I’ve had my first oil painting class this week, along with 15 other students. It’s exciting to finally learn the processes involved in using this medium, including the proper positioning of one’s easel. There’s simply no alternative to learning the basics. I have dabbled before but knew I was missing some key information not to mention also a lifetime of experience. It’s wonderful to learn about underpainting canvases, using a palette knife to mix colors, creating different values, and so forth. So very different from watercolor, but it’s going to be fun to keep up with both types of painting. One of my older experiments on wood panel accompanies this post. More to come…
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).
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.