urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Georgetown Market Sketch

Dean &Deluca

Illustration: “Dean & DeLuca cafe,” Watercolor in Stillman & Birn Beta Series sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

After nearly a month of rain, the sun is shining in Washington, D.C.  and the humidity is high.  This is more normal weather for mid-summer in this area.  Georgetown in Washington, D.C. was buzzing with visitors and university students this afternoon.  This is a part of the city I’ve come to know well since I first arrived here to attend the university many years ago.  It’s always nice to see the townhouses of Georgetown with their interesting and sometimes quirky architectural details, ornate backyards surrounded by tall brick walls,  the mature trees shading the streets, the great colors, and the tracks of the abandoned streetcars.  There are memories everywhere in this area.

Later, after a bit of walking and shopping, it was time to duck into an air conditioned place–the market house of Dean & DeLuca–and have an iced coffee and sketch with some fellow weekend artists, while others nearby read a book or chatted with friends.

This historic red-brick building dates back to 1865 when it was constructed on top of the foundations of an even earlier 1796 structure – Washington’s oldest market, according to Architect of the Capital blog.

Georgetown Market 1937

Photo: “Georgetown Market,” National Park Service, 1937, Architect of the Capital blog

Running alongside it, on a passageway between M Street and the C&O Canal, is a dramatic green metal arcade covering a brick patio space where one can sit at any of the many tables.   (One can see from the black-and-white photo of the market as it appeared in 1937 that this arcade  structure did not exist then and is an addition to the market.)

inset

Illustration: Detail of sketch in watercolor and Uniball gold gel pen by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

It’s a great people-watching spot, and many of the sketchers today drew other people, either from real life or from their extremely rich imaginations.  It’s always fun to see the artwork other people produce on these occasions, and to hear what they are thinking about art and the work that they do.  The stories they tell are reminders, as if one needed any, that the times are very different today for many people than they were even a few years ago.  Issues raised included the cost of a university education, living in Washington, D.C., and the contrasts with countries abroad that consider education and health care public goods and thus ensure that they are affordable.  All in all, there was much “food for thought” after an afternoon spent sketching in a food market.

 

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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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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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Innovation, Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, urban sketching

Valuing the Value Study

There’s nothing like being reminded for the umpteenth time to do a “thumbnail.” For those who don’t know, this is a (usually small) simple sketch or two before attempting to dive right into drawing or painting the work you have in mind. Often it takes a teacher to get through to you on this; for those more accustomed to “multi-tasking” and thinking it is doing some good, it requires a bit of discipline to keep slowing down.

Illustration:  Value study sketch (Hillwood Mansion grounds) by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Value study sketch (Hillwood Mansion grounds) by Black Elephant Blog author

In my experience, this business of reinforcing what we’ve already supposedly learned is one of the main benefits of keeping anchored in a class or two–so that your habits do not become too sloppy. And of course you keep learning new stuff even as you are reminded about the “old stuff.”

So, in the current class in pastel painting, the teacher handed out this handy little value chart (which I’ve protected in a little plastic sheath–see photo below).

Illustration:  Photo of value scale

Illustration: Photo of value scale

When we do thumbnails or sketches, one purpose (besides mapping out a composition) is to do a value study–a study of the “values” or the tones or shades of contrast. While it is tempting (and normal) to jump right to the details, I have learned that the details often blind us to the really important things in art (and elsewhere?…) –like values, shapes and shadows. This requires re-training the brain for many of us.  Doing value studies is the most direct form of problem-solving I’ve encountered so far in my art education. (And it seems quite transferable to other fields requiring problem-solving.)

While can be more fun to jump straight into colors (and sometimes, depending on what you are seeking to achieve, it is a good idea!), learning to see the values, shapes and shadows has its own delights. Doing this in different media, including water-soluble graphite…

Value Study in Graphite crayon

Illustration: Value study in water-soluble graphite by Black Elephant Blog author

and conte crayon

National Gallery of Art value study

Illustration: Conte crayon value study of Richard Serra metalwork sculpture (East Wing, National Gallery of Art) by Black Elephant Bog author

also provides valuable learning opportunities.

So during a recent visit to the majestic, privately-run Hillwood Museum and Gardens estate in the heart of Washington, D.C., the grounds were so beautiful underneath a

Hillwood photo

Illustration: Garden sculpture at the Hillwood Mansion and Gardens, Washington, D.C. –Photo by Black Elephant Blog author

clear blue sky that it was nearly impossible to go inside. Instead the sights of flowering trees and bushes, the gentle slope of the “Lunar Lawn”, and ornate garden sculptures were captivating. Frankly, it was a challenge to detect the “values” in different shades in such a riot of bright color. In addition, the diversity of people, from all over the world, and particularly Russian families, made it an even more memorable afternoon.  (The Hillwood Estate of Marjorie Meriweather Post features the most comprehensive collection of Russian imperial art outside of Russia, according to its website.)

Such a glorious visit to the Hillwood mansion gardens has provided much fodder for future practice in value studies and beyond…

  •    A small Japanese garden, for instance, features two   whimsical bridges, leading to a roughly sketched out ‘work-in-progress’ in pastel.

Pastel work-in-progress

  • And, a toddler sitting in the tall grass already has provided inspiration for a series of sketches and value studies…

    Boy sketch 1

    Illustration:  Sketch of Toddler sitting in tall grass at Hillwood Mansion, Washington, D.C. by Black Elephant Blog author

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