Who Are the Florida Highwaymen?

The Highwaymen may be complete unknowns to you. I know they were to me. My youngest daughter brought home a paining she made in school with a little note attached that said “To further their study of Florida, the first graders will learn about a group of Floridian artists, known as the Highwaymen.” I had never heard of the Highwaymen before and so I asked my daughter, who casually replied “they were group of black artists who painted pictures of Florida and sold them along the highways.”

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Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and I discovered that our local history museum was having a “meet and greet” with some of the Highwaymen. Needless to say, I was intrigued. So I did a little homework of my own to discover who the Highwaymen are. 

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1955 in the United States was not a great time to be a black person. Life was even harder if you were south of the Mason Dixon line. In Florida, the governor at the time was a member of the Klu Klux Kan, and so was the chief of police.  Many blacks living in Florida at the time worked in the orange groves – difficult work with low wages. But a brilliantly talented group of 26 men and one woman began painting. They painted with oil on cheap Upson board (similar to modern day drywall). They painted in their garages on the weekends. And because they were black, they couldn’t sell their paintings in any gallery, so instead they would sell them from the trunks of their cars as they drove along Florida’s highways – thus the term “Highwaymen.” Often they sold their works for as little as $25.

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Today, the artwork of the Highwaymen is honored and valued by art lovers worldwide. They were rediscovered by the art world in 1995 when a gallery owner, Jim Fitch, wrote an article for an art journal in which he described their work.  All 26 original Highwaymen were inducted into the Florida Artist’s Hall of Fame in 2004.

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It was a great delight to meet some of the original Highwaymen. My daughter was particularly excited to meet the one and only Highwaywoman, Mary Ann Carroll. All the artists were so gracious in sharing their stories and telling us about their artwork. They drew their inspiration from the Florida landscape all around them  – from cypress swamps to sandy beaches, from the brilliant colors of the jacaranda, poinciana and tabebuia trees to the soft colors of dawn and dusk. Their paintings are a feast for the eyes, their story is a feast for the soul.

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If you’re interested in learning more about the Florida Highwaymen, PBS has done an excellent documentary on them. You can also view their paintings online.

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And if you ever have the opportunity to meet a Highwayman, you won’t be disappointed, and you might just find yourself coming home with a print or two of their enchanting work. 

 

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All Creation Speaks

Speaks of what you may ask? Many of you know the answer. Creation speaks of the Creator of the universe, the one true God. 

In fact, those who do not know God often find themselves acknowledging that there must be someone higher than themselves. Someone who could have made the finite wonders of this world so astonishingly beautiful and infinitely varied. 

My latest painting, Bark and Bluebells (22 ½ x 29 framed) is an acknowledgement of how majestic a little slice of God’s creativity speaks in trees and flowers. I hope you enjoy the progress shots and how God reveals Himself through nature and His word.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1

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They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:3-4

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In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Psalm 95:4-5

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But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. Job 12:7-10

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Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the foundation of the earth? Isaiah 40:21

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He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:45

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For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Romans 1:20

© Laura Gabel, “Bark and Bluebells”. 22.5x29, pastel. $2500. Creation speaks
© Laura Gabel, “Bark and Bluebells”. 22.5×29, pastel. $2500.

It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it I stretched out the heavens with My hands And I ordained all their host.  Isaiah 45:12

The earth still declares His glory; all nature is meant to point to God. His creation is His fingerprint that speaks to the world that He exists. Perhaps today is the day you would like to know God in a more intimate way, rather than just seeing His creation. If so, then please email or call me.

You can bring this painting home today and add your voice of praise to that of the creation as it sings! It is available for purchase here.

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3 Ways I want to lure you in to creativity

Today I want to lure you in to taking some risks!

A lure is something that tempts or attracts with the promise of pleasure or reward. Yes it can be pleasurable to take risks, especially when you are creating. We are all artists in one way or another and we need to cultivate and expose ourselves to trying new things.

This is exactly what I did when I created my latest mixed media painting. I call “Fishing Around” because I really didn’t know what I was doing, or how it was going to turn out. 

While you may not be able to see it “Fishing Around” is a multi-dimensional piece. It employs acrylic on the bottom as the sea layer (leftover paint that I couldn’t bear to waste from another painting, see Sarasota Waterfall).

After staring at the swirling canvas, I thought it would be fun to paint an acrylic goldfish on it.

© Laura Gabel, “Fishing Around”. 12x12, mixed media. $250., lure blog

The ideas started to evolve. Hmm, this was an experiment so I wanted to have a bit of fun. How about a dragonfly on top of the water.

© Laura Gabel, “Fishing Around”. 12x12, mixed media. $250. lure blog

Well, what could I use to separate the two creatures, the fish looking up, the dragonfly landing? I settled on a laminate layer between them. Now all kinds of things can happen when you start pouring this and that on top of this and that. But to my surprise it seemed to be working…and everyone started commenting on the crazy idea. It’s very hard to see but actually there are 3 layers of epoxy between the two creatures, which gives it a very wild depth producing look!

Then I decided to paint the dragonfly in oil on top of acrylic, on top of epoxy. Well, the whole thing could go wrong, it might sink in to the epoxy, might never dry, might smear, might not let me apply it…whew. It worked! So here is, ta da, my experimental painting!

© Laura Gabel, “Fishing Around”. 12x12, mixed media. $250. lure blog
© Laura Gabel, “Fishing Around”. 12×12, mixed media. $250.

So I want to lure you into my approach in attracting creativity simply!

1. Cultivate a creative mindset:

  • Don’t struggle – the harder you try, the dryer and flatter your ideas will get. 
  • Relax to some music.
  • Don’t discard the absurd, it leads you to make connections that can make sense.
  • Be curious. 
  • Research, but not too much! Too much reading on the internet is overwhelming and time wasting.
  • Ask yourself plenty of questions like, “what would happen if I…?”

2. Overcome your fears of:

  • Experimenting
  • Making a mess
  • Failing
  • Ask yourself: Is it ok for you to ruin something as you experiment, or do you consider what you are doing to be too “precious”?

Last but not least: Have fun! Not everything turns out right, but it can lead to bigger and better things. 

God gives us all things richly to enjoy! Tell those who are rich in this age not to be arrogant and not to place their confidence in anything as uncertain as riches. Instead, let them place their confidence in God, who lavishly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 1 Tim 6:17 ISV

If you enjoyed this, perhaps you would enjoy bring this painting into your home as well! It is available for purchase in our store.

 

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Do you have an undivided heart?

When was the last time you had a heart check? I was speaking with an ex-alcoholic the other night and having been clean for over 20 years he imparted some interesting but not surprising advice.

John said, “I discovered that the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it.”

This statement has astonishing implications, not just for artists, but for moms, dads, writers, and retirees, really anyone! At this point, you might be thinking: what are you talking about Laura, I’m not an addict!

Well, if you are an artist this statement could be taken very positively. In other words the more you paint, the more you want to paint. And, naturally, the better you get at it. Edgar Degas said “One must do the same subject over again 10 times, a hundred times. In art nothing must resemble an accident…” When looking at Degas’ craftsmanship and his pastel paintings, there is no doubt that his work is superb. His obsession with the ballet and theatre, gave Degas the reputation as a painter of dancers. In total, Degas did about 1200 paintings and 75 small-scale sculptures during his lifetime.

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Dancing Class, 1871, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

On the other hand, my friend John’s statement can pose some serious problems if you are a Christian. Why? I’m sure my good friend Peggy who made us a beautiful quilt would love to do nothing else but be a “quilting fool” because the more she quilts, the more she loves it, the better she gets at refining her craft, the more she creatively thinks up new ideas.

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Maybe you’re not an artist or a quilter or an ex-addict. Maybe you’re a mom or dad who loves your kids, loves being with them, loves helping and nurturing them, loves encouraging them, loves worrying about them. Wait, did I write worry? Yes, it could be you worry about their safety incessantly. The more you are with them, the more you want to be with them. Well, what could be wrong with that?

Again, what can be wrong with being a great artist, fantastic quilter, super mom, grandmother or devoted dad? Nothing and everything.  My friends thoughts are a double edged sword and the sooner you “discover” it, the better.

To be great at something, you must be consumed. 

Many of us don’t want to be great, but nevertheless we are consumed. I learned a long time ago, that as much as I loved art, as much as I believed that the more I practiced, the more paintings I painted, not only would I become good. I could become super good!

If you are a Christian, this kind of thinking can cause a schism in your life. Why? Because the more you do it, whatever that “it” is—even if it isn’t bad, the more you want to do it.  God commands us to love Him with our whole heart (nine times in Deuteronomy alone) Christ says that loving God with all of who we are – heart, soul, mind and strength is the greatest commandment. He wants all of us. Am I saying he doesn’t want me to be a really great painter or that you shouldn’t be a really good grandparent or super golfer?

Does that mean I should feel guilty about wanting to be a terrific artist or you should feel guilty because you love golf and want to be on the course a lot? No.

I’m a practical person, so here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:

  • Do you find yourself thinking about what ever “it” is more than God?
  • Does this good (or maybe not so good thing) occupy time that is meant for your relationship with Jesus?
  • Does it seem like your affection is drawn towards “it” rather than to Him?

Nothing should be more precious than your relationship with Christ. Perhaps I’ll never be a great painter, but I do want to be a great lover and friend of the Lord. I Him to have my whole heart. Have you heard the song, More Precious Than Silver?

Some of the lyrics are: “Lord, you are more precious than silver. Lord, you are more costly than gold. Lord, you are more beautiful than diamonds, And nothing I desire compares with you.”

My friend John, is no longer consumed by his addiction, he has a new identity. He is a friend of God.

Have you found yourself being consumed by something that is distancing you from Jesus? How’s your heart?

 

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Man’s Best Friend – a Flying Dog!

Animals are so much fun to paint, especially a dog. Dogs have so much personality! They remind us of ourselves. Their antics are a relief and a laugh in our stressed out, high pressure world. Dogs come in so many shapes, sizes and colors and make us laugh and cry. They engage us with affection, protection and calmness. I’ve painted a few dogs and even a wolf in the last couple of years

But what makes dogs so special to me is the absolute love, loyalty, and joy they have for their owners.  The excitement a dog has for you when you come home just can’t be matched. Our kids, co-workers and spouses may take us for granted sometimes, but not our dogs! They have boundless love and enthusiasm.

So last year when we ran our free pet portrait contest, I got lucky. You read that correctly, yes the winner was picked by a machine and they soon will be the fortunate owners of a beautiful pastel of their dog, but truly I got lucky! Why?

When you are an artist, some commission photos are better than others and some are downright difficult. But when I saw the “machine picked” winner, I thanked the Lord!

Here’s a picture of Doc and as you can see, the photographer marvelously captured Doc with all four feet off the ground!

To give you an idea of this stunning feat, look at the size of Doc with his owners.

He is a BIG dog. Average weight for the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is 132-154 pounds. You can read more about them here.

The prize was to be an 8 x 10 pastel, but I just couldn’t do it. To do Doc justice, I just had to use 14 x 11 painting grounds. Here is my start:

I reformatted the view of Doc to make him front and center, to show that amazing joy and love running right toward the viewer. Here he is with a start of some color

Now I’m gaining a bit more locomotion on his coloring and personality, but the tongue and details are yet to come

Here is Doc below finally finished in all his delightful glory. Such a magnificent creature designed by our Lord to give us joy and fellowship.

Dogs are often called “Man’s Best Friend”, and for many of us, that statement certainly rings true. But at the end of the day, a dog is still just a dog. What if there was a friend even better?

I believe the best friend we could ever have is Jesus. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15

How magnificent that the Creator of the universe truly wants to be “Man’s Best Friend.”  Surely Job (Job 37:5) was right when he said, “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.”

Write and tell me about your pets or your relationship with God. Feel free to drop in a picture of your own furry friend! And if you don’t consider yourself to have Jesus as your friend, I’d love the chance to talk to you about that too!

 

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What will you create this year?

You may have heard the phrase “New Year, New Décor.” My question would be why take someone else’s idea of décor?  Don’t settle for copying another’s style. Create your own!

Yes, you can create!

You’re probably saying to yourself, “What in the world is Laura talking about? I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Well let’s dream a little bit, PERHAPS:

  • You’ve wanted a room in your house that speaks peace to all that enter.
  • You’re looking to get energized in 2018.
  • You’ve really wanted to do something with that old photo of your parents before it disintegrates.
  • You want to reaffirm the love you have for your children, grandchildren, pets in a special way.
  • You’ve got a drab room you need to clear up or clear out. You just need a fresh vision.
  • You want to create your own special space or a space for someone you love, small or large.

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Creating doesn’t necessarily mean do-it-yourself. You can co-create. All you need is a starting point, an idea, a dream, a vision, a color.

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Art has the opportunity to translate those thoughts, that vision, and transport you to a special place. The world would be a lot duller and colorless without art. A painting can spruce up a dark room or calm you down in your frenzied world. Thomas Merton said, “Art enables us to find ourselves, and lose ourselves at the same time.”

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If there is something in your heart or head, your past or future that you’d like Laura to create in oil, pastel, or acrylic? I’d love to discuss it with you.

I get such joy when I am able to take the dreams of someone and create something that puts all those thoughts on canvas. Here’s a little clip of the unveiling of one of my most recent creations: SarasotaWaterfall

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Keep in mind that the outer you is always a reflection of the inner you. So strengthen your outer self by thinking on “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”. Philippians 4:8 

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Who doesn’t love a happy ending?

I love a happy ending, don’t you? Right now you may be thinking of a movie or a book that gives you a warm feeling that all is right and perfect in the universe. I call it the “TaDa” moment.

I’m fortunate, I get a “TaDa” moment when I finish a painting. But it’s not really a happy ending yet.

My ending is just the beginning of enjoyment for others! My true happy ending is watching a collector’s eyes sparkle with delight and wonder when they get their painting.

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Even though I may be commissioned to do a work, I am giving my whole heart to apply all my God given creative abilities in translating a flat photo into art that is alive with emotion so it jumps right off the canvas.

The Bible says that it is so much more blessed to give than to receive. Perhaps in this time of holiday frenzy the phrase is overused and misunderstood. Nevertheless, it is true that delight comes from a gift that is meaningful, original and thoughtful.

Over the years that I’ve been painting, I’ve had the privilege of doing many commissioned works. I love seeing the photographs that loved ones provide and hearing their stories of why they want that particular image painted. But even more, I love seeing the fantastic joy and delight when the painting is finally in the hands of the recipient.

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You can read the stories from these collectors and more on our website.

Perhaps you’d like to experience the joy of giving someone an original piece of art. It’s not too late for a Christmas gift certificate. I’d love to consult with you over what you might have in mind! Contact me to co-create with me a one of a kind gift that really is a happy ending for all involved.

 

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Thankful for the Lasting Legacy

Webster defines a legacy as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

Several years ago a young couple, who had recently gotten married, began attending our church. Jeremy was starting a new life. And his new wife loved the Lord, and supported and strengthened him. So when she got pregnant and we had a baby shower for her, I decided to give them a gift certificate for a portrait of their new baby boy, Eli.

Eli arrived, healthy and full of energy. I mean full of laughter, love, smiles, and ACTION! That baby loved being held by everyone at church and brought us all so much joy! But getting a photo of the growing Eli, was practically impossible–this little fellow moved fast!! Finally, after many attempts, I was able to capture his zest for life. But alas, it was a lousy cell phone shot.

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I moved ahead anyway, trying to capture him in my preliminary sketch.

But in the back of my mind I had a deep admiration for his mom, Freisia and dad, Jeremy. They were raising two sons, Joshua, Freisia’s first son, and now Eli. They made a commitment to raise a godly family, to leave a godly legacy. In Proverbs 22:6 it states: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

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Just taking pictures of Eli, I realized how challenging it is to make a firm decision in a crooked and difficult world. Parents have a hard task to raise spiritually healthy children who know and love the Lord.

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What does all this have to do with Thanksgiving? Well, to raise kids in a world hostile to Christian values is a struggle. It takes time, energy, and the ability to dedicate yourself and your children into His care and hands.

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There will be lots of families gathered today for Thanksgiving, but I am especially thankful for those parents and grandparents who are raising kids who will learn to love Jesus. I am thankful for the thousands of youth workers, like my friend Joy, who have dedicated their time, attention, and love on the young people who will one day lead our nation. Today, I am especially thankful for all the Michelles, Justins, Jeremys, Freisias, Yvonnes, and countless others who are raising a new group of godly children that will turn into God worshiping adults. We give God all the glory for helping them.

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Thank you Lord for parents, grandparents, church leaders, and teachers that strengthen the true fabric and meaning of love embodied in our Lord Jesus Christ. Empower them as they diligently endeavor to leave a lasting legacy of godly principles and embedding them into our children.

Perhaps you share my admiration for godly shepherds, do tell me about it! If you’d like to leave a lasting legacy in a portrait, it’s not too late to order a gift certificate for that special loved one as a Christmas gift. Email me and we can talk about it.

 

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We Gather Together for what?

How would you answer that question? We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing….so goes the old hymn. Was that your first response? If you know the hymn, it’s probably stuck in your head now, so perhaps that was your answer!

Many of us will gather with loved ones, friends, family, maybe even strangers, and celebrate Thanksgiving next week. But why do we gather? I’m not talking about historical or political underpinnings of the official “Thanksgiving” holiday. My hunch is that most of us have never thought much about why we gather. At the same time, most of us would not want to celebrate the holidays alone. There’s something about our need to celebrate that is most fully expressed as we gather.

I’ve written on Thanksgiving before, and this year, Laura is tasked with the official Thanksgiving Day blog post. So I was trying to come up with something unique and creative to commemorate the holiday. And for inspiration, I went to my trusty companion…google. Gatherings have been a frequent inspiration for many artists. In fact, I’ve already used one of the most famous works:

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Luncheon of the Boating Party, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Oil on canvas, 51 x 68, 1881. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

Living in Florida, I found it interesting that many of the famous paintings of various gatherings depicted people enjoying a meal together outside.

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HIp, Hip, Hurrah! by Peder Severin Kroyer, oil on canvas, 53 x 65 in, 1888. Gothenburg Museum of Art.

For most of my life, I have lived in climates where Thanksgiving weather necessitates eating indoors. What about you? Will you gather inside or enjoy the great outdoors while you dine?

I love this painting, which was new to me.

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Lunch on the field, Francisco Bayeu y Subias, oil on canvas, 37 x 56 cm, 1775, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

It is clearly a festive occasion – there are wine bottles nearby and a guitar off to the side. The participants are enjoying themselves, perhaps they sang prior to the meal, or maybe they will sing afterwards. It looks like the kind of gathering I would enjoy! Will you have music involved as you gather? Will you sing together?

I was entertained to see that two artists painted such similar paintings that they actually chose the same title.

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Luncheon on the Grass, Paul Cezanne. Oil on canvas, 81 x 60cm, 1869. Private Collection.
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Luncheon on the Grass, Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 248 x 217 cm, 1866. Musee d’Orsay, Paris.

In both of these works, the participants in the luncheon seem at ease with one another. Some of the gentlemen have removed their hats, the ladies are reclining on picnic blankets. There is a level of comfort and familiarity to the scene. I certainly hope you gather with folks whom you enjoy. And that you are comfortable with those gathered around your table (or picnic blanket).

It is possible though that this holiday season finds you alone, the stranger. Who might you ask to welcome you? And for those of us who may be the host of a holiday gathering, who is the stranger who needs a welcoming table?

In our home, we will indeed gather to ask the Lord’s blessing. He has been very gracious to us this year. Enjoy this little clip from A Prairie Home Companion – may you smile, wonder at God’s blessings, and perhaps extend a bit more grace as you extend your table and gather together.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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How about that wacky artist?

Are artists wacky? Most artists have a style. They perfect that style and challenge themselves by working in a series. It might be a series of dog portraits, angels, bug-eyed children, pretty ladies, marsh landscapes, etc. You get the idea. Do it well, do what sells, do what you like; but many times it’s theme based. It’s a great way to create.

Other artists are often spectacularly diverse. One of my favorite pastel artists is Robert Carsten.   I’ve actually been fortunate enough to take a workshop with him.  The range of his subject matter and technical virtuosity is admirable. As you can see here, his exploration of still life and landscape show his ability to enjoy the outside and inside world.

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Spring’s Splendor by Robert Carsten
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Reflecting Pool by Robert Carsten

I can’t speak for Mr. Carsten, but I can say that art is an exploration of the inner and outer world which mostly exists in the artist’s mind.

We artists and other creative folk are no more internally tormented than any other person. Some artists, like Beethoven or Van Gogh, led such fascinating lives that they have inspired many good stories and interesting films.

I personally like having multiple art personalities that develop through growth, boredom, passion, and excitement.  I am not a better or worse artist because of it, I just like exploration! Personally, I just admire different types of art and different artists.

When I look at the finished portrait of Emma, I find myself wondering at my own exploration.

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© Laura Gabel, “Emma”. 8 x 10, soft pastel. Private collection.

As you can see, she is detailed, right down to her Harley Davidson cap.

On the other hand, when I created Delightful:

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© Laura Gabel, “Delightful”. 6 x 12, acrylic. Private collection.

I was drawing on my feelings about a special person in my life. She is lively, sociable, and bright. The colors were a reflection of her personality at the moment.

So am I wacky? No, but often my paintings reflect the character of the collector, myself, or the subject.

Indeed, variety is the spice of life in art, that’s why it’s great to paint differently and why museums have visitors!

What do you think when you see different styles coming from the same artist? Do you think they’re a bit wacky? You might find they just like to explore in a unique and different way.

 

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