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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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Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Equestrian arts at Frying Pan Park

Today the sun came out after a somewhat overcast morning sky and, after various Saturday must-do’s were done, it seemed like the right time to go find horses to paint.  I went for the first time in many years to a certain nearby park and before too long discovered I had truly overachieved.  After  sketching out the scene on my paper, I realized a major equestrian event was about to start literally right around me.

FryingPanPark

Illustration: “Frying Pan Park,” Watercolor, gouache, and ink by Black Elephant Blog author (2019)

Riders on beautiful horses waited their turn just a few feet away, and judges, photographers and a large audience were perched on a hill below some trees to my left. I couldn’t have planned this better since I arrived just beforehand.  Fortunately my spot next to some conveniently large and flat rocks was not in anyone’s way.  I managed to focus on the scenery and capture some of the horses and riders warming up on lower field before the big competition.   The spring colors of the trees and fields were striking, but I also tried to capture some of the scene right in front of me.  As usual, the master works of such scenes that I know best (from Degas or Dufy, for instance), are in oil paint, not watercolor, and I am thinking to try an oil painting of this scene before too long.  Drawing horses can be difficult but the style of Raoul Dufy is quite loose and freeing, and that is probably what I’ll try next as an experiment.

Illustration: “Chateau and Horses,” by Raoul Dufy

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pastel, Uncategorized, Watercolor Painting

Spring Colors

Spring is finally here even though a chill wind creates little choppy waves and white caps on the lake near my house.   But now, new blossoms around our neighborhood are blindingly radiant.  They won’t last long so we’re trying to take it all in now.  When we’re out walking, they bounce in the breezes overhead  as if tossing folds of white and pink skirts to show off.  Bright forsythia complete the color show.  It’s tempting to set up an easel immediately but a quick check this morning confirmed that the temperatures are just above freezing.

Lake scene

Illustration: “Spring colors”, 15″ x 7″ watercolor, gouache and ink on Fabriano Traditional White 140# watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author

It’s hard to believe a year that starts off with such a gorgeous spring could be anything but fabulous (though, of course, sadly, there’s many more reasons geopolitically at least why it might not be–but that surely is for another blog post, and maybe even another blog).  Art is a great way to escape from whatever is preoccupying one. Anyway, it’s time to get out the paints and the pastels, pencils and erasers, and experiment.   No pressures, just to see what happens.

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Illustration: “Bouquet,” hard and soft pastel on Claire Fontaine Ingres Pastel “Bright” paper, by Black Elephant Blog author (2019)

Here’s a bit of the latest work, including a pastel on a Claire Fontaine Ingres colored pastel paper made in France.  (Note: this paper has a sort of grid imprint that shows up in one’s work, not an effect everyone is seeking, but I was using it for the background color.)  I’ve found that I can make copies of these on a little printer and give them out as cards, when I need one.

Recently, over the weekend, we had a warm Saturday afternoon, so I set up a watercolor easel downtown in the driveway of an unoccupied ($8 million!) house opposite this cemetery gate.  It was a great spot, just out of the way of the pedestrians with a direct view of the gate.  I’ve been fascinated for several years by the famous Fauvist Raoul Dufy’s treatment of gates (he mainly painted in oils), so perhaps I’ll give this one another try.  It’s the gate to the Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, Washington, D.C.  The cemetery was founded in 1849 and overlooks the Rock Creek Parkway.

OakHillCemetery

Illustration: “Oak Hill”, watercolor, gouache, and ink on “15x “11 Arches 140# watercolor paper

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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.

Union Station 1

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

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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