Behind the Paintings of Landscape
I wasn’t expecting to start painting again…. I hadn’t painted with oil paints, or really any paint, in decades. But in my free time over the last few years, I have been investigating the origin and histories of color. I consequently went down a rabbit hole studying earth pigments that one grinds down and mixes with a binder to make a radiant, archival, and durable paint without preservatives, toxins, solvents, synthetics, etc. It was how paint was made centuries ago before manufacturing!
I wanted to start dabbling again – mostly because the flow and feeling of a brush full of paint on a surface is soothing to me. But I didn’t have a subject or a reason to begin. So, when I purchased a few large-scale landscape stones “just for fun,” I suddenly had the epiphany to combine two of my artistic loves together: make landscape jewels on landscape paintings.
They painted imaginary mythical scenes and characters directly onto them to complete collectable Italian paesinas (from the Italian “paesaggio” aka landscape). Today’s picture stones continue to celebrate the uniqueness of each rock looking as if a talented “someone” had taken a paintbrush and drawn tiny landscape scenes. But in reality, save for shaping and polishing, these rocks are absolutely as Nature created them – pulled out of the earth looking like a perfect miniature artwork. They are mind-blowing!
I needed to choose the ideal stones to use on my own paintings – ones that would work for me to extend a painted panorama scene around (and underneath) each jewel. I selected large sized stones that would belong in the four capsules of my Landscape jewelry collection (Mountain, Sky, Desert, Ocean), and decided where each artwork’s inspirational stone would rest in a precise spot on the painted wood panel so that it looks seamless.
I asked one of my lapidaries to grind some malachite, opal and amazonite into powder for me. I bought ochres and clays, I foraged rocks on the beach, and I ground down gems such as azurite nuggets with a mortar and pestle to create a pure vibrant blue chroma. Then I mixed the individual stone powders on a glass plate with walnut oil to create luscious, vibrant oil paints. And I just started seeing what would happen – mixing colors, building layers – creating a scene that would work with a specific stone.
I used my imagination to interpret how I felt the landscape should continue. Dreaming up hills and vegetation, sand dunes and patches of seaweed stranded by a retreating ocean, dry desert gullies and gorges. I took cues from the stones on how to mimic their patterns: in Mountain, I painted tiny vegetation that looked like trees – similar to the mineral dendrite tendrils that dotted the Deschutes jasper. I looked closely at my stones to see the myriad of colors hiding in the backgrounds – for example, the pretty slate blues peeping through the sandy ochres in Desert. If I had a powdered gemstone that was the “right” hue, I would highlight the painting with that pigment, like in Ocean where part of the sky is pure malachite to match the deep translucent parts of the petrified opalized wood gemstone.
In all of these paintings, I had to conceptualize where the sun would be, but also keep it consistent with the “light direction” native within the stone. It was a challenge for me to figure out achieving perspective on the overall painting, yet be true to the gemstone’s innate vista relativity. The process of painting itself took a lot longer than I thought it would, especially since I could only paint so much before I would have to let the medium set for weeks until the oil was dry enough so I could go back in and keep working over a layer. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say more than once I was ready to throw in the towel; questioning my skills, questioning whether my client - or anyone, really - would be interested, questioning what I was trying to achieve. But, the fun of making the paints and getting messy, of learning something new and trying out a new medium and all its tools and gadgets - that alone was everything. The pleasure of being free to experiment with minimal pressure (after all, YOU didn’t know I was painting!), and in the end, the satisfactory feeling of pressing that color-filled brush onto a white canvas to create something out of nothing.
After all this, creating the jewels with the large landscape gems I had curated was actually the easy part. Each gem is bezel-set as a pendant in sterling silver with an inner rim of 18k yellow gold. The artwork, then, is the actual gem mounted directly on the painting, which is removable to wear – leaving the painting completely untouched. The result is my 21st century re-invention of the past’s obsession with stone: art for your wall and for your body that is a true testament to Nature’s incredible artistry.
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