I sat quietly, engrossed in some of Mom’s old Ideals magazines which are filled with poetry and beautiful illustrations. That’s where I came across these words by Edith Shaw Butler in the 1986 springtime issue: “This is the season of promise; this is the spring of the year.” And it certainly is the season of promise for landscape painters like myself! Known for its color-filled drama, October is a month that begins with riots of color but ends with bare twigs, skeletal limbs, brown-toned grasses, and leaden-hued skies. But MAY, the season of PROMISE begins with gentle pinks, mauves, yellow-greens, and blue-greens, then ends in rich greens, full-throated reds and magentas, with gorgeous blues and yellows scattered throughout! The American artist Eric Sloane believed, “Poverty is not the money we fail to get, but the beauty we fail to see.”
May I share with you some springtime beauty I saw and my attempt to paint it?
Last year, at the very end of April, I packed my plein air gear into my art backpack, grabbed my easel, and headed for Frances Slocum State Park with my plein air buddies, Omar and Julia. The day was glorious! Warm breezes fanned my face and even warmer sunshine tinted my skin. We worked all afternoon. I completed three watercolor sketches, including “Relaxing at Frances Slocum.” I was amazed to see how the scene changed in just a few hours! Leaf buds grew and opened. Flower buds did the same. The blue of the sky deepened. Plein air painting is an eye-opening artistic adventure!
I love to see the variety of white-to-pink-to-magenta blossoming trees and shrubs InSide the Back Mountain in May! My husband’s step-father passed away in 1999. At the time, he lived in the house Joe and I now call home. That spring, two of his friends planted a Japanese cherry tree in the side yard in his memory. Japanese cherry trees have a lifespan of 15-25 years, and as I contemplate its top-heavy foliage and three-way split trunk, I consider that tree an inspiring old friend. It's reaching its limit. But it continues to persist, to do its very best, to make its presence glorious until the very end. I have painted that tree many times, in all its seasons, but especially in springtime with its wealth of fully double blooms from early to mid-May. By the end of May, most local blossoming trees are fully leafed in gorgeous deep green shades to eventually turn into autumn colors of deep alizarin crimson, lavender, copper, orange and golds. My good friend Ann, a resident of Chase who never misses a chance to see beauty, provided a photo of a gorgeous pink tree showing its “stuff” near the old Chase barn, a beloved landmark. I painted from her photo to create “East Meets West.”
Take a walk InSide the Back Mountain this month. Watch how rapidly nature changes in size and development! Make notes or sketches of the changes. Make a day-to-day photo album on your phone. It's like watching a newborn babe morph into a teenager in the span of one month!
By the end of May, fields of flowers sway in the breeze. There are lupines, some daisies, early wild iris, buttercups, columbine, and so many more to regale our eyes with their glory. To commemorate the richness of late spring, I decided to paint “Floral Tapestry'' in an Impressionistic style in watercolor. It was “bold and free,” believe me! First, I dampened the entire paper and started spattering different colors where I thought they should go by hitting a large brush loaded with very wet watercolor pigment against the edge of a ruler. The splashes softened on the paper, creating the beginning of my composition. I continued with more spattered watercolor–sometimes on wet paper, sometimes on dry paper. Occasionally I painted directly and then sprayed those strokes with a spray bottle of clear water to create blurred edges and textures. After many hours, many layers, and many step-back-and-let’s-think-about-this moments, I added the finishing touches. Based on an actual 30-year old photo, it became my own personalized dreamscape.
Eric Sloane (historian, sign painter, artist, pilot, America’s first weatherman) was a collector of old almanacs. Included in one were the words, “May is a broom of a bright-faced angel that sweeps the sky clear for the coming summer.”
Memorial Day week, at the end of May, is known for its uncertain weather. Now it is hot, now it is not! But I still prefer Edith’s words: “This is the season of promise. This is the Spring of the year.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2023 publication of InSide the Back Mountain.