Uncategorized

This is not my first rodeo (real talk about getting through this)

I recommend this piece to readers of my blog.

InBLOGnito

After a lifetime career of serving the United States overseas as a federal employee and the spouse of a federal employee Foreign Service Officer, I’ve lived through fatal pandemics, lockdowns, and years of nothing on grocery store shelves. My family made it through, and you can too. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Lockdown

We served in Caracas, Venezuela a few years ago, spanning the transition from Chavez to Maduro. When we arrived, things were pretty bad – in fact, worse than we’d be led to believe – and we were now in a country facing deep shortages and gripped by fear, uncertainty, and anger. When we arrived, economic issues were at the root of the pervasive violence: carjackings were common, as were muggings, home break-ins, and kidnappings. And when I say “common” I mean it. Everyone knew someone who’d been the victim of at least one of these, despite security measures…

View original post 3,894 more words

Standard
Uncategorized

Lisbon impressions in pastel

We returned a few days ago from a 15-day trip to Portugal and Italy, during which time I was carrying a mini-art supply store with emphasis on watercolor paints. I only took them out once, on the riverbank in Porto. (In general, I confined my ambitions to pencil sketches, which familiarized me with the cityscapes I have been working on in different media after returning home.) My intentions to do more were good but we were literally always on the move: touring historic monasteries, having a cappuccino on the Parco do Comercio in Lisbon, visiting little stores in the Alfama district, exploring the Castle of St. George in Lisbon or the Pena Palace in Sintra, taking a tour of the ancient library in Coimbra, visiting the bookstore in Porto where J,K. Rowling got her inspiration to write the Harry Potter series, taking the funicular down from the heights of the fashionable Chiado district in Lisbon, and exploring the seaside area of Cascais, including the Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell). People from all over the world had the same idea; there were many tourists from Asia, Germany, Italy, and Spain, but in general the crowds were less than they are in the summer months.

View of the Sao Vicente church and monastery from a mirador (lookout) in the Alfama district, Lisbon (2019), Pastel on grid paper

Suffice it to say there is much to see in Portugal (and Italy, of course), so sitting for the requisite time to do a watercolor was not at the top of the list (admittedly) this time. There is much to cover, and if you enjoy walking, you can simply walk to many of the most interesting sights. There is a lot of history to learn, beautiful tiles to admire, great food to eat and wine to drink, different port wine to taste, markets to explore, and lots of steep cobblestone streets to climb. Another spectacular “mirador”–or lookout–was always right around the corner–unexpectedly opening up into a flat piece of terrain just when you needed a break–and here one could sit, have a drink (or a snack) and gaze at the view, enjoy the breezes, and listen to live music. There are kiosks everywhere where one can buy a beer, wine, or a port, and sit and watch the light change over the expanse of the Tagus River as the sun slides over the western horizon. Shops filled with bags, shoes, hats, placemats and other items made out of cork were everywhere, but usually the quality was good. The ubiquitous T-shirts were noticeably higher in quality that equivalent T-shirts usually available here due to their high-quality cotton content. For those who are thinking of going, I’d also recommend the Oceanarium in Lisbon and the Gulbenkian Foundation Museum. (There are many inexpensive options for places to stay in Portugal—safe, well-located, and even charming–as well as more expensive places to suit every taste, and public transportation, including inter-city trains, is a bargain.)

The light was almost always perfect for painting, with the flows of tourists manageable in September. It is a must for a repeat visit. (Our visit to Sardinia had just as special light and very different features, including turquoise seas, and windswept cliffs in a raw sienna hue reflecting the bright sunlight from far away. Really spectacular for the artist, the hiker, and the nature-lover, as well as people who love to sail.)

View of the popular trolley making its way through the narrow streets of the Alfama district, pastel and India ink study, 2019

There is at least one excellent art supply store in Lisbon and it is located next to a fine arts university in Chiado. Online ordering has not yet taken off in Portugal, at least not as much as in the U.S., so the quality of the wares–especially textiles, baby clothes, ceramics, wood, wines and foods, as well as some stationery paper products–were noticeably good. For those who have the time and opportunity to get away and get different perspectives on our present, Portugal is a great choice.

Standard
living in the truth, Risk, Surprise, Uncertainty

September 11 Anniversary & Challenges Facing the First “Post-9/11” Generation

Artists are known to like blank canvases. They don’t fear a blank sheet of paper. They summon creativity, courage, and insights in ways that they themselves often don’t understand. The best of them tend to be open to new ideas and influences from anywhere. Their most successful outputs tend to be surprising, breaking the mold. In my thoughts about 9/11 this morning, I realized that these challenging times call for the natural strengths, if not the natural predispositions (since many eschew “politics”), of artists. I indulged myself in thinking this through while enjoying my morning coffee today, on the 18th anniversary of 9/ll. I have a niece who turns 18 in a few weeks, and I’m thinking about what her generation faces. In many ways, though, the issues raised here are similar to those we considered in depth in an interdisciplinary seminar I co-taught in recent years on Climate Change and National and Global Security. The similarity is due to the fact that the issues are the same, only getting bigger and more challenging especially in the absence, or near-absence, of suitable public policy (the area of my professional education).

(08:05 am First cup of coffee musings…)  It’s the morning of September 11th, the 18th anniversary of “9/11,” and everything is far from normal in America and our world.  (True enough, it’s never been “normal’ but I refer to a pervasive unease about the dis-ordering of basic assumptions that have informed most of international relations since the end of World War II.) An entire global generation is reaching adulthood this year without ever having lived in a non- “post-9/11” world. Other countries around the world had their own “9-11” tragedies subsequent to ours–Madrid, Bali, Mumbai, etc.–but the point is that the world itself was transfigured by the aftershocks of 9-11. Perhaps 9/11 has become normalized to the point of not needing acknowledgement. But it’s not normal for me, so maybe readers not expecting this fare here will tolerate a diversion today.

Based on a quick review, there is no mention of 9/11 in The Washington Post today, a major national newspaper, only the usual unusual sub-header, to which we’ve become accustomed in these times: “Democracy Dies In Darkness.”  The front page focus is on the firing/resignation of John Bolton, the U.S. National Security Advisor, who is known as a war hawk and who “helped” the US get into war with Iraq–which had nothing to do with 9/11–as America’s military response to the terrorist attack. (Let’s not forget:  He still supports that action, which was based on false premises, also known as lies.)  Bolton is out reportedly due to many “policy” differences with the administration, only a few days–surely not coincidentally–after the President tweeted out that a secret meeting at Camp David between the administration and Taliban leaders from Afghanistan was cancelled.  The policy contradictions of this administration are a towering mountain range by now, with regular avalanches of all kinds of cognitive dissonance-causing boulders. But it’s year three, and the daily contradictions barely deserve a footnote. Indeed, it appears that they are a feature, not a bug, as the saying goes: mind-crushing absurdities can also be spirit-crushing.  An aside, however, is warranted and that is:   absurdities that are simultaneously ridiculous, deadly and deeply disturbing  are part of the genre of this type of rule (which is not really governance, at least not the type called for in the U.S. Constitution).

Today, the paper reports, the President’s focus is on raiding another population of helpless people, a tactic favored by shady landlords.  This time it’s homeless people. This doesn’t mean that the administration is done with terrorizing terminally ill children who are here in the U.S. on special visas so that they can receive the life-saving medical treatment they need.If you haven’t been paying attention to this story, it basically involves sick or dying children from other countries who are receiving critically necessary medical care in the U.S., some of them invited here by medical researchers due to their rare illnesses that need further study. The U.S. administration wants to send them home where they will die.  The latest twist is that the administration backed off when the story became public but is now requiring the children to apply for new visas entering the same prolonged process now well known to readers paying attention to what is happening along the southern U.S. border.

Eighteen years have passed since the horrific attacks of 9-11, the first time America was attacked by foreign adversaries, even if nonstate ones, on the soil of the continental United States.  Americans rallied together against a common if ill-defined and elusive enemy, and NATO invoked Article 5 for the first time ever, which directs NATO member countries to aid an allied NATO member under attack.  The point of the attacks seems to have been to target symbols of American power–Wall Street, the Pentagon and possibly the U.S. Capitol.   Most of us know what happened thereafter:  a massive counter-terrorism movement, and new wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have changed the geopolitics of the Middle East and South Asia and neighboring regions but not to anything noticeably better.  An entire national security industry was immediately directed to combat terrorism, and ballooned in size as if on steroids, which it was in the form of defense contracts.

In 18 years, a little-remarked upon impact has been the privatization of so much that was once considered the realm of government, or public sector, work.  This includes the job of making sense of what has happened, is happening, and may happen in the future. At least the terrorist attack on what were seen as the pillars of American society–the economy, the financial sector, and the defense sector–seemed to have failed, if judged by their size and wealth today.  But what other factors underlie American strength and prosperity?  This is the key unexamined question on this 18th anniversary of 9/11, and it must be asked in the context of a starkly altered environment both on a national level and a planetary level. And yet, these questions are barely asked today. Why aren’t they? Is it because there is no money in it?

In 2019, America is facing unprecedented challenges on all fronts which already are converging into that dreaded “perfect storm.” These are inexorable developments that will happen no matter what, so they can be said to be “beyond politics.” Into this wide category of “beyond politics” happening-no-matter-what are greater migrations of people, harsher climate crisis realities, and accelerating technological advances, to name a few. But, given today’s realities, is this what success looks like after so many people have died in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan? Are we more “secure?”

Almost two decades focused on counter-terrorism have left this country so weakened that most Americans are not even sure that a long-time foreign adversary – Russia (and perhaps others, even) – is not calling the shots in the White House.  Could it be that the singleminded resolve of our nation’s top security institutions to defend this country against a repeat of a 9/11–successful so far–left the United States dangerously exposed to and unprepared for equally deadly challenges?  What are those deadly challenges?  Who is even mapping them? The problems are bigger than anyone’s in-box, bigger than an institution’s capability to handle, even bigger than the United Nations…

In a way, the US Administration’s response this week to desperate Bahamians fleeing their island homes now laid waste by Hurricane Dorian encapsulates in a microcosm the United States’ complete lack of readiness for the world in which we already live.  People are migrating in larger numbers all over the world not because they really want to abandon their homes but because for many of them it’s not optional. It’s life or death.  The perils come in different guises, often overlapping and aggravated by wars and ethnic conflict.  These include ‘unnaturally’ enhanced ‘natural disasters,’ drought, terrorism, government brutality, malnutrition, gang violence, drug cartels, and extortion–but the result is the same:  when people’s lives are in danger, their children cannot be children and their very survival is at stake. Can a nation founded on the principles that “all men are created equal” with “men” now signifying humanity (men, women, and children) remain secure and turn its back on most of humanity? And what is a human without humanity?

A common refrain is that America is not responsible for the world; i.e., we are not the “world’s policeman” and should mind our own business, and thus (it’s implied) be more successful, without draining our resources and putting our soldiers’ lives at risk in others’ wars and calamities.  We are not responsible for failed or failing states, goes the argument. This is a long-standing American debate that needs to go on, with new public policy formulation democratically achieved as the goal.  Every day, and especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, we see the need for this.

(Second cup of coffee musings…)  With no warning earlier this week, the U.S. turned back a ferry carrying desperate people from the Bahamas, their children in their arms, who were seeking refuge from their destroyed island nation, where there is no shelter, food, water, or medical assistance.  The reason: they lacked a visa–a visa that had not before been required, until this very minute, for Bahamians with a passport and no criminal record.  Suddenly, people with only the shirts on their backs had to go to the Embassy to apply for a visa.  A father is shown on video, with a toddler in his arms, explaining that he must now go back to his devastated land where he cannot, obviously and through no fault of his own, take care of his children. (This current story has some obvious echoes with the more famous and tragic one of a German ship, the St. Louis, filled with German Jewish refugees refused asylum in 1939 at the port of Miami and forced to return to Europe where reportedly a quarter of them died in the Holocaust.)

There are threads running through the vignettes of post-9/11 America today that make a sufficiently awake (caffeinated, if necessary!) person wonder where we went wrong, and whether we can recover lost time, credibility, and foresight rapidly enough to regain our national footing in this radically altered world.  Young people turning 18 in 2019 represent the first fully post-9/11 generation who have known nothing else but a national security ‘industry’ focused on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan somehow tied to the counterterrorism battle.  What do they conclude when they consider their own opportunities in a county that is so divided at home that their compatriots cannot even agree on what is worth fighting for?

What values will America need to embody in a world transformed by tens of millions of people on the move, not out of choice but out of desperation?  How can we think bigger, better, and with more nations’ people–together–to come up with some appropriate policy responses to these new challenges?  If our undeniably bloated defense industries and overly bureaucratized academic systems do not help us to rapidly make these needed changes, what can we, Americans, do about this?  Why are defense industries making $750+ per day, per person held, incarcerating refugees and asylum seekers?  Is this the needed policy response and agreed upon by U.S. taxpayers who are footing the bill? Why are children in these detention centers? Why is the U.S. detaining people coming here for help and, according to numerous credible reports, treating them in a way no one would treat their dogs? Why can we not provide them with even a flu shot, sufficient diapers, or feminine hygiene products at a rate $750/day per detained person? Why are we incarcerating human beings who have asked for asylum?  Who gains and who loses? What is the point? This is what I am asking in the post-9/11 era but I am not an American post-9/11 teenager, and I wonder what they think.

(Sip of now tepidly warm coffee…)  Winston Churchill is thought to have said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”  He allegedly was referring to the conditions after World War II that were ripe for the formation of the United Nations.  What type of response(s) are necessary in the world today?  Is the first post 9/11 generation equipped to craft them?  Where is the epicenter of needed new thinking about how to deal with the “perfect storm” already here?  Won’t the future of our youth be affected very consequentially by our choices and even by the things we’re not paying attention to today? After all, the people now trying to flee the Bahamas were not refugees as recently as a week or so ago? Who among us can be sure today that he or she will not be a refugee in the future?

 Is it not actually a form of “security”–even if not debated and vetted by public opinion–to choose and prioritize what matters in these turbulent times? Whose needs would such a prioritization focus upon: the needs of the post-9/11 generation, for instance, or their children not yet born? Should not the public be very much more involved in choosing public policy responses to these issues? Do you as a citizen want to be left out of these consequential policy decisions even if they will put your children on a course that may be soul- and opportunity-shrinking? Who is questioning how our priorities are set, and will we do it in time, time that is so clearly running out?  How will we deal with inter-generational and international inequities that are becoming starker by the day, aggravated by the inevitable weather disasters made more dangerously intense by climate change?  What is “security” in a climate change-disrupted world and who should define it; those who are already incarcerating vulnerable people or people who are questioning that approach and its hidden threats to our nation’s viability and stature in the world?

These are the very questions we considered in an international graduate-level seminar I co-taught from 2014-2018, and all of us in class learned a lot. We were all students because, aside from basic facts such as we gain from science, there are no facts to teach about how we will surmount these challenges. It was an entrepreneurial approach to learning in a world that is no longer familiar. Education itself must change under these circumstances. It’s an exciting time for the intellectually curious and anyone who wants the best for his or her country and future generations including the first post-9/11 generation coming into adulthood this year.

In conclusion, it seems to me that we need to reach out not only for the best ways to ask new questions and think new thoughts, but also identify those who are doing needed work in this area. I’ll mention that yesterday I heard an inspiring talk given by Dr. Michael Crowe, President of Arizona State University, at a thought-provoking conference I attended on 21st century challenges involving “deep space” and “deep fakes.” Crowe’s focus on was rethinking education in our altered world and it was and is very much on point with the types of questions and concerns I am raising in this post. (If he shares his slides, I will attach them through a link to this post.) We need to emphasize what is going right and where this is being done and how, in order to get to new ways of thinking and dealing with the challenges of our world in time. For those who like challenges, and even big blank canvases without so much as an outline as a guide–like most artists around the world!–one message of this long post is the world needs you more than ever. Unfortunately the processes of the artistic mind (literally, beyond analysis) are not well woven into most academic training or, certainly, analytic (or sense-making) processes, so this is yet another frontier to explore in this exciting and consequential new era.

(09:30 a.m., Author’s note:  I am working on a book about the above issues but I’ll be back to sketches and watercolors very soon, including of some incredibly beautiful places–(hint: famous ports and beaches)  not covered previously on this blog! )

Standard
Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Painting the town in Washington, D.C.

Here it is already June! What do I have to to show for it being almost mid-year 2019? I’ve not been painting as much this year– due partly to some work-related priorities but mostly due to a combination of too many choices with regard to painting media and some news-overload paralysis, I’d say. Painting more frequently is absolutely essential to becoming more proficient and I’ve totally failed so far in that goal this year. I keep watching other painters’ blogs though, and am finding that some painters whose work I respect are rediscovering the value of working from reference photos (which means painting inside).

But we’ve had gorgeous weather beckoning me outside. And: I finally broke open a packet of watercolor paper I bought on the trip to Germany earlier this year–paper that’s hard to get in the U.S. (Being interested in paper, this is a sort of ‘me’ thing, I guess.)

Illustration: “Georgetown Waterfront Park,” Hahnemühle ‘Leonardo’ cold press watercolor paper, 2019 by Black Elephant Blog author

Since we had a gorgeous weekend, I found myself down at the Georgetown Waterfront where there is an unbelievably tranquil park. Enjoying gentle breezes and the surprisingly wide-ranging discussion with me (immigration, climate change, human trafficking, mangroves, wetlands…and how they are all interconnected!! So very impressive!) of a young lady visiting from Utah, I created the following scene without spending much time setting it up. The paper is amazing and so thick it would be shame not to follow up and paint something else on the reverse side.

Illustration: “Enid A. Haupt Garden,” Watercolor on cold press paper (2019) by Black Elephant Blog author

Earlier this year, I managed to get out and do other scenes of some parts in Washington, D.C. This city is famous for many things but people out of town may not be aware of how many absolutely gorgeous and well-maintained parks there are in this region, many in the heart of D.C. while others are in surrounding neighborhoods. It would be a shame to miss some of them no matter how short your visit. I’ve included below a few painting sketches from last year as well!

Illustration: “Springtime in Farragut Square,” watercolor on Arches cold press paper, 2019, by Black Elephant Blog author
Illustration: “Oak Hill”, watercolor, gouache, and ink on “15x “11 Arches 140# watercolor paper
Illustration: “Spring colors”, 15″ x 7″ watercolor, gouache and ink on Fabriano Traditional White 140# watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author
Illustration: “Orangery,” at Dumbarton Oaks, Georgetown, watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)
Illustration: “Sculpture Garden, National Gallery of Art,” Watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Fabriano Artistic paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)
Illustration: “U.S. Capitol,” Watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP paper approx 14″ x 9″ by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)
Illustration: “Colvin Run Mill,” Watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink by Black Elephant Blog author
Standard
Uncategorized

A new blog on climate change as well as a new blog post

Photo of Gray Whale spotted off the coast of Israel on 8 May 2010

Here it is almost mid-May and it’s been a while since I’ve even done any art work at all. Mostly that’s been due to some work that needed doing, including sorting out the art room and emptying out a big storage room in the basement. It’s the sort of thing that many people do in the spring. In fact, my next stop today will be to a donation center.

I’ve been thinking about how to pursue some interests related to climate change in our chaotic world and it’s harder to thread these subjects around my art experiences than I thought originally it would be. I had hoped to fuse art with climate change into a book of some sort, but I find I need more space to collect my thoughts on the latter–for a book proposal I’m working on. Not everyone is as interested in this topic as I am so I won’t keep coming back to it here on this blog, which was–however–created to discuss surprises, anomalies, discontinuities and warning challenges. (The first posts in 2014 and 2015 do just this.) Instead, here’s a link to the brand new WordPress blog with one blog post–“Whale-watching and New Realism in Global Affairs” so far on it: https://wordpress.com/view/caroldumaine.com

If you visit my new blog, you’ll find that the first post is about….gray whales! “What do they have to do with climate change?” you might ask. That is, in fact, the point of this first blog post. We are seeing anomalies in the behavior and migrating patterns of these magnificent creatures and scientists who have studied them for many years don’t understand these anomalies. Imagine, the gray whale is a descendant of a whale that roamed the seas some 30 million years ago! If ever we’re going to see a signal of changes on our planet, it would probably be with a living creature with such an unimaginably long lineage. (There are many connections to art in all this line of thinking, some of which I’ve explored in previous blog posts; the main connection of interest to me is one of re-perceiving the world around us, in a way that overcomes “analytical” thinking that conditions us to see what we are prepared to see, and little else! Learning how to re-perceive our world may be central to the “security” of the human species going forward so, you see, that’s how I connect these disparate subjects.)

My interest in the gray whales was sparked nine years ago this week, when a gray whale was spotted in the Mediterranean Sea. Gray whales had not been spotted in the Atlantic Ocean, let alone the Mediterranean, up to that day in May 2010 for at least the last 300 years. Gray whales went extinct in the Atlantic for reasons still unknown sometime around 1800. No one was prepared to see a gray whale in this location, and it’s clear that they could barely believe their eyes. This was not really possible, said their minds, but their eyes said it was. This gray whale would have been from the North Pacific ocean most likely, so scientists wondered how and why it traveled to the Mediterranean. Scientists thought that perhaps gray whale populations had somehow reconstituted themselves in the Atlantic and no one had noticed it. However, almost a decade has gone by…and we still don’t know.

If this type of question interests you, please follow my new blog, “Rethinking Everything in the Anthropocene” at: https://wordpress.com/view/caroldumaine.com, where I also welcome your comments and suggestions.

Thank you.

Standard
Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Equestrian arts at Frying Pan Park

Today the sun came out after a somewhat overcast morning sky and, after various Saturday must-do’s were done, it seemed like the right time to go find horses to paint.  I went for the first time in many years to a certain nearby park and before too long discovered I had truly overachieved.  After  sketching out the scene on my paper, I realized a major equestrian event was about to start literally right around me.

FryingPanPark

Illustration: “Frying Pan Park,” Watercolor, gouache, and ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2019)

Riders on beautiful horses waited their turn just a few feet away, and judges, photographers and a large audience were perched on a hill below some trees to my left. I couldn’t have planned this better since I arrived just beforehand.  Fortunately my spot next to some conveniently large and flat rocks was not in anyone’s way.  I managed to focus on the scenery and capture some of the horses and riders warming up on lower field before the big competition.   The spring colors of the trees and fields were striking, but I also tried to capture some of the scene right in front of me.  As usual, the master works of such scenes that I know best (from Degas or Dufy, for instance), are in oil paint, not watercolor, and I am thinking to try an oil painting of this scene before too long.  Drawing horses can be difficult but the style of Raoul Dufy is quite loose and freeing, and that is probably what I’ll try next as an experiment.

Illustration: “Chateau and Horses,” by Raoul Dufy

Standard
pastel, Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Spring Colors

Spring is finally here even though a chill wind creates little choppy waves and white caps on the lake near my house.   But now, new blossoms around our neighborhood are blindingly radiant.  They won’t last long so we’re trying to take it all in now.  When we’re out walking, they bounce in the breezes overhead  as if tossing folds of white and pink skirts to show off.  Bright forsythia complete the color show.  It’s tempting to set up an easel immediately but a quick check this morning confirmed that the temperatures are just above freezing.

Lake scene

Illustration: “Spring colors”, 15″ x 7″ watercolor, gouache and ink on Fabriano Traditional White 140# watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author

It’s hard to believe a year that starts off with such a gorgeous spring could be anything but fabulous (though, of course, sadly, there’s many more reasons geopolitically at least why it might not be–but that surely is for another blog post, and maybe even another blog).  Art is a great way to escape from whatever is preoccupying one. Anyway, it’s time to get out the paints and the pastels, pencils and erasers, and experiment.   No pressures, just to see what happens.

IMG_1033

Illustration: “Bouquet,” hard and soft pastel on Claire Fontaine Ingres Pastel “Bright” paper, by Black Elephant Blog author (2019)

Here’s a bit of the latest work, including a pastel on a Claire Fontaine Ingres colored pastel paper made in France.  (Note: this paper has a sort of grid imprint that shows up in one’s work, not an effect everyone is seeking, but I was using it for the background color.)  I’ve found that I can make copies of these on a little printer and give them out as cards, when I need one.

Recently, over the weekend, we had a warm Saturday afternoon, so I set up a watercolor easel downtown in the driveway of an unoccupied ($8 million!) house opposite this cemetery gate.  It was a great spot, just out of the way of the pedestrians with a direct view of the gate.  I’ve been fascinated for several years by the famous Fauvist Raoul Dufy’s treatment of gates (he mainly painted in oils), so perhaps I’ll give this one another try.  It’s the gate to the Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.  The cemetery was founded in 1849 and overlooks the Rock Creek Parkway.

OakHillCemetery

Illustration: “Oak Hill”, watercolor, gouache, and ink on “15x “11 Arches 140# watercolor paper

Standard
oil painting, Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Journey through Childhood Memories

I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Germany and Austria, mostly to visit with family but also traveling with close family.

img_1021

Illustration: “Sunset in Heidelberg,” oil on canvas by Black Elephant Blog author (2019)

This turned out to be the long-awaited time when I would return to Vienna, Austria and the international high school from which I graduated many years ago.  It was so special to discover that I still recall the streetcar and bus numbers to get from the inner city to the outer district where my former school is.  The weather cooperated throughout this trip, with snow flurries and cold suitable for January (but no worse).  Lunch over in the neighboring wine district of Grinzing, with light snow falling outside and settling on ledges around the onion domes of a church across the street, finished off the visit to the outer district. Later it was back by the efficient streetcar system to the inner city and, from there again by streetcar, to the Belvedere Schloss to see Klimt art and other paintings.  We had a hot drink in its warm gold and ochre royal cafe with the Belvedere gardens outside covered in snow and a blue-purplish early evening light seen through the windows.

In such weather, however, and in a group of travelers there is less incentive to stop and try to paint or, more likely in such weather, draw.  Outside of Stephansdom, the main cathedral in central Vienna, one hardy soul was painting in oils in close-to-freezing weather.  He was set up to sell them so perhaps had an incentive to paint in his fingerless gloves out in the cold, but the prospect did not hold any appeal to me.

My trip also took me to the Pfalz area for a memorable wine-tasting, to Stuttgart, Karlsruhe,  Heidelberg, and much smaller towns along the Rhine; my early school years were in Bonn, Germany north of where we were on this trip.  One can get most anywhere at almost anytime on the dense network of streetcars, inter-city railroads, and the faster ICE, and in Austria, the OBB trains.  There was almost no need for a car (except for hauling all the wine home after the wine-tasting!)

Back home now, there is some time for reflection and recreation of scenes, including the memory of a sunset over Heidelberg in Germany, as this painted scene from the castle above the town recalls.  A special book in German about Heidelberg fell into my hands during the visit there, recommending itself to me through the wonderful watercolor on its cover and on plates throughout its pages.  It turns out to be a book by a former director of the city’s archives, chock full of history and insights.  Also in Heidelberg, we visited an amazing museum which can be found by going down a quiet drive into a palace area off of the main pedestrian street:  called the Museum of the Palatinate, it has excellent displays covering the history of the many peoples (Celts, Romans, various tribes) who settled in this area.  If you need to get off your feet for a while, you can take a snooze here on a cushioned Roman bench in a recreated Roman dining area; signs in German encourage you to do just that, so long as you take off your shoes!  (For artists and urban sketchers, it may be of interest that the LAMY headquarters is in Heidelberg and a new flagship store full of temptations is on the main drag in the old city.) There is something about travel, and seeking to restore a rusty foreign language ability, that awakens the need to create, to remember, to connect, and to imagine…so perhaps there will be more scenes from my youth coming to this blog.

Standard
Surprise, ucertainty, Uncategorized

Lessons Not Learned in a Pile of Books

There’s no art work in this blog post.  That’s partly because it’s that time of year for one last push to clear the house of extra things that might be useful for someone else–and thus could be donated to charity–and I inevitably get side-tracked in the process of sorting.  This year it’s a whole lot of books on my bookshelves dating back from, well, not so long ago that are distracting me.  One by one they fall into my hands, like this one called Superpower:  Three Choices for America’s Role in the World by Ian Bremmer (Penguin Random House, 2015), and I can’t help but take a look at the first page.  It reads:

“America will remain the world’s only superpower for the foreseeable future.”

Reading this in the context of the photos simultaneously coming in from the G-20 meeting this past weekend (December 1-2)  in Argentina made for some cognitive dissonance. I thought: when we did begin to see things differently?  Less than two years after the publication of this book, it seems to me.

Right next to it on the shelf was this book by the former Prime Minister of the UK, Gordon Brown, called Beyond the Crash:  Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalization (Free Press, Simon & Schuster, 2010).  Ignoring the cardboard boxes of boots and old frames precariously stacked beside me, I opened this one too.  Here again we have someone –a former British Prime Minister–reflecting on the tattered concept of “efficient markets” in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.  He writes:

And now in the first decade of the twenty-first century we have come to realize again that markets too can be shaped by vested interests, that economic players are not always rational, that markets are not self-correcting, that employment does not automatically recover, and that a wholly deregulated, passive model of capitalism and of absentee government cannot cope with extreme fluctuations and the shocks of the sort we saw in the banking crisis.”

This book could just as easily have been tossed into the box with raggedy old sweaters that have seen better days but instead, for some reason, it is the book out of the many on the shelf that I chose to consult more closely later that day on a train trip into town.  What were the lessons that Gordon Brown derived from the Financial Crisis and how do these lessons read in the light of today’s very different era?, I wondered.

Here was another one, for heaven’s sakes:  The Breaking of Nations:  Order and Chaos in the Twenty-First Century, by Robert Cooper (Atlantic Books, 2003).  Going down memory lane now, I decided to sit down and look at this one.  “To understand the present we must first understand the past,” Cooper writes in the first chapter.  Later he foreshadows trouble for the European Union, writing:

“It is striking that monetary integration has been achieved precisely by removing monetary policy from the hands of politicians and handing it over to the technocrats.  This may be no bad thing but, in the deeply democratic culture of Europe, the development of the European Union as a continuation of diplomacy by other means rather than the continuation of politics by other means may in the end exact a price.” He explains:  “International institutions need the loyalty of citizens just as state institutions do; and that can be achieved only by giving the citizen some more direct involvement in their management.”

And, finally, this one from 2014:

“Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings.  The cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions that scientists tell us are necessary in order to greatly reduce the risk of catastrophe are treated as nothing more than gentle suggestions, actions that can be put off pretty much indefinitely.  Clearly, what gets declared a crisis is an expression of power and priorities as much as hard facts.  But we need not be spectators in all this:  politicians aren’t the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too.”  This excerpt is from This Changes Everything:  Capitalism vs The Climate by Naomi Klein (Simon & Schuster paperbacks, 2014).

Within the last few hours, my pile of charitable donations has been picked up outside my house, but I could not discard these and other books from the last decade or more.  It seems to me that there are some lessons we haven’t quite absorbed from the past that they cover, periods of crisis in the years since the end of the Cold War.  I’m thinking, as I put these books back on the shelf, that finding our way collectively to a better future might involve some real shifts–perhaps to more inclusive concepts of economic wellbeing or security (even “national” security!!).  At the very least, there might be some clues in this pile of books to how we got to now, which our social media-fueled Twitter-verse is usually poor at explaining.  (Without disrespecting the fine minds truly evident out on social media, there surely will be serious consequences if we do not tear ourselves away from Twitter now and then to dig deeper into questions regarding mankind’s current plight today.)

I am going through these books now with our present in mind.  It occurs to me that I cannot imagine a single book coming from the hand of any of our current US policymakers (at least at the cabinet-level) to explain and reflect on the policymaking being carried out in the name of the US since 2017.  It takes a policymaker or someone who cares about policy and its public impacts probably to even want to write a book.  So, therefore, I’ll look at what previous policymakers said, and thoughtful observers said at the time, and perhaps craft some lessons I hope will prove useful in guiding future policymakers –ones who care about the publics they’ve been elected to serve–at the end of this personal project of mine.  The results of my efforts may, meanwhile, be jotted down on a different blog (as this one has become more an art journal in recent years). If so, I’ll be sure to share the new blog’s name and address as soon as it is active.  I hope some of you will want to follow me over there, even as I continue to share impressions of my art journey here!  In the meantime, all the best for a wonderful Christmas and holiday season everywhere!

 

 

 

Standard
Uncategorized

Painting a Lake Scene in Gouache

This semester one of the courses I’m in is a gouache painting course (for the second time, as it is difficult to find such a course).  Gouache is opaque watercolor.  It has a very interesting (to me, anyway) history going back centuries.  It handles very differently relative to better known transparent watercolor.  In class we are regularly reminded we are not doing watercolor.  Later I tried recreate the evening sky scene from yesterday’s walk around a nearby lake.  These gorgeous colors and lights and shadows are everyday occurrences around here.  As many already have commented, the trees still hold their green leaves, with some yellow edges in places.  It is a different kind of fall season but no less spectacular with everyday light shows.  The gouache allows for applications of lighter colors on top of dark backgrounds.  Gouache lake scene

Illustration: “Evening sky”, approximately 9″ x 6″ gouache on watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Standard
oil painting, Uncategorized

My Younger Brother’s Birthdays & Shenandoah Colors

It was beautiful along Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park this past weekend.  A precious and crisp light made everything seem celebratory.  And, indeed, we were there to remember and celebrate the birthday of my younger brother, who passed away last year shortly before his 56th birthday.  His love of the outdoors means that we mark his birthday by continuing his tradition along with his wife and daughter of going camping on his birthday weekend.  This time, though, instead of in tents, we were in a lovely house on a ridge overlooking wetlands on the edge of Strasburg, Va.  It was a wonderful time despite the painful loss we all still feel. Shenandoah 1

Illustration: “Shenandoah,”  20″ x 34″ oil on canvas by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

A Birthday Note:  “Me at 43”

Soon after we returned home, Andy’s wife shared with us a note she had found in an old desk she was about to discard, a note written by Andy on his 43d birthday. I’ll share it here because, in our social media-frazzled times, it’s wonderful to peer into a brilliant mind capable of sitting down and reflecting on things–and not needing to show his thoughts instantly to all the world.

CarolMarkandAndy2

Photo: Andy with his older brother and sister in the 1960s

Andy, who it is still hard to believe is not here, had a great sense of humor, quick wit, and enormous reservoirs of empathy–all traits we’re missing today in our national daily discourse. He made friends all over the world and was an avid explorer from the islands of Comoros off the east coast of Africa to the islands of the Caribbean and even islands along the coast of Washington state.  (He was expert on sustainable tourism for island economies.) He also traveled across Argentina, Spain, Germany, England, Israel, Australia and Africa.  Andy was a voracious reader especially about indigenous peoples and colonial expeditions and settlements.  He was a nature lover and enjoyed hiking in remote places. Andy indeed never really took to social media though, in fact, he was tweeting about America’s desperate times on the day he died, without warning, on 26 July 2017 from complications of a seizure.  (He was greatly troubled by what was happening to our nation but his seizures were an unexpected side effect of surgery he’d had in 2014.)

Andyasbaby

Photo: Andy as a baby, smiling

Andy wrote the following in 2004 and apparently never showed it to anyone.  If he had, we might have questioned his memory of his birth weight being “over 10 pounds.”  (His birth weight was 7 lbs. 12 oz.) I am showing it here as a way of remembering and sharing a little bit of my younger brother, who loved life and made the most of it.

AndyBdayLetter

 

Standard
Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Weekend Sketching at Union Station, Washington, D.C.

Of course it was supposed to rain this weekend; we all expected it. Thus the weekend sketchers met up inside Union Station in Washington, D.C.

Union Station 1

Illustration: “Sunlight-filled Union Station D.C.”, Watercolor and pen-and-ink in a sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

The weather ended up being sunny and muggy. Inside the train station it was cooler, and it was possible to stare at the ceiling without getting in anyone’s way.  Nowhere near as grand as Grand Central, there nonetheless is a lot of see inside this train station, including multiple identical statues of Roman soldiers each holding an identical shield.  Bright light filtered through the many windows above onto the cavernous hallway.  As one of the people who has rushed through here with scarcely a glance at my surroundings, it was nice to have a chance to try to take it all in.  It’s a busy place, including visually, and a good place to practice with perspective.  For this watercolor sketch, I was back to using Stillman & Birn Zeta soft-sided sketchbook and working across the binding between the pages, in an oblong portrait format. These days I am also using Noodlers #41 waterproof brown ink.

Standard
Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Plein Air Under Wet Skies

Yesterday there was time to slip one more plein air effort in under the wire of arriving rain showers, now torrential.  Standing in the garden behind a popular area restaurant, I focused on a fountain; the sound of falling water is so relaxing and makes painting more enjoyable.  It was suddenly like a day in November, chilly and wet.  There were no interesting shadows to work with, due to overcast skies.  The lion face in the fountain was difficult and I should have slowed down and focused on a piece of this, but the statue in the background also appealed to me.  Working plein air is for me mostly fun but also an organizational challenge.  I need a flat surface nearby on which to rest stuff, and usually don’t have one; brushes roll off the easel and into the grass.  (I suspect that whoever invents a light-weight mobile solution to this will make a lot of $$.)

Illustration: “Oasis,” watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Arches watercolor paper approx. 11″ x 8″  by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

This was the last chance to try for another painting under the rules of the “plein air” competition ending today.  With the heavy rains now, it may be a challenge just to get over to the gallery with my work as some roads around here flood quickly.  But two paintings are now done in a 24 hour time period.  These days, when we all sense how little we actually ‘control,’ there is some satisfaction in this!

 

 

Standard
Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Great Falls Annual Plein Air Competition

Days of high humidity continue but this hasn’t deterred plein air painters this week from getting out around Great Falls, Virginia during the 4-day annual plein air competition going on now.

Colvin Run Mill Path

Illustration: “Colvin Run,” Watercolor on Arches rough watercolor paper, approximately 11.25″ x 8.25″ by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

I set up my easel on a gravel path on the grounds of the Colvin Run Mill, which was built in 1811.   It’s a still-functioning mill where mill stone wheels grind wheat and corn.  The grinding stone wheels set inside a hillside in the park here have caught my attention on previous visits.  I decided they would be my subject on this sweaty afternoon!

Colvin Run Mill easel

Illustration: Photo of author’s easel set up today at Colvin Run Mill, Great Falls, Virginia

Rain is in the forecast for the rest of the weekend so it’s hard to say if I’ll produce any more paintings in time for the contest’s deadline on Sunday afternoon.

Stop by the Great Falls Art Gallery on the Village Green if you’d like to see what area painters have produced during this competition–and this painting on the gallery wall!

Colvin Run Mill Grinding Stones

Illustration: Photo of Colvin Run Mill Grinding Stones (Pinterest)

Standard
Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Dumbarton Oaks Gardens Watercolors

When you visit the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens in Washington, D.C., you’re drawn to the airy, light-filled Orangery, a wonderful room decked with vines of ivy across doorways and windows opening on gardens in three directions and a fourth wide entrance to another room.

Orangery Final

Illustration: “Orangery,” watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

The gardens were the project of Mildred Bliss. She and her husband, Robert Woods Bliss, owned Dumbarton Oaks, now a Research Library and Collection, a century ago.  (The mansion of Dumbarton Oaks, where the library and collection are, is somewhat removed from the gardens, a couple of blocks away.)

Art collectors, philanthropists and involved in diplomatic life, the Blisses were world travelers, and arranged for a series of important diplomatic meetings to take place at Dumbarton Oaks in 1944. These meetings, known as the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, hosted delegations from China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Dumbarton Oaks photo

Photo: Dumbarton Oaks delegates meeting in 1944, Getty images

Here the participants considered ideas for an organization “to maintain peace and security in the world.” Not long afterwards, their proposals made up the United Nations Charter adopted in San Francisco in 1945.  The goal was to shape the future for a better world, something which can only be carried out with the cooperation of multiple nations sharing a sense of a greater good.

Amidst the chaos and uncharted territory of our times, it’s a bit of an escape to visit these grounds near where the United Nations began.  Beyond the inviting Orangery are winding paths, terraces, urns, benches, fountains, a pebble walk, sculptures, gates, and lots of trees and flowers.

FountainEllipse

Illustration: “Dumbarton Oaks,”Watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Arches CP watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author, (2018)

Standard
Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

 

Sculpture Garden 2

Illustration: Watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Fabriano Artistic paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

When you’re expecting it to rain all weekend and suddenly get a day like today, it’s immediately obvious that the place to be is outdoors.  A weekend drawing group met today at the National Gallery of Art, and some drew inside the museum while others drew next door in the outdoor sculpture garden.

As always, this beautiful little park was full of visitors from all over the world.  Every family with children stopped to enjoy the spray of the fountains and stick their feet in the cool water of the Sculpture Garden pond.

Sculpture Garden 1

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink on Fabriano Artistic paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Nearby food trucks catering to every taste in the world served hot lunches to hundreds of people.  It was a calm afternoon on the National Mall today with everyone enjoying balmy breezes, sunshine, and a day with less than usual humidity.

Standard
Surprise, Watercolor Painting

Stone Gables B&B soon to open in Virginia countryside

B&B

Illustration; “Stone Gables,” approx.  6.5 ” x 10.25 ” watercolor and Uniball white gel pen on Saunders Waterford 300 lb watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Last weekend we were hosted for an afternoon get-together at a soon-to-open bed & breakfast establishment tucked away in the rolling hills of Virginia wine country.  Once a barn, this establishment is now more like an estate with lush green fields, hills, a pond and a pool.  A  tall water fountain, the view beyond of outdoor terraces, a screened-porch bar area with tall tables and high chairs for enjoying the view, a gorgeous dining room and enormous well-appointed kitchen are only what greets you when you enter.  Beyond this are six beautiful bedrooms each with a modern well-designed bath, including a bridal suite.   You simply cannot imagine that this was a barn though some of the features of the barn have been kept in the current design.

Best of all, I’ve known one of the owners since she was a very little girl–many years ago in a distant land in Asia–where we both were living as part of foreign service families assigned abroad.  This B&B is a dream of hers and it’s now coming to life.  We were so pleased to get an early bird look at what will soon be available to others.  It’s called Stone Gables B& B and is near Leesburg, VA and a half hour’s drive from the Silver Line Metro station in Reston, VA, from which point it’s only 30-40 minute train ride into the heart of Washington, D.C.  Future guests here are in for a wonderful surprise!

Standard
urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Georgetown Market Sketch

Dean &Deluca

Illustration: “Dean & DeLuca cafe,” Watercolor in Stillman & Birn Beta Series sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

After nearly a month of rain, the sun is shining in Washington, D.C.  and the humidity is high.  This is more normal weather for mid-summer in this area.  Georgetown in Washington, D.C. was buzzing with visitors and university students this afternoon.  This is a part of the city I’ve come to know well since I first arrived here to attend the university many years ago.  It’s always nice to see the townhouses of Georgetown with their interesting and sometimes quirky architectural details, ornate backyards surrounded by tall brick walls,  the mature trees shading the streets, the great colors, and the tracks of the abandoned streetcars.  There are memories everywhere in this area.

Later, after a bit of walking and shopping, it was time to duck into an air conditioned place–the market house of Dean & DeLuca–and have an iced coffee and sketch with some fellow weekend artists, while others nearby read a book or chatted with friends.

This historic red-brick building dates back to 1865 when it was constructed on top of the foundations of an even earlier 1796 structure – Washington’s oldest market, according to Architect of the Capital blog.

Georgetown Market 1937

Photo: “Georgetown Market,” National Park Service, 1937, Architect of the Capital blog

Running alongside it, on a passageway between M Street and the C&O Canal, is a dramatic green metal arcade covering a brick patio space where one can sit at any of the many tables.   (One can see from the black-and-white photo of the market as it appeared in 1937 that this arcade  structure did not exist then and is an addition to the market.)

inset

Illustration: Detail of sketch in watercolor and Uniball gold gel pen by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

It’s a great people-watching spot, and many of the sketchers today drew other people, either from real life or from their extremely rich imaginations.  It’s always fun to see the artwork other people produce on these occasions, and to hear what they are thinking about art and the work that they do.  The stories they tell are reminders, as if one needed any, that the times are very different today for many people than they were even a few years ago.  Issues raised included the cost of a university education, living in Washington, D.C., and the contrasts with countries abroad that consider education and health care public goods and thus ensure that they are affordable.  All in all, there was much “food for thought” after an afternoon spent sketching in a food market.

 

Standard
Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Washington D.C. Capitol Watercolor

Capitol

Illustration: “U.S. Capitol,” Watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP paper approx 14″ x 9″ by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

In July, tourists of many nationalities visit Washington, D.C.  On a short walk, one can hear Polish, Spanish, Chinese and other languages.  The nation’s capitol is a visitor-friendly place, with lots of sights within easy walking distance of each other, great restaurants, and good transportation.  Plus, lately, the weather’s been great too, making it fun for locals to join in the admiration of this beautiful city.  On such an outing today, I encountered a few very forward squirrels, who apparently wanted a closer look to make sure my paints were not edible.

Standard
Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Beach Scene

Our week at the beach has been lovely, with clear sunny skies, and a breeze to keep things cool.  But soon it’s time to pack up and head home, so all the family is making the most of the beach, gazing at the water, and enjoying the sound of the waves.

beach scene

Illustration: “Cheers,” Watercolor on Arches rough paper (approx. 10″ x 7″) by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Standard
Watercolor Painting

Lazy Days in Duck, N.C.

The week after the holiday week is proving to be a quiet one here in the Outer Banks.  People are enjoying the beautiful weather–breezy and sunny without humidity–by biking, going to the beach, or walking on the boardwalk on the sound side.  It’s been great to paint the scene below from a spot on the boardwalk in the shade of a tree conveniently located behind a popular pizza joint playing music from the ’80s and 90s: with a perfect breeze and a gorgeous scene, it’s obvious you can’t ask for anything more than this!  The tide is low and the kayakers setting out right below this promenade have to drag their kayaks across some muddy banks and reeds before being able to float.

Soundside

Illustration: “Currituck Sound”, Watercolor and gouache on Arches CP watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog (2018)

Standard
Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Beautiful Boston in Plein Air

Beautiful days in Boston this week have made it a delight to do some sketching outdoors.

Boston Commons

Illustration: “Boston Common,” Watercolor and pen-and-ink in a sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Lots of people are sitting around outside or out biking, jogging, rowing, dog-walking, playing softball, shopping, sipping wine or coffee, and enjoying the great weather. Sun worshippers pack outdoor cafes.  There is a holiday feeling here in the middle of the week. You do not want to be working in an office on such spectacular days!

CharlesRiver

Illustration: “Harvard Boathouse” in watercolor by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

One can soak up the strength and vitality of this country in a great city like Boston.

BostonPublicLibrary

Illustration: “Boston Public Library,” watercolor and pen-and-ink in a Pentalic sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author 2018)

Standard
Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Spring greens in a rainy season

There’s been so much rain lately, followed by intermittent mugginess and flood watches, that some plein air-type painting has had to be done inside.  With plenty of models done in the open air to go by, I recently recreated some familiar scenes and, in the process, tried out watercolors on the Langton Prestige watercolor paper made in the UK by Daler Rowney.

Paddleboaters

Illustration: “Paddleboarders” in watercolor on Daler Rowney cold press 7″ x 10″ watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

My impression of this paper is that the watercolors do stay moist longer and naturally exhibit a more transparent sheen than is typical on Arches paper.  I had underestimated this paper originally when I bought it nearly 10 months ago.  For different effects, trying various papers is fun.

spring greens

Illustration: “Spring Greens”, watercolor and pen-and-ink on Daler Rowney cold press 7″ x 10″ watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Standard
oil painting, Uncategorized

Memorial Day Weekend

Lazy Sunday

Illustration: “Lazy Sunday”, oil on canvas approximately 12″ x 20″ (2018)

As a beautiful week weather-wise glides into the holiday weekend, I am finishing up several canvases and, in some cases, deciding whether to paint over them to start something else.  In the painting above, I set out to capture the look of some people remote-control sailing their little boats, as they do every Sunday morning at this spot in northern Virginia.

Standard
Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Capturing Spring Greens in Hideaway Places

It’s amazing to me that, even around the busiest metropolitan centers, wonderful hideaways still exist that transport you far away from the strip malls, busy intersections and shopping centers that dominate our modern landscape.  These days you can get a news update almost anywhere, but in these little hideaways you’ll find that the natural beauty captures your attention, and you won’t be checking your phone!

colvin garden

Illustration: “Secret Garden,” Watercolor and gouache in a Stillman & Birn “Beta” sketchbook (2018)

Sometimes these jewels are right in our own neighborhood, or at least not far as the crow flies.  One such place in Northern Virginia is a small state park, Colvin Run Mill, which has a still-functioning circa-1900 General Store and still working mill grinding wheat and corn today.  I have driven past this very spot for more than 20 years without stopping–until now.

colvin mill

Illustration: “Colvin Run Mill,” Watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Arches rough paper (2018)

Many of us hurry by without much choice, for years, without noticing therefore our surroundings.

lake edge final

Illusration: “Lake edge”, Watercolor in Stillman &Birn “Beta” sketchbook (2018)

These days, however, the new greens of spring make one want to take one’s paint kit outside more often—how to capture that beautiful light?  What greens work best?  I’ve been finding that Winsor & Newton Transparent Yellow helps to give some bright greens.

Colvin Run

Illustration: “Colvin Run,” watercolor and gouache on Arches rough paper (2018)

Indanthrone Blue and Quinacridone Gold (either the old or the new) gives some great, more olive, shades of green.  And you can always use a sap green, which comes in many different colors, actually.  Happy painting!

plaza final

Illustration: “Secret Beachview”, Watercolor and pen-and-ink in a Stillman & Birn “Beta” sketchbook (2018)

Standard
oil painting, Uncategorized

Studio Practice in Oil Painting

While something self-induced and self-defeating (where have we seen this before?) hurtles toward this nation, it’s been an escape to join others to learn how to paint with oils.

Stack of Books

Illustration: “Studio practice,” Oil on canvas by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

We tackle with brushes and paints all kinds of planes, or surfaces, under all kinds of light with usually limited palettes.  For the unfinished painting here the colors were titanium white, yellow ochre, ultramarine blue, and burnt sienna (on a raw umber underpainting).

Studio setup

Illustration:  Studio still life setup

It’s great to lose oneself in such challenges if only for an evening. It’s also great to be with 15 other people similarly motivated to learn oil painting under the guidance of a great teacher.

Later with a drizzly day providing an excuse to stay inside, I touched up the painting done originally in class.  In the process, I used some linseed oil for the first time, to help draw some narrow lines and also to experiment with creating a sheen.

Books4

Illustration: “Stack of Books”, oil on canvas by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

 

Standard
Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Spring in the Park

Spring is struggling to make itself known this year. There’s a chill in the air. Cold breezes vied with bright sunshine in Central Park this weekend.  Color and light caught your eye after taking in some artworks inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.   From the top of the museum, the Manhattan skyline edged the tops of the furthest trees.  One can imagine spring settling in here soon.

Spring1

Illustration: “Spring in the Park”, watercolor, pastel, gouache and burnt sienna drawing ink on 10″ X 7″ Arches rough paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Standard
Uncategorized, Uncertainty

Spring Cleaning & Unfinished Projects

As the weather improves, the spring cleaning bug hits many of us.  Eventually the “art room” must be tackled, always a hazardous undertaking because of the many unexpected finds tucked here and there.  So many unfinished pieces of work, and so many memories about what was going on in my life when the work was undertaken. It is difficult to complete cleaning tasks because so many projects (pastels, watercolors, and even an oil painting) still beckon to be completed  now or, at least, that a decision be made about them.  Doodles and sketches abound, mostly made during embarrassingly many hours ‘wasted’ watching the evening news over the past nail-biting sort of year.  Frames and matts need to be sorted through…and books continue to pile up despite mostly having no connection to the art efforts at least not so far.  (How to connect democracy, climate change and other readings to art…that is another unfinished project?)

Doodles2

Illustration: “News-time Doodles,” gel pens on black paper, by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

The vision of more space in the room–still just a vision–and the notion that greater work can be done with less clutter spurs me on.  It helps that the weather outside is glorious and beckons…  and it will be possible to go enjoy it once this is done.

Standard
oil painting, Uncategorized

Rooftops of Tübingen

Practicing with a limited palette of Raw Umber, Ultramarine Blue, and Titanium White, my subject for this oil painting exercise are the rooftops–which actually are various shades of orange and red–of Tübingen, as seen from the window of a fourth floor walkup attic apartment in a house dating from the 1500s.  Far below in the thicket of roofs and small balconies are narrow streets that wind their way through this ancient university town on the Neckar River in Germany.  I will attempt to do a wider landscape scene of the rooftops in a more realistic palette quite soon.  There is a great view of the city from the castle just up the street from this house–a castle which houses the humanities department of the University of  Tübingen, which itself was founded in 1477.

Illustration: “Rooftops of Tübingen”, oil on canvas by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Standard
Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Cherry Blossom Season

‘Tis the time for bountiful cherry blossom trees decorating the Tidal Basin in the heart of Washington, D.C.

Cherry Blossoms

Illustration: “Admiring the Cherry Blossoms,” watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Arches paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

When the trees–which were a gift from Japan in 1912–are at their peak, people visit from all over the world, pushing baby strollers and carrying long camera tripods. Whole families with grandparents and toddlers make their way to this glorious spot.  Amidst the calm chaos of thousands of people walking underneath the beautiful blossoms are picnickers, and couples positioning themselves for that perfect photo with the Jefferson Memorial in the background. Every language in the world can be heard at this time.  Women in traditional  Japanese costumes pose for photos between the trees. Buddhist monks in flowing orange robes bike past some of the crowds.  Even on a cloudy day it’s a beautiful scene.

 

Standard
oil painting, Uncategorized

Oil Painting Class #1

I’ve had my first oil painting class this week, along with 15 other students.  It’s exciting to finally learn the processes involved in using this medium, including the proper positioning of one’s easel. There’s simply no alternative to learning the basics.  I have dabbled before but knew I was missing some key information not to mention also a lifetime of experience.  It’s wonderful to learn about underpainting canvases, using a palette knife to mix colors, creating different values, and so forth.  So very different from watercolor, but it’s going to be fun to keep up with both types of painting.  One of my older experiments on wood panel accompanies this post. More to come…

Mainau1

Illustration: “Mainau Insel” (oil on board) by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

Standard
Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Line and Wash Watercolors

It’s been a busy few weeks–with a tremendously inspiring March for Our Lives making last weekend particularly memorable!   Art and sketching have had to take a back seat while so much else (much of it historically important) is going on….

With Spring finally here, however, there’s no question that the “plein air” kit of watercolors is going to get more use.  Thus, a refresher in “Line and Wash” watercolor sketching with pen-and-ink in the form of a two-day workshop this week was perfectly timed.  Below some of the paintings I completed in the workshop, the purpose of which was to combine use of pen (such as a fine-point Sharpie, black or brown, or India ink sketched with a bamboo stick) with watercolor washes.

Jackson Square 1

Illustration: “Art in the Park,” watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Lots more to learn, as always, but it’s fun to be engaged in painting again.

Jackson Square 2

Illustration: “Jackson Square,” watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Standard
living in the truth, Risk, Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Water and color-filled wintry skies

Although spring should be on its way, we have plenty of wintry skies these days to practice with in watercolor.  Skies seem to be meant for watercolor–as, come to think of it, that’s what they seem made of.  Still it’s a challenge to get all those fluid wispy shapes that nature has perfected.  From my spot here at tree-top level (but inside a cozy room!) I see this lake reflecting back the shades of the sky and the surrounding landscape.  Never a dull moment…  Having gone back over a lot of art books recently, I have brought back white gouache with near-abandon yet seeking still to keep some white paper untouched.  Gouache has always been controversial with the purists but paradoxically always welcomed by artists so accomplished as John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer.  So us mere mortals should have no hesitation to experiment away…

Winter skies 1

Illustration: “Winter skies” in watercolor, gouache and white gel roll ink pen on 9.4″ x 12.6″ Hahnemühle watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Standard
living in the truth, Surprise, Uncategorized

The “Other”, DACA & Diversity Watercolor Studies

Flamingo with chick

Illustration: “Flamingo and chick”, Watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Thinking about the intense efforts (as, for instance, reported upon just yesterday on the Lawfare Blog, “Beware the Slippery Slope…) by some to paint (figuratively speaking) people as “other” and somehow lesser human beings just because of their birth circumstances and, in the case of DACA young people, because of the choices of their parents, I have forged ahead during some quiet spells recently with some illustrations related to the volume on ‘diversity’ I have in mind.

Peacock 2

Illustration: “Green-gold Peacock”, Watercolor, gouache, and gold gel pen by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Painting–literally painting–is definitely a way to displace some energy that otherwise would be fruitlessly wasted watching the already-absorbed news, for instance.  It’s also very interesting to consider trying to explain concepts of diversity and discrimination through a medium (drawing) that is addressed to children.

Hippos

Illustration: “Hippos by the Water”, Watercolor and pen-and-ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Why now?  It appears to me that current events must capture the minds of those concerned about individual human tragedies, including families being separated, which are being reported in the news.   How a nation treats its own people, moreover, and other nations’ people tells us a lot about its future (and its security).

Flamingos

Illustration: “Flamingos on Rocks”, Watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

There is no better age to gain lifelong appreciation of the world’s diversity and wonder–and to nurture lifelong curiosity and thirst for learning–than  when very young…  Ensuring that children retain their curiosity is essential now more than ever to the survival of the planet.  The issues we face are not in some far off future.  They are here and now.  Already mankind needs unprecedented amounts of talent and imagination to cope with very real challenges we face today–challenges which inevitably will combine and interact in ways we can’t precisely predict.

Giraffes

Illustration: “Giraffes”, watercolor and gouache and pen-and-ink  by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

 

Standard
Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Darks and Lights in Watercolor

Last weekend with below-freezing temperatures outside, intrepid watercolor painters and other artists in this  area met in a nearby community center as the initial gathering to a new watercolor group.

Audubon Zoo

Ilustration: “Audubon Oasis”, (9.4″ x 12.6″) in watercolor and gouache on Hahnemuehle cold pressed paper

Though 103 (!) individuals had signed up to attend since the announcement came out in mid-December, due to the room size attendance at this initial meeting was kept to about 16 (and, probably due to the icy weather, only about 10 actually attended–men and women of various ages and backgrounds).  Ironically (as happens) the original convener was someone who had literally just moved to the area. Perhaps for many part of the attraction was simply an excuse to get out of the house after enduring days of extraordinary Arctic cold.  But, as always happens, perfect strangers also end up as new contacts, taking note (sometimes literally) of each other’s painting techniques and favorite materials.

My painting subject during this get-together was a colorful view through some trees at New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo last November around Thanksgiving.  The day was incredibly clear with pleasant temperatures and it made walking through the zoo (though many sections are undergoing renovation) an unforgettable visual treat.  I’m not a fan of painting from photos as so much of the really interesting light effects are lost (at least in my photos)–but using a photo for this project was the next best thing to being there. I have a lot of photos from the brilliant afternoon spent visiting this gorgeous zoo-park and, as the wintry weather here continues, I’ll be sure to be using some of them as a reference for more painting experiments.

Standard