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Tangled Color and Playful Paint -- or a "Hot Mess"?

Peeking Through 12x16 O/L


It's amazing how our interpretation of people's words or actions can influence our moods and sometimes change the course of behavior.   This is based on recent events in my "art life" AND on a chapter in a book I'm reading about Monet.   (The Treasures of Monet by Michael Howard)


The chapter is called "Evoking "Mystery":

"... In the early months of 1888, Monet spent several weeks painting on the Cote d'Azur in the South of France.  His paintings, inspired by that landscape, were an immediate success with his regular buyers and collectors, but his fellow artists and the critics were less sure of their quality.  "Monseur Monet is a spontaneous painter," wrote Felix Feneon in La Revue Independante, in July 1888.  "Well served by an overdone bravura of style, the productivity of an improviser, and a brilliant vulgarity, his renown is growing, but his talent does not seem to have made any strides since his Etretat series."

Monet appears to have taken such criticism to heart......
..... Like his contemporaries, Whistler and Degas, Monet's work shows over his lifetime a move from exactitude to evocation -- and thus reveals the influence that Symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme had on them all.  ...... Mallarme believed that "everything sacred must surround itself in mystery" and that the purpose of writing was to describe "not the thing, but the effect it produces".  According to Theodore Robinson, an American artist at Giverney, Monet had once used that word "mystery" in connection with his own painting. 


So it appears, that even Monet, with all of his success was not immune to the words written about his work.  It affected what and how he chose to paint.


Now, you ask, what does this have to do with Marian Fortunati (me) OR with the title of this blog post?   Here's how:

If you follow my blog, you know by now that I study with Master landscape and undersea artist, David C. Gallup who is always trying to expand our knowledge of historic and contemporary painters and their methods.  When demonstrating for us or critiquing our work a constant theme is the goal to obfuscate and create mystery in our work through the use of solid design, tangled color and playful paint.  I continually struggle to align my desire for a more traditional realist's look with that of a bit more abstract contemporary look. 


The painting "Peeking Through" looks fairly realistic from 15 or 20 feet away.  I believe I achieved that sharp area of sunlight knifing across the cottonwood trees which are lined up against the distant cliff of Canyon de Chelly.  However, when you get up close to the painting there is a great deal of abstraction through the use of tangled color and playful paint.  I was happy with the painting and proud to include it in among the paintings of our inaugural PAC6 group show at Segil Gallery last month.


One afternoon while the show was hanging I received a call from the gallery.  While we were chatting, the person started telling me how "Peeking Through" was the painting she could see from the spot behind the desk.  She said that she really loved the painting and was always showing it to potential collectors who walked through the gallery.  THEN she said that from far away it was absolutely stunning but when she got up close to the painting it was a "hot mess".


Ummmmm...  I was a bit taken aback ... I was hoping she might have used words like playful color or tangled paint... but that didn't happen.  Okay... you guessed it.  She had said nice words about my work too, but all I took from that conversation was the "hot mess" part.  I didn't think she liked the painting. 


Mind you, this is a person who is a fabulous painter that I truly admire, so her words have lingered with me for several weeks now as I've been working on a large seascape.  I was feeling a bit rebuffed -- off-track.   I'd go outside to paint and couldn't produce anything that I wanted to bring home, much less share with others.  And my favorite parts of my newest painting have tangled paint and playful color too.... lots of interesting texture trying to create just a bit of mystery within a traditional landscape. 


But I kept thinking.... "Am I fooling myself?"  Is this really just another "hot mess"?


Although those words have hung with me, I did decide to go with my own vision and continue with as much of the mystery in paint as I can manage for the large seascape I'm working on.  I put on my "Popeye attitude" and continued on... "I yam what I yam."


And guess what?  
Today she bought the painting, "Peeking Through".   I guess she really DID like my work after all...    (She liked it, she really, really liked it.)   ----. hot mess, playful paint, tangled color and all.

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Nocturnes and a Sunset In The San Gabriels

Sunset In The San Gabriels 8x8 O/L


Seeing In The Dark
As you may remember, I have lately had a fascination with nocturnes.   However, it is difficult for me to go out to paint at night.  Occasionally I get to go out with a friend but that doesn't happen often.  Also it's difficult to leave the family behind in the evening.  During the day they are all out and about doing their own thing so it's easy for me to get away to paint outside.  Not so in the evening. 


So in order to get a bit of advice and information from an expert as well as to have some companions while painting at night I decided to take a nocturne workshop from Eric Merrell.  Eric's work intrigues me.  It's different in a way that goes beyond subject matter and I really like it.  PLUS he is one of the few artists around who offered a nocturne workshop.


The weekend of the workshop was the weekend the temperature was over 110 during the day.  We met at Eric's house in the late afternoon.   Eric talked about his work and showed us lots of wonderful examples of both his field studies and his studio pieces.  We stayed there at the house reviewing this work while he talked about how he takes notes about his feelings and the mood of the scene.  He showed us studio pieces that were based on his field studies.


He also helped us with our lights.  We attached filters over the lights he had suggested we purchase. 


We drove to the Cobb Estate about sundown.  I was so absolutely surprised to see how many hikers are still out in the fading light.  Amazingly there were hikers on the trail until quite late at night.


Eric took us to an area surrounded by trees, hills and trails.  As light faded, he helped us see the shapes and shadows still there in the night.  The moon is an amazing light that castes beautiful shadows.  It was clear that at night there is quite a range of values.  Color, however, was not as clearly seen.  The filtered lights did help with seeing the colors on the palette.  They didn't help at all with seeing color in the environment. 


It was all quite challenging.  I tried like mad to see color but I couldn't.  Also every time a hiker went by with a headlamp or flashlight, I had to shield my eyes so I could still see the surrounding fields and trees. 


Eric did a demo both nights.   I thought it was interesting that he uses chipboard to do his field studies.  It underscores his feeling that these are studies... not finished paintings.   He talked about color temperatures when doing nocturnes and demonstrated it in his demo. 

I tried using the chipboard each night.  The chipboard really sucks up the paint, but I sort of liked using it.  While painting my own study, I had to fight my inclination to use color that I "knew" rather than color I could see.  Since I really couldn't see color, or temperature most of what I painted was my best guess.


Here are the two studies I did during the workshop -- they are pretty sad.    However, I really enjoyed Eric's workshop and I think his advice will help me with future nocturnal adventures.  I've decided, though that I will use my nocturnal studies as experiential and if there is anything I like about them when I see them in daylight, I may use them to do studio paintings -- but I'd never use them as final products.



The painting you see at the top of the page was started in about a 15 minute window while we were waiting for dark.  We were standing in the field talking about equipment and color temperature and seeing in the dark when I looked up and saw the most magnificent light on the mountains and across the field.  I sat down and put as much down as I could before it all disappeared.  I finished up at home.

Sunset In The San Gabriels



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September Moonrise

September Moonrise 18x14 O/L


So Much To Learn

Sometimes I wonder why I keep trying.  I will never be able to achieve all I want to... but hey, I guess in a way that's what life is all about isn't it?  Continually learning -- always setting new goals.  Well, at least for me that's what it's all about.


I must admit, though, that there are times when I get pretty frustrated. 


Lately I've been working on nocturnes.

I took a great night painting class from Eric Merrell and discovered that you can see almost NO color in the dark.  (duh!!).   It was a great class.  There were several rather hilarious moments of stumbling around in the dark while trying to see color in the landscape and on the palette.   I'll write about it on the next post, as I am still assimilating the information.  Sometimes (actually... most of the time) it just takes me time for information and skills to sink in and make sense before it manifests itself in the work that I do.


September Moonrise

I created this painting from the view from the balcony in front of my house/ bedroom studio.  I am extremely fortunate because I have wonderful views from both sides of my house.  

While working on it, I tried hard to apply interesting brushwork and color like  David Gallup continually demonstrates and explains.  (I so wish I was a faster learner...)

The front of my house faces the hills and canyons of the Santa Monica Mountain range.  I once (only once) walked from this side all the way over to Will Rogers State Beach Park.   It took all day and I had to call my husband to come pick me up.  But although it was really a dumb thing to do all by myself without telling anyone, I was glad I did it.


The back side of my house overlooks the San Fernando Valley.  -- Yes, we are lucky to live here.


Sometimes the moonrise is absolutely spectacular and calls out to a viewer.  This larger studio piece is my attempt to share the silvery glow of that September Moonrise. 

September Moonrise was one of two of my artworks selected as part of the inaugural exhibit of the Valley Arts Alliance at a new venue called the San Fernando Valley Arts and Cultural Center.    John Paul Thornton juried the work which is included.   Since our Valley has very few public arts venues, many different arts groups support this venture. 

Quite a few city dignitaries are expected at the grand opening this Saturday, October 25th between 5:00 and 9:00.  If you wish to go to the grand opening, you must RSVP.  (See the attached invitation for details.)

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Subject Matter and Venue... Does it Matter?

Blue Mesa Sunset 8x16


Last Saturday was the opening of the show of our Canyon de Chelly paintings.  The show, "Canyon de Chelly:  Spirit of Land and Light" is a terrific exhibit.  My painting, "First Light" is in the center of the main wall in front of the gallery.



The six of us who traveled and painted together have been working on our studio paintings since April and we all did a great job creating a great show.  The paintings were all from the trip but they were varied and interesting and well done.  We advertised with post cards, through Facebook, email and through our own individual networks.  We purchased a page we all shared in Southwest Art Magazine about the show and the editor even did an editorial.  It was all great.  There were inquiries from as far away as New York as a result of the ad.  It was quite a thrill!

We knew that perhaps Monrovia, CA was not "the" venue for our Canyon paintings, but we had a connection so we took the opportunity and we were hopeful.  All in all I'd say that the show is a success.  We have sold a few paintings already and we certainly had some great fun at our opening.  A wonderful crowd came and it was gratifying to hear the nice comments and to see the faces as they contemplated the work.  I enjoyed talking with so many people I hadn't seen in quite a while and also met many new people.  I will follow up with as many as I can in the days to come.


However, the show didn't sell out on opening night. ( Not surprising, perhaps, but somewhat disappointing. )  -- and yes, the show will hang for several more weeks, so more work could find great homes hear in sunny California.

After reading many articles and listening to several recorded information / instructional sessions with people like Jason Horejs, owner of Xanadu Gallery, about finding the right gallery, approaching galleries, and selling artwork in general,  I think I am learning some valuable and practical lessons.  I am getting my work out there to be seen and I'm proud of what I'm producing, but perhaps it's time to consider taking a show like this with the canyon theme to an area more in tune with canyons. 


Before the show opened we had already decided to take the show on the road.  We took stills of each of the paintings and I made a little video of the show after we hung the show and before the show opened.   I've been practicing using I-Movie and came up with a rather hilarious "trailer" for the reception, but hopefully I'll be able to develop a more professional presentation to use for our future prospects.  The plan is to market the entire body of work to galleries in the Southwest.  Just like Goldilocks, we need to find a gallery that is "just right" for us and for our paintings and which believes that all of us and our work is a good match for them.


If any of you have any suggestions, we'd all love to hear your recommendations.


In the meantime, we'll all keep on painting.  I'll let you know about several other shows which will include my work in future posts.

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Where will YOU be this Saturday from 5-7 pm?


I hope you'll be at Segil Gallery in Monrovia, CA for the opening reception of our show this coming Saturday:


Opening Reception:  Saturday, October 11, 2014, 5:00 - 7:00 pm


"Canyon de Chelly: Spirit of Land and Light"


Golden by Marian Fortunati     Dancing Skies by Marian Fortunati

"Golden"  18x14                                                 "Dancing Skies"  12x16


On Sunday we spent the afternoon hanging the show at Segil Gallery. 
There are six of us and we each did our best to share the spirit of our adventure in Canyon de Chelly with you through our work. 
It is a gorgeous show which does well to honor a very special place in our country.



The PAC6 artists are Linda Brown, Marian Fortunati, Nita Harper, Debra Holladay, Laura Wambsgams and Sharon Weaver.
Each of us has a unique style and outlook and this provides the show with wonderful variety, vision and vitality.


Dawn by Marian Fortunati     Chasing Sunlight by Marian Fortunati

"Dawn"  8x8                             "Chasing Sunlight"   18x24


Sixteen of my paintings will hang in this exhibit. 
The almost eighty paintings in the show will present you with a teaser of the wonders of Canyon de Chelly.


Segil Fine Art Source
110 West Lime Avenue
Monrovia, CA  91016




Gallery Hours:  Tuesday-Saturday 1-6 pm


I hope you will come on Saturday evening to enjoy the show and meet all of the artists.  Please make sure to find me and chat for a while.  I'd love to hear about some of the special places you save in your heart.



If you cannot come to the opening reception to see the show and meet the artists, please plan to spend some time with the paintings during the month the show is hanging.  Perhaps it will help you get your adventure on for a trip of your own to this magical place.


October 11 through November 8, 2014
Tuesday through Saturday 1-6 pm


I'd love to hear your thoughts about the show.


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Peaceful Pride

Peaceful 10x10 O/L


Group Show
I am sitting here on my bed tonight surrounded by the paintings I have been working on for the last several months in anticipation of our group show,

"Canyon de Chelly: Spirit of Land and Light".


I've purchased the frames and now have all the paintings leaning against the walls as I go through the process of installing the canvases and panels into the frames and wiring the frames so they can be hung.  Aside from the relief I feel at having almost completed 16 paintings for this show, I realize now several other emotions.   Hopefully, I won't sound arrogant or boastful, but darn.... I feel proud of myself!!


I have to say that the women I traveled to Canyon de Chelly  with are amazing people and wonderful artists and I was feeling a bit intimidated.  When I was at the canyon, I was afraid I couldn't paint a thing, but heck, it turned out that I did just fine.   Then when one of the gals was able to arrange a group show for all of our paintings, I was thrilled, but I also almost panicked! 

Goal:  Don't Embarrass Yourself
Initially, my one aim was to paint some studio pieces well enough not to embarrass myself.  I really worked hard to use color and texture and design which is unique, interesting and different from that of my talented colleagues.  Of course, we're all painting the scenes we experienced together from the same canyon, but I was hoping to differentiate myself a bit -- (and not in a bad way). 


We all went together to arrange an ad in Southwest Art Magazine and the editor decided to write a piece about our show.  I was really pleased when we got the "collector" copies of the magazine and I discovered that she had chosen one of my paintings for the editorial!!   (She selected "First Light" which was painted from a small study I called "Dawn".)

Whoo Hooo!  What a thrill!





Right now I am surrounded by my Canyon de Chelly paintings and they make me feel proud. 


And that gives me a sense of peace.

"Peaceful"  is the last painting I created for the show and it's fitting that both the painting and my state of mind are in sync.



If you're anywhere near Monrovia, please consider coming by to see the show!!!


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Mystic Ruins -- "Canyon de Chelly: Spirit of Land and Light"

Mystic Ruins 14x18 O/C


I wonder how many people realize how much thought and time and work goes into creating a single artwork.  I know I really never did.  It's not always about sitting in front of an easel with a paintbrush in your hand.  There are so many facets to it:

  • You need to go on location to get impressions, sketches, small paintings, photos, gather feelings and notes about the place.
  • You need to pour through all of that to decide which sketches, notes, or impressions to use if you're going to create a studio piece.
  • You need to decide on what you want to feeling of the piece to be... the story.
  • You need to decide what size it will be -- what aspect (horizontal or vertical).
  • Will you sketch it out or will you let the final image emerge as you paint? 
  • Will your painting be more about the paint or more about the scene?
  • Will your painting be imaginative??  If so, in what way will you push it?   (pushing color, adding clouds, not including shapes which don't add to the story... )
  • How can your painting escape the mundane... stand out?
  • Are your values right?   Are the colors playful and interesting?  Do your edges help the painting read?  And what does the brushwork say about you?
  • Can you have a painting that is about the scene but still be mysterious, painterly and playful?
  • How will you frame it?   Where will you get the frames?
  • Where will you show the work?
  • How will you market or advertise the work?

Seriously, those of you that are painters know these things, so I'm sure you could add many, many more thoughts to it.  Actually I'd love it if you'd add some of the things I've left off.


I've been working hard to get paintings ready for our upcoming show, "Canyon de Chelly: Spirit of Land and Light" which will open on October 11th at Segil Art Source Gallery in Monrovia.  It is a culmination of the work of the six artists called the PAC6 Painters who traveled to Canyon de Chelly to paint last April.  We all have different styles and visions and we know it will be a great show.  I would love it if you would come!


Canyon de Chelly: Spirit of Land and Light
October 11-November 8 2014
Segil Art Source, Monrovia, CA


"Mystic Ruins" is one of 14 or 15 pieces I have painted for the show.  I wanted to include at least one painting depicting the ancient Anasazi ruins which still remain in the canyon.  We were able to see them from the canyon edge as well as closer up when we rode into the canyon.  The Navajo, on whose reservation the canyon sits, are proud of their heritage and our guide, Irene, told many stories about the People (The Dine') who lived and struggled to survive in these lands.


If you are in the area, please put this show on your calendar.  I'd love to meet you and share all of our work.

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Malibu Moonrise (Working On The Night Moves)

Malibu Moonrise 9x12 O/L

Diane Nelson-Gold
and I headed out to paint the August Super Moon as it rose over the coast.  We headed up over the Santa Monica Mountains, but as we neared the coast all we could see was a thick blanket of fog.  So we decided to paint the moonrise over the Malibu hills off of Mulholland Highway.  We got there while it was still light and weren't really sure where the moon would rise. 


It was sure beautiful when it began to peak out over the top of the mountain!

I got my block in and then realized I was standing on an ant hill.  As I slapped my legs and stomped my feet, Diane came over to help and what did she see?  --a scorpion at my feet!   It hadn't bitten me, but it certainly was worse for wear after the fright it gave us.


Such is the life a a plein air painter!


I've been working on several low light painting...  evening, like this one where the values are very close together.  I haven't been really satisfied with my efforts, but I really do know that the more often I work at it, the more likely it will be that I WILL be satisfied with how it comes out.  Sometimes painting is just a struggle.  I think that's true especially when you are trying something new or different. 


Sadly, I think I'm a pretty slow learner.   I do, however, seem to keep at it and I'm ever-hopeful that, like the tortoise, I will cross the "finish" line a winner.


Actually I've come to the conclusion that just BEING ON THIS JOURNEY of learning and growing as an artist makes me a winner.


In addition to my Venice nocturne from my last blog post, here are a few other nocturnes/ moon rises  I've attempted lately (and one from a while back that I've always liked).


Malibu Moonrise   9x12     O/L                     July Moonrise   8x10  O/L                  


  Good Night, Moon  12x12  O/L                 San Pedro Evening Sky     9x12     O/L



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Salute A Notte (One of several experimental nocturnes)

Salute A Notte 11x14 O/L $600




When my brother-in-law last visited from Italy, he suggested that I should paint pictures of Venice.  He told me he could sell them easily when he returned back home.  Well, I didn't jump on it for quite a while and I'm still not convinced that it's a good idea for any number of reasons.

  • The first reason is that there are a lot of bad paintings of Venice and I didn't want MY work to be among them.
  • Those paintings I HAVE done of Venice have seemed stiff and not where I want to go with my work.  I've gotten some awards for them, but... most just weren't "me".
  • The next reason I've hesitated is that I think of myself as an outdoor painter first.  I haven't been to Venice in a while.  (Lately Gastone goes alone so that he can spend more time with his Mom and Dad who are in their 80s.)  So if I paint, I have to rely on my old photos not current field studies.
  • Finally... well.... Venice is a city... and that involves architecture which I haven't painted much.  I'm trying to work looser and I fear I'd get tighter rather than looser if I focused on an architecture-rich environment.


The other day I decided to try a Venice painting anyway.   I've been experimenting with nocturnes and low light paintings for a month or so now ...-sadly rather unsuccessfully.. and I decided to try a Venice painting inspired by a photo I took about 10 years ago across the basin of Santa Maria della Salute at night.  I researched so many artists' work:


Of course there is John Singer Sargent:




And Claude Monet:








Then I found some contemporary artists' work I liked... some on Facebook (Michael Anfinogenov) and another artwork I really by Andrew Gifford, ("Southbank Towards the City")






At first when I painted the scene it was awful.  The colors had too much blue.  There was no subtlety and no interest.  When I saw this last painting, I tried to paint the Venice nocturne of the Salute in the spirit of it.  It's so beautifully full of color, but there is no real line.  The buildings emerge out of light and shade.  I love it. 


I will keep working on my own paintings to achieve that loose "nothing" where you know exactly what is being painted without being "told".


In the meantime, I did have a bit of fun with my "Salute a Notte"


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Beach Play

Beach Play 10x10 O/L

Another fun day at Mondos Beach.




I have mentioned many times before that I take a regular weekly class from artist, David Gallup.  I always enjoy the critiques, the many challenges he throws our way, his demos and his advice.  I started studying with him years ago during a weekly plein air class which I loved.  However, because of conflicts with my schedule and several changes in his schedule, I moved to his Master class.


One of the other students in the class, Julie, always brings in the most interesting questions complete with photos and research.  Because David had started doing his plein air class at Mondos, I learned about the surfing classes for Tyler.  David's emphasis at Mondos had been to challenge us all to add figures to our work.  This is not an easy thing to do en plein air when people are moving all over -- the interesting ones are always moving.  After several questions from Julie and an ensuing class discussion, it becomes clear that the key element is composition.  Finding a pattern of light and dark that attracts you.  Manipulating the scene, -- the placement -- the values and the color to create a pleasing story.


After my first attempt, I wanted to go back and try it again.  Tyler, however, was off at camp.  But I decided to go anyway and join the group.  It was a gorgeous day... bright and sunny and lovely.  I'm glad I went.  We all had a nice time painting.  Mondos is just past Ventura and so after I packed up, I drove up to Santa Barbara to visit with my daughter and her family.   -- A perfect day, I think!


The plein air sketch had some good bones, but as I said, everyone moved, so after I got home, I used the photo reference to clean up and jazz it up a bit.  (I was initially drawn to the light on the back of the girl's leg and the way it pointed at the light on the forearm of the little girl sitting in the water.  I hadn't even remembered the red of her wet suit or the way the turquoise in the other wet suit blended into the water.  Then when I looked at it at home, I realized that the foam had formed a bit of a heart around the children...  I hadn't consciously noticed that, but I liked it so I kept it.)


Hope you like my little plein air piece,

"Beach Play"

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