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.
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.
Another gorgeous fall day today, with temperatures near 70 degrees, saw lots of families out hiking along the C&O Canal which runs along the Maryland side of the Potomac River. Several ‘plein air’ painting enthusiasts worked alongside the Canal, facing either the river or the canal; a path for hikers and bikers runs between them for gorgeous mile after gorgeous mile.
In such a perfect circumstance, it was a great day to try an experiment: using charcoal with watercolor as was done to such great effect by late-19th century and early-20th century French painter, Paul Signac (who also used black Conte crayon and graphite with watercolors). The canal next to us was drained nearly dry so there wasn’t an opportunity to practice painting reflections on the water except for a little puddle near the bridge over the canal. However, even without water, the whole scene was already challenging enough.
The final verdict: At first it didn’t seem like it would work, but certainly if the watercolor is added first and allowed to dry, then charcoal can be applied to make accents or give depth. Here is my first attempt to do so (with a charcoal pencil), and I think it’s going to be something I’ll want to keep trying in the future.
Unseasonably warm weather and bright light this weekend added to the joys of walking through the fall colors wherever we were. People strolled in the streets everywhere including in this neighborhood of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, where the scene (below) in the private garden attached to a historic mansion demanded to be painted.
At every turn in this colonial-era town not far from Washington, D.C., it was impossible to ignore the symbols of our rich history as a still great, if troubled, nation. And it was impossible to forget that this very week, we will be facing a most consequential election .
And yet, when literally everything is on the ballot, the path ahead couldn’t be more clear. As one young voter wrote in an opinion piece today, this moment “can be a moment of all those who hope for a better future, who believe in American leadership and who know that our best days are still ahead.” Clearly, current and future generations here and abroad depend on us to engage constructively, and not cynically, with this moment, and thereafter to engage similarly with the process of governing. There is no other path ahead.