Sunday, July 29, 2012

At the North Pole

Ink and watercolor in large moleskine
I am standing at the North Pole of art-making, and my compass is spinning out of control in each and every direction.

But, just as they say each December, it is magical here.

Which way to turn?  I have been exploring traditional watercolors because I want to understand the medium and hone my skills, and that is good.

I have also drilled a hole into the ice, and placed one big toe into the world of acrylics.  And I like it, although my toe is blue.

Then there is the world of ink and watercolors.  I sketch almost everywhere I go (though not each time) and my obsession, as always, is people.  The above sketch was made on a glorious day at the opening ceremonies of my nephew's little league.  I had the luxury of time to sit and sketch - a wonderful stretch of time.

Then there is my small moleskine filled from cover to cover with many more modest sketches.

I lost interest in coloring my ink drawings with watercolor.  Competely and utterly.  My compass had turned the other way.  So all of it has been left uncolored.

dip pen and brush with ink
Until now.  The needle has turned.  So I finished coloring the above drawing last week and more will come.

I also have the idea for a series of ink and watercolor figures.  The first is done, and you will see it soon.

And my exploration of both watercolor and acrylic is continuing.

The needle points other ways too.  I did this drawing of a girl from a photograph as a kind of experiment, using a pen dipped in a bottle of ink, and, for the hair, brush and ink.  I love the line I get from the dip pen - and brush and ink is a wonderful.  The possibilities are endless, I think.

Now, pardon me, my helpers have arrived - all of the muses that help me make my toys, these pictures, are leading me away with their little hands...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Tree Post

7" x 5" ink and watercolor on Tyvek
On the radio the other day, I heard the following ad for a program on a great local radio show called "Topical Currents":

Trees are deaf, so the idea that music can help them grow is a myth.
But they can smell.
And they can sense when their neighbor is being eaten by a ravenous bug.

And they can speak.  I know this.

I found the above group of young trees in a park.  And they spoke to me.

I loved how they were spaced and their varying heights.  I decided to paint them on Tyvek, which I had been meaning to do for some time as its virtues had been extolled again and again by Myrna Wacknov at her blog, Creative Journey.

Tyvek is synthetic; it is made by DuPont.  (Interestingly, my son worked with Tyvek at the DuPont plant in Virginia as a part of his internship in chemical engineering - so Tyvek would have had a special place in my heart, even if I had never used it before.)

I don't even think that DuPont even calls it a paper - it is simply, Tyvek.  Its uses include providing protection against moisture intrusion in construction, as covers for cars, as medical and industrial packaging, and for envelopes.  There are many more uses, I gather.  I believe that Myrna got her Tyvek from a hardware store but I've looked more than once and have not found it at ours.  So I took a Tyvek envelope and cut it up.

This paper is thin, but cannot be ripped, and it has a varied pattern to it.  So I laid out the general structure of the trees in pen and then laid brush to paper.

And then..

I don't know what I expected , but I didn't expect it to bead up.  What an effect!  It was like watching the world through a windshield in a light rain.  And then, just as I finished painting the trees it began raining!  And looking through my windshield, I saw that the painting was true.

 watercolor on 4" x 5" Fabriano Artistica cold press paper

So let's see..trees can smell, they can sense bugs, they can speak, and, by the way, trees can dance!  How do I know this?  From Jennifer Edwards, that's who!  At her Drawn2Life blog,  In case you missed it, she wrote this poem (used here by permission):

I chanced to see
the trees dancing
in the breeze.

Said I to the trees
could we dance
together please?

And I curtsied
to the boughs
of the trees.

watercolor on 8" x 8"Fabriano Artistica cold press paper

Here in South Florida the trees, for the most part, stay green for the entire year.  But green, in fact, should be plural like fish or buffalo, because there are warm greens and cool greens and bright greens and dull.  There is an endless variety of green to enjoy and many, many shapes of the leaves and trees, of course.

Honestly, I'm embarrassed to say it, but I don't know one tree from the other.  I can see their differences and I can paint them, but I don't know what most trees are called.  But I know this, they share many gifts, including their gems, the birds.

 Years ago I spent a fair amount of time birding.  I never grew particularly good at it, but walking in the woods and listening and looking for birds remains the most freeing and relaxing thing that I have done.

Once at an Audubon walk, I spotted a bird in the distance.  I signaled to the grey-haired experienced birder who was leading the group.  He asked where it was.  Signalling towards the copse of trees in the distance, I enthusiastically said, "It's there - in the green tree!"  He looked at me.  I'm sure he was impressed.

ink field sketch of painted bunting in sketchbook

There are always surprises.  On October 1, 1996 (I cannot believe it is that long ago), I decided to go into the field and sketch what I see.  Usually I would just enjoy the birds with my binoculars, and write down their names.

At a park called A.D. Barnes, there is a wonderful nature trail.  But my surprise wasn't there.  It was in some bushes along some railroad tracks behind a ball field.  And that day I peered into those bushes, and there was a painted bunting.  A painter designed that bird - it has to be - it is hard to believe it is real, because it had a red breast, yellow and green wings, grey tail, and a violet-blue head.  And the true miracle was that the bird remained in place long enough for me to make this field sketch on the right, complete with lines to denote the colors.

So it's about time that I paint the bird - don't you think?

Nora MacPhail, a wonderfully free and loose watercolorist, spent the last week at her blog here making a variety of Artist Trading Cards (ATC's or ACEO's).  I offered a trade, and she graciously said yes.  So here is the card I will be sending her, painted today, the Painted Bunting that I saw so many years ago.

ink and watercolor on 2-1/2" x 3-1/2" Fabriano Artistica cold press paper
So trees smell and sense and speak and dance.  And they share.  It is just as Alice Walker's character said in The Color Purple, "Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved.  You ever notice that trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk?"

It's so true.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Cat and the Barometer

10" x 8" watercolor on 140 lb. on Fabriano Artistico Hot press paper

I am endlessly fascinated by this apartment building.  It's cheap living.  It appears that college kids and single professionals live here, judging from the folks wandering in and out as I painted.  There's a dumpster right out there in the front.  Nothing exceptional about it.

But to me there is the strong geometry, the shape of the building against the sky, the outside stairs, the column of windows lined with brick and vertical design, the open hallways, the grand field of white, and the undersized door.  The dumpster also contributes to the strong diagonal, I think.

And at a certain time in the morning, oh, 7:30 a.m or so - the shadows.

I did take a few liberties.

I added a cat.

What is that cat so interested in?  The building?  Is she a feline achitect?!

Nah.  Do you know?

[Some of you may be thinking, How do you know the cat is a she?  The answer:  Why I invented her, of course!  She is what I say she is!]

And the leaves.  I saw some leaves on a sidewalk elsewhere, and thought that was just what the scene needed.

I changed the trees - didn't like the trees that were there.  Ain't art wonderful?

I tackled this building once before - in an ink and watercolor sketch.  It was in mid-2009, and you can see it here (there's a popular little story in that post, by the way).  That post was a few months after the drawing and I said that I thought I could draw it better even then.  Wil, of Carving Paper, commented at the time, "You should have drawn a new image of the same scene to see how you might have interpreted now versus then."

Well, Wil, I never forgot, and now I've done it.

Maybe this building should be my barometer - maybe I should paint it every 2 years or so until the day when, leaning unsteadily with my cane in one hand and paint brush in the other, my nurse is holding me steady in front of an easel.

I should paint until I am 100 I think.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fertile Ground

"Fertile Ground", acrylic on  16" x 8" canvas

A couple was lying in the grass.  Their world was one another.

The happenings of a festival surrounded them - people walked back and forth, a band played on the stage.

The activity meant nothing to them, or everything.  It framed their moment, and this moment was all there was.

"So I'll be king and you'll be queen
Our kingdom's gonna be this little patch of green.."

James Taylor understands moments like this: 

This is only the second "serious" painting I have done in acrylics since I first picked them up after dabbling with them many years ago.

Here is what I love about acrylics:  the opportunity to use impasto, to leave brush strokes in the painting; to feel like I am molding form, and to control the vividness and vitality of my color without effort.

To paint the figures, I purposely followed the procedure of laying in the darks first, then the lights, and finally the middle tones.  At first this system felt mechanical - awkward - but once I got to the middle tones, and then began editing back and forth, I felt free and creative.

I am working on my next acrylic painting, which would be done except for an error I need to correct (which could take as long as the rest of the painting took - who knows?)  I painted this next one in a completely different way.  I am also painting in watercolors, and drawing in ink, and doing ink and watercolors.  I am always sketching people around me.

The ground feels fertile, and the grass is indeed green.  Each moment painting is a magical moment.

And I am grateful for these moments.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Breaking the Rules

5" x 7" watercolor on 140 lb. Fabriano Artistica hot press paper
I parked near a Metromover station in downtown Miami and sketched what I saw.  Carefully.  Meticulously.  I expected I would be back soon to paint on site, but that never happened.

So yesterday I found myself wanting to color the picture.  I decided to use the colors I felt like using.  To throw caution to the wind.

Careful?  Meticulous?  What were those?!  Hah!  I was free!! 

I began applying reds and golds thickly, in a quite un-watercolor-like manner.  I was not in polite company, after all.  I was alone.

I felt raw and not at all polite.

I liked it.

I used more gentile washes in other parts, but then ran wild again in the street.

And this is the result.  And I am pleased.  There are more vivid hues on this watercolor than any I recall doing; there are broader value contrasts.  All because I broke the rules.

It reminds me of a quote I read the other day, by Francis Ford Coppola:  "An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk."

So is that what it's all about - learning the rules and then breaking them?  Is that what needs to be done?

We shall see..