Practicing with a limited palette of Raw Umber, Ultramarine Blue, and Titanium White, my subject for this oil painting exercise are the rooftops–which actually are various shades of orange and red–of Tübingen, as seen from the window of a fourth floor walkup attic apartment in a house dating from the 1500s. Far below in the thicket of roofs and small balconies are narrow streets that wind their way through this ancient university town on the Neckar River in Germany. I will attempt to do a wider landscape scene of the rooftops in a more realistic palette quite soon. There is a great view of the city from the castle just up the street from this house–a castle which houses the humanities department of the University of Tübingen, which itself was founded in 1477.
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…
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…