Bluebells, Acrylic, 36 x 24 inches, ©Lynn Goldstein
How often are you reminded of a loved one in your past when you hear a specific song, smell a familiar smell, or look at a photograph? Visual art can also remind you of someone who means or meant a great deal to you. When that happens it can feel like magic. This is one of the many ways that art can help us to heal. If we are reminded of a lost loved one because of imagery in visual art, we can be comforted by the experience.
When I went to pick up payment for a painting that I sold recently (the one pictured above), I was touched to the core by what the collector told me.
First of all, she mentioned that this was the first "real" art that she had ever purchased. I was surprised at how uplifting her words were. Then she went further in her comments about the painting. She said that her mother had passed away 9 years ago. She had no photographs of her mother around her home because seeing the photographs saddened her.
One day, while passing by my painting, she was struck by it. The woman portrayed in the painting made her think of her beloved mother. She couldn't see her face in the painting, but felt her beautiful mother was portrayed there, and the painting made her happy. Unlike the photographs that she hides of her mother, this painting doesn't add to her grief. Instead, the painting helps her to feel her mother's presence and makes her feel better.
Just last month a similar thing happened to me. I'll explain.
Royal typewriter and Typewriter print by Valerie Stemac
My father died when I was 25 years old. He still remains one of the best people I have ever known.
He was a fast and furious typist, and typed all his correspondence to me after I left home. He used a Royal typewriter that looks like the one pictured above. He hit the keys so hard that the back of the typing paper would sometimes look like braille. I loved getting his letters, and can't see a typewriter of any stripe and not think of him.
While in my studio building, I saw that one of my fellow artists, Valerie Stemac, was working on prints that illustrated an old typewriter. I was so happy seeing that artwork. Memories flooded back to me. All these years later, and that print made me smile as I thought of my beloved father, and felt his presence healing me from my loss so long ago. Valerie was kind enough to give me a tote bag with her typewriter print on it.
Art can challenge us, disturb us, and make us think, but it's ability to heal us and bring us peace is equally important ... and lovely. Please tell me what you think. Has a piece of art helped to remind you of someone you held dear? Just leave a comment below by hitting comment. Thanks for reading!
After leading tours recently, I spent some time in the galleries at SAAM,
and was moved by this small painting by Asher Durand.
As a tour leader (docent) at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), I have the opportunity to visit the museum on a regular basis. Fortunately, NPG shares space with the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). When time permits, I visit that area of the museum to get some inspiration.
Years ago I considered concentrating on portraiture, which is why I began my tenure at NPG.
It didn't take long for me to realize that portraiture was not my calling, but the landscape was pretty much shouting my name.
Little did I know that one of the artists that has inspired me went through a similar change of subject matter.
Asher Durand began his art career as an engraver, but also made many portraits before finding his way to the landscape. It’s safe to say that Durand adored the landscapes that he painted and studied. He could determine a species of tree even from a distance, a skill I admire greatly.
We can learn a lot from artists of the past. Durand was an avid plein air painter, which is a great way to improve as a landscape artist. Another way to improve is to dedicate time to sketching. Durand was devoted to sketching.
Years ago I was told that the best way to improve as an artist was to sketch. I agree.
Part of my process includes making sketches to establish the darks and lights prior to making my final painting. In fact, I feel as if I am driving without a seatbelt if I don't make a sketch prior to beginning a painting.
Asher B. Durand, Woodland Glen, Oil on Canvas (and black and white sketch I made of same)
Take a look at the simplified black and white sketch of this painting by Durand above. You will see that this piece would work well as an abstract artwork. The shapes are interesting and there is a clear dominant value.
Durand’s larger academy style paintings inspire me less than his sketches and smaller paintings, because I tend to lean toward a more expressive, contemporary style. That said, there is much to enjoy when looking at Durand’s work.
When I look at his Woodland Glen, I want to be in that location. Viewers of my work kindly say the same thing.
Durand showed much more detail in his work than I ever want to show in my own, but I can truly appreciate his compositional structure here. The large trees in the foreground give way to an opening that allows the viewer into the picture plane. This is a compositional consideration that is beneficial in many landscape paintings, and one that I am itching to explore more.
Below is an example of a recent painting of mine with my simplified preliminary sketch. Here you can see how I established my composition prior to making the final painting.
Bluebells & Friends, Oil on Canvas, 12x9 inches, ©Lynn Goldstein
As the song lyrics state, "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.
I have been working on my series of remarkable, survivor trees, From Just a Seed, for some time now. When I began, I was energized and excited about the prospect of continuing the series. As time progressed, my energy faltered. While talking with a friend, I told her that when I finally finished the series, I was excited to start something new.
"Kissed, " 9x9 inches, Pastel, © Lynn Goldstein
It takes a good friend to point out when we are off course. She asked why I had this arbitrary number of paintings that had to be completed. Maybe the series was done now. I can be a little bit stubborn. It took 5 hours for me to realize how right she was.
As a result of her wise words, I put away the series and completed 5 paintings pronto.
I am not finished painting magnificent trees, but I am thrilled to be moving in another direction.
Why am I writing this? Because my work is all about helping people feel peaceful in a hectic world. If I don't experience harmony while working, negative emotions will likely show in the art that I produce. "Folding" on the series was a way to return to a calm space while making my art. I am hoping that will translate to others.
"Triumvirate, " 12 x 9 inches, Pastel ©Lynn Goldstein
So, have you have ever "given up" on something that wasn't working for you? How did that turn out? Let me know in the comments below.
"Water Meets Land," 9 x 12 inches, Pastel © Lynn Goldstein
No, I'm not speaking of the classic soul singing of Marvin Gaye. Instead, my reference is about witness trees.
This past summer and fall, I visited Fredericksburg, Virginia. Fredericksburg is filled with history. Visiting Chatham, in Fredericksburg was a must in my quest for finding historic and amazing trees.
Chatham Manor is the only private home visited by both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Clara Barton and Walt Whitman also visited when Chatham was used as a civil war hospital.
Many trees on the land surrounding the home are designated as witness trees. Witness trees are trees that were living during the Civil War. None are quite as interesting as the catalpa trees at Chatham. At least 200 years old, they are located in the yard facing the Rappahannock River, very close to the home. Legend has it that when doctors were amputating limbs from soldiers, there was no time to waste, and the arms and legs were thrown out the window of the home onto the lawn. The Catalpa trees seem to have captured in their trunks the horrible pain that the soldiers endured.
For my next painting of historic and amazing trees, I have begun Catalpa-1810 to remember the pain of our Civil War, and to celebrate the survival of the country and the survival of some magnificent witnesses. I am also celebrating my love for trees.
Catalpa Tree at Chatham Manor in Fredericksburg, Virginia
A leaf of the catalpa tree. It looks like a heart, doesn't it?
The start of my painting.
I love teaching. The experience stretches me to think in different ways. Last week, I wanted to show my new students how the background color of a painting can change the appearance of the end product. Thought that it would be fun to share it here.
First, I want to tell you what inspired these paintings. In December, I was able to visit Panama. My father lived in Panama during WWII, so it is a place that I have wanted to visit for decades. I like to walk in places that I can imagine he did. I was not disappointed because the lush landscape was beautiful.
One morning before sunrise, I roused myself from bed to attempt to see some of the exotic birds in the Gamboa Rainforest area. With flashlight in hand, and looking out for snakes, I ventured out. One particular tree seemed to be the place to go. There was a cacophony of noise coming from the branches, which was a clue to me that some good bird action must be going on there. While standing quietly, looking into that particular tree, I turned around to see the sun beginning to rise behind me. Both scenes took my breath away. The noise I was hearing in the tree was being made by a multitude of birds, while what was at my back was a magnificent rising sun. Magic!!
Making these paintings helped me relive that magic. Hope you enjoy them too.
This was the first of the paintings that I did of this scene. I used a green background to start.
"Panama Skies #1," 6 x 4 inches, Pastel, ©Lynn Goldstein
Here's a detail of the painting above. This shows the olive green under painting.
Panama Skies #2, 12 x 9 inches, Pastel, ©Lynn Goldstein
This painting was started with a yellow background underpainting.
"Panama Skies #3," 12 x 9 inches, Pastel, ©Lynn Goldstein
This version was painted with a purple underpainting.
Here's a closeup so that you can see that purple peeking through.
"Panama Skies #4," 6 x 4 inches, Pastel, ©Lynn Goldstein
I started this one with a yellow under painting as well.
Another close up so that you can see a bit more of the yellow peeking through the texture of the paper.
Is it odd that I actually liked writing term papers? Research is fun for me. I realize that that is one of the reasons that I love leading tours at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. In order to share the art and the history with visitors, I am required to research.
My love of research is why working in series makes since for me. For the "From Just a Seed" series, visiting the historic and amazing trees is part of the fun of making the work. Finding out where the trees are located, and a little about the history of the trees feeds my love of research.
One of the things that fascinates me so much about this project is learning more about the individual species of trees. There is endless fascination in the variety of leaves, the structure of the trunks, and the growth patterns. The history related to the specific trees I have found has also been inspiring because some of these trees have quite a background. With that in mind, "Tulip Poplar" captivated me. Here's the backstory:
This painting represents a famous tree because it was planted by one of the most famous people in American history. It is located on the Mount Vernon estate and was planted by George Washington. Now, I love George Washington. His life was astounding. In fact, I have read at least 2 books about our first president this year alone. I always share an image of him when I lead tours. He looms large for me.
On the grounds of Mount Vernon, Washington used a very symmetrical gardening plan. If there was a tulip poplar on one side of the garden, there would be a matching tree on the other side. If you visit Mount Vernon, you may see this tree on one side of the bowling green, which is the large expanse of yard as you enter the Mount Vernon estate.
For this painting, I wanted to show how the tulip poplar shoots up into the sky. In the lower right side of the painting, you will see the beauty of a tulip poplar in autumn, while in the upper left side of the painting, you will see the leaves of the tree. Each painting in this series provides a little story about an individual tree.
Tulip Poplars are native to the east coast of the United States, and can grow up to 160 feet in height.
Here are a few photos (excuse the quality!) to show you the work in progress:
When I first began making art, I couldn't understand why anyone would want to work in a series. I mean, goodness, there are so many things to be interested in and to paint. I had a lightbulb moment when working on my Reaching series years ago. I realized that when working in a series, I really got the opportunity to grow while studying something that truly interests me. This is one of the reasons that I have begun painting the series From Just a Seed. That's not the only reason, though.
For years I was concerned that making art was a narcissistic pursuit. Well, I got over THAT!
However, I still dream that my art can do more than it does. I can do more than I do to make this world a better place. So, my goal with From Just a Seed is to help focus attention on the importance of the environment and trees. To fulfill that ambition, I am looking to work with an environmental non-profit. What I envision doing is having an exhibition with the organization where part of the proceeds of the sale of my work would be donated to that organization.
This is a big dream to me, and it spurs me on as I continue my series. Six paintings completed with more to come!
If you know of an environmental non-profit that sounds like a good fit, let me know in the comments below, or check out my website and just hit "contact me". To do that, click here.
Working on my most recent series of paintings, I am finding that the research is as much fun as the painting process. Traveling to find historic and amazing trees has yielded some surprises. Last Tuesday was a perfect example.
Getting out the door in the morning to drive south to Fredericksburg, Virginia would not normally be on my list of things to do,. That said, I wanted to see the Virginia Champion Yellowwood tree at Kenmore Plantation, and the weather was just about perfect for a visit. Traffic was heavy, but moving on Interstate 95, and I made it to Fredericksburg just in time for the site to open for visitors.
A well-dressed woman greeted me upon my arrival. I am sure that she thought that I was there to visit the home, but the grounds were of more interest to me during this trip. I asked her if she could direct me to the Yellowwood tree. She looked puzzled, but pointed out some men not too far away, indicating that they could help me. These men seemed to know exactly what I was looking for and directed me to... wait for it... a SAPLING! My disappointment was palpable. I had driven over an hour and the tree was gone. Turns out that the Champ had died a few years ago, and the sapling was a replacement. This is where the story takes a positive turn.
As a result of the death of the Champion tree, I asked if there were other historic trees on the property. That was when I was introduced to the Director of Gardens and Historic Landscapes there. She spent over an hour with me showing me some outstanding specimens. Here's the kicker. If the Yellowwood had been alive, I would have taken pictures and hi-tailed it out of there. Sometimes things that appear to be negative can yield great rewards.
Here is a picture of the Southern Red Oak at Kenmore Plantation. This beauty will figure into my upcoming work to be sure.
Many feel that making art of the same subject may be boring. I love revisiting old favorites. Why? Well, It's fun to see if my working style has changed, how my memories of a location may have been altered with time, and also to reactivate fond experiences and feelings from the past.
Just recently, I completed a painting inspired by a visit to a friend years ago. When I went to her home for the first time, my socks were blown off by the beauty of a vacant lot next to her house. After going on and on about the beauty, my friend exclaimed, "That! It's just a bunch of weeds!" Clearly one woman's weeds is another woman's wonder. Here is the progress of the painting, "Kelly's Surprise Revisited."
This would seem a blog post that is self-serving. Please stay with me. Several weeks ago, I asked a studio visitor to tell me his favorite type of art. He replied that he liked the Impressionists and that he had several reproductions of work by Monet on his walls at home. I was saddened by his answer. Don't get me wrong. I am happy that people have nice things to look at in their homes. I just don't understand why they would have reproductions of long dead artists when they can support those who are alive. I know so many talented artists that have work in a wide range of prices, so price needn't be a sticking point. Maybe we just need to think of the benefits of supporting a living artist. Here are 6 reasons to think about:
1. You are getting a very personal, one-of-a-kind piece. You will not likely go into someone else's home and see the exact same thing. Some artists (me included) sell reproductions of their art, but there is only one original. If you buy a reproduction from the artist, you are still not likely to see the work on your friend's walls. To see my print offerings, check out my print shop here.
2. You may be able to have something that can transport you to a place you would like to be. This can be the case with representational work or abstract work. You can even commission art that is of a place that you enjoy. To see the process of a commission I completed with the buyer's desires in mind, take a look here. You may also contact me with a request for a commissioned piece here.
3. You will have something that you love, and that will move with you when you leave the place where you are presently living, unlike the paint color or countertops. The artwork will bring back positive memories and evoke feelings in you for years to come.
4. Art heals. This is huge in today's world that seems to be shredding at the seams. In fact, one of my missions is to help people feel peaceful while viewing my work.
5. If you buy from a local artist, you are helping the local economy. As a self-employed small business owner, I pay a boatload of taxes that help fund our libraries, schools, road projects, etc.
6. Finally, if an artist makes it BIG, you were there at the beginning. How great would it be to tell your friends that you own work by a big 'ole famous artist?
Please let me know if you have more reasons to add to the list. I would love to see them in the comments below!
Art and Life. Here you will find out more about my life as an artist.