Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Making Of Bountiful World


Creating a body of work is entirely different than making just one painting. A thread must connect the paintings together in a way that allows the viewer to find a connection between the pieces. In my very few years as a professional artist, having an underlying theme behind the paintings makes it all so much more meaningful than a standalone piece. Not only does it help me name the works (the hardest part of my job), but it gives me purpose and inspiration even on the days that don't seem so easy. This year the theme is directly tied to the natural world I so desperately love. Behind my love is a deep gratitude towards nature and all of the amazing gifts it unconditionally offers to each and every one of us. It's all there for us - love, comfort, health, growth, peace - if only we'll take a step outdoors. And for that I am eternally grateful for the Bountiful World that we live in.


"Good Medicine" hanging on my outdoor easel behind the studio
When Joe Norman and I first began discussing the title of our 2014 show at Gallery MAR in Park City, UT, we both shared what we were working on and the underlying themes. Nature was the connecting thread between us and as chance would have it, our show opened the day after Thanksgiving. We decided to share our gratitude for all of the bounty that Nature gives us. We decided on "Bountiful World" as it spoke to both of us and the work we were trying to achieve.

From a snow storm in June
My home is located in an aspen grove in the mountains. I live in the clouds, fall with the rain, move with the migration patterns, bloom with the leaves, rotate with the stars, am moody like the wind, and melt in the sun's warm glow. We have this sort of intimate way of life here in the mountains. Some days, when it's blowing sideways 60 mph and I can't shovel snow fast enough, it can be difficult, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I understand that not everyone can live this way, but I think its important to share my experience.

Instagram inspiration for the painting "Present"
This summer I read, The Nature Principle, by Richard Louv, who documents studies that conclude how much nature can help people - either heal, reconnect, grow closer to their family, be smarter, think clearer and so on. I get to spend a lot of time outdoors and I know from personal experience a hike after a challenging day makes everything so much better. Living here in Park City makes it easy to get out and enjoy everything nature has to offer. It is not so easy to do that in a busy city surrounded by concrete, when you have a long commute, a busy job, or you're miles away from open space.

Sketches for "Mature Growth" and "A Thousand Blessings"
There's this idea forming in my head to help people find connections with nature - I don't know what that means yet, but I'm exploring it now through my art and want to use that as a way to help others find peace. I want others to know what its like when the sun breaks through the clouds after it's snowed a foot. I want people to feel the peace of walking through the woods on a calm day. I want you to know that its not scary to be outside during a storm - that in fact, it's incredible to be in the elements, being blown about and not be harmed. I want you to feel the safety of being surrounded by a stand of pines and the chance to forget everything except how the breeze sounds as it blows through a grove of aspens.

Watercolor studies for "A Thousand Blessings" and "Mature Growth"
I started working on this body of work in the summer and really getting after it in August. To begin, I planned out how many paintings I wanted to complete, drew up a list of sizes and sent that to Matt, so he could build frames. I brainstormed feelings, ideas, and concepts that related to nature and all the things it gave me - like energy, health, calm, peace, renewal, forgiveness, love, and so on. This doesn't necessarily tell me what to paint, but this tells me how to paint and I like to infuse my work with these concepts so that embedded in each painting, there is this feeling. Just like you might infuse vodka with vanilla or a hot chili or even a cucumber - when you taste it, you immediately get a sense of that without even knowing the ingredients in my recipe. At least that's my goal.

All of my paintings start from a real place - often when I was out in a storm. I use images from that experience to start my composition - sometimes I add trees or subtract them, but only to add to the overall feeling I'm trying to achieve. Then I make a sketch, plan how many layers, where the mountains and trees go, and what affect I want in each layer.

Various watercolor studies
With a plan in hand, I work on a watercolor study, which is mostly to make sure I know what colors I want and if my composition will actually work. I am glad this is part of my process now as it helps me understand the painting even better. The studies are even more important for the larger paintings to ensure I get the scale right before I even start my first layer of wax.

For example, here is the evolution of the painting Awe & Wonder, a diptych of two panels that total 36x80 in.

Inspiration for "Awe & Wonder"
This is the original photo I started from, a simple image of trees that I took while out on a cross-country ski with Cooper last spring. It was quiet, the clouds were slowly rolling and it was peaceful day.

Four-stage plan for "Awe & Wonder"
From there, I took those trees and drew out a plan according to the size of painting I wanted to create. This sketch helps me understand the composition of each layer and how they build upon each other.


Based on my sketch and knowing what colors I wanted, I created this watercolor study.

Once I was happy with the study, I began on the panels and started with a base of wax and then on my layers - painting trees, smearing in color, then topping with a layer of wax. Periodically, I put the panels together to see if it all worked together.

"Awe & Wonder" leaning up against the studio upon completion
The process, for me, is the important part. I can't create the end result without going through all those steps, which ultimately add up to the final painting. Its kinda like how nature works - building from the ground up, adding different organisms and materials, then mixing in weather and light. It's complex and yet, all very simple at the same time. Nature is layer upon layer of biology, systems, and complex networks, but when you take a step back and pause, you can appreciate the resulting beauty.

Bountiful World opens at Gallery MAR in Park City on November 28th and lasts through mid-December. Please join me at the opening celebration from 6-9pm on Friday, November 28th.