Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Sketching in Jackson Square at Thanksgiving

En route to our Thanksgiving destination, it was warm enough to sit on a bench in Jackson Square, New Orleans yesterday afternoon to do this sketch of Andrew Jackson on a horse.  Sometimes sketching relieves a mind tired of taking in news and lots of sights (most of which we’ve seen before).

Jackson Square

Illustration: “Jackson Square” in watercolor and ink on Canson Mix Media paper 5.5″ x 8.5″ by Black Elephant Blog author

 

This afternoon, the square was a relaxing, brightly lit scene with red Christmas ribbons tied on the lampposts at the entrances to the Jackson Square park.  Palm trees twinkled in the sun, while  huge lime-green leaves on the banana trees had a natural sparkle all around the park.  The afternoon’s light was crisp and clear, with fathers watching their toddlers and foreign visitors enjoying sitting on the benches all around the park. Gradually the sun sank lower in the sky and a chill penetrated the shady side of the park. Fortunately  by then I was ready to call it quits, and get back to the sunny side of the square.  Certainly on such a beautiful day in a week of Thanksgiving, there’s lots to be thankful for.  There may be time to set up an easel here tomorrow morning and try to blend in with the street artists!

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Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Königswinter in November

Being in the sleepy town of Königswinter, Germany this week had the feel of walking onto the set of the Grand Budapest Hotel, as if dropped into the town in a different era.  Here, we were near Bonn, the former capital of Germany and, this week and next, the host of the COP23 international climate change summit.  Fortunately the sun was out, bathing the hills, valleys and forests in a wonderful light when I decided to go up on the Drachenfels train to the mountaintop.  The weather was beautiful on this particular November morning, something I was told later was really unusual for this time of year.

Königswinter1

Illustration: “Königswinter”, watercolor and pen-and-ink in a Stillman & Birn “Alpha” 8.5″ x 11″ sketchbook by the Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

I was there for a conference and, while the hotel I was in was sleek and modern, I walked into another century when I headed for the hills–the “Siebengebirgen”, or Seven Mountains, right behind the hotel.  The most magical experience was the walk through forests and fields down from the ruins on the hilltop of the Drachenfels and visiting the Schloss Drachenburg, or Dragon Castle.  It’s no wonder that this region–with miles of the Rhein river valley within sight from the mountaintops–has been popular with explorers, artists, and poets, including Lord Byron and J.M.W. Turner,  for many years.  Later, over a magical lunch on the outdoor terrace of the Hotel Monopol along the Rhein Promenade, watching the ships glide by on the river, it was impossible not to feel like I had stepped back in time.  This is a place of dragons and fairytale castles where ornate dining rooms in the sky overlook Bonn and the Rhein for as far as the eye can see.   I’ll have to return to this tranquil place.

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urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Pumpkin Patch Plein Air

Pumpkin Patch 2

Illustration: “Pumpkin Patch,” watercolor and ink on Arches cold press paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

Under a wonderful fall sun accompanied with nice fall breezes, a bunch of us met at an apple and pumpkin-picking farm this weekend for a bit of painting.  Hundreds of people beat us to the place on this beautiful fall Sunday, with scores of children ready to look at the pigs, goats, alpaca, chickens and other animals on the grounds.  It was the quintessential fall scene and a great vibe as everyone dragged their wheelbarrows around to gather up apples or pumpkins.  Many of the people enjoying this annual tradition spoke languages other than English, including German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian.  Such a beautiful setting makes you want to come back!

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Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Karlsruhe Marktplatz sketch

A month ago– a mere four weeks–I was sitting on this busy square in downtown Karlsruhe, Germany, enjoying a latte at a sidewalk cafe and idly sketching the scene in front of me, busy (still!) with construction of an underground train system.  I would make sketches of the most normal scenes, because everything offers practice for the eye.  But, now when I pick up my sketchbooks, a whole lot of other memories come flooding back to me.   It is amazing how everything little thing we did on this recent trip is now so utterly important to hold on to as a memory, never to let go at least of this.

 

Karlsruhe sketch

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink sketch, “Karlsruhe Marktplatz” (July 2017)

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Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Sketches

Few places in Washington, D.C. are more relaxing than the fountain area in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Art.

NGA sculpture garden

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink on 5″x7″ Stonehenge “Colors” paper

As with most parks and museums in this city, entrance to the sculpture garden is free and it’s open until 7 p.m.  There is a patio restaurant and cafe to one side with indoor air-conditioned seating and ample outdoor seating.

NGAsculpturegarden2

Illustration: Stabilo sepia pencil (“aquarellable”) on Stonehenge “colors” 5″ x 7″ paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

It’s all truly an oasis in the middle of a busy, politically fraught city…and so, yesterday, taking a break from some other concerns, I sat there a while, near the fountain, and practiced sketching some of the people, many of them apparently visitors to this usually beautiful and dignified city.  It’s restorative to see people of all backgrounds and walks of life enjoying the spray of water from the many jets of water criss-crossing the Sculpture Garden pool in huge arcs above.  It’s hard to see how they could leave this city with a bad impression if this garden is representative of their experiences.  And indeed many of the people I watched were in no hurry to leave, staying an hour or more.

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Risk, Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Sunday afternoon “plein air” in Maryland

KensingtonFountain

Illustration: “Kensington Fountain,” in watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on a quarter sheet of Canson Heritage hot press watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

With another lovely day to enjoy, it was time today to join the Maryland ‘plein air painters’ again.  This meant crossing over the Potomac River and setting up a watercolor easel in a lovely small suburban park near the old town center of Kensington.  Plenty of shade and breezes made it a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Flinnpark

Photo: Flinn Park fountain on 13 August 2017

Everyone worked in their medium of choice, whether pastels, oil, acrylic or watercolor–there’s no right or wrong here, and nothing to hear but the sound of water falling from the fountain in the middle of the park.

(A note on materials:  These days I am finding the Canson Heritage brand of watercolor paper nice to work with and, perhaps surprisingly, on a par with the Arches brand (and, unfortunately, just as expensive).  I picked up a higher end version of Hahnemühle watercolor paper while in Germany and found it to be quite outstanding, allowing for brilliant colors but perhaps subtly with less “sizing’ than Arches or Canson. This latter paper is hard to get in the U.S.

Regarding brushes, the German-made DaVinci Kolinsky Red Sable watercolor brushes seem to do a good job with keeping a very fine point; I have a #6 and a #8, and can tell that in the hands of a professional, they would more than meet the tasks at hand. And for me, certainly, they are more than adequate.)

My younger brother, who has been mentioned in the last few blog posts, never understood my fascination with art materials.  (Indeed, he privately might have viewed it as a disorder; well, once he did say “that’s crazy,” so there’s a clue.)  He used the first sketchbook (Stillman&Birn Alpha series) I gave him for the last two years, and was on its last pages during our recent trip in Europe.  He was captivated, however, by the fine flow of the Platinum Carbon pen, and also the practicality of the water brush, both of which were gifts from me.  He had none of the interest others have in whether this or that paint is “student” or “artist” grade, nor in trying different sketchbooks (I’d supplied him with some backups). He wanted his sketches to be in chronological order in the original sketchbook, and never wavered from this.  As an artist, he had a beautiful, light style–and even mischievous style, as in a few sketches of people (possibly even us, his family members, but he would not say) on the beach at the Outer Banks.  He also used sketches in his work.  He could carry his entire art kit in a small zipper pouch designed for a looseleaf folder, and he never set foot in an art supply store, so far as I know.  (He wasn’t much a shopper, to put it mildly.)  My brother believed in “quality not quantity” and lived this.  Special memories, may they live on forever.

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living in truth, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching

Lake Reflections #2

LakeScene

Illustration: Watercolor sketch on 5.5″ x 8.5″ 140 lb. cold press Montval watercolor sketchbook paper by Black Elephant Blog author

On a day when a U.S. President seemed to threaten nuclear war (%@?*?!X?), further undermining our security relationships and standing around the world, the sanest thing to do seemed  to be to sit on a quiet lakeside beach and watch people on all manner of boats and boards enjoying a beautiful evening out on the water.  I have a whole lot of paintings to complete, mostly still in my head, from the recent trip to Europe.  Following the sudden, unexpected death of a sibling a couple of weeks ago–a sibling who so recently (only a month ago) was enjoying that same trip to Europe…he,clambering up steep cobble-stoned streets, admiring cathedrals, and admiring a replica of a Bronze Age village built on pilings over water on the edge of Lake Constance in Germany– I am finding I must ‘sketch-crawl’ my way back to working in the bright colors I prefer. It may take a while but enjoying the interaction of watercolor with paper seems likely to help me get there.

As I sit lakeside in the twilight of an evening, I do reflect on how uncommonly good people, such as my recently departed brother (who used to read this blog as it appeared in his email), sometimes have uncommonly rare things befall them, and are taken from us uncommonly early in their lives.  It is too soon to find any sense or solace in this.   But it has long been clear:   We must make more space for such people–the ones like him who are driven by a larger sense of global responsibility—to share their abilities with us while they are here in this earthly world.  The world needs uncommonly good people right now, who act in the awareness that we are all part of a larger whole.  Only by having a critical mass of such people exhibiting their genuine caring and leadership to making the world a better place, can we have a chance (in the remaining time left to us as a species) of tipping the planetary scales into a sustainable direction.  Nothing is more urgent these days, but it is restorative to watch people fishing and stand-up paddle-boarding on this evening as if they had no cares in the world. I will probably do more of that today.

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