Green River Soda Girl

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A delightful thing happened one day as I stood at my easel. An old acquaintance happened to be passing by and saw me standing there, wielding my brush, so he stopped in. He does graphic design and marketing work for a number of clients. Among them is the owner of Green River Soda. Are you familiar with it? Around here it has deep and nostalgic roots. People will instantly begin to reminisce about their youth, sitting at a counter in a drugstore while the soda -jerk created this concoction of green syrup with soda. Misty eyed they describe the old glass container that held the syrup, the stool they sat on, everything comes back to them. Isn’t that fun?  At any rate, the owner wanted to refresh the label design, and they asked me to create this painting. We wanted to be true to the 30’s Art deco design. If you google Green River Girl, you’ll see her. So, that is where I’ve been for the past few weeks, harking back to the wonderful era of Art Deco. Soon, I hope, the owner will come see the painting and approve it. And then, perhaps, my art will appear on the labels of the soda in stores! I’m so excited.

Shimmering Sumac

shimmering-sumacMelissa Blue Fine Art

For several years the Lake County Forest Preserve District has been working to complete a green corridor that would run from Cook County to the south to the Wisconsin border to the north. This summer saw this project completed! An entire series of preserves has been linked together along the Des Plaines River, so that species aren’t trapped in isolated islands of habitat. A wonderful trail system reaches the entire length~some 30 miles, I believe. It was along this trail that I came across this patch of sumac last fall. I was enchanted by how they seemed to be tumbling down the hill like playful children, dressed warmly in their colorful fall sweaters.

Western Sunflower

western-sunflower

Melissa Blue Fine Art

Have I told you my Swink & Wilhelm story? It begins in a wonderful little bookstore in a nature center in Peoria. This was the gathering place for all of us volunteers embarking on a new venture~habitat restoration! Professional ecologists had their offices upstairs, and they would come down to mingle with us. It felt wonderful to be included, and treated as colleagues.

One day there was a buzz about a book that had “finally” come in. “Plants of the Chicagoland Region”, by Swink & Wilhelm. I forget which edition. Wow! I thought. I love books…but this thing is a monster. If I were of a technical nature I would now go measure and weigh it but I’m an artist so I’ll just say it is about 4″ thick, weighs a ton and costs a fortune. When I peeked inside its cover, I confess I was disappointed. No pictures! Keys, and brief descriptions~frankly, it looked indecipherable to me. I put it out of my mind at the time, little suspecting what a talisman it would become for me. Back then our focus was mostly on habitat, and we picked up plant ID on the fly but it wasn’t our focus.

A move to the northeastern corner of Illinois and a botany class later, things changed. Our wonderful instructor, and my dear friend, would exhort us to read our Swink & Wilhelm. We all laughed. It was a joke, right? And yet, something was making my fingers tingle. I looked again, and realized, it is like a puzzle, and she’d given us the first few pieces. For each plant, the authors gave a list of companions to look for. If you know one or two, you can begin to intuit another. And another. Suddenly it felt like it does when a camera lens pops things into focus. I could “see” the plant community a plant lived in, the soil conditions, etc, just by what was listed to grow with it. It was like a giant orienteering game! That book has been directing my footsteps ever since. I find the focus on my inner camera lens switching from wide-angle to take in the lay of the land to close-up to count stamens. Forest for the trees, flowers for the prairie, and back again. Kind of dizzying but exciting, too.

Journeys encompass more than one dimension, of course. You are already familiar with my struggle with myself over whether I am more scientist or more artist. It is a real relief to be able to look in the mirror and accept yourself for exactly what you are. And know that it is enough. While I’ve hiked over dunes and under oaks and splashed through wetlands, looking for the “next” one to draw, I’ve learned a great deal about myself as well.

But I can’t wait to see what the next plant will be….

Bird in an Autumnal Sumac

bird-in-fall-sumac

 

I haven’t made up my mind about this one. It is in oil. The new Earth Paints are a joy to work with but of course there are ways in which they behave much differently than my acrylics. I think this doesn’t match my desire to paint wild abstract-y interpretations but I really wanted to highlight the gorgeous shades of red of sumac leaves in the fall. Plus, I couldn’t resist the little bird 🙂  I’d love to hear what you think!

Autumn in the Woods

autumn-in-grant-woodsMelissa Blue Fine Art

Grant Woods was the first forest preserve I became aware of. It has been in the capable hands of its stewards Joyce and George Proper for quite some time now. It is filled with surprises and when Joyce takes me for a walk I am always in for a treat, no matter the season. We came across this spot last fall, a lovely little savanna at the edge between an interesting meadow and a forest. The jewel like colors make my heart sing~ I hope they lift your heart as well.