Monday, August 18, 2014

Tiger, tiger burning bright!

Right now the Tiger Lily plants are in full bloom in my garden. Every year they offer such elegant displays of graceful blossoms perched upon tall stems that give me a direct eye-line view of their beauty. This year I decided to make a tiny house that could hang amongst the blossoms. I chose to make the entire house out of Birch bark so it would be light and floaty. The house took nearly a day to make but I loved how it looked tucked in-between the curved petals of the blossoms. The greatest challenge was shooting the image. As soon as I set everything up it seemed as if the sky was suddenly filled with mushrooming clouds. I had to stand in one place for an hour and 20 minutes, before I was able to get this shot, but it was worth it!


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why do it?

I often get asked why do I make these creations? The simple answer is because they are fun. The next equally important reason is because it brings people joy. 

     I'll admit, it is a challenge to earn a living at this financially speaking. But money is not what fuels my creative engine (clearly!), it is something deeper. It is the desire to bring a sense of wonder and magic to you, even if it is for just a few moments in the day for we are all need to feel joy in our lives. 

   The media is filled with all sorts of terrible news and the cycles of chaos and despair seem never-ending sometimes. I know personally the sensation of feeling so weighted down with the problems on this planet that I feel as if I have been entombed under a pile of boulders, each one representing a serious issue we humans have created. I am deeply & passionately concerned for this beautiful world and how humans are now destroying the diversity and eco-systems because we value toys and money more than we value living things and the precious Beauty of this planet. The more you learn the more depressing it seems. What to DO about it is the question we must ask of ourselves.

    Thankfully, there are a million small choices each of us can make that could add up to significant change. Recycling. Careful shopping. Driving less, walking more. The list is really endless. But no one is going to take any of these steps unless they first can FEEL something - about the Earth, about Beauty, about wanting to protect Nature. But that is hard to do given our wired world where everyone now stares into screens of various sizes, like the very one you are looking at right now, with the desire to feel something. What is it we want to feel I ask myself?

     Certainly people want to feel "connected", advertisers tell us this all the time. But connected to what? This is where, as silly as it may sound, I feel I can add something positive to the collective soup we all call "Modern Life". I want to bring a moment of surprise and delight to those who view the work. I want to help the viewer return to that deep place inside us that remembers... when we all were intimately connected to Nature and lived in Nature and felt alive with wonder because Nature was all around us and life was truly magical. The sensation of "Home" is deeply embedded in our physical bodies. All kinds of research has been done on this. Deep in our brains and in our memories as a species we all feel attracted to similar things when we think of what "home" feels like. We all resonate with green, with sunshine, with fresh water and the moon. These things have mattered to human beings for millennia and it is only in the past few generations that we have lost or daily connection with these essential elements of well-being. So I feel it is my calling, as an artist to help people remember and doing it through representations of "home" the kind of homes we all would like to call our own is part of the reason why I do this work.

    Who wouldn't want to walk along a path in the forest and find this waiting for them in a pool of sunshine? 
      So that is part of why I do this work. There are other reasons too but this is a big part of it. If this work can in any way bring happiness and a smile to someone somewhere, then that makes it worthwhile. If people can be reminded that the Earth is a place of Beauty and wonder and we all can make choices to help protect it, then even better. This is why I am so thrilled to be working with Amber Lotus now as publishers of my work. They GET it. and even more importantly, from what I've seen, they live the values of conscious living and Earth Stewardship even while they have a business to run. So it is an honour for me to be associated with them and these past few months I have been working very hard to make more creations to fill the pages of next year's calendar! I'll share a few of those creations with you in the next weeks and some little stories so you can come behind the scenes a wee bit to learn a little more about how they came into being.
     Thank you for reading this far and for supporting my work in whatever way(s) that you can. It may seem a silly thing to some, but this is my calling and I want to give it my best effort. It is important to be a force for good, no matter how small, in this world today.

May your days be filled with Sunshine and magic!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

One Lunation later...

Greetings Everyone,

I hope your summers have been gentle, sweet and savory so far. I've been incredibly busy, so much so that there has been no time to write in this blog. But the big push is finally  nearly done and as a result I have many new little creations that I'm eager to share with you! But before I do that I need to catch you up on how the re-shooting of the Beach House went, so here we go!

  As you may recall, the Beach house was created as a celebration of the pleasures of the summer. The house was designed to stand in shallow waters to catch the reflected lights of warm summer sun and pink moon risings while at the same time several different wind toys were added to play with the gentle breezes.  After the first round of images, I realized that the entire structure looked a bit lop-sided so I added a third little "room" to balance the space a little better. Here is how it looks now:

   I took everything down to the lake to a different location on the day before the actual full moon. I knew the moonrise would be pale because the sun was still 30 minutes from setting but I wanted to try out the new location as I was not entirely certain it would work for the full moon rise which was to be the next day. ( I'll be you didn't realize so much planning went into these shots!) This way, if things did not work out, I could go back to the location I used last month if I had to. While I waited for the sun to go down, I enjoyed the high contrast of the white parts of this house against the deep blue sky reflected in the water. At the top right of the sculpture you can see the large sea shell nestled in the crook of the branch, way up high. This is a little bathtub so the Faeries can take baths in the moonlight!

   The evening was warm and the water was too as the little bay was very shallow, but perfect for what I needed. I hated disturbing all the shorebirds that were using the edge of the water for foraging, but there were other sections that they could use (and did) while I was here for just a few hours. I set the new house up and took my compass heading hoping I had calculated where the moon would be rising close enough to get it with the house. All went very well and though the moon was indeed very pale, the pink light was just wonderful and made the house glow beautifully. I also realized that I want to add some tiny lights to this structure eventually to make it really come alive... ah! an artist is never happy, are they?

    So all seemed perfect for the next day which was to be the actual full moon rise. I returned to the same spot (after a hectic day of shooting other houses up in the mountains - more on that in another post) and again, set up the house and the cameras and waited. And waited. The clock bell on the local library in the nearest town rang the hour and I knew that the moon should be visible any minute now.... only, all I could see was a pale lavender-grey horizon... and then... I realized it: the distant mountains were holding a bank of clouds... there may not be a moonrise at all this evening! Tense minutes passed as I continued to scan the sky hoping for a glimpse... and finally nearly 25 minutes late, it cleared the tops of the distant clouds and began to shine across the water. The deep twilight made for some very tricky shooting conditions as the wind was now up. The camera needed longer time exposures to get the image but all the wind toys were now blurry in the images from moving around and the reflecting moonlight was broken up by the wind-riffled water.... still, it was not a total loss, as I hope you will agree... here are the second round of moon rise images over the Beach Faery House. If you have a favourite one, I'd love to know.... myself, I can't choose which one I like the most! Whichever one is voted as most popular will be the one I include in my new greeting cards which are in development now.

Lots of new houses will be appearing here soon... still shooting and processing images and there are new projects to tell you about too so come back for more news shortly.

Blessings of Peace to you and yours!

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!

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.