March 25, 2012

the litmus test

I have a test for any new media I decide to start using on a regular basis. I make an image of mountains. This isn't something I deliberately set out to do. It just crept up on me one day. I'll explain.

Eight years ago, I moved from Memphis to the mountains -- the Cumberland Plateau to be exact. I attended Sewanee (the University of the South), and the campus sits on a 10,000 acre plot of forested land in southern Tennessee. Sewanee is secluded and didn't even have reliable cell phone reception when I was there. The remoteness bothers some people. I fell in love. Until I went to Sewanee, the Milky Way was something I just read about in books. I loved trail running through the woods, hiking, sitting on the edge of the Plateau and watching the sun rise or set, and doing my reading for class on a large sandstone rock that overlooked the forest and was older than the dinosaurs. For the first time, I could look out a window and have a "view." I took classes in forestry and geology. I could identify all the rock layers making up the plateau and most of the trees that grew on top of it.

I think mountains are mind blowing and very humbling. I never get tired of looking at them.

A view of Morgan's Steep at Sewanee
Another view of Morgan's Steep.  This image is creeping away from reality, but I had a specific place in mind when I made it.
After college, I moved north to another remote town near the mountains. (Noticing a trend here?) This time I lived along the Susquehanna River in the upper ridges of the Appalachians. I had cell phone reception, but there were hitching posts at my stores to tie up a horse and buggy. Central Pennsylvania's remoteness was not entirely physical. There were pockets my new place that were remote from modernity. Welcome to Amish country. The mountains in the Susquehanna Valley looked familiar -- like 
Tennessee. They were different though and looked completely new when the snow came.

I was obsessed with the way leafless trees looked in the winter -- A sketch from Pennsylvania

When I came back to Tennessee, I settled within spitting distance of the Smokies. I live 15 minutes from the highest point in Knox County, and on a clear day when I drive down Central Avenue, there's a gay bar on my right, a bakery on my left, and miles of purply- blue mountains in the distance.

This watercolor was inspired by the very beginnings of a 5am winter sunrise in Knoxville.

This similar painting came later. Hand incised contour lines describe the rise and fall of the mountain peaks.

At some point in 8 years, the mountains have crawled into my psyche. I have painted and drawn them along the way, but at some point they stopped being specific mountains and just became an image of little bits and pieces of all the mountains, seasons, and times of day I've seen. Mountains have turned into a very sophisticated doodle. The nature of the medium dictates what season or weather seems to appear in the image. I do all of them from my imagination now, and I want each image to be as interesting as the real thing. When I can reach that equilibrium, I feel like I have a decent mastery of my new medium or idea I want to try out.

My first attempt at encaustic painting

More encaustic with dyed cheesecloth for texture.

Cheesecloth on wood. I pulled on the warp and weft strings of the loose weave to create those ridges

I got new Pitt pens a while back and took them for a walk...







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