For decades I have been creating art in circles surrounded by squared edges. When I first made this type of work it was in the mid-1970’s. The circle was most often represented by an apple inside a square or cube. At that time it represented to me the yin and yang, female and male complements to our lives and our characters. The apple was an Eve figure, soft, female, curious, playful and seductive. The boxes were the rules, the male, the limitations, the protection and the containment of her attributes.
Apples in Boxes – A pointillist drawing in ink on paper. c1970’s
I have recently returned to this theme but using flowers from my garden as the subjects rather than apples. It feels so calming to me when I create these voluptuous rounded floral paintings. This peony was the first in a series of exploring again the circle in a square imagery so I named it “Centering” because that is how I feel towards these works. I find my centering in two places, in my studio and in my garden. They completely complement each other, one provided by nature and one in interpreting that vision.
There is a difference between the imagery of then and now. These flowers, though they are encompassed in a square format canvas, they are not contained. They are bursting through the limitations of frame, of edges, of inhibition. They are positive and empowered by their form and by their explosive color. They are neither shy nor retiring. They declare themselves as having established their own space. They are declaring themselves as individuals.
Although my stretched store-bought cotton canvas is already prepared with gesso, I add 3 more layers with a light sanding in between each. This makes the canvas less absorbent in my opinion. Everyone has their own recipe and this is mine. I apply the gesso with a roller if the canvas is big or a large brush if it is smaller.
Once the gesso is dry, which is within the hour of the last coating, I use vine charcoal to outline my composition. Because the charcoal is rather dusty, I blow the excess off using either my breath or an aerosol can of dust remover depending on the size of the canvas.
Next, I then use a thin wash of burnt umber paint and a thinner medium to cover the rough charcoal drawing and begin the shading process. This also fixes the drawing to the canvas & prevents the charcoal from blending further. That layer will dry, depending on the medium you choose, in an hour or a day. I then begin another coat of underpainting using either a warm or cool brown or gray base color. This can either be considered an underpainting or if more detailed and finished it would be called a grisaille. Over an underpainting, I would paint using opaque pigments and over a grisaille, I would be using transparent pigments for glazing.
Once this is dry in 1-4 days depending on the mediums used, I then begin painting with color. This is the very classical beginning to an oil painting that I was taught by my professors during my college years in another place and another time. I’ve always been glad that I was able to receive a formal Art education and it has been the basis of all my work over the years.
The headlines herald the 25th Birthday of the introduction of Photoshop, the photo editing software that almost everyone has heard about and many have used. Photoshop was released on Thursday February 19, 1990, 25 years ago. I, however, began painting electronically years earlier on the Chyron Chameleon Paint System.
1986 Mary Ahern working on the Chyron Chameleon at the Cablevision studios in Woodbury NY.
The Chameleon was a digital painting & editing system complete with dedicated hardware & software aimed at the Broadcast TV & production industry.. Primitive by our current standards but tremendously advanced at that time in the mid-1980’s.
In order to sell a paint system in the ‘80’s, since no one really understood the enormous creative possibilities of computer painting, I did demonstrations & lectures in order to sell this tremendously creative tool. It offered drawing tools & brushes, cut & paste, zoom, a removable hard drive, video outputs and 8 bits of color.
I have made a very good living using Photoshop, amongst other digital imaging programs, but I was able to apply my Artist’s vision first using the tablet & stylus of the Chameleon.
So I wish Photoshop a very Happy 25th Birthday but they are the young kid on the block. I have been digitally painting for 30 years.
The aspect ratio of a painting is the relationship between the height and width of the finished piece. In painting the most common aspect ratio has been 3:4.
Dancing Iris Trio. Mixed Media Painting available in 30×40″ and 18×24″, Standard or Gallery Wrapped.
This means that for every 3 inches in the horizontal/vertical, there would be 4 inches in the other direction. An example would be a 30” by 40” painting. By reducing the size but maintaining the same 3:4 aspect ratio relationship you would have an18x24”, 12×16” or a 9×12” painting.
The aspect ratio remains the same regardless of whether an art work is hung in a horizontal or vertical direction.
This 4:3 aspect ratio is visually comfortable for most viewers and replicates the standard television format that was used until recently. With the advent of HD TV, the standards have changed to a longer screen and a 16:9 ratio is now the flat screen TV norm. This changes the shape or aspect ratio of the rectangle that is viewed by most people on a regular basis.
Pansy Field. Mixed Media Painting. Available in 24×36″, 20×30″ and 16×24″ Standard or Gallery Wrapped
This change in aspect ratio is also reflected in digital photography and in paintings. This new TV standard has increased the popularity of the longer 2:3 ratio. The new sizes in paintings would represent: 8×12”, 12×18”, 16×24”, 20×30”, 24×36”, 28×42” and 30×45”.
Framers use these standard sizes for many of their ready-made frames which is a cost saving to the Art Collector.
I create all my paintings in standard sizes so custom framing is not necessary
Studying Art History seeps into your memory. Countless visits to the many museums and galleries that New York City has to offer has crept into my subconscious. This lifelong study has taken me through so many happy surprises as well as quite a number of dead ends.
Often Artists are asked who their influences have been for their Art style. Trust me, never would I have answered Matisse. I’ve never appreciated his sketchy use of paint, his lack of detail and apparent lack of a “finished” quality to his work.
And then, when I least expected it, I reimagined Matisse’s iconic painting, “The Dance”. Using flowers from my own garden, I picked up the exuberant rhythm that makes his work such a delight. This work is so light, buoyant and a wonderful interpretation of what spring means to me.
As I was creating the composition of Irises I remember somewhere, behind my eyes, trying to make the circular floating connections of the frilly irises that was suspended somewhere in my memory. I have stood so often in front of the Matisse painting at the Museum of Modern Art, loving the composition while not liking the paint quality. I’ve returned so often to view that painting in the original hoping to find what I missed.
I absorbed his painting just by being there and looking. And looking again. And again…
“…man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots,
whose flower and fruitage is the world…” Ralph Waldo Emerson
My paintings actually start in my garden. This is where I grow the flowers, shrubs and trees, which are a part of the workflow of my creative output. The sun and shade play a role in all my compositions.
I actually consider the creative work to be seamless whether at work in the garden or at work in my studios. The up close and personal view of the flowers when I’m weeding, deadheading, trimming and tending allow me the time to become intimately aware of each flower’s details. This is something I like to convey in my work.
Light Blue Iris Germanica
These light blue irises came to dance in the breezes in the front garden, which I can see through the French doors in my living room. Though short lived, their ephemeral character is part of the fun of capturing them in my Art.
Phlox stolonifera, ‘Sherwood Purple’ in front of a Karume azalea in the woodland walks.
The composition of this painting was created using elements from different areas of my garden. The woodland walks with their large hemlock trunks for the vertical accents, which mimic the verticals of the irises. The rare spots of sunshine in the front garden, which hold the irises and many other perennial sun lovers, give me many sources of inspiration during the seasons.
One of the methods I use to visualize my Art is to take snapshots of my models and modify them on my computer. Since I’m not a photographer I only have a small point and shoot camera that I use to take photos in my garden or in my studio.
I took this snapshot of these orange tulips using natural light in my studio
I import these snapshots onto my computer and using Photoshop I delete the backgrounds, modify the colors and otherwise play around with the image. I print the images from my Epson printers onto matte cardstock papers.
Using Photoshop on my Mac, I play around with colors and composition
Then, using Winsor Newton watercolors, I put down my first layer of paint. Once dry I used my set of Prismacolor colored pencils to draw over the watercolor.
In this Mixed Media Art work I used colored pencil over watercolor
For some reason I find this process to be very relaxing and meditative for me. If I need some calmness in my life, I can go to my studio at any time and pick up right where I left off. No fuss, no muss, no bother.
There are so many ways to create paintings. As an Artist who has been creating for over 35 years I have developed a variety of methods to arrive at my finished work. Sometimes it is interesting to get a peek behind the process, so here is one style I enjoy.
Snapshot of some Orange Tulips I used as the basis of this series of Art works
Since I’m not a photographer, I take snapshot of flowers I either buy or grow. I usually select them for color or just for form. I find myself attracted to large bold shapes rather than the more frilly inflorescences. I then decide what mediums I will work in and whether there will be one finished Art work in one or more mediums or whether the work will be part of a series.
I love creating tonal drawings so I often do a finished piece in graphite before I start a painting just because I like the feel of drawing. It also is a great way to work out values of highlights and shading.
Tonal drawing of a tulip. I use a pair of magnifying lenses which I hook onto my bifocals to help me see the details
If the work is part of a series, I need to imagine the size of each piece and the total overall impression I’m looking for. This ups the level of complexity considerably and actually makes for quite a nice challenge to my visual imagination and my technical consistency.
For a series of work I need to choose the size of each work and the size of the overall series.
I also need to create a composition that stands alone as well as works for the series.
I used my altered snapshots to help me come up with my composition in this series
My work must not only be accomplished to my own standards for each piece but it must be consistent across all the work. This can be tricky if you don’t create all the work during the same or close to the same period of time.
The North Shoreian has just published their April Home and Garden issue with my “Single Yellow Daffodil” on the front cover.
A delightful article about my work is featured inside this publication which is a magazine covering the North Shore (of Long Island) Arts, Culture & Politics.
The North Shoreian. April 2009 Home & Garden Issue
This is an exerpt of the article:
Classically trained painter, and Northport native, Mary Ahern, has spent the past twenty-five years studying and mastering digital painting and design. Mary’s interest in digital painting was stimulated when she was working for a company that created graphic technology for use in the television and production industry. Beginning as a salesperson in the early 1980’s, Mary began learning about the newest advances in this medium. As technology progressed, these high-tech digital systems became a practical expense for the small business owner and were readily available. In the early 1990’s, Mary invested in her own system and created her own graphic design company, Online Design. Her company was 100% digital which was unique at a time when paste-ups and mechanicals were still the norm in graphics.
Champagne Poppies on a Brown Background
In addition to graphic design, Mary has combined her interests and talent in painting to create her own style and method of art. Her digital paintings are created by using the computer as her medium. Mary trades in her paintbrushes and paints for a pressure sensitive stylus and graphic tablet…
Mary’s abilities as an artist are not limited to digital painting. As a traditional painter, Mary is very talented. Mary mixes mediums, such as watercolor, oil paints, pastels, colored pencils and graphite, to create her works of art. She has been doing traditional painting and drawing for over thirty years and her work reflects many hours of time and commitment to the art.
In addition to art, Mary is very devoted to growing a private garden. She spends many hours cultivating the soil, planting, pruning and nurturing her flowers. Not surprisingly either, she adds a degree in Ornamental Horticulture to her already impressive resume.
The Artist Mary Ahern with some of her Digital Paintings
Finding something that inspires is one of the most important steps for Mary as an artist. Mary states, “It is very important that I really like the subject that I choose because I spend so much time with it…
Mary’s clear dedication to her garden transpires into her devotion to her art. On Mary’s impressive and self designed website, you can visit her two blogs. One is devoted to art in general, touching on her visits to various locations, book reviews and her journey as an artist. Mary also has a blog devoted to gardening, in which she posts photographs of her beautiful plants as they grow and transform, and even shows the plants alongside her art that she has created in homage to the specific bloom…
If you would like to learn more about North Shoreian Artist Mary Ahern, her garden, her masterpieces or to purchase her work, visit her website: http://www.MaryAhernArtist.com
My Garden and my Art work side by side. Both require me to make aesthetic judgements about composition, scale, color, texture and style. When I’m deciding where to plant the flowers I’ve hauled home on my endless trips to the nurseries it doesn’t seem that much different to me then when I’m deciding how to compose them on a two dimensional surface.
I think about what style I’m looking for, what colors will work together, whether the scale of the placement works for me. I think about the type of flower and texture of the leaves. I make decisions about the 3D composition of the garden much like the 2D composition decisions on a painting.
The garden adds so many additional layers of complexity since the artwork is moving in time with nature, the seasons, the elements, and time. The painting remains caught in a moment.
Capturing that ephemeral moment is so gratifying to me in my Fine Art. I control it, unlike my Garden which is usually out of control.
You can visit this Watercolor painting on my website in The Work or you can buy a print of it in The Store.
I have a number of varieties of White Daffodils growing in my garden but I don’t feel that I ever have enough. Since I am over run by squirrels I try to focus away from crocus and my beloved tulips. (After all, both my parents were born in Holland!) Squirrels consider the bulbs as an entrée and the flowers, if they arrive, as delectable garnish but they leave my daffodils alone.
The abundant shade in my garden causes challenges to many of my daffodil plantings but I still crave the color in early spring. One of the fun parts of designing gardens is figuring out how to hide the declining leaves on the daffodils as they absorb the chlorophyll for next year’s growth.
I’ve been known to hide them using daylilies, Siberian iris and ornamental grasses. I’ve stopped braiding the leaves since it seems so demeaning to their dignity.
I created a Digital Mixed Media Painting from one of these white daffodils. I love the way daffodil leaves have a slight twist to them. One of things I kept in mind when composing the piece is that the stem is offset where it enters the back of the flower, unlike a tulip which is a straight up vertical.
Another issue is making sure that I paint the shadows different from when the “light” hits the round stem vs. when it hits a flat leaf.
You can see this Single White Daffodil in my Store. I created various sizes for purchase. I think it has a rather heroic feel to the composition.
During my freshman year in the York College, Fine Arts Program in 1975 I took a class in Two Dimensional Design. First we studied the rudiments of rhythm, and then we abstracted the underlying design elements of images. The third project was an introduction to color. We used acrylic paint to make color charts of both warm and cool gray scales.
2-D Design project exploring color
It took a great deal of trial and error to get even steps from white to black and back down the scale again. As a former musician, I used to play my trumpet scales by the hour, much to the chagrin of my family. Trying to get the color scales right in paint is much the same experience, only quieter.
Another part of this Design project had to do with creating these scales in Color. These color scales were placed against various colored backgrounds to demonstrate how different the same colors appeared when imposed on competing ambient hues. These simple exercises introduced me into the world of luminance, saturation and hue, the basic platform of all painters and colorists.
Having explored rhythm in the first classes in my two dimensional design class in my freshman year in college, we then moved on to visualizing abstraction. I had to find an advertising in a major magazine, select a portion of the image and analyze why the composition worked. Then I had to take a one-inch section of the ad and reproduce it in acrylic paint.
2-D Design painting in abstraction
This first piece was from an ad for scotch, I believe it was a bottle of Pinch. This abstract includes the side of the bottle and the half filled glass with ice behind it. The curves of the glass and bottle worked very well together and the slight color shift of the liquid in the glass unites the scene. I remember painting this with a brush the size of an eyeliner. The finished piece is about 12″ square. I’m very patient with my work.
I remember less about creating this abstracted landscape. I do know that it is a landscape scene from the southwestern United States and includes the long horizon lines and massive skies of this part of the country.
Among the first Art classes I took when I began my college art education at York College, CUNY in Queens NY was the study of two-dimensional design. I began this class in the fall semester, in September 1975. At the time I believed that Art school would teach me how to paint and draw but here I was cutting half inch pieces of cardboard and gluing them onto unlined 3×5 index cards.
Two Dimensional Design class projects in rhythm
I began to see the rhythm in these little squares. These rectangles show the first four assignments in this class. The first design project is asymmetrical, almost jazz like. The second is a symmetrical rhythm of one central oval flanked by two reduced ovals. The third is both a symmetrical and asymmetrical figure 8 and the fourth is the reverse positive and negative space.
These four small exercises opened my eyes to looking for the rhythms in everything around me from leaves, flowers, buildings, clothing and groups of people. I took these assignments very seriously since I felt so privileged to be offered the opportunity to learn the underlying secrets to a profession I so deeply desired. These same design rhythms are the groundwork for all the Art that I’ve created for over thirty years.
Now that I make my living by creating Botanical Fine Art, image my surprise when I stumbled upon my first botanical drawings, dating from 1976. In an effort to document my classical art education I have gone to the attic to retrieve my early drawings and paintings along with the schoolwork I saved from the excellent Art Education curriculums I attended at York College and Queens College, (CUNY), City University of New York during the 1970’s.
Branch with details, an early horticultural drawing
Without any historical background regarding the long tradition of botanical drawing, I documented the branch structure, flower and leaf as well as the knothole of a branch, which I more than likely retrieved from my garden in Queens Village, NY. I was an avid, but highly amateur gardener, tending to a huge cherry tree, a multi-stemmed white birch and three peach bearing trees in my tiny garden.
Drawing of a dead branch
Drawing of a dead branch
The drawing of my houseplant has been badly damaged by mold but it describes nicely a succulent houseplant I nurtured for years without realizing that it would ever flower. When the plant finally graced me with a huge, star shaped hairy flower, the stench it emitted attracted an abundance of houseflies much to my dismay. The flower itself was stunning. Very large in proportion to the plant itself with reflexed petals and patterned markings. I, many years later, found that the common name of my trophy was, the Carrion Plant, and the Latin name is: Stapelia Gigantia, from the Family of Asclepiadaceae.
Considering the amount of flies that I remember finding their way into my home I am not surprised to have discovered that it was known to attract pollinators by emitting the horrendous odor of dead meat. I don’t remember exactly what happened to the plant but I think that it failed to flourish after blooming that year. That may either have been because the effort it took to produce that huge flower weakened the plant or it may be because I was so offended at the smell that I was not longer enamored enough with it to tend it with care.