An Eye for a Fall Paw

“Without the name, any flower is still, more or less a stranger to you,” John Burroughs

This past Saturday’s Fall Flowers painting workshop featured some interesting flower varieties in the beautiful shades of purple, yellow, and rusty reds that so characterize autumn. The Community Education Department of Watkins College of Art supplies the flowers adding an element of surprise and fun.  Our flower subjects for this workshop came from The Rebel Hill Florist in Nashville, Tennessee. There were purple mums in an unusual shade of reddish lavender, pansies from the “Crystal Bowl Mix” of colors, a pinkish purple and ivory dahlia, rusty red daisy mums and a new one for all of us, “Kangaroo Paw.”

Kangaroo Paw happens to be a favorite of Watkins College of Art’s director of Community Education, who identified it for the group.  According to Kangaroo Paw, as you might expect, is a native of Australia, though it is commercially cultivated in the US, Japan and Israel and comes in a variety of colors. The yellow Kangaroo Paw we had for class is known in Australia as Mangle’s Kangaroo Paw and is the flower emblem for Western Australia. TheFlowerExpert says “The genus name, Anigozanthos is derived from the Greek word ‘anises’, meaning unequal or oblique, and ‘anthos’, meaning flower, an allusion to the division of the Kangaroo Paw flower into six unequal parts.”

Each individual artist’s style treats the same flower quite differently inspiring the casual observer to take a second and third look at a flower that might previously have only warranted a passing glance.  A second look might bring up the thought of how and why an artist saw the flower in that way.  A third look can cause the eye to focus onto points not noticed before like variations in color, texture and shape.   The work of the artist is what inspires one to take that second and third look.   Isn’t that the very essence of an artist’s calling? After taking that third look you might be intrigued or even fascinated by the artist’s chosen subject . Suddenly you might say to yourself, “I really must get a bouquet of Kangaroo Paw with some pansies, mums and dahlias!” You’ll be the envy of all your friends.

Fall is in the Air, and on the Tables, and on the Porches!!

“No one can keep on being angry if she looks into the heart of a pansy for a little while.” Ruth Maude Montgomery

purplepansytrioFall flowers are some of my favorites, almost as much as spring flowers, maybe!  I think of fall flowers as the last bits of vivid color before the season of brown and gray.  I don’t know about you, but I really need these bits of vivid color to get me through the monotony of winter.

CrystalbowlpansypanitingPansies come in a fabulous array of colors from deepest purple and magenta to the palest yellow and crisp white.  The color varieties in between can be vivid or delicate.  Most of us associate pansies with the deep velvety purple and yellow colors that are most common but a group of pansies called the “Crystal Bowl Mix” have the sweetest delicate pastel shades of yellow, orange and bluish lavender that make me think of Victorian table arrangements.   If you want your pansies to be a bit  soft and delicate, go for the Crystal Bowl Mix, then get an actual crystal bowl and float a few blooms for a beautiful bit of table color to brighten the long cold days of brown and gray. You’ll be inspired to paint every time you look at the cheerful faces of pansies looking up from the bowl.  If you are a serious gardener and want to be sure you know exactly which pansies make up the Crystal Bowl Mix follow this link to the pdf from the Florida State Horticultural Society.

Aster-purple flower

“I end not far from my going forth, By picking the faded blue, Of the last remaining aster flower, To carry again to you.” Robert Frost

And then there are the asters and the mums to add some last bits of color before winter’s dusky days.  Purple asters, to me, make a stunning contrast to the miles of yellow mums that are on every porch throughout fall. Asters, according to Better Homes and Gardens, get their name from the Latin word for “star” and are most often sold in the pale purplish lavender variety though they do come in pink and white varieties, as well. The Farmers Almanac gives the scientific name for purple asters as S. novae-angliae and has wonderful tips for the best growing conditions for this beautiful perennial.  Asters attract butterflies and are a great food source for monarchs as they migrate south for the winter.  And they provide welcome relief from the miles and miles of yellow mums on porches throughout the fall season.  When you spot the one house whose porch is adorned with asters in the sea of yellow mum porches, you know that is where a person with art in their soul must live!

We’ll be painting asters and pansies on the 6thof October at Watkins College of Art in Nashville.  Hope to see you all there! Follow the link here to register.

Happy Fall Y’all!!

News and Updates from Mary Gwyn


After working with Mail Chimp and WordPress  I have decided to keep my communications to my Word Press blog.  For me it seems to be the easiest platform for communication and for regular information sharing and feedback.  It’s easier for me to receive and answer questions too! I will be adding all my current and former student email addresses.  If you can let me know if you do not want yours added, I will not add it. If it gets added before you let me know, it should be fairly simple for you to remove yours if you choose to.  If you have any trouble, just let me know and I will remove it for you.

I’ll be combining information on upcoming workshops and classes with other info and art techniques, things that may be helpful on your art journey.  And I’ll be covering my own work in hopes that it helps you with yours.

It should be easier for you to submit questions in this format.  I will do my best to answer as fast as possible.  Please feel free to include photos with your questions.  If you get stumped in your work, talking about it may help.  The goal with this is to eventually have a way to set up group critique like we do in workshops so everyone can share with each other.  The plan at this point is to limit the critiques to present and past workshop participants only who are familiar with how we do our critiques in class.

This fall brings lots of changes and some new and/or returning things.  First up in October is the Botanical Painting Fall Flowers workshop at Watkins College of Art in Nashville on October 6th, followed by the return of Artists in Healthcare also at Watkins on October 20th.  November will bring an exciting new and fun two-day workshop on making your own holiday cards from your original artwork, (more on this one later!).

Hope to see you all in Fall!!

Corny Cormorants

Cormorant 3x6-1



Taking the boat ride down the Wakulla River in North Florida, the main entertainment on this steamy, rainy summer day was the wacky antics of the resident cormorants.  Swimming, diving, fanning their wings and generally just hanging out with their turtle friends ignoring the humans passing by.  They made me chuckle with their expressive faces.  As soon as I got home and took a look at the photos, I just had to paint one little guy.    His indignant expression cracked me up and those hilarious big webbed feet are priceless.

Wakulla Springs State Park, about 20 miles Southeast of Tallahassee, has several claims to fame besides it’s obvious beauty and wildlife. It is the home of a deep spring fed cave that can be dated back to prehistoric times with the bones of extinct animals littering the floor of the cave, or so the ranger told us. (I didn’t actually go down there to have a look for myself!)  The water is almost crystal clear looking down to the seemingly bottomless spring pool but is apparently fairly cool for Florida water.  The swimming area was full of people cooling off until the rain began.  Too hot this time of year but in the fall, manatees come up the river to the spring area to have their young.

The two biggest claims to fame of Wakulla Springs Park and River is that it was the site of several of the old Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller and the site of the cult classic horror movie, The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  Some say the Creature is still hanging around waiting to become a star again.  Stories were told of Johnny Weissmuller practicing his famous Tarzan yell from the windows of the beautiful Wakulla Lodge and Inn.  Gators were abundant in the waters and laying around on the banks of the river.  I wonder if the film crews had any run ins with the scary guys while filming.  I didn’t hear of any gators snacking on film crew or actors.  Maybe they aren’t too tasty.

The cormorant painting was a start for some larger ones.  This one is only 3 inches x 6 inches but I needed to get the expression down while the memory was still vivid.  They are funny guys.  Its a beautiful place to visit.  The Friends of Wakulla have done a wonderful job of keep the area pristine.  Check out their website and help them out if you can.  Stop off at the Lodge for some great food in the Inn or an ice cream in the old fashioned ice cream parlor sporting a beautiful marble counter that claims to be the longest marble bar outside of Italy. Wakulla Springs is a beautiful, magical place for some serious nature time. And lots of artistic inspiration.

For the Birds

Birds look at us, and they’re glad that we can’t fly.

We look at them, and we wish that we could.”

― Anthony T. Hincks  Goodreads

Most of my art practice and teaching up until a couple of years ago, focused almost entirely on landscape and botanical subjects. The landscapes have been a sort of expressionist/impressionist outpouring of emotional color and texture while the botanicals are sedate, calm and realest.  Two sides of the coin would be an apt description. Then the birds flew in.

It happened as an unplanned thing.  Birds, since childhood, have held a fascination for me.  They are amazing creatures.  Why, I can’t imagine, did I never think of painting them.  It just didn’t occur to me, even though I loved watching them at my feeders.  My feeders were always set up where I could see them from my workspace windows. The bird’s antics were inspiring and joyful.

A couple of years ago, I was taking my work to art fair venues.  Quickly, I learned the best tactic for financial success in these venues was to have a selection of things that were inexpensive and easy for people to carry around as they browsed the fair. The large landscapes definitely didn’t fit with that idea.  The botanical watercolors did a bit better.  Quite by accident, I discovered mini canvases in the art supply store and began trying my hand at painting small.  The small canvases seemed the best suited to flowers rather than landscapes.  The little flowers sold fairly well at the fairs so I looked for more venues to sell them.

Heart and Hands is a shop on Main Street in Franklin, Tennessee that carries arts and crafts made locally.   The little flower canvases were a good fit in the shop and began to sell at a decent rate.  One day while talking with one of the owners, she asked if I painted birds. She thought they might have a market for paintings of birds.  It was a light bulb moment for me.  I loved birds so why not?

And so it began! The first birds were the ones at my feeders and they are still the most popular.  Hummingbirds and cardinals are the most frequent visitors to my feeders and the most common subjects for the paintings.  The paintings each seem to have a life of their own like the subjects they depict. No matter how small or how many I paint, each one is unique.  I don’t seem to be able to control that.  In some ways, they paint themselves.

With the change in my art to mostly birds, has come a bit of life change.  I am now addicted to roaming around with camera in hand, searching for birds, all kinds of birds, all sorts of places. The more I follow the birds, the more amazing I find them. I don’t know how I’ll find enough time to paint all of them but I’m going to try. It appears that my life is suddenly all  for the birds.

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