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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

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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)

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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.

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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.)

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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