Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Karlsruhe Marktplatz sketch

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.

 

Karlsruhe sketch

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink sketch, “Karlsruhe Marktplatz” (July 2017)

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Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Sketches

Few places in Washington, D.C. are more relaxing than the fountain area in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery of Art.

NGA sculpture garden

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink on 5″x7″ Stonehenge “Colors” paper

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.

NGAsculpturegarden2

Illustration: Stabilo sepia pencil (“aquarellable”) on Stonehenge “colors” 5″ x 7″ paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

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.

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Uncategorized, Risk, 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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Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty

Speyer Cathedral in Watercolor

 

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.).

Speyer photo

Illustration: View of the Speyer Cathedral from Maximilian Strasse on July 2, 2017 (Photo)

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

Speyer Cathedral 1
Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink, “Speyer Cathedral”, by Black Elephant Blog author, 2017

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..

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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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