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…
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.
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.
With nothing to distract me, and no “must-do’s” around,
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.
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!
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.
Unseasonably warm weather and bright light this weekend added to the joys of walking through the fall colors wherever we were. People strolled in the streets everywhere including in this neighborhood of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, where the scene (below) in the private garden attached to a historic mansion demanded to be painted.
At every turn in this colonial-era town not far from Washington, D.C., it was impossible to ignore the symbols of our rich history as a still great, if troubled, nation. And it was impossible to forget that this very week, we will be facing a most consequential election .
And yet, when literally everything is on the ballot, the path ahead couldn’t be more clear. As one young voter wrote in an opinion piece today, this moment “can be a moment of all those who hope for a better future, who believe in American leadership and who know that our best days are still ahead.” Clearly, current and future generations here and abroad depend on us to engage constructively, and not cynically, with this moment, and thereafter to engage similarly with the process of governing. There is no other path ahead.
Beautiful weather ensures motivated sketching and even follow-through to completed watercolors–especially if it all can be done ‘al fresco’. Keeping a pencil handy can help the hand and eyes stay limber, and make the most of even the unlikeliest compositions. This is a quick sketch for a potential watercolor done during a pause while passing by this restaurant earlier today. (It is fairly easy to sketch diners who are deeply engaged–as all these people were–in their conversations on a gorgeous afternoon.)
In the little oasis where this scene adjoins other restaurants around a fountain and near a lake, the calm is reenergizing and the colors extraordinary–if you have time to look. Here, in real-life, there were a lot of colors, including bright red tulips standing tall in a circle of yellow flowers in the big cement pots in the foreground, and bright tropical blue pillows on low-slung couches in the rear. Can this scene of colors and calm be captured in a watercolor or a pastel? There’s only one way to find out! And a bit later, with the help of some (Daniel Smith) Venetian Red, Cobalt Teal Blue, and Raw Sienna watercolors (as well as a few of the magical watercolors from the Sakura Koi pocket set):