Que the Clothespin!

When painting a subject that flits around as much as birds, it’s almost impossible to get the right pose, in the good lighting, AND perched on a branch with interesting shapes. Not impossible, but darn close to it. Subsequently, many of my bird paintings are a compilation of several photographs and other reference sources including sketches, direct observation, and color notes. (Watch for future posts where I’ll detail these other sources and methods.)

© Nancy Murty • Seasons End • oil on linen • 10x8 in •  available

© Nancy Murty • Seasons End • oil on linen • 10x8 in • available

Being greeted by the Bluebird's cheerful melody every time I stepped out the door is one of the things I miss from our old house. They were constant visitors to the yard during the warmer weather months. Every year it was a little sad as Autumn drew to a close and the Bluebirds headed south. But come spring, they’d be back serenading from the Crabapple tree and hunting for bugs in the lawn.

This was the inspiration behind Seasons End.

Que the clothespin!

One of the reference materials used for  Seasons End,  the  Bluebird was placed where clothespin is.

One of the reference materials used for Seasons End, the Bluebird was placed where clothespin is.

Since birds don’t take direction well, I often use a clothespin as a stand-in, clipping it to a spot on the branch where I’ll place a bird in a future painting.

Two main benefits are…
1. I can decipher the direction of the light by the highlights and shadows cast on the pin.
2. I know the exact measurements of the clothespin and use this to get the proportions correct between the size of the crabapples and a bird.

I carry a clothespin in my purse, several in my backpack, plein air gear, and in Sarah (my Jeep) in the hopes that I will almost always have one with me. On this particular occasion, I’d run to Staples early in the morning for a few errands and was captivated by the early sunlight on the crabapple trees in the parking lot. I snapped lots of photos with my phone and you’ll probably see them used more than once for future paintings.

I often get some strange looks from people wondering what in the heck I’m doing. Sometimes I feel a little self-conscious and wonder if people think I’m weird? By the way, don’t look up weird in a thesaurus – it’ll really make you feel like a freak.

There you have it – the how and why I travel around photographing clothespins clipped to branches. Not that weird, right?

Answering "What Inspires You?"

Laying in bed last night, I found myself contemplating the question I’m most often asked, “What inspires you?”

Some nights I wish I was like Paul – asleep within 10 minutes of his head hitting the pillow. I, however, tend to lay awake…pondering. The topics can vary from the day’s events to a book I’m reading, a movie, recent conversations, or even important life questions like – finding a way to be able to continue eating ice cream despite becoming lactose intolerant.

I digress, back to the question at hand, “What inspires you?”

I dread this question, I really do. It’s not the question as much as the implied weight of the expected reply. “Oh, I don’t know…nothing, everything” is usually the first thing that pops in my head. Followed by, Oh Shit, they’re serious. They really want to know what inspires me; they’re expecting something profound! I’m a jeans and t-shirt gal…what you see is what you get…I’m not profound. Isn’t the art suppose to speak for itself? It’s just a momentary panic, one that passes just as quickly as it arrived.

I believe the question is really just a way to break the ice, a way to start a conversation. At least this has come to be the way I prefer to think of it when asked “What inspires you?” Instead, I replace it with “What is it that inspires you to choose to paint what you do?” It’s much less panic inducing.

What inspires me to choose to paint what I do? I’m so glad you asked.

 

"Light. Emotion. Color. These are the three things that have the greatest influence on my choice of what to paint. And, not just what to paint – but how to paint. The source of the inspiration helps to inform other decisions, such as what to emphasize, what to edit or leave out, how to crop, what format (horizontal, vertical, or square), high key vs low key, and more."

 
© Nancy Murty •  Autumn Harmony  • oil on linen • 6x6 in • SOLD

© Nancy Murty • Autumn Harmony • oil on linen • 6x6 in • SOLD

Light.

The play of light and shadows across and object or landscape will often stop me in my tracks with a “oh, look at how the light is hitting _____, it’s just gorgeous.” To which my husband (if he’s with me) usually replies with a “Yea, that’s nice.” He’s such a good sport. He really is. Light can often set the mood of a painting and I find the light and shadow pattern adds an abstract quality to the composition.

The light and shadow patterns cast on the crabapples and leaves, specifically on the leaf with the two smaller crabapples in front, was the inspiration and excitement I had for this painting.

© Nancy Murty •  Passing Through  • oil on linen • 6x8 in • SOLD

© Nancy Murty • Passing Through • oil on linen • 6x8 in • SOLD

Emotion.

The anticipation of watching for the White-Throated Sparrows in the yard once the Forsythia blooms and then the joy of spotting the first one was the inspiration behind “Passing Through”. It’s hard to separate art from emotion, both for the viewer and the artist. I don’t know, can they even exist apart?

© Nancy Murty •  Apple.1  • oil on linen • 5x7 in • SOLD

© Nancy Murty • Apple.1 • oil on linen • 5x7 in • SOLD

Color.

Who can resist the seductive lure of color? It may be a color harmony that attraction my attention and other times it will be something much more subtle. The beautiful bright red of the apple surrounded by the various green leaves with all their subtle changes in hue and temperature…color gets my paint brush flying every time.

There it is, light, emotion, and color, the three things that inspire me to paint what I do. What inspires you to do what you do?

Please leave a comment below, I’d like to know where you draw your inspiration from to do what you do.

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