My Art Starts In The Garden: Musings on my Life as an Artist
My Art is inspired by the gardens surrounding my studio. There is a complexity to my work in both the spiritual and technical parts of my mind. Enjoy this meandering journey with me. The highs, the lows, inspiration, ideas, techniques and general musings about the complicated creative life of an Artist.
Throughout the year I spend time immersed in my garden in the warm summer sunshine and the deep winter snow. The myriad of colored petals, the exquisite architecture of a flower’s anatomy, the subtle shifts of green inspire me throughout the seasons.
Here’s me in my spring garden with the camellias in bloom that inspired the original painting that is behind me in an aluminum print. The aluminum hangs outdoors all year long whether the camellias are in bloom or not. You can buy them on my website here.
There are seasons I’m with my flowers in the garden and seasons where they enter my studio as inspirations for my paintings and drawings. Each art form is dependent on the other to continue my seasonal shifts of creation.
All winter I paint flowers. The bright happy flowers of my summer garden follow me into my studio and surround me with their joy and inspiration during the short dark days of winter. In my studio, they help me to wind down the hectic whirlwind of gardening in the bright sunshine.
But each year the same joy of being in my studio creating my Art begins to take a turn into claustrophobia when the daffodils spring forth with their joyous yellow heads as they entice me outdoors. It’s the beginning of the push and pull for me to be in my studio or to be in my garden. Both are my creative forces. Both get my creative juices flowing. Without either the other would be that much the poorer.
The balancing of time subsides somewhat in the mid-summer when the heat and humidity drive me back to the cooler breezes in my air-conditioned studio. Another burst of art flows from inside the walls during those hot weeks of August. When the humidity subsides the gardening resumes.
Inevitably when the nights begin to provide good sleeping weather, the transition from new expectations of growth in the garden turns instead to senescence and the decisions of what to preserve commences. Choices of what to overwinter, what must be sacrificed take precedence. Mulching, raking, clearing debris marks the bedding down of my outside work.
Then comes the time in the fall when the garden is put to sleep that the joyful season of painting and drawing begins again within the walls of my studio as I create my winter garden of work surrounded by my summer flowers.
My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
I‘m that kind of gardener. The one who opens the windows to inhale the smell of the soil in the morning mist. A day isn’t complete unless I’ve walked the woodland paths, seen the changes however small, what has begun, what has passed its peak of perfection. Which plants are inviting their cohort of pollinators, the array of the birds and the bees? This is the half-acre of land I’ve designed, planted and tended for over 30 years. The soil is rich in abundance, helped by the leaves I shred each year.
The garden constantly evolves with each season and each year as do I. Fall is when I gather the leaves and branches to shred and place back into the garden to keep the beds warm and covered from the winter winds. There is a rhythm to the garden as there is a rhythm to life.
For years I’ve had this chipper, its large, heavy and gunmetal gray. When the machine roars into life in its loud and vicious voice you know it means business. I use this to make my own mulch. Gather my garden debris to enrich the soil and feed it into the maw of this machine. Chip my own branches for the pathways I walk and contemplate.
Once you put the cord to start the engine it drowns out the sounds of life around you. There is an urgency to feed the beast. I have my piles of leaves at hand to be shredded to shorten the duration of this violent machine and return again to the quiet contemplative space I crave. This is the stage to move fast to silence the din.
And then the blades jammed. The engine pushed and growled. The whole machine quivered trying to dislodge the offending object. The squeal of the engine roaring deafened me demanding a quick solution. I felt my heartbeat quicken. A frustration and impatience entered my being. A demand for a quick remedy.
So I removed the chute which served as the feeder to the blades. There I could see the chunk of wood jamming the metal and in my mindless haste I reached in with my hand to unblock the shredder.
The searing pain was beyond description. More than I’d ever experienced in my entire life. Beyond childbirth, beyond car accidents. Beyond anything my mind could process. And I was alone. No one to call out for. No one could hear me. I just let my arm hang limply by my side. And I refused to look down. Not prepared yet to see what I was left with from what I knew was a defining event of my life.
I leaned forward against the railing of my deck, my mind emptied of rational thought. No plan of action arrived. My logical brain inactive, devoid of anything other than the pain. It gripped me. Wrapped me wholly. I was enveloped with pain. Just the thumping, throbbing, pounding of pain.
Then I looked up. The trees were swaying gently with the wind in their long and pensive manner. The leaves, dressed in their fall colors. were wiggling and waving at me beckoning my attention. Beyond was a brilliant blue sky, the most beautiful blue I’d seen in my entire life and I’d seen many. The breeze caressed me. It was a moment of indelible beauty. My world came to a halt. My garden surrounded me with healing calmness. Caressed me with its fragrance, its life. I was bodyless.
Now I understand more of why I garden. It’s not for me to show my friends my great expertise. To flaunt the rare specimens I collect. To boast in my selection of flowers for color balance and seasonal flair that I am able to coax into being. My garden is not an ego trip.
This garden is threaded through with paths, to walk through, to discover, to immerse yourself. The journey around my garden is for enlightenment. The senses heightened by the wisp of nuance seen from the side of one’s eye. It’s in a subtle awareness of the healing that we gather from the earth. The wonder of how interwoven we are with the natural world surrounding us. The fact that we are just another component of an incomprehensible network of living beings. It is humbling.
And if we listen, the garden also teaches us to ponder, to meditate, to slow our heartbeat down to absorb life. It teaches us to travel inside our soul to seek our essence. Gardens are about optimism too. The grand possibilities of our future. What profound truths will reveal themselves? What miracle will the world visit upon us graciously?
Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention, my fingers were not shredded that day.
Long ago in the way back machine, I grew some sunflowers for my young sons. You know which ones, they’re the 8-foot tall ones that excite every kid. So on the day the flower was pitch-perfect, I pulled out my pastels and tried to capture its roundness, its color. And then it was time to light the barbecue and make dinner for the boys so I put away my pastels and paper while planning to finish the work the next day.
We enjoyed our burgers outside in the garden under the towering sunflowers that evening sitting at the picnic table with the soft summer breezes and called it a day. The next morning when I gathered my chalks and half worked drawing to complete the art don’t I discover that a squirrel had beaten me to the day’s work. The center seeds were chomped and mangled. This was my clarion call to the ephemeral.
I learned that day the garden doesn’t wait. The passing of time can be in a split minute. A flower has another calling and it’s not willing to wait for me until I’m ready. It, like me, has a busy life with other goals.
These are some of my earliest paintings hanging on the wall in my studio. The Sunflower pastel is a reminder of the ephemeral garden.
So I committed myself to capture the transient moments in my garden. The inspirations in form and color. The visions and details that escape us as we hurry through and around in our busy lives. The moments that don’t wait for us.
And then I realized that my garden not only shows me its secrets, it also tells me its mysteries. It whispers ideas into my head. But those ideas are also fleeting. They come to me but fly away on the breezes too quickly for me to grab. So I’ve begun writing. Each time the garden sends a story I write a note of it down. I capture it on my keyboard or quickly with a pencil. At times I even have to catch it so quickly when I’m immersed in the midst of my garden that I can’t run indoors quickly enough before I lose it so I speak it softly into my phone. I’m building a library of stories the garden is generously sharing with me. This is one of them.
Sunflowers With Purple Asters. Prints of this artwork are available in various sizes on canvas, fine art paper, acrylic and metal in my online Art Shop.
Since the 1970’s I’ve been a collector, an observer and a thinker about round things. Currently, my garden is enhanced by round thing presences. Spheres of all colors and sizes. Sculpture with round themes. Round trellises. Round gateways.
This moon gate entry to my woodland walkways is just one of the pieces throughout my garden which inspires my art. These themes of roundness have threaded throughout my work for decades.
On my deck are round finials on the tops of the banisters. And large round concrete containers spewing forth their colorful floral additions all summer.
I have reflective spheres so as you walk around the circular pathways in my garden you see yourself in a distorted and accentuated way. It’s good to see yourself when you least expect it. Then your mind views you more clearly. It sees how others may see you.
Why round things you ask? They are the feminine. The woman. The beginning. The Eve.
They are the mystery. No beginning and no end. The continuum.
Eve’s apple is the first sphere. It represents to me the essence of woman, the feeding, the nurturing, the sexuality, the sensuousness, the rounded birth belly.
With the apple Eve burst forth from the confinement of the “Garden of Eden”. The place made for her. To protect her but also to isolate her from life. The experiences. The experimentation. The adventure.
She broke free by pushing the boundaries. By saying that the world created for her was not enough. She found her way to burst forth and experience life. The sadness, the pain, the anguish, the tears, the disappointments, dashed dreams, hopes denied, the loss of loved ones, the curse of immortality.
Without which true happiness, peace and contentment could not be embraced.
My art is embedded with these meditations on life.
The OMNI Gallery show featured my round flower inspired oil paintings. This work is embedded with meditations.
In this video, I begin by showing you the photo of a flowering hibiscus from my own garden which was the inspiration for this artwork.
Here I write my thought process behind the stages visualized in the video.
In my initial stage I work out the composition of the final art work and deciding whether it will be a square or a rectangle.
To work out the details of lights and darks that will be in the final painting I like to start with a tonal drawing. Using an HB weight graphite pencil I use my customary swirling strokes to give form to the drawing. Not being partial to outlines I don’t emphasize them but soften the edges by merging them slightly with strokes.
In order to transfer the drawing to the canvas I used a mapped grid system. In this case, I put a transparent sheet of paper over the tonal drawing on which I’ve drawn a grid. After measuring the same grid on the canvas I was able to upsize the drawing onto the canvas. Using pastels I created an underdrawing of a neutral ochre color using the tonal drawing as my model, followed by a layer of neutral ochre oil paint which seals the surface of the gessoed canvas.
In the next stage, I applied thin coats of oil paints in layers recreating the original composition in the base colors allowing the underpainting to peak through. Many, many layers of thin glazes are applied to give dimension and form to the final painting.
Details are added during the later stages, I think of it as putting jewelry on after you get dressed to go to a party. You save the best for last.
Each day after if finish working on a painting in my studio I photograph it for reference and view the images on my computer to see the progress and decide if I want to make any changes along the way.
I prefer to work on thick gallery wrapped canvas and finish the work off with neutral floating frames. I aim for simplicity in form with exuberance and abundance in surface color. This painting has no visible brushstrokes which is also my preferred style of painting.
ChromaLuxe is the leader in aluminum for a variety of industries. The thick gauge of aluminum and the brilliance of their color matching makes for a perfect vehicle for my flower and garden prints.
I tested many brands from various vendors and ChromaLuxe proved to offer the superior product for my work. Prints of my original paintings have been hanging in my garden for over 5 years now. They have withstood winter snow and summer heat. I wouldn’t sell something I didn’t trust.
As an appreciation for my testing and our collaboration ChromaLuxe created and distributed a full-color brochure of my Artwork on their exterior grade aluminum.
My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
Recently I had the honor to present my art and the meaning behind my thought process at Slide Slam. This event was sponsored by the Patchogue Arts Council and hosted by the Haven Gallery in Northport NY.
The presentation by the 20 selected Long Island artists was to display a slideshow of 15 images and speak for exactly 5 minutes each about the work. Such a daunting task proved to be an interesting challenge. How do you get to the essence of your work succinctly in such a short span of time?
Important for me was to convey how critical the garden is to my work. It is in fact the beginning of my creative workflow. In the garden I feel the power of the interconnectedness of all that surrounds me; the necessary ecological balance of the earth, climate, water and nutrients, that sustain the cycle of life.
The communities of birds, bees, insects and yes, humans to pollinate flowers with the assistance of the wind of course. This cooperation is the main critical component of maintaining not just my garden but our entire life here on earth as we know it. Without fertilization the cycle of life would die for all living things, not just for the loss of our beautiful garden flowers but for all our food sources as well.
To me, the garden is just a microcosm of the universe.
The vast beauty of color, fragrance and the architecture of each plant is created to seduce assistance in procreation. Each flower has evolved its own method for attracting exactly the pollinator they desire. Long tubes for hummingbirds, open centers for nice fat bumble bees. Certain colors are more visible to different insects than others. Fragrance signals an invitation to specific species that the time is right for fertilization. The Brugmansia is most fragrant in the late afternoon since it would rather have an energetic pollinator just arriving on their evening shift than a tired one at the end of it’s working day.
Working in and studying my own garden for the last 30 years has given me the unique opportunity to watch dynamic change occur. When my oak trees fell in Hurricane Sandy suddenly the types of plants that enjoyed their shade began to suffer from too much sun. I dug them up and moved them and their scorched leaves to where they would be more comfortable and replaced them with flowers that thrive in the drenching sun. Over time this would have happened naturally but I was able to speed up the process.
Each day in my garden I’m inspired by the energy of life. I carry this with me right into my studio where I allow that energy to inform my art.
My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
Tired of the browns and grays and whites of winter? So am I!
I’m looking to get a jump on some brilliant color outside. I want to see color outside my windows, outside in my garden and outside on my deck. I’ll bet you are too.
Bright splashes of color greet me when the trees are bare and the shrubs covered with white snow. It is so cheery to see in the dead of winter. Seeing color reduces my stress. It probably does for you too. That’s why gardens are so relaxing.
ChromaLuxe exterior aluminum prints hang outside in my garden all year long popping color when I most need it.
During the spring and summer, I coordinate the color of my plantings with the colors in my art. It gives me a very creative palette of colors to work with. It adds to the fun of gardening.
I hang my aluminum art on the garage so I can see flowers all year from the windows in my home, I hang the art on my deck where we entertain and select art that color coordinates with my outdoor furniture. As a garden designer, I’ve designed woodland walks around my home and studio and even hang art on the trees for when people wander around on my garden tours.
I tried a lot of products outdoors in my own garden on Long Island in New York where we get snow and ice in the winter and lots of heat in the summer. I found that not all aluminum is created equal since much of it warped in the extreme temperatures. Then I tried the ChromaLuxe brand of exterior grade aluminum. I’ve tested these prints throughout all the seasons and they have flourished in my garden for years.
In my video, you can see some of the ways I’ve displayed my art in the garden and also the gardens of some of my happy customers. Take a look and be inspired.
Then have some fun. On my website I’ve introduced a separate category for the indoor/outdoor metal aluminum art with an augmented reality feature. Now you walk around your space with your mobile device and see how my art will look in your own setting. You can also try different sizes to see what will fit perfectly for you.
Seeing this live takes the stress out of deciding what artworks for you. It is the ultimate in customizing your own living spaces both indoor or out. Try it now. No commitment to purchase is needed to see for yourself. Go to my online shop, click on the metal print category, select an image that intrigues you, change the size, try a different print, try a different space. Enjoy yourself now!
I have always dreamed about having my Art displayed outside around my garden and outdoor living spaces. And now the technology has caught up with my dream. I have my original paintings printed under heat & pressure to create these very vibrant aluminum prints. They can have a glossy or matte finish to them and I haven’t any particular preference since I like them all.
Sunflowers and Purple Asters aluminum print at the entrance to the home of one of my collectors.
The weather-resistant aluminum which I’ve selected for my Art is thick and durable enough to survive and flourish in my garden throughout the 4 seasons and has been doing so since 2014. Because I wanted to make sure that the quality was right and the color lasted I tested many fabricators before offering the metal prints to my collectors.
Sometimes I frame the pieces in simple aluminum frames but most often I just hang them outside, on the trees, on the fences and on the walls. What a delight to look out of my office and look at art instead of looking at my garage & thinking it needs powerwashing! Even better is looking out in a snow storm and seeing the brilliant color of summer flowers breaking through the white and gray backdrop.
When the birds decide to decorate the art, I just squirt the pieces with some window cleaner and using a paper towel I wipe them clean again. No problem.
The aluminum makes the colors pop whether they’re on a matte or glossy finish. Though these prints can be hung outdoors many of my collectors buy them for inside their homes. Either way, it’s a unique decor addition whether inside or out.
My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
Art in the Park
Art, Music, Poetry and Dance Festival
A July summer event, featuring music, dance, poetry and over 30 artists displaying and selling their original work. Art show begins at 10am and festivities begin at 12pm. Free admission and a fun day for the entire family. Hours are 10am to 5pm.
Join us for another exciting event in the picturesque Village of Northport, NY. This multi-disciplinary annual event is held in the Village Park at the foot of main street surrounded by the lush tableau of water, boats, trees, playgrounds and the old time Village feel of another, calmer and genteel era.
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.
The flowers I create in my studio with brush and canvas speak to me beyond their intricacy of form, color, ruffles and swirls. LIke everyone else they initially attract me with the way the color changes as the light graces their outer curves and when it delicately enters their inner recesses, their intimacy. The edges of petals dance like ballerina skirts bouncing in the breeze. Their edges are fluted, scalloped, curved and splayed defining their differences and embracing their similarities of purpose.
I love the architecture of flowers, not just how they grow on their stems, their height, their leaves and their unique outward appearance. I concentrate on the inner architecture of their center parts, the configurations of their pistils and stamens, their anthers laden with pollen. Quite frankly, these flowers are built to seduce their pollinators. The birds and the bees but also the billions of bugs who help by rolling in their pollen to feast and to share and to help create the next generation to grace the earth.
Flowers speak to me of our universe. Our purpose. Our endurance. Each flower is an individual with its own color, shape and form. It’s own choices of community, culture and companionship. It’s own needs for climate, food and water for sustenance. But we all share our need to survive, another season, another year, another generation.
Whether I am among the flowers in my garden or the flowers in my studio, I embrace our diversity and our commonalities. All these flowers in soil or on canvas speak beyond themselves, they’re ideas and thoughts beyond just the visual. They speak to the interior of our purpose and our minds. They are us.
My Art Starts In The GardenPosted on by Mary Ahern
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 studio was overflowing as I created new work for my show at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum
Mary Ahern brought her award-winning style of floral and garden inspired art to the Bayard Cutting Arboretum from May 17 through June 17, 2018. Three galleries of her floral portraits were on display at the historic Manor House at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River NY.
Mary Ahern, known for her brilliant floral and garden paintings was showing her latest large-scale flower portraits. As a passionate gardener who is inspired by the gardens she designed and tends surrounding her own studio, these flowers represent to her a microcosm of the universe. The large scale of these individual portraits asks questions beyond the canvas.
What is the purpose for such magnificence in nature? What is the reason for such color, such form, such diversity? What is their relationship to the communities in which they belong, their relationships with other plants and species that sustain them, invade them and nourish them. What of their lifecycle of birth, growth, senescence and rebirth? As humans, what can we learn from their seemingly simple existence?
Initially we see with our eyes. We name it, identify it and classify it. But we also have a duality of vision which allows us to contemplate with an inner vision. This art invites both the external and internal views.