Experiments in Art / by Jeannine Cook

When luck is kind and an opportunity presents itself to work in peace and beauteous quiet, experiments in art-making are a serious option.

As part of the WCAGA Drawing Marathon, a day of plein air work had been organised for yesterday, Saturday.  Luck was indeed on our side - it had poured with rain the previous days, and today, the day after, while Saturday dawned crystal clear, sunny and delicious.  With such good auguries, it was time to try different media, different subjects in art.  It seems to me that it is so important always to try to grow as an artist by experimenting, refining one's voice and one's style of art, whilst still remaining true to that little "inner voice".  As artist/art coach Bob Ragland once remarked, "Being an artist is like planting a garden - plant the seeds and see what sprouts".

Seeing what sprouted was fun as I worked yesterday.  I used sepia Prismacolor to tell the story of a wonderfully contorted dead red cedar which was slowly decaying, lichens and other forces working on its reduction.   Growing right at the edge of the marshes, the tree showed what happens when salt water levels rise and affect both the tree's root system and the solidity of the oyster shell bank into which its roots burrowed.  Using Prismacolor to depict the tree is a very different medium, as compared to graphite or silverpoint, with its wide range of tone and its waxy quality that can lead to build-up on the paper.  Like silverpoint, Prismacolor does not allow erasure.  So the experiment was about flying blind, to a certain extent.
Another venture I tried was to look around me with fresh eyes, to try and see possible subject matter that was totally new and different for me. It is always tempting to return to the same types of subject matter in art -in essence to stay in a zone of comfort and depict things/places/people with which you are familiar.  I am not sure, however, that one grows a great deal if you are always doing the same things - whether it is making the same pastries over and over again, using similar phrases only when learning a new language or doing the same things again and again in art-making.  Charles Hawthorne, the American painter who founded the Cape Cod School of Art, declared that "in his attempt to develop the beauty he sees, the artist develops himself"...  In other words, try putting on new spectacles in life.
I spent some time prowling along the wonderful interface between salt marsh and high ground, with sunlight filtering through the many live oaks, cedars and palmettos.  But what I finally "saw" was the wonderful patterning of the marshwrack, the amazing amalgam of dead stalks of the Spartina alterniflora or Cord grass, the essence of the salt marshes of the South Eastern coast.  The high tide gathers up these dead stalks and deposits them in wonderful rafts  at the high water mark along the banks and higher ground.  There, they eventually break down, aided by the activities of a myriad small crabs and insects, and contribute to the enrichment of the marshes and salt water, nourishing all life in the marshland nurseries.  This marshwrack was the subject of my next drawing experiment, using metalpoint to follow its rhythms and weavings.  Gold, copper and silver followed the Spartina's patterns,a meditation about life, decay and new developments, both for the marshes and, I hope, for my art.