Profiles Visual Arts

Ruthie Windsor-Mann – A Timeless Sketchbook

In her spontaneous approach to watercolor and ink artwork, artist Ruthie Windsor-Mann takes us through the 12 months of the calendar in the beautiful State of Virginia, with her book “12 Months on 12 Acres.”

She transports us in time and space to the atmosphere and the unique quality of each season experienced from her studio and house that sit on twelve acres in the rustic world of Rappahannock County. We see the year expressed through her many images of the natural world which cannot be duplicated by digital photos taken with even the latest cell phones. Windsor-Mann says she “shifted from painting European buildings to painting the unvarnished world of her 12 acres in a hayfield in Virginia” where she gives us a glimpse of life in nature and of the spirit of the seasons.
Windsor-Mann invites the viewer to ‘tag along’ with her “from those cold, biting January winds, to an exuberant spring, through a late sultry summer, into a crisp and inviting fall, and finally to unwind in the glow and warmth of a December fire.” She shows us a world that is full of a multitude of creatures and growth–– tiny colorful bugs, a lazy cow, bursts of yellow flowers, blue skies, butterflies, and autumn pumpkins to name a few. For each season, she hand-writes, in the tradition of literary scholars, about her impressions in pen and ink, adding to the timeless quality that her pictures convey.

For July she writes, “July’s deep green sun-kissed fields bloom with bright wildflowers,” and for December, “A cozy crackling fire makes December’s reintroduction to cold worthwhile.” Not only does she share her work, thoughts, and appreciation for nature with her reader, but she also gives them a chance to participate in the creative process by providing detailed descriptions of her process in her book and includes the color swatches she uses.

She challenged herself to sketch and paint in an actual sketchbook, forgoing the luxury of discarding substandard work on single sheets of paper that later would be pieced together to form a faux sketchbook. She wanted those tagging along to sense the rawness of sketching. Mistakes made with ink and transparent watercolor were corrected with gouache; splotches of paint fell in unwanted places; images dropped off the edges of the page—all making the sketch book appear much used, loved, and alive. This isn’t a contrived book of lovely illustrations, but a glimpse of the process of what a painter feels and senses of the world around her.

Of her approach to her book, Windsor-Mann says, “It doesn’t matter that the bugs and the birds aren’t accurately rendered. In doing so, would have made this a chore rather than a relaxed, spontaneous adventure. What does matter is that we get to escape for a year to a small county in rural Virginia. We get to itch a little as we see bugs and wispy grass in a meadow. We get to feel a little wobbly as we see a newly born fawn gain courage to take that first step in a field. We get to see crops, insects, flowers, a tractor mowing hay, critters, vines, rock walls, and an uninhibited and unsophisticated world.”

A fan of the painter notes, “An unhurried existence is open to us all if only we would just pause and allow it to embrace us just as Windsor-Mann is demonstrating in her sketchbook. There’s always something new to see, and to feel—an undiscovered kitten cameo here, a ladybug tucked away there—to show how deeply the artist feels that the true world is open to all of us if only we would really see it and allow it to embrace us. Which is just what Ruthie Windsor-Mann teaches us to do with this book that is so much more than a sketchbook. G&S

12 Months on 12 Acres
made possible by a grant from the Rappahannock Association for Arts and Community (RAAC)

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