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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living in truth, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching

Lake Reflections #2

LakeScene

Illustration: Watercolor sketch on 5.5″ x 8.5″ 140 lb. cold press Montval watercolor sketchbook paper by Black Elephant Blog author

On a day when a U.S. President seemed to threaten nuclear war (%@?*?!X?), further undermining our security relationships and standing around the world, the sanest thing to do seemed  to be to sit on a quiet lakeside beach and watch people on all manner of boats and boards enjoying a beautiful evening out on the water.  I have a whole lot of paintings to complete, mostly still in my head, from the recent trip to Europe.  Following the sudden, unexpected death of a sibling a couple of weeks ago–a sibling who so recently (only a month ago) was enjoying that same trip to Europe…he,clambering up steep cobble-stoned streets, admiring cathedrals, and admiring a replica of a Bronze Age village built on pilings over water on the edge of Lake Constance in Germany– I am finding I must ‘sketch-crawl’ my way back to working in the bright colors I prefer. It may take a while but enjoying the interaction of watercolor with paper seems likely to help me get there.

As I sit lakeside in the twilight of an evening, I do reflect on how uncommonly good people, such as my recently departed brother (who used to read this blog as it appeared in his email), sometimes have uncommonly rare things befall them, and are taken from us uncommonly early in their lives.  It is too soon to find any sense or solace in this.   But it has long been clear:   We must make more space for such people–the ones like him who are driven by a larger sense of global responsibility—to share their abilities with us while they are here in this earthly world.  The world needs uncommonly good people right now, who act in the awareness that we are all part of a larger whole.  Only by having a critical mass of such people exhibiting their genuine caring and leadership to making the world a better place, can we have a chance (in the remaining time left to us as a species) of tipping the planetary scales into a sustainable direction.  Nothing is more urgent these days, but it is restorative to watch people fishing and stand-up paddle-boarding on this evening as if they had no cares in the world. I will probably do more of that today.

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Surprise, Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Watercolor Painting of Island of Mainau, Germany

Making our way by ferry on Lake Constance, not far from Konstanz, we were able to see the island of Mainau as soon as our ship passed around a small peninsula.

Mainau island 1

Illustration: Watercolor and gouache, “Bodensee”  approx. 12″ x 16″ on Hahnemuehle watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

Up ahead on the hilltop of the island, a baroque manor-palace was visible through the tall trees, including palms.  Once we disembarked, we found that the whole island was a park, with a few cafes and restaurants. To get to the palace, you must walk up some steep and winding paths, lined with flower beds. Here and there are…banana trees!  It can be surprising to see banana trees in this area, but their presence attests to the mild climate of the lake region.

FullSizeRender

Illustration: On-site sketch in small Stillman & Birn “Zeta” sketchbook by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

The view from the top makes your effort worthwhile. This island is famous as a botanical garden–the whole island–which is why it also is known as “flower island.”  It has many walkways, one of which is a large flower bed designed to show, with plants and flowers, all the towns around the large lake of Constance, or “Bodensee” in German.  There also are sculptures and statues in the gardens, about which it has been difficult so far to learn anything.   (Despite the tourist crowds, this is a highly protected botanical environmental–rightly so–so clearly I did not use watercolor paints in this area but concluded the sketches after the trip. Moreover, as many have noted before me, it can be difficult to fit in a sketch when traveling with even a small group of companions.)  From here we soon were headed, again by ferry, to the other side of the lake.

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Surprise, Uncategorized

In Colmar, France on the 4th of July

colmar 1

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink, “Colmar, France Street view” by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

For those arriving in Colmar, France by car, it can be a big surprise to see a huge replica of the Statue of Liberty at the entrance to the city in the middle of a busy traffic circle.  And never more so, I imagine, for the unsuspecting arriving on the 4th of July, for that was the case for me recently.

Colmar 4

Photo taken on 4 July 2017 at the traffic circle entrance to the French city of Colmar, France by Black Elephant Blog author

Thus it was that the next day I headed to the former home of the creator of the Statue of Liberty, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi ( 2 August 1834 – 4 October 1904).  Now a museum, the Bartholdi home was not yet open for the day

Illustration: Pen-and-ink sketch at Bartholdi Museum, Colmar, France

so I spent some time in the shade of the courtyard sketching the sculpture in the middle, which is known as “Les Grand Soutiens du Monde” of “The World’s Great Bases”) representing “Justice, Labour and the Motherland” which was exhibited at the ‘Salon de Paris’ in 1902.  Unsurprisingly, there were other sketchers present in parks and leaning against fountains around the town.

Back out on the streets of Colmar, there was so much to see and do–and taste!  No

Illustration: Street scene in Colmar, France, watercolor and pen-and-ink

wonder there were so many tourists there, mostly from elsewhere in Europe and from Asia, it seemed.  We were on our way to new places much too soon, but so glad to have the experience of visiting Colmar, and knowing that if the opportunity arises, we’ll be back.

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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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Risk, Surprise, Uncategorized, Uncertainty, urban sketching

Pictures at an Exhibition: From Sketches to Paintings

As the summer winds down, it’s time to prepare for an opportunity extended to local artists to submit about 10 paintings each to a “solo exhibition” through an Art-in-Public-Places program.  Of course, nine or ten pieces are quite a lot when most of your work is inside sketchbooks.  So, I’ve decided to see if I can convert some of my sketches from earlier in the year into a piece or two which could be included in the final selection of pieces to display.

Inevitably some of the “freshness” (and free-style/sloppy look) of starting a sketch right on-site, especially in a spot so beautiful as the one below, gets lost in the translation process to another sheet of paper far from the scene.  Though, it must be said, there are advantages too of this post-sketch revision, including no exhaust fumes from the local bus lines laboring up the steep road behind you, no tourists impatiently waiting to take your spot, and no surprisingly rapid drying of your watercolors in the heat of direct and intense sunlight.

San Miguel Draft 2

Illustration: Photo of painting in progress

In any case, here to the right is a photo of a recent attempt to re-do a sketch into another piece.  The sketch at the top of the easel is in a sketchbook and crosses the dip between pages.  It is from  earlier this summer when overlooking the Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende .  Below it is the work-in-progress.

This latter attempt  is seen in a  more finished state in the photo at the bottom of the post.  This is on Saunders Waterford paper (a popular U.K. brand) which I’m finding appealing but seemingly a tad more ‘thirsty’ than the Arches brand, relevant when it comes to issues of transparency raised in the previous post.  (Update: I am close to completing a v2 of this view on Arches hot press.)

As time goes on, I try to factor in lessons I’ve picked up from the reading I’m doing.  For instance, finding those dark values is the first order of business, according to Charles Reid in his book Watercolor Secrets, and then you can move to the lighter values.  This makes sense but is still counterintuitive and even contradicts what I’ve learned in some classes.  (If you need to go back and pump up some lights, there is also a fairly expensive liquid Arches “paper” as a form of white-out for watercolorists–it comes in most shades of watercolor paper whites. It seems a bit like cheating until one reads that John Singer Sargent no less resorted to white gouache rather liberally for similar reasons.  More on gouache and “body color” (and British and American watercolor practices in history) in an upcoming post.

Achieving a balance of transparent and opaque watercolor effects requires skill not only with a brush but also familiarity with the interactions between the types of paper, the amount of water,  and the characteristics of the paints you’re using.  Jim Kosvanec’s book on Transparent Watercolor Wheel (discussed in the previous post) is sure to sensitize any reader to the different qualities of both papers and paints (as of the book’s time of publication in 1994).  And, a heightened awareness of the “staining” and “attacking” qualities of some pigments when they are mixed with transparent ones brings to mind at least metaphorically some real-life situations.   Whether we are dealing with pigments or policies, it seems we must concede (in plain English) that some things just don’t mix: they create “mud.”  Come to think of it, such interdependencies are the stuff of life itself, ever more so given the interconnectivity of everyone and everything on the planet these days. (Who knew that the art of watercoloring might translate to a still larger stage?) Maybe the next time I’m at this overlook, I’ll be able to apply what I’ve learned so far right there in ‘plein air’.  That would be terrific!

San Miguel watercolor

Illustration: Watercolor and pen-and-ink, “San Miguel de Allende (v1)” on Saunders Waterford paper by Black Elephant Blog author

 

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