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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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

 

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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)

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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…

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

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