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.
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?)
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.
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.
‘Tis the time for bountiful cherry blossom trees decorating the Tidal Basin in the heart of Washington, D.C.
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.
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…
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.
Lots more to learn, as always, but it’s fun to be engaged in painting again.
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…