Painting in a boat on the river

August 30, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Posted in art, blogging, country life, country living, faith, family, knitting, Life, love, marriage, relationships, romance, shopping, summer, travel, volunteerism | 5 Comments
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I have lived here just over five years, started writing my blog five years ago in early August.  It is circumstantially strange, but the blog inevitably became an integral part of marriage.  I suppose it is conceivable it will always be that way.  None of us know how long this blog relationship may last, it is brand new territory for us all after all.

It’s funny, because I can go back and see what we were up to on or about this date back at the beginning of our marriage, and see more clearly how our lives and activities have evolved over this little bit of time.  In 2006 on this date I was writing about the ice cream social fund raiser we had at our church the night before.  Today I am writing about a little time we spent on the river last night and the Artists of The Oak Art Trail event of this past Saturday.   Beautiful times, beautiful experiences, beautiful home.

Yesterday afternoon when my husband got home from work, on a spur of the moment we headed over our cottage and went out on the river.  I grabbed a few tubes of oil paint, some brushes and palette knives, and a few gesso-prepped boards invarious sizes.  He grabbed his tackle box and rods, and we rowed a little ways out into the river before he left the boat to slowly drift.  I am not a plein aire painter particularly, although I do love painting outdoors.  I am usually meticulous in my drawings and painting techniques, working in my studio where I can focus and study and paint with an eye toward fine details at times.  But I have longed to be sitting in one end of a boat painting with my husband fishing in the other end.  So many things have happened over the past five years that we never once, until yesterday, fulfilled that particular longing in our hearts.

The river was beautiful and peaceful.  We drifted downstream slowly, toward a center island in the river.  The shadow and light was perfect, with dapples of sunshine in the trees, on the grasses, and flowers.  As we drifted toward the little island, a swan came out from behind it and was not at all disturbed by our presence.  I created a tiny little painting — it is probably only about 2 1/2″ by 3″ or something.  But, I had to mix paints quickly while sitting sideways in the boat, just a field paintbox propped against the side of the boat holding an impromptu palette, a small assortment of brushes and knives, a rag, etc.  And the scenery was changing as we drifted, so I had to paint quickly.

This was the first painting I think I have ever done where I didn’t fret as I worked on it.   I just mixed the paints and got to painting without a drawing or anything planned out … no opportunity to be meticulous in the least bit.  It is a sweet little painting, a little token to commemorate the first of our little adventures in the boat doing somethings we both love — fishing for him, painting for me, and being together in the tranquility of our mostly private little piece of the world.   Heaven.

I am into my fourth blissful day in a row this morning.   We have plenty of good days in life, but they don’t always come one right after another like this.  I write about the good and the best days, but there is no need to mention the lesser days of struggle, heartbreak, strife, or loss.  Those are the days and times that give us strength and contrast.  We all have them — you have them as well, I am certain.  If you didn’t, your life would be stagnant and we all know stagnant waters are … well, they’re stagnant.

This river of life — my river, your river, the rivers of life and living that flow through and around us all — this river is best when it is moving.  It can move slow or fast, but the transitions and bubbles, the white water, and the ripples all work together to create the stuff of life.

On Saturday our Art Trail event came off beautifully.  I wish you could have been here … actually, some of you were.  This was the fourth or fifth year of the art trail, but only the second year of the “loop” created by the art group I am a part of, Artists of The Oak.   In the first couple of years of the trail, there were only three to six visitors total.  Can you imagine how discouraging that was to any artists involved in it. You prepare works of art, get all set up and ready to greet the public, and believe it might be possible someone will see something you have created and actually want to pay some money and take it home with them.  Then, to have three or four people show up over the course of several hours.  Well, it is a heart breaking experience really.

Then last year at our urging the event was moved to the last Saturday in August (as opposed to early October) when there are plenty of vacationers around.  We volunteered to have several artists come to our place and set up tents on our lawn so that the public could see more art and artists with less driving.  Plus, there seems to be something very inherently lovely and inviting about this little piece of Earth.  With our grand old willow tree and the fields bordering our lawn on two sides, and the river right across the road the setting is quite beautiful.  The end of August is the best weather you could hope for an outdoor event of this kind, and with a few artists all together at once place we figured that even if no public showed up for the event at least we would all be together enjoying a beautiful summer day.

So, last year’s event saw an increase from three or four people to thirty-five to forty visitors … very encouraging.

This year we all pitched in on the costs for printing 2,000 full-color flyers about our “loop” in the Trail as well as 1,000 oversized postcards about our group.  We started getting the flyers and postcards out three months in advance and all of the artists helped get those flyers distributed around the county.  I wrote a press release that really told our story, and some of the papers in Western New York gave us some great coverage.

I think I mentioned last week that our regional arts council had dropped the ball on this event, leaving us and me in particular, with quite a lot of work to shoulder in making sure the event was executed well and continued to move upward rather than becoming stagnant.  For me, there was a quite a lot of frustration in the process because I kept thinking there was going to be interest and activity and action and accomplishment on the part of the arts council … some care.  However, that was not the case and as the date was coming into view the realization that we were pretty much on our own dawned more and more clearly.

Regardless of that frustration, the day of the event everything was in place and beautiful.  The weather was perfect and the tents on the lawn looks inviting and festive.  The accordion player who had generously agreed to come and play for an hour or so stayed on for most of the day.  His electronic accordion is now cordless, so he was able to wander around playing as he strolled by the tents along with visitors.

We had a potter and four painters here at our place, two of the painters worked on on paintings live as the day progressed; the potter brought her wheel and threw some pottery as she had time to.  We even had enjoyed a fly-by visit from two bald eagles, one flying so low in great big circles that we were able to clearly see his bald head.   Our dear friend Roger helped my husband with set up the night before the event, and came back Saturday to continue pitching in and helping out wherever he could … he is that kind of guy.  He manned the free helium balloon tent, blowing up balloons all day and giving them out to adults and children alike.

Our other dear friend, Larry, baked give different types of cookies and made several large air-pots filled with coffee (French Vanilla and Hazelnut), along with a big old jug of iced tea and another big old jug of lemonade.  He brought his big baker’s display case and had a set up under one of the tents (which he brought), right beside of another tent (which he brought) that was set up with chairs borrowed from our church so that people could sit and enjoy the live music.

Larry gave away free cookies, coffee, iced tea and lemonade all day long to anyone who wanted something.  He chatted with people and made them feel very warm and welcome.  This was all done at his own personal expense and effort because he wanted to do something helpful and fun for the community.  This is not a man with many extra pennies to rub together, but he gave of himself freely and generously with a heart full of love.

There was a young girl who came by and played classical, acoustic guitar for a while.  We gave her gas money so she could afford the drive over, but other than that she played out of the goodness of her own heart.  Larry sent her home with a gallon size ziploc bag stuffed full of cookies … good ol’ Larry.

Ours was only one of four locations staged by members of our group.  There was another stop, Marti’s on Main in Albion, an art gallery started by Kim Martillotta-Muscarella–a member of our group.  She hosted several artists at her place, plus the public was able to walk through the gallery and see many works of art on display by various members of our group.  Arthur Barnes was on hand at his historic cobblestone building, and another artist was nearby at another historic building demonstrating his painting techniques.

Concurrent with our “loop” of the Art Trail was the portion of the trail that was organized and promoted by the arts council.  On our loop, we had an estimated 150 to 200 visitors who came through.  That was a tremendous increase from the three or four visitors in the first two years and that is because of our efforts, our organization, and the fact that we put quite a lot of care into what we were creating — we, the artists in Artists of The Oak.  In speaking with a fellow who was on the other portion of the trail organized by the arts council … he had five visitors.  So, that disparity clearly demonstrates the contrast in the effectiveness of our efforts as compared to those of the arts council.

The only reason I am pointing this out is that it is really important for people to realize that you can create a big difference by investing yourself in an activity and taking care of it yourself rather than waiting for someone else to do it.  I think the biggest difference between what we did and what the arts council did was that we cared and put ourselves into what we were doing, we truly cared about the end results.  We didn’t just want to be able to say that we did it, we wanted the results of what we did to count for something and we wanted the event to be memorable for everyone concerned — memorable as a good thing, not memorable as a failure.

Next year we will do our Art Trail again but it is going to be our Art Trail, a distinctly separate event from the one that is put on by the arts council.  They should continue to do their event and invest themselves into in what ever way and to whatever extent their mission statement dictates they should.  I wish them success and good times.

As for Artists of The Oak … as wonderful as this year’s event was, next year’s will be even better and we will all invest ourselves in it even more than we did this year.  I hope to see more of you as well!

~firefly

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Hostas, my vista baby

June 23, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Posted in art, country life, faith, family, flowers, gardening, knitting, Life, love, marriage, photography, relationships, romance, shopping, summer, travel | 4 Comments
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Do you remember when I wrote about planting hostas back in June of 2008? Well, take a look at how those hostas have grown.

There are plenty more around the house in various locations, but those we planted by this old, quaint but out-of-use back porch came in with gusto this year. Since planting them, I have often seen other folks’ hostas, some quite huge and lush and longed for ours to attain such grandeur. Imagine my delight when I looked outside one morning after many days of rain and saw how wonderful abundant our hosta display had become.

This year I have also planted a bunch of annuals in various old, rusty containers I bought at a nearby junk — er, I mean collectibles — shop last year. We are getting ready for the second annual Artists of The Oak Art Trail event (Saturday, August 27th this year) and I wanted to have plenty of charming flower containers to use dress the farm the day of the event. For now, they live on the old porch, keeping good company with our lovely hostas.

We are excited about the Art Trail event, because last year’s event was such a beautiful day and this year is bound to be even better. Artists of The Oak is a group of artists from our county (Orleans County New York) that started forming up a couple of years back. My main primary contribution to the group, other than being an artist member, is to be the point person for the Art Trail event and try to do every thing I can to make it more and more successful. Last year I took up a collection for prints costs and designed a rack card to advertise the group and the 2010 Art Trail. This year everybody chipped in again and I was able to design and have printed an oversized postcard as well as a 2-fold brochure with a map on one side. My husband created the map, which was a wonderful contribution on his part.

A problem our artists have run into with attempts at the art trail in our county in the past is that the county is so large and everything is so spread out because of all the farm land and sparse population that only a handful of people, if that, would travel the art trail. That was very discouraging to any participants. Last year my husband and I volunteered to have several artists set up tents at our place so that visitors could see more artists with less driving time. Other members of the group followed suit and we ended up with four locations where visitors could see multiple artists.

We do this trail as a part of the larger event in our county, sponsored by GoArt!, called The Artist Road Show, which includes not only members of our group but other artists in the county who are not members. By creating our own trail (I will call our portion the “Artists of The Oak Loop” within the larger trail, we are able to create our own promo materials in whatever quantity we desire and get them out much earlier than the GoArt! materials get out. This gives us a greater chance of attracting as many visitors as possible through our own resources and efforts while also allowing us to benefit from the larger reach and budget of GoArt!’s promotional actions.

It must have worked last year, because attendance was about ten times what it had been in previous years (keep in mind that in previous years it had been literally three people who traveled the trail and last year we had about forty people who came through). This year, we plan to have even more and to keep increasing the numbers every year by getting better at promoting it.

If you live in the area, set the date aside and travel our trail. It will be a beautiful day, a wonderful opportunity to meet some very talented and interesting artists, and there will be opportunities to begin or add to your own art collection. We will all be making an effort to have some smaller, more affordable pieces available for anywhere from $20 to $100 along with more expensive pieces as well.

For those of you who do not live in the area, our county is a wonderful place to come to the country for a drive. We have an abundant supply of farm stands with ripe, tasty local produce at amazing prices, Lake Ontario is simply beautiful to drive along, the Oak Orchard River has world-class fishing opportunities (we are right on that river), and there is our wonderful art trail. If you enjoy my art in particular, Zambistro restaurant opens at 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays with a delicious comforting menu of affordable gourmet food plus their walls are adorned with plenty of my paintings.

You can download a map for Artists of The Oak Loop here.

Meanwhile, back to what is happening today on the farm.

Among the many annuals I planted in all of those old, rusty containers there is this lovely beauty … my new favorite begonia. Begonias have been my very favorite potted garden flowers since I was very young, in fact, my first potted flower I ever owned was a begonia. There is something deliciously old-fashioned about a begonia and this one is particularly lovely in my eyes. I love the bright yellow, over-sized flowers and the big rustic looking leaves. They grow and grow, and bloom and bloom all summer long and I just love them to pieces. This one looks especially wonderful set against the deep rusty color of the old container I planted it in. I met this variety of begonia for the first time last summer, and we became fast friends.

This is another completely lovely discovery from this year’s trip to buy flowers from my good friend, Lora Partyka. It is a Dragon Wing Begonia — is she not gorgeous! I love meeting new varieties of flowers and becoming good friends, and this one is a definite keeper. (Hopefully, she thinks the same about me.)

Last year we planted two peach trees, one Honey Crisp apple tree, and a cherry tree. While the cherry and apple trees did not bear fruit yet, the peach trees have lovely little peaches that are coming along quite beautifully. There are about two dozen peaches between the two trees and we really look forward to sinking our teeth into them by the end of the summer … a long wait, but well worth the patience that will be required.

There is something very profound (to me) in looking at a something we planted that has grown and is bearing food of some kind. When we grew pumpkins a couple of years back we all loved going out every day and watching the progress of the orange orbs as they multiplied and grew. Our “Sincere Pumpkin Patch” sign is still standing guard over that hallowed ground, and we will be putting in a few pumpkin plants shortly. Our little project to start 36 pumpkin plant in six different varieties indoors this year was a disaster, so I had to ask my Lora P. to start a few for me in hopes they would have a better chance of survival under her care — she is a real farmer, I just live on a farm and fantasize unrealistically about growing all manner of flowers and produce.

That having been said, we did have an opportunity this past weekend to feel like real farmers for a few hours. The farmer who works out fields was out plowing and planting all weekend, and while he was doing that we had to rake the three acres of lawn around the house and barn. This year we had so much rain, so constantly, during the spring that the yard stayed too wet for my husband to be able to get out on it with his tractor and keep it mowed. As a result, the grass grew too long between mowing, and that left a problem of far too much long, dead grass laying about on the lawn. We had to rake it up in order to keep our “grass” green (it is actually a mixture of some grass and many very green weeds of various varieties).

We raked Saturday and Sunday, making large piles of dry grass all over the place. Looking at them, though they were not formed into “stacks”, they looked like mini versions of hay stacks to us and that was enough for my imagination to get going for a time. On Sunday, my husband rigged up a large shovel type contraption that he hooked to the front of his tractor for loading the dead grass piles into so he could drive them over to a different area of the property. This shovel thing he made was about eight feet wide, and maybe three or four feet high — it was pretty cool, and I love it that he is clever and resourceful.

We made our way from grass pile to grass pile raking big piles of grass into his huge shovel and packing it down. Doing this while the farmer was working the fields, I told my husband that it almost felt as if we were real farmers. Silly really, because real farmers work very long hard hours day after day after day, whereas we worked for a few hours two days in a row and all we were doing in reality was getting rid of grass.

Still, it was fun to pretend …

No pun intended, but we have covered a lot of ground today. There is one more item I would like to share in parting though … I wrote a press release this week for my son’s Etsy store and we are getting it out to various media contacts and bloggers. If you are a blogger and would like access to the press release, you can find it here. Here also is a graphic he just started using in the store to help give people ideas about custom signs he could do for them–click on the graphic to see the full size image (so you can read the wording).

I plan on having him create a custom sign for I Live on a Farm, to track our journey and commemorate the fifth anniversary of our marriage and the blog. It seems appropriate right now, because we are on the verge of some very exciting new developments. I can sense, just as I did six years ago, that some important, positive changes are in the air and heading our way.

Well, I have much to do. Strawberries are in season, and I need to go buy a bunch of them so I can make my annual huge batch of strawberry rhubarb preserves. And that is just the very, very tip of the iceberg for summer activities around here.

Talk to you soon,
~firefly

A little trip down river

June 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Posted in art, country life, country living, faith, family, knitting, Life, love, photography, romance, travel | 2 Comments
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My husband’s nephew recently purchased a motorized bass boat and brought to the family boat house on the river, where it is available for us use at times.  Until now, our trips on the river over at our cottage have involved rowing of various kinds. A little trip on the river in a row boat or canoe is great, especially in the canoe because it is so smooth, quiet, and peaceful.  However, we are a little bit restricted by time and distance when rowing.  Getting out in a power boat, even though we only “power” along at five miles an hour, means we can take a little trip down river to Lake Ontario and back in about two and a half hours. That’s a pretty little trip down this very still, quiet part of our river.

A couple of days ago we had an opportunity to get away from the farm for a couple of hours so we dashed over to the cottage with an impromptu picnic dinner and took our first little trip down river in the power boat.  We didn’t have enough time to go all the way to the Lake, but we enjoyed a lovely cruise that offered up plenty of beauty, wildlife and opportunity for some much needed relaxation.

Along the way we encountered one swan couple, and a bit further along we came across a family of swans.  I have been longing to capture some great photographs of swans ever since I moved here five years ago.  We were able to get very close to the swans this time, and though I didn’t have the big Nikon with me, we did have my husband’s Nikon CoolPix along and I was able to capture some photos I was very pleased with.  There are two in particular that are particularly inspiring as subjects for paintings – one will be an oil, the other a watercolor.

In the photo at the top of today’s post, do you see the blue heron the background, at river’s edge? How cool is that? I didn’t even notice him until my husband pointed him out, after I got the shot.

And, speaking of photos … as a part of the revamping I am doing of my online presence, I am closing down my second Etsy Store, “Firefly’s Studio” and reopening an all new Etsy Store devoted entirely to my fine art paintings and photography. You will still be able to find my knitting patterns and gifts for knitting folks at the I Live on a Farm Etsy store, but for fine art products (oil paintings, watercolors, limited edition prints, note cards, and photographic prints) go to Fleckenstein Fine Art at Etsy.

I haven’t had a chance yet to prep any of the swan photos to sell on Etsy, but I have posted a number of gorgeous prints from the Tree Peony photos I shot this year. Printed at a professional lab on Kodak Endura Metallic photo paper, the tree peony photos would look beautiful hanging on your wall or displayed in your office or studio. When I got the first set of proofs back from the lab, I was thrilled with the brilliant colors and rich details made possible with this fantastic paper.

I am also posting limited edition prints of some of my fine art oil paintings. There is a new one there that hasn’t been available until now, “Haiku 1” which you might enjoy.

For my readers only (and it will include those on my email list) I am offering a 25% introductory discount in the Fleckenstein Fine Art Etsy shop today through Sunday evening (June 19, 2011). So, if you would take a minute to check out the new store (new items are being added every few days as I have time), and if you see something you would like to buy, use this code, FLECKEN25 in the PayPal checkout.

My son and I are working on some cool things that we will be able to unveil by late August — lots of work getting everything done, but worth the effort. If you haven’t visited his Etsy store recently, you should today because he has some new releases of his vintage-inspired subway signs and bus scroll prints — you just might find your neighborhood or favorite line represented.

When he first started creating his signs and prints, he spent a great deal of time meticulously recreating the lettering found on the original NYC subway signs of the 1900’s. To create a new piece, he thoroughly researches a city or neighborhood, looking for insight into what he feels best represents that specific area. Once he has decided on the streets, stops, etc. that will be used, he uses the lettering he made to create a layout digitally.

Along with reproductions of authentic subway signs and bus scrolls and his own designs, he creates custom signs for people who have lived or traveled around the world, or featuring specific neighborhoods, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, bands/concerts, etc. Some custom signs even include family member names and important dates. As you can imagine, the possibilities are endless.

This just in … my son just issued a coupon code for my readers only. Today through Sunday night, get free U.S. domestic shipping on any order you place at Flying Junction. Use this code at PayPal checkout: SHIP4FREE.

You can find his work, or contact him about your custom project, by visiting his Etsy store. He especially enjoys hearing from the readers of my blog, so give him a shout!

I have to run along now. Hope you have a great weekend with some awesome weather!

~firefly

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