The Old Home Place

From painting pictures OF windows, for the past year or so I have painted in the new fashion of painting BEHIND windows. I didn’t want to do it. My lovely client, Tresa Wheeler, was in her quiet way, insistent. She knew I could do it, she loved my work, and no, she didn’t prefer a watercolor of her house on paper, but her house painted on the backside of these wonderful, framed glass windows from a friend’s house. She wanted to look out on it as if she were looking out a window and seeing her old home place.  (link #1, window painting with Tresa) And she wanted my work. I couldn’t even give her to another client.

She brought me all kinds of material–photos of how it used to look, write-ups in journals, before, after, in-between, in different seasons of the year; before and after the swing was added.

This is a funny journey. My doctor’s gal Friday had asked me about painting on glass a year or two before my assignment came. I didn’t know what to tell her. I knew acrylic stuck to anything. Oil did, but it was slippery. I’d done an assignment before, painting on a china pitcher and had bought those paints for it, paints in awful colors that you really couldn’t mix, that cost an arm and a leg. I probably commiserated with her over several months. She laughed her head off when she found out I was doing not one, but two of these paintings. None of the above worked. I knew that acrylic would come off in one slippery plastic piece, if it did delaminate. So I picked oils. I’m not going to bore you with all the details of how I worked each detail out–and there were quite a few of those details–but, over the next year, I did.

Did I say a year? Yes, I did. My client did not complain, although she must have been tempted. I would make a little progress, hate what was happening and stop. A little more, stop. My students laughed at me, and wondered why their master teacher could make something so hard. Well, in my defense, hundreds of strokes for windows, a swing, chain, shutters, roof, yard, road, things I could see in the pictures provided and things that had been added later I couldn’t were all things I had to pull together into that one image. Reverse perspective for a dyslexic. I had to get transparencies of the house, so I could turn them over. Hundreds of times turning it over, seeing back to front, front to back. Some days I had to scrape it off and start over. No fun.

But finally, and eventually, I began to make progress in the right brush, paint, brushstroke, paint markers, when to wipe off, scrape, and even when to add a touch or two on the front side, and we had the first one of the two ready for Christmas. Tresa had us set up a Christmas arrangement with the picture at its center. (link #2, window painted, with Christmas decorations) We photographed it, and she made her Christmas card out of it, giving me, the artist, due recognition on the card. Well, but, the card was delayed by a fall, an operation, a husband in the hospital and daily trips to Chapel Hill even in sleet with a newly operated on shoulder.

Meanwhile, I finished the second painting behind a glass window for the friend she gifted the painting to, the one who had given her the windows. Ice and snow, more trips to Chapel Hill with a healing, freshly-operated on, shoulder. Yes, people’s life stories continue in and around art work, and actually, I think, make the whole process more precious. Make the outcomes more stunning. The second painting was of bales of hay, a hay field, a tall tree, and a Carolina sky. (link #3, window painting with hay bales) Now it was my turn to wait. Tresa couldn’t come because of the hospital commute and no one to help her carry the finished work in and out her car.

Finally, the day came and the delivery was made, and I am waiting to call the friend for permission to share her picture abroad with her name. Until then, I will just share the picture with thanks to one of the loveliest clients of all times, Tresa Wheeling, who has sent me numerous cards of thank you’s and praised my work to the skies, and made me feel like one of the luckiest artists alive today. May every artist friend of mine be so lucky. She not only valued art for herself, but as a way of giving to others and blessed me in doing so, and my ability to keep my doors open.

To the woman, the veteran school teacher, and one who has become a lifelong friend, thanks for turning the trial of painting on glass into a learning experience, a long-term relationship, and a total delight!

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Heroine of My Novel Is Real-Life Model

Now this painting has story written all over it, starting with the last person who asked me about the novel I was writing and asked me, “Are you doing the cover for it?” To which I responded that I needed a professional in book covers for that. However, that’s when I was introduced to a real, live cover artist who painted the dreamiest romance covers I had ever seen. I was painting on my Lady and the Falcon, or Self-Portrait with a Falconrsz_self-portrait_with_falcon_2016_redo web., so I decided to try my hand at making my current painting look like the cover for a book, and based on my success or not with that, I might try it. I studied my social media friend’s work and extracted some good pointers. They were not copycat observations, but they were stylistic touches which pulled the eye always toward the center.

So, I am in the middle of a sea-change. I am creating a series look, usually involving a castle or stately home. My books, being Gothic in nature, have a whole different suspense look than romances. Still, all the questions emerge, face or figure, woman or couple, closeup or far back…things the genre more or less dictates. I have had good cover artists, all of whom deal with clip-art art. They prefer it, since they are able to pick and give the twist they prefer to it. I set my sights on original cover art from the beginning, but thought I would have to get rich first. I mean I love Agatha Christie, and I devour her books, but I do not necessarily love her cover art. So I preferred it from at least three different angles–originality or custom work which no one else would see on anybody else’s book like they do the clip-art covers, the mood and ability to have an original painting connected to the book for different branding and advertising purposes, plus the excitement of staging a model and setting. I will just add to that, the excitement of pushing my vision with words as well as images.

One of my books, A Deadly Provenance, is the result of a photo shoot with a model from a photographer-artist friend who sold me her copyright. I had to override one of my cover artist’s opinions to use it, but it is my and many others absolute favorites so far. I hope that means it was a good market choice. Dark, fearful, an exotic setting–the setting itself is considered a character in Gothics, so it should be about right.

Meanwhile, my work with oils increased and one of my paintings landed in a large show, Woman Painters of the Southeast (WPSE),

Portrait of Colby

Colby in the Morning

so now I had two goals to fulfill simultaneously. It had to be original as well, so I had to take pictures as well as the photographers who were helping me by setting up and showing me theirs. So now I was in to choosing the model, helping set up the scene, choosing the setting, and finally, making sure the pose, composition, and model were all mine. So the painting for my novel and forthcoming book, Stone of Her Destiny, has been proceeding for quite some time with a beautiful Scottish redhead who I almost rejected the first time through due to the prevailing model look not being in line with my expectations for a Scottish lass.

Combining her with a castle appropriate to the story from my photographs from our trip to Scotland was the next order of the day. Giving her my ancestry was another. Then I added layer after layer of oil paints to drench the colors, recede the time of day to sunset, incorporate the Stone of Destiny, Scotland and earlier Ireland’s coronation stone, another. Expanding the Paul Green amphitheater in Chapel Hill to a full blown castle and grounds setting was another. Then came the colors, ramped up and running gold plus orange.

The day of the photo shoot was wonderful and started with a trip to the drugstore for fake eyelashes, full hair salon visit to make the model’s hair very curly, and try-on of several dresses from the wardrobe of the photographer who does this sort of thing all the time for her art photography. We finally agreed on a beautiful teal green dress with wonderful blue undercurrents that set off her red hair picture book fashion. I thought I would re-work the dress, but it’s simplicity actually added to the beauty, and the accidental split in the dress gave rise to the provocative bit of underpants showing. I love it because it is not deliberately provocative, but just an unguarded moment, a look which to me is classier than the all-out frontoil-portrait-kenna-at-castle-image-only-websizeal attack.

I loved doing the jewelry and working up to just enough accent to complete the impression. It’s so easy to ruin a face by just a little too much, so I have had to add slowly. I have shared it in stages and been told how much people loved the expression on her face.

All of these changes to the composite picture are both realistic and atmospheric, lending a whole different look and feel in the almost finished work   from the absolutely dazzling covers my mentor produces, a result which pleases me even more. This way, the end result is a piece of artwork peculiar to me, indicative of my style of realism, one I want and have some degree of say-so in, one which I am hoping anchors the story in the readers’ minds.

Kenna’s Castle: Cover of Stone of Her Destiny Coming Soon

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Eyes Are Windows and Windows Are Eyes

Eyes are windows for the soul, they say, and I do believe it. Some eyes beckon you in, and there is reality in the playfulness or life they display. The cornea of the eye is colored beautifully, a testament to divine light, which in its purity scatters all colors. Of course there are eyes that deceive and eyes all murky with the taste of darkness, the evil they have committed, but I’m leaving that thought alone, in favor of my hopeless optimism.

Windows are much like this. I have always loved painting windows. At one point, I was known for painting windows.

Now I have returned to it with this painting of a window on the famed island of Iona, off the coast of Scotland. Iona is famous as one of the most spiritual places on earth. I painted this window recently that called to me from the photos we made during our trip and walk over the grounds about five years ago. Formed from the oldest rocks known, it was once reputed as filled with stone circles of pagan influences. The island’s early name referenced the Druids before Christianity arrived on its shore. Columba, who founded a monastery in Ulster at 25, traveled 15 years in Ireland, preaching and establishing schools and monasteries. When he insisted on keeping a copy of a psalter belonging to the scriptorium, supposedly a bloody battle ensued. According to other sources I read, Columba murdered a man, much like Moses, and was thus banished from his beloved island so far that he could never even see it, and that took him to Iona. I like that story best, so even if it’s myth, I’ll hold onto it.

In any case, with 12 men, he landed and established a center which when we were there, had burgeoned to massive proportions of buildings, outbuildings and nunneries. Of course, they were in varying stages of ruin and repair. The nunnery, where I’m 98 percent sure the window came from, was absolutely gorgeous. How they did all that on an island is the question of a lifetime. The graves were guarded by the most gorgeous Celtic crosses one has ever seen. For some time the Book of Kells, a famous illuminated manuscript, was kept there. Royal burials developed–and include four Irish, eight Norwegian, and 48 Scottish kings–including Shakespeare’s Macbeth. From Iona the Christian faith spread far and wide through the Ionian monks.

Iona is no small deal on the spiritual horizon.

It was here that a standing stone, Lia Fail, the coronation stone of the High Kings of Ireland, was said to have been brought in by Columba as a travelling altar, interesting, as one of the legends of the Stone (Stone of Scone) was that it had carried the Jewish ark of the covenant for 40 years in the wilderness. Also interesting because this stone also figures in my novel, a work of gothic fiction, Stone of Her Destiny, for which I am even now painting what I hope and imagine to be the book’s cover, its debut projected for soon.

Well, from the Stone of Destiny on the Isle of Iona, I point to the stone which surrounds the window in my painting, “Sacred Ruins.” (link) I love the very archaic nature and roughness of the stone, its nooks and crannies which decry the making of slick beauty alone. Let me work this out on paper. I am a proponent of beauty in art. My UNC-Chapel Hill sculpture professor made friendly mockery of me for this, “Joanna thinks art—should be beautiful.” And I do. However, I do not subscribe to slick beauty, like every stroke must be a masterpiece itself. I think there should be random strokes, rough strokes. I think there is beauty in rough terrain, jagged rocks, not just the misty cloud transitions. Beauty in the unexpected colors, the whites trapped beside dark grey. I love the depth of the rock they used, the creativity with which they alternated shapes that accentuated the right section of the window and fitted them together without relying on the knife for beauty of the same size and proportion.

Rough beauty. Broken glass. Themes all through my artwork. The broken. Partial darkness lying beside the prisms of glass which transfer light. Such truth in the juxtaposition. Yes, my aunt taught me about writing letters and how to avoid revealing myself too much in them. She told me to watch out for juxtaposition. So that is now what I am doing, juxtaposing light and dark. Truth and lies. Smooth and rough. Reflective and absorbing. Earth colors and heavenly colors. And exposing who I am and what I love.

For me, these windows I found in Iona are terribly significant, and I will definitely do a series in them. For me, they are the eyes of the soul of a people, in this case, Irish and Scottish people of faith. They are the eyes of those who have gone before who admit to the struggle, the shipwrecks, the wrong, the repentance, the good, the lights which shine in pastel pinks and blues in spite of the gaping holes–for all time.

Nothing is as exciting for an artist as the last thing she worked on. That’s why sometimes I fail to see a few things not put in, because I’m seeing my own vision and can’t yet separate it from the product  turned out. Not bringing the contrast up to where it would have maximum effect is one thing that results. My latest piece, Sacred Ruins, a broken window in one of the mission buildings on the Isle of Iona, was finished at the beach. I had it photographed, cataloged, ready to enter big shows. But then I had to adjust by adding color, and then a few more color washes , until every pane of glass glowed. I believe intensifying and saturating worked, and am pleased with its increased impact.

Iona as a place tops the list for spiritual tone and calls Scots, Celts, Irish, Christian, pagan, and new agers scattered abroad to pilgrimage there among Celtic crosses and thoughts left on tombstones by St. Columba and his monks.

In my painting you see the stones used for centuries to build sacred and private structures, the encasement of the window, the metal work supporting the arched window, and the panes holding tightly past slings of fortune, surviving centuries of neglect. Mirrored in the window are clouds shining beside darkness inside cracked glass, shapes enlivening imagination, a heart, a board, fanciful figures, perhaps. One feels the spirits of those passed on, the mystery and solemnity of dedicated devotion.

I wanted you to feel the rough hewn rock, the lumps, gravel passages, rub your hand over sand. I wanted you to look heavenward at the grace of the new day reflected in glass no matter how aged, cracked, or broken. I wanted you to see the jagged edges of glass that bespeak danger, story, hundreds even, and if you are as fanciful as I am, hark back to the murders St. Columba committed that ended in his exile.

I have just entered Sacred Ruins in a watercolor show, so we will see what comes of it. Thank you for following my creative pilgrimage.

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