Spring is struggling to make itself known this year. There’s a chill in the air. Cold breezes vied with bright sunshine in Central Park this weekend. Color and light caught your eye after taking in some artworks inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From the top of the museum, the Manhattan skyline edged the tops of the furthest trees. One can imagine spring settling in here soon.
Although spring should be on its way, we have plenty of wintry skies these days to practice with in watercolor. Skies seem to be meant for watercolor–as, come to think of it, that’s what they seem made of. Still it’s a challenge to get all those fluid wispy shapes that nature has perfected. From my spot here at tree-top level (but inside a cozy room!) I see this lake reflecting back the shades of the sky and the surrounding landscape. Never a dull moment… Having gone back over a lot of art books recently, I have brought back white gouache with near-abandon yet seeking still to keep some white paper untouched. Gouache has always been controversial with the purists but paradoxically always welcomed by artists so accomplished as John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer. So us mere mortals should have no hesitation to experiment away…
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.