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…
Thinking about the intense efforts (as, for instance, reported upon just yesterday on the Lawfare Blog, “Beware the Slippery Slope…) by some to paint (figuratively speaking) people as “other” and somehow lesser human beings just because of their birth circumstances and, in the case of DACA young people, because of the choices of their parents, I have forged ahead during some quiet spells recently with some illustrations related to the volume on ‘diversity’ I have in mind.
Painting–literally painting–is definitely a way to displace some energy that otherwise would be fruitlessly wasted watching the already-absorbed news, for instance. It’s also very interesting to consider trying to explain concepts of diversity and discrimination through a medium (drawing) that is addressed to children.
Why now? It appears to me that current events must capture the minds of those concerned about individual human tragedies, including families being separated, which are being reported in the news. How a nation treats its own people, moreover, and other nations’ people tells us a lot about its future (and its security).
There is no better age to gain lifelong appreciation of the world’s diversity and wonder–and to nurture lifelong curiosity and thirst for learning–than when very young… Ensuring that children retain their curiosity is essential now more than ever to the survival of the planet. The issues we face are not in some far off future. They are here and now. Already mankind needs unprecedented amounts of talent and imagination to cope with very real challenges we face today–challenges which inevitably will combine and interact in ways we can’t precisely predict.
Last weekend with below-freezing temperatures outside, intrepid watercolor painters and other artists in this area met in a nearby community center as the initial gathering to a new watercolor group.
Though 103 (!) individuals had signed up to attend since the announcement came out in mid-December, due to the room size attendance at this initial meeting was kept to about 16 (and, probably due to the icy weather, only about 10 actually attended–men and women of various ages and backgrounds). Ironically (as happens) the original convener was someone who had literally just moved to the area. Perhaps for many part of the attraction was simply an excuse to get out of the house after enduring days of extraordinary Arctic cold. But, as always happens, perfect strangers also end up as new contacts, taking note (sometimes literally) of each other’s painting techniques and favorite materials.
My painting subject during this get-together was a colorful view through some trees at New Orleans’ Audubon Zoo last November around Thanksgiving. The day was incredibly clear with pleasant temperatures and it made walking through the zoo (though many sections are undergoing renovation) an unforgettable visual treat. I’m not a fan of painting from photos as so much of the really interesting light effects are lost (at least in my photos)–but using a photo for this project was the next best thing to being there. I have a lot of photos from the brilliant afternoon spent visiting this gorgeous zoo-park and, as the wintry weather here continues, I’ll be sure to be using some of them as a reference for more painting experiments.
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.
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!
At last there’s time today to experiment with painting a scene in watercolor directly onto a sanded gesso panel. This gesso preparation is meant for priming rigid surfaces such as this panel but usually for the purpose of oil or acrylic painting. I’d read recently, however, about a watercolor painter who makes his own gessoed panels for “plein air” competitions, and thought I’d try it. So, earlier this week, I prepared a panel with several layers of gesso and sanded it down to a smooth surface after the gesso dried (photos below).
As I tried this watercolor scene, I was pleasantly surprised by the effect on the panel and could instantly see the possibilities, with more practice, to “lift” paint for lighter effects, glaze, scrape, create patterns and give more depth or dimension to the painting. I’m sure I’ll be trying this again. (To make the gesso, I used the Gamblin brand for traditional gesso and followed the instructions.)
A drizzly rain-slicked early evening in mid-November found me disembarking from a train in Baden Baden, Germany and soon walking along the historic Lichtentaler Allee.
A bluish-purple hillside loomed faintly in the distance. Colors reflected on the drenched pavement as bicyclists made their way through the park on their way home from work. There were no crowds, only dog walkers and the occasional person with an umbrella. Amber lights shone through the trees onto the “river” Oos which winds its way through the ages of time here. It’s impossible to stop and sketch but it’s a scene that sticks with me. I will attempt it next on a gessoed wood panel but again in watercolor.