Monday, November 21

Found Treasure

It started when I was young; I loved collecting what others considered worthy of discarding. My mother would tell the story of me, at age four, causing trouble in pre-school hoarding random items from the playground in my coat or pant pockets. I would come home daily with bits of small shiny wrapper scraps, a colorful cap from an unknown bottle, or various other untold objects; all with the idea of turning it into something or treasuring it for what it could become. This was highly frowned upon by all.
Erica Dale Strzepek, Small Pencil Series - Scallop,
Pencil, 6x6 inches, ©2011
Despite the early discouragement, my collecting has not stopped. The little bits of this and that in my opinion are still not necessarily trash. I cannot go most places without finding something worth picking up as a found treasure. When out on nature walks with my boys, small pebbles, brightly colored fallen leaves or a smoothed piece of drift wood are sure to make their way home with us. Worn bits of sea glass from a Cape Cod beach or uniquely marked pottery shards long ago discarded in the Hoosic River, I am fascinated by the stories they could tell.

Erica Dale Strzepek, Bowl of Treasure, Digital Photograph, ©2011 
A most intriguing recent find was a shard of Depression Era Vaseline glass. I spotted the out-of-place glowing green fragment in the water amongst the common colored rocks. As I reached my hand to carefully retrieve my find, I imagined its former life as a common place delicate footed dessert dish. What homemade delicacy could have filled its graceful curves? I envisioned the Berkshire hostess presenting a delicious serving of strawberry shortcake complimented by local farm fresh, white whipped cream. Yum! What occurred in its household history for its fate to end up as a broken shard in the cold flowing, Hoosic River? The preceding possibilities were innumerous... “Hurry up, would you?” called out my husband to me. “We’ve got to get going,” he finished. With that, I shoved the beautiful found treasure into my pant pocket.

Support fine artists and other small business owners this holiday season: SHOP SMALL on Small Business Saturday, November 26, 2011. Use coupon code SHOPSMALL25 to save 25% off your Etsy purchase from my Etsy Shop. I thank you!

Monday, November 14


Erica Dale Strzepek, Snow in October,
Watercolor & Gouache, 5x7 inches, ©2011
Recent weather brought unique landscapes and artistic vignettes to the New England area I love
While driving from Central New York, it began. First, we thought it was the elevation as the sun had long faded and the air was colder. Around us the I-90 Thruway bustled with 18-wheeler trucks on their long haul. A call to our family confirmed our fear; winter was rearing itself early just days before Halloween. What a cruel trick-or-treat indeed.

The historic October Nor’easter wreaked havoc covering the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states. I unpacked winter coats, hats, and gloves along with snow shovels and rock salt. To my dismay, the snowplow arrived 10-minutes before midnight, greeted by loud barks from our dog. Her barking was only muffled by the snowplow blade scraping against the blacktop driveway, back and forth in what seemed slow motion and endless. The Berkshire autumn season was now accompanied by 15 or more inches of heavy wet snow.
With the storm, the local landscape took on a new artistic promise. Scenes in town I had envisioned painting in autumnal brilliance, were now transformed with the addition of this white blanket. Mt. Greylock was a splendid site with orange and yellow trees capped with white highlights. Clumps of full evergreens added dimension to the unique spectrum of color.
Erica Dale Strzepek, Primary End, Snow in October Series,
Watercolor & Gouache, 10x14 inches, ©2011
Among my favorite vignettes three busted, and rusting Volkswagen Beetles. The VWs aligned cleverly (or possibly without consideration) in primary red-yellow-blue sequence adjacent to the pharmacy in the heart of downtown. The subject of a vehicle parked for its final time has always captured my imagination, and is a theme I paint often. I wonder about the last driver and what they were thinking. How long since someone opened the car door and sat inside? How was the hood crushed or the bumper dented? Why has it been abandoned and forgotten? Without knowing the answers to its story, the possibilities are endless. I think that is what I find intriguing.

New original watercolor pieces inspired by #Snowtober are available from my Etsy Shop. Shop Small on November 26, 2011 and support artists and small business owners this holiday season.

Saturday, October 15

En Plein Air

As a wife and mother of three young boys I do not have the freedom to paint whenever I would like. Most days it is a coordinated effort between chores, school runs, and other activities and obligations. In order to be prepared at a moment's notice I have a full assortment of art of supplies on-hand in my, yes I’ll say it, mini-van. Extra clothes and shoes for the kids, various snacks, plenty of juice boxes, bike helmets, two Razor scooters, a stroller, bug spray, and of course my camera all line our moving art studio. While the fall weather remains enjoyable, the kids and I are always ready for an outdoor excursion.

Erica Dale Strzepek, Cheshire Lake Autumn Morning,
Watercolor, 6x12 inches, ©2011

I found myself presented with an opportunity to paint earlier in the week as my youngest was fast asleep in his car seat long before his usual morning nap. With my other two boys at school, I drove to Cheshire Lake along the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail to paint en plein air. Using the back of the mini-van, I laid out my materials to capture the 8:30 morning light on the lake. The grey looming cloud cover expected for the day had not fully presented itself. I observed boaters battling rough choppy waves created from the brisk breezy fall air that swept across the water. Two fishermen tried their hand at a morning catch while I painted and drank my coffee. I worked quickly with loose strokes and knife work to complete a 6x12 scene; all the while my youngest was fast asleep.

Erica Dale Strzepek, Autumn Morning Sky,
Digital Photograph, ©2011

With one composition down, I opted to move to the opposite calmer side of the park to capture an old warehouse quietly reflecting on the water’s edge. I parked at the end of the boat ramp and was part way through my setup when my son awoke. We continued our mother-son pseudo tailgate party as he sat in his stroller eating his snack of sliced strawberries, dry cereal, and orange juice. I painted a bit longer as he threw bits of snack to the birds overhead. As the morning lingered, more people arrived to take in the park. A couple out bird watching spotted a hawk and were taking pictures. A group of ladies gathered for a fast paced walk while several men readied their biking gear for the trail. Also out was a friendly couple from New Jersey with whom I struck up a conversation. Up for the beauty of the fall foliage, Nessa Neilson Morse was also a watercolor artist. She too was racing the morning light and grey looming skies to capture reference scenes with her camera to paint at a later date. Swapping our artistic experiences, website information, and love for the scenes of the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, Nessa commented how great mini-vans were for painting on the go.

As my son finished the remains of his sippy cup, he let out several screams indicating “I want to go now.” My second composition incomplete, I knew for now my morning painting en plein air was over.

Still planning to take in some foliage throughout the Berkshires or your own trek on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail this season? Stop by the Adams Free Library, 92 Park Street, to see my exhibit of original watercolors on display through November. For library hours call 413-743-8345.

For a limited time I am offering free shipping from my Etsy Shop, where you can find many of my new autumnal pieces. Enjoy the beauty of the season and get a head-start on your holiday shopping! Coupon code [FALL2011FS]. Offer expires November 5, 2011, domestic shipping only.

Sunday, October 2

'Tis the Gift to Be Simple

With autumn upon us, I find artistic inspiration during the simplest of tasks; picking up my kids from school, attending an evening soccer practice, walking to our local public library, or picking up mail at the post office. Especially beautiful in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, each autumn day brings a new composition from the quickly changing life of sugar maples, red maples, oaks, and elm trees. Autumnal colors delight my palette as I paint sweeping mountain backgrounds with perylene violet, gold and yellow ochre and muted greens. Foliage sings out in quinacridone gold, alizarin crimson, and cadmium red with interruptions from evergreens or tall white birches. The scene is complimented with skies of ultramarine blue with occasional wispy horse tail clouds.

With camera, paint, and palette in hand, I find the cooler weather a wonderful time to be out with my boys enjoying nature’s beauty and plentiful treasures. Greylock Glen sits at the base of Mt. Greylock in Adams, Massachusetts. The park has areas for hiking, walking, fishing, and of course abounds in potential artistic composition. Shallow running streams reveal rocks of local white limestone and sparkling granite which dance in the water with the fallen crimson maple leaves. Twisted bittersweet vines hang exposed bearing clusters of golden husks opened to reveal bright red fruit inviting birds to dine. With their season over, dried wildflowers drop seeds to return again with the spring renewal, now many months away.
Leaving the Glen, the view looks towards town and the valley. Family farms dot the landscape and far away cars move along like toys. Jaeschke's Orchard is a buzz with the apple harvest. The front of their orchard is adorned by carts filled with colorful maroon and yellow hardy mums. I find the simplicity of the area so beautiful.
Enjoy along me my favorite season. For a limited time I am offering free shipping from my Etsy Shop, where you can find many of my new autumnal pieces. Coupon code [FALL2011FS]. Offer expires November 5, 2011.

Planning a foliage ride through the Berkshires? Stop by the Adams Free Library, 92 Park Street, to see my exhibit of original watercolors on display through November. For library hours call 413-743-8345.

Thursday, September 22

Rocks, Bugs, and Boys

Rocks and fossils were last year’s summer vacation theme. The five of us, my husband, me, and our three boys would make an afternoon of rock hunting and searching for fossils out and about in Central New York. The area of the state is perfect, due to the topography and geological timeline. We were astounded to hear our then six-year-old yell out, “I found a trilobite!” The boys even had luck sifting through our neighbor’s landscape rocks; easily identifying fossilized coral. With specimens in hand off to the Canastota Public Library we would go to do our identification research. All the librarians knew of our summer project and would suggest new locations or share their own treasures. It was an adventure we all as a family enjoyed, as well as, a great learning experience for the boys.

Erica Dale Strzepek, Io Moth,
Watercolor & Ink, 5x7 inches, ©2011

This summer’s theme, much to my dismay, became all things bugs. I guess having three boys I should know that’s part of their makeup. Insects are certainly more difficult to embrace over fossils, but a learning experience none the less. It started when our middle son found a large, may I say huge, dead black beetle. “Mom, this is awesome,” remarked my four-year-old. The next specimen was a horse fly larger than the size of a U.S. quarter. I was nearly eaten alive by the thing at the breakfast table while visiting family on Cape Cod. “Get it Mom,” the boys screamed. Their shrills were followed promptly by “get a bag so we can save it and look at its beautiful green eyes.”
When we came across a beautiful yellow moth, without a field guide or our local library to identify it, I turned to Twitter. The boys would ask every few minutes, “Did you get a reply yet?”

Twitter Feed PhthaloBluePB15

On and on went the summer with our bug findings. As our collection grew, their beauty was undeniable to us all. Whether a black beetle, cicada, horse fly or the moulted exoskeleton of a June beetle, we collected and drew our findings with true enjoyment. “Mom, the legs fell off this one so I am not going to draw them.” I was fine with that.

Thursday, July 14

Finding Inspiration

I came into possession of our family slides a few years ago. There are approximately 250 Kodak 35mm slides, housed all these years in a typical metal slide case. Passed around the family, they needed a permanent keeper: a keeper of the vacation to California, someone to look again at the snapshots of the house being built, or clean laundry on the line, as well as all those Christmas mornings.

Looking through the memories, I loved seeing pictures of my mom as a little girl playing with her four brothers. Mom’s pretty blonde hair all done up prim and proper for her dance recital or disheveled from “horsing around” with the boys. You can see in them as children the adults they were to become. I was taken in by the old dusty film and saw the artistic potential they held. My grandmother, now eighty-six, often recounts for me the happenings of each captured moment. I listen with intent and record with paint those memories.

Beachcomber is one of my favorite compositions from this series I call Memories Revisited. In the original slide, the elements of calm quiet shore colors, people not in beach attire standing oddly in thought with the juxtaposition of the bright orange sweater, spoke to me artistically. The young boy is the oldest of my four uncles and standing next to him is my grandfather. The overall simplicity, yet thoughtfulness of the piece I find to be very inspirational.

My watercolor composition stays true to the faded coloring of the vintage slide. Soft sand, with calm sea water and cloudless sky. The man stands tall, in an almost absent composure while the child plays. I have kept their nontraditional beach attire, letting the viewer work out their own reasoning. The quiet thoughtfulness in each of them still a mystery.