Thursday, November 29, 2012

In the wake of it all

Portland Head Light on Sandy's Heels
Original oil painting  18x24"
by Susan Roux

It was the day following the hurricane.  

I was down in Portland helping my husband hang his photography show. It was nearing noon and he wanted to swing by the lighthouse to snap a few photos of the ocean. The sky was dark. Not my idea of a perfect photo shoot day. As we drove in the winding road of Fort Williams Park we could see huge waves spraying off the fort. Wow, I'd never seen spray like that! It must have reached 30' or more in the air. 

I was surprised to see the parking lot so full. Mike is known to be a storm chaser, but I don't usually tag along. Who would have known there were so many storm chasers? Typically he goes on the following day. I'd have a hard time letting him go during a furious storm, though if it were up to him he'd probably be there. Just as we approached the lighthouse, the thick gray sky opened up. Everything suddenly lit up. The lighthouse brightened into a shooting white tower against the blackened sky. Such drama! The ocean appeared strange to me. The roaring sound seemed to overlap itself creating a stereophonic harmonious rhythm. It was filled with unbelievably powerful energy. Relentless energy. I was deeply moved. The froth it stirred resembled whipped cream. From the safety of the tall cliffs I watched in amazement. The sun shone brightly in the opened sky and all of the lovely sea foam sparkled spectacularly. Mike told me it was high tide and he'd planned to be here at this particular moment. Little did he know the clouds would open briefly for all the shutterbugs gathered. 

The drama was so breathtaking, it was beyond words. How could this scene of beauty be the culprit of the disastrous effects only a short day ago? My emotions were mixed. I felt guilty for finding beauty in what caused so much suffering for others. But it was beautiful. Spectacularly beautiful...

The cliffs circle around the foamy area. When we stood facing the huge sprays, it resembled snowballs exploding like giant fireworks. There was so much froth generated that rather than a typical spray splashing, each droplet became a clump of froth. It was a scene like none I've ever experienced. The sunlight created soft delicate shadows within the clusters. I stood there watching and watching. Wave after wave the energy persisted. I prayed for my friends caught in the disaster. I prayed for everyone caught in it.

It's in moments like these that I recognize how tiny we are. Like little specks on a huge planet. The forces of nature are no match for us. I felt humbled. As the ocean persisted my thoughts drifted in so many directions. All the while, viewing spectacular beauty...

Just as we began to return to our car, the sky closed back up and all became dark again. For photographers, it was a gift of light.

Our photographs could not capture the feeling of being there. The sounds, the cold gentle spray reaching us at times, the ocean's strength and energy couldn't be contained in a still shot. Yet we had a record of being there. 

I began this painting that night. It's been difficult trying to capture my emotions from that day. As usual my art photography is lacking and what you see here is just an echo of the actual painting. It is filled with light and every pastel color you could imagine. 

Recently in my post titled Red, I spoke about popular subjects that have been painted over and over again by artists. The Portland Head Light certainly qualifies as one of those. But you can expect that if I paint it, I'll be giving you a different version than what you're used to seeing. This one is no exception. 

I apologize to anyone this may offend. Know that I'm not insensitive to the horror Sandy caused. I just needed to paint and share my own experience, in the wake of it all.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Still life. Really???

Grandma's Tea Set
Original oil painting  20x16"
by Susan Roux

From a teaching point of view, I've been wanting to introduce my students to still life painting for a while now. It requires close attention to values and defined light and shadow patterns. Much like the challenge of doing a figure without the proportions being as important, so long as the overall composition still works.

I wasn't sure how to go about this. Each class meets once a week and it can take a good month to finish a painting. How could I possibly set up a still life that would last that long without being moved? Not to mention any flowers. The other problem I faced was everyone's vantage point would be different. A set-up could be very pleasing from one persons perspective, but very unattractive from another's.

One day the solution came to me.

A photo shoot. Yes, it was that simple.

I'm predominantly a studio painter. I work from images most of the time. Why having images of a still life didn't occur to me is baffling. I did still life work over a decade ago. It fascinated me and made me focus differently than painting landscapes. I enjoyed the challenge a few times a year. Each time, I'd prepare a set-up on my bay window to paint from at the same time of day. It was my time to explore painting from life and I loved the light and colors I'd see.

It came as an unusual thought to paint one from a photograph, but it seemed the perfect solution. So one day I called a student in to help me. Bring along some things that would work in a still life, I said. Much to my surprise, he arrived with a car full of unusual and interesting things. We set up a table in the hallway, the darkest place in the house. A single light source could be brought in. We worked for hours that day, setting up various things on different cloths. Click, click, click went the camera. Artifacts were strewed all over the house by the time we finished.

Those photos sat in my file for at least a month. Last week a class wanted to begin a still life. It hit me that I was perhaps not the best teacher for this, not having done one in so long myself. We began. A loose background and the objects drawn in with paint was the extent of our progress.

I found myself wanting to continue after class, but since I paint along with my students, I couldn't. The next best thing was to do another one on my own. I figured it would really help me direct the class though the process if I did. So here it is. Grandma's Tea Set.

I surprised myself. I don't know if it was the emotion around the memory of my Grandmother or the fact that artists were in and out of my house to paint that day, but something extraordinary seemed to happen.

You work for years trying to establish your own style and define yourself uniquely as an artist. It's odd when you suddenly choose a completely different subject and it falls into place so naturally. The fascination for creating still life feels awakened in me. Where has this desire been hiding all these years?

The artist journey is too complicated to describe in a few phrases. Even to the artist himself, it is full of surprises.

You can expect to see a few more still life paintings show up here. I can't promise they will all turn out like this, but time will tell.

Behind the easel, the adventure continues...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Silent Auction

Billowing Cloud
Original oil painting   16x12"
by Susan Roux

I had lunch at a local brew pub today and learned about a cook who'd been hospitalized with a growing number of problems. What started out as shortness of breath was soon diagnosed with failed kidneys and an enlarged heart. A biopsy attempt went awry and accidently cut an artery in his bladder.

This feels like a scenario from a movie script.

The bartender/waitress at Gritty McDuff's continued to inform us that this unfortunate man has a wife and seven kids. Seven kids? I can't even imagine having seven kids when life is going great. With the holidays right around the corner, the added worry and stress of this situation has people opening their hearts to help out. Don't you just love how giving people can be when someone else is in need? It's the true meaning of Christmas.

I'm donating the above painting for the silent auction which takes place on Black Friday, Nov. 23. If you'd like to put in your bid, please call 207-376-2739.

Thank you for your help.

 Wouldn't it make a lovely Christmas gift for someone on your list???

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Daybreak Silence
Original oil painting  20x10"
by Susan Roux

This is the popular red house on Monhegan Island. Some subjects from the island have been painted over and over again. This is true of this unusual house. It sits on a rock face with a small beach tuck inside my hidden cove. Most of the day, this facade is in shadow. I was stunned early one morning as I walked the silent streets at daybreak to see it lit in glorious golden sunlight.

I've never been a follower. I pride myself for seeing things from a different angle. I've been approached before by artists asking where on Monhegan is a particular scene I've depicted? So when I saw the crimson colored house transformed to a stunning cadmium red in morning light, I knew right away I had to paint it.

It's November already and many of us are thinking of holiday art. The color red is suddenly in the forefront of our minds. I had to chuckle at myself for choosing to paint this now, when clearly it appears to be orange next to a true Christmas red.

It's a lovely red and green scene, isn't it?

You can expect the unexpected from me. I work hard. I feel deeply. I notice things that many others never see. My view is often slanted, skewed. The photos I work from are usually from an angle that would be impossible to capture painting plein air. I like to duck low, perhaps with a few forefront flowers veiling the distance. I tingle with joy at offering people a view they wouldn't usually experience.

So if you're used to seeing this house painted in lovely crimson, my version might look unusual to you. Unusual yes, but not a fantasy. Just remember, early in the day it shines in lit-up beauty!

So are you painting red for the upcoming holiday season?

What shade are you using?