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!
Yesterday evening I returned to sitting on a bank of a nearby lake on the day we all got the horrific news of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history which had occurred overnight in Las Vegas. And the view in front of me did not disappoint; perfect for a respite from the social media space of constant updates on the tragedy, I faced a tranquil scene as the sun slid ever more behind the trees at the far end of the lake. The lake surface reflected the bright yellow of the leaves in the evening sun, making a sharp contrast with the dark shadows of the trees. A very confident kayaker dressed in a flowing white shirt seemingly more suitable for dining al fresco on the Piazza Navona stroked briskly by right in front of me, with the brilliant red of his kayak dominating the scene. Before too long, he was out of sight, and it was all I could do to try to recreate the impression he left. After about an hour, it was time to go; the light was fading, some bugs were biting in the tall grasses, but the effort was well worth the time spent.
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).
A month ago– a mere four weeks–I was sitting on this busy square in downtown Karlsruhe, Germany, enjoying a latte at a sidewalk cafe and idly sketching the scene in front of me, busy (still!) with construction of an underground train system. I would make sketches of the most normal scenes, because everything offers practice for the eye. But, now when I pick up my sketchbooks, a whole lot of other memories come flooding back to me. It is amazing how everything little thing we did on this recent trip is now so utterly important to hold on to as a memory, never to let go at least of this.
Few places in Washington, D.C. are more relaxing than the fountain area in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Art.
As with most parks and museums in this city, entrance to the sculpture garden is free and it’s open until 7 p.m. There is a patio restaurant and cafe to one side with indoor air-conditioned seating and ample outdoor seating.
It’s all truly an oasis in the middle of a busy, politically fraught city…and so, yesterday, taking a break from some other concerns, I sat there a while, near the fountain, and practiced sketching some of the people, many of them apparently visitors to this usually beautiful and dignified city. It’s restorative to see people of all backgrounds and walks of life enjoying the spray of water from the many jets of water criss-crossing the Sculpture Garden pool in huge arcs above. It’s hard to see how they could leave this city with a bad impression if this garden is representative of their experiences. And indeed many of the people I watched were in no hurry to leave, staying an hour or more.
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.
Under overcast skies and amid a gentle breeze today it was pleasant to walk around Speyer, Germany, which is famous for its UNESCO World Heritage site, the Speyer Cathedral, and surrounding stately parks. (This city also gave English the word for “spire” as in church “spire.”) Speyer is one of Germany’s oldest cities: located by the Rhine river, this area was first settled by the Romans (a Roman military camp was established here in 10 B.C.).
Just yesterday evening, it would have been impossible to enter this area, due to the funeral services held in this historic Cathedral for former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, given all the dignitaries, including the current German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and security forces here as a result.
But this morning, with the shops closed for Sunday, it was calm and full of people sitting in outdoor cafes feasting from tall ice cream sundays and sipping on lattes. Although the world came to this place just yesterday, with many eyes on the live coverage of the
funeral of a man who is identified with the cause of European Union, today it was possible to feel a bit away from the distractions of the world, to wonder at the vast archaeological treasures of this region represented by impressive displays in a small museum–and to even sit in a cafe alongside the relaxed cafe drinkers. From one of those cafes, protected by large umbrellas from a misty uncertain drizzle, I managed to sketch out a partial view of the massive 11th century (its construction began in 1030 A.D.!) church in front of me.
It is so big that I ended up sketching just the top half (seen above), with the historic buildings alongside the pedestrian mall crowding into the picture..