Intimate Portraits of Overlooked Things

Magnolia Seeds I, Pastel, 20 x 20 in.

I was recently delighted to come across this video of painter Wayne Thiebaud (one of my very favorite artists) talking about his life and work on the occasion of his recent retrospective at the San Jose Museum of Art. For Thiebaud, painting will never die because it is an activity that is essentially human and offers an intimacy not found elsewhere. He goes on to say:

“If you love being a painter and you can forget the idea of ‘Art,’ I find that useful, because that means you can paint any damn thing you want and [in] any style so long as you do it well and [you] are committed to what it is and willing to stand up for it.”

But to paint well, he advises artists to see slowly, to paint slowly, and to live more slowly.

I go through phases where all I want to do are quiet, meditative studies of small seeds, pods, pine cones, and nuts that I gather on nature walks. Both the walks and the painting make me feel whole and centered. When a study is finished, I have come to know my tiny, easily-overlooked subject on a cozy level.

I actually discovered these magnolia seed pods in our front yard. Not being from the South, they seem bizarre and alien to me, like something out of a B sci-fi flick. At the same time, they are majestic and life-affirming on this scale.

Magnolia Seeds II, Pastel on Paper, 20 x 20 in.

Pine cones and acorns are more familiar, bringing to mind everything I miss about autumn in my home state of Ohio: the new school year, the nip of cold in the air, football games, and trips to the country to buy apples.

Observing such small things in detail opens up worlds. Consider that the design of a pine cone is geometrical and patterned and yet it is very imperfect. No two are alike. Live oak acorns are amazing to behold in the sunlight. They are perfectly smooth and shiny and reflect every color in their environment, from the crystal-clear blue of the sky to the color of your shirt.

Pine Cone Study I, Acrylic on Paper, 6 x 12 in.
Pine Cone Study II, Acrylic on Paper, 6 x 12 in.
Pine Cone Study III, Acrylic on Paper, 6 x 12 in.
Acorn Study (Turkey Oak), Acrylic on Paper, 6 x 12 in.
Acorn Study (Live Oak), Acrylic on Paper, 6 x 12 in.

Well, this has been a lovely, quiet break from working on more ambitious projects.. Time to get back to it… but slowly. Mindfully.

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2 thoughts on “Intimate Portraits of Overlooked Things

  1. Completely agree — seeds are so awesome! There is so much to see that is so tiny! If you ever get a chance to look through a “dissecting microscope” it is amazing. I think you would love it. (they have them at our local Natural History Museum you can use to view their collections of insects etc.) Love your pine cone study 1 and magnolias especially.

    Rachel (from ASG Team)

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