There used to be just winter and summer. Back in the 12th and 13th century fall was referred to as "harvest" and spring was called "lent." Spring and fall are derived from "spring of the leaf" and "fall of the leaf." Somewhere along the way they were shortened to spring and fall. The fall season begins in late September and ends just before Christmas (some say it ends in November). Regardless of the origins, there is something magical about fall. And that magic can lift your spirit and improve your art, if you let it.
Too often the beauty of the fall season gets lost in the frenzy of media noise, pre-holiday advertising and stressful travel. Not to mention all the inevitable shopping, holiday parties, commitments and stress. What's worse, some families struggle with old, unresolved issues. The holidays, well known as a time for family reunions, sometimes lure old issues out of their dormant angst.
Never the less, despite these challenges, fall is a special time of year. There's a chill in the air that invigorates and refreshes. It reminds you that you're alive.
I came up with six magical aspects of fall. If you slow down long enough, you can savor each of these. And the peace and joy they bring will lift your spirt, which leads to inspired expression and better art.
Nothing quickens the heart of a dedicated outdoor landscape painter like fall colors. When the leaves lose their vibrant greens and turn rusty red and orange, they leave a beautiful dash of color upon the countryside. Some states, like Vermont, are particularly blessed with this natural gift of stunning colors. But even Northern California, where I live, gets to see some of the show. Like this late afternoon photo near my home.
Ever since I was a little boy, I've been drawn to the sound of wind rustling through tree leaves. I used to climb trees in the woods behind my parent's house and sit in them, as the wind gently rocked the trees back and forth.
There's a beautiful scene at the end of the movie "Phenomenon" where actor Kyra Sedgwick looks up at an aspen grove, as the large canopy of leaves sway back and forth in the breeze. She closes her eyes and feels the immense presence and peace of the moment. The video below, taken by Dan Knapmiller, captures some of the beauty of wind blowing through fall trees. There's a sort of divine grace to it. So peaceful and calming.
There's something mesmerizing and soothing about a crackling fire in the fireplace. Beyond the warmth and flickering light it brings into a room, it seems to tap into our primal sense of safety, security and peace. Families have long enjoyed the comfort of spending time together in front of a fireplace, perhaps sipping a glass of wine or enjoying a dessert. Fires seem to go hand in hand with the chill of fall.
One artist I admire is John C. Traynor. He has a beautiful studio which just happens to have a fireplace in it. Lucky guy! Here's a picture from his Facebook page of him painting in his studio. Talk about an inviting, peaceful and serene environment!
I know, not everyone is a coffee drinker. But there's nothing like a hot, dark roast coffee on a chilly fall day. Actually, any hot beverage or even soup just tastes better in fall. It warms and comforts you. My wife has a few stew recipes that I always look forward to in fall. They're hearty and satisfying and warm you up after a brisk walk with the dogs.
Recently in the news there was a debate about Starbucks, and whether or not their holiday cups should have traditional holiday images on them. Things like Christmas trees, presents, snowflakes, etc. The other day I picked up a Starbucks coffee, and later in the day bought a Peet's coffee. I took a photo of the two cups side by side and sent it to my wife for laughs. We agreed that the Peet's coffee cup was more festive.
Here's the deal, though. Fall should be about family, good food, friends, long walks and colorful leaves. The news media love to whip up inane controversies, like whether or not retail coffee cups should have holiday messages. This is the kind of piffle that gets people fired up. Soon they're leaving snarky messages on Facebook and the debates fly. And as a result, folks miss out on the stuff that really matters. And what matters is making room for a bit more serenity and peace in our lives. That's what fall should be about, if we'd just slow down and pay more attention.
Perhaps you remember the old children's show, Mister Rogers. In every episode, the kindly Fred Rogers would arrive home and change out of his jacket and into his cardigan sweater. Then he'd slip off his dress shoes and put on some sneakers. In essence, he was making himself more comfortable, and his ritual of changing shoes and putting on a sweater was how he settled into being home.
The fall season was made for big, warm sweaters. Not to mention slippers, blankets and generally cozy clothing. The magic of fall is that it encourages us to slow down and enjoy the comfort and warmth of our sweaters, blankets and such. Below is a photo of my wife, in a warm sweater snuggling with Einstein, our loyal cat. Fall was made for sweaters and cats.
Whenever fall rolls around I find myself reflecting on the year as it comes to a close. Yes, there are always struggles and challenges each year. But something about the peacefulness of fall helps me give thanks for my health, family, livelihood and continued ability to create art. I always feel gratitude for all that I have. And that I live in Northern California, near the coast. Which is where I painted the below piece of Bixby bridge.
Last but not least, fall always spurs a growing sense of renewal in me. Some may associate spring with renewal, but for me the autumn season invites reflection, which leads to a renewed spirit. I begin thinking about the coming year, and all the artful possibilities that lay ahead.
The fallen leaves of autumn are like the many tasks I have completed. They drift away and scatter, and the year ahead feels like a blank canvas to begin painting anew. In this way fall gives me a sense of renewal.
Yesterday I came back from a brisk walk with my two dogs. After their obligatory biscuits (they're spoiled) I settled into my art studio for a little painting time. I imagined a mountain scene with a lake and trees in the foreground. I began painting this imaginary place, and slowly the scene below emerged. It's not complete yet, but the main architecture of the painting is there.
I gazed out of my studio window, watching the cool breeze and leaves swirling about. My dogs lounged on the floor, gnawing on their respective chew toys. After a bit my wife came into the room and handed me a glass of wine. She gazed at the painting and said, "You need to add some ripples." She smiled and left.
I thought about how still some lakes can be. Like glass. Completely devoid of ripples. And you know what? I think that's what fall is. A time of beauty, tranquility and utter peacefulness.
I hope the magic of fall lifts your creative spirit. That you face no ripples at all. Just a smooth and calm autumn, to recharge your being and reenergize your soul.