one or two other presentations, I'll be exploring, sketching, and painting, hopefully from before dawn to after sunset every day.

Stephen will join me for part of the time, and we'll plan on venturing out on some of the more rugged hikes during that time. He likes to read or just enjoy the view and ponder the deep questions of life while I sketch, so we have good teamwork for outdoor adventures. The rest of the time I'm there will be a time of Great Silence for focusing on the gifts of the natural world and on how to share them through my artwork.

(Photos from Acadia National Park by my son and daughter-in-law, Jonathan and Minet Fischer.)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Granddaddy's Library

I wrote this last March, but am posting it now, since yesterday, October 2, would have been my grandfather, Goodwin Batterson Beach's, 130th birthday. He was one of the people who gave a solid foundation of love in my childhood and who inspired in me a love of learning, particularly a love of language and languages. Granddaddy often spoke to me in Latin, and his ordinary English was sprinkled with many now-archaic words and expressions that were archaic even then and have given me a love of beautiful and seldom-used words. Here is one of my many wonderful memories of Granddaddy:
It’s March 31st, but it’s snowing pretty hard and feels raw outside. Inside, though, Steve has just kindled a fire, so I get my book and head for the living room. As I enter the room, I hear the crackling of the fire and I smell smoke. Not the kind of smoke that burns your eyes or makes you cough. This is a warm, homey smelling smoke that takes me back through time, back almost five decades and east about 75 miles to West Hartford, Connecticut. I step into Granddaddy’s library and am in another world. A world of books, of warmth, of quiet, a world of love, though I don’t think to call it by that name. It’s just Granddaddy’s library, and it’s one of my favorite places. A fire roars and crackles on the hearth, bright embers occasionally popping against the screen-- a metal mesh that slides across the front of the small fireplace. When the fire dies down, one of us grandchildren gets to use the wooden and leather bellows to blow air at the base of the logs to revive the flames, filling the library with a smokey smell peculiar to this room. The smell of this room is the fragrance of peace to me.
Everything in this room speaks peace-- the wallpaper with its subtle pattern, the wood paneled cabinets below the bookshelves, the oriental rug that muffles my steps, the table with brass letter opener neatly in its place, and the books. Books that line the walls, neatly arranged on built-in shelves up to the ceiling, bindings drawing me close to look, tempting me to run my finger over the soft, worn leather; titles promising knowledge and adventure, if only I could read Latin, Greek, and other ancient languages.
The best part of the room is Granddaddy, sitting in his armchair with the coarse, tan tweed upholstery in the corner with bookshelves on both sides and a small end table beside his chair. He can’t see me very well, but when I nestle into his lap and lean my head against his chest, my cheek against the scratchy tweed jacket, he wraps his long arms around me. I hold still and listen to his heart beating slow and steady, feel his arms strong and gentle around me, smell the comforting smell of tobacco, and know I am safe and loved.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Next Year's Words

I had the privilege of reading a selection of my writings two days ago at Next Year's Words: a New Paltz Readers' Forum. This was my first time reading any of my writings in public, and I was a little nervous beforehand. Once I started reading, though, I stepped back into the worlds I was sharing through my observations and musings, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Susan Chute, one of the founders of Next Year's Words and the coordinator of the evening this week, is an artist with words, and she wrote a very affirming and encouraging introduction for me with information she drew information from writing I have done in workshops with her, and from my blog and art website. She has given me permission to share that introduction here, which I do to show Susan's way with words and also to comment on what her words did for me.

For some time I've been puzzled about how I can best combine my interests in writing with my sketching and painting, and Susan's words were like a key that unlocked that mystery for me. After hearing how Susan perceives my words and paintings, I have a clearer picture of how I would like to move forward with my artistic endeavors. It is a gift to have insights and encouragement from others. Thank you very much, Susan, for this wonderful intro and also for inviting me to read!
After we admired Broken Arch we continued on the trail, which turned out to be much longer than we had expected. We passed by some marvelous formations that begged to be climbed on, and the children and I climbed way up. The view from the top of some tall fins was fabulous, and I felt like a mountain goat as I stood in the wind with my hair flying around my head. —Journal page, Melissa Fischer
 To say that Melissa Fischer is an avid observer of nature is a colossalunderstatement, like saying New Paltz has a little college. From my 30-year-NYC urban perspective, Melissa Fischer IS nature. She is a goat, she is acreature “launching herself down the eroded hill, leaping from rock to ridge,ricocheting to the next narrow ridge beside water-gouged gashes.” Like many inthe kingdom of fauna, she has a wide and keen field of vision, which she uses towrite and draw, and her words and watercolors visualize on paper what I movedto New Paltz to notice. If you want to see what I mean, find her blogs on theweb, and you will enter an exquisitely rendered marriage of word and image. 
Melissa spent many happy childhood hours immersed in the world ofnature and animals that she found at a nearby wildlife sanctuary and at homewith her devoted pets: passions that have only become more intense in her adultlife. In recent years, Wallkill Valley Writers has inspired her to reconnect withthe realm of memory. She has exhibited her artwork in many libraries and galleries and shortly will be leaving for Acadia National Park in Maine, where she has been selected as an artist-in-residence.
Turn to your right and follow Melissa and her dog on wide, dirt trails tounexpected places. You will see things you never noticed before. Pleasewelcome Melissa Fischer.     

 Here are the pieces of my writing that I read:

I am going to read five short pieces I wrote that are my musings about times either at or near my home or my parents’ home. I’ve ordered them according to the time of day they are about, starting with the wee hours of the morning.

3AM Walk
The soft sound of rain lures me from my bed. Never mind that it’s 2:53 AM, or perhaps because it is, I’m drawn outside. With dark pajama bottoms, raincoat and Muck shoes, I’ll be pretty much invisible in the warm, wet night. Petra is the obvious choice of a walking companion. The quietest of my dogs and with almost no white fur, she also will be invisible and unobtrusive.

I flip off the motion sensitive outdoor lights so they won’t intrude on the darkness, slip into the night and look around, Petra quietly by my side. Fireflies twinkle over the swamp… not many-- they’re just getting started for the season, but a sight that always fills me with wonder and that I can’t bear to miss. A pinprick glows in the grass at my feet – glowworm?

I walk slowly, Petra padding by my side with an occasional foray to sniff where some animal has crossed. A Tree Frog trills as I walk by the maple and another answers from across the stream. Then another, from farther back in the woods and yet another from the lilacs. I’m surrounded by animal life, mostly hidden from my sight, but going about their lives on their land. The night is theirs; I am just a visitor in their world.

Fall in a Field
I grumbled a bit as I grabbed my keys and headed out the door. Why, oh why does some neighbor have to play a saxophone by an open window starting at 6:30 every morning? I didn’t really feel like going out, but I wanted to find out who was so inconsiderate, so we could ask them to please shut their window before practicing.

Well, I didn’t find out who our morning musician is, but I did decide that, since I was already out anyway, I might as well go lay a track for my Beagle Milo. In theory I love going out to lay a track for my dog first thing in the morning. In practice, it’s hard to get dressed to leave the house, when I’m usually still padding around in pajamas and bathrobe with a steaming mug of tea. And actually, I scarcely qualified as “dressed” this morning, which I realized when I got back home and looked in the mirror to see my hair unbrushed, my shirt askew, with the collar cockeyed, and my nice blazer now covered with stick-tights. I don’t normally wear a blazer to lay a track. In fact, I don’t normally wear a blazer at all. It just happened to be the nearest thing when I grabbed for something to keep me warm in my not-quite-awake state. I was also wearing crocs, not hiking boots.   

The field was heavy with dew and had a magical feel in the early morning quiet. Apricot colored clouds piled high in the sky, shimmering in the sunrise. Given my atypical garb, fortunately I was alone in the field—always a plus for this nature-loving introvert. I looked at the distant trees and found two points I could line up to help me lay a straight track and I walked, then looked back to see my path clear and dark green through the lighter-colored wet grass. Choosing two more points, I walked in another direction, laying a second leg and then another and yet another. Birds called, but otherwise the morning was quiet. Too cool for insects to be on the move yet, but scattered wildflowers were raising their pretty faces to the sun. I lost myself in the joy of being out alone, and didn’t notice the stick-tights or the wet pant legs and socks until I got back to my car. And I didn’t care then; it had been the perfect start to my day.

Three and a half hours later I returned to the field with my happily dancing Beagle, both of us eager to run the track. The fields were now dry in the sunshine, the fragrance of fall-on-a-warm-day filling the air. A fragrance that instantly brings a kaleidoscope of memories to mind—riding my bike through leafy paths as a young child; running through cabbage fields for cross-country practice in high school; toting a heavy bag of apples across campus from an orchard to my college dorm room. I paused to relish my memories, then was brought back to the present by my gleeful Milo, who could hardly contain his excitement.

We ran the track, Milo tracking enthusiastically and well, me enjoying the connection with my dog, the connection with nature, and the connection with the part of myself that thrives on the simple pleasure of being outside fully immersed in the present moment.
Perhaps tomorrow I’ll find our saxophone alarm clock and lay another track.

I wrote this next piece sitting on a bridge over the stream that runs by our house.

The water strider works his way upstream with effort-filled jerks, then turns and strides gracefully back down, each tiny foot barely dimpling the surface of the water in little bowl-shaped depressions and casting shadows on the streambed—darker ovals on the golden brown mud lining the stream. He repeats this endeavor over and over. Once when he nears me, I glance down to look more closely at him. Instead I notice two tiny eyes pointing in my direction… miniscule eyes moving slightly from side to side on the tips of small stalks down under several inches of water. 

It takes me a moment to determine what the stalks are attached to, since their snail is covered with algae and is moving very, very slowly, across an algae-coated rock under the water. He is moving so slowly and apparently gently that he doesn’t even disturb the pearl-like bubbles on the rock’s surface. I watch, engrossed, over the next several minutes, as the snail moves about a centimeter closer, first sliding his foot a millimeter or two, then pausing before hitching his shell along to catch up with his foot, all along slowly moving his eyes on their stalks. Is he watching me watching him? 

I hold my cell phone down by the water to take a close-up of the snail in hopes that I can see him better that way than I can from my perch on the steeply sloped stone of the stream’s bank. I carefully align the phone and snap a photo. The snail’s stalked eyes still watch me, moving slightly in the current. The water strider strides purposefully upstream again, his shadows, magnified by the water, moving along the golden brown mud. 

Rocking back on my heels, I lift my phone to look at my photo of the snail and the shadows …and look again… There is no snail on the screen of my phone, no golden brown shadows… Instead the screen is all blue and white… 

I look again at the stream and there is the snail and the golden brown, oval shadows now moving downstream. I look up; blue sky and clouds. I look back at the stream. Water strider, snail, shadows. Looking again, I slowly draw my focus up from the bottom of the stream and finally see blue sky and white clouds, perfectly reflected from above on the surface of the water.

 My Chestnut Stump – This next piece is about a favorite childhood spot where the stump of a chestnut tree stood. Almost all American chestnuts had been killed by a blight before I was born, but until then, much of the Northeast was covered with chestnut forest.
I approached the stump slowly. The skeleton of an old chestnut tree, it stood with smooth, curved ribs pointing to the sky. Hidden deep in the woods, far from any path, my stump rose high above a precipice, the evening sun making the grey wood glow golden.

I always felt a sense of awe as I approached The Stump. I had never seen a living chestnut in all its glory, but this stump stood with a dignity not common among the trees in the sanctuary. Majestic even in death, my chestnut stood with purpose, connecting heaven and earth for me.

Bedtime Musings
I close my journal, lay down my pen and turn off the light. Bedtime after a full day. But… I cannot resist the call of the night, so I step out, quietly shut the door, and slip into another world.

The half moon shines bright over the heavy silhouettes of the maples flanking the orchard. The Evening Star—Venus—is still hanging above the western hills, brighter than any of the stars that shine from unimaginable distances. I scan the sky until I come to the Big Dipper, a familiar friend I’ve known since childhood. Tracing a line through the two end stars of the dipper and beyond, I meet the North Star, and from there find the Little Dipper. Some of its stars are almost too faint to see; I can only discern them because I know by heart where they have to be.

I search the sky again and think that perhaps I’ve found Cygnus, the Swan, but I’m not sure. It’s odd how I barely remember the constellations I learned in more recent years but know well the ones Papa taught me so long ago. Thank you, Papa, for this, among many other things you taught me of the world of nature.

The nearby rushing of the creek draws my attention, and I listen—to the water running endlessly over smooth rocks between mossy banks, to the crickets singing in the night, to the lack of traffic noise. This last pauses my mental meandering, and I savor the absence of noise and the clarity of the sounds of nature—the music of creation with my ears tuned to its subtle melody. 
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