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Lisbon impressions in pastel

We returned a few days ago from a 15-day trip to Portugal and Italy, during which time I was carrying a mini-art supply store with emphasis on watercolor paints. I only took them out once, on the riverbank in Porto. (In general, I confined my ambitions to pencil sketches, which familiarized me with the cityscapes I have been working on in different media after returning home.) My intentions to do more were good but we were literally always on the move: touring historic monasteries, having a cappuccino on the Parco do Comercio in Lisbon, visiting little stores in the Alfama district, exploring the Castle of St. George in Lisbon or the Pena Palace in Sintra, taking a tour of the ancient library in Coimbra, visiting the bookstore in Porto where J,K. Rowling got her inspiration to write the Harry Potter series, taking the funicular down from the heights of the fashionable Chiado district in Lisbon, and exploring the seaside area of Cascais, including the Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell). People from all over the world had the same idea; there were many tourists from Asia, Germany, Italy, and Spain, but in general the crowds were less than they are in the summer months.

View of the Sao Vicente church and monastery from a mirador (lookout) in the Alfama district, Lisbon (2019), Pastel on grid paper

Suffice it to say there is much to see in Portugal (and Italy, of course), so sitting for the requisite time to do a watercolor was not at the top of the list (admittedly) this time. There is much to cover, and if you enjoy walking, you can simply walk to many of the most interesting sights. There is a lot of history to learn, beautiful tiles to admire, great food to eat and wine to drink, different port wine to taste, markets to explore, and lots of steep cobblestone streets to climb. Another spectacular “mirador”–or lookout–was always right around the corner–unexpectedly opening up into a flat piece of terrain just when you needed a break–and here one could sit, have a drink (or a snack) and gaze at the view, enjoy the breezes, and listen to live music. There are kiosks everywhere where one can buy a beer, wine, or a port, and sit and watch the light change over the expanse of the Tagus River as the sun slides over the western horizon. Shops filled with bags, shoes, hats, placemats and other items made out of cork were everywhere, but usually the quality was good. The ubiquitous T-shirts were noticeably higher in quality that equivalent T-shirts usually available here due to their high-quality cotton content. For those who are thinking of going, I’d also recommend the Oceanarium in Lisbon and the Gulbenkian Foundation Museum. (There are many inexpensive options for places to stay in Portugal—safe, well-located, and even charming–as well as more expensive places to suit every taste, and public transportation, including inter-city trains, is a bargain.)

The light was almost always perfect for painting, with the flows of tourists manageable in September. It is a must for a repeat visit. (Our visit to Sardinia had just as special light and very different features, including turquoise seas, and windswept cliffs in a raw sienna hue reflecting the bright sunlight from far away. Really spectacular for the artist, the hiker, and the nature-lover, as well as people who love to sail.)

View of the popular trolley making its way through the narrow streets of the Alfama district, pastel and India ink study, 2019

There is at least one excellent art supply store in Lisbon and it is located next to a fine arts university in Chiado. Online ordering has not yet taken off in Portugal, at least not as much as in the U.S., so the quality of the wares–especially textiles, baby clothes, ceramics, wood, wines and foods, as well as some stationery paper products–were noticeably good. For those who have the time and opportunity to get away and get different perspectives on our present, Portugal is a great choice.

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Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Painting the town in Washington, D.C.

Here it is already June! What do I have to to show for it being almost mid-year 2019? I’ve not been painting as much this year– due partly to some work-related priorities but mostly due to a combination of too many choices with regard to painting media and some news-overload paralysis, I’d say. Painting more frequently is absolutely essential to becoming more proficient and I’ve totally failed so far in that goal this year. I keep watching other painters’ blogs though, and am finding that some painters whose work I respect are rediscovering the value of working from reference photos (which means painting inside).

But we’ve had gorgeous weather beckoning me outside. And: I finally broke open a packet of watercolor paper I bought on the trip to Germany earlier this year–paper that’s hard to get in the U.S. (Being interested in paper, this is a sort of ‘me’ thing, I guess.)

Illustration: “Georgetown Waterfront Park,” Hahnemühle ‘Leonardo’ cold press watercolor paper, 2019 by Black Elephant Blog author

Since we had a gorgeous weekend, I found myself down at the Georgetown Waterfront where there is an unbelievably tranquil park. Enjoying gentle breezes and the surprisingly wide-ranging discussion with me (immigration, climate change, human trafficking, mangroves, wetlands…and how they are all interconnected!! So very impressive!) of a young lady visiting from Utah, I created the following scene without spending much time setting it up. The paper is amazing and so thick it would be shame not to follow up and paint something else on the reverse side.

Illustration: “Enid A. Haupt Garden,” Watercolor on cold press paper (2019) by Black Elephant Blog author

Earlier this year, I managed to get out and do other scenes of some parts in Washington, D.C. This city is famous for many things but people out of town may not be aware of how many absolutely gorgeous and well-maintained parks there are in this region, many in the heart of D.C. while others are in surrounding neighborhoods. It would be a shame to miss some of them no matter how short your visit. I’ve included below a few painting sketches from last year as well!

Illustration: “Springtime in Farragut Square,” watercolor on Arches cold press paper, 2019, by Black Elephant Blog author
Illustration: “Oak Hill”, watercolor, gouache, and ink on “15x “11 Arches 140# watercolor paper
Illustration: “Spring colors”, 15″ x 7″ watercolor, gouache and ink on Fabriano Traditional White 140# watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author
Illustration: “Orangery,” at Dumbarton Oaks, Georgetown, watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)
Illustration: “Sculpture Garden, National Gallery of Art,” Watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Fabriano Artistic paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)
Illustration: “U.S. Capitol,” Watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP paper approx 14″ x 9″ by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)
Illustration: “Colvin Run Mill,” Watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink by Black Elephant Blog author
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oil painting, Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Journey through Childhood Memories

I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Germany and Austria, mostly to visit with family but also traveling with close family.

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Illustration: “Sunset in Heidelberg,” oil on canvas by Black Elephant Blog author (2019)

This turned out to be the long-awaited time when I would return to Vienna, Austria and the international high school from which I graduated many years ago.  It was so special to discover that I still recall the streetcar and bus numbers to get from the inner city to the outer district where my former school is.  The weather cooperated throughout this trip, with snow flurries and cold suitable for January (but no worse).  Lunch over in the neighboring wine district of Grinzing, with light snow falling outside and settling on ledges around the onion domes of a church across the street, finished off the visit to the outer district. Later it was back by the efficient streetcar system to the inner city and, from there again by streetcar, to the Belvedere Schloss to see Klimt art and other paintings.  We had a hot drink in its warm gold and ochre royal cafe with the Belvedere gardens outside covered in snow and a blue-purplish early evening light seen through the windows.

In such weather, however, and in a group of travelers there is less incentive to stop and try to paint or, more likely in such weather, draw.  Outside of Stephansdom, the main cathedral in central Vienna, one hardy soul was painting in oils in close-to-freezing weather.  He was set up to sell them so perhaps had an incentive to paint in his fingerless gloves out in the cold, but the prospect did not hold any appeal to me.

My trip also took me to the Pfalz area for a memorable wine-tasting, to Stuttgart, Karlsruhe,  Heidelberg, and much smaller towns along the Rhine; my early school years were in Bonn, Germany north of where we were on this trip.  One can get most anywhere at almost anytime on the dense network of streetcars, inter-city railroads, and the faster ICE, and in Austria, the OBB trains.  There was almost no need for a car (except for hauling all the wine home after the wine-tasting!)

Back home now, there is some time for reflection and recreation of scenes, including the memory of a sunset over Heidelberg in Germany, as this painted scene from the castle above the town recalls.  A special book in German about Heidelberg fell into my hands during the visit there, recommending itself to me through the wonderful watercolor on its cover and on plates throughout its pages.  It turns out to be a book by a former director of the city’s archives, chock full of history and insights.  Also in Heidelberg, we visited an amazing museum which can be found by going down a quiet drive into a palace area off of the main pedestrian street:  called the Museum of the Palatinate, it has excellent displays covering the history of the many peoples (Celts, Romans, various tribes) who settled in this area.  If you need to get off your feet for a while, you can take a snooze here on a cushioned Roman bench in a recreated Roman dining area; signs in German encourage you to do just that, so long as you take off your shoes!  (For artists and urban sketchers, it may be of interest that the LAMY headquarters is in Heidelberg and a new flagship store full of temptations is on the main drag in the old city.) There is something about travel, and seeking to restore a rusty foreign language ability, that awakens the need to create, to remember, to connect, and to imagine…so perhaps there will be more scenes from my youth coming to this blog.

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Weekend Sketching at Union Station, Washington, D.C.

Of course it was supposed to rain this weekend; we all expected it. Thus the weekend sketchers met up inside Union Station in Washington, D.C.

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Illustration: “Sunlight-filled Union Station D.C.”, Watercolor and pen-and-ink in a sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

The weather ended up being sunny and muggy. Inside the train station it was cooler, and it was possible to stare at the ceiling without getting in anyone’s way.  Nowhere near as grand as Grand Central, there nonetheless is a lot of see inside this train station, including multiple identical statues of Roman soldiers each holding an identical shield.  Bright light filtered through the many windows above onto the cavernous hallway.  As one of the people who has rushed through here with scarcely a glance at my surroundings, it was nice to have a chance to try to take it all in.  It’s a busy place, including visually, and a good place to practice with perspective.  For this watercolor sketch, I was back to using Stillman & Birn Zeta soft-sided sketchbook and working across the binding between the pages, in an oblong portrait format. These days I am also using Noodlers #41 waterproof brown ink.

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Plein Air Under Wet Skies

Yesterday there was time to slip one more plein air effort in under the wire of arriving rain showers, now torrential.  Standing in the garden behind a popular area restaurant, I focused on a fountain; the sound of falling water is so relaxing and makes painting more enjoyable.  It was suddenly like a day in November, chilly and wet.  There were no interesting shadows to work with, due to overcast skies.  The lion face in the fountain was difficult and I should have slowed down and focused on a piece of this, but the statue in the background also appealed to me.  Working plein air is for me mostly fun but also an organizational challenge.  I need a flat surface nearby on which to rest stuff, and usually don’t have one; brushes roll off the easel and into the grass.  (I suspect that whoever invents a light-weight mobile solution to this will make a lot of $$.)

Illustration: “Oasis,” watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Arches watercolor paper approx. 11″ x 8″  by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

This was the last chance to try for another painting under the rules of the “plein air” competition ending today.  With the heavy rains now, it may be a challenge just to get over to the gallery with my work as some roads around here flood quickly.  But two paintings are now done in a 24 hour time period.  These days, when we all sense how little we actually ‘control,’ there is some satisfaction in this!

 

 

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Dumbarton Oaks Gardens Watercolors

When you visit the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens in Washington, D.C., you’re drawn to the airy, light-filled Orangery, a wonderful room decked with vines of ivy across doorways and windows opening on gardens in three directions and a fourth wide entrance to another room.

Orangery Final

Illustration: “Orangery,” watercolor and pen-and-ink on Arches CP watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

The gardens were the project of Mildred Bliss. She and her husband, Robert Woods Bliss, owned Dumbarton Oaks, now a Research Library and Collection, a century ago.  (The mansion of Dumbarton Oaks, where the library and collection are, is somewhat removed from the gardens, a couple of blocks away.)

Art collectors, philanthropists and involved in diplomatic life, the Blisses were world travelers, and arranged for a series of important diplomatic meetings to take place at Dumbarton Oaks in 1944. These meetings, known as the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, hosted delegations from China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Dumbarton Oaks photo

Photo: Dumbarton Oaks delegates meeting in 1944, Getty images

Here the participants considered ideas for an organization “to maintain peace and security in the world.” Not long afterwards, their proposals made up the United Nations Charter adopted in San Francisco in 1945.  The goal was to shape the future for a better world, something which can only be carried out with the cooperation of multiple nations sharing a sense of a greater good.

Amidst the chaos and uncharted territory of our times, it’s a bit of an escape to visit these grounds near where the United Nations began.  Beyond the inviting Orangery are winding paths, terraces, urns, benches, fountains, a pebble walk, sculptures, gates, and lots of trees and flowers.

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Illustration: “Dumbarton Oaks,”Watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Arches CP watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author, (2018)

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

 

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Illustration: Watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on Fabriano Artistic paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

When you’re expecting it to rain all weekend and suddenly get a day like today, it’s immediately obvious that the place to be is outdoors.  A weekend drawing group met today at the National Gallery of Art, and some drew inside the museum while others drew next door in the outdoor sculpture garden.

As always, this beautiful little park was full of visitors from all over the world.  Every family with children stopped to enjoy the spray of the fountains and stick their feet in the cool water of the Sculpture Garden pond.

Sculpture Garden 1

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink on Fabriano Artistic paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Nearby food trucks catering to every taste in the world served hot lunches to hundreds of people.  It was a calm afternoon on the National Mall today with everyone enjoying balmy breezes, sunshine, and a day with less than usual humidity.

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