I recently wrote about Venn diagrams, and Lorene Edwards Forkner is a perfect example. Her creative world lies at the intersection of her gardening, writing, and artistic passions. At various points in her professional life she has owned a nursery, been the editor of Pacific Horticulture magazine, and she currently writes a weekly column for the Seattle Times called GROW. And for the past couple of years she has been cultivating a daily watercolor practice inspired by the natural world around her.
I asked her to speak about her creative life in all its facets, how it’s changed in recent times, and what keeps her – quite literally – grounded. I hope you enjoy.
My Seeing Color in the Garden creative practice is just over two years old. I began in spring of 2018 as part of #the100dayproject. I had completed the 100 day cycle in two previous years and wanted to keep my “streak” going. But my dad had just died after a long illness and I was wrecked – I was in no position to tackle an ambitious task.
So I decided to keep things simple. I decided that every day I would pick a piece of my garden and try to capture the colors I saw in watercolor. I was inspired by Mimi Robinson, a Bay Area watercolor artist whose work I had seen a few years earlier. Robinson used similar swatches as a means of recording place and developing a palette for landscape paintings.
On the surface my life doesn’t look tremendously different than it did before. I’ve long worked from home – that’s where I garden and am quite literally rooted in place. I live in an old house near the beach in West Seattle. My husband is a graphic designer who also has always worked from home. So I have company in lockdown. Together we’re navigating the evaporation of paid work and trying to focus on the gifts of (socially distant) friends and neighbors and our good health.
While I still have my weekly column and greatly appreciate having a voice in this oh-so-strange time, all of my watercolor workshops and speaking engagements for 2020 have vanished. Those are the gigs that make a freelance life financially viable. I won’t kid you – it’s stressful. I honestly believe the discipline of maintaining a daily practice these past few years has been a good proving ground for getting through this experience. The beauty (and the beast) of a daily practice is that you just do it. All negotiation is off the table: daily is just like it sounds. Every. Day. I don’t always paint every day – I tend to sit down and work in bursts once I find my flow. But the reflection and posting is daily, whether I feel like it or not. Progress not perfection. I promise to be gentle with myself, to forgive falling short, provided I continue to show up and follow through.
Born in grief, my color practice has also seen me through great joy, disappointment, stress and tedium – you know, life. Color is powerful. Color in the natural world is one of nature’s most sophisticated tools engineered to capture the attention of all living creatures. And given everything that constantly vies for our engagement, our attention may be our most valuable currency. This practice has made me mindful and accepting of my own cycles of attention.
What began as a timid attempt to participate in an online challenge has become essential to me, a meditative exercise that quiets my mind even on days when my clumsy attempts frustrate me and fall short of what nature does so elegantly. Finding color is my lifeline to managing everything we’re going through right now. Thank GOODNESS – this holds me together.”– Lorene Forkner