A lot of my imagery comes from what I see on the surface of the pot after I’ve painted the slip on. I look at the brush strokes on the surface and they suggest images to me. Perhaps that’s why I have a lot of birds and fish on my pots; they are generally shaped like a typical brush stroke.
Birds have manifested themselves in my subconscious as the caretakers of security, of home; they are the ultimate good and selfless parents and they are omnipresent (in real life too- the always -everywhere ambassador of nature).
I also started drawing nests on my pots.
I didn’t think much about it until I started looking at the birds I was drawing with the nests. They sometimes looked menacing such as the large one in No Fly Zone done the first year of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The nests require a lot of time and energy as I painstakingly draw the individual strands and twigs. It’s not quite the same as building one but it’s the best I can do.
Nests are a wonderful metaphor for home and protection and parenting. The parent birds spend all this time and energy working on this nest, crafting it just so, sheltering the delicate eggs and working ceaselessly to feed the little hatchlings –
the hatchlings crap all over the nest and eventually jump out and take off. A thankless job to be sure and of course there’s that empty nest there.
Still beautiful, a bit worse for wear and its purpose is over -depending on the breed – some birds reuse their nests every year; fixing them up in the spring; others abandon the nest and it eventually falls apart.
Then last year, I made this lovely nest but somehow the bird I saw coming out of it was HUGE.
That was weird but fine however, when I made a second one, I had to stop and wonder why. Of course the minute I looked at it- hmmm a strident bird too big for the nest and I have a teenager – it became clear.
So the nests seem to be about home, parenting and safety no matter what their various states; one or two eggs or empty or,
surprisingly, filled with a huge loud bird that is definitely still in the nest but not happy about it. I don’t think the mommy bird is too thrilled about it either.
Yes, more on branches! Are you sick of branches yet?
There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.– Francis Bacon
I love this quote because it so perfectly expresses that which was instinctive for me when looking at various trees.
I look at trees wherever I go.
I notice them and their shapes and outlines against the sky, as shadows on buildings, silhouetted by the sun. The best trees are at the cemetery (along Clark Avenue). They are all deliciously creepy and twisted just as you’d expect trees in a graveyard to look.
Why? And by “best “ I mean the most gnarled; they have that strangeness of proportion Bacon is talking about. Those are the ones that look best to me ; look best on my pots, are the most interesting and pleasing to the eye.
I have favorite varieties; Catalpa:
(and note how all last year’s vertical hanging seed pods make such a wonderful contrast to the curves and snaky turns of the branches)
Honey Locust, (almost everything ends up pointing upwards by the time you get to the tip of the branches even if there are lots of detours along the way- this isn’t even the best example)
and Hawthorne (crab apple)
I’m not sure what this tree below is but it is one of the most stunningly perfect trees I’ve every seen. It’s possible it was trimmed but I just love all the writhing the branches do before they all agree reign it in and to end together in that lovely curve. This is the kind of tree I want on my pots!
– these are the most interesting and gnarled and therefore inspiring trees.
Okay, so why is gnarling pleasing? I think there’s something about the way the branches head off in some completely unpredictable direction only to come arc-ing back for a very balanced composition. There are more curves (which I always find more pleasing) and an innate balance that could possibly be based on the physics of how the tree must grow to stay upright.
In language, storytelling that is, we often find the unpredictable quite funny or exciting. I think the same goes for visual unpredictability.
I dislike Ash trees – they are boring and ugly and I would be embarrassed to put one on a pot- note how they branch symmetrically that is, the branches come out directly across from each other instead of alternating up the main branch. It kills the movement and life in the form.
Here is another very straighforward predictable tree although I think this is a Maple.
You can see why- nothing happening here- it’s all balanced and pretty straightforward with straight branches staying on course and ending up exactly where they meant to be. Hmmm, I’m starting to see parallels with life here!
Perhaps I need to do something wildly unpredictable.
Anyhow, many Maples leave me indifferent unless it’s autumn.
What’s exciting for me is that now that I am keeping this blog, I am beginning to look around me with new eyes. I write about my urban environment, and the animals in it, then I look at how trees are … constrained by the environment and also how they appear differently than they would in nature.
First of all, we trim trees to keep them away from our houses or power lines which alters them or conversely, they often stand alone in parks and are able spread symmetrically; forming a “perfect tree” as opposed to in a woods where they have to grow to accommodate the other trees.
We also plant them, choose the variety, stunt them, water them, and generally affect their growth. They are by definition “artifacts” along with the rest of our environment. How bizarre to be living in an almost completely artificial environment.
And my pots are all about that believe it or not.
Shadows and reflections
Here in the city, tree shadows are cast onto unnaturally flat surfaces like roads and buildings. I have to say I find it lovely.
In nature, this only happens on the rare bare cliff
andon snowy fields, common only existing in pastoral settings, which are also man-made.
Here’s one distoted and reflected in a stream; also pleasing for it’s perversion of the form of the tree.
Why all this excitement about tree shadows and reflections? Well, a tree is three dimensional. Branches stick out every which way- it’s hard to draw them true-to-life in 2-D without making them look fake or wrong- unbalanced somehow- branches that are actually sticking out of the back or front, look oddly out of place when I try to draw them flat. But the shadows and reflections flatten them out nicely.
My pots look a bit like trees have cast their shadows upon them.