August 23, 2021 -- Florida has provided much more outdoor time and an abundance of fabulous vegetation. I've joined Flamingo Gardens, which is a 60-acre botanical garden and wildlife refuge. Recently, I won a small contest there, describing why their environment was important to my work, and submitted three images of botanical watercolors. What the prize allowed was a wonderful time with their Director of Horticulture and their Bird and Animal Keeper. I asked each to show me what most fascinated them. The result was an amazing tour of plants and trees and flowers that I likely would not have found on my own or even understood. I saw one of the wildest looking flowers ever, and an Australian Palm tree that was the director's favorite. The tour was capped off visiting and getting to pet a Black Vulture, hold an Opossum, and meet a 35-year-old blind female owl, who is devotedly attended to by her mate. Should she drop food while eating, he flies down and feeds her. The Hibiscus and Poinciana flowers I've just added to the site are painted here in Florida. Now, I am working on a dried Poinciana flower.
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My previous post was written the beginning of July. Big changes occurred mid-July. I left my husband, sought a divorce, and looked for another place to live. I gave away 28 large bags of books in the process of sorting, packing, and moving--and kept more books. I wish I could keep them all, but moving does force one to prioritize and sometimes to surprise one's self. Another change is that I am resuming my maiden name: "Selley." I am using that surname informally now and will be able to make more permanent changes in mid February. I am almost ready to get back to drawing, painting, and writing.
My art interests have been consistent over time--even when I haven't been fully aware of that consistency. I spent a lot of time drawing the figure at an early age, as well as the lush Bermuda environment. I was fascinated by botany and biology in high school. I drew all the time and exhibited my pen and inks. And I dreamt of going to art school. There was no advanced education on the island.
I'd heard of the Rhode Island School of Design, but I was told I couldn't go there because I'd never studied U.S. history! Not true, of course; international students were welcomed, but back then I had no way of knowing. I just kept drawing and painting.
Many years later, after I'd married and had two children, I went to the Experimental Etching Studio in Boston for a year of classes at night. This was right up my alley--like doing pen and ink, with wonderful textures such as aquatint. But I soon realized I needed and wanted to study drawing.
The School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (SMFA) has a Continuing Education Program. I studied drawing with Lisa Langhammer for a year at night, two nights a week. The first classes were pretty funny. Everyone brought small sketchpads, and with only one minute to draw a live model, we resorted to portraying identifiable gender characteristics, as though that was most important.
Drawing the figure is an excellent way to learn how to see. We soon learned to draw weight, movement, gesture, and expression, and how to create dimension. We drew on very large sheets of newsprint, in charcoal. Very physical.
Then I did two more years at night, studying with Bill Flynn. I learned so much about art, about drawing, and studied so many artists beyond the ones I knew of. Life-changing.
Bill told me the Museum School was allowing a small number of part-time students and that I should sign up. I said I couldn't. I had children to take care of. He said, just do it. I did. I worked for another year and a half, completing a full-time student workload. I learned that when I didn't have blocks of time at home, I had to draw or paint in ten-minute bits here and there. I love drawing, and working with Flynn was a dream come true, an intense learning experience.
My painting instructor was the wonderful Barnett "Barney" Rubenstein. I was cautioned that Barney might make only one or two comments a year, but they would be right on the mark. Some students left because he didn't discuss their painting with them all the time, friendly and interested as he was. Artists he suggested I study were Rafael Ferrer and Louisa Matthiasdottir; Domingo Barreres suggested Odilon Redon and Joan Mitchell. I continued to draw in depth with Walter Paschko, Skip Milson, and Jack Clift, as well as classes with other instructors.
What was drawing like there? It really was about learning to see, using the human figure. Poses were very short, often just seconds long, forcing us to get the big picture of line, movement, weight--as much as we could. I can remember finally getting to spend a minute on a pose; it seemed so long.
I decided to continue working at home. And then life got in the way of art lessons. We moved, moved again, again, and again. I was away twelve years. I came back to Boston to finish my four-year Diploma full-time, another two years. Six-and-a-half years total. Wonderful.
The school had changed; it wasn't focused quite as much on drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography. The Museum School is now a department of Tufts University, and it offers more courses in illustration, the graphic arts, technology, etc. My experience had been so very different.
In my own painting I was putting figures--women--in nature. I wanted to continue to be able to work loosely, but also to develop more detail. I was fascinated by the contrast. And that's how I came to botanical art. I'd not been painting for quite a while after the death of my son. Botanical art put me close to nature, in a world filled with the vibrancy and fluidity of watercolor. Healing.
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