March 12, 2010

Artfully done


— By

Staff Writer

So what can a gardener learn from an artist?

Well, the first thing, says painter Ann Stein-Aaron of Cushing, is that anyone who gardens is already an artist.

''You're moving things around, working with colors, working on the visual presentation,'' Stein-Aaron said. ''I like to give the viewer lots of lush color and form and structure to look at -- in my paintings and in my garden.''

Still, even if all gardeners are artists, they may be able to glean some new ideas from working visual artists who also garden. A working artist, after all, probably thinks a lot more about color theory and the rhythms of form and texture than the average backyard gardener does.

Two Mainers -- Judy Paolini and Nance Trueworthy -- have published a new book that gives people a rare glimpse, in words and pictures, into the gardens of working artists.

Called ''The Inspired Garden'' (Down East, $35), the book focuses on the gardens of 24 full-time artists. Thirteen of them live in Maine, including Stein-Aaron. The book came out in February.

Trueworthy photographed the gardens, while Paolini wrote about the artists and their gardens.

Paolini said the pair had talked about doing a gardening book for years. Once Trueworthy got Down East interested, they settled on the idea of how artists tend their gardens.

''It took me about a day and a half to realize that so many of the artists I know have fabulous gardens,'' Paolini said.

After two years of interviewing artists, Paolini found that most of them exhibited a strong connection between their garden and their work. And they applied the same persistence and self-discipline to both.

Holly Ready, a painter from Cape Elizabeth who is featured in the book, says she works much the same way at her easel as in her garden.

''Basically when I start a garden, I have a preconceived feeling of what I'm looking for. But once I choose the first plant color and texture, that really dictates what comes next, just like in my painting,'' said Ready, who also owns Holly Ready Gallery on Congress Street in Portland.

And like with her paintings, Ready feels ''negative space'' is important in a garden. Negative space in art is the place where a person's eye can rest. In Ready's garden, that negative space is the wide area of lawn between the areas of plants and flowers.

''I'm looking at the yard as a total composition, and so the lawn is very important, the shape of the lawn areas are distinct parts, and they offer relief from the intensity of the flowers,'' Ready said. ''You need that relief, because it enhances the importance of the flowers. Too much of anything, even flowers, is not good.''

And like with a painting, color can capture mood. When it's still cool in the spring, Ready likes to plant flowers with warm colors, like red, yellow or orange. Then in the heat of summer, she'll change it up with cool-colored flowers, something blue or purple.

One of Stein-Aaron's connections to her garden: her ''garden heap'' paintings. At the end of the year when she cuts all the ''stalky'' things out of her gardens, all stems and vines and stalks, she often turns the heap into a painting.


Maggie Foskett, a photographer and artist who splits her time between Camden and Florida, also finds her work in the garden. She photographs simple objects, such as a maple pod, and then fiddles around with the image in the darkroom to create various colors.

Foskett also looks at gardens as works of art. She likes to think of her garden as a sculpture instead of a flat canvas. That's largely because her yard has a long slope to it.

''I like to use plants that are low-maintenance and create curving lines, many different lines,'' Foskett said. She suggests planting things in a curved arrangement.

Foskett likes to use all kinds of shapes for her yard, not just curves. She has a multi-tiered deck that juts out to form various angles.

''I hate to see a deck added on to a house that looks like a box,'' Foskett said.

She also likes texture in her garden. Rocks that other people cart away, she'll arrange in her yard as decorative elements. She also thinks you shouldn't cart dirt away after digging it up. Pile it up somewhere and plant something on it. Making a little hill creates a curved line, she says.

Loretta Krupinski, a painter and children's book illustrator from South Thomaston, says little details are as important to her in a garden as they are in her illustrations.

''I like to put in little details in my book illustrations so the child has things to look for while listening to the reader, and I do the same thing in the garden,'' Krupinski said. ''I have little stones with sayings, like stone faces popping up from the plants, little attention-getters.''

Krupinski also likes diversity in her plantings. Beautiful flowers should be broken up with other plantings, she feels, because it will make the viewer appreciate the flowers more. She often uses ornamental grasses to do this work.

Planting all the same things, or arranging stones in all the same way, is boring to her. And in her garden, as with her work, she does not want to be boring.

''Nothing is more boring than being boring,'' Krupinski says.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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