On the Easel! Out and about for my first plein air session this summer! Canola fields in bloom along the river. Here are a few process photo’s of today’s painting.
For the most part I like to paint in an alla prima style. Wet-on-wet, or alla prima (Italian, meaning at first attempt), is a painting technique, used mostly in oil painting, in which layers of wet paint are applied to previous layers of wet paint . Instead of building colors up with layers or glazing over an underpainting, the painting is completed while the paint is still wet. Strictly defined, an alla prima painting would be started and finished in one painting session, but the term is also more loosely applied to any painting done in a direct, expressive style, with minimal preparation.
Famous painters who worked in an alla prima style are as diverse as Paul Cezanne, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, Caravaggio, Hieronymus Bosch, and Frans Hals. And of course, another art crush for me is the modern master of alla prima Richard Schmid. I especially love his floral paintings. Look at those gorgeous roses!
If you happen to follow me on facebook you know that I frequently post paintings in process. Here is a series of photo’s of an alla prima painting in process. Working title: Looking for Love.
Occasionally, I will go back and re-work a painting. I wasn’t sure I liked how this was working out so I went back and did some more work on it. As you can see the brush stoke is a little less pronounced and it is a little softer painting.
As some of you may know, I am a enrolled tribal member and some of the biggest influences of my life and art have evolved out of the culture and history of the Lakota people. As you may imagine, history from a Native American’s perspective is somewhat different than what you may have learned in school. During my studies in graduate school I took a special interest in learning about the mental health issues particular to Native American populations. Native American people suffer from some of the highest rates of domestic violence, substance abuse and crushing poverty; I wanted to know why and how I might be able to help. Our history passed down to us profoundly influences us and how we are in the world:
Historical trauma is cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the lifespan and across generations, emanating from massive group trauma. Native Americans have, for over 500 years, endured physical, emotional, social, and spiritual genocide from European and American colonialist policy. African American slaves and survivors of the Holocaust also suffer from horrific historical trauma.
The following, rather lengthy, blog post is a brief summary of recent history of the Lakota people and describes how this has influenced one of our traditional art forms into what we know today as Ledger Art. While I don’t seem the particular skill set for this style of art; I love, love, love it! I will also introduce you to one of the artists that I am totally enamored with!
Plains ledger art was adopted as a means of historical representation for the Indian peoples of the Great Plains during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although pre-reservation Plains Indians had no written language in which to record our history, we did have a long tradition of preserving oral histories pictorially. For centuries, Plains Indian men kept historical records of their tribes, first with petroglyphs and pictographs on rock walls, and then painted on buffalo hides. Historical records as well as individual visions and experiences were also painted on tipis and personal garments. The Lakota marked the passage of time by drawing pictures of memorable events on calendars knows as the “winter counts”.
The Lakȟóta people (pronounced [laˈkˣota]; also known as Teton, Thítȟuŋwaŋ (“prairie dwellers”), and Teton Sioux (“snake, or enemy”) are an indigenous people of the Great Plains of North America. We are part of a confederation of seven related Sioux tribes, the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ or seven council fires, and speak Lakota, one of the three major dialects of the Sioux language.
Around 1730, Cheyenne people introduced the Lakota to horses, called šuŋkawakaŋ (“dog [of] power/mystery/wonder”). The people had complex spiritual ceremonies, and placed much emphasis on family and doing things that benefited the people rather than the individual; these cultural and spiritual values remain important among the people to the present day. Once the people acquired the horse, in the mid 1700s, there was an impact on the material culture as well as the social customs of the people. Clothing became designed to be in movement from horseback. We created a whole new art form to honor the horse –horse regalia. Tepees became larger, there was greater mobility, and hunting became more productive.
Additionally, the horse had a direct impact on the integration of the warfare in the fabric of the people’s lives. It is important to understand the main object of Plains Indian warfare was never to acquire land or to control another group of people. Plains Indian warfare focused on raiding other tribes’ camps for horses and acquiring honors connected with capturing horses. In these raids, very much like contests, men sought to out-smart the enemy and gain individual honors by counting coup, or striking the enemy with the hand or a special staff. Plains warfare emphasized out-smarting the enemy, not killing them. With the advent of the horse onto the Plains, warfare traditions became institutionalized among tribes. This style of warfare, described by one author as comparable to a rough game of football, changed dramatically after encounters with the U.S. Army in the 1850s.
Initial United States contact with the Lakota during the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804–1806 was marked by a standoff. Lakota bands refused to allow the explorers to continue upstream, and the expedition prepared for battle, which never came. Nearly half a century later, after the United States Army had built Fort Laramie without permission on Lakota land, the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 was negotiated to protect travelers on the Oregon Trail. The Cheyenne and Lakota had previously attacked emigrant parties in a competition for resources, and also because some settlers had encroached on their lands. The Fort Laramie Treaty acknowledged Lakota sovereignty over the Great Plains in exchange for free passage on the Oregon Trail for “as long as the river flows and the eagle flies”.
The United States government did not enforce the treaty restriction against unauthorized settlement. Lakota and other bands attacked settlers and even emigrant trains, causing public pressure on the US Army to punish the hostiles. On September 3, 1855, 700 soldiers under American General William S. Harney avenged the Grattan Massacre by attacking a Lakota village in Nebraska, killing about 100 men, women, and children. A series of short “wars” followed, and in 1862–1864, as refugees from the “Dakota War of 1862” in Minnesota fled west to their allies in Montana and Dakota Territory. Increasing illegal settlement after the American Civil War caused war once again.
The Black Hills were considered sacred by the Lakota, and they objected to mining. In 1868, the United States signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, exempting the Black Hills from all white settlement forever. Four years later gold was discovered there, and prospectors descended on the area. Red Cloud’s War was fought that ended in a treaty granting the Black Hills in perpetuity to the Sioux. The treaty, however, was not honored by the United States; gold prospectors and miners continued to flood into the region in the 1870s.
In the ensuing conflict, General George Armstrong Custer and 300 troops were killed at Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, by the Sioux Chief Sitting Bull and his warriors.
After that battle the Sioux separated into their various groups. The massacre by U.S. troops of about 150 to 370 Sioux men, women, and children at Wounded Knee in December 1890 marked the end of Sioux resistance. Today, the Black Hills land claim case is still an ongoing issue. Native American lawyer Wanda L. Howey-Fox statements in April 2009 explain the modern issues regarding the Black Hills. She states, “There is no selling to be done because the court determined it was an improper taking and all the court can give as far as remedy is money.” In the present day, the government has recognized that the seizure of land in 1877 was illegal but is still unwilling to return the Black Hills.
Unfortunately, every treaty and every agreement was ever made between the United States government and the Lakota people were violated and broken before the ink was even dry. This side of the story, though not well-known, has its record too, rich in detail, heroism, poignancy, specific battles and events, important figures, even touches of humor. But it was recorded for the Plains people themselves–and in pictures, not words.
Plains ledger art was a continuation, in a new form, of the age old practice of using imagery to record and announce important knowledge and events, including successes in hunting and war. This imagery–pictographs on rock walls and mineral-pigment painting on buffalo hides–also served as a memory aid in oral storytelling. Symbolic narratives painted on tipis, buffalo robes, shields, and other clothing and objects were easily understood by friend and foe alike.
Ledger Art, represents a transitional form of Plains Indian artistry corresponding to the forced relocation of Plains tribes to government reservations, roughly between 1860 and 1900. Due to the destruction of the buffalo herds and other game animals of the Great Plains by Anglo-Americans during and after the Civil War, painting on buffalo hide gave way to works on paper, muslin, canvas, and occasionally commercially prepared cow or buffalo hides.
Beginning in the mid-1800s, as the buffalo were being slaughtered and new drawing materials were simultaneously accessible to Plains warrior-artists for the first time, the pictorial tradition found a new form. Used storekeepers’ ledger and accounting books and other types of paper were obtained from traders, settlers, military officers, missionaries and U.S. government agents. With pencils, crayons, fountain pens and occasionally watercolors, the traditional stylized imagery of hide painting was continued, but in finer detail.
Early ledger arts primary subject were battles and hunting, but as the buffalo disappeared and the Plains tribes were increasingly confined, the drawings began to focus more on personal experiences, such as courtship and daily life. Once solely the domain of warrior-artists, the imagery also began including more of the feminine point of view. Plains artists added scenes of ceremony and daily life from before the reservation to the repertoire of their artwork, reflecting the social and cultural changes brought by life on the reservation within the larger context of forced assimilation.
Lasting for nearly 70 years, ledger art was a adaptable medium that mirrored the changes in Plains Indian life at the time. The earliest surviving ledger drawings are from the early 1870s and depicted events from the artist’s life such as acts of warfare or courtship. By the late 1870s, however, most Plains Indians had been influenced by American culture in some way, and it became apparent in their ledger art. Often, the drawings chronicled the new experiences that came with reservation life and assimilation into American society. The most famous of such drawings are those done by the Plains Indians imprisoned at Ft. Marion in St. Augustine, Florida from 1875-1878. The prisoners were encouraged to sell their work for two dollars a drawing, leading to a demand for Indian ledger art among the American middle class. Intact books of early ledger drawings have been compared with modern-day blogs; one artist may have created the first drawings, but the books were often passed around and others added their own depictions of the same event. In this sense, much of the fullness of historical record contained in early ledger drawings was lost as art dealers removed pages from bindings to be separately sold.
Contemporary ledger artists employ the art form for many of the same reasons their ancestors did: to honor pre-reservation cultures and the battles and struggles of the transition period; to visually comment on–and often poke fun at–the world around them; and to reinforce the lines of continuity between earlier and current day life in the Native world.
“Ledger Art History.” Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California San Diego: Plains Indian Ledger Art Project. 2011
Like his Oglala Lakota ancestors, Donald “Yellowbird” Montileaux started off painting on buffalo hides he laboriously processed himself–an art form he learned from his mentor, Herman Red Elk-and later shifted to ledger books. Unlike in the 19th century, however, it wasn’t the buffalo’s disappearance that inspired a transition in Montileaux’s art. “Being an artist and having an ego, I hated to keep getting third place or honorable mention in hide painting, after Red Elk,” the 63-year-old artist says, smiling.
Montileaux, who studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, has indeed earned top awards with his ledger art. His richly hued paintings on high-quality antique ledger paper are widely collected and have been commissioned to illustrate numerous books. With a deep respect and knowledge of his people’s history and symbolism, he continues the age-old tradition of telling stories and recording important events.
He not only preserves history, he made history as the first living artist whose artwork was launched into space. In 1995 Montileaux was involved in a mentoring program for tribal youth when he was asked by the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology to create an artwork to raise funds for the program. “Looking Beyond One’s Self” is a stylized depiction of three robed Lakota gazing up into the starry sky. With a number of School of Mines alumni working as NASA engineers, the painting ended up aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor.
Montileaux’s art often begins with ledger books dating from 1872 to 1920, whose paper contains a high percentage of silk fiber rather than wood pulp. Applying as many as 10 blended layers with Prismacolor pencil, he produces intensely saturated color burnished into the silken fibers. The result is a sense of dimension and depth in his imagery of warriors, horses, tipis and buffalo. He also paints on such documents as mid-19th-century maps, old banknotes, or authentic documents of illegal gold mines in the Black Hills.
Born in Pine Ridge and living in Rapid City, South Dakota, Montileaux is half Lakota and half French–his two great-grandmothers were Lakota and two great-grandfathers were French from Quebec. As such, he appreciates the juxtapositions inherent in ledger art. “It reflects both my cultures,” he observes. “It’s a good marriage for my art.”
Montileaux’s work is on view at www.donaldfmontileaux.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have a spectacular freezing fog this morning – beautiful to look at and a menace to drive in! As I write this letter the chickadees and woodpeckers are hitting the bird feeder with this great enthusiasm and cheerful noise. We decorated for Christmas today and the hoarfrost made it all perfect. I am deeply grateful for my health, for my family, my friends, life as an artist and for each of you – admirers and collectors of my art.
I want to wish each of you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
I know many of you look forward to this each year – the Annual Holiday Sale! How I wish I could see you all and share a few minutes chatting here in the studio with you. When friends and collectors come by the studio, one of my favorite things is watching them peek around in stacks of small paintings and through my storage slots and shelving looking for little gems and works they might have missed before. Maybe it’s time to start holding an actual ‘Studio Sale’ too, with announcements around town and such. One more thing to consider for next year…
This year, I’m offering a variety of paintings, both newer and older, at a savings between 10% and 35% off, depending on how recent or not-as-recent the paintings is.
Shipping (in the continental US) is included. The sale runs through January 2nd this year. Happy hunting!
These are some of the most recent paintings. To look at the rest of the paintings on sale please go to my website at natalienorrellstudio.com I would love to chat with you abut the story behind each painting so please feel free to give me a call 406-756-7638 or shoot me off an email: email@example.com
And don’t forget that some of not so recent paintings on the site are 35% off. Just email me about the one you’d like!
Well, I am finally getting some time to start working with one of the plein air studies I did during my stay at the Chalet this past summer. Sometimes a plein air study is fabulous and a complete painting in and of itself. Love it when that happens! Other times it gives you a great starting point for a painting or a series of paintings. As you may recall, this is the plien air painting of the falls along the trail up to the glacier.
Here is a quick pastel drawing of the falls.
While this is incomplete and rather loose pastel drawing you can see I am starting to work out some of the compositional details and how to portray the rocks and water flow. This next series is the process of creating a tighter, more detailed painting using my study and the reference photos I took while I was at the Chalet.
I may go in and tweak a few details but this is the more or less finished piece. I find painting water rather challenging and I may do several more paintings of the falls just to help me learn to do it a little better.
I think we must all have experiences in our lives that go in our ‘top ten days’ of our lives categories. My time at Sperry is in my top ten! I had such an awesome time at the Chalet and going back in to work with the study and looking at the photographs of my time there reminds me how beautiful and peaceful and joyful it was to be there painting. I worked my little fanny off while I was there – it was so demanding and so fulfilling at the same time.
Earlier this year my dear friend Sandy from Centennial Timberframes asked me if I could do an art party for her granddaughters 12th birthday. Which I was delighted to respond with “heck, yeah!” So we came up with the idea of doing silk paintings on prepared hoops so the girls could hang the finished paintings.
We used mandala’s as a pattern. What is a mandala?
My final night at Sperry. I am sad to be leaving and wishing I could stay for another week (except that I miss my dog!). The time flew by– it went so fast.
In exchange for my time at the Sperry Chalet I was asked to donate a painting done during my stay. On my last night at the chalet I decided to ask the amazing staff and guests of the chalet help me to decide which painting would the one by voting on all the paintings done during my time at the chalet.
I assigned each painting a number and after dinner I encouraged every one to vote for the painting they liked the best. In a surprise turn of events we had a tie between the painting of the falls and the wild flower series! Drama, drama, drama! It was all very American idol.
So then we had a tie breaker vote.
The wildflower series won by a single vote.
Here they are framed and ready to hang in the chalet!
I want to thank Kevin and the staff of the chalet for an amazing experience. It was glorious and very hard work. I loved every minute of it…well maybe not the hike in–that about killed me! (Rene I apologize. I was very grumpy when I arrived.) But the rest of it was simply wonderful, beyond words! I was overwhelmed and inspired by the landscape. The opportunity to dive into my craft without interruption was priceless.
I am so looking forward to devoting some time this winter to doing some larger canvas of the utterly sublime and immense panoramic vistas from the glacier. I can’t wait to create a series of paintings from the tarns. I was quite enchanted with the reflections of snow, ice and the color of the water.
Stay tuned there will more to come out of my adventures at Sperry Chalet!
Once again I am indulging my inner geek because I wanted to know more about these little critters. No doubt, this may be more than you ever wanted to know about them!
Marmots live in the western United States and southwestern Canada, including the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. It inhabits steppes, meadows, talus fields and other open habitats, sometimes on the edge of deciduous or coniferous forests, and typically above 6,500 feet of elevation.
Their territory is about 4 to 7 acres around a number of summer burrows. Marmots choose to dig burrows under rocks because predators are less likely to see their burrow. Predators include wolves, foxes, coyotes and eagles (and I asked several people if the knew the answer to this question!). When a marmot sees a predator, it whistles to warn all other marmots in the area (giving it the nickname “whistle pig”). Then it typically hides in a nearby rock pile.
Marmots reproduce when about two years old, and may live up to an age of fifteen years. They reside in colonies of about ten to twenty individuals. Each male marmot digs a burrow soon after he wakes up from hibernation. He then starts looking for females, and by summer may have up to four female mates living with him. Litters usually average three to five offspring per female. Only about half of those pups survive and become yearlings. Marmots have a “harem-polygynous” mating system in which the male defends two or three mates at the same time. Female offspring tend to stay in the area around their home. Male offspring typically leave when they are yearlings and will defend one or more females.
Marmots spend about 80% of their life in their burrow, 60% of which is spent hibernating. They often spend mid-day and night in a burrow as well. These burrows are usually constructed on a slope, such as a hill, mountain, or cliff. The hibernation burrows are can be up to 16 to 23 ft deep, but the burrows constructed for daily use are usually only 3.3 ft deep. Their hibernation period varies on elevation, but it is typically from September to May. Occasionally, they will climb trees and other flora, but they are usually terrestrial.
The marmot is also an omnivore, eating grass, grains, leaves, flowers, legumes, fruit, grasshoppers, and bird eggs.
Ok, back to the art stuff…After my marmot encounter I continued up the trail to the glacier for another attempt at painting the awe inspiriting vista.
Here I am making another attempt to capture this HUGE vista…alas another rather unsuccessful painting.
From here I headed back down to paint at the falls.
Here are some images of the painting.
And of course, here is another supervisory visits by the goats!
I decided to spend the day painting around the chalet. On recommendations from some of the staff, I bush-whacked my way around to the other side of the lodge to get a view towards the falls.
I wanted to capture the early morning light along the trail heading up to the glacier and took great liberties with my use of color!
Coincidentally, when I decided to take a break for lunch this little guy showed up looking for a hand-out. Fickle creature abandoned me as soon as the food was gone – go figure…
After lunch I headed back towards the lodge to paint the rock formation known as “Horse and Rider”. I knew this would be technically very challenging. It took me about five hours and three attempts before I felt like I “got it”. The mountain, of course, is massive, presenting a multitude of rock faces, and the sun moved quite a bit in that time frame, which created a big shift in the light and shadows. However, I am reasonably happy with the result!