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Winter Blues


Detail, Ice Lake, 2014, mixed media on canvas, 48" x 36"

Winter has been rough this year for everyone on the East Coast. Ice, snow and below-freezing temperatures have been the norm for weeks now. It is easy for Seasonal Affective Disorder to kick in as you scroll through all the photos on Facebook of friends who have run away to island vacations. But in this, as with just about everything in life, art saves. To be clear, I am not suggesting that you put a poster of a palm tree on your wall. While sometimes art does help us escape, the practice of art saves us from the unwanted parts of our experience by helping us embrace them. Art invites us to see winter in a new way that can even make you cherish it to the point where you are sorry to see it go. That may seem impossible when we are all longing for spring. But there are things that happen only in winter, and we can miss them if we aren't looking - beautiful, magical, ephemeral things...

Blue - Of course the blue skies of summer are cheerful and inviting, but in winter, blue expands in a subtle range of hues in the sky and landscape that are intensified by the cold and dramatized by the dark. The grayish tints of the afternoon sky, the shadows on the ice, the deep horizon just before dawn - everywhere it is as if someone clicked the "Cool" filter in Photoshop. It is truly the best time of year to explore the color blue in all its complexity and mystery.


Snow, Moon, 2007, mixed media on canvas, 48" x 48"

Contrast - Another gift of winter is the striking beauty of its sharp contrasts. In summer, the landscape often runs together in a single sea of endless green. (As you probably know if you have ever tried to do any plein air painting...) But in winter, all is lain bare. The stark trees against the pale sky, brilliant snow against the dark ground... the blacks are slick and alive and the whites gleam and glow with cold intensity.


Bus Stop Birds, 2006, acrylic on canvas, 48"x 48"

Line and Pattern - Thanks to the contrasts of winter, we are able to observe the lines and shapes of things that are otherwise concealed in lusher months. If trees never shed their leaves, the beauty and grace of their branches would never be revealed to us. Harmony of form and line is all around - from the tangled scribbles of bare vines to the delicate patterns of frost that change with a breath of air. Each shape almost seems gently poised after the other for us to read like a sheet of music.

And these are only the things you see on the surface. There is an entirely different magic to the unseen forces of winter that are also powerful subjects to explore in art. I'm not denying that this season can be cold and miserable. However, shifting your attention to finding the beauty in anything can instantly transform it. You don't have to pick up a paint brush, or a camera, or a piece of charcoal to do that, but it can certainly help one arrive at a new mental space. (The reoccurrence of bare branches and the color blue in my art stands as evidence of this method's effectiveness, at least in my own experience.)

So explore winter. Revel in it. Even if you don't draw or paint it, if you can be open to it's true nature, you can receive what it has to give. Because like everything else we complain about, it will be gone soon enough.

- M.D.

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