Monday, February 25, 2013

Karen's Cats

I’m allergic to cats  They make my lungs seize up like a loggers hand in a woman’s glove -- a petite woman and a burly logger.  While I’d prefer not to have allergies, they’re not without positive virtues.  They may have saved my life when they got me discharged from training to be a Naval aviator during the fledgling days of the Viet Nam War.  I figure it was one of many examples of my guardian angel watching over me.

I’m not allergic to cat paintings, though.  That’s fortunate because it seems every cat owner who discovers that Karen has a knack for painting felines wants her to paint its portrait.  And so it was that Karen was presented with several snapshots of the recently deceased Fluff.  As usually seems to be the case, the images left Karen wondering about such minor details such as what color were her eyes?  How long was her tail?  It’s a common problem Karen faces in documenting these often (no, always) deceased critters.  In Fluffs case even a magnifying glass didn’t help.  

                                              Fluff       10 X 14 inches       Watercolor

So, while the owner is out-of-town for an extended period, Karen set off painting the portrait of Fluff with only the vaguest clue about what color her eyes were.  With her momentum surging forward, Karen searched the internet and magazine photos for similarly colored cats.  Surely Fluff would have the same colored eyes.  Here’s hoping.

On another occasion Karen was asked to paint Princess Hungry.  This time her idea for the eyes ended up with the “subtle” suggestion -- No.  Fortunately a little coaching from Princess Hungry’s owner led to a successful conclusion of this portrait.  Maybe Karen shouldn’t have complied.  Then we could have kept the piece in our house for me to enjoy a hypoallergenic cat.

                                      Princess Hungry       10 X 14 inches           Watercolor

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Pass Revisited

Through much of the 1970s my favorite playground lay a handful of miles up the road -- in a lightly discovered notch in the Talkeetna Mountains.  There, in an area called Hatcher Pass we built igloos in which to spend winter nights and cross country skied up every valley we could access while I chased ptarmigan all over the hillsides with my camera.

Then Hatcher Pass got discovered.  Today you can go online and see trail conditions in areas where we simply skied anywhere we wanted.  We used to check conditions by eyeballing the mountains from Palmer.  You now pay to park where we just pulled off the road to spend the day without seeing another sole.  Areas are zoned for motorized and non-motorized use.  Trails are “groomed” in winter.  We were spoiled.  And yet, looking at the area it still looks mostly unspoiled.  It took regulations to keep it that way.

I painted “Springtime Near the Pass” using photos I took in early June several years ago as a reference.  It’s of an area across the Little Susitna River guarded by a necklace of alders.  I’ve never been up there.  The alders are too thick -- the Little Su too swift unless it’s frozen.

                               Springtime Near the Pass  12 X 16 inches  Alkyd on Gessoboard

However, I have been on that hillside further up the drainage.  On sunny March days I learned to glass the slopes from across the valley looking for slightly warmer (than snow) white blobs on the south side of alder and willow thickets.  Ptarmigan!  Off I’d go on skis in search of the ultimate ptarmigan photo.  White-tailed ptarmigan were particularly tame.  So tame that I once photographed a friend actually touching one after I took its picture alongside the tip of my ski. 

So in “Springtime Near the Pass” I had to include a couple of ptarmigan.  In spring colorful male Willow Ptarmigan sit in the tops of alders or willows -- I suppose declaring their territory for all the world to know.  Just check one out.  Like a child in a nursery he’ll tell you it’s all his.  His drab female companion can be found modestly waiting nearby on the ground.  Of course she must be impressed.  In this painting my Willow Ptarmigan is small, the territory big.  That’s how I feel in these unspoiled corners of Alaska.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Where the Ravens Are

When it comes to painting, Karen has three speeds.  Full speed ahead, (get out of the way, clear the decks because I’m fired up); all manner of preparation; and dead stop.  When she’s on a roll, there’s no slowing her.  Karen’s creativity awes me.

She was in the full speed mode when she painted her diptych “One Last Thing.”  At a friends suggestion, she went to a workshop with local artist Doris Olsen whose workshops focus on one kind of critter or another.  While the instructor and rest of the class watched in awe, Karen painted “And One Last Thing” at the “Raven workshop.”   Karen took the workshop as a way to branch out into acrylics.  Obviously she flowed from watercolors to acrylics with ease.

                           One Last Thing    Two 10 X 10 inch paintings    Acrylic on Canvas

Karen’s preparation side is exemplified through rearranging the furniture in her studio or through her photography.  Fortunately, photography trumps.   For example, I found a note today signed with a quick sketch of a raven.  The note simply said, “At Dump.”  Yes, when she’s into ravens, Karen goes where the ravens are.  I wonder how many guys in this country can say their wife hangs around at the dump?  However, you may see some postures of ravens she captures today in future paintings set in our local forests.  Then again, knowing Karen, she could make a wonderful work of art depicting a wise raven at the dump reading a discarded magazine.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Great Chocolate Chip Cookie Fire

Earlier this week I eagerly stood behind Karen as she opened the oven door.  I tend to do this whenever she bakes cookies and this batch of the chocolate chip variety was no exception.  My strategy: dart in to steal a cookie -- OK, maybe two or three -- when she loads the next cookie tray.  

This time, however, Karen grazed the hot oven rack with her hand.  With a yelp and demonstration of her lightening reflexes half the cookies skidded off the cookie sheet tumbling down to the bottom of the oven.  Landing on the glowing heating unit they instantly burst into flames.  The oven lit up as six flaming cookies illuminated it’s dark recesses.  With absolutely no coordination we eventually returned the still flaming delicacies back onto the cookie sheet where Karen finally blew them out.

Now, I couldn’t help but reflect on how many units of energy (commonly referred to as calories) were packed into each of those cookies.   And I wondered how long it would take my body to burn them up with my significantly slower metabolic rate.  From there I reflected back to my Boy Scout days when I struggled to find dry kindling never knowing I could just light a chocolate chip cookie.  Perhaps we should keep a few on hand for the next power outage when our flashlights hide where I last misplaced them.  No, that wouldn’t work.  I’d just eat them.

Yes, this section of a painting I did years ago is not very good and although it was great fun to paint, it is unlikely to ever see the light of day again.  However it’s the only painting I have ever done that includes a chocolate chip cookie, a flammable substance the attributes of which I hope the TSA never discovers.  How sad to think of boarding some future flight as the TSA inspectors munch away on my seized contraband.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Art by the Inch

It's time to activate our blog so we decided to use a recent event in Petersburg as a springboard.  WAVE (Working Against Violence for Everyone), a local nonprofit, staged a fundraiser last weekend called Art by the Inch.  The idea: local artists were asked to create 22 X 30 inch pieces with the idea they would be cut up into sizes requested by purchasers at $1.00 per square inch.  Purchasers used pre-cut mats of various sizes to select the area of the paintings they wanted.  

I (Don) went for the gusto, simply painting a single painting which I secretly hoped would be purchased in its entirety.  Naive me.  That required one if the 100 to 150 attendees to really want that painting in the hour and a half available before the decisions had to be made.  Karen planned ahead, creating five paintings of ravens, each one with a white border so there was no guessing and no waste.  The practicality of her dad, Edgar Groth was not lost on Karen.

                     Winter in Gnomeland   22 X 30 inches  Alkyd on watercolor paper by Don

                        Raven Montage  22 X 30 inches  Acrylic on watercolor paper  by Karen

In the end, all of Karen's ravens sold which disappointed me because I wanted to purchase the one on the lower right.

Of course any of the others would also have pleased me no end.

Karen's were all spoken for as well as all parts of paintings by Pia Reilly and Doris Olsen before anyone cut into mine.  I'm told it's because no one wanted to cut it up.  Anyway, in the end two sections were taken -- roughly as shown here.

I don't have a photo of this final selection, since was in vertical format, but this gives you an idea that it contains the two gnome boys dropping snowballs. -- the lower one on two camouflaged deer, the upper one on the lower boy.

This one is of the gnome father on a sled with his son being towed at a high rate of speed by a porcupine.  Mama is skijoring behind the sled.

At the end of the gala evening, Karen decided  we should save the top of my painting.  Carey Case, one of the event organizers offered it to us for free, but since this was a fund raiser for a cause we believe in, we purchased my own painting -- well, a piece of it anyway.  So here's what we brought home:

The ever creative, extreme right-brained Karen turned it upside down and pronounced that she likes it better that way.  And so it rests on our living room mantle in the inverted position.   You decide which way you prefer.