Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Nature Speaks II: Abstracts (or: Life in Lines and Colors)

Last week, I discussed the emotional component involved in creating my landscape paintings. This week, I'd like to explore the same topic, as it relates to abstracts.

"Foxglove Bouquet" - Watercolor on Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Abstract paintings, by their very nature, tend to be powerful expressions of emotion; when an artist is not constrained by a need to render an image exactly, he or she may have more freedom to convey the feeling of an image (or to simply convey feeling, even without an obvious image). In the painting above, that meant capturing the elegant form of a bunch of foxglove flowers, and celebrating their reaching shape, which speaks to me of quiet optimism. Simplifying the flowers into a collection of circular spots allows their form as a whole to stand out, and the pink and lavender hues keep the overall feeling of this piece calm and gentle.

I revisited the flower garden in this piece, but in a much different frame of mind:

"Trio of Black Tulips" - Watercolor on Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Tulips are such a ubiquitous springtime sight, their soft and cheery appearance is a bit of a delightful cliché. I decided to provide a contrast to that stubbornly sunshiny quality by rendering this bunch of tulips in black. This gives the painting a much darker mood than the standard springtime tulip painting, but the simple lines allow this piece to be quietly somber, and not harsh or grating.

"Orchid in Pink and Grey" - Watercolor on Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

The painting above allowed another journey into a monochromatic environment; this time, to place a single pink blossom within a softly sober grey orchid plant. The sense here is of individuality and hope. The idea that one can stand out in a crowd - even without trying - is a powerful message, and I enjoyed creating a piece that could say so in a graceful and eloquent way.

Abstract paintings are a natural opportunity to create emotive art, and I enjoy that this style of painting allows me to focus on the feeling of an image, rather than its literal representation. It never ceases to amaze me that the full gamut of emotion - joyful, gloomy and everything in between - can be conveyed with a few well placed brush strokes and a careful choice of color. And best of all: It's fun!

Next time: Natural History Illustrations

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Nature Speaks I: Landscapes (or: Feeling Small in the Big World)

This entry will be the first in a three-part series that introduces my body of work and gives you a little peek into my creative process, by sharing how emotions drawn from the natural world inspire my artwork. I categorize my paintings into three distinct series of works: Landscapes, Nature Abstracts, and Natural History Illustrations. I enjoy the freedom of working with different media and exploring different styles and subjects. Today, let's start with Landscapes.

"Lake Under the Morning Moon" - Acrylic on Canvas - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

The painting above was inspired by a walk in my neighborhood one morning this spring, when it happened that a gibbous moon was out overhead. There is no lake in my neighborhood, nor mountains, and although there are occasionally geese, they are rarely as picturesque (or quiet) as the ones I created here. The moon and the color of the sky put me in a mood that allowed this image to form in my mind's eye. When painting landscapes, I work from imagination and memory, rather than photographic reference. That gives me a sense of freedom: rather than having to focus on capturing minute details in my landscapes, I give my imagination license to take over.

My imagination was in a spookier, more mysterious place when I hatched the idea for this piece:

"Young Tree in an Old Forest" - Acrylic on Canvas - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Again, the painting is rendered as a fantasy interpretation, not an illustration of any place I've seen in real life. But nothing sets my imagination going like a foggy morning. Fog is something like the dark of night that way; it hides the real world from sight, so the mind can conjure up all sorts of things that might never have been thought of in clear daylight. As a child, that meant I had a dreadful fear of the dark. Now, the same phenomenon makes fog and darkness wonderful playgrounds for my mind, allowing me to invent places I've never seen... Though, if I'm being honest, I am still a little scared of the dark...
Speaking of scary:

"Stormy Sea" - Acrylic on Canvas - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Nature's power to crush us like squishy little bugs is awe-inspiring - not to mention frightening - and I think the sea exhibits that power as no place on dry land can. The image of an environment being in wild motion in every direction makes me shiver, but there's something exhilarating about that feeling (especially for those of us fortunate enough to have a safe, dry vantage point).
Landscapes and seascapes have the unique ability to make us feel a sense of our place in the world, while also taking us out of it, and making us spectators to nature. And although I'm always aware that I'm not really inside the world I'm painting - be it tranquil, mysterious, or violent - I love the sense of connecting on an emotional level with a piece of art, and using that work to communicate a feeling that I could never quite describe in words (this blog effort notwithstanding). A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words, and sometimes, a whole lot more.

Next time: Abstracts

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Having spent quite some time considering what would make a good opening post for this blog, I've finally arrived at the painfully obvious conclusion that my introductory post should be just that: An introduction. Chances are, you haven't met me. You may never have seen my work before, or you may have seen it but know nothing about how and why it came to be. So today I'm going to take a deep breath and dive into this whole blogging thing, starting with an introduction.

Hi! My name's Anna Bronwyn Foley. Most people call me Bronwyn. Nice to meet you!

For a fleeting, lackadaisical moment, I was tempted to close there. But I guess I should press on, and give you something to read that's a little less flippant, and a bit more meaty. I'll start with my own history, to let you know who I am, how I came to be an artist, and the particular kind of artist I am.

I was born and raised in the part of Maine that Mainers refer to as Downeast, which isn't very down, but is very east. It is a part of the state that has long served as logging country, blueberry barrens, and not a whole lot else. That is not to say that I don't feel fondly toward the little corner of wilderness where I grew up. On the contrary; I loved it dearly, and still do. My parents still live there, tucked away in a remote swath of swampy woodland in the stone house they built with their own hands, and in which they raised four daughters.
Growing up, there wasn't a whole lot to do - at least not socially. There was a wonderland of nature and wildlife all around us, though, so my sisters and I spent a great deal of time outdoors, playing in ponds and streams and woods, getting filthy with mud in springtime, frozen in the snow in winter, and bitten to shreds by mosquitoes and black flies in summer... Autumn, for it's part, was just a season of pure, picturesque, New England loveliness (though it was deer season, so we were cautious about going too far into the woods for fear of hunters with poor aim).

"Pussywillows on a Rainy Day"
Gouache on Watercolor Paper
© Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

In between sojourns out into the wilds of my own backyard, I spent countless hours sketching and drawing.I had begun drawing pictures as soon as I could hold a crayon, and though other interests came and went, this one never waned, nor did my enjoyment of nature.

Knowing that I have been an outdoorsy sort since earliest childhood, the fact that my artwork is inspired by a passion for nature and the living world should come as no surprise. But we'll get to that. If you're still reading (and since I'm bothering to write this, I sure hope you are), let's move along through the biographical bit, so I can go on to tell you about my paintings.
I went to college in what seemed the balmy South, at the time: Connecticut, where I earned a bachelor's degree in Biology. Following college, I worked for several years in wildlife husbandry at a small natural history museum in Massachusetts. That position gave me the opportunity to see lots of wildlife in a very close, personal way, which no doubt informed a lot of the natural history illustrations I do now. After all, you can only glean so much from photographs - there's no substitute for having seen the real thing up close.

From there, I relocated to North Carolina. A job offer for my husband was what brought us here, but the prospect of a whole new cache of wild species and natural places to explore was particularly exciting for me. There are lizards here! Wild lizards! That was one of many things I found remarkable about my new (significantly warmer) habitat.
Since migrating south, I worked as a veterinary assistant until the fall of 2011, when our daughter was born and I became a stay-at-home mom. With the precious time available to the mother of an infant who has sometimes been an unenthusiastic nap-taker, I have thrown myself into painting as my primary non-diaper-related form of employment (and, perhaps, an inexpensive kind of therapy).

Still reading? Excellent! Let me tell you about my artwork, then, since that's probably what you're here for.

I've painted with watercolors since I was a child, and more recently began working with gouache and acrylics as well. As you know by now, I love natural themes, and they figure prominently in my artwork. A large part of my body of work consists of natural history illustrations, such as this one:

"Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly" - Gouache on Watercolor Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

And this one:

"Red-winged Blackbird" - Gouache on Watercolor Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

I love the precision and detail involved in producing an illustration of this kind, and never begrudge the time spent getting it to look "just right," but sometimes I find it very refreshing to take a step away from detail, and capture just the impression of a thing, hence my series of abstracts - all still images from nature, but much less constrained ones. For example:
"Blue Tulip Bouquet" - Watercolor on Watercolor Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

In a similar vein (that of taking a step back, away from minute detail) I have more recently begun painting landscapes in acrylics, as well, such as this:

"Young Tree in an Old Forest" - Acrylic on Canvas - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Since December 2011, I have been displaying my artwork online through Etsy at www.abfoleyartworks.etsy.com, and I am so excited to continue adding more pieces to that gallery, and sharing future posts on this blog with updates, stories, and news. Thank you for taking the time to get to know me through reading along here, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon!