oil painting, Uncategorized

My Younger Brother’s Birthdays & Shenandoah Colors

It was beautiful along Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park this past weekend.  A precious and crisp light made everything seem celebratory.  And, indeed, we were there to remember and celebrate the birthday of my younger brother, who passed away last year shortly before his 56th birthday.  His love of the outdoors means that we mark his birthday by continuing his tradition along with his wife and daughter of going camping on his birthday weekend.  This time, though, instead of in tents, we were in a lovely house on a ridge overlooking wetlands on the edge of Strasburg, Va.  It was a wonderful time despite the painful loss we all still feel. Shenandoah 1

Illustration: “Shenandoah,”  20″ x 34″ oil on canvas by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

A Birthday Note:  “Me at 43”

Soon after we returned home, Andy’s wife shared with us a note she had found in an old desk she was about to discard, a note written by Andy on his 43d birthday. I’ll share it here because, in our social media-frazzled times, it’s wonderful to peer into a brilliant mind capable of sitting down and reflecting on things–and not needing to show his thoughts instantly to all the world.

CarolMarkandAndy2

Photo: Andy with his older brother and sister in the 1960s

Andy, who it is still hard to believe is not here, had a great sense of humor, quick wit, and enormous reservoirs of empathy–all traits we’re missing today in our national daily discourse. He made friends all over the world and was an avid explorer from the islands of Comoros off the east coast of Africa to the islands of the Caribbean and even islands along the coast of Washington state.  (He was expert on sustainable tourism for island economies.) He also traveled across Argentina, Spain, Germany, England, Israel, Australia and Africa.  Andy was a voracious reader especially about indigenous peoples and colonial expeditions and settlements.  He was a nature lover and enjoyed hiking in remote places. Andy indeed never really took to social media though, in fact, he was tweeting about America’s desperate times on the day he died, without warning, on 26 July 2017 from complications of a seizure.  (He was greatly troubled by what was happening to our nation but his seizures were an unexpected side effect of surgery he’d had in 2014.)

Andyasbaby

Photo: Andy as a baby, smiling

Andy wrote the following in 2004 and apparently never showed it to anyone.  If he had, we might have questioned his memory of his birth weight being “over 10 pounds.”  (His birth weight was 7 lbs. 12 oz.) I am showing it here as a way of remembering and sharing a little bit of my younger brother, who loved life and made the most of it.

AndyBdayLetter

 

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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

Great Falls Annual Plein Air Competition

Days of high humidity continue but this hasn’t deterred plein air painters this week from getting out around Great Falls, Virginia during the 4-day annual plein air competition going on now.

Colvin Run Mill Path

Illustration: “Colvin Run,” Watercolor on Arches rough watercolor paper, approximately 11.25″ x 8.25″ by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

I set up my easel on a gravel path on the grounds of the Colvin Run Mill, which was built in 1811.   It’s a still-functioning mill where mill stone wheels grind wheat and corn.  The grinding stone wheels set inside a hillside in the park here have caught my attention on previous visits.  I decided they would be my subject on this sweaty afternoon!

Colvin Run Mill easel

Illustration: Photo of author’s easel set up today at Colvin Run Mill, Great Falls, Virginia

Rain is in the forecast for the rest of the weekend so it’s hard to say if I’ll produce any more paintings in time for the contest’s deadline on Sunday afternoon.

Stop by the Great Falls Art Gallery on the Village Green if you’d like to see what area painters have produced during this competition–and this painting on the gallery wall!

Colvin Run Mill Grinding Stones

Illustration: Photo of Colvin Run Mill Grinding Stones (Pinterest)

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Surprise, Watercolor Painting

Stone Gables B&B soon to open in Virginia countryside

B&B

Illustration; “Stone Gables,” approx.  6.5 ” x 10.25 ” watercolor and Uniball white gel pen on Saunders Waterford 300 lb watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

Last weekend we were hosted for an afternoon get-together at a soon-to-open bed & breakfast establishment tucked away in the rolling hills of Virginia wine country.  Once a barn, this establishment is now more like an estate with lush green fields, hills, a pond and a pool.  A  tall water fountain, the view beyond of outdoor terraces, a screened-porch bar area with tall tables and high chairs for enjoying the view, a gorgeous dining room and enormous well-appointed kitchen are only what greets you when you enter.  Beyond this are six beautiful bedrooms each with a modern well-designed bath, including a bridal suite.   You simply cannot imagine that this was a barn though some of the features of the barn have been kept in the current design.

Best of all, I’ve known one of the owners since she was a very little girl–many years ago in a distant land in Asia–where we both were living as part of foreign service families assigned abroad.  This B&B is a dream of hers and it’s now coming to life.  We were so pleased to get an early bird look at what will soon be available to others.  It’s called Stone Gables B& B and is near Leesburg, VA and a half hour’s drive from the Silver Line Metro station in Reston, VA, from which point it’s only 30-40 minute train ride into the heart of Washington, D.C.  Future guests here are in for a wonderful surprise!

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living in the truth, Risk, Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Water and color-filled wintry skies

Although spring should be on its way, we have plenty of wintry skies these days to practice with in watercolor.  Skies seem to be meant for watercolor–as, come to think of it, that’s what they seem made of.  Still it’s a challenge to get all those fluid wispy shapes that nature has perfected.  From my spot here at tree-top level (but inside a cozy room!) I see this lake reflecting back the shades of the sky and the surrounding landscape.  Never a dull moment…  Having gone back over a lot of art books recently, I have brought back white gouache with near-abandon yet seeking still to keep some white paper untouched.  Gouache has always been controversial with the purists but paradoxically always welcomed by artists so accomplished as John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer.  So us mere mortals should have no hesitation to experiment away…

Winter skies 1

Illustration: “Winter skies” in watercolor, gouache and white gel roll ink pen on 9.4″ x 12.6″ Hahnemühle watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2018)

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Surprise, Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Lake Reflections

August often surprises with some beautiful, low-humidity days in this area.  The beauty of nature never ceases to be awe-inspiring and, these days, a source of healing from a recent extraordinary loss and its ongoing shock waves.  So, out walking the dog earlier in the week, I took out a sketchbook again to try to capture the wonderful scene in front of me.  My personal goals included leaving some white on the page, and letting colors blend on the page even as I tried to keep them separate on the palette.  This is a neighborhood scene rich with weeping willows and even lily pad gardens.  Enormous pond reeds framed part of the view as I sat on top of an over-turned rowboat on the shore.  There’s something satisfying about plein air watercolor painting!  Sitting around this lake–never busy with visitors–is always soothing.

LakeReflections

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink sketch, August 2017, northern Virginia by Black Elephant Blog author

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Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Plein Air Painting Along the Shenandoah River

Picnic Tales watercolor

Illustration: Watercolor and bistre ink by Black Elephant Blog author on the banks of the Shenandoah River, 2017

What’s better than a riverfront campsite at a beautiful campground on a warm April day?  Not much, it seemed, this past weekend.  In such a gorgeous spot, it was great to have some watercolor painting gear with me.  What a relaxing way to practice painting lights and darks in watercolor.  And no Internet service to be had for miles around: so, no news.

I tried the technique of sketching first in a Sharpie pen (brown or black) to indicate where on the page the darkest darks would go.  Then I ‘painted’ over those darks with some water-proof bistre ink.  From there I proceeded to the lighter washes, and then some details.  It seemed to work.

tent watercolor

Illustration: Watercolor and pastel pencil, “Camping on the Banks of the Shenandoah River” by Black Elephant Blog author

With nothing to distract me, and no “must-do’s” around,

Painting at camp

Illustration: Trying to capture lights and darks in watercolor while camping along the Shenandoah River (photo and art by Black Elephant Blog author), 2017

it was wonderful to be able to experiment in this way, enjoying the gentle breezes and shade where I was sitting.

Nearby some friends relaxed, including one lounging in a hammock he’d brought along.

Campsite sketch

Illustration: Evening with friends at the campground along the Shenandoah River, watercolor sketch by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

River View

This is a place known more for fishing, kayaking and rafting…but it is also a prime spot for painting, I’ve discovered.  From the time you opened the flap to your tent at the first light of dawn, there were sights that demanded to be painted!

Sunrise on the Shenandoah River

Illustration: Sunrise on the Shenandoah River (photo by Black Elephant Blog author) April 2017

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