living in truth, Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, Watercolor Painting

Goodbye 2017

blue hippo

Illustration: “Blue Hippo” in watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

It’s been a hard year for many people. May the new year 2018 remind us of the potential we all represent to address our world’s serious problems and thereby contribute to helping future generations.  To do this, we’ll need to appreciate what each of us brings to the table–we need to appreciate our differences.  So I’ll end the year on this blog with some hippo watercolor studies I’ve been playing around with for a side project on appreciating our differences. Happy Hippo New Year!

Hippo 2

Illustration: “Mother Hippo”, watercolor and pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author

 

Hippos on rock

Illustration: “Hippos sunning” in watercolor, gouache, and pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

Hippo with baby

Illustration: “Mother and child” in watercolor and pen-and-ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

 

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oil painting, Uncategorized

Bouquet Painting on Christmas Eve Day

Today with all the last-minute Santa things to do, there was time to keep working on a painting I started this weekend.  Perhaps it will be dry in time to fit into a wooden frame and be wrapped to go under the tree too.

Bouquet 3

Illustration: “Wedding Bouquet,” Oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″ by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

Painting in oil is still a challenge for me, mainly because of the brushes which become gooey, and sometimes even clumpy, pretty quickly. There’s also the problem of what to do with the gooey water mixed with solvent when cleaning the brushes. There’s still so much to learn but I do know that watercolor is quite a bit simpler, at least in terms of equipment.

Speaking of which, my Christmas present to myself arrived last week, and it’s a great addition to my collection of watercolor palettes.  This one, called the “Portable Painter“, shows what a clever design-oriented mind can achieve when taking time to really study how people are trying to use existing tools (in this case other palettes meant for watercolor painting in small formats outside). This palette is so well-thought out it is amazing.  I say this as someone who has used about 20 different alternatives in the past three years.  It comes with a small brush (with a smaller brush inserted into the handle) but neither brush is really suitable for most painting, and that’s the only negative I can see in this little kit.

This palette is perfect for the outdoor watercolor sketcher and I’ve already put some of my favorite paints into the pans.  Further description of this fantastic discovery will have to wait, as it’s time now to get some presents wrapped!  Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Watercolor on Gessoed Wood Panel

At last there’s time today to experiment with painting a scene in watercolor directly onto a sanded gesso panel.  This gesso preparation is meant for priming rigid surfaces such as this panel but usually for the purpose of oil or acrylic painting.  I’d read recently, however, about a watercolor painter who makes his own gessoed panels for “plein air” competitions, and thought I’d try it.  So,  earlier this week, I prepared a panel with several layers of gesso and sanded it down to a smooth surface after the gesso dried (photos below).

Baden 3

Illustration: “Twilight in Baden Baden” Watercolor on gessoed wood panel (18″ x 12″ x 1.75″)

As I tried this watercolor scene, I was pleasantly surprised by the effect on the panel and could instantly see the possibilities, with more practice, to  “lift” paint for lighter effects, glaze, scrape, create patterns and give more depth or dimension to the painting.  I’m sure I’ll be trying this again.  (To make the gesso, I used the Gamblin brand for traditional gesso and followed the instructions.)

Gesso panel

Illustration: Gessoed wood panel

Plain panel

Illustration: Plain wood panel

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Lichtentaler Allee in Water/color

A drizzly rain-slicked early evening in mid-November found me disembarking from a train in Baden Baden, Germany and soon walking along the historic Lichtentaler Allee.

Baden

Illustration: “Lichtentaler Allee” in watercolor and gouache on Arches rough paper (7″x10″) by Black Elephant Blog author

A bluish-purple hillside loomed faintly in the distance. Colors reflected on the drenched pavement as bicyclists made their way through the park on their way home from work.  There were no crowds, only dog walkers and the occasional person with an umbrella.  Amber lights shone through the trees onto the “river” Oos which winds its way through the ages of time here.  It’s impossible to stop and sketch but it’s a scene that sticks with me.  I will attempt it next on a gessoed wood panel but again in watercolor.

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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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acrylic painting, Uncategorized

Fall Colors in Acrylic on Paper

I’m back home from overseas again in time to catch the last of the fall colors–coppers, golds, ochres, and dark rose–still glinting in the bright sunshine as I make my way past a nearby lake.  This is the sort of scene I typically try to capture in watercolor.

laketrees

Illustration: “Last Days of Fall,” Acrylic on Bockingford watercolor paper, roughly 9″ x 12″ by Black Elephant Blog author

This time, though, I’m determined to paint with acrylics in something of a “watercolor” style on watercolor paper, as I can see examples of such work by an artist whose work is exhibited in a gallery near this lake. (Hers is more abstract with other media included, such as alcohol inks,as well.)  So back at home, it’s time for this experiment.  As with watercolor, finding the right amount of water to achieve the best look is a challenge but it’s surprisingly easy to use acrylic paints on paper.  I’ll have to keep trying this out.

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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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Surprise, Uncategorized

Zoo Tranquility

Zoosketch

Illustration: “Waterfall at the National Zoo,” watercolor and pen-and-ink in 9″ x 12″ Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author

Things must be getting pretty crazy if, oxymoronically, the zoo becomes an oasis of peace and quiet.  On a recent Sunday, however–with absolutely perfect weather in Washington, D.C. (while sadly, elsewhere, the opposite conditions prevailed)–that’s what happened.

Near the Carousel, and opposite the tall rock waterfall of the enclosure for the lemurs on one side and dozens of turtles on the other,there was a perfect patch of higher ground for sketching.  The sound of falling water reduced all other sounds, including that of the Carousel music,  to a background hush, even though crowds streaming past on pathways below and to either side of me became thicker over time.

While the rest of my party was otherwise engaged for a spell, I tried to capture this tranquil scene, amazed really, that the zoo could offer such a peaceful spot with the constant sound of a waterfall.  I found the paper in the Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook initially pretty frustrating for watercolor; it is really for washes (as it says!) so appreciates a light touch.  But if you let your work dry and keep the cover closed on it, the page will smooth out and can accept more color.

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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

Summer Lingers On, Happily

Memorial Bridge1

Illustration: “Indian Summer on the Potomac River”, Watercolor and pen-and-ink on a quarter sheet of Arches rough watercolor paper (2017)

It’s becoming more important than ever these days to take breaks from your computer screen, from the daily jarring news… lest all the traumatic news somehow dangerously deplete you.  Fortunately around here, the glorious weather continues without the humidity of summer, making every day the perfect day to be outdoors.  The leaves are still mostly green and lit up like jewels with the sun’s light behind them.  On a day in the middle of the work week, a few kayakers moved silently on the glass-like surface of the Potomac River in downtown D.C.  (The watercolor above was done initially as a pen sketch on watercolor paper, as this watercolorist discovered too late while out walking that she had no water with her to use with paint.  It was finished up later.)

FDR 3

Photo of quote carved in stone at FDR memorial in Washington, D.C.

FDR 2

Photo of quote carved in stone at FDR memorial in Washington, D.C.

Nearby, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial adjacent to the glorious Tidal Basin, many quotes from the former president are carved in stone and most of them seem timely today.  How wonderful that they are here to remind the many visitors from across the country and around the world what our country stands for.

FDR !

Photo: Photo of quote at FDR memorial in Washington, D.C. 2017

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Surprise, Uncategorized

Bartholdi Park In DC

Bartholdipark

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink, “Bartholdi Park,”  in Canson Montval 5.5 in by 8.5in 140 lb cold press paper sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author

Weekends are great time for meeting up with other people of all ages and backgrounds who like to sketch, draw and paint–and so that’s what a bunch of us did on a recent beautiful and warm Sunday in Washington, D.C.  Through this artistic connection, I learned of a park I’d never noticed.

It’s called Bartholdi Park, after the sculptor who designed the beautiful fountain the middle of the park.  Bartholdi later went on to design and produce the Statue of Liberty.(A previous blog post on Bartholdi’s home in Colmar, France is here on this blog.)  This park is an oasis of calm in the middle of Washington, D.C.–on Capitol Hill, no less.  The two-acre park is actually part of the National Botanical Garden across the street, but it’s a place where you can sit under any number of shade umbrellas at tables with chairs and enjoy the sound of the fountain and admire the bright flowers and greenery all around!

The Bartholdi Fountain is known as the “Fountain of Light and Water” and was designed  for the 1876 Philadelphia exposition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the United States (see Wikipedia for more info).  Thus its presence in D.C. seems appropriate.  Certainly, its beauty is something amazing to behold.  It’s an ornate fountain that is very hard to capture in a sketch but intriguing enough to make you want to return and try again.

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Uncategorized

Lakeside reflections #3

Lakeside2

Ilustration: “Twilight on the Water,” Watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches rough paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

Yesterday evening I returned to sitting on a bank of a nearby lake on the day we all got the horrific news of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history which had occurred overnight in Las Vegas.  And the view in front of me did not disappoint; perfect for a respite from the social media space of constant updates on the tragedy, I faced a tranquil scene as the sun slid ever more behind the trees at the far end of the lake.  The lake surface reflected the bright yellow of the leaves in the evening sun, making a sharp contrast with the dark shadows of the trees.  A very confident kayaker dressed in a flowing white shirt seemingly more suitable for dining al fresco on the Piazza Navona stroked briskly by right in front of me, with the brilliant red of his kayak dominating the scene.  Before too long, he was out of sight, and it was all I could do to try to recreate the impression he left.  After about an hour, it was time to go; the light was fading, some bugs were biting in the tall grasses, but the effort was well worth the time spent.

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Uncategorized

Harbor of Konstanz

Continuing with watercolors from recent travels, I will post one of the harbor area near the Hauptbahnhof, or Central Train Station, in Konstanz (Constance), Germany.  At this spot,with your back to the waterfront of the Bodensee, or Lake Constance, the view of the cityscape is quite beautiful as the evening sun glances across the rooftops. People walk through the pedestrian underpass beneath the railroad tracks to get to the AltStadt (or Old City).

 

Konstanzseries

Illustration: “Harbor in Constance”, 9″x 12″ watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches rough paper by Back Elephant Blog author

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Uncategorized

Bodensee painting on wood panel

From the hilltop on the Island of Mainau in Lake Constance, or the Bodensee, you can see sailboats gliding past, far below and across the lake.  Paths crisscross the ornate botanical gardens that drape the hill.  A nice breeze makes a walk uphill and then down again to the ferryboat piers quite pleasant.  I had tried my hand at some watercolors of this scene, and lately–with news of hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, cyber-hacks and data breaches, and more surrounding us in current events–moved back to trying out some oil paints.  It’s a very different process from watercolor but keeps one’s mind on colors for the moment.  Also the palette knife, which the watercolorist mainly uses to gently peel a slice of watercolor paper out of a watercolor block, finally comes directly in contact with paint, when oil painting.  Lots to continue trying out…

Bodensee 3

Illustration: “Bodensee”, Oil on wood panel (10″ x 8″ approx) by Black Elephant Blog author

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Uncategorized

Konstanz waterfront on the Bodensee

Now that summer is coming to an end, it’s time to complete a series I’d started some time ago of watercolors of Lake Constance (or “Bodensee”) surrounded by Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.  Standing near the harbor of Lake Constance as the evening sun sank lower in the sky was like being in a watercolor, and I vowed to try to capture the magical lights and colors.  This was water in many colors, framed in the background by mountains on the far end of the lake.  Ferries depart from the pier and paddleboats are lined up in the water near the Stadtgarten.

LakeConstance

“Harbor Twilight at Lake Constance”, Watercolor and gouache on 9″ x 12″ Arches rough watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

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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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Surprise, Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Lake Reflections

August often surprises with some beautiful, low-humidity days in this area.  The beauty of nature never ceases to be awe-inspiring and, these days, a source of healing from a recent extraordinary loss and its ongoing shock waves.  So, out walking the dog earlier in the week, I took out a sketchbook again to try to capture the wonderful scene in front of me.  My personal goals included leaving some white on the page, and letting colors blend on the page even as I tried to keep them separate on the palette.  This is a neighborhood scene rich with weeping willows and even lily pad gardens.  Enormous pond reeds framed part of the view as I sat on top of an over-turned rowboat on the shore.  There’s something satisfying about plein air watercolor painting!  Sitting around this lake–never busy with visitors–is always soothing.

LakeReflections

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink sketch, August 2017, northern Virginia by Black Elephant Blog author

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living in truth, Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Remembering Andy

A glorious trip to Europe in the company of two of the small circle of people most important to me, my husband and my younger brother, ended two weeks ago today.  After returning to the US, jet-lagged, on Monday afternoon, and staying over at my brother’s house (because it was closer to the airport),  I did this watercolor the next morning while we sat together in the garden behind his house.  This garden was a favorite spot of his and faced the garage off to the side and the back of his house.

Andy's House

Illustration: Watercolor on a quarter sheet of watercolor paper, “In the Backyard of Andy’s House,” July 18, 2017 by Black Elephant Blog author

We were just enjoying the early morning sunlight, before a drive back to our own home. I was just dabbling, with the only paints I could find in the outer pockets of my suitcase: brown pink (closer to a yellow) and indanthrone blue watercolor.  While the house is actually white, I thought I could get away with the yellow because of the light morning sun crowning the trees in the backyard.

We’d had a wonderful trip to Europe, and soon we were saying our own goodbyes, as we continued on to our own home in another state.  A week went by–with all of the ordinary contacts now so special in hindsight: emails, a phone call just a week ago, then more emails…And then, quite suddenly, that brother, the younger brother, was taken from us, in a seizure that was not his first.  A father, a husband, a son, an uncle, a brother, and a friend to so many…and everything went haywire in an instant.

Andy in Konstanz

Illustration: Andy in Germany, July 2017

The world has thus been turned upside down.  From a joyous trip involving close family and magnificent sights to a gaping hole that can never be filled. My confidant and co-sketching buddy who also had great hopes for our country and our world–despite worrying evidence to the contrary–has now suddenly gone.  Such are the tough times we all must go through, in some way or other, I realize.  This pain is a part of life, and we are all here temporarily.  But, it’s a fact:  Art so far has been (much) easier to do–in generally happy times.  The challenge is to work one’s way through a devastating loss, and to comfort the many people beside myself who also are affected–as my brother would also want.

I have a feeling I will paint again.  My brother would not want me to stop. RIP my soulmate:  I can’t believe it but I must accept it somehow that we won’t again be sitting somewhere in a green field sketching some historic view together.  I am thankful, so thankful, that just a little more than two weeks ago, we were doing so in Germany and France. Rest in peace.  The world is diminished without you in it.

I share this here because I started writing this blog in a spurt of joy and relief in the week after this brother of mine was discharged from a rehabilitation hospital following a highly risky surgery in late 2014. It was called “elective surgery” because you had to choose it, but to not choose was to choose a certainly fatal route. All the family members were very involved.  There were highs and lows.  My younger brother would tell me he liked this or that painting, and he made his own wonderful sketches. His sudden departure left many thoughts still unspoken. He would want me to carry on painting if something like this happened; we never talked about it but I do know that.  I hope he is sketching too.  These are crazy times with intense news cycles that can demand so much of our attention.  But what’s really important is often right next to us. RIP.

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Surprise, Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Watercolor Painting of Island of Mainau, Germany

Making our way by ferry on Lake Constance, not far from Konstanz, we were able to see the island of Mainau as soon as our ship passed around a small peninsula.

Mainau island 1

Illustration: Watercolor and gouache, “Bodensee”  approx. 12″ x 16″ on Hahnemuehle watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

Up ahead on the hilltop of the island, a baroque manor-palace was visible through the tall trees, including palms.  Once we disembarked, we found that the whole island was a park, with a few cafes and restaurants. To get to the palace, you must walk up some steep and winding paths, lined with flower beds. Here and there are…banana trees!  It can be surprising to see banana trees in this area, but their presence attests to the mild climate of the lake region.

FullSizeRender

Illustration: On-site sketch in small Stillman & Birn “Zeta” sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

The view from the top makes your effort worthwhile. This island is famous as a botanical garden–the whole island–which is why it also is known as “flower island.”  It has many walkways, one of which is a large flower bed designed to show, with plants and flowers, all the towns around the large lake of Constance, or “Bodensee” in German.  There also are sculptures and statues in the gardens, about which it has been difficult so far to learn anything.   (Despite the tourist crowds, this is a highly protected botanical environment–rightly so–so clearly I did not use watercolor paints in this area but concluded the sketches after the trip. Moreover, as many have noted before me, it can be difficult to fit in a sketch when traveling with even a small group of companions.)  From here we soon were headed, again by ferry, to the other side of the lake.

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Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Water/Color in Konstanz,Germany

Konstanz 2

Illustration: Watercolor and gouache on 12″x 8.5″ watercolor paper, “Harbor of Konstanz”, by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

They say that for the best views of Konstanz (in the south of Germany on the border with Switzerland), you need to be on the water.  The views from Konstanz, however, seem equally remarkable to me, especially in the changing light at the end of the day.  Recently I sat right down to make a sketch, fascinated with the lemony tinge of the treetops in the evening sunlight and the sailboats in the distance.  Later I made a watercolor of the same scene, experimenting with some watercolor paper made in Germany.  (A great deal of art material we’ve come to expect actually comes from Germany, home of many types of inks, watercolor brushes and the Lamy fountain pen.)

Konstanz is a great city for walking around, and almost everyone here seems to go to work by bike or bus.  The city is nearly surrounded by water, the air is fresh and mild, with nice breezes coming off of Lake Constance, or the “Bodensee” in German.  Three countries border on this vast lake: Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. You can see mountain peaks blending with clouds in the distance, and know you are looking at Austria or Switzerland.  This is a great jumping off point for explorations by ferryboat to the many sights around the lake, including the island of Mainau (pronounced “my-now”) with its semi-tropical atmosphere, palm trees, and an ornate hilltop palace built by Swedish nobility that can be seen from far away.  I’ll save all that for a future post though.   The hordes of tourists reportedly over-running Venice this summer are absent here.  There is no shortage of sight-seers on the ferries but the crowds are manageable.  In short, it’s no wonder this area has long attracted writers, artists, travelers,  sailing enthusiasts–and people seeking to relax in the many spas around Lake Constance.

Stadtgarten Konstanz

Illustration: Pen-and-ink sketch of the Stadtgarten, as seen from the Harbor of Konstanz, Germany, July 2017 by Black Elephant Blog author

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Surprise, Uncategorized

In Colmar, France on the 4th of July

colmar 1

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink, “Colmar, France Street view” by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

For those arriving in Colmar, France by car, it can be a big surprise to see a huge replica of the Statue of Liberty at the entrance to the city in the middle of a busy traffic circle.  And never more so, I imagine, for the unsuspecting arriving on the 4th of July, for that was the case for me recently.

Colmar 4

Photo taken on 4 July 2017 at the traffic circle entrance to the French city of Colmar, France by Black Elephant Blog author

Thus it was that the next day I headed to the former home of the creator of the Statue of Liberty, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi ( 2 August 1834 – 4 October 1904).  Now a museum, the Bartholdi home was not yet open for the day

Illustration: Pen-and-ink sketch at Bartholdi Museum, Colmar, France

so I spent some time in the shade of the courtyard sketching the sculpture in the middle, which is known as “Les Grand Soutiens du Monde” of “The World’s Great Bases”) representing “Justice, Labour and the Motherland” which was exhibited at the ‘Salon de Paris’ in 1902.  Unsurprisingly, there were other sketchers present in parks and leaning against fountains around the town.

Back out on the streets of Colmar, there was so much to see and do–and taste!  No

Illustration: Street scene in Colmar, France, watercolor and pen-and-ink

wonder there were so many tourists there, mostly from elsewhere in Europe and from Asia, it seemed.  We were on our way to new places much too soon, but so glad to have the experience of visiting Colmar, and knowing that if the opportunity arises, we’ll be back.

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Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty

Speyer Cathedral in Watercolor

 

Under overcast skies and amid a gentle breeze today it was pleasant to walk around Speyer, Germany, which is famous for its UNESCO World Heritage site, the Speyer Cathedral, and surrounding stately parks.  (This city also gave English the word for “spire” as in church “spire.”)  Speyer is one of Germany’s oldest cities:  located by the Rhine river, this area was first settled by the Romans (a Roman military camp was established here in 10 B.C.).

Speyer photo

Illustration: View of the Speyer Cathedral from Maximilian Strasse on July 2, 2017 (Photo)

Just yesterday evening, it would have been impossible to enter this area, due to the funeral services held in this historic Cathedral for former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, given all the dignitaries, including the current German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and security forces here as a result.

But this morning, with the shops closed for Sunday, it was calm and full of people sitting in outdoor cafes feasting from tall ice cream sundays and sipping on lattes.  Although the world came to this place just yesterday, with many eyes on the live coverage of the

Speyer Cathedral 1
Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink, “Speyer Cathedral”, by Black Elephant Blog author, 2017

funeral of a man who is identified with the cause of European Union, today it was possible to feel a bit away from the distractions of the world, to wonder at the vast archaeological treasures of this region represented by impressive displays in a small museum–and to even sit in a cafe alongside the relaxed cafe drinkers.  From one of those cafes, protected by large umbrellas from a misty uncertain drizzle, I managed to sketch out a partial view of the massive 11th century (its construction began in 1030 A.D.!) church in front of me.

It is so big that I ended up sketching just the top half (seen above), with the historic buildings alongside the pedestrian mall crowding into the picture..

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oil painting, Risk, Uncategorized

Oil Painting Canadian Geese in Times of U.S. Turmoil

When one is accustomed to watercolor painting, experimenting with oil paints is initially frustrating.  There are a lot of differences and one is that it’s a whole lot messier. There must be a method to your madness too, or the colors will quickly become muddy from careless mixing and intermingling of brushes.  I set myself up with some Gamblin oil paints, which came with a handy 6″ x 12″ wooden panel.  I used this panel as my first surface (seen below). It’s easy to see how (and why) one could spend a lifetime trying to master this. As with watercolor, however, there is a difference between somewhat heavy-handed applications of paint, and a lighter hand.  It’s all going to require a lot more experimenting…

LA4

Illustration: “Canadian Geese on a Fountain”, Oil on 6″ x12″ panel by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

As to this image, it sprang to mind when I faced off with the blank wooden panel. While out taking a walk recently, I noticed that a nearby fountain is currently undergoing maintenance and our ubiquitous Canadian geese were resting on it in the middle of the lake.  This became my subject.  But remembering what Canadian geese look like proved harder than it should be–given that there are so many in this area that groups of them waddle through parking lots in search of food.  So I went out and looked at them again!

LA5

Illustration:  Trying to make the Canadian geese more realistic!

A “touch up” later and the whole thing got still more complicated; (maybe this is like revising an already unacceptable healthcare bill).  When I start over next time,  I will try to stick with simple shapes, and see what happens.  Anyway, this is welcome distraction from the just-announced “healthcare” bill which, if passed, will cause immense damage to this country, apparently intentionally so!

A brief break from the easel to check the news online… and what do I see?   Video clips of U.S. Capitol Police trying to carry elderly and apparently disabled people out of the halls of the U.S. Capitol…   This is not very positive imagery for the erstwhile “leader of the free world” clearly.   Evidently these people had gathered there at considerable personal effort, in wheelchairs and on canes, to protest the secretly cobbled-together “healthcare” bill that will throw all of them out onto the street.  Here they were being picked up off the floor to be carried out to the street…how symbolic of the new government approach to people in need.  These are exactly the type of people who will be harmed the most if this bill passes, as major insurances companies warned again just today:  The proposed bill will most hurt “74 million low-income, disabled and elderly Americans whose health care coverage through Medicaid” depends on Congress’s next moves.  Right now, their obvious preferred option is to make the rich richer, and let the less fortunate fall through the widening cracks, come what may…  What kind of policy-maker thinks this way?

Ironic that Canadian geese must have determined this is a better place to live when, at least for American people (except for the famous “1 %”), it will become much more difficult in the U.S. in the years ahead. That is, unless we suddenly see an outbreak of forward-thinking readiness to consider the public good  among the people’s elected representatives–thinking that is not much in evidence, tragically.   They cannot connect the dots between the public good and national and global security, obviously.

As I turn back to the easel, I think about what I just saw:  U.S. Senators are embracing a bill that the U.S. President has described as “mean” even as he urges them to pass it without delay. It’s not making America great apparently that is the goal, but making America “mean”?  How could this sort of thinking possibly prepare this great nation for the unprecedented challenges rushing headlong at us, irrespective of our political leanings, in the years just ahead?  Clearly making sense of the news is harder than painting in oils.  I’ll stick with the task at hand…for now.

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Uncategorized

Getting Away From It All in Quebec

It’s been a busy time lately with travel and painting side-by-side with must-do’s, but I found myself recently on the banks of a roaring stream, conveniently located next to the best place to be in the small town of Val David, Quebec:  a microbrewery-cum-quaint-inn–a true jewel of a find.  (It is called “Le Baril Roulant MicroBrasserie” should you wish to look it up.)

ValDavid (2)

Illustration: “Val David, Quebec,” Watercolor and gouache in a home-made sketchbook with hot press Arches watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

Being in places different from one’s usual world is always great for curious people, and this was no exception.  About an hour outside of Montreal, Val David is perfectly situated for a weekend get-away.  There are several choices of places to stay, like this place (below) seen from the bike path.

ValDavidcafe

Illustration: “C’est La Vie Cafe”, Val David, Quebec, watercolor and gouache on Arches cold press paper (2017)

There’s always so much to absorb–great museums (with a tremendous exhibition on Chagall), wonderful sights, and sounds–in Montreal.  Layers upon layers of new impressions mix in with older assumptions, and it is quite clear suddenly that new approaches must be tried as soon as one gets home:  this is always one of the benefits of travel.

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living in truth, Risk, Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Mother Nature and the “Art of the Deal”

Planet

Illustration: Watercolor and gouache, “Where Do We Go From Here?”, by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

This week we are supposedly going to learn if the United States will stay in the Paris Climate Agreement alongside nearly 200 other countries which, like the United States, are already parties to the deal.  By the end of this week, we may learn that the United States has decided to join the two countries, Syria and Nicaragua, on the sidelines.

It is unclear why this latter course would make sense. It makes no sense to a whole range of major multinational corporations, however, such as:

Adobe, Allianz, Apple, BP, Chevron, DuPont, eBay, Exxon Mobile, Gap, General Mills, Google, Hilton, Intel, Johnson&Johnson, Kellogg Company, L’Oreal, Microsoft, Monsanto, Nike, Royal Dutch Shell, Salesforce, Staples, Starbucks, Symantec, Tesla, Dow Chemical Company, Tiffany&Co., and Unilever.

It makes good economic sense, it turns out, to embrace reality.  Who knew?  (That reality is something which, to be fair, has been ignored for a long time, in the sense that civilization itself depends on a stable climate and healthy ecosystems.)

Just last month, the planet’s atmosphere breached the 410 ppm (parts per million) threshold for carbon dioxide concentration, a height not reached in millions of years. This means our atmosphere is trapping more heat and accelerating changes in our climate.  Scientists say we’re on track to create a climate unseen in 50 million years by mid-century.*

So it’s hard to see what kind of “deal” would be worth taking that kind of risk.  In fact, Mother Nature doesn’t care a whit about the “art of the deal” and she has the upper hand for sure.

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Innovation, Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

On a Lighter Note

There’s not much more uplifting than to watch dozens of talented middle-schoolers play in the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestra.

BSYO3

Illustration: “Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestra,” watercolor, gouache, pen and ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

It is hard to imagine how their performance could have been any more professional!!

This concert was held in the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in downtown Baltimore, Maryland on Mother’s Day 2017.

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Innovation, living in the truth, Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, Watercolor Painting

Scams, Shams, and (Body) Slams

While preparing for a presentation (and a little book stemming from it), and doing some color studies for sketches to accompany them, the news has continued to be very distracting as it is presumably for everyone. In the last 24 hours alone, from a journalist sent crashing to the floor allegedly “body slammed” by a person aspiring to elected office (or is he already in office?)–to confirmation from the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) that the health of our nation is going to take a huge body blow if the latest health care plan is passed–to disconcerting news about NATO (also “body slammed?”), it is tough to keep one’s eyes on the task at hand.  But perhaps the combination of these colliding impressions is good for something after all…

In sorting through older material, I came across the famous “boiling frog”–a metaphor, of course, for not noticing when there are gradual changes in your surroundings, until it is too late.  According to the metaphor, a frog in a pot of slowly heating water will not react quickly enough to save himself and will eventually die.  (This is literally not true; the frog will jump out if he can, apparently.  I myself have not tested it, but I respect scientists and experts and they have).

boiling frog image

Image: Watercolor, gouache, and ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2014)

This is a week too in which we have heard the word “suborn” used in open testimony. It’s a useful word.  It seems related to another one rarely heard:  “inure”, which the dictionary defines as “becoming accustomed to something, especially something unpleasant.”  (Perhaps this is a good time to recommend a currently best-selling new little book, available on Amazon for less than $6:  On Tyranny:  Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century,” by Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale.)

With so much coming at us almost hourly, it sometimes seems like the fate of the world is being decided right now.

WhereDoWeGoFromHere?

Illustration: Color study, Watercolor, acrylic and gouache, “Where Do We Go From Here?” by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

People are tired of being distracted by it but the most conscientious know that too much is at stake to turn away. Much as we might like to, we can’t tune out what is going on because it’s unfortunately true– the fate of the world is being decided right now.  And if we tune out, we will surely not be as fortunate as the sensitive frog who manages to escape the dangers of his warming world.

So, we must not become inured to the bruising pace of the news cycle.  It seems to me essential to find ways collectively to both deal with every incoming distraction and yet look beyond it to make sense in time of where we are going and might wish to go instead.

Momentous times indeed, but I have faith we will prove to be at least as smart as  frogs.  So back to the drawing board…

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

Half-Truths and Lies

Events recently reminded me of sketches done while wandering in the halls of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. not so long ago.  This is an inspiring place which often is missed by visitors to the capital because it is not on the Mall. It is a bit off the beaten path.  But in this Gallery is so much history, so much art, and so much that is astonishing.  It is a relaxing place too with lots of places to sit, including in a covered light- and plant-filled atrium.

tennyson

“A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson Illustraton: Pencil sketch by Black Elephant Blog author of a bronze bust of Alfred Lord Tennyson sculpted by William Ordway Partridge and located in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art

Co-joined with the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art (which is where I came across an intriguing bust of Alfred Lord Tennyson), this entire city block is devoted to the proud history and artistic accomplishments of the people of the United States, and visitors to the United States, right up to the present time.  Like the National Constitution Center and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, these two museums present powerful evidence of the fact that this nation is built on a pretty solid foundation, if only we would bother to understand and protect it.

With so much to keep up with these days, it’s more likely than not that we will pay inadequate attention to the requirements for this solid foundation–which is a huge risk that has been with us at least since the onset of the digital revolution.

In our social media-saturated world, we are more likely to be guilty of rushing to judgment than pausing long enough to try to understand what’s going on.  That’s why taking some time out to sit in the National Portrait Gallery can be helpful!  Sketching has a way of concentrating the mind at the same time that it opens us up to new perspectives.  At the National Portrait Gallery, you can bring your drawing tools right inside, and the atrium/courtyard is a perfect place to practice drawing people in motion too.

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Plein Air Painting Along the Shenandoah River

Picnic Tales watercolor

Illustration: Watercolor and bistre ink by Black Elephant Blog author on the banks of the Shenandoah River, 2017

What’s better than a riverfront campsite at a beautiful campground on a warm April day?  Not much, it seemed, this past weekend.  In such a gorgeous spot, it was great to have some watercolor painting gear with me.  What a relaxing way to practice painting lights and darks in watercolor.  And no Internet service to be had for miles around: so, no news.

I tried the technique of sketching first in a Sharpie pen (brown or black) to indicate where on the page the darkest darks would go.  Then I ‘painted’ over those darks with some water-proof bistre ink.  From there I proceeded to the lighter washes, and then some details.  It seemed to work.

tent watercolor

Illustration: Watercolor and pastel pencil, “Camping on the Banks of the Shenandoah River” by Black Elephant Blog author

With nothing to distract me, and no “must-do’s” around,

Painting at camp

Illustration: Trying to capture lights and darks in watercolor while camping along the Shenandoah River (photo and art by Black Elephant Blog author), 2017

it was wonderful to be able to experiment in this way, enjoying the gentle breezes and shade where I was sitting.

Nearby some friends relaxed, including one lounging in a hammock he’d brought along.

Campsite sketch

Illustration: Evening with friends at the campground along the Shenandoah River, watercolor sketch by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

River View

This is a place known more for fishing, kayaking and rafting…but it is also a prime spot for painting, I’ve discovered.  From the time you opened the flap to your tent at the first light of dawn, there were sights that demanded to be painted!

Sunrise on the Shenandoah River

Illustration: Sunrise on the Shenandoah River (photo by Black Elephant Blog author) April 2017

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acrylic painting, living in truth, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Marching for Science

Illustration: “Marching for Science on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.” (2017), acrylic on 12″ x 16″ canvas by Black Elephant Blog author

On a rain-slicked Saturday afternoon this past weekend–on Earth Day and March for Science Day–tens of thousands of people walked patiently and enthusiastically down Constitution Avenue holding up signs affirming the importance of science and facts. It was a scene that would have been impossible to imagine (especially:  to imagine even as necessary) only a year or so ago. The spirit of the people seemed high, despite the constant drizzle and occasionally stronger rain. It was a sea of umbrellas; and the biggest challenge for me was to keep my umbrella out of other people’s way.  All around us, scientists, teachers, doctors, and children made their way towards the U.S. Capitol on an otherwise mild Spring day.

The colors and atmosphere of this historic event seemed to call for an effort in the new acrylic paints I’ve just started trying out.  Using several photos of groups of people passing in front of the National Archives afterwards, I found that trying to capture the reflections on the wet pavement was a fun challenge.  In some ways, the scene seemed easier to capture in acrylic than in the more familiar (for me) watercolor.  I’ll now have another medium to choose from in the future.

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Innovation, Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

A Brown Pink Bottle in a Window

While taking a break from work this week (as well as from the always overwhelming news especially with the tragic reports this week from the already unimaginably devastated Syria), I came across four colored bottles perched side-by-side at the back of a shelf in a store.  As they were priced to sell, I bought them with the thought that they’d be great for watercolor projects. Painting glass objects is something I see watercolor artists do all the time–at least online– and many of them exhibit a great deal of talent in their work.  This seemed like a good exercise for me at this point. So I propped them up on my angled drafting table, where they picked up the daylight, and considered what would be involved.

Colored bottles in a window photo

Illustration: Photo of colored bottles in a window

Today I decided that I’d use the new-on-the-market L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage 140 lb. hot press paper.  I’d noticed in the past month that it takes watercolor very well without being too absorbent so I hoped to achieve a more transparent look with the bottle project.  As with any paper, it takes some testing to figure out how much paint to apply for different results.

First, though, I did a draft on a smaller piece of Canson cold press watercolor paper in a sketchbook I’ve come to like for carrying around outdoors; the paper quality is great and the spiral notebook opens flat and is light.   As I did this, I considered how to match the colors of the actual bottles.Canson watercolor sketchbook

The amber-yellow glass bottle in my small collection suddenly reminded me of the largish tube I have of the so-called “brown pink” watercolor paint by Sennelier.  I know that this paint, despite its storied history as a favorite of the likes of John Singer Sargent, is controversial due to its suspected or proven problems with lightfastness. I have not tested it but I did want to use it for this watercolor as I suspected that the “brown pink” shade would come close to matching the yellow-green tint of the glass bottle, and I was right.

As you can see, I do have a lot of the brown pink paint (which says right on the tube “N.R.”, meaning “not rated” (for lightfastness) and, fortunately, I discovered that I like its effects on paper very much.

Brown pink paint

Brown pink watercolor paint

Today’s experts on watercolor paints would probably advise against using it at all, but certainly for art you are not selling–and art you are doing in the privacy of your own home!–it must be ok.  (The reason experts advise against using such “fugitive” paints is that they have a reputation for not holding their color under prolonged exposure to light.   Introducing paintings into the art market using fugitive paints tends to compromise the ability of other watercolor artists, who don’t use fugitive paints, to get the best prices for their art work, according to these arguments.)

Following some sketching to get a bit more confident drawing the bottles, I turned to the larger sheet of watercolor paper, taped to a strong board.  I used a bit of masking fluid to hold some small spaces white on the bottles, and also used some drafting tape to cover up the surface of the drafting table depicted in the drawing.

Toward the end of the day, my painting looked like this (photo below).  The project held my attention as I am not accustomed to trying to achieve the transparency of glass in watercolor.  The bottles also have some decorative effects which I tried partially to capture.  I will keep the bottles handy to practice more transparent watercolor painting–perhaps even fugitively, with my one or two of my favorite fugitive watercolors.

Bottles in a Window

Illustration: Watercolor, gouache, and pen and ink, “Brown Pink Bottle Et.Al.”,  by Black Elephant Blog author on 9.1″x12.2″ L’Aquarelle Canson Heritage hot press paper (April 2017)

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living in truth, Uncategorized, urban sketching

Wandering through older sketches to make sense of the present

Blog post writing has taken a bit of a backseat lately.  Preparation for classes could be one excuse, but it wouldn’t be true. I guess it’s because I’ve been doing more thinking than drawing in this age of discontinuity.  The recent blast of winter in this area complete with snow and ice this year sadly has been too much for the many blossoms and flowers that proliferated here during an unseasonably warm February. Even the geese on a nearby lake are a bit confused by the eccentric weather.

This sort of disorientation (yes, that exhibited by the geese–as in “where are we?”) has been mirrored by the befuddlement of many people around the world at the jarring reports of current political events, especially domestically–more on that below.  Just as the early blossoms thought that the Spring in February was real, we humans are confused as to the political climate we are living through….

Looking back to look forward sometimes is useful, as paging through older sketchbooks can remind one.  While looking ahead to a forthcoming exhibition of my watercolors and sketches, I came across a few of my sketches from the past:

dupont circle

Illustration: Watercolor sketch, “Dupont Circle,” by Black Elephant Blog author (2016)

Lately, with the sun briefly peering out again, there are more inspiring palettes to explore in the near future…

vangogh

Illustration: Watercolor sketch by Black Elephant Blog author (2016)

On the geopolitical level of human affairs, the emerging palette is more complicated–even “complex”– a crucial distinction not yet as appreciated as it could be, though “complexity”–as in complex systems–is something we spend a lot of time on in the university graduate class I teach.  Making sense of complex problems is a necessary starting point to resolving them–and is too often a (very intellectually-demanding and time-consuming) step skipped over, as we have recently seen an example of in the healthcare arena.

Similarly understanding this moment in our collective human history requires us to draw from the experience “palettes” of a wide variety of people in order to understand our true options going forward.  I would include in this “experience palette” respected contemporary professors of history, such as Dr. Timothy Snyder–whom I had the privilege of hearing speak in person at a local bookstore recently.  People doing fresh thinking about economics also have an essential role

Rodin The Thinker

Illustraton: Watercolor, “”The Thinker’ at the Entrance to Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, PA” (2017) by Black Elephant Blog author

to play in the efforts to apply different palettes to our common future.  And a look back to the founders and founding documents of this American nation would also be essential, as I just did a week ago by wandering through the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia again.

It’s true, at least for me, that once you become accustomed to painting–and more vitally, living and making choices– in ‘plein air,’ it’s harder to settle for bleak cold days–whether due to the weather or the political climate.

We can call up sketches of the past to help us make sense of the present.   Are the things which divide us still more important than taking stock in a clear-eyed way of what actually has happened and what pathways forward lie ahead?  These processes are sometimes known as “scenario practice,” “forward reasoning,” and simply “foresight”–also processes we focus on in class. There is no end to the usefulness of learning we can gain from those who have studied the past, I’ve concluded.   As Professor Timothy Snyder tells us in his work linking the history of Eastern Europe to our present, the choice is (still) ours to make.

 

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