Not until I studied botany and viewed flower structures under magnifying glasses and microscopes did I really appreciate their magnificence. As a life-long gardener I looked at and created landscapes, matching groups of plants to be seen from a distance, blending distant views of overall colors and shapes. Matching seasons and cultivation needs, heights and spreads contributing to the designs I created in gardens and on canvas in my landscape paintings.
A rainbow of colors in a friend’s May garden. Photo by Mary Ahern.
But that aha moment of peering dramatically close to the parts of a flower opened a whole new world of vision and contemplation for me.
By painting my flowers overly large and entirely out of scale from the real world, I try to bring that same sense of awe to my viewers. Show them something of what I see. I try to create for them their own aha moment of joy and wonder to take on their journey.
My muse, is my garden. Other gardens as well, but my garden in particular. I move in it, feel it, and hear the breezes whisper through it. I watch the lighting during the day as it slides over and around the textured surfaces.
These Fire Flame Peonies bloom in my garden each year in May at the same time as the color matching azalea.
Lighting so different on days with sun and with clouds. Lighting in the spring with the bright yellow greens of optimistic new growth and lighting by the fall with ambers & tans of a lived life. Morning light offers tender ambiance while afternoon colors not only light the scene from a different direction, the colors are deeper and warmer.
My garden brings consciousness and meaning to me. It keeps me grounded. The ephemeral beauty of an unfertilized blossom studied up close with magnifiers and macro lenses is a representation of a miracle. The world of possibility. The beginning of a story I represent in my Art. I walk through my garden gathering ideas. Stories I want to tell. Suggested ideas I want to convey.
In my garden I spend time designing the landscape or I spend time closely and intimately with a singular specimen at a particular stage of growth. In my studio I may paint a vignette or a full landscape view of a part of the garden I’ve designed, or I may choose to paint a small portion of one flower that has moved me. The minute miracle. This is my work. Outdoors and indoors. These are the stories I tell. This is my Art.
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
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 historic use of limiting editions of prints was during a time when prints were made from art carved or drawn onto stone, wood or other surfaces that degraded with use. As more impressions were made the surface wore out and the image became less crisp. Limiting the quantity of the printing run helped to control the quality of the print and of course the value.
Digital printing does not suffer from this problem since there is no degradation in resolution, or crispness, from one print to the next. In fact, what can happen as technology evolves and equipment gets better and faster, later prints may be of higher quality then original prints made years earlier in the cycle.
New Technology Offers New Forms of Creativity
So how do I offer my customers a solution to their desire for a unique piece of my Art rather then the Open Edition pieces I generally offer?
Custom Art Work Created Just For You
Custom Editions brings my customers into a collaborative effort in the artistic process of helping me to create a unique Art Work specific for their home or office design ideas.
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.
Grape muscari, otherwise known as Grape Hyacinths live close to the ground. For years I never took much notice of them except for the little spots of brilliant purple that bounced so nicely against the bright yellow daffodils they bloomed along with in April.
Then I got down. Hands and knees down.
What a surprise! How intricate the little flowers are. Little bells dance around a central stem forming a small pyramid. This inflorescence changes shape as it ages and can be more and less tightly knit.
The individual purple doesn’t seem to change on each bell but the overall purple varies when viewed at a distance based upon the tightness of the overall flower.
I enjoyed these 4″ bulbs so much in my garden that I bought a bag of them from Costco one year and low and behold the next spring the flowers that bloomed were very different from my originals. They were more blue then purple and had a more rounded then pyramidal over shape.
So I googled Grape Muscari and found a world of cultivars I didn’t previously know existed. That’s one of the things that is so much fun about gardening. You are constantly in a learning mode. You are in for surprises every year and every season. The knowledge and information you acquire just keeps on growing, along with your garden.
So now I know that so far in my garden I have Muscari armeniacum and M. azureaum. Next year I’m sure to have more.
When I made my Digital Mixed Media Painting of my Grape Muscari I was careful to recreate the basal growth of the leaves. It would not have been accurate if I’d placed the leaves higher on the stem. The painting would have looked like a plant Frankenstein. As a Garden Artist, that is not what I’m trying to create.
You can view this Grape Muscari piece in my Store.
Isn’t that a fantastic name? Dicentra spectabilis. It just rolls out of your mouth in a lilting singsong kind of rhythm doesn’t it? I love to say it quietly under my breath as I walk around my woodland garden in May. Not too loud so as to scare the birds and the neighbors (and myself for that matter.)
I love their color pink. I have some white ones, , but the pink ones are just so luscious. They reseed very freely for me and I’m able to reposition the offspring into springtime vignettes.
Dicentra spectabilis close-up
When I bought this property in 1989 there was one plant of Dicentra native here and I’ve managed over time to spread the wealth around my own garden and also with other gardeners. What a treat!
I don’t mind that they die back in the summer because it gives me another planting opportunity but some of the holes they leave behind can be very BIG planting opportunities…all the more opportunity for creativity to kick in.
I made a Digital Mixed Media Painting, which I call, “Dicentra Necklace”. I think of these joyful little gems in my garden, decorating the light greens of spring with their pink heart shaped “jewelry”.