Musings, Doodlings, and Insights from Acadia National Park

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I’m back home in the Hudson Valley of New York, but when I close my eyes I see spruces and firs draped in Old Man’s Beard lichen, their trunks nearly white with other lichens, their roots clad in bright green mosses; pink granite and greenish-black diabase rock glistening in the surf; Herring Gulls and Eider Ducks flashing white in the sun as the fly over blue-green water. I hear the steady pounding and crashing of waves on the rocky shores and feel the nearly constant cool breeze that wonderfully keeps black flies and mosquitoes away. The songs of Black-throated Green Warblers, Northern Parulas, Swainson’s Thrushes, Winter Wrens, and many other birds still play in my mind. I feel cool mist on my cheeks and watch the hide and seek game of the islands as thick fog rolls in and out and in again.

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I was planning to post again after my second week, but I was so enjoying my break from computer time that I decided to wait till I was back home. I was also heading out to explore, sketch, or hike by 5:00 most mornings and wasn’t spending much time inside, so I didn’t really have time to photograph my artwork or post about what I was doing.

The second week of my artist residency was just as wonderful as the first, perhaps more so, as I settled into a quieter internal state of mind and became more and more present with the world around me and with my own being. I had been very much looking forward to this extended time of quiet, and it was, as expected, a time of insight and personal growth, as well as a wonderful time of sketching and painting.

I’m still reviewing and pondering my times of roaming and observing and meditating, so will probably have more thoughts as time goes on, but one significant insight for me was realizing how much I pressure myself, even when there are no external demands on me. While in Maine I was reading and pondering the book Nature as Spiritual Practice, by Steven Chase, and one section I really liked was about how the cycles of nature can be a kind of liturgy– liturgy being something repetitive that shapes us over time. The liturgy of the sea helped me recognize the pressure I was placing on myself.

One morning I was sitting above the sea in my favorite contemplation spot–a sun-warmed hollow in a diabase dike (a vein of dark diabase rock in the pink Schoodic granite), and I started thinking of the steady rise and fall of tides and the ebb and flow of waves. I thought of the refreshing action of the waves on the rocks and tide pools and then about how much I needed to be refreshed. And that led me to the realization that I was pushing and driving myself even while there, which was absurd, since I’d be sketching and painting just as much without pressuring myself, just because I love to do those things. As I realized that, I felt the pressure wash away, and I came away from that time with an eagerness to simply live as God made me to live with the abilities and passions he has given me, without driving myself to always do more or be better in order to satisfy some internal voice that was telling me I never did enough.

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Throughout my residency I read psalms that speak of sky and sea and wind and creatures of all sorts praising God through being what they are and doing what they were made to do, and I let them lead me in praising God both with words and by living as he made me to be. I had never before asked myself how a wave praises God, but that was one question I asked nearly every day as I heard the fierce crashing or the gentle lapping of the sea in its various moods. And how is the wind, so very present on Schoodic Peninsula, God’s messenger, and what message might it have for me?

The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
    he stretches out the heavens like a tent
    and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
    and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers…
Psalm 104:2-4

11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord…
Psalm 96:11-13

I have come home with more peace as well as more questions to ponder, and I’m looking forward to continuing to observe and share the beauty I find in creation with a greater awareness of my place as a student and observer of nature, while continuing to grow as an artist and a child of God. I am overflowing with gratitude for the opportunity to have spent these weeks immersed in the beauty of Acadia National Park and am so grateful to the Park and to the Schoodic Institute for this gift.

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Wonderful first week at Acadia National Park!

I’ve spent most of every day in the past week hiking, birding, climbing on rocks, sketching, and painting. I’ve identified two new birds for my life list– a Merlin and a Red Crossbill. I’ve walked an average of over 16,000 steps per day and I’ve filled about 50 pages in my sketchbook. I’ve watched and attempted to paint sunsets (not too many, because it’s often been cloudy and sometimes drizzly) and one sunrise (this morning at 4:50– the sun rises much earlier here than at home, thanks to latitude and longitude), and I’ve watched and attempted to sketch the otters here twice so far (they were a highlight of my last time here, and I love watching them swim and dive and cavort in the water). I’ve only pulled my computer out of its case a few times and even then have only been online briefly. I’ve spent hours in silence and days with few words spoken aloud, giving me much time to ponder, to pray, to simply be.

And that’s enough words for now, so I’ll just add photos of some of my sketches and some photos  I’ve taken of this amazing place (will wait till I’m home to post my paintings). (These are just quick photos, because I’m not going to take the time to scan and crop them until I’m back home.) I am so very, very thankful to be able to spend time here immersed in nature and art. Thank you so much to the Schoodic Institute and Acadia National Park for giving me this opportunity, and a huge thank you to Stephen for holding down the fort at home and letting me have this time away.

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Honored to be Artist-in-Residence Again!

Otters scampering and swimming. Gulls in formation facing the sunset on Schoodic Point. Seabirds like specks, migrating over the sea. Fragrance of spruce rising in the sun, while Kinglets sing, scarcely seen. Storm waves crashing, resounding, revealing power beyond comprehension. Planets, stars and velvety darkness awesome in the night… These are some of the wonders of the Schoodic Peninsula, some easy to behold, others easy to miss.

I applied again to the Artist-in-Residence program at Acadia National Park, hoping to again experience the peace of being immersed in nature at Schoodic; the concentrated time to observe, study, and sketch wildlife and the environment; and the opportunity to share with others my love of creation through sketching and painting. A couple of weeks ago I was thrilled to get a phone call saying that I have been selected to be a returning Artist-in-Residence! I feel astonished and so honored to be selected, and I am very thankful to Acadia National Park and the Schoodic Institute for giving me this wonderful opportunity once again.

I love to share with others the wonders of nature and the joy of quieting oneself to see what the land and its inhabitants have to say to us, whether in day or night, fair weather or storm, grand in scale or miniscule. There are aspects of Acadia National Park and Schoodic Peninsula that are easy to see and hard to miss—rocks, sea, wind. In my first residency, last fall, I focused on the big picture, primarily on what I easily observed all around me. During this second residency I hope to focus on those aspects of nature that may be more easily missed—wildlife behavior or  changes in a location or in plants over the course of day and night or fair weather and storm.

Whether easy to see or easy to miss, all creation is valuable and worthy of study. It is a powerful teacher, and when we open ourselves to learning what it has to offer, we gain insight into the hidden wonders of nature and also into ourselves—a combination that enriches our lives, refreshes our often harried souls, and builds a desire to care for creation.

I’ll be returning to Schoodic Peninsula for my second residency in spring of 2017, and of course I’m already dreaming of how I’ll spend my days there. In the meantime, I’ll be heading up there this June for an Artists’ Retreat offered by the Schoodic Institute. There’s still room for more artists, so here is a link for those who might be interested. Artist Retreat  Last year when I was at Schoodic I joined with the artists who were there for the Artist Retreat and had a great time with them. The instructors are wonderful artists and teachers, and the other artists had all sorts of interesting experiences and knowledge to share and knew some fabulous painting locations.

Sundew Trail Rocks at the Ledges
Gannets Diving


More Paintings from Acadia National Park

I still have more sketches from Maine to scan– it takes a while to scan even a fairly small selection of sketches from three sketch books, and the past couple of weeks I’ve happily been spending time painting rather than sitting in front of a screen. But, it’s dark now and I’m a bit tired from hiking in the Catskills today, so I figured I’d sit in front of my computer for a little while. Of course by now I have some local paintings I’ve done, so I have still more to scan and post. I’ll get to those sometime after I’ve posted my Maine paintings and sketches. For now, here are a number of the watercolors I did in Maine, along with a couple I’ve finished up at home.

I struggled a bit with my painting while I was away. For me, sketching is usually very relaxing and calming, whereas attempting to do a finished watercolor painting can sometimes be a bit stressful. It depends; sometimes it flows and I feel completely caught up in painting and time passes without my awareness. Other times, though, the wind chills me and dries my paints too fast, my fingers get stiff and don’t do anything I want them to do with my brush, the light changes so fast I can’t keep up with it, and I get frustrated.

When I was first at Acadia, I had a couple of easy painting days, then a few days when it felt as though my brushes were bewitched and wouldn’t do anything they were supposed to do. I felt discouraged and had to take a step back, to spend some time hiking, sketching and praying to recenter myself. When I had started getting frustrated, I had begun comparing myself negatively to other artists, so I had to remind myself to paint in a way that is true to who I am and not feel that I need to paint like other artists.

Schoodic Point at sunset

After a day of reflection, I returned to my painting with more focus and a more relaxed confidence that allowed me to immerse myself in what I was doing and paint from my heart and out of my connection with whatever aspect of creation I was observing at the moment. This was one of the biggest lessons I came away with from my time as artist-in-residence. The concentrated time immersed in art with no other distractions brought the issue unavoidably to my attention and pretty much forced me to deal with it, which then set me free to move forward. Again, I am so thankful to the Schoodic Institute and the park service for the opportunity to develop as an artist through my time there.

Arey Cove
Little Moose Island
Before sunset at Schoodic Point
Schoodic Point sunset glow
Schoodic Point Sunset
Eider Duck (male)
Storm Clouds coming in on Schoodic Peninsula
Little Moose Island
Schoodic Point low tide rocks

The next two paintings are ones I did from my car at Schoodic Point during a tremendous storm. The waves were HUGE and the spray was rising up higher than the parking lot, which is quite a bit above the water.

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Schoodic Point storm

My Acadia Adventure Begins…

My art supplies (probably half my studio) are packed and loaded in the car. The small amount of remaining space is stuffed with warm clothes, hiking boots, and field guides. The time has finally come; tomorrow I leave for the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park to start my time there as artist-in-residence. I rarely feel that the clock moves too slowly, but it seems like much more than 18 hours till tomorrow morning, when I will start my drive into the fall foliage of New England and into an extended time of focusing on nature and art.

From time to time when I need a quiet day without interruptions, I go to a nearby monastery. Once I stayed there overnight, and experienced the “Great Silence,” during which everyone refrains from conversation, except in case of emergency, from 8:30pm to 8:30am. I loved it. Time to think, to be silent long enough for my mind to stop churning, time for the quiet whisper of creativity to be strengthened to a clear call. I’m told there’s almost no cell phone signal at Acadia National Park, so I can count on being pretty much uninterrupted– a Great Silence, this time surrounded by mountains, coast, forests, and surf.

During my time at Acadia I plan to immerse myself in the unique wonders and beauty of that piece of creation, sketching and painting what I see and experience in order to more deeply ground myself in the present moment and place and also to be able to share it with others. I’ll be working with a group of middle school students (an age group I love working with) one evening, doing night sketching, something I love to do. I hope to help them develop a sense of wonder at the awesomeness of the heavens and the quiet beauty of the night. I’ll also be sharing some of my sketches and paintings one morning with a group of artists who will be there on an art retreat. That should be a great time of sharing and learning together, as I always appreciate the opportunity to see what other artists are doing. Other than those times and perhaps one or two other presentations, I’ll be exploring, sketching, and painting, hopefully from before dawn to after sunset every day.

Stephen will join me for part of the time, and we’ll plan on venturing out on some of the more rugged hikes during that time. He likes to read or just enjoy the view and ponder the deep questions of life while I sketch, so we have good teamwork for outdoor adventures. The rest of the time I’m there will be a time of Great Silence for focusing on the gifts of the natural world and on how to share them through my artwork.

(Photos from Acadia National Park by my son and daughter-in-law, Jonathan and Minet Fischer.)

Artist-in-Residence at Acadia National Park!

Last week I was notified that I’ve been selected to be an artist-in-residence at Acadia National Park in Maine! I am SO EXCITED! I applied in early January and have been eagerly awaiting news, attempting (with limited success) to wait patiently and not check my email obsessively. I got the email last week on the first day of a vacation trip Stephen and I took; that started that vacation off on a wonderful note.

During the time I’ll be there (October 14-31), I’ll be focused on immersing myself in the world of Acadia and in my art. Observing, exploring, sketching, creating, painting. I can hardly wait! I’ll also be working with the public (school children, I think) for an hour or so each week, sharing my love for nature and art, something I always love doing.

I am so very thankful to the Schoodic Institute and Acadia National Park for this incredible opportunity, and a big thank you also goes to my friends and family who encouraged me to apply. I feel so honored to have been selected, and I am eager to serve the park and the public with my art. I’ve already purchased a book on plein air painting at the park– Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island Plein Air Artist Guide— and have been perusing the book and counting the weeks and months until I can start roaming the park, sketchbook in hand.

View from Gorham Mountain, Acadia National Park,
photo courtesy of National Park Service