No Mail Today – 8 x 6.25 – watercolor sketch
I painted this little vignette this morning as a way to get some art practice no matter what the rest of the day would include (chores, an art association meeting and demo, car-shopping, housework, etc.) I’m very disciplined about making sure that I paint daily – and now I know why. At yesterday’s Watercolor West demo featuring Elaine Harvey (watercolorist) she said it’s essential to practice frequently because painting is not just an intellectual activity – it’s a physical activity. If you don’t paint for awhile she says, you lose some of your dexterity in brush handling, color mixing, just the way you move your hand and move paint around. I hadn’t really looked at it that way but I can see the wisdom in it and will continue making time for at least one painting or sketch a day – more if I can afford the time.
This little sketch is a bit of a fantasy based on a little picture I took last summer of a country road. It looks nothing like this in real life but it does capture a little bit of a peaceful, cheerful country feel, in a completely romanticized way. Every now and then it’s sort of fun to escape from the mud and muck of reality. Like, during the US election season, you know?
Avocado & Leaves – 5 x 7 oil
Avocados from our overburdened tree – guacamole coming soon! This was painted from life this morning with actual sunshine streaming in my studio window!
I’m feeling better – finally – things are looking up.
“San Pasqual Stables in the Morning” 9 x 12 – oil
This morning I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the San Pasqual Stables in South Pasadena, California for a group paintout. The location was challenging because I don’t frequently do architectural subjects, and morning light is hard to catch because it changes so fast. So, I decided that I was mostly concerned about getting the “color notes” right for the barn, shadow, distant trees and foreground. If I happened to get those spots of color into good shapes, all the better, but I kept my expectations low just in case.
I liked how this came out and do think it represents the feeling of hazy light between 9:30 and 10 in the morning. After that time I worked on refinement of the image rather than trying to “chase the sun” and continue modifying the shadows, color etc. That means that the “bones” of this were laid down in 20 minutes, more or less, and then as I changed shapes and edges I mixed more of the same colors that I already had.
It would have been nice if there had been some people and horses standing around outside the stables, but mostly they were inside or moving through the scene quickly and I didn’t fancy trying to fake one, so I left it alone.
There were two somewhat exciting incidents while I was there 1) a golden eagle was spotted in the vicinity, slowly gliding over the area near a few crows and 2) a big male stallion got loose and came running right near where I was standing, at the side of a corral. Now I don’t know about horses, but I think they usually have people with them – they’re not like dogs that you can just let loose to find their way home. I saw this big guy running toward me and I just froze at my easel, not wanting him to see me as threatening in any way. In a few seconds he turned and went into a corral. A groom came running after him but was clearly keeping his distance so he didn’t spook him. The groom chained the horse in the corral and then he and a few other wranglers approached him gingerly and got a halter on him to lead him back to the barn. That stallion had a lot of attitude – I’m glad he didn’t decide that I was someone to have “issues” with.
“Fortune Cookie” – 5 x 7 – acrylic
This painting was done in response to a creative challenge to “draw or paint something wrapped in plastic.” Since we had Chinese food the other night, I still had this fortune cookie sitting around, so I decided to paint that. The problem is, I can’t read the fortune inside without opening the plastic and I think I might like to paint it again. So, it will sit on my desk enigmatically with the life-changing fortune and lucky lottery numbers safely sealed inside. I have a feeling that if and when I do finally tear it open it will say something like “this fortune is past its sell-by date and has expired.”
I was thinking a little bit about how I’d approach the painting of transparent plastic and I finally settled in with the realization that it’s no different than painting anything else … it all comes down to color, value, shape and edge. Simple concepts when you get right to it.
Keeping to my art resolutions, tonight I started a figure drawing class with a new teacher and what was the first thing he said about modeling the head? “You have to pay attention to value, shape and edge …(we were working in charcoal so color wasn’t a factor.) So there you go – three teachers out of three and they all concur … value, color, shape, edge – that’s how you render any object – no matter what the medium. So the next time you want to paint a lake or a cloud or a parsnip – you know the answer.
Watercolor on paper Approx 8″ x 5″
A simple composition using intense color and a limited palette
I’m still in flu-recovery mode and trying to clean up my office to clear the decks for a batch of new projects in the works.
California in the Rain – 9 x 12 – acrylic on canvas on board
It’s coming down in buckets – really big buckets. Which is a good thing for our thirsty land and I’ll just have to put up with the people who don’t know how to drive in it.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know how I love our California eucalyptuses, a gift from our friends in Oz. Well, eucalyptuses are absolutely ethereal looking in the rain. Those towering masses seem to slip into the fog and mist revealing their forms in different ways.
This painting was done with just a handful of colors – viridian, yellow, black, white and burnt sienna. Using fewer colors lets me concentrate more on value and composition.
Here’s a good quote I saw today that relates to color:
“One can define the shape of every object in nature by showing the precise color tones of everything that surrounds it. Nature is not to be rendered with the colors one buys from a merchant, but by accurately imitating its color in relation to space and to the light that illuminates it.” Jean Baptiste Chardin.
Arroyo Seco Morning – 8 x 10 acrylic on canvas on board
As I am still recovering from my cold, I decided I didn’t want to risk a setback painting in oil with mineral spirits so I painted this small study in acrylic. No smell, no muss, no fuss. I can hardly wait to give it a coat of varnish and see the colors glow.
Although I will never lose my passion for watercolor and oil, I have to say that acrylic is growing on me – especially when it’s cold outside and I can’t have my studio window open for ventilation. Colors mix the same and there is so much in common with both oil and watercolor that it feels quite comfortable to me. Plus, acrylic allows you to do things that are just impossible in either oil or watercolor. Because it dries almost immediately you can layer and glaze as the spirit moves you – no waiting a day to come back and do that. And if you glaze a light wash on a dry layer and don’t like the effect – wipe it off (You sure can’t do that in watercolor.) Paint thick or paint thin – use washes or heavy brushwork. It’s really an amazing medium. Scumble, use a palette knife, get painterly – acrylic lets you do it.
This is a scene in Hahamongna Park, which is the upper arroyo seco and lies between Pasadena and my town, La Canada Flintridge. Right now the willows have turned yellow and tomorrow during the rainstorm the arroyo will be full of rushing water coursing out of the San Gabriel Mountains. One of these days (when I’m feeling better) I want to go down there when it’s raining or right after and see the power of nature. Don’t worry, I won’t do anything stupid like trying to go out in a wild river – I’m happy to watch it from high up on the riverbank.
“A distant view” – watercolor sketch on paper
The cold and flu season has left me a sniffling, coughing, Vicks-laden mess, so I’m trying to not exacerbate the situation by inhaling copious quantities of odorless mineral spirits without a window open for ventilation. (It’s cold outside.) So instead, I’m keeping warm, drinking lots of tea and doing some watercolor studies in preparation for larger paintings, to be completed at a later time. But it still fits within my yearly goals, and I’m content with that.
A word about goals and plans. Many of our art friends are making goal lists this time of year, and I see at least two different types of plans. Some goals are highly specific and detailed, often including numbers of types of works to be drawn or painted, or lists of subjects to be tackled. I think that this can work very well for people who enjoy structure and thrive on that – and you are to be congratulated for having thought through your plans in such detail. And there are others, myself included, who work better with a few broad guidelines and plenty of room for variety. I also find that I produce more when I set my goals low and try to exceed them than when I set them too high and then feel internally nagged to do “too much.”
So whether you’re a wonderfully detailed goal-setter or a ‘big umbrella’ goal setter, I encourage you to be thoughtful about your plans and allow room for the unexpected to happen. You may have intended to work on pen and ink drawing – but then you synchronistically meet a pastellist whose work just blows you away – and who is offering a workshop within driving distance. Sometimes these chance meetings can have extraordinarily wonderful consequences, so leave room in your plans for serendipity, without judging yourself for changing mid-stream.
Fixed forecasts may work in the financial sector but artists need to have room to course correct as the muse moves them. Now, I’m not saying you should “change your major” with every passing whim – that’s a good way to end up going in circles. But do allow yourself the freedom to be inspired by new ideas, and to follow those interests where they lead – even if they weren’t on your radar in January.