Monday, April 7, 2014

Sort of Funkie Watercolor Painting

 Reminiscent of Cabanel
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 10.5x.75"

I thought this piece had the look of Cabanel's Birth of Venus, in the pose, not in the materials or the execution.  Cabanel and his Victorian audience would be horrified by effects produced by watercolor on wet masa paper. He wouldn't paint like I do either. I work directly with no preliminary drawing; no studies. Eek! He would never present a watercolor as a work of art. Though I paint with oils and acrylics, I consider watercolor to be my first medium. My drawings are rare in comparison to my output with watercolor. For me watercolor has largely replaced drawing.

There are still those who scoff at watercolors and insist they are mere sketches. I really get pissed off by that attitude. Watercolors have been fully accepted as complete works of art since J. M. W. Turner created techniques that revolutionized the medium.

I, however, am delighted with this little painting! This is so much more interesting than a precisely painted figure of the academic kind. I find that, when looking through Cabanel's ouvre, I get bored by the repetition of poses and the sameness of the application. That kind of consistency, while valued by his very conservative audience then, has no allure for me now, 150 years later.  

Things unacceptable in the 19th century are the things I prize about this tiny piece. I love soft edges, the indications of paint crawling from one area to another and the fading out of certain features. I am always taken by surprise by the development of effects as the paper dries. That's the fun! It's the 'what if' factor. The play with materials and the accumulation of experience, from making one painting after another, makes the artistic process. It allows the flow of ideas from one piece to another. It's never the same each time nor should it be.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Watercolor Figure Painting, My Approach

Seated Woman
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 10.5x3.75"

This is a watercolor of the same woman pictured in the last post. The difference here is that the time for completion was doubled. This was done in two 20 minute sessions. The paper had time to start drying and I could capture some facial features. I am very satisfied with the quality of light in this. It represents the strong lighting conditions present at the time of execution.

You can see there are fewer bleeds at the edges. There is a detail not possible when the paper is very wet. It has an overall crisper look. I do try to minimize the number of strokes I take. The fewer marks the better. I impose that on myself as a condition of painting or drawing. How few marks can I make and still have it appear as a human figure? How coherent can I make it with the fewest marks?

It is a very good practice as it encourages the development of a kind of personal short hand. One must be a ruthless editor when making quick studies like this. The emphasis on minute detail becomes tiresome for me after a while. As a viewer myself, I find the obsession on the minute details leaves something wanting in the whole. It's the vitality of the thing that seems drained from it. I can give the impression of detail by implying with my personal shorthand.

I don't like to make preliminary studies for similar reasons. I feel the liveliness of the original impulse is dissipated and can never be recaptured by a second rendering. I only make preliminary sketches for large pieces to make sure my idea suits the proportions of my painting surface. Then those sketches are of the most cursory kind. Then I can work from there just to make sure the placement of elements is correct. Of course there are always some changes in making the leap from small to large. That's part of the practice.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Benefits of Fast Watercolor Painting

Standing Nude Woman
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 10.5x3.75"

Life is good! My grandson is growing by leaps and bounds. He's developing a personality with generously displayed smiles. I can't help but be smitten by his charms! I am an obnoxious gramma singing his praises so now I'll shut up on that subject and write about this watercolor.

This watercolor was done in 15—20 minutes. My masa paper watercolors had become much more detailed lately and I want to find a balance between that and the very loose watery paintings I made when I first started using masa paper. Being forced to work faster helps. I have to edit. I have to be a generalist first and then work to the specific. I do miss long sessions and the ability to make a finished work but I need fast studies like this one, also. Working like this more than once a week would be a real treat! Practice is my best friend.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Element of Surprise

Seated Model
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 10.5 x7.5"

Here is an example of a watercolor on very wet masa paper. The bleeds and atmospherics are even more pronounced than in my previous post. It has such an ethereal look especially with the whites of the clothing. Some of it was unexpected and only showed themselves when the paper dried. Part of the fun of working with things uncontrollable is the element of surprise. It's the anticipation for what might be that so enthralling.

I will not say this is the most successful work I've done but the qualities I have mentioned make me save this piece. I may never show this in a formal setting but I find it to be appealingly mysterious. The process of art making can be utterly enigmatic. Stuff happens randomly while working that will take one in directions one never anticipated.

I am not a devotee of anything woo-like but, sometimes, when I am in the midst of work it seems to come from something outside myself. It's the crawling-out-o-the end-of-my-brush sensation. I am fully aware that an MRI would show particular areas of my brain are producing that sensation. It matters not. It's great when it happens.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

State of the Paper

Watercolor on Masa Paper, 10x7.5"

This was done on wet paper. The soft, fuzzy edges are a dead give away on that point. Detail is not possible under these conditions. The control over the bleeding is through an awareness of the state of the paper. How wet is it? Once that is determined then knowing what to do next is key to proceeding. When the paper is as wet as this I also have to be more heavy handed with the paint load in my brush. The water on the surface tends to spread the pigment out and the color dries palely and less saturated.

The softness of the edges creates a sense of luminosity. If the colors are complementary, and the value contrast is strong, then the glow is enhanced. The complementary colors here do that. The addition of the yellow green to set off the violets and the reds in the shadows on the figure. I have written more on color theory here.

The previous post had a piece that was done on masa paper that was also wet but not as wet as this. I  also allowed a longer time period to work on it. As the paper got dryer, more details could be added. A lot depends on atmospheric conditions. If it's a really humid day the paper will not dry for hours. On dry days the paper will dry very quickly. The final outcome is dependent on some very random and uncontrollable conditions.

The next watercolor on masa paper will show the differences in effects with a dryer paper.  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Another Find

Looking Ahead
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 10x7.5"

I have been looking through my watercolors and rediscovered more work. I usually store my small watercolors in clear plastic file envelopes. As much as I like the envelopes, the work can easily be forgotten because only the top image can be seen through the envelope. I have been taking all this work and retaining the best paintings and drawings. or the work that seems most important to my process. Then, it goes into an Itoya portfolio book. I can store a lot of work in them for very little space. Storage is always an issue if one makes work consistently.

In looking through all this production I can also see how my work has changed. The earlier pieces on masa paper are looser obviously wetter. I had decided to work on this paper on a whim and fell in love with it. I wet it thoroughly and work on the wet paper. It gives me all kinds of soft atmospheric effects and unexpected bleeds and blooms. It puts me exactly where I need to be. I am forced to work from the general to the specific and, then, only as the paper dries, can I refine until all the details can be added.

If you enlarge the above image you can see some tiny blooms on the lower right of the image. You can see small snowflake-like shapes. That is from the sizing on the back of the paper. If I soak the paper, the sizing is disolved from it and I can eliminate those little blooms. So I can be selective from  piece to piece. There is a certain element of surprise that I like in not soaking the paper well. I just don't know where or which random effects will occur so I have to take whatever comes. Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I don't. It doesn't matter in any case. It's just part of the process. It's all part of the play and practice of making art.

I have about a dozen of these rediscovered watercolor on masa pieces that demonstrate much of what I like about the paper. I will bring all those things to your attention in each posting. So, dear reader, there is much to anticipate in the weeks to come.

Monday, February 10, 2014


At the Beach
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 7.5x10"

I have been going through my watercolors and sketch books and rediscovering forgotten work. It's not difficult to lose track of work if you have enough output. Sometimes the desire to make work overpowers the desire to maintain order. I always make huge messes while I work. I manage to ignore it until it gets so chaotic that the mess impedes creative activity. Then, I clean up and begin the process all over again. It's better to have creative chaos than idle tidiness.

On my other blog I posted that I have often invented environments for my subjects but I often find them unsatisfying because the contrivance is too obvious. This is one of those occasions. I made him a hedonist at a nude beach. Meh! I'd much rather the scene had been dressed so as to stimulate a different set of ideas. I've done the beach routine too often and it now falls flat for me. C'est la vie!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Air of Expectancy

Standing in Shadow
Watercolor on Masa Paper,15x10.5"

This was done some weeks ago before I became a gramma. My new grandson has taken my attention. He is such a beautiful, brand new, human being! He is growing and changing by the minute. I'm smitten!

The initial strokes which established the whole figure were done very quickly. I am attracted to strong contrasts. The dramatic lighting makes it so much easier to see all the shapes. I also like the air of expectancy. She seems to be about to lose her balance and to stumble to the left. She did hold that pose for 20 minutes so she was not stumbling. I think the speed of application exaggerated the pose. It's a kind of happy accident. Most of the time was spent on refinement of contours and then applying details.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Little Time Goes a Long Way.

In Eleanor's Studio
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 15x10.5"

It's been a very busy two weeks! Our grandson arrived by C-section. I did some cooking for my kids so they could focus on meals for baby rather than meals for themselves. Then I hosted Thanksgiving for the family. The number for Thanksgiving dinner was fouirteen counting baby. The new mommy and daddy came with a six day old baby and he was passed and cuddled and kissed throughout the whole evening. He's a little beauty boy if ever I saw one! My son has pictures of his grandmother holding her first great grandson. (I need to nag him for some pictures so I have  some for my gramma brag book!) This is her fourth great grandchild. It was a joyous evening. We are soooo grateful!

We had a reunion of the Saturday figure drawing/painting group. My friend decided she missed it as much as I did. She decided to schedule sessions sporadically on Sundays. These sessions are long pose. The model takes a single pose for the whole session,of course, with breaks.  What a difference that makes! I can work more deliberately and produce a complete watercolor. Quick and intermediate poses serve their purposes but don't allow for finish. Any work I finish is usually very small, though, once in a while I manage to churn one out quickly

By working quickly one can establish all the relationships so corrections can be made. Color relationships, value relationships, size relationships can be adjusted in regards to each other. Working all that together makes for a more cohesive work. Quick poses are for learning how to do that so there is a basis for finishing. The quality of finish can make all the difference in the world. Having a long pose session more regularly will be a gift for finish.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ta-Daaaah! It's a Baby!

Baby Alexander with His Dad
8 lbs. 1 oz., 22" long

Posting will be sparse with the arrival of this little guy.   I'm a crazy new Gramma! He has big hands and feet just like his Zadie.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

No Baby Yet.

Is it Sunny?
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 15x10.5"

This is from the same session as the previous post. As successful as that session was, the following session proved to be a disappointment. Go figure. Some days I'm hot and some days I'm not. 

This has a very nice quality of light. It's as if she was actually sitting in the sun and not in an enclosed space. The landscape elements were completely invented with little fuss. Sometimes not thinking too much can be your best technique.

I am not a gramma yet. My daughter-in-law is a little more than a week overdue and she is very "heavy with child". The doctor wants to induce labor if it goes another week. I'd prefer she go into labor on her own. Induced labors are a little harder on both mom and baby. A natural labor would be so much better. 

We are expecting a storm through here today with rain and very strong winds. Hopefully the rapidly changing barometric pressure will encourage labor. That and some Mexican food. Come on baby!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Of Painting, Sewing, and Grand Babies

Summer Night Dream
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 7.75x5.25"

I had a very good afternoon painting from the model last Sunday. This is the final watercolor of the day. It is rare that I am satisfied with all the pieces that come out of such sessions. The other pieces from the day will be posted later in the week. 

The background is a total invention. The cushions are a partial invention as I changed the colors and made additions to some patterns. The model has been painted as closely to my observation as I possibly could. That's as 'truthful' as this 'image-lie' is going to get.

This is an unusually long period between posts for me. I have been obsessed anticipating the birth of my first grandchild. I am crazed with excitement! I have been sewing baby things. I have been making overalls with zipper crotches for easy diaper changing and reversible jackets with hoods. I am drawing from previous experiences sewing for my kids when they were little. I am reliving all the fun I had making their clothing. 

Before I went back to painting, sewing was my creative outlet. I have always had a lot of creative energy that I had to express somehow. It was just too difficult for me to paint with materials that were potentially toxic in a small space with tiny children. Once they were older I was able to shift my energies to painting. Now I can do both!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Lost in the Shuffle

Watercolor on Masa Paper, 10x7.5"

I am mourning the passing of summer, a beautiful autumn, and pleasant weather. It is cold and windy here. The clouds are building for what will be a very sunshine starved season. If we do have sun it' will be very cold. Consult your basic meteorology text to explain that. This was done the same day as this painting

This little image got lost in the shuffle of excitement around here. We are anticipating the birth of our very first grandchild. Woo Hoo! My beautiful daughter-in-law is very big with child and due a week from Friday. She has been a frenzy of activity. She's been nesting and her chief assistant is my son. He gutted to the studs and re-did the bathroom. The two of them painted the house. She garage-saled furniture then repainted and reupholstered. I'm getting tired just typing about it. It's been a whirl of activity.

My hubby and I are thrilled. I was told I would be crazy, even double crazy as the day approached and it's true. I have been crocheting afghans and sweaters and now getting ready to sew baby clothes. It de ja vue all over again. I did the same for my own kids and had tons of fun doing it. It will be lovely doing it again. There is one benefit. I get to have all the fun and none of the responsibility! More to come in the next few weeks. Expect Gramma to post some pictures.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Stripes Are Your Friends!

Watercolor on Masa Paper, 7.75x5.25"

I don’t know what it is about some models that make them such an inspiration during a painting session. ‘Inspiration’ seems like such a cliched term but I lack another word to use in its place. An eye candy model can be very boring if that person has no emotional substance. One senses  an absence in those instances. And the work reflects that. I don’t know what that mechanism is but I do know it exists. Those models who walk in the door with presence make for satisfying work.

This young woman had that presence. She was talkative and comfortable in her skin. It would make sense that if one is disrobing for the afternoon, feeling  comfortable with who one is would be very helpful. It has nothing to do with one’s appearance. The notion that models have to be the stereotype of mass culture is very shallow and irrelevant to the art process. I have written many times that everyone who walks in the door has their own beauty. I can appreciate each one. It’s those people who seem to be not present who are difficult or unsatisfying to art. I know I would respond to this young woman returning to model with an internal “Yay!” when she came in the door.   

She had a vintage robe with turquoise stripes. You can see her sitting on it for this pose. I love stripes! I love pattern of all kinds but stripes make my heart go pitter-pat. They have such graphic punch as they undulate across the surface and describe the form as they do. If I can follow the stripes as they disappear, reappear, and shift in their travel; get narrower and wider with perspective, then, I’ll have drawn the fabric they sit on without much ado. Then all I need do is sweep the shadows in and I am done! The stripes and patterns in general are aids in drawing the complexity of draped fabric.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Oh, the Viscissitudes!

Seated in Shadow
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 5.25x7.75"

It's been nearly a month since I scanned this image. Every watercolor small enough to fit the scanner bed gets digitized for the internet that way. It saves a little editing time. I usually adjust the contrast and try to make the color match the actual painting. The fact that the computer screen is luminous makes it a total E.W.A.G. (Educated Wild Ass Guess)  I also like to scan or photograph works as they are completed so there is no backlog. It's also not in a frame or under glass. That's a headache to photograph.

The scanner has certain advantages over the camera. Taking photos with a camera presents some problems. Is the lighting right? How do I keep glare off an oil painting? How do maintain the position of the camera so that it is parallel to the surface of the painting? That one is the most difficult. I usually end up correcting that problem in Photoshop. You've had photos of work where the edges of the paper or canvas don't show as square, I'm sure. That's because the camera wasn't parallel to the picture's plane. I don't want to crop off the edges to force it into square. Too much information is lost in that instance. So, I use a little transformational magic provided by Photoshop and straighten everything out.

How do I keep glare off an oil painting? Oils are not for the scanner because of the sheen of oils and they are usually too large. I use the camera for oils. The secret is to light the painting indirectly by bouncing the light off the ceiling and a white surface large enough to be placed under, and in front of, the painting. Do not use the flash. I set up with two cheap torchiere lamps from Ikea. I place one on each side and to the front of the painting which has been propped up on a futon in my office. I place the painting in a horizontal orientation to accommodate  the view finder. I can always rotate it on the computer later. 

The painting gets lit indirectly from the light bounced off the ceiling and the white foam core board placed on the futon in front of the painting. I also pull the blinds up on the window to get as much indirect light into the room as possible. Works like a charm. I usually have to straighten the edges but that's OK. If it's a particularly dreary day, I also have to adjust the levels to brighten the middle tones.

I probably have the last digital camera with a view finder. That fact helps me keep the camera steady while taking the picture without the flash. I take several shots just to make sure I have a sharp image. It was tricky until I perfected my technique but now it works very well for me. One of the blessings of digital photography is that you have instant gratification. You can see the image immediately, and take unlimited images of the same subject. No running out of film!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dual Activities

Woman in the Landscape
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 7.75x5.25"

This young lady had not come to model for us for about a year. Since then she acquired the tattoo you see here. The tree image on her body suggested the completely invented landscape in which she sits in this painting. As much as I like the soft atmospheric effects of masa paper like these two pieces, I also like the crispness of working on drier paper. This has a clarity I find appealing. It seems such a contradiction, but I can appreciate both. 

I have, in the past, investigated two lines of work that seemed disparate. I made classical figure paintings while making abstract, experimental watercolors. Eventually, I dropped the abstraction because it was no longer meaningful for me. My fascination for the figure and figure painting took precedence. I learned a great deal from abstraction. That continues to influence my work so the dual activity was to my benefit as an artist.

The art process can seem so mysterious. One can intend to go in one direction and end up as far as one can be from the intention. I could never figure out why that happens but I have learned that it is best to just go with it and not fight it. If I ever have a yearning to make abstract work again I will. Sometimes it's can be very liberating not to have to consider subject matter and just fling paint. Then I can play with what is suggested by the results.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Head On

Head On, Foreshortened Figure
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 7.5x5.25"

Foreshortened views are always challenging and this image presented its challenges. I think the viewer of this might have to do a little thinking about this. I am not as intimidated by views like this as I used to be. I figured out that I had to find the forms in space. I have to ask what shape is in front or behind or in between. I like the shapes and colors that came out of this, but time is always my enemy. I like to work a little slower when working it all out.It may not be as clear here as I would have liked.

What was closest to me was that hand at the bottom with the arm traveling away to connect to a shoulder hidden behind the top of the head. The circumference of the shoulders is behind the head. I couldn't see a rib cage or abdomen at all. Of the hips, all I saw was the left hip and thigh, then, the calf and foot in order behind that. Her right knee is resting on her left calf and I had to do an E.W.A.G.(Educated Wild Ass Guess) on the location of her right hip to determine the correct angle.  I concluded that to be directly behind her head.Just this lengthy and involved this explanation is an indication how complex the thought processes are in figuring it all out. It's different for each situation. 

Paul Cadmus did some beautiful drawings of male nudes with the most extremely foreshortened views and pulled them off with great success. You can see some of them here. Your local library will have the book-form compilation of them if you care to study them. The internet is too low resolution for study.

Friday, September 20, 2013

More Neighbors

Blue Trunks
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 10.5x7.5"

This is from the location of the previous landscape watercolor painting just down the street from my house. It's really a tiny stand of trees in a suburban setting. It seems to be something much more in this little painting. The woods were back lighted. The paper was very wet as can be seen by all the soft edges and bleeds. I am always tempted to tidy up some of the less clear parts but I controlled myself this time. I wanted to keep a spontaneity and the sense of a quick execution.

When people are asked what color the trunks of trees are, they usually say, "Brown." In actuality the trunks of trees are all variety of colors. Yes the intensity of their colors are reduced to nearly the neutral but they still have an element of color and color temperature. They can also be covered in lichens and mosses rendering them blue-green or yellow green.The colors you see here have been cued by the colors I saw before me, though I have exaggerated them. 

I am not a fauvist but I have the feeling that the fauves may have come up with their arbitrary color schemes suggested by what was before them. The practice of going outdoors was still relatively new and through that practice came the realization that things were not necessarily what was commonly taught. As light changes, so does color. Reflected light and color changes the colors of the surfaces receiving the reflections. The sky is not always blue and the color of water is a reflection of sky. What was seen through careful observation became a stepping stone to greater invention. That's pure speculation on my part. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Good Relationship

Standing Poses on Turquoise Grounds
Watecolors on Masa Paper, 7x5" each

Standing Poses are not my favorites especially with an undecorated model stand. It think its the unremitting verticality. that bothers me. I could zero in on some details but that seems too easy. It's always a challenge to get a nearly whole figure down in proportion in a fast, single go (20-30 minutes). 

That said, these two little watercolors are examples of what I like about masa paper. The paper is wet, but not sopping, puddly wet when I work. That paper state can be seen in the softness of the edges made by the spreading of the watercolor on the paper. The edges are not crisp as they would be on dry paper. One has to work in generalizations when the paper is in this condition. As the paper dries one can get a little fussier about details. That's exactly as it should be. Details are the last things to be dealt with when making a painting or drawing of anything.

Another of the characteristics are the way heavier pigments granulate as they dry. If you click on the images to enlarge them you can see that more clearly. And finally, this paper is more forgiving to correction. I can lift color more easily or add color to correct contours with equal ease even when wet. If I am correcting with heavy pigment on a lighter dye color, the heavier pigment granules will just push the lighter color aside as I put the heavier one down. A draw back is that, if you fuss too much, the tooth of the paper will abrade and the surface of the paper will pill like a cheap sweater.

The speed of drying is dependent on atmospheric conditions. On a humid day that time is extended. If it's a very humid rainy day that could extend the drying time to hours instead of minutes. That can be either a boon or a curse depending upon what I want from the painting. I have been carrying the love affair with this paper on for at least seven years. I'd have to go through my image files and check for the earliest dates to know for sure. (All this information has been gleaned over that time.) So far, the relationship has been satisfactory, albeit with a few ups and downs. I think it will continue for some time.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What Consitutes a Good Afternoon

Tree Row
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 7x10"

This watercolor is from the location as the image from my previous post. In fact, it was done first. I was attracted to the diagonal arrangement of these trees. I think it makes for a more interest image.

It's smaller piece by half. I usually work from smaller to larger. Sometimes I start even smaller than this. Working small outdoors give me the opportunity to finish and to make more than one piece. A good session produces three watercolors. If I have three paintings I consider to be successful then I have had a very good afternoon. I have one more painting to post from this session.  So, I did have a good afternoon.

I usually work in the afternoon because I exercise in the morning. I have been going to an outdoor water aerobics class and I love it. I have never enjoyed the gym thing but I really enjoy the water and swimming. I'm afraid my swimming days are over as I have geeza issues. I used to be able to swim a mile at a session but, my shoulders just don't want to move in the way they used to. However, I can tread water for a full hour in a full-out deep water aerobics class. Now I have moved indoors for my water work out but, no deep water. Boo! Hoo!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Right in the Neighborhood

Neighborhood Trees
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 14.5x10.5"

This scene is one from down the street adjacent to the local school's playing fields. It's right at the edge of the fields where the suburban homes are, along with their landscaping at the perimeter. The school buildings were behind me as I painted. Those buildings are planted in an empty grass covered plain with little of interest from the position I had taken. I'm sure I could find something for a painting in those school buildings if I nosed around a little bit.

The rectangular hedge in the left of the middle ground of this watercolor is the boundary between the two areas. There is a house behind the red maple and the ornamental trees planted around it. I think there are a few more paintings to be made from this location. I just have to drag all my stuff back to it.

This is an example that illustrates my contention that subject matters for art are everywhere. All the mundane aspects of our lives hold the potential for art. In fact I think the collection of mundane experiences I have had were the raw materials for my best work. Most of us don't live the lives of action heroes. It's the meanings we attach to the little things that make them powerful. Granted, these pleasant little watercolors are not profound but they part of my life's journey and part of the bits and pieces of what could be profound art.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Reminder of the Celts

Old Box Elder
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 7.5x10

This was done last June during the pleine aire workshop I taught at my Wisconsin house. It was done at the same location as the the Old Barn watercolor. I gave that little painting to the owner of the property as a thank you for giving us his permission to paint there. 

He had this very old box elder tree in back of his house. It had been hit by lightening and was bent over and twisted more like a California laurel tree than like a Wisconsin box elder tree. The owner and his wife had all kinds of things hanging in the tree. There were hand made bird houses and a trinkets all through it though this view had them hidden. 

It reminded me of the Celts who hung items as sacrifices in sacred groves or holy springs. Holy Well in Ireland was such a place long before Christianity. People still leave sacrificial objects in the trees there. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Just Poke Your Nose Out your Door

Blue Spruce
Watercolor on Rag Paper, 10x5"

The subject matter for art is everywhere. I don't need to go to exotic places to find it. This was done in my back yard. Our side yard is much lower than the rest of the yard and there is a stairway down from the front of the house to the side yard. It's behind the brick wall seen here. Between that and the blue spruce you see in this piece is a rock garden that also slopes to the side yard level. Between the wall and the white fencing is another stairway going down to the basement entrance.

I am very attracted to situations in which barriers and structures are layered like this. It forces the viewer to figure out the organization of the space. I also like the idea of having to peek through something, like the fence, to find something else. This kind of situation is everywhere in the built environment. All I need to do is be mindful to find it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Beautiful Pose

Watercolor on Rag Paper, 7x10"

Reclining poses present a challenge with the foreshortening and their horizontality. The cascading hair seems to relieve that with its vertical tumble off the model stand.

What attracted me to this pose was the beauty of her jaw line and her cascading hair which fell in corkscrew tendrils. I had to finish this at home. Time is always short at the Sunday sessions—thirty minutes is the maximum time allotted. I sure miss Saturday session
with its double four hour poses. I could bring something to some degree of finish with having to rush.

Granted, sometimes having to rush through a piece is a boon. Having to think visually exclusively works very well. In those instances the pieces seems to crawl out of the end of my brush. It's rare that some things seem to paint themselves.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What Traffic Wrought

Life and Death in the Woods
Watercolor on Rag Paper, 12x6"

This was supposed to have been a watercolor figure painting. Gridlock made a landscape. I was on my way to my Sunday figure drawing/painting session when traffic came to a standstill while I was quite far from my destination. The powers that be had decided to close the reversible express lanes downstream of my location. It snarled traffic in both directions making it impossible to get to my session in a reasonable time. I would have missed more than half the working time. It made no sense to continue.

So, I decided to get off the 'express way' to go to the forest preserves near the exit to paint. This was the neighborhood I grew up in so I knew exactly where to go. I checked out three groves before deciding on this one. I was attracted to the contrast between the lushness of the foliage and the large dead tree in its midst. This dead tree was quite large when it died. I'd estimate the diameter of the trunk to be 24—30".  

There are a lot of dead trees around this year. Last summer it was very dry and the stress of the drought and a subsequent cold winter did them in. This summer we have had good rains and moderate temperatures. The result is a lushness not seen around here for a several seasons. 

I like the idea that I can find subjects for art in my usual haunts. I don't have to go off to locations that are exotic or dramatic to find 'good stuff' for inspiration to work. Besides just working should be inspiration enough.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sumac and Poplar
Watercolor on Rag Paper, 11x5.5"

This was done during the workshop from the end of last month. There were lots of painting subjects at the boat launch. All one has to do is nose around a little to find them. All it has to be is some small cluster of information to latch onto. 

One looks at the world differently when going out to paint. You are not navigating through the world to get from point A to point B. You are looking for things that will fit on the rectangle your are carrying with you in an aesthetically pleasing way. Once deciding on that cluster, then the challenge is to make it work on that rectangle.

I have nothing more to say that is profound so I'll stop typing. Just paint!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Across the Fields to the Lake
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 7.5x20"

I often do this—make a work, put it away, then forget that I ever did it. Usually, months later, I go through my work to organize or cull the work that is not up to snuff. Then, I rediscover things I had forgotten months before. For me, art making is a compulsion. I can't speak for other artists, but I just don't feel right unless I am working on something. So I often tuck completed things away and go focus on the next project.

This was done early last spring. The snow had melted away and foliage had not yet begun to appear. I was riding with my hubby to our Wisconsin house and saw this along the way. It wasn't exactly this. This is an invention from memory. 

It's a gorgeous sight in any season but, I have a particular fascination for winter color. It has wonderfully subtle earth tones of differing temperatures. It's also very close in value. It's not all grey. While it has color, it is low on the value scale. That's always a challenge to control in a painting. I love a challenge!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Now the Water is Blue

On the Rocks
Watercolor on Rag Paper, 10x7.5"

A day or two passes and the water is blue! Go figure! The conditions changed just slightly enough to produce a steely, blue-gray color on the water. The wind changed to a breeze and shifted slightly to the west. That, along with brilliant sunshine, changed everything.

This is the edge of a boat launch with a large parking lot. It was July 4 and the launch was very busy.  My friend and I slipped off onto a very rocky beach. But for the big breakwater rocks, most were the size of a typical russet potato. From this view no one would ever guess that a mass of people with cars and pick-ups hitched to boat trailers were actively putting boats into and taking boats out of the water all afternoon.

Rocks are a challenge to paint. I like to have them in front of me just to get a feel for what they are like. These are not exactly what was in front of me. This my sense of them. After all, none of us are recording devices and I am not out to make rock portraits. I wanted to express the jumbled quality and some of the textures. I also liked the arc formed by the rocks as it receded away from me. I am pretty pleased with this result. It was painted on a beautiful day, too.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Water Is Not Blue

On the Shore
Watercolor on Rag Paper, 5.5x11"

This is the product of my no hovering strategy while teaching. I paint while my students paint. It's to keep me out of their hair. Nothing is more unnerving than someone constantly looking over your shoulder while you work. It's especially annoying if you are struggling with new materials for the very first, or second time, or third time.

I painted with watercolor while they painted with oil. I'd get too self-involved with oil. I can do several small watercolors in a short time. Between paintings I check on my students' progress and offer advice. Each, but one, had an idea as to how the painting should look. The lone newbie was still deciding. He will continue to decide for several paintings as he struggles with painting in oil outdoors.

This little painting was done on the shore of Green Bay in a county park. The sky was threatening rain on and off all day. There was an on-shore breeze all day. The water was blown towards the shore by the wind and was choppy. The conditions made the water appear to be a yellow ocher. This is looking north and slightly east. The land in the painting is a continuation of the shore in the foreground as rounded of the the north, northwest.

I don't know if it was the shallowness of the water, or the wind direction, or the northward view that made for such an unusual color. Water is really never blue. It's black. That's because it absorbs all the light that hits it. Any color is a reflection of surroundings and weather conditions. Blue is a reflection of blue sky; ocher might be the color of a shallow limestone lake bed; brown might be the color of tannins from a stream emptying into the lake. I't endlessly changing. That's what's so fascinating.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Wonder Dog

Winston, the Wonder Dog
Watercolor on Rag Paper, 3.25x6"

Winston, the Wonder Dog neither skate boards, snow boards, nor surfs, but he is a wonder dog none the less. He is an avid fan of swimming in spite of the fact that he is as buoyant as a boat anchor. He also loves killing the tire swing in the backyard at least twice a day. He'll grab onto it with his bull dog grip and swing suspended from the tire until he gets too hot and collapses to the ground. Then it's back to the house for a drink and a cool down on the tile floor. 

He also likes to rough house with his favorite boy. In his mind, my son Ken, is Sherman to his Peabody. He will stand an stare to indicate he wants a tussle and if he doesn't get it he lets out with a firm "Woof!" If he can't have Ken then he'll settle for my hubby, and, on occasion, me.

His greatest wonder attribute is his sweet, mellowness. He is the sweetest, most mellow dog I have ever encountered. That's wonderful enough for me!