Surprise, Uncategorized, urban sketching

Polar Vortex watercolor

Winter’s definitely here in this region, in more ways than one. Temperatures are now in the teens Fahrenheit, with strong gusts of freezing wind and the occasional brittle limb snapping off the trees…so  it’s definitely not suitable for ‘plein air’ painting. But these wintry scenes, before any snow or ice falls, hold a spell of their own, and are intriguing to try to capture in paint, once you get back inside.

So it was time, after a brisk walk in the cold,  to experiment with some of the techniques I recently learned in a two-day workshop on creating “texture in watercolor.” Who knew we could paint with all manner of tools, and not just brushes? Out came the bits of sponges, the rock salt, the drafting tape (to help mask up spaces on your surface so that you don’t paint over them), the masking fluid (also for covering up spaces), dried leaves, and other treasures for creating different effects, whether for trees or mountain ranges, clouds or water, or something more exotic.

Illustration:  'Cold Snap", 10" x11" watercolor, pen-and-ink, and acrylic fine gold on Crescent multi-media board by Black Elephant Author

Illustration: ‘Cold Snap”, 10″ x11″ watercolor, gouache, pen-and-ink, a tiny bit of pastel pencil, and acrylic fine gold on Crescent multi-media board by Black Elephant Author

To add to all the experimentation in this painting, I used a scrap of Crescent illustration board as my surface for the first time. It’s actually an off-white cream and I wanted to see what how it would handle watercolor and other media. The board itself curved a bit in the process but can be flattened out.  It was otherwise easy to work with.  I may give this scene another go on it, in fact.  I will return to the issue of texture in watercolor in the not-too-distant future as it’s plainly something best done inside.

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Uncategorized, Uncertainty

More Gorgeous Fall Colors

Illustration: "Another Beautiful Fall Day," in watercolor, gouache, charcoal, and sepia ink in 6" x12" Nature Sketch Pentalic sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: “Another Fall Day,” in watercolor, gouache, charcoal, and sepia ink in 6″ x12″ “Nature Sketch” Pentalic sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author

Another beautiful afternoon lit up the last of the fall leaves today providing a welcome distraction from the news. It’s also getting a bit chilly for plein air painting, so the following was dashed off rather quickly in a new oblong Pentalic notebook as I passed by this familiar, yet ever-changing, scene  around a neighborhood lake.

As far as sketchbooks go:  Now having used this sketchbook twice, I judge it to be a quite affordable choice but as it has 130lb paper rather than the 140 lb. weight which is safest for watercolor efforts, it can be a bit frustrating.  It’s probably going to be better deployed when sticking to ink and light watercolor washes such as in the example here. I prefer the other Pentalic sketchbooks specifically designed for watercolor where in my experience one gets a more ‘glazed’ look without much effort. But for sketching out in the open–in a super-helpful wide panorama format–this sketchbook is an ok option and its hardbound spiral format gives you a nice support for a drawing surface.

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Uncategorized

Using Charcoal with Watercolor

Another gorgeous fall day today, with temperatures near 70 degrees, saw lots of families out hiking along the C&O Canal which runs along the Maryland side of the Potomac River. Several ‘plein air’ painting enthusiasts worked alongside the Canal, facing either the river or the canal; a path for hikers and bikers runs between them for gorgeous mile after gorgeous mile.

In such a perfect circumstance, it was a great day to try an experiment: using charcoal with watercolor as was done to such great effect by late-19th century and early-20th century French painter, Paul Signac (who also used black Conte crayon and graphite with watercolors). The canal next to us was drained nearly dry so there wasn’t an opportunity to practice painting reflections on the water except for a little puddle near the bridge over the canal.  However, even without water, the whole scene was already challenging enough.

The final verdict:  At first it didn’t seem like it would work, but certainly if the watercolor is added first and allowed to dry, then charcoal can be applied to make accents or give depth. Here is my first attempt to do so (with a charcoal pencil), and I think it’s going to be something I’ll want to keep trying in the future.

great-falls-tavern

Illustration:  Great Falls Tavern on the C&O Canal, Great Falls, Maryland painted in watercolor, gouache, pen-and-ink and charcoal on 6″ x 8″ Fluid cold press paper (in about 2 hours) by Black Elephant Blog author

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Uncategorized, Uncertainty

Studying Transparency (in Watercolor)

Passing through New Orleans International Airport this weekend, I spent some time at the departure gate sketching fellow passengers. It’s surprisingly hard to do, but they say practice makes perfect.

New Orleans sketch

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink by Black Elephant Blog author

A useful book has meanwhile fallen into my hands called Transparent Watercolor Wheel:  A Logical and Easy-to-Use System for Taking the Guesswork Out of Mixing Colors.  This unfortunately out-of-print (and therefore often expensive) book is by Jim Kosvanec, whose many watercolor paintings he includes in the book are of native peoples in the region of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (discussed elsewhere here on this blog), where he lived and worked at the time of this book’s publication in 1994 and apparently where he still lives and works.

Transparent Watercolor Wheel Book cover

Illustration: Photo by Black Elephant Blog author of cover of book, Transparent Watercolor Wheel by Jim Kosvanec

The book is perfect for those who are curious about the differences between transparent, semi-transparent, semi-opaque, and opaque watercolors, and also gives one an excellent sense of which watercolors to use (based on top brands prevailing in 1994 at least) and how to mix them.   There are instructions, for instance, on how to produce light, medium, and dark-value grays, as below.

As in anything else one undertakes, the further you get into this subject the more you realize there is to learn…which makes it all the more challenging and fun.

Grays

Illustration: Swatches of gray mixtures by Black Elephant Blog author

There are no hard and fast rules, of course; we are talk about art after all, not science, but the book’s a great opportunity to get up-to-speed on some of the different effects people seek to achieve with watercolor.  To achieve transparency in watercolor (and perhaps in anything) requires experience, expertise, and experimentation…and practice!  I’ve got a way to go on this.

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Uncategorized, urban sketching

Fly Fishing Sketch at Violettes Lock, MD

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.

Violettes Lock 2

Illustration:  Bistre ink sketch by Black Elephant Blog author

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.

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Risk, Uncertainty

Sculpture Garden Night Skating Sketch

A very snowy  week is coming to an end, leaving wonderful winter scenes in its wake.

night skating on the mall

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink sketch,  “Night Skating in the National Gallery Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.”  by Black Elephant Blog author

With so much closed due to snow, there’s been time to experiment with night scenes in watercolor and to give “hot press” watercolor paper a whirl. It took a couple of tries to start to get the hang of the paper, with its smooth surface, but it’s fun.

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Surprise, Uncategorized

Room with a View

With nearly all the people in this area still inside their houses after the snowstorm of the past 36 hours, a cardinal took a peek into the window today.

Illustration:  Watercolor and pen and ink (Kuretake fine point black marker) by Black Elephant Blog author

Illustration: Watercolor and pen and ink (Kuretake fine point black marker) on Arches Cold Press 140 1b watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author

Sunlight lit up the scene outside, creating dramatic shadow shapes on the snow, a real challenge to paint.

After a while, it was time to take a walk outside in this wonderland, following a small path stamped down by others who passed this way earlier. Next on this blog, a look at why  about one inch of snow that fell last Wednesday caused relatively more havoc in this area of about six million people than nearly 30 inches that fell yesterday. It turns out that, like snow blindness, “paradigm blindness” can affect our ability to see, and prepare for, what’s right in front of us.  This is related to material we will commence teaching in the university semester which begins this week, so it is good for me to review it.

After the snow 1

Illustration: Watercolor sketch on Arches Cold Press 140 lb watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author

 

 

 

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