Monday, November 24, 2014

Robin Whitfield art workshop at Sam Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge

On the beautiful Saturday morning of 22 November, Joseph and I headed to the Sam Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge where we met Brent Wallace at 11AM for a 7 mile run. After running, we ate a picnic lunch, then we hung around and attended an art workshop put on by the current refuge artist in residence Robin Whitfield. Robin is a unique Mississippi artist who bridges the gap between nature and painting. Although, she is an accomplished watercolorist, she has more recently been working with natural pigments she finds in the habitats she paints.

Robin Whitfield
Robin started the two hour workshop by showing us studies she has done while doing her residency at the refuge. She had these studies hanging on the walls of the refuge cabin she was staying in and explained her artistic process to about 25 of us as we looked around. Although there were a few traditional type watercolor works, many of her studies were done with natural pigments she had found throughout the refuge ranging from mud to smashed leaves. Yes, it was pretty interesting to see the wide array of colors she was able to find and use for her art from only natural materials.

Following the show and tell, Robin led us to one of her favorite sites on the refuge for finding pigments. This particular site was near the Scattertown trail area. With the red clay road leading into the wooded area, the charcoal stained pines, and numerous greens of the undergrowth, this was indeed a good spot for experimenting with natural colors. Basically, everyone started with some watercolor paper and were told to find colors and play. Pretty cool. Grownup folks grubbing around in the dirt, smashing leaves onto paper to make color, and otherwise just playing.

I have to say, I have made inks out of berries, drawn with my own charcoal, and otherwise made pigments from natural things, but I have never actually smashed leaves and/or flowers onto a piece of paper to make color. I suppose this type of pigment may be somewhat impermanent, but it is definitely a really cool exercise in understanding the use of natural color. Also, it is pretty neat to "paint" a picture of something such as a plant using pigments from the plant itself. 

Here are a few of my pigment experiments.

"Ant Man" symbol. The dark brown was from some dark earth, the orange was from a reddish leaf, greens from leaves of a couple of different low growing forest floor plants, and black from the burned bark of loblolly pine. 
A bit of greenbriar (Smilax sp.) with some smaller leaved species of plant below left leaf. The brown was from clay, black from burned bark, and greens from mashed leaves including the leaves of the ones depicted here. 
"Leaf Elf." Green pigments from leaves, black from burned bark, and browns from dirt.
"Vines" done with leaf pigments and charcoal from pine bark. 
"Amorphous stuff" done by pressing the brown insides of a wet puffball mushroom on the paper.  
"Forest" using leaf pigments, soil pigments and burned pine bark.
Awesome little workshop for sure, and I think everyone got a lot out of it. Robin is an enthusiastic sort who clearly loves being out in nature doing art! This spring, Robin will be using her talents to judge the Starkville Area Arts Council Cotton District Arts Festival. Leading up to that, we have invited Robin to have a one person show from early March through May at the Greater Starkville Development Partnership office in downtown Starkville. More on that later!

What a pretty day, and apparently the alligators thought so too, as numerous large gators were lying out in the sun.

Three of the numerous gators seen sunning this afternoon. The one in the middle was HUGE!
Sunset at the Refuge


Robin Whitfield said...

thanks for the write up Joe! cool earthy doodles.

Robin Whitfield said...

Thanks for the write up Joe!! You did some cool earthy doodles.

Joe MacGown said...

Sure thing Robin! That was fun. Love your outlook on art and where you are going with it. And your willingness to share your discoveries is awesome!