To Paint More Loosely

Although I consider myself an abstract or sometimes an impressionist painter, one of my goals for this trip to France is to paint more loosely, more abstractly.

All too frequently in a quest to represent a subject with the correct perspective, color, and composition, I tend to go for precision instead of flow. The countryside of southern France generally consists of two types of landscape. One is rolling hills and fields planted with numerous crops (below, right). The second is hilltop villages or fortrages (below, left). In the following paintings, I wanted to combine some of the essence of both in an abstract way; loosely.

AHM 3 To Paint More Loosely

This is the first abstract landscape (below) that I did here in France (painting #4) and it was fun to do. I liked the feeling of not wanting to be precise. I had the landscape in front of me, I decided on my palette, and I just let the paint flow. I did very little after the first application of paint. It was fun and I finished it in about half a day. Painting #1 took three days.

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Untitled, #4,acrylic on canvas, 14×14-inches. ©Ann Hart Marquis

The second one was a little more challenging because I wanted to change my palette somewhat, but not completely. I also wanted to try painting in less intense colors. This is how it turned out. I also did it relatively quickly.

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Untitled, # 5, acrylic on canvas, 14×14-inches. ©Ann Hart Marquis

In these two paintings I primarily used a palette knife, which allows me to to just layer one color of paint on top of another until I get the effect that I want. My next painting is going to be more architectural, so I will see how much I choose to stay away from using a brush. I am just having fun with little thought of how anyone will respond to what I paint. But I always appreciate your feedback.

Total Sensual Experience

Many of you know how much I love France. This week was no exception. It was filled with morning walks in the nearby fields, a wonderful farmer’s market, a village antique sale, and painting almost every day for about five hours.

I also walk around a nearby lake (below) as much as possible because it is in a lovely forested area with water gushing into it from a local river. It takes about an hour to complete the circuit.

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Lake Saint Ferreol

France is a total sensual experience for me. Every morning I open the old green wooden shutters to my second floor bedroom and let the sun shine on the mural that goes from floor to ceiling, which means that it is approximately 12×6-feet. Carole Watanabe, the artist who owns the house, painted it. It is a copy of a Matisse painting. Seeing it every morning is a joyous experience.

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Mural on my bedroom wall

My housemate gets a view of this mural that is about 5 x 6 feet.

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Polish Madonna

I am now on my fifth painting and I am about to run out of white paint. I can never have enough white paint. I allowed myself to do one tree painting. It was a necessity for me. There are so many lovely old trees around this area.

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Painting #3

Painting #2 is in limbo due to a possible gesso problem, and paintings 4 and 5 will be included in next week’s post.

I still have no names for any paintings, so feel free to offer suggestions.

Rooftops of Soréze.

I have been in France for 14 days now and I am loving it here. I started painting the day after my friend Gail and I moved into the house in the village of Soréze. It is a medieval village. All of the houses are three stories. During the middle ages, the bottom floor was used to house the farm animals so that they could contribute to the warmth of the house.

I paint in a lovely studio on the third floor that is quite large and has windows that open onto views of nearby rooftops. It also has a great view below of the cobbled stone street. It has skylights so the painting light is perfect. There are exactly 30 stair steps from the first floor to the studio. I go from the bottom to the top about 8 times a day.

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Third floor studio

Here is the first version of my first painting in process. When I took the photo, I thought that I was about half finished. It takes me a little while to get into the French painting groove.

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Beginning of First Painting, Soréze, 2014

Here is the next version.

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Revised version

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Final revision in Soréze

I never say that I have finished a painting here because when I get home it will be stretched onto wooden stretchers bars by my stretching department, better known as Tim Anderson. Now I have canvas taped on a plywood board with green Frog tape, the color of which is somewhat annoying. By the time I get home, which will be in about a month, my paintings sometimes need a little touch up.

No title has come to mind for this painting. Any suggestions?

PS: Here is an image of the lettuce that we buy at the farmer’s market every Saturday at a nearby town. it makes three salads for two people.

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Market day lettuce

Work in Progress

Guest Post by Dotty Seiter

A painter sometimes copies a master’s work to explore aspects of painting-Imitation of a Masterpiece.  Similarly, I appropriated the structure and gist of master poet Billy Collins’ I Ask You to give words to my experience of a total-immersion painting weekend with artist/teacher Ann Marquis and longtime best friend Sylvia in May.

 I Ask You
What scene would I want to be enveloped in more than this one,

a sunny morning in May at Sylvia’s kitchen table,
floor-to-ceiling window panes letting in light,
pale walls cocooning our makeshift studio space,
no computer in sight,
my hand held high on a paint brush?

It gives me entrée into here and now—
the play of light and reflection on the glass table,
cadmium yellow and mars black yielding to my palette knife—
while past the backyard oaks the world spins round,
ideas, thoughts, chores, and projects swirling in a frenzy.

Beyond this table there is nothing that I need,
not even a hands-off job with passive income,
or a house by the ocean with an enormous front porch.

No, it’s all here,
muddied rinse water in a plastic container,
a glazed vase holding dried lotus pods,
a nine-inch color wheel,
not to mention Ruth’s still life leaning against the wall,
and the way three hearts—each a different hue and value—
are painting together in perfect harmony.

So forgive me if I cock my head now
and watch Ann bring acrylics to life on her canvas
while my eyes light up in my hand—
sparklers after dark on a summer evening—
and my attention lasers to a whole universe
made of one small canvas
and roughly a million possibilities.

I had no idea when I headed into the weekend with Ann and Sylvia that painting—something I’d never done before—would grab me by the hand and hold fast. No idea.

I returned from Chicago and immediately set up a makeshift studio in my home, north of Boston. I paint nearly every day now, even if only for a few minutes, even if my already over-busy schedule doesn’t allow. When I paint, time falls away completely. I remember this kind of timelessness from when I was eight years old, clambering over the rocky shoreline in front of a summer cottage in Connecticut while a wordless conversation took place between my eyes and feet, and all senses were alert and activated. I pick up a paintbrush now and enter that kind of zone again. All that exists is what is in front of me—that which my hands, eyes, and mind create.

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North Rustico Lighthouse

My first paintings, all five of them!, were mostly realist—pods in a vase, a pear, a tree, an apple, a lighthouse. The lighthouse, in particular, is highly representational, capturing a likeness of one that sat a few hundred feet from the cottage where my husband Dave and I savored a sweet vacation together on Prince Edward Island early in June.  In painting the lighthouse I grappled with perspective, shadow and detail, and I was pleased with its photographic qualities.

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Keeper, Dotty Seiter, 2014

But … something in me was restless. I wanted to paint that lighthouse again. Quickly, playfully, inventively. I wanted to venture into what I think of as impressionism, not that I even know exactly what impressionism really is.

I was paralyzed for a few days. I couldn’t think of how to start. If I didn’t paint exactly what I saw in the photo I was working from, i.e. the white clapboards, the red roof, the deep blue sky, the green grasses, the accurate-as-I-could-get-it shape of the structure, what would I paint?

This, it turns out!

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First Impression, Dotty Seiter, 2014

I completed a first draft in an hour.  That alone was bold and freeing for me.  Though I later fussed a bit with details, I had taken an important step away from my go-to inclination to be literal.

Now I’m restless again. Much as I might have loosened up with my second lighthouse painting, it is by no means loose! Painting keeps pushing me to let go, make mistakes, start again, make more mistakes, stop being tight and stingy, stretch past comfort into new territory. I’m calling First Impression complete and moving on, perceiving with enlivening recognition that whether any one painting is complete or not, painting is a gateway for me and I will always be a work in progress!

The Unexpected Gifts of Travel

Two weeks ago, I boarded a plane in Albuquerque, New Mexico and arrived relatively rested the next day in Rome, where I got on a train to Poggio Mirteto, an hour north. I was then met by one of the owners of the B&B La Torretta, located in the small village of Casperia where there are no cars. Casperia is all up and down walking on cobblestones. It is 1,000 years old and feels like it. Every day I walked up and down numerous narrow walkways trying to walk them all. It was a lovely experience.

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Casperia, Italy

One week ago, I arrived in France. As soon as I stepped off the plane in Toulouse, I felt a change. Although Italy was lovely, I did not feel at home there as I do in France. Even in the countryside, it just feels different although much of it looks the same. I was immediately greeted by the ubiquitous sunflowers that are everywhere in southwestern France. There are not just acres of them, there are miles, and they are huge. There are so many that to paint them seems to me to be a cliché. I have just started painting now that I am settled in a lovely home in the medieval village of Sorèze.

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Ann Hart Marquis- French Sunflowers

With its challenges and marvels, its exquisite food and menus, and trying to speak French, being away from home for a while makes me feel marvelously refreshed and renewed.

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Ann Hart Marquis, French Sunflower with bee

What’s in a Name?

Guest Post by Dotty Seiter

“What are you going to name it?” Ann said.

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Leaning into Lessons at the Edge of the World, Dotty Seiter, 2014

“Oh.”   I paused.  “I don’t know. I haven’t even thought about that.”

I looked at my painting. A title bubbled up, and I started laughing so hard I couldn’t speak.  Every time I tried to tell Ann and Sylvia my thought, a fresh wave of hysteria swept over me in paroxysms—I haven’t had that cathartic a laugh in a good while!

I’ve never named a painting before. In fact, I’ve never painted a painting before.

As it turns out, I took the idea that suffused me with hilarity—Tree at the Edge of the World—and discovered its deeper truth. My painting is now entitled Leaning into Lessons at the Edge of the World.

As you’ll no doubt notice, the title captures elements reflected visually—a tree listing to one side, true to the one outdoors that inspired me, and the seeming absence of much in the way of background, which sparked my gasping for air as tears of hilarity ran down my face.

What the title identifies further is the essence of my adventure. Over the weekend I had put myself at an edge of my experiential world; I picked up a paintbrush for the first time and let myself lean into mixing colors and putting acrylics on canvas to see what I might discover.  About painting. About myself.


Painting for the Complete Beginner, Summer

This past Thursday was the last summer class of my University of New Mexico, Continuing Education class, Painting for the Complete Beginner. It was an enjoyable and fun class for me to teach. I enjoyed seeing how far students had come in such a short period of time. I was so impressed by how the new painters took their tasks seriously and worked so hard. Most did homework on their own and many finished paintings at home that were started in class.

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Red Grapes, Patricia Lowrey, 2014

They started the class with just three colors: Cadmium Red and Yellow and Cobalt Blue plus white and black acrylic paint. The first night they experimented with color mixing, then I gave them each a lemon to paint, which was challenging for some, successful for all. In the following classes they were free to paint whatever they wanted.

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Hawaiian Flowers, Deborah Maestas, 2014

At the end of the last class we displayed all available paintings that had been done. I think the painters were quite proud of themselves and somewhat surprised at how far they had come in 12-hours of instruction time. I was certainly proud of them.

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Autumn Birch Trees, Linda Faust, 2014

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Pretty in Blue, Jeannette D. Sanchez, 2014

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Yellow Rose, Betty Gatton, Spring, 2014

Creating Titles for My New Paintings

Last Friday night I had the pleasure of entertaining some of my long-time collectors in my home. Other than drinking Champagne, I asked them to help me create titles for some of my new paintings as well as for the series. Since I do not title my paintings before I start them, I was interested to see what they saw in the paintings and if they understood what I was trying to convey. I think that they did.

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Ann Hart Marquis Salon, before guests arrived.

All of the paintings were numbered and each guest was given a corresponding paper to write suggestions for as many titles as they wished. They came up with some very lovely and clever ideas and I think that they enjoyed the process. I know that I did.

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Ann Hart Marquis, (Patches of Paradise, not on website)

Later in the evening I was asked to describe what each painting meant to me and the feeling I had as I painted each piece. It was a good exercise for me. I then read all the suggestions to the group. I privately chose the titles later that I thought best described each painting and the series.

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Ann Hart Marquis Salon, before guests arrived.

You can now see all the titles including the series title on my website.

How to Train Your Imagination

Guest Post by Mary Lou Blackledge

What sets humans apart from the many species of life on the planet is our ability to imagine and our desire to create.  When the human brain engages itself in a creative way, looking for inventive possibilities in familiar patterns, new solutions in every field of work and life become possible. No less a cerebral megastar than Albert Einstein wrote, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Our world is looking for new inspiration, but we have to hone our imagination to ignite ourselves and to develop the eyes with which to envision new journeys, new possibilities.

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The Last Eden, acrylic on paper, 36×26-inches. ©Mary Lou Blackledge

The artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement sought to use the power of the unconscious mind as they created their massively innovative works. They believed that simply reporting on what was already visible to the eye was an insufficient starting point. That said, my own initial forays into painting were that of a “pictorial reporter.” For years I focused on representational architectural street scenes. I felt safe doing that. I knew that I could conquer perspective and illustrate the familiar contours of the physical world. But my evolution has called on me to search beyond the familiar, and the safe and the known, for visions that emerge from the unseen portals of consciousness. By sourcing my work from an inner perspective, I aim to create works that unleash my, and your, imaginations.

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Blue Note. acrylic on canvas, 36×30-inches. ©Mary Lou Blackledge

I work with an intense and lively palette. I do not premeditate a composition but instead apply the color with movement and with eyes wide open in surprise and delight. I hope that the viewer will have a similar experience when entering my paintings… a visceral attraction to the colors and then an exploration of the elements suggested by the forms within the composition. I develop many narrative elements within the painting which I hope will be doorways to an individual visual and emotional journey. For example, in my painting “Blue Note,” imagine a hot jazz club in New York City: can you see the clarinet, the ties of the trio of jazz musicians, the noise and heat and movement of the city?

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The Improper Gentleman, acrylic on canvas, 36×30-inches. ©Mary Lou Blackledge

“The Improper Gentlemen” is an amusing portrait (yes, a portrait!) of an outwardly proper gentleman (can you see his little hat, his portly belly, his pressed slacks, his eyes slung absurdly outside his face as if to see better, and… use your imagination now!)  But that is just what I see. Venturing into abstract painting, as an artist or a viewer, is an excellent way to forge into new color or structural territory, but also to learn not to flinch at the metaphysical surprises which always seem to follow a creative seeker… and an excellent way to fertilize your imagination.

A good example of drawing the viewer into an abstract work with narrative elements is my painting, “The Archaeology of Dreams.” It presents as an abstract painting, with layers of color and revealed marks. But a closer look reveals a number of odd and intriguing figures which may, or not, be connected. Is this a story? Is it a dream? I think a good painting is one which draws the viewer in, emotionally and visually. Who is the little girl in the sparkly party dress and why is she peering on her tip-toes through an open door? Who is that lone man jogging slowly through the rain with a large umbrella? Is the girl waiting for him? Who is the woman on the hilltop? Is the waterfall her tears? Why is there a strange tunnel in the mesa and where does it lead? What happened to the abandoned city and why is there a cow in the foreground, drinking placidly from a clear pond?

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The Archaeology Of Dreams, acrylic on canvas, 30×30-inches. ©Mary Lou Blackledge

I trust that you will, as you look at non-representational paintings, allow yourself to travel, to see things that no one else can even imagine.

Dancing on My Canvas

Guest Post by Sylvia Lippmann

I’m not entirely sure what made me write a note to Ann after 40 years of making excuses not to paint. Perhaps it was the fact that my best friend, Dotty, had a personal connection to Ann. Or maybe the upheavals of mid-life had made me acutely aware that life is too brief and precious to ignore things you love. Whatever the reason, the yearning to paint again had become so strong, that I could no longer ignore the inner voice urging me to reconnect with my creative self.

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Sylvia Lippmann, 2009

I found myself pulling up Ann’s website over and over again, until I suddenly felt compelled to take action. Silencing my doubts, I dashed off an email.

Hi Ann, Dotty is one of my oldest, dearest friends, and she introduced me to your work. I am mesmerized by your paintings and would love to be a student of yours. I read on your blog that you recently taught a class of beginners. Although I took a few painting classes in college, I have hardly painted since then. However, at the age of 62, painting is calling to me again. I don’t usually write notes like this (!), but I was pulled to make contact with you.

Much to my delight, Ann responded immediately. Within a week, we had arranged for her to fly to Chicago for some private instruction. As soon as Dotty heard about my upcoming adventure, she decided to join us! The morning after Ann and Dotty arrived, we sat at my kitchen table to plan our “retreat,” as we began calling our time together.

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Sylvia Lippmann, 2009

Every fantasy I ever had about participating in an artists’ retreat was realized! We started each day with a long walk, followed by a healthy breakfast. We then spent the morning painting, with Ann instructing, encouraging, providing feedback, and painting beside us. After lunch, we painted for several more hours, before we each withdrew to a quiet place to meditate.

Refreshed, we painted for a little longer before eating a dinner. Our after-dinner conversation revolved around art and painting and all the other topics women in mid-life talk about. We then went to bed tired, and often over-stimulated!

So, how can I describe what it was like to reconnect with my artistic soul? When I first picked up the paint brush, I felt a little nervous, unsure, rusty. Slowly, old memories started to kick in. My hand remembered how to hold the paintbrush. The experience of applying wet, thick paint to canvas suddenly felt familiar and joyful. My mind swung between over-thinking each color choice to being completely silent. Then came waves of total absorption. Time and place fell away. Nothing mattered except giving free reign to the creative impulse arising inside me. The brush strokes and colors beckoned, and I followed. My body, mind, and spirit danced together on that first canvas.

By the end of the weekend, I was filled with gratitude. I silently thanked myself for the gift of uninterrupted time to paint. I openly thanked Ann and Dotty for their wisdom, support, and companionship. It was wonderful creating beautiful works of art together, but even more wonderful creating sacred space and time in which art could emerge.

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Red Tree in Summer. Sylvia-Lippmann, 2014, completed

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Red Tree in Summer. Sylvia Lippmann, 2014, in process

Moving forward, I know it will be challenging to make painting a priority in my busy life. However, I know I am worth the time it takes to create. The sweetness of our retreat is imprinted on my soul, and no excuses will do.