From the workshop in May, looking for what to paint
(Photo on the left courtesy of Mary M. de Baca)
View from the Coverdales’ window
During our workshops at the “Coverdale Art Institute” Mike says he hears a lot of laughter as people are relaxed and following along. We begin looking at the yard with a view finder, noticing the light on trees and flowers, birds etc. This is the meditation part to bring us into the moment of the Coverdales’ beautiful yard and letting go of our daily lives.
We start painting with a sampler of the techniques we will be using for the day, usually involving chickens to show color mixing on the paper, then trees with foliage, lifting out fences, tree limbs, finding the big shapes in the flower garden and individual flower techniques. The artists go home with a painting they are proud of.
(Photos are from the May and July workshops.)
A sampler of watercolor techniques
A painting of our surroundings
Around the table in May (left) and July (right)
(Photos courtesy of Mike Coverdale)
(Left) Window view with Chauncey building construction
(Right) Detail: My imagined rooftop café will have a great view of the park
Another window view, painted when I was supposed to rest the knees. I am watching the construction of the Chauncey building which will be next to the parking ramp shown on the left. Staging for the construction has taken over Chauncey Swan Park, the closest part of the area next to the ramp. It will be redeveloped as a park space when the building is done.
The scene is very active as the brick building shown on the right has been a French café, dance studio, Realtor office, piano studio, and now houses the Community Foundation of Johnson County among other offices. For this painting I invented a rooftop café, then found out there have been two different cafés on the second floor, so I wasn’t too far off! The roof just seemed liked wasted space. When the redeveloped park is finished across the street, a movie screen may be put up on the side of the parking ramp, so I thought what a great way to sip wine and watch a movie.
On location with my walker
Artists sketching along the path
A group of us got together to sketch en plein air in Iowa City, following along a walking/biking path through the east side area. We could see from the path into the back yards as neighbors were gardening. I gave the others a viewfinder with these directions:
“Sketching” is a grace filled moment, a time to see the natural world that surrounds us. We see the birds, the plants, and even the stones as they come alive to tell stories and memories, reminding us who we are and what we value. Note everything is not perfect; there is a crack in everything, and that is how the light gets in* to illuminate the beauty. This is how we learn to truly see and be in the moment, letting the daily care be set aside for a bit.
My knees have been affecting my mobility so I am using my walker as a sketching surface. It is great as I can wheel around carrying sketchbook, a little paint, brush, and water in the seat and then stop wherever to draw/paint.
* (From lyrics by Leonard Cohen, and an earlier quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson)
My walker as easel
Sketchbook and thoughts on plein air
Detail with “bird man” on the
sidewalk in white coat
When I’m at home I do my morning meditation at the window. It is so peaceful and a great way to get in touch with nature from the 11th floor, where I see the snow, rain and birds, helicopters, planes, people working on the rooftops or entertaining, students walking/ talking/ arguing.
This past winter I often saw the “bird man” who came out in a white coat and whistled for the birds who flew down for their feeding. I painted him and the birds into this view of the city from my window.
Window view, in photo and watercolor
Painting with the group (photos courtesy of Mike Coverdale)
These photos are from our retreat at the Coverdales’ farm home earlier this month. The “Coverdale Art Institute” all started with Mike giving Judy a Christmas present of painting with me for a day. Their home was a retreat for me out in the country, and we had such a fun time we decided to try it as a location for workshops.
Students worked from my painting “Summer,” shown at bottom right (photos courtesy of Mike Coverdale)
This workshop started by painting watercolor techniques on a pop-up card, something to remind the painter of the lessons taught. St. Francis came along with us and became a swish of paint in many colors to demonstrate value, keeping it simple. Then we were ready to paint from one of my paintings (“Summer”) and I showed them how to start with a loose and juicy background and coming forward with the farm house and more detail. By then we were laughing about the farmers and chickens, having fun.
Left: Painting from nature (photo courtesy of Mike Coverdale)
Right: We saw a dragon in the shape of this tree (photo courtesy of Bonnie Dix)
One of the artists painted some trees from looking out the window, so we all decided to get up and go outside to study subjects to paint in May when the buds will be on the trees with the far-away farm up the hill.
Followup: We had such a positive response that we had two more retreat days, one in May and one in July. Many thanks to everyone who participated!
Evening view from Our Lady of the
Prairie retreat house
Artwork from Our Lady of the Prairie workshop, Sister Moon and Brother Sun focusing on care of the earth
I traveled to Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat near Wheatland, Iowa to facilitate a workshop on Contemplative Prayer in Watercolor, as part of a Winter Sabbatical for Religious Sisters. It was a restful day of painting and writing in our journals using contemplative creative images. We took the risk to be vulnerable to the challenge of not knowing what to do next, just seeing what God sees. We had the humility to be an instrument of God’s design and it freed the Spirit of Creation to move through our humanity. It is called the “flow” and we discover glimpses of who God is in the freedom of the unburdened watercolors of goodness, truth and beauty. The Sisters were on Sabbatical from the United States, Canada and Australia.
“Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat is a ministry of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary and is located in rural east central Iowa on a 200-acre native grass prairie woodland along the Wapsipinicon River.” Its grounds include trails and a labyrinth for walking meditation.
(Photo courtesy of Mike Coverdale)
When I was in central Iowa recently, I was seeing my daughter’s family but also teaching at the farm home of Judy and Mike Coverdale. Judy and I spent two days painting and we came up with the idea to offer watercolor retreats at their home near Nevada, Iowa.
The Coverdales have a beautiful setting to paint, out in the country with a creek, trees and gardens. We can focus a bit on drawing and composition and move into painting. Bring along your ideas and photos and we will help you paint them.
Followup: We had such a positive response that we had retreat days in March, May, and July. Many thanks to everyone who participated!
Demonstrating the shower
curtain in action
With a shoe sculpture
I continue to meet more of the arts community in Iowa City as it is thriving here. In December I was pleased with the turnout at the Eastside Artists Annual Show and Sale (shown above). Besides my shower curtains and pillows, I had some slumped-acrylic sculptures and wrapped horses — I wanted to use up my supplies and had been meaning to do these little projects for the show. Would you believe I have saved these small plastic horses for 25 years, only to still be inspired to cover them with bright fabric and fine wire and wear them on my coat.
Colorful chicken and fancy wrapped horse
The rest of the horses are raring to go