Innovation, Risk, Uncertainty, urban sketching

Learning from the Masters cont’d- “S” for Sargent and Signac

signac-2

Illustration: Watercolor, pencil and charcoal copy (approximately 9 x 12 on the new Canson Heritage Aquarelle hot press paper) by Black Elephant Blog author of Paul Signac’s watercolor (circa 1926?) of the town of Bourg-Saint-Andeol

In times of uncertainty, there’s no question that a hobby can be helpful! So amid the swirl of information which responsible citizens must keep on top of somehow (greatly taxing the “left brain”), it’s important to make time for that hobby.

It can be relaxing–I imagine sort of like those “zen-tangles”–to take on the task of trying to copy a painting by a master. The beauty of this approach is that you don’t need the perfect day weather-wise–you can try this almost anywhere.

simplon-pass

Illustration: Watercolor copy (on a quarter sheet of Arches cold press) by Black Elephant Blog author after John Singer Sargent’s “Simplon Pass” (1911, oil on canvas) at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

To serve as my model will either be a photo I’ve taken of the original, as in the case of John Singer Sargent’s (1856-1925) “Simplon Pass” painting in oil, or simply a painting selected from an art book, as in the case of the Paul Signac watercolors I’ve found in a beautiful book, Paul Signac: A Collection of Watercolors and Drawings (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers in association with the Arkansas Arts Center, 2000).

Signac (1863-1935), like Sargent his contemporary, is best known for his oil paintings, but I came across a couple of watercolors of his during a recent visit to the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia.Signac’s style, known as neo-impressionism, intrigued me as did his compositions, mostly of port scenes with lots of ships and masts. It seems he was an inveterate ‘urban

signac-still-life

Illustration: Watercolor with charcoal copy (approximately 9×12 Canson Heritage Aquarelle hot press) by Black Elephant Blog author of Paul Signac’s “Still Life” (c. 1924 or 1918)

sketcher’ as so many of these watercolors clearly were done ‘live’, as it were, at the site.

One learns almost by osmosis about composition, color, and light effects when trying to copy the masters.  It is an elaborate and structured form of doodling as you don’t have to do as much planning but you can still relax and have fun.  There is more pressure when you are doing your own work, from start to finish.  Copying from anyone else, even the masters, is still just copying…–and  not something I want to do as a matter of anything other than as a learning exercise.  As all good teachers will tell you, it’s important to do your own original work, which means using your own photos, if you are using photos, or take the step to obtain permission from the owner of the photo you’d like

signac-book-cover

Illustration: Photo of book cover

to use.  But in the case of learning from the Masters, there’s nothing like copying to try to re-trace their thought processes and choices (really strategic decision-making!) in composing their works of art. In the end result, usually:   The destination  remains elusive for all but the rarest of artists but the journey’s worth taking, familiarizing me a bit more with individual works of art by the masters.

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Innovation, Uncategorized, Uncertainty

Goodbye to a Tumultuous Year

boating-and-fishing

Illustration: Watercolor by Black Elephant Blog author (December 2016)

As 2016 winds down, it’s fitting in the quiet week before a New Year to consider the meaning of Black Elephants, Black Swans and the other metaphorical creatures of surprise, such as the boiling frog,  who opened up this blog two years ago this month.  There’s been a lot more attention given to them since then in other venues.  It’s surprising but true.  It’s equally surprising but true that the journey of many artists has, it seems to me, much to offer the rapidly changing world in which we find ourselves today–if we were to want to face up to these creatures of surprise.  This is because artists often try to see beyond the surface impressions to get at the truth of things–that’s what gives art its special meaning to many of us.

One could even say that we live in Black Elephant times if, by that, what we mean is what Thomas Friedman referred to in his op-ed of two years ago, called “Stampeding Black Elephants.”  In that article, he defined the metaphor “Black Elephant” as follows:

 “a cross between “a black swan” (an unlikely, unexpected event with enormous ramifications) and the “elephant in the room” (a problem that is visible to everyone, yet no one still wants to address it) even though we know that one day it will have vast, black-swan-like consequences.”

As I understand it, the phrase (which Friedman picked up from an environmentalist he’d recently met) “Black Elephants” refers to the concept of the uncomfortable, unthinkably unpalatable “elephant in the room” that we would rather not discuss or acknowledge, and therefore–too often–fail to address in time.  (This is also known as the “boiling frog syndrome,” or the “ostrich with its head in the sand,” or the “deer in the headlights” syndrome, etc.)

boiling frog image

Image: Watercolor, gouache, and ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2014)

This concept covers the increasingly (but extraordinarily dangerous) popular tendency to avoid what the accumulated history of knowledge and scientific progress tells us to be true. And so, perhaps it is another “Black Elephant” to observe that these “elephants” may be multiplying right now (paradoxically and quite sadly as their real-life versions dwindle in number due to poaching and encroachment on their natural habitat.)  Facing up to these “elephants” is something that calls for well-honed critical and creative thinking skills–whereby people of all backgrounds including, of course, artists–join forces in shedding new light and creating new possibilities for dealing with the challenges of today in a fact-based way.  This is in fact how mankind has conquered so many diseases that previously killed so many in childhood.  Understanding how innovative breakthroughs occur,and accelerating our society’s capacities for innovation in so many sectors, ares right now key to survival on a collective level.

Fortunately there is more awareness of these challenges, as well as our own inherently human desire to ignore them–aided by the fact of more frequent “black elephant” and “black swan” events in the last two years alone.  It turns out this awareness extends well into the suites of CEOS around the world.  I refer in particular to a recent paper, Thinking the Unthinkable: A New Imperative for Leadership in a Digital Age, which I’ll turn to soon.  Last month I had an opportunity to hear the authors brief an audience on their research findings, and found their conclusions compelling enough to include in a revised syllabus for the coming semester of classes.  Interestingly, they too distinguish in their report between “Black Swans” and “Black Elephants”; the creatures of surprise are everywhere!

Black Elephants 1

Illustration: Watercolor, gouache, ink, pencil, gesso, and coffee grounds by Black Elephant Blog author (2014)

But for now with another spring-like day of temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit, it’s time to be out enjoying the warm December weather, and re-charging our own personal energy reserves for what promises to be a challenging 2017!   Best wishes to all for a joyous New Year!

 

 

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Uncategorized, urban sketching

Great Falls & Textures in Watercolor

On the first official day of winter, it’s time to bring the outdoors painting indoors, and experiment with some of the methods for ‘textures in watercolor.”  The scene here is one of the view a few days ago from a platform overlooking Great Falls from the Maryland side of the Potomac River.   This is part of the U.S. National Park system, which is the celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.  There are ecological wonders in this area found few places elsewhere in the world, and just a short drive from the nation’s capital.

great-falls

Illustration:  “Great Falls in Winter”, (approx 14″ x 10″)  with watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author

In real-life, this was a misty scene of blue-grey and Indian red with wildlife, including blue herons, nearby.  With some masking fluid to keep the paper dry for the areas of waterfalls, and some thin strips of drafting tape to preserve the impression of tree trunks in the distance I tried to recapture the scene.  A bit of watercolor seeped under the drafting tape pieces, in the end, but the impression oddly may be more realistic.  In the actual scene there were grays, greens, blues, ochres, rusty red, and white, as well as browns, proving that even “a gray day” has lots of color!

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Surprise, Uncategorized, urban sketching

Polar Vortex watercolor

Winter’s definitely here in this region, in more ways than one. Temperatures are now in the teens Fahrenheit, with strong gusts of freezing wind and the occasional brittle limb snapping off the trees…so  it’s definitely not suitable for ‘plein air’ painting. But these wintry scenes, before any snow or ice falls, hold a spell of their own, and are intriguing to try to capture in paint, once you get back inside.

So it was time, after a brisk walk in the cold,  to experiment with some of the techniques I recently learned in a two-day workshop on creating “texture in watercolor.” Who knew we could paint with all manner of tools, and not just brushes? Out came the bits of sponges, the rock salt, the drafting tape (to help mask up spaces on your surface so that you don’t paint over them), the masking fluid (also for covering up spaces), dried leaves, and other treasures for creating different effects, whether for trees or mountain ranges, clouds or water, or something more exotic.

Illustration:  'Cold Snap", 10" x11" watercolor, pen-and-ink, and acrylic fine gold on Crescent multi-media board by Black Elephant Author

Illustration: ‘Cold Snap”, 10″ x11″ watercolor, gouache, pen-and-ink, a tiny bit of pastel pencil, and acrylic fine gold on Crescent multi-media board by Black Elephant Author

To add to all the experimentation in this painting, I used a scrap of Crescent illustration board as my surface for the first time. It’s actually an off-white cream and I wanted to see what how it would handle watercolor and other media. The board itself curved a bit in the process but can be flattened out.  It was otherwise easy to work with.  I may give this scene another go on it, in fact.  I will return to the issue of texture in watercolor in the not-too-distant future as it’s plainly something best done inside.

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Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching

Transitions

On what seemed likely to be the last unseasonably warm day of the year, it was great late last week to have some time to get out and sketch along the banks of the Potomac River not far from the nation’s capital. With barely a cloud in the sky, temperatures hovered around 70 degrees–T-shirt weather barely a month before winter’s official start. The scene was placid without even a ripple breaking the surface of the water along the docks of the marina where I chose to sit–something to appreciate for as long as it lasted.

Illustration:  Watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: “Washington Sailing Marina” in watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author

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Uncategorized, Uncertainty

More Gorgeous Fall Colors

Illustration: "Another Beautiful Fall Day," in watercolor, gouache, charcoal, and sepia ink in 6" x12" Nature Sketch Pentalic sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: “Another Fall Day,” in watercolor, gouache, charcoal, and sepia ink in 6″ x12″ “Nature Sketch” Pentalic sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author

Another beautiful afternoon lit up the last of the fall leaves today providing a welcome distraction from the news. It’s also getting a bit chilly for plein air painting, so the following was dashed off rather quickly in a new oblong Pentalic notebook as I passed by this familiar, yet ever-changing, scene  around a neighborhood lake.

As far as sketchbooks go:  Now having used this sketchbook twice, I judge it to be a quite affordable choice but as it has 130lb paper rather than the 140 lb. weight which is safest for watercolor efforts, it can be a bit frustrating.  It’s probably going to be better deployed when sticking to ink and light watercolor washes such as in the example here. I prefer the other Pentalic sketchbooks specifically designed for watercolor where in my experience one gets a more ‘glazed’ look without much effort. But for sketching out in the open–in a super-helpful wide panorama format–this sketchbook is an ok option and its hardbound spiral format gives you a nice support for a drawing surface.

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Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty

Sketch of the Day

Illustration:  Sketch adaptation by Black Elephant Blog author of an oil painting (circa 1922) by Mexican artist Adolfo Best Maugard (1891-1969) which is part of the "Mexican Modernism: Paint the Revolution 1910-1950) exhibition currently running at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Illustration: Sketch adaptation by Black Elephant Blog author of an oil painting (circa 1922) by Mexican artist Adolfo Best Maugard (1891-1969) which is part of the “Mexican Modernism: Paint the Revolution 1910-1950″exhibition currently running at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

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