April Challenge with Sheila

Sheila  Barnes and I exchange images of art every other month; the in-between months we are challenged to respond to the other’s work from the prior exchange.

So this was a month Sheila sent me one of her elegant abstractions, and I sent her one of my plein air landscape. (At least it wasn’t a yellow truck, which I think she was secretly hankering for.)

Among the many advantages of this exchange (friendship is the foremost advantage) is that it makes me think about what I’m doing and why. Here are the two pieces:

Sheila Mahanke Barnes, 12 x 16″, stitched fabric, April, 2010

June Underwood, At the Head of the Rogue Gorge, 12 x 16″, Acrylic on board, April 2010

Sheila remarked that my palette in this piece was,unusual for us, and without consultation, much like hers. Generally speaking, this isn’t the case. Which made me wonder what is “my” palette and why was this particular one is so similar to Sheila’s.

I realized, almost instantly, that I don’t have “a palette” of colors that I normally use. I have a preference for transparent paints, and for layers, but the hues I choose range greatly and can be pure and saturated or muted and earthy. The reason, I suspect, is that unlike the way I do (or did) textile art is that I almost always paint in the moment, and even if I’m not in front of a scene, I’m painting from a vivid memory or vividly imagined space. The space dictates the palette.

Many artists define themselves by the colors or at least the saturation or earthiness of the colors they choose. My sense of place, my being pulled out of myself into an external space, is always the defining factor. If I’m painting a bar in SE Portland, chances are the colors will be vivid, even garish. When I paint in eastern Oregon, the brilliance of the sun fades the colors (except in some place like the Painted Hills, where nothing can fade the soils brilliance). And this painting, from the upper Rogue River Gorge, set in mid-spring along an icy 40 degree stream being fed by snow melt, required muted greens and blues and grays — and of course the white of the rushing water.

So Sheila’s chance remark, along with her carefully crafted art, provided me with an insight about my own work that I hadn’t had before.  It’s definitely a reason to keep on with this challenge, even when I despair. How can I send her a bright yellow truck painting in response to the abstract geometries she has given me to work with this month? — June

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One Response to April Challenge with Sheila

  1. Sheila says:

    Oh pashaw…you always say such nice things about my humble creations. Actually, that is one of the benefits of this challenge for me. You so often are able to tell me exactly WHY a particular piece is working, not just gush about it like I do about yours. Since I work “intuitively” it usually is an accident if I actually include elements of design that lead to a successful outcome. When you point them out to me, I think, “oh” and hope that next time around I will recognize why something is feeling right, and better yet, identify what I need to do to strengthen a design. That kind of feedback is priceless, as they say.

    And now I must rethink my comment about your palette too. I guess because you do so much plein air work in nature, I think of you using clearer, more saturated colors than the humble muted teal to black. But as Deborah pointed out, mine conjures up slate – a natural substance. And when you paint shadows and the dark water, that same dark teal green certainly factors in.

    It goes to show that neither of us are static in our subject matter, nor afraid to change our palettes to suit our fancy and what is in front of our face. That can only strengthen us, I think. The challenge seems to accentuate that. I know that some of your paintings have sent me off to work with colors or subjects less familiar to me, and it has been work to figure out how to do that. Good work. Delightful work some days. Good to get out of the comfort zone.

    I still think it amazing our inspiration pieces this month are so similar in subject and tone.


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