Thursday, March 31, 2011

Painting with Plants

The miniature irises in my garden are the first to herald the coming Spring. From that point until the first freeze a battle ensues. My drive to paint pitted again a passion to dig in the dirt. My garden is an ever evolving living canvas. Plants are my paints. I play with their colors, textures and placement in much the same way. I have favorites that I come back to year after year, but new plants are explored with some succeeding, some failing. It's a learning process.

This past weekend I made my first nursery run of the year though I didn't intend to plant yet. Past experience taught me that waiting until the right time to plant often meant missing out on the best selection from those who were jumping the gun and buying too early. Particularly when it comes to the coleus that I always plant in my shaded bed. Right now they are filling the kitchen counter after the temperature dropped 30 degrees the day after I bought them (but I got what I wanted).

After I loaded up the two-tiered cart with plants at the nursery, I realized that I didn't have the strength to push it up an incline to go toward the area to pay. I get the most irritated at my illnesses when I'm caught off guard. I forget that I don't have the strength to do things I used to. The cart wasn't THAT heavy. An employee came by and offered help, which I accepted, though irrationally, I felt inept that an older woman was having to help me. I was compelled to explain that I had illnesses and was a little weak fearing that she might think I was lazy. I should have been able to move a stupid cart. She said that maybe the flowers would make me feel better. Flowers always make her feel better. Yes, I do love my garden and it definitely brings me joy.

This is when I came to a second realization of how my garden is a reflection of me. First, of course, it's another form of art. Another outlet for creativity. Secondly, the state of my garden also mirrors the state of my health. I thought about when we first moved into the house. The yard was wild, natural. Trees, yucca and cactus. Rock on the ground. No grass. I didn't want to tame it completely just provide some structure and places for plants that needed actual dirt to grow. I started excavating and building. Hauling rocks around. Bringing in dirt. Nothing could stop me. As I got sick, the beautiful garden I built suffered neglect. I'd try to work in it. At one point I couldn't last 15 minutes pulling weeds without total exhaustion. The summer I spent 6 weeks in the hospital, the summer I nearly died, my garden was drying up, brown with neglect, only the hardiest plants stood a chance. When I returned home, I was shocked at the change in the way it looked, but I also was unrecognizable to those who knew me. Even to myself. Slowly the garden and I are recovering. The damaged parts of ourselves regrowing together. Both of us flowering.

About the painting:

This piece, "Mum Shadows," is from a photo I took last Fall in my garden. The mums grow next to a sandstone boulder and I was attracted to the long blue shadows they cast onto the rock. They are of equal importance to this piece as the flowers themselves. I likely painted the first flower 5 different times trying to work out the best method of portraying the petals to stay true to the plant. Unlike the uniform, structured pots of mums that can be purchased each fall, I like to let mine grow back year after year so that they take on a more natural appearance. This piece will be on display

in the historic downtown square in Granbury, Texas for the Gardens of Granbury and Glen Rose painting and photography show April 27th through May 1st at Granbury Square Plaza. Stop by. I'll be painting both Friday and Saturday nights. I haven't signed it yet. I'm fighting with myself on whether it should horizontal or vertical

"Mum Shadows"


Acrylic on board


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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Brain Stuck in Overdrive!

At some point in my life, I forgot how to turn my brain off. That may not seem like much of an issue at first. I tend to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time and have become a master multi-tasker. The problem is that when I get what I need to do done, I just move on to something else or come up with more things to do. Never just...stop.

As a child I would lay in the grass in the backyard and stare up at the sky. I would swear I could feel the earth turning and the hear the sound of air molecules moving. I felt the sun. I remember how when I closed my eyes my field of vision was a wash of red from the sun penetrating my eyelids and its blood vessels. Watching the sun move lower in the sky, I studied the way the changing light altered the way the surrounding landscape looked and felt. I say 'studied' but it was more through osmosis. Not some conscious, meticulous thought process, just feelings and impressions soaking into my soul.

The last couple of weekends have been quite nice and I've opened up the windows in the house. My drawing table is next to the door leading out into our screened porch. I opened it all the way. At some point I became aware of the breeze flowing through the room, the sound of birds singing, windchimes tinkling and I stopped painting for a moment. I felt a part of the Earth again. A connection I've been missing for some time now. I felt a calmness. It felt good.

When my husband and I went to South Carolina last November we spent a lot of time outdoors, but my brain was in full gear. Analyzing the surrounding landscape. Camera in hand. Looking for compositions for potential paintings. I never just stopped to enjoy myself without self-applied pressure to accomplish something.

Lately, I've been thinking about my responsibilities. Some necessary and unavoidable. I have to work a day job. I have to have the medical insurance. Fortunately, as a Graphic Designer I have a job that feeds my creative needs. I have to paint too. I just do. It's who I am. I am a driven person, and everything I've taken on I can accomplish, but at what price? I have chronic illnesses. They do impact me and I need to admit that to myself. Taking down time for my benefit alone is something that I NEED to do. Not fill up every minute of every day. Self-induced stress can only be doing harm.

On the commercial side, you have to be creative on demand to succeed. Not wait for 'inspiration' and I firmly apply this philosophy to Fine Art. At the same time, though, I believe that to keep the ideas flowing, I may need to take a step back in order to move forward. Clearing the conscious mind will leave room for the subconscious to breathe new life and creativity into the process.

There's an achievable balance here...somewhere. I need to get off this tightrope I'm walking onto solid ground and find it. One step back and 2 steps forward. I'll get there and hopefully calmer, happier and healthier than I am now.

About the painting:
This is the view from my back deck. One of our notorious Texas thunderstorms had just passed over. The low sun turned the clouds lavender and orange. Bee Creek is a natural creek (though artifically widened at points) that leads into Lake Granbury.

"Storm Clouds Over Bee Creek"
-Granbury, Texas
Acrylic on Board
16" x 12.25"
note: dimensions are unframed size comes framed

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Science of Art

While flipping channels trying to find something to watch other than CSI or Law and Order...our defaults when nothing else seems to be on (and those shows are ALWAYS on), I ran across a news show that did a small piece on mirror neurons in the brain. I have a fascination with all things Science, so I was immediately drawn in. When you are performing an action, let just say bouncing a ball, certain neurons in your brain fire. Scientists discovered that if you watch someone else bouncing a ball, some of the same neurons still fire and if you even hear the sound of a bouncing ball those 'mirror' neurons fire in response. Our brains seem to be forming a simulation of the action in our minds. We experience it almost as if we were actually doing it. It's also been shown that if you watch someone getting poked with a needle, that this mirror system in the brain can cause neurons associated with pain to fire. You didn't actually get stuck. It may be all in your mind, but it causes a real physical response.

So what does this have to do with art. Many researchers now believe that the mirror neurons are responsible for our ability to empathize. Empathy is defined as the identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings and motives. You saw someone stuck with a needle and feel badly for them and the pain they had to experience. I think that without empathy, art wouldn't have the impact it does. Great works of art can certainly run you through a whole gamut of emotional responses. Bold brush stroke or vivid colors in an abstract might make you identify with the artist and imagine them angrily painting. If the work is figurative, the facial expression or pose of the figure will cause you to identify with the subject of the painting rather than the artist.

The next time you are at admiring a piece of art, thank those mirror neurons.

About the Painting:-click here to learn more about this painting
"Wednesday's Child"
Acrylic on Board
16" x 24"
note: dimensions are unframed size
comes framed

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Friday, March 11, 2011

My Heart to Japan

I had my blog all ready for today, but in the wake of this morning's earthquake and tsunami in Japan, my blog doesn't really seem all that important anymore. Let's just all focus on those affected by Mother Nature's fury and do what we can to help.

Flowers are a sign of rebirth and given in death. I wish the those impacted a rapid recovery and we mourn your dead with you.

"Purple Iris Trio"
Acrylic on Board
4" x 6"

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Xeric Beauty" acrylic painting by Rebecca Zook

"Xeric Beauty-a Texas Garden"
Acrylic on Board
note: dimensions are unframed size
comes framed

A little scene from my heat-tolerant garden.
Ice Plant, Catmint, Liatris (not in bloom) and Mexican Hats

Art As Language

I looked up videos teaching ASL (American Sign Language) online and came across this statement, "250 signs will cover 90% of what is commonly spoken." I was shocked and not entirely sure what to think. The vastness of our language gives us the ability to communicate such subtle nuances of meaning and emotion. I relish the nuances and the creative use of language. 250 signs? Well, I guess if all you want to accomplish is basic communication, some might see this as a good thing.

Art is similar. Anyone can pick up a brush and paints and given a little instruction and time come up with a pleasing piece. I think the best painters, though, aspire to much more. They are able to evoke a 3-dimensional space, movement or emotion from the viewer with deliberate brushstrokes. Small and tight or large and loose, each has the potential to draw you farther into the work or convey a specific emotion just like words in a novel. It's amazing to me to look at a flat 2 dimensional piece and have a response, to feel something. When I get a response like that from a stranger to a piece I created, it's truly the ultimate compliment.

Space, tone, texture, color, composition, balance, symmetry, movement...just a few tools that painters have at their disposal and of course each medium has its own inherent qualities to consider. Mastery of them can take a lifetime.

Keep exploring. Never stop learning. That's my plan.

About the painting:

"Late Lunch"

16" x 12" (art dimensions not including frame)

Acrylic on board


A scene from a BBQ restaurant in Keller, Texas

See all of Rebecca's art at