Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer Magic

Greetings Everyone!

Summer has been flying by here in the Northwoods! I've been making new houses and making new artwork out in the woods. The summer has been kind and sweet... there are more wildflowers in the fields and meadows than I think I've ever seen before - the abundance is overwhelming sometimes!

  After the firefly Faerie house project I got busy on several others I had been planning to make. I am focusing on making as many special new houses as I can while the warm weather is here. 

First up is a special house for all the Beach Faeries out there, since this IS summer time! I had planned on having this one done in time for the July full moon and on the one day of the month when the moon is full, I loaded up the canoe and paddled down the river and out to the sandbar that gives me lovely views due East. The sun was warm and golden in the late afternoon light but it also was dodging large puffy clouds at times so the quality of the light was changing wildly. I hurried to get everything set up:

When I first arrived and took the house out of the canoe and began to set it up, the gulls that had been resting on the sandbar got a bit alarmed and rose up into the sky all at once, but soon they realized I meant them no harm and they settled back down and looked lovely in the distance. I was using a lot of gull feathers in the piece so I was pleased to see them there in the background.

This house is all about the gentle wind and life that lives near the water, both salt and fresh. There are loads of delicate shells and feathers all hanging from strands of raffia grass to blow in the wind. There is a collection of small Paua shells (NZ Abalone) that I brought back from my trip there. Some fabulous dried grasses with seed heads that shimmer in the light danced in the gentle breeze. 
As the sun sank lower behind me the light on the Beach house got more and more golden...

Everything was all set up and I had the alignment figured out as to where the moon was supposed to appear... only it didn't! As the sun set in the west, it revealed that the eastern horizon was not clear and blue as it had seemed, but rather, it was filled completely with far-away thunderstorm clouds which were not going to allow the moon to be seen for many hours to come and by then it would be too dark. So, reluctantly, I began to pack everything up in the canoe to get ready to head back home. But there was one final little surprise. A distant thundercloud was suddenly illuminated in a strawberry glow and for an instant, it almost looked like the shot I had hoped I could get with the moonrise...

close, but not quite! So fingers crossed that the full Moon of August will be the one for this Faerie house and I'll once again set it up and hope for that magic moment when everything lines up!

Monday, June 30, 2014

reposting the Firefly House images

Hi Everyone,

For some reason the Firefly house images all ran together in my last post. I don't know why that happened so I'm re-positing the images with hopefully a bit of space between them so you can enjoy each one more fully. Be sure to click on the images for larger views! And all these images are taken with just natural light and the light of the fireflies.

Here they are:


Living the Dream

Greetings Everyone!

   I hope you enjoyed the painting interlude.... now it is back to a very special Faerie house. But first some background...

   I live in an area blessed with abundant Fireflies. Every summer, around the Solstice, they emerge from the woods and meadows to put on their mesmerizing displays of magic and delight. Where I live, in a small wooded patch surrounded by hedges and meadows they are especially happy and the displays last for many weeks. Every summer we are treated to incredible light shows all for free. Here is a 30 second exposure image of one meadow:

 So naturally I've always wanted to make a Faerie House to celebrate this delightful wonder. Every year I would try something and every year it would disappoint.... until this year! So this is a story about how sometimes, as an artist, it takes many years to fulfill your vision... that and it pays to persevere!

     I had found some incredibly white twigs in a designer shop last winter and didn't know then how useful they would be. I made a very specially designed Firefly house using these twigs and the whitest birch bark I could find. The house had to rotate on its base so I could re-position it in the field if need be. Also the top had to come off and the interior had to have fine netting to hold the fireflies safely. The initial structure looked like this:
 I liked how this looked but it now needed a bit of whimsey and I needed to put it in a different location. My initial photo experiments showed me that a dark background worked better when it came to seeing the tiny lights of the fireflies. So the house was modified and some lovely delicate meadow flowers were added when I went out for the second round of images. I chose this location especially because the previous night the fireflies had been really active here plus the shrub in the background was in bloom and those flowers added depth and texture to the background.

  There are only about 20 minutes or so when all the elements are optimal... the sun has well set and twilight gives everything a lovely hue of periwinkle blue. The fireflies are just emerging so you have to catch them quickly and the camera takes time to process each image because I shoot at a slow shutter speed to catch more of the light trails from the insects... all this means I can only get a few good images per night. But finally, after shooting for several nights in a row, it all came together... and I have these images to share with you. The first two images below are facing the shrub as in the image above and the last two images show the house rotated around 180 degrees so now we are seeing the meadow in the background with all the fireflies dancing and glittering. 
         I can't decide which one I like best so here they all are.... enjoy and may they bring you as much pleasure to look at as I had in making them! 

I'm very busy this week making more houses so this post will have to last you a few days. I'll have more houses to share with you shortly and also a very special post on an incredible artist who has just come online with his gorgeous Fairy paintings and more... stay tuned!

  And an aside... I can't believe this is possible but this blog is just 1,500 page views away from 100,000 views... how is that even possible? It is thanks to loyal friends like YOU! Thank you!!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

All finished! The Faerie Glen garden image completed!

We have come a long ways!
 In real time it took me nearly two full months to complete this painting working 9-12 hours a day! Phew!
 Fortunately you don't have to wait that long!  For our final review here is where we left off last time: 

and now here it is full and complete: 

 I hope you can just overlook the watermark at the top of the image. I have to put that in finished images to protect them.

 I'm tempted to tell you about everything that was added or done to the image to bring it to completion but it might be more enjoyable for you to view the two images yourself and compare them. Have fun!

   This image will indeed be getting produced as a puzzle and I'll be sure to let you know when it comes out. Also, if anyone is interested in getting this image as a limited edition print, I can make that happen. (the watermark will NOT be on finished reproductions, obviously!)
If anyone has any questions, I'll do my best to answer...but I'm back in the field now making 3-D faerie houses and having fun making images that will hopefully bring a teesie bit more Light into your world! Thanks for sticking with me thru this process!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Nearly there....

Hi Everyone,

   Here we are nearly at the end of the painting process for the Faerie Glen image. 
We left off at this stage: 

and now here we are nearly complete:  

What you can hopefully see in this image is that now I am shifting to the background to take care of those details. There are some people emerging up on the footbridge and some far distant trees above them. The rhododendron tree at the edge of the footbridge has its foliage in place now and fern-covered tree on the right is getting more attention as is the magical Faerie palace inside the roots of that tree. Also, the individual leaves are all getting painted on the ivy that runs up the willow tree. 
     There is still a lot to get done.... the middle area has a lot of plantings of various kinds of flowers and foliage that need to be defined and the underside of the footbridge needs finishing. Then the rhodi flowers will be added. And I have to attend to the windows and door area of the Willow house and finish all those details and hours and hours of time will be taken up on the flying insects and making final adjustments... but the next image will pull it all together! 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Flower Power and more!

Hi Everyone!

    I hope you are having fun following along with the painting updates as I show how I created the Faerie Glen image. 
Here is where we left off:

 and here is the next stage in the development: 

there are a lot of additions here as you can see! The flowers in the foreground have been realized. That took two full days alone! The leaf-covered gazebo is now taking shape... that took another 12 hours or so. And the waterfall behind it is now flowing and lovely with the surrounding stones and backdrop of irises in full bloom all backlit by the bright daylight sun... that took, gosh I don't even remember how long that all took, probably another 2-3 long days! But as you can see we are getting close to the finish line!! Stay tuned, we are almost done!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Watery delights

Hi Everyone,

  Continuing the story of the Faerie Glen painting image.

  On this step things begin to get really interesting. Here is where we left off:

 and here is where we are now:

 So in this phase the foreground is getting a lot of attention. I wanted to give the feeling that we are nestled down in the bank of Fairy Lantern flowers and that the glen is so shadowed that it feels a bit like twilight in here. I wanted light to be spilling out of the house on the right and blanketing and defining the path on this side of the bridge. And then all the reflected light in the water... that drove me nearly crazy! Next up, the flowers get their day!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A little bubbly is added

Hi Everyone!

To continue with the story of how the painting for the Faerie Glen was developed, here is where we left off:
  and here is the next stage in the process: 
  From this image we can see the flow of the central stream is being developed. Also the fungus roofs over the door and windows of the willow house have been added. Also, at this point I realized that the stones on the underside of the closest bridge were not giving the correct sense of perspective and looked a bit busy so I washed out as much of that colour as I could and replaced it with a subtle glowing underside of the bridge. I added those wonderful strands of reflected light you sometimes see under bridges. More work was done to the ferns and foliage of the foreground and the far distant background was made brighter and also the first definition of the footbridge overhead was applied. I was really having fun now! But each step in this process represents 20-30 hours of work!... good thing I was enjoying it!  Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

First steps on the page

 Hi Everyone, here is the next stage in the development of the Faerie Glen painting.

The first thing I needed to do is to use a masking material that will allow me to paint over the masked areas and preserve the white paper underneath. Here is the line drawing for review:  

 and here is the watercolour paper all stretched with the grey masking fluid showing up in places with the first layers of colour going down. Below you can see the grey masking material on the irises to the left of the Willow tree and also on much of the foliage in the very center of the page. I had used it to preserve all the ivy leaves on the willow tree but most of those have been peeled away now and I've begin adding the green leaves and buffy-tan stems.
  As you may be able to tell, it doesn't look like much at the beginning. Also, you have to be careful that your darks don't get too dark because they can look muddy in the reproductions when the image gets turned into a puzzle. Stay tuned for the next image as things really begin to get exciting!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy Solstice!

                                             Happy Solstice Everyone!

                              May the warmth and gentleness of the season 
                                               embrace you and fill you 
                                             with Peace and inspiration.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

From concept to paper

So I took my sketch and enlarged it to the dimensions I would need to create a full sized puzzle image, approx. 20 x 27.  Here again is the original B+W sketch: 

and here is the full-sized line drawing for the actual painting:

As you can see there are some significant changes though it may be harder to "read" them in this line drawing. Starting at the lower left and working clock-wise:
- I added a leafy gazebo to make that corner more interesting
- I changed the windows and door details on the big willow house so that they were more detailed and interesting and made a few more pathways connecting the house features to other parts of the image
- I added a lot of vines going up the willow for colour and texture
- I knew there will be people on the bridge above but they are not yet in the drawing
- I reluctantly removed the pea-pod boat because the scale of it was not right
- the distant arched bridge was removed to make room for more foliage and butterflies
- ferns were added to the massive root system of the right-hand house that is hidden under the roots
- the flowers in the foreground were changed from Snowdrops to a variety called Fairy Lanterns, a species from the American Northwest.

 Having sent this drawing to and gotten approval from the art director, I transferred it to the stretched watercolour paper and prepared to get started... stay tuned for the next post when the first layers of colour go down and you can see how the painting begins to develop!

    But because we have so far to go, let me give you just a teensie peek at a section of the painting as it looks fully finished! Here is where we are headed!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Holy cow it has been how long since my last post?

Happy almost Summer Solstice Everyone!

I've had my head down and focused on so many projects it feels as if I've been running my own private marathon! At last there are a few free moment to catch up and fill you in.... and I've got something different to share with you!

Back in February when we lost electricity for a day or so due to some bad winter storms, I decided to sit down with my sketchbook and just dream a bit. To my surprise a fully formed world appeared in a matter of a day or so of dreaming. Here is that sketch:

As you can see, I was led into a Faerie Glen garden in full summer regalia in the middle of winter!

   I sometimes work with a jig-saw puzzle company so I sent the sketch to them to see if it was something they might like to see developed. The art director there said "Yes, please!" so that was exciting.... but then I realized I'd have to choose how to bring this image to fruition; either by painting digitally or old-school style in watercolours. For the past several years all my graphic/image-making had been using digital techniques. It had been more than 8 YEARS since I had picked up a watercolour brush! It seemed like a big risk...but it also seemed like it would be a lot of fun and I was itchy to see if the old skills could be revived. So I decided to take the plunge and began dusting off all my old painting equipment.  

   So I'll tell you about how it went in the next few installments. :-)

   Along with doing the painting I've been very busy with my book project and have made some significant progress on how the look of the whole book will be. I wanted some subtle texture and botanical type details on the page if possible, rather than just stark images plunked down in the middle of white space. It has taken me a lot of experimentation but I'm close now to achieving the look I'm after. It's all about trying to create a sense of other worlds and dimensions. Not always easy to do on a flat page.

    Additionally I've been working on commissions and also making houses and doing more field work for locations for more images as I prepare for the 2016 calendar that I'll be developing with Amber Lotus. 

And then there is the grass and the weeds and the gardens around my home-studio and all the delights of finally emerging from winter's cave. I think this winter was so long and so hard that now it is finally the warm season I've just been out and enjoying it all as much as possible and not wanting to sit indoors writing about it! Frankly, things have been moving so fast there has not been any spare time to write. So it is the season of DOING in a big way and I will enjoy sharing the stages of the painting work with you. I have about a half-dozen images taken along the way to completion. I'll post one every few days with notes and then the final image at the end so you can see how it is "built". 

Hope everyone is out and enjoying the magic of the season. Last night I stood out in the warm night air overlooking a vast meadow that was completely engulfed in Light... from fireflies! There must have been 10,000 of them, I'm not exaggerating! It was incredibly enchanting to see them dancing and twinkling all over the meadow... words cannot describe it. I hope you have fireflies where you live and can get out to enjoy them!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Pearwood house

Hi Everyone,

   Here is a new house. I call it the Pearwood house for two reasons, first the shape and then the wood itself which I think is either a Pear or Apple tree remnant. I found the piece washed up on the shores of the river after the big flood. It was just the ring of wood around a hole which was left. It took me two years to figure out how to make something with this piece.
 There needed to be a window so I found another similar piece of fruitwood that needed to be carved quite a bit so it could attach to the front of the house. Pine scales were used to give a decorative shingled effect and a curl of thick Birch bark was added to echo the decorative finials at the top of the house.

The main thing was the door. I wanted something really beautiful. I had a small but gorgeous piece of reddish birch bark that had been found submerged in a peaty bog years ago. It was a very special pice and it made a glorious door. The whole door was trimmed with twigs from alpine White birch which often grow in twisted ways due to the harsh conditions up in the mountains.

 But where would it lead? I decided it would go just to a simple, one room house.

 A flat back was added. 

The whole house hangs from a concealed frame loop. 

When you remove the stick the back folds down to reveal the interior of the magical room.

 There are lights inside and out ( will need to get photos of that someday soon) and the wee tiny Fairy bed was a particular joy to make..

 it is really tiny, as you can see.

   The house was a lot of fun to make and while there were a lot of technical challenges, I loved finally using this lovely piece of wood.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Happy May Day!!

Happy May Day Everyone!

  Even though the calendar says it is supposed to be high spring, here in the northwoods we are about 2 weeks behind. Still, today is finally a bit warm and it feels like spring is just around the corner!

  A quick update on the Golden Lotus house that went up for auction a wee while ago. The lucky winner, a lovely woman named Cara from Colorado allowed me the chance to hold the house for a little while till I could take some outdoor shots once the snows had receded. What a lovely act of trust and understanding! I did manage to find a bit of moss along a stream bank but it looked rather simple...

 Another week passed and the Snowdrops in my neighbors garden burst forth and were very tempting, but we had cold, grey skies for many days. Finally, some sun came out and I dashed down and set up the house... and I think this was worth waiting for! So thank you Cara for allowing me the extra time! This image may be used in the next calendar!
 Happy May Day Everyone!!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dreams do come true... working with Amber Lotus - Part 1


Greetings Everyone!

  Spring is finally showing signs of arriving here. I have a new house that I need to photograph and I'm hoping some spring flowers will burst forth soon so I can get some nice pics. Meanwhile.... a few words about dreaming and dreams & the art of timing, or in other words, hooking up your wagon to that Horse called Patience!

  Years and years ago when I first started out on this sculptural adventure I attended a convention for Fairy fans in Philadelphia. It was a long time ago and I brought with me my first year of images, starry eyes and a ton of enthusiasm but not much experience in the world of Fairy commerce (which sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?). I saw and learned much. I worked up my courage to show my artwork to several publishers and asked for their feedback. Everyone was so kind. One company in particular stood out to me: Amber Lotus. They had it all: beautiful products, integrity through and thru and warm, kind people who were radiating a kind of inner calm that I immediately resonated with when I met them. They were my first pick of publishers and I hoped they would want to publish my images... but alas, the timing was not quite right.

   Years passed. I got to work with Pomegranate, another very fine company and they gave my work the support and exposure I needed to really move forward and develop as an artist... but I always kept looking out for Amber Lotus products and hoped our paths might cross again one day.

   I am thrilled beyond words to tell you that indeed that day HAS finally come! Last year we re-connected and have created a really beautiful Faerie Houses calendar that will be released later this summer. Here is the cover:
  I just love how they have framed the image and the font they have chosen for the calendar. Here is how the first spread will look:
 They have created richly textured calendar pages that I think are just exquisite: lacy, delicate with hints of botanicals and mist....just perfect! Each month's page beautifully matches the colour and feeling of each photo for that month. Their artwork for the calendar page really captures that magical Faerie feeling that I have when I'm out making these sculptures. Here is a peek at all the new images from the back of the calendar:

 It is just so wonderful to see how together, we've been able to combine our strengths so that you, dear readers, will have some really beautiful calendars this coming year to give as gifts or keep for yourself. But as important as the quality issue is for me, what is equally important is Amber Lotus' company policy towards the environment. These people walk their talk! In fact, if you want to read about one of their most recent adventures, you can check out their blog here: and read about their Earth Day offer of Tree Planting and their record-setting group tree hug!! In fact, please do visit their blog and find out how YOU can help add more trees to their program!  Here is the image from their blog to get you inspired:
 Tree Huggers
( photo © Lydia Hess / Amber Lotus Publishing )

    Working with the Art director and staff was incredible too. Much has been written about in recent years about circular processes needing to be brought back to the work-place and replacing hierarchical ones. I listened to a really great interview with Arianna Huffington on Sounds True Podcasts last week and she spoke so eloquently about how she sees the shift really happening in so many workplaces now. I feel it too, I think we all do. 

     For me the confirmation personally was working with the visionary art department at Amber Lotus. They were so kind and respectful and their generous spirit and attention to detail made me want to bring my best self forward into all the art that I could contribute to the project and to future projects as well. 
    This is the way reciprocal circles work - by bringing and giving our best and having the space opened for that kind of mindset, we energetically all grow and expand in sustainable and inspired ways that ripple out and touch others far beyond our immediate circle. This is the kind of world I think we all want to inhabit and thanks to folks like Amber Lotus and other like-minded companies, we are making it happen! 

 In short, I cannot say enough what an honor it is to be working with this company now... their vision and commitment to the environment and to all Beings makes this whole venture have a foundational element that now feels rock solid yet is poised to move forward to create beautiful and inspiring products that will enhance all our lives for years to come. The whole reason I do what I do is to inspire people to take better care of the planet so working with Amber Lotus is a real dream come true for me. 

   And there is even more to this story that I will tell you about in part 2 but for now, I must dash out and try to get some good photos in the bright, spring sunshine.  Stay tuned!
Welcome to the enchanted world of Environmental art and Faerie Houses sculptures created by Sally J Smith. Here you will find photos of the artist's unique art-forms and hear some of the stories from behind the scenes as she shares with you her creative process.