When my husband and I first moved to the Berkshires from California in 2001, some people would ask us in disbelief, “Why would you want to live here?” Granted there are parts of the Berkshires that are not that pretty and it has a fair amount of people who live in poverty and don’t go beyond a mile from where they live, but only if they did just get on bus or go for a walk in less than a mile from anyplace you live in the Berkshires you can see such amazing scenery. I painted one of my favorite views which is on the way to a quaint town called Stockbridge, about a twenty minute drive from my house. The field is a sea of cornstalk stubble and the three pines remind me of some in California. The sky had a beautiful purple streak across it that day and the hills were a majestic purple. Funny enough, this view reminds me of another reason we love to live here. The property is close by High Lawn Farm, a farm http://www.highlawnfarm.com that raises Jersey cows and doesn’t give the cows hormones or antibiotics. The farm has been in continuous operation since the 1800s. The milk from these Jersey cows is amazing and it naturally contains more calcium and protein than other milks. We have enjoyed this milk for the entire time we have lived here and my children have grown up drinking it. The milk is only available here and over the years it has become available in other places in Massachusetts. You can be sure High Lawn Farm milk will be a part of our Thanksgiving dinner. Scenery and farms are just two of the many reasons we love to live here and thankful that we call the Berkshires home. Happy Thanksgiving!
Fall has been just spectacular in the Berkshires. In the leaf-peeping industry, bus tours to the New England area always try to come during the two traditional peak weeks (second and third week in October), when most of the trees have turned their vibrant colors and the trees are still full with leaves. This year, the entire month of October was peak viewing! The moderate temperatures kept the leaves in the yellow-orange color spectrum with an occasional fire red tree tossed in for a surprise. Week after week, the leaves refused to fall off and I kept on taking picture after picture of beautiful trees. I selected a variety of leaves for my art class to use when we did leaf rubbings with crayons and then the children filled each leaf in with watercolors. My son collected (ok I collected most of them!) over ten black and rust brown woolie bears for a school project, created a habitat, and faithfully fed them apples and dandelion leaves and soaked white cotton balls with water so that they could drink. In this spirit of fall, I created my second treasure box from a recycled cigar box. I kept it simple at first with a golden orange maple leaf on the top with a dark brown border. If you look closely, you will see a woolie bear on the front right of the box. Inside, I continued the fall colors with four more leaves in a pile. I imagine someone using this treasure box to keep those mementos that help us remember the passing of the seasons.
When I first heard this name, it struck me as sort of odd or a bit funny. My sister Jeanette mentioned this bird when I just finished my Chickadee painting last year. She said, “You should paint a Tufted Titmouse; they are so cute.” To be honest, I don’t think I have ever seen this bird in the wild -have any of you? I looked up a picture and these birds are indeed adorable with their tuft of hair at the top of their head and their chubby body – similar to the Chickadee which they are related to. Well, I kept this suggestion in mind and recently felt inspired to paint the Tufted Titmouse, the second bird in my bird series. (See the Chickadee at http://www.mjnicole.com). I learned that the Tufted Titmouse has a call that sounds like “Peter, Peter” and I painted the words on my painting. I again selected one of the many past holiday cards I have kept over the years and used it to make a few of the wild red berries capped with snow, a tail feather, and also parts of the arched branch. When you see this painting up close, I like how the card paper gives the scene depth. I hope this winter, I will see one in my backyard and call “Peter, Peter” to it.
No, I am not going to talk about Coca-Cola :)
A few months ago I visited the National Gallery of Art in D.C. and got to view a few of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings like the one pictured here (I was allowed to take a photo without flash). I enjoy seeing his work and am inspired by his colors, movement, and vibrancy in his work. You are probably very familiar with Van Gogh’s painting “Sunflowers” -probably his most well known painting. Years ago, I would see “Sunflowers” everywhere mostly as posters and it became a bit trite to me, until I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art and went into a room of his paintings and there was the real, original Sunflowers! What an amazing painting, the oranges and yellows were so brilliant and textured. I stood in front of it as long as I could looking at the swirling brush strokes and waves of paint; this painting quickly became of my favorites right next to his “Starry Night.” I now seek out Van Gogh’s paintings. This same experience happened to me with the artist Georgia O’Keefe – again I had seen many of her posters of her flowers and was unimpressed until I visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico http://www.okeeffemuseum.org. All of a sudden, seeing her actual paintings up close brought a whole new appreciation of her work. How glad I am that I viewed the real paintings in person.
I don’t own any Van Gogh’s or O’Keefe’s paintings, but I am fortunate to have in my home several original real paintings (not just my own!) that I have garnered throughout the years. I know prints have been instrumental in sharing art with the masses, but even the best print will never match seeing the real art.
There is nothing like the real thing!
The holiday time is a great time to purchase a real thing – I am trying out being a vendor at my first fair/festival at the Handmade Holiday Festival. For those of you in the Berkshires, please stop by and say hi! It is held on December 6 and 7th at Berkshire Community College’s Paterson Field House.
I have been out bicycling more this fall now that my children are back in school and as I bike around the Berkshires I have noticed that the goldenrod seems more bountiful than other years; or perhaps I just wasn’t looking! Everywhere there are large fields of this yellow native flower. I was looking for the perfect goldenrod scene to take a picture and to paint from the photo. I wasn’t finding quite what I had in mind and the days were going by quickly. Then while I was driving past the local Pittsfield airport, tucked between a row of trees, I noticed a dirt road that I had not seen before. The entrance to the dirt road was closed with a big metal farm gate, however I parked my car and walked closer. The view was beautiful; a huge field of goldenrod with blue spruce trees sprinkled in between. The dirt road curved to the right and the sky! What a blue, blue sky with these amazing billowing clouds all tilted upward as they were saluting! Another great day in the Berkshires. See more painted scenes of the Berkshires at http://www.mjnicole.com!
As I put away my hand sander and washed my various paint brushes, I thought about what a huge Do-It-Yourself project of painting my house has been. I started two years ago in late May of 21013 and I worked on it on the days when the weather forecast was dry weather and while my children were in school or between summer trips. I started on the north side of the house and tackled the full height of the house, then moved to the front (pictured here) and again had a new challenge with the dormer windows and shutters that demanded attention to their small slats of wood. Several of our windows are still the original 1950s models and so I learned how to scrape, paint, glaze, and paint again the thin wood holding the panes of glasses in the windows. The north side of the garage gave me a bit of trouble. After painting it, it started to bubble in a weird angled line. I figured out that in the fall, the sun is lower and it reflected off my neighbor’s metal stove pipe and produced a laser like stream of heat that bubbled the paint as the sun moved through the sky (or more correctly as the earth turned!). I waited till this year to re-scrape and repaint the garage and then continued on the south side and finished up in the back on the east side. This is a major check mark on my To-Do-List. Woo- Who!!! It is finished!!! It has been fun to have the neighbors watch the progress – some would drive by and yell out their car window “Looks good!” when I was up on the 24 foot ladder and the walkers who watched intently and would offer words of encouragement. With such an all encompassing project complete, I am looking forward to picking up my other paint brushes and painting more scenes of the Berkshires.
I believe my children are getting tired of me saying “Make hay when the sun shines.” I think I first read this quote in one of the books in the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder http://www.lauraingallswilderhome.com/. I think Laura’s Pa probably said this to his children when it was haying time. I had to explain this quote to my children to have them understand that when the sun is shining I must paint. Not paint a painting, but paint my 1940s house that has original cedar wood siding. Thanks to YouTube, I studied the way to paint a house and purchased all of the necessary equipment. You can bet I received a few comments as I left Home Depot with a 24ft ladder and $1,000 worth of paint. I started this DIY project last summer with a bit of fear – fear of the 24 foot ladder I had to climb to reach the peaks and fear of tackling such a huge project by myself. Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Well, on the first day of painting, I was scared and scared when I look at the huge expanse to scrape. However, now in the second season I am no longer scared. I scrape the old paint by hand, spackle, caulk, glaze the windows, sand, wash, and paint – up to five layers to obtain a consistent deep red color! Last summer I completed half of the house and this summer I am determined to complete the last half. So for the last two months, this endeavor has not left any time for me to add new paintings to my website http://www.mjnicole.com. However, I am rounding the corner to the back of the house since we have been fortunate to have quite a few sunny days. Now, please excuse me while I go and paint while the sun shines!