Watercolor: Copper Mine and artistic influence from your family tree

landscape watercolor of a copper mine near Ajo, Arizona
Copper Mine (near Ajo, AZ) 9.5 x 7.5 Watercolor painting on Aquabee paper (Sold)

Spontaneous Inspiration – Or Is It?

This copper mine in the watercolor painting above was visible from the car on a road trip from Mexico to Arizona years ago. My traveling companions were kind enough to pull over and let me take photos for art reference, because, look at all that geometry! If I dig into why something so industrial appeals to me, ten seconds of pondering leads to memories of my family’s business in precision tool and die machining. I grew up around mechanical engineers, injection moulding equipment and drill presses, all wafting noisily in the scent of machine oil.  How much does your own family history influence the art you make, or the creative styles you’re drawn to?

Bird figurines to hold artist tools in my studio

Tastes Seasoned by History

My paternal grandparents were Italian immigrants, and their New England home was lined with knotty pine walls & floors, German hammered iron hinges and latches on split Dutch doors, and a massive quarry stone chimney with hearths upstairs and downstairs. The mantles were lined with a kid’s Fun-House of handmade figurines from all over the world.  The building next door housed the machine shop where my father and his father tooled precision parts for Ford and Kodak, and built prototypes for Droll Yankee Bird Feeders. (Designs for squirrel-proof bird feeders were tested in the trees in the back yard.) My dad and grandpa were constantly tinkering and making things on the kitchen table.

a bronze cat figurine with tony metal parts inside
My cat figurine stash of teeny precision machine parts my father and grandfather tooled in the shop

The Pull to Work in Series

From a single dotted line landing place on the map of my history, I find the source of my love for good wood and things handmade, tinkering and birds, and tools and machinery, and European aesthetics.  Maybe it’s no wonder I can’t seem to work in series. The influences from my family tree tug me in opposing directions. Try as I might to focus on one theme for twenty or so paintings, I get seduced by creative urges to jump the appointed watercolor trail, and gallop into the forest to carve a woodcut, or build a collagraph plate.  I don’t often know where the influence is coming from till after I’ve finished the art and thought about it. This can be frustrating – like I was driving to Vermont, and I arrived in Idaho. But, here’s the thing; even when I’m flailing while steering the creative car, I know for sure that it’s important to just keep driving. Inspiration cools rapidly, and you cannot burn a good hole with a cold rod.

A basket of inks and paint brushes, and a shelf with a tin house, stuffed rabbit, cast iron owl
A corner in my studio, with little hand-crafted figurines like the ones on my grandparent’s fireplace mantles

No Matter What, We Must Paint

The painter Gerald Brommer says you have to paint a minimum of three days a week just to keep from getting worse. ? My goal is to keep practicing till I find my own groove, which I anticipate will be a melting pot of influences, personal history and artistic approaches I have yet to discover. Eventually, with keener observation & creative conviction, all the styles I love will merge into a body of work I can call my own, even if it includes a couple of industrial scenes now and again.  If you trace your family roots back, who was creative? Who did you watch making art, planning a garden, preparing amazing meals, arranging artful rooms, sewing, writing, photographing, tinkering? What did you love about that?

Machine Shops laid a foundation for my love of printmaking; the first time I saw a printmaker turning the wheel on an etching press to create an original print, I was hooked.

You Are a Mash Up

You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. The German writer Goethe said, “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.  ~Austin Kleon

Have you found your groove? Do you think you’re painting often enough to plow a track in the sand towards you’re own style? Do you paint in series, or are you prone to wandering too? Do you see your family’s history in the work you’re drawn to?

What say you to keeping on with the work? Grab your brushes and let’s go.

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post!


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P.P.S. Etsy will celebrate it’s 13th birthday June 18-22nd, so I’m offering 15% off all original art in my shop that week too! Use the coupon code ETSY13 at check out for the sale.

A wooden building with a brick out-crop and men working inside an open cargo bay
Del Pesco Systems, Inc – where my father and grandfather ran a precision tool and die machine shop. The Shop was next door to, and in the same driveway as my grandfather’s house, just to the left of this building.

Art Quote

I look at myself as just a recorder. I just want to record things that interest me in my life and so forth. These paintings are like part of a journal to me. It’s part of my life – I’m in Monhegan – it’s as if I’m drawing a diary. And again, I think a painting – I mean, what is it? It’s a piece of canvas, a stick with some hair on the end of it, and then there’s some sticky stuff called paint, and you apply that. And there’s nobody standing over you, saying “Paint!” every day. And I think in painting, much like music or a pianist or whatnot, you have to practice, and it certainly isn’t all inspired! I mean, many times, working with the gulls, there’s some sort of drudgery – but once in awhile – things really click, and that’s… that’s the opiate!  When that gull all of a sudden breathes and becomes a fire source, I mean that’s why you paint! That’s why I paint.
~Jamie Wyeth

12 thoughts on “Watercolor: Copper Mine and artistic influence from your family tree”

  1. Pingback: Watercolor - Portrait of a Printmaker - Belinda Del Pesco

  2. Pingback: Watercolor: Afternoon with Wyeth - and a New Documentary on Andrew Wyeth - Belinda Del Pesco

  3. Hi Belinda, for sure I feel my family influences all the time — the love of nature, the love of portraiture come from my parents’ desire to take their children to a lake every year, and from our adoption of that practice with our children — but make that an ocean. As for portraits — my Dad was a supreme portrait artist in photography, and my mother a great lover of art history and Renaissance art, especially Italian art — in Italy. I am allergic to rules — I don’t think you can quantify practice time — you can calibrate passion maybe. Artists need to love what they’re doing, but things like a broken wrist (mine this year) can set you back in creative time — yet shoot you forward onto a new path precisely because you couldn’t paint. Love your painting and your writing.

    XOXOXOXO Barbara

    1. Hello, my friend… I knew your family influenced your art, because it’s a visible thread of love in so much of your work. I feel like I know what your pets, your husband and your sons look like through your sketches and paintings. And your friends too. So here’s a toast (raising my tea) to painting from the font of what we hold dearest, historically, and presently. XOXOX

  4. Brenda Sleightholme

    Beautifully written Belinda. I hear your voice and love your family stories and how they’ve influenced your artistic endeavours. Always inspiring and makes me think about my art and what I choose to paint. Xx

    1. Thanks for the kind words, my friend. I suspect you and I are kindred spirits on this notion of family-mining for subject matter. They say “paint what you love” so if we love family, and they’ll model for pancakes and a starbucks card, that works for me!XO

  5. Thank you for sharing your history, Belinda, and the thoughtful analysis and integration of it with respect to your processes and practice. Your encouragements are so genuine and spread to those who are following along this journey!

    1. Hi Mary Liz,
      Thanks for your encouragement. I am hopeful that by examining my own sources of inspiration and aesthetic leanings, I’ll encourage other creators who struggle with subjects for their art. The world is our oyster, if we just know where to look. 🙂

  6. Well put, Belinda. I have that same, let’s do a series! impulse and then I wander off. I tried making a collograph print following one of your instructional videos. The print did not transfer well, but the plate, with ink now in its groves, was a delightful work of art I now treasure. Working on keeping open to the art process…. 🙂 Also transitioning from oil to acrylic, which is a whole ‘nother adventure.

    1. Hi Sally… we could be twins. I’m glad you can relate, and I applaud your transition to new media with video tutorials and gumption! It is indeed an adventure, and not an exercise to be judged. Have so much fun, and bravo on your love of that collagraph plate! 🙂

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