Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Great Falls Annual Plein Air Competition

Days of high humidity continue but this hasn’t deterred plein air painters this week from getting out around Great Falls, Virginia during the 4-day annual plein air competition going on now.

Colvin Run Mill Path

Illustration: “Colvin Run,” Watercolor on Arches rough watercolor paper, approximately 11.25″ x 8.25″ by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

I set up my easel on a gravel path on the grounds of the Colvin Run Mill, which was built in 1811.   It’s a still-functioning mill where mill stone wheels grind wheat and corn.  The grinding stone wheels set inside a hillside in the park here have caught my attention on previous visits.  I decided they would be my subject on this sweaty afternoon!

Colvin Run Mill easel

Illustration: Photo of author’s easel set up today at Colvin Run Mill, Great Falls, Virginia

Rain is in the forecast for the rest of the weekend so it’s hard to say if I’ll produce any more paintings in time for the contest’s deadline on Sunday afternoon.

Stop by the Great Falls Art Gallery on the Village Green if you’d like to see what area painters have produced during this competition–and this painting on the gallery wall!

Colvin Run Mill Grinding Stones

Illustration: Photo of Colvin Run Mill Grinding Stones (Pinterest)

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Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Line and Wash Watercolors

It’s been a busy few weeks–with a tremendously inspiring March for Our Lives making last weekend particularly memorable!   Art and sketching have had to take a back seat while so much else (much of it historically important) is going on….

With Spring finally here, however, there’s no question that the “plein air” kit of watercolors is going to get more use.  Thus, a refresher in “Line and Wash” watercolor sketching with pen-and-ink in the form of a two-day workshop this week was perfectly timed.  Below some of the paintings I completed in the workshop, the purpose of which was to combine use of pen (such as a fine-point Sharpie, black or brown, or India ink sketched with a bamboo stick) with watercolor washes.

Jackson Square 1

Illustration: “Art in the Park,” watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Lots more to learn, as always, but it’s fun to be engaged in painting again.

Jackson Square 2

Illustration: “Jackson Square,” watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

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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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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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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, 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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Innovation, Uncategorized, Uncertainty

Goodbye to a Tumultuous Year

boating-and-fishing

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

As 2016 winds down, it’s fitting in the quiet week before a New Year to consider the meaning of Black Elephants, Black Swans and the other metaphorical creatures of surprise, such as the boiling frog,  who opened up this blog two years ago this month.  There’s been a lot more attention given to them since then in other venues.  It’s surprising but true.  It’s equally surprising but true that the journey of many artists has, it seems to me, much to offer the rapidly changing world in which we find ourselves today–if we were to want to face up to these creatures of surprise.  This is because artists often try to see beyond the surface impressions to get at the truth of things–that’s what gives art its special meaning to many of us.

One could even say that we live in Black Elephant times if, by that, what we mean is what Thomas Friedman referred to in his op-ed of two years ago, called “Stampeding Black Elephants.”  In that article, he defined the metaphor “Black Elephant” as follows:

 “a cross between “a black swan” (an unlikely, unexpected event with enormous ramifications) and the “elephant in the room” (a problem that is visible to everyone, yet no one still wants to address it) even though we know that one day it will have vast, black-swan-like consequences.”

As I understand it, the phrase (which Friedman picked up from an environmentalist he’d recently met) “Black Elephants” refers to the concept of the uncomfortable, unthinkably unpalatable “elephant in the room” that we would rather not discuss or acknowledge, and therefore–too often–fail to address in time.  (This is also known as the “boiling frog syndrome,” or the “ostrich with its head in the sand,” or the “deer in the headlights” syndrome, etc.)

boiling frog image

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

This concept covers the increasingly (but extraordinarily dangerous) popular tendency to avoid what the accumulated history of knowledge and scientific progress tells us to be true. And so, perhaps it is another “Black Elephant” to observe that these “elephants” may be multiplying right now (paradoxically and quite sadly as their real-life versions dwindle in number due to poaching and encroachment on their natural habitat.)  Facing up to these “elephants” is something that calls for well-honed critical and creative thinking skills–whereby people of all backgrounds including, of course, artists–join forces in shedding new light and creating new possibilities for dealing with the challenges of today in a fact-based way.  This is in fact how mankind has conquered so many diseases that previously killed so many in childhood.  Understanding how innovative breakthroughs occur,and accelerating our society’s capacities for innovation in so many sectors, are right now key to survival on a collective level.

Fortunately there is more awareness of these challenges, as well as our own inherently human desire to ignore them–aided by the fact of more frequent “black elephant” and “black swan” events in the last two years alone.  It turns out this awareness extends well into the suites of CEOS around the world.  I refer in particular to a recent paper, Thinking the Unthinkable: A New Imperative for Leadership in a Digital Age, which I’ll turn to soon.  Last month I had an opportunity to hear the authors brief an audience on their research findings, and found their conclusions compelling enough to include in a revised syllabus for the coming semester of classes.  Interestingly, they too distinguish in their report between “Black Swans” and “Black Elephants”; the creatures of surprise are everywhere!

Black Elephants 1

Illustration: Watercolor, gouache, ink, pencil, gesso, and coffee grounds by Black Elephant Blog author (2014)

But for now with another spring-like day of temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit, it’s time to be out enjoying the warm December weather, and re-charging our own personal energy reserves for what promises to be a challenging 2017!   Best wishes to all for a joyous New Year!

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