Big skies, beginnings of a project

Big skies… this is the working title for a new project I’m working on. I announced last week that Sechrest Gallery at High Point University invited me to show Paper Mountain, Sky Project and a group of paintings for a solo exhibit in the fall, and installation for the show starts exactly 90 days from today. Because I want to make a lot A LOT of paintings between now and then, I decided what this exhibit needs is a wall-full of paintings – sky paintings to be specific.

So I am making 50 sky paintings that will literally cover one of the gallery walls.

The paintings will be hung in a grid 19ft tall and 17ft wide.

I’ve decided to use acrylic on Yupo, a polypropylene paper. The acrylic dries relatively fast compared to oil paint, so I can easily stack finished paintings as I work. As for the Yupo paper, I like how slick it is to paint on, and I know that it will sit against the wall rather than buckle.

Why am I using paper rather than wood or canvas to make these paintings? I want the images to sit flat on the wall rather than jut out into space like a panel does. I don’t want the objectness of a panel.

I’ll share with you progress on this project as I go, so stay tuned for images as I figure things out.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with an image of a sky I particularly like. This is Field and forest with red, one of the paintings from my Tiny Landscapes collection. I enjoy being able to see some of the underpainting of the sky… bits of pink and gold glimpsing through layers of sky and cloud. This little painting is acrylic on wood panel and measures 6×6 inches.

Getting Back into Work Flow

My family and I returned home from our adventures on the road two days ago, and it feels good to be back in the studio.

Over the years I developed some tools to help myself get back into the flow of work after time away (even if it’s just one night). One of the tactics I use is to leave some unfinished work to do so I can jump right back in. When we left two weeks ago I left an unfinished drawing, and after two sessions I finished it yesterday morning. It’s a drawing of a possum skull my mom found in the woods. I keep a collection of small animal skulls in my studio because they are beautiful and wonderful to draw.

Possum Skull pencil drawing

I’m also conscious of how relaxed I feel from being on vacation, and I’m making a concerted effort (in the most relaxed way of course) to maintain this vibe. (Yes, I said vibe because it’s summer and I’m relaxed, ok?) What this translates into  is noticing when work or life is making me anxious, and trying to let go of the tension in my shoulders or wherever it happens to be. You might say I’m living mindfully. Aha! Do I need more vacation to keep working on this kind of awareness?

One thing is for sure, I’m missing being able to watch entire stages of the Tour de France like I did on holiday. Cyclists in the Tour rode up Mont Ventoux, or the “Giant of Provence” yesterday – not once, but twice!

In honor of this beast of a climb, below is the “Ventoux”  painting recently commissioned by a collector, one of the Epic Rides custom series.

I have a few open slots for commissioned paintings in the next few months. Email me if you’d like to chat about a possible custom painting of your own.⁣

And if you’d like to commission an artwork and want to spread out the cost over time, I’ll be happy to set up an interest-free payment plan for you. Read more about this here or simply email me to chat.

Ventoux painting

It’s Tour de France time!

It’s that magical time of year when we have the TV playing for hours every day for three weeks so we can catch all of the Tour de France action. No really, it’s better than it sounds.

Anyway the Tour started last Saturday, and true to form my husband and I have been faithfully watching each stage and getting our daily fix of cycling action. This weekend the racers head into the mountains and the drama will really start. [hand rubbing]

The first time I worked a Tour trip back in my guiding days was in 2010. I remember most vividly the climbs on Col de Peyresourde and Col du Tourmalet. On the climb up Peyresourde, I ran into Didi the Devil, an iconic caped German spectator who follows the Tour each year wearing red tights and horns. On Tourmalet, between pouring rain and blasting winds, we got to watch the heavy-weights as they duked it out up the epic climb. One of the best parts of being on a steep climb during a big race is that the experience is so intense – you get to see the cyclists really suffering their way up – much more slowly than on flat terrain – so you can get a good long look at everyone. And the crowds are crazy at Tour mountain stages. With all the people there, it can be tough just to get a good spot along the road. Some people park and camp for days staking out their spot along the road.

This brings me to my Epic Ride series of paintings. These custom paintings are based on your favorite – most epic – maybe even legendary – rides you’ve done, want to do, or have seen the pros ride. (These can also be based on an epic run or hike!) You can read a bit more about these paintings here.

I’ll be back in the studio next week, and I have a few open slots for commissioned paintings in the next few months. Email me if you’d like to chat with me about a possible custom painting of your own or just give me a call at (336) 283-0185.

And if you’d like to commission an artwork and want to spread out the cost over time, I’ll be happy to set up an interest-free payment plan for you. Read more about this here or simply email me to chat.

Alpe d'huez painting
“Alpe d’Huez,” one of the paintings in my Epic Rides custom series.

on running and getting hurt and painting

I started running when I was 11 or 12. My dad and I would run down Highway 115 and at the Davidson College track. He taught me to kick at the end of a run and to stretch out stomach cramps on the move. I raced him to imaginary finish lines and we’d laugh  because we were having fun and we both knew we were trying to outrun each other. He’d let me win sometimes.

 

I ran track and cross country in junior high and struggled with shin and knee injuries until one day when I couldn’t move without excruciating pain in my knees after a long run. As athletes we learn to differentiate between discomfort and pain. There is a level of discomfort and sometimes even pain that comes from pushing yourself. And then there is the kind of pain that leads to injuries, and unfortunately it can take a while to figure out the difference. After that long run, I did months of physical therapy to try and solve my nagging knee problems. This competitive streak – with others and with myself – is possibly what has continued this cycle of running and hurting myself over the years.

 

There is a popular quote incorrectly attributed to Einstein that says “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Don’t ask me who actually said this, because I checked on the internet, and apparently no-one actually knows.

 

I’ve dreamt of running marathons since I was 14, and I have yet to run one because I keep hurting myself. I still want to run a marathon, and I’d like to do so comfortably. Also I’d like to be able to keep on running for as long as I am able, so it’s time I do things differently.

 

Last weekend I started running again using a new tactic: running and walking intervals. Coming from an old-school “no pain, no gain” type of mentality, where walking while running is a sign of weakness, I am having to change my way of thinking about running and remove my ego from the equation.

 

In my current body of work, Searching on the wind, I am also pushing myself to try new and uncomfortable things in painting. My vision is still the same: Ultimately I’d love for my work to get people excited about the outdoors and to get out for a hike or run or ride or really anything outside – and better yet with others.

 

While making these paintings, one challenge I set for myself was to stick with acrylic paint rather than switching to oil paint part of the way. With acrylic it’s more challenging for me to make the paint do what I can rely on oil paint to do – to easily push it around and for the paint to still have presence on the canvas. Oil paint has more body (it’s thicker and well… more oily) and is naturally more opaque than acrylic paint. While I am able to make paintings that are not obviously either acrylic or oil (a skill that I value), acrylic has traditionally not been as satisfying as oil for me to use. With these paintings, I resisted the urge to switch to oils because I wanted to see if I could get the same paint-feel for myself while sticking with acrylics. This is more of a personal goal rather than something that others will notice, but I think that for my art practice to be sustainable, I have to set parameters, rules or challenges for myself to keep things spicy.

 

As for the ego thing, this can come into play as an artist. We sometimes want our work to be more than what it is or to show off our skills or to be high-concept. While it is important to me that my work be transcendent  – that the finished piece be more than the sum of its parts – it’s also important that the work be honest and not try too hard. The finished piece should feel like it happened naturally, that no elements are extraneous and all are essential. While sometimes maximal is the way to go, with these particular paintings, I wanted a simpler, more elemental feel. I think of these as meditative, poetic paintings that whisper rather than shout.

 

You can explore the works in the Searching on the wind collection here.

Two years in the making of a painting collection

Two years in the making of a painting collection… What started this body of work was a question I asked on Facebook: What outdoor spaces bring you peace and happiness? Friends sent me photos of their special landscapes, and I used those images as a jumping off point to create these paintings.

In this series of landscapes the feel of wide open spaces meets a soft geometry – a meditative play of shapes and colors.

Explore the paintings in the Searching in the wind collection HERE.

On working slowly and enjoying the process… and color

Lately I’ve been living and working more slowly. I realized working at a break-neck speed isn’t sustainable or enjoyable anymore, and that since I work for myself, I could give myself permission to work more slowly. The fact is I will always get my work done, so I can choose to take my time and enjoy the process. I’m not a procrastinator, so it doesn’t make sense for me to anxiously work fast anyway. This is all easier said that done however. I realized I needed to slow down in 2020, but it’s taken me a year to actually put it into practice.

I’m also deliberate about not multitasking if I can help it. Most of the time, genuine multitasking isn’t actually as effective as singletasking for me (not sure this word exists, but I’m using it) and at the end of a long work session of multitasking, while I might feel virtuous, everything feels like a bit of a blur, and the process definitely isn’t enjoyable.

There are certainly tasks I can complete relatively quickly and painlessly, but generally speaking these days I’ve been mindful about my thought processes and the way I do things, and I feel overall more content while working and living more slowly. Except on certain designated bike rides when speed is kind of the point of the ride – that’s different.

On that note, here’s what’s happening in the studio right now. And yes, I did mention that I don’t multitask, but I typically do have multiple projects going on at once. I just don’t work on them simultaneously.

I’m working on a series of landscapes where I’m playing with shapes and colors. I’m working slowly, trying to figure out the kind of color-play I want, refining the edges of shapes, thinking about the feel of the surface…

It feels good to take my time and work meditatively. These are the first two in progress.

I started in reds and pinks and oranges, colors that I knew would be mostly covered up and dissonant with the colors in the finished paintings. I like to allow little sections of the underpainting to show between shapes or through brush marks. Now that I’ve covered up most of the underpainting, I’m reworking the colors to fine tune how they relate to each other.

I’m thinking of what I’ve learned through experience over years of painting and back to grad school in one of my favorite and most challenging classes: color theory. In this class we studied the Munsell color system, which breaks down color into three properties or dimensions: value, chroma and hue. The way I put this into practice as I paint is by making some colors darker or lighter (adjusting the value), making some more or less dull (chroma), and in some cases changing the color completely – like turning a violet into green (the hue).

Because the paintings are paired down with a few interlocking shapes, the colors become even more important. I think that as art becomes more minimal, each decision becomes more significant because everything is there to see, plain as day.

As I make changes in color, edges of shapes shift around too: some edges get more crisp and some become softer. This process is both intellectual and intuitive as I think through what I know about color relationships and how I want the paintings to feel.

These paintings feel like an important bridge for me. For years, I’ve been wanting to integrate the landscape with the geometric work I did in my Little Watercolor Squares series. (See some of the paintings here and the book here.) Last year, I made geometric interiors for my show at Elder Gallery. (See that work here.) These new paintings feel like an integration of all that past work, and that feels good. This work isn’t ego-driven. It’s not trying to prove anything. It just is.

On the other wall of my studio are some small paintings I made to test out compositions and colors for this new series. These little guys will be available at the Ardmore Art Walk on May 8th.

The larger painting on the right is a commissioned piece that’s drying. It was inspired by Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Day poem.

To be the first to know when the landscapes above are available, subscribe to my Insider’s List here.

Camping, grit, resilience and mountains

 

I spent a long weekend camping with my family at one of our favorite spots, Pilot Mountain State Park. We love spending time in this special place, and we hike there year-round.

We went to the summit one evening just before sunset and I couldn’t resist shooting a short video to share this landscape with you. The first views above are from that evening, looking toward Winston-Salem and then the Blue Ridge.

The second view is from one of our hikes in the morning, of Hanging Rock and Sauratown Mountain toward east of Winston-Salem. One of the unique aspects of this spot is that as you do different hikes in the park, you’ll have the chance to see 360 degrees of landscape from Pilot Mountain. Since the mountain’s rocky formation juts out of the surrounding hills, it’s not surprising that it was used as a navigational landmark and was called Jomeokee or “great guide” by the area’s first inhabitants.

My family and I often have interesting conversations as we walk. One of the ideas that came up was the meaning of the words grit and resilience. My husband took the position that they are one and the same. I argued they aren’t, but that there is overlap and that the two qualities can go hand in hand. In the last year since the pandemic hit, I’ve been thinking of resilience a lot. I didn’t realize it until relatively recently, and it feels like an important quality to cultivate now. Anyway, my brother, being the rational person he is, recommended we simply look up the definitions. So here they are from my good old American Heritage College Dictionary:

*grit: indomitable spirit; pluck

resilience: the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy

I often feel gratitude to have such beautiful places just a short drive away from home. Spending time at Pilot Mountain walking and looking and listening fills me with contentment and with inspiration for my work. Now it’s back to the studio!

Find some paintings inspired by my time at Pilot Mountain here and bring some peaceful energy of the outdoors into your space.

 

*I like the way Angela Duckworth talks about grit in her aptly named book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. You can watch her TED talk here.

Make a botanical watercolor drawing with me

This morning I went exploring in the neighborhood with my son. We walked through a stream and through bramble and over fallen trees and on a hillside of kudzu… we found animal tracks and bones and all sorts of adventurous stuff. We also found beautiful flowering weeds!

I always get excited in that transition from winter to spring, when the dandelion, violets, clover, and nettle and all sorts of tiny tender leaves and flowers start to appear. I picked one of my favorite (it was in a spot filled with many others), some purple dead nettle, so I could make a drawing.

I thought you might like to see the process and maybe even join along. So here we go back in the studio…

In case you do want to join me, I’m using pencil, Pigma micron ink pen, watercolor and a 140lb watercolor paper.

Want to learn how to use watercolors? Check out my watercolor course.

Conversation with Sonya Pfeiffer

Sonya Pfeiffer is owner and director of Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, NC.

From the gallery:

Jessica Singerman Artist Talk

Join us in the studio with Jessica Singerman as she takes viewers behind the thought process and intention in her new series, Hold Us in the Light.

View the works we’re talking about and shop the exhibition here.

 

What’s in a name?

People often ask me about my painting titles, “how do I come up with them?”or “what do they mean?”
Well I have a sort of system for titling works that don’t have an obvious name (unlike my installation Paper Mountain that was named just what it was). I keep a little notebook for title ideas. When I need to title a painting, I look through the notebook for inspiration. If none of the ideas feel right for the work, my ritual is to pull out a stack of Mary Oliver poetry books and to read until I notice words or snippets that resonate with me. I write them down and then riff off those or combine them to make my new titles. In the end I pick titles that I hope will invite curiosity, thinking and dreaming.

Below you’ll see “Among the weeds and other blossoming things,” one painting that I named using some Mary Oliver poetry and my little book of ideas. This painting is 40×30 inches, oil and acrylic on canvas, and available from my shop where you’ll find other paintings with names that are hopefully as evocative.

Among the Weeds and Other Blossoming Things, oil and acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 inches
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