Under a wonderful fall sun accompanied with nice fall breezes, a bunch of us met at an apple and pumpkin-picking farm this weekend for a bit of painting. Hundreds of people beat us to the place on this beautiful fall Sunday, with scores of children ready to look at the pigs, goats, alpaca, chickens and other animals on the grounds. It was the quintessential fall scene and a great vibe as everyone dragged their wheelbarrows around to gather up apples or pumpkins. Many of the people enjoying this annual tradition spoke languages other than English, including German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. Such a beautiful setting makes you want to come back!
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.
Lazy days of summer continue with brilliant light and colors to challenge aspiring artists, some of whom gathered yesterday near Violettes Lock in Maryland, roughly a half an hour’s drive from downtown Washington, D.C.. The lock is one of about 75 locks, which were used in the 19th century (especially before the advent of the railroad) to regulate the amount of water coming into the C&O canal (which stands for Chesapeake & Ohio). The canal used to be a major waterway for transporting goods between Washington, D.C. and Cumberland, MD and the main cargo tended to be coal from the Allegheny Mountains, according to Wikipedia. Today it’s mostly a scenic route along the Potomac River for weekend hikers, bikers, and dog walkers.
At Lock #23, named after the last lockkeepers, the Violettes, to work here, there is a gently sloping patch of ground into a large, calm body of water, which obviously is a popular spot for kayakers , other boaters, and the occasional fly fisherman as seen here.
The colors of the scene changed frequently over the course of several hours, as boaters arrived and departed from the rocky little beach in front of me.
I saved the watercolors for later, finding it a challenging enough scene to do in ink only while at the site.
These days, when so very much is so obviously at stake more even than usual, it is sometimes a great solace to lose oneself in sketching a complex scene, without too much regard for the outcome. The weather has turned marvelous, helping this bit of escapism to flourish. Moreover, a new set of field watercolors has arrived, making experimentation–as well as getting outside–absolutely the order of the day.
So, when early this week I found myself enjoying a park-like setting together with some of those closest to me, it was quite natural to sketch some architectural scenes around me.
There is always so much detail that one can’t capture particularly in a short time, but perhaps the impression of these majestic buildings, part of a national historic landmark-registered site in Towson, Maryland, comes through in the watercolor sketch. If the news at large gets still more difficult to absorb, it appears that one remedy will be to focus on some really ornate rococo architectural details!! (And, while it is too early to evaluate the Yarka paints, it already has been fun to try them out.)