Risk, Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Sunday afternoon “plein air” in Maryland

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Illustration: “Kensington Fountain,” in watercolor, gouache, and pen-and-ink on a quarter sheet of Canson Heritage hot press watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

With another lovely day to enjoy, it was time today to join the Maryland ‘plein air painters’ again.  This meant crossing over the Potomac River and setting up a watercolor easel in a lovely small suburban park near the old town center of Kensington.  Plenty of shade and breezes made it a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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Photo: Flinn Park fountain on 13 August 2017

Everyone worked in their medium of choice, whether pastels, oil, acrylic or watercolor–there’s no right or wrong here, and nothing to hear but the sound of water falling from the fountain in the middle of the park.

(A note on materials:  These days I am finding the Canson Heritage brand of watercolor paper nice to work with and, perhaps surprisingly, on a par with the Arches brand (and, unfortunately, just as expensive).  I picked up a higher end version of Hahnemühle watercolor paper while in Germany and found it to be quite outstanding, allowing for brilliant colors but perhaps subtly with less “sizing’ than Arches or Canson. This latter paper is hard to get in the U.S.

Regarding brushes, the German-made DaVinci Kolinsky Red Sable watercolor brushes seem to do a good job with keeping a very fine point; I have a #6 and a #8, and can tell that in the hands of a professional, they would more than meet the tasks at hand. And for me, certainly, they are more than adequate.)

My younger brother, who has been mentioned in the last few blog posts, never understood my fascination with art materials.  (Indeed, he privately might have viewed it as a disorder; well, once he did say “that’s crazy,” so there’s a clue.)  He used the first sketchbook (Stillman&Birn Alpha series) I gave him for the last two years, and was on its last pages during our recent trip in Europe.  He was captivated, however, by the fine flow of the Platinum Carbon pen, and also the practicality of the water brush, both of which were gifts from me.  He had none of the interest others have in whether this or that paint is “student” or “artist” grade, nor in trying different sketchbooks (I’d supplied him with some backups). He wanted his sketches to be in chronological order in the original sketchbook, and never wavered from this.  As an artist, he had a beautiful, light style–and even mischievous style, as in a few sketches of people (possibly even us, his family members, but he would not say) on the beach at the Outer Banks.  He also used sketches in his work.  He could carry his entire art kit in a small zipper pouch designed for a looseleaf folder, and he never set foot in an art supply store, so far as I know.  (He wasn’t much a shopper, to put it mildly.)  My brother believed in “quality not quantity” and lived this.  Special memories, may they live on forever.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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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Uncategorized, urban sketching, Watercolor Painting

Water/Color in Konstanz,Germany

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Illustration: Watercolor and gouache on 12″x 8.5″ watercolor paper, “Harbor of Konstanz”, by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

They say that for the best views of Konstanz (in the south of Germany on the border with Switzerland), you need to be on the water.  The views from Konstanz, however, seem equally remarkable to me, especially in the changing light at the end of the day.  Recently I sat right down to make a sketch, fascinated with the lemony tinge of the treetops in the evening sunlight and the sailboats in the distance.  Later I made a watercolor of the same scene, experimenting with some watercolor paper made in Germany.  (A great deal of art material we’ve come to expect actually comes from Germany, home of many types of inks, watercolor brushes and the Lamy fountain pen.)

Konstanz is a great city for walking around, and almost everyone here seems to go to work by bike or bus.  The city is nearly surrounded by water, the air is fresh and mild, with nice breezes coming off of Lake Constance, or the “Bodensee” in German.  Three countries border on this vast lake: Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. You can see mountain peaks blending with clouds in the distance, and know you are looking at Austria or Switzerland.  This is a great jumping off point for explorations by ferryboat to the many sights around the lake, including the island of Mainau (pronounced “my-now”) with its semi-tropical atmosphere, palm trees, and an ornate hilltop palace built by Swedish nobility that can be seen from far away.  I’ll save all that for a future post though.   The hordes of tourists reportedly over-running Venice this summer are absent here.  There is no shortage of sight-seers on the ferries but the crowds are manageable.  In short, it’s no wonder this area has long attracted writers, artists, travelers,  sailing enthusiasts–and people seeking to relax in the many spas around Lake Constance.

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Illustration: Pen-and-ink sketch of the Stadtgarten, as seen from the Harbor of Konstanz, Germany, July 2017 by Black Elephant Blog author

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Surprise, Uncategorized

In Colmar, France on the 4th of July

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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.

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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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oil painting, Risk, Uncategorized

Oil Painting Canadian Geese in Times of U.S. Turmoil

When one is accustomed to watercolor painting, experimenting with oil paints is initially frustrating.  There are a lot of differences and one is that it’s a whole lot messier. There must be a method to your madness too, or the colors will quickly become muddy from careless mixing and intermingling of brushes.  I set myself up with some Gamblin oil paints, which came with a handy 6″ x 12″ wooden panel.  I used this panel as my first surface (seen below). It’s easy to see how (and why) one could spend a lifetime trying to master this. As with watercolor, however, there is a difference between somewhat heavy-handed applications of paint, and a lighter hand.  It’s all going to require a lot more experimenting…

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Illustration: “Canadian Geese on a Fountain”, Oil on 6″ x12″ panel by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

As to this image, it sprang to mind when I faced off with the blank wooden panel. While out taking a walk recently, I noticed that a nearby fountain is currently undergoing maintenance and our ubiquitous Canadian geese were resting on it in the middle of the lake.  This became my subject.  But remembering what Canadian geese look like proved harder than it should be–given that there are so many in this area that groups of them waddle through parking lots in search of food.  So I went out and looked at them again!

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Illustration:  Trying to make the Canadian geese more realistic!

A “touch up” later and the whole thing got still more complicated; (maybe this is like revising an already unacceptable healthcare bill).  When I start over next time,  I will try to stick with simple shapes, and see what happens.  Anyway, this is welcome distraction from the just-announced “healthcare” bill which, if passed, will cause immense damage to this country, apparently intentionally so!

A brief break from the easel to check the news online… and what do I see?   Video clips of U.S. Capitol Police trying to carry elderly and apparently disabled people out of the halls of the U.S. Capitol…   This is not very positive imagery for the erstwhile “leader of the free world” clearly.   Evidently these people had gathered there at considerable personal effort, in wheelchairs and on canes, to protest the secretly cobbled-together “healthcare” bill that will throw all of them out onto the street.  Here they were being picked up off the floor to be carried out to the street…how symbolic of the new government approach to people in need.  These are exactly the type of people who will be harmed the most if this bill passes, as major insurances companies warned again just today:  The proposed bill will most hurt “74 million low-income, disabled and elderly Americans whose health care coverage through Medicaid” depends on Congress’s next moves.  Right now, their obvious preferred option is to make the rich richer, and let the less fortunate fall through the widening cracks, come what may…  What kind of policy-maker thinks this way?

Ironic that Canadian geese must have determined this is a better place to live when, at least for American people (except for the famous “1 %”), it will become much more difficult in the U.S. in the years ahead. That is, unless we suddenly see an outbreak of forward-thinking readiness to consider the public good  among the people’s elected representatives–thinking that is not much in evidence, tragically.   They cannot connect the dots between the public good and national and global security, obviously.

As I turn back to the easel, I think about what I just saw:  U.S. Senators are embracing a bill that the U.S. President has described as “mean” even as he urges them to pass it without delay. It’s not making America great apparently that is the goal, but making America “mean”?  How could this sort of thinking possibly prepare this great nation for the unprecedented challenges rushing headlong at us, irrespective of our political leanings, in the years just ahead?  Clearly making sense of the news is harder than painting in oils.  I’ll stick with the task at hand…for now.

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Uncategorized

Getting Away From It All in Quebec

It’s been a busy time lately with travel and painting side-by-side with must-do’s, but I found myself recently on the banks of a roaring stream, conveniently located next to the best place to be in the small town of Val David, Quebec:  a microbrewery-cum-quaint-inn–a true jewel of a find.  (It is called “Le Baril Roulant MicroBrasserie” should you wish to look it up.)

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Illustration: “Val David, Quebec,” Watercolor and gouache in a home-made sketchbook with hot press Arches watercolor paper by Black Elephant Blog author (2017)

Being in places different from one’s usual world is always great for curious people, and this was no exception.  About an hour outside of Montreal, Val David is perfectly situated for a weekend get-away.  There are several choices of places to stay, like this place (below) seen from the bike path.

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Illustration: “C’est La Vie Cafe”, Val David, Quebec, watercolor and gouache on Arches cold press paper (2017)

There’s always so much to absorb–great museums (with a tremendous exhibition on Chagall), wonderful sights, and sounds–in Montreal.  Layers upon layers of new impressions mix in with older assumptions, and it is quite clear suddenly that new approaches must be tried as soon as one gets home:  this is always one of the benefits of travel.

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