Uncategorized, Surprise, living in the truth

The “Other”, DACA & Diversity Watercolor Studies

Flamingo with chick

Illustration: “Flamingo and chick”, Watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Thinking about the intense efforts (as, for instance, reported upon just yesterday on the Lawfare Blog, “Beware the Slippery Slope…) by some to paint (figuratively speaking) people as “other” and somehow lesser human beings just because of their birth circumstances and, in the case of DACA young people, because of the choices of their parents, I have forged ahead during some quiet spells recently with some illustrations related to the volume on ‘diversity’ I have in mind.

Peacock 2

Illustration: “Green-gold Peacock”, Watercolor, gouache, and gold gel pen by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Painting–literally painting–is definitely a way to displace some energy that otherwise would be fruitlessly wasted watching the already-absorbed news, for instance.  It’s also very interesting to consider trying to explain concepts of diversity and discrimination through a medium (drawing) that is addressed to children.

Hippos

Illustration: “Hippos by the Water”, Watercolor and pen-and-ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Why now?  It appears to me that current events must capture the minds of those concerned about individual human tragedies, including families being separated, which are being reported in the news.   How a nation treats its own people, moreover, and other nations’ people tells us a lot about its future (and its security).

Flamingos

Illustration: “Flamingos on Rocks”, Watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

There is no better age to gain lifelong appreciation of the world’s diversity and wonder–and to nurture lifelong curiosity and thirst for learning–than  when very young…  Ensuring that children retain their curiosity is essential now more than ever to the survival of the planet.  The issues we face are not in some far off future.  They are here and now.  Already mankind needs unprecedented amounts of talent and imagination to cope with very real challenges we face today–challenges which inevitably will combine and interact in ways we can’t precisely predict.

Giraffes

Illustration: “Giraffes”, watercolor and gouache and pen-and-ink  by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

 

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Darks and Lights in Watercolor

Last weekend with below-freezing temperatures outside, intrepid watercolor painters and other artists in this  area met in a nearby community center as the initial gathering to a new watercolor group.

Audubon Zoo

Ilustration: “Audubon Oasis”, (9.4″ x 12.6″) in watercolor and gouache on Hahnemuehle cold pressed paper

Though 103 (!) individuals had signed up to attend since the announcement came out in mid-December, due to the room size attendance at this initial meeting was kept to about 16 (and, probably due to the icy weather, only about 10 actually attended–men and women of various ages and backgrounds).  Ironically (as happens) the original convener was someone who had literally just moved to the area. Perhaps for many part of the attraction was simply an excuse to get out of the house after enduring days of extraordinary Arctic cold.  But, as always happens, perfect strangers also end up as new contacts, taking note (sometimes literally) of each other’s painting techniques and favorite materials.

My painting subject during this get-together was a colorful view through some trees at New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo last November around Thanksgiving.  The day was incredibly clear with pleasant temperatures and it made walking through the zoo (though many sections are undergoing renovation) an unforgettable visual treat.  I’m not a fan of painting from photos as so much of the really interesting light effects are lost (at least in my photos)–but using a photo for this project was the next best thing to being there. I have a lot of photos from the brilliant afternoon spent visiting this gorgeous zoo-park and, as the wintry weather here continues, I’ll be sure to be using some of them as a reference for more painting experiments.

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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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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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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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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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Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching

Transitions

On what seemed likely to be the last unseasonably warm day of the year, it was great late last week to have some time to get out and sketch along the banks of the Potomac River not far from the nation’s capital. With barely a cloud in the sky, temperatures hovered around 70 degrees–T-shirt weather barely a month before winter’s official start. The scene was placid without even a ripple breaking the surface of the water along the docks of the marina where I chose to sit–something to appreciate for as long as it lasted.

Illustration:  Watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: “Washington Sailing Marina” in watercolor and gouache by Black Elephant Blog author

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