For as long as I can remember, I have felt a sense of peace when in the mountains.  Perhaps it has something to do with where I grew-up, in and around the Blue Ridge Mountains.  I’ve heard folks call this area around Nelson County and Charlottesville, Virginia, “God’s Country,” and maybe I am biased, but I have always felt the nearness of God when I am walking through the woods.  Leaves crackling beneath my feet.  Birds singing. Streams gurgling.  Squirrels rustling about.  Sunlight filtering through the leaves.

While my family and I still live within driving distance of the mountains,  our hiking trips have become less frequent over the years.  And, at times, my soul craves the rest and solitude that I’ve always found so easily in the woods.  When we moved to our new house several years ago, I was ecstatic to realize that we are within walking distance of the Midlothian Mines, a wooded walking trail that winds amidst the ruins of an old coal mining operation of years ago.  A little slice of Heaven right in my own backyard!  Mid-way between two parallel trails, a stream trickles through the woods and the sun’s rays magically reach through the trees early in the morning.  Here, I pause, eyes closed, palms open, and I soak.  I soak in Light.  From this sacred space, comes the inspiration for my latest piece of art, Soak.

With a vague image of a girl soaking in a bathtub in the middle of the woods in my mind’s eye, I purchased a large 24×36 canvas and began on my journey to create Light.  For no reason, in particular, I felt the need to collage.  So, I spent a few days tearing and gluing various bits of paper from magazines, newspaper, and grocery bags to my canvas, creating the forest.

forestcollage1
forestcollage2

Originally, I thought that I might leave parts of the collage peaking through the painting.  So, when I soon realized that I really needed to paint over the entire collage, I faltered.  Just like real life, though, that first-step was a necessary part of my process and I told myself that the collage would still serve a purpose.  It would give my piece interest and texture.

firstpaintlayer
The first trees were added, “framing” the light.

firstpaintedtrees
To create a softer, more magical feeling, I then dry-brushed white paint into certain areas that occurred naturally due to the collage underneath.

lightenedbackground
First comes the light, then the trees.  I worked from two photos: one that I took with my Ipod on a recent walk through The Mines and another photo downloaded from the computer that captured the colors which I envisioned.  I used a sponge to create the illusion of leaves on the trees.

moretrees&leaves

Then came the girl…I struggled a bit with my initial drawing, as I do not have much experience in drawing the human figure, but with a little help from my trusted art teacher and inspiration from a Gustav Klimt painting, I was able to bring her into fruition!  She is painted, cut from mat board, backed with foam board and her hair is formed of felted wool.

girl

From the beginning, I envisioned my girl soaking in an old-fashioned copper bathtub.  Never having worked with metal, this stage of the piece proved to be quite a learning experience!  I started with a large piece of shiny copper which I then distressed by pounding it with a ball-peen hammer on a brick and later heating with a kitchen torch, the kind used to make creme brule.  Once the patina was achieved, I cut and shaped the copper with pliers into 2 pieces which were later soldered together using the kitchen torch.  Still not quite satisfied with the patina, I dipped the whole tub into a patina solution in order to darken the copper.

bathtub
Bubbles were then crafted by hand-sewing some old vintage beads, once belonging to my late grandmother, onto a piece of tulle  found in my ribbon drawer.

bubbles
With my girl and bathtub now complete, I turned my attention back to pulling all of the pieces together within the forest scene.  This stage of my mixed-media pieces gets exciting, but can also be somewhat of a challenge as I work to bring everything together into one cohesive piece.  I started by adding some “weight” to the top portion of the painting with additional leaves made of felted wool and ribbons.  I arranged the wool and ribbons haphazardly between two pieces of Solvy, free-stitched the pieces together using clear thread on the sewing machine, and then dissolved the Solvy by immersing the pieces in a tub of water.

leaves
To create a few heavier, dimensional branches, I pounded and torched  pieces of leather lacing.

branches
With all the various elements now complete, I set-out to arrange them on top of the painted canvas.  Initially, I used masking tape to allow for rearranging. Once satisfied with the arrangement, I hand-sewed the branches onto the canvas and glued the felted pieces to the canvas with gel-medium, my most favorite adhesive.  The bathtub called for something a bit stronger due its weight, so I went with an Epoxy glue.

soak2
Almost always, upon finishing a piece of art, I stand back and take-in the piece in its entirety, my eyes wandering all over the canvas.  There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I have created something meaningful.  That I have shared a piece of my soul.  And when my eyes start to focus on the places that I might have done differently, I remind myself that there is beauty in imperfection and in the process itself.  Just like life.

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