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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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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oil painting, Uncategorized

Bouquet Painting on Christmas Eve Day

Today with all the last-minute Santa things to do, there was time to keep working on a painting I started this weekend.  Perhaps it will be dry in time to fit into a wooden frame and be wrapped to go under the tree too.

Bouquet 3

Illustration: “Wedding Bouquet,” Oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″ by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

Painting in oil is still a challenge for me, mainly because of the brushes which become gooey, and sometimes even clumpy, pretty quickly. There’s also the problem of what to do with the gooey water mixed with solvent when cleaning the brushes. There’s still so much to learn but I do know that watercolor is quite a bit simpler, at least in terms of equipment.

Speaking of which, my Christmas present to myself arrived last week, and it’s a great addition to my collection of watercolor palettes.  This one, called the “Portable Painter“, shows what a clever design-oriented mind can achieve when taking time to really study how people are trying to use existing tools (in this case other palettes meant for watercolor painting in small formats outside). This palette is so well-thought out it is amazing.  I say this as someone who has used about 20 different alternatives in the past three years.  It comes with a small brush (with a smaller brush inserted into the handle) but neither brush is really suitable for most painting, and that’s the only negative I can see in this little kit.

This palette is perfect for the outdoor watercolor sketcher and I’ve already put some of my favorite paints into the pans.  Further description of this fantastic discovery will have to wait, as it’s time now to get some presents wrapped!  Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Surprise, Uncategorized

Zoo Tranquility

Zoosketch

Illustration: “Waterfall at the National Zoo,” watercolor and pen-and-ink in 9″ x 12″ Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author

Things must be getting pretty crazy if, oxymoronically, the zoo becomes an oasis of peace and quiet.  On a recent Sunday, however–with absolutely perfect weather in Washington, D.C. (while sadly, elsewhere, the opposite conditions prevailed)–that’s what happened.

Near the Carousel, and opposite the tall rock waterfall of the enclosure for the lemurs on one side and dozens of turtles on the other,there was a perfect patch of higher ground for sketching.  The sound of falling water reduced all other sounds, including that of the Carousel music,  to a background hush, even though crowds streaming past on pathways below and to either side of me became thicker over time.

While the rest of my party was otherwise engaged for a spell, I tried to capture this tranquil scene, amazed really, that the zoo could offer such a peaceful spot with the constant sound of a waterfall.  I found the paper in the Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook initially pretty frustrating for watercolor; it is really for washes (as it says!) so appreciates a light touch.  But if you let your work dry and keep the cover closed on it, the page will smooth out and can accept more color.

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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

Water/Color in Konstanz,Germany

Konstanz 2

Illustration: Watercolor and gouache on 12″x 8.5″ watercolor paper, “Harbor of Konstanz”, by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

They say that for the best views of Konstanz (in the south of Germany on the border with Switzerland), you need to be on the water.  The views from Konstanz, however, seem equally remarkable to me, especially in the changing light at the end of the day.  Recently I sat right down to make a sketch, fascinated with the lemony tinge of the treetops in the evening sunlight and the sailboats in the distance.  Later I made a watercolor of the same scene, experimenting with some watercolor paper made in Germany.  (A great deal of art material we’ve come to expect actually comes from Germany, home of many types of inks, watercolor brushes and the Lamy fountain pen.)

Konstanz is a great city for walking around, and almost everyone here seems to go to work by bike or bus.  The city is nearly surrounded by water, the air is fresh and mild, with nice breezes coming off of Lake Constance, or the “Bodensee” in German.  Three countries border on this vast lake: Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. You can see mountain peaks blending with clouds in the distance, and know you are looking at Austria or Switzerland.  This is a great jumping off point for explorations by ferryboat to the many sights around the lake, including the island of Mainau (pronounced “my-now”) with its semi-tropical atmosphere, palm trees, and an ornate hilltop palace built by Swedish nobility that can be seen from far away.  I’ll save all that for a future post though.   The hordes of tourists reportedly over-running Venice this summer are absent here.  There is no shortage of sight-seers on the ferries but the crowds are manageable.  In short, it’s no wonder this area has long attracted writers, artists, travelers,  sailing enthusiasts–and people seeking to relax in the many spas around Lake Constance.

Stadtgarten Konstanz

Illustration: Pen-and-ink sketch of the Stadtgarten, as seen from the Harbor of Konstanz, Germany, July 2017 by Black Elephant Blog author

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living in truth, Uncategorized, urban sketching

Wandering through older sketches to make sense of the present

Blog post writing has taken a bit of a backseat lately.  Preparation for classes could be one excuse, but it wouldn’t be true. I guess it’s because I’ve been doing more thinking than drawing in this age of discontinuity.  The recent blast of winter in this area complete with snow and ice this year sadly has been too much for the many blossoms and flowers that proliferated here during an unseasonably warm February. Even the geese on a nearby lake are a bit confused by the eccentric weather.

This sort of disorientation (yes, that exhibited by the geese–as in “where are we?”) has been mirrored by the befuddlement of many people around the world at the jarring reports of current political events, especially domestically–more on that below.  Just as the early blossoms thought that the Spring in February was real, we humans are confused as to the political climate we are living through….

Looking back to look forward sometimes is useful, as paging through older sketchbooks can remind one.  While looking ahead to a forthcoming exhibition of my watercolors and sketches, I came across a few of my sketches from the past:

dupont circle

Illustration: Watercolor sketch, “Dupont Circle,” by Black Elephant Blog author (2016)

Lately, with the sun briefly peering out again, there are more inspiring palettes to explore in the near future…

vangogh

Illustration: Watercolor sketch by Black Elephant Blog author (2016)

On the geopolitical level of human affairs, the emerging palette is more complicated–even “complex”– a crucial distinction not yet as appreciated as it could be, though “complexity”–as in complex systems–is something we spend a lot of time on in the university graduate class I teach.  Making sense of complex problems is a necessary starting point to resolving them–and is too often a (very intellectually-demanding and time-consuming) step skipped over, as we have recently seen an example of in the healthcare arena.

Similarly understanding this moment in our collective human history requires us to draw from the experience “palettes” of a wide variety of people in order to understand our true options going forward.  I would include in this “experience palette” respected contemporary professors of history, such as Dr. Timothy Snyder–whom I had the privilege of hearing speak in person at a local bookstore recently.  People doing fresh thinking about economics also have an essential role

Rodin The Thinker

Illustraton: Watercolor, “”The Thinker’ at the Entrance to Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, PA” (2017) by Black Elephant Blog author

to play in the efforts to apply different palettes to our common future.  And a look back to the founders and founding documents of this American nation would also be essential, as I just did a week ago by wandering through the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia again.

It’s true, at least for me, that once you become accustomed to painting–and more vitally, living and making choices– in ‘plein air,’ it’s harder to settle for bleak cold days–whether due to the weather or the political climate.

We can call up sketches of the past to help us make sense of the present.   Are the things which divide us still more important than taking stock in a clear-eyed way of what actually has happened and what pathways forward lie ahead?  These processes are sometimes known as “scenario practice,” “forward reasoning,” and simply “foresight”–also processes we focus on in class. There is no end to the usefulness of learning we can gain from those who have studied the past, I’ve concluded.   As Professor Timothy Snyder tells us in his work linking the history of Eastern Europe to our present, the choice is (still) ours to make.

 

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