Sunday, September 30, 2012

In-between moments unsettle us. It's been a weekend in which sunshine and rain have alternated as well as come together at the same time. This acrylic captures that odd sensation when the sun breaks through an overcast sky. Here sunlight dances across the left side  while rain holds down the right.

The artist paints, the viewer makes meaning. Will the viewer live into the tension of the moment that I attempted to capture? Or will they hurry on to conclude that it is about to be a sunny day or a rainy one. One thing or another. And which will it be?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Long ago music in the old dancehall had died away. The building sat quietly beside the road that brought people into the center of town for business in the new courthouse.
With pencil and sketch book in hand I walked up and down that road a couple of times looking for a scene to capture in watercolor. The watercolor class field trip time was coming to a close. Many class members had already retreated to the local coffee shop to while away the rest of the time before our shuttle would take us back to Ghost Ranch.

Then I noticed the remains of an old motel just to the right of the dancehall. (Out of picture.) I settled in under scarce shade to sketch the what was left of the old building.
As I planned and noted the values--the deep darks that peeked beyond the greys of old aged boards as well as the medium tones of forefront shade that I shared with the scene--I could almost hear the din of a long ago time but I could hardly begin to imagine the clamor of life these old buildings had witnessed. A scattering of wildflowers threw various colors across the front but I noted that essentially it was the faded pink adobe and green weedy field that defined the color scheme.

Back in the studio I chose the two colors as a beginning wash: Alizarin red and viridian green. Complementary colors--meaning opposite colors on the color wheel that can intensify one another when placed next to one another. When mixed together they create various shades of grey.

 To my delight I discovered the painting shaping up nicely by using only those two colors. Finally I made a decision not to use any other colors. I left out the yellow flowers next to the building and the purple flowers near at hand. I concluded that the two colors alone said just enough to let the viewers' imaginations fill out the picture of what once was but is no more.

Sometimes it takes the least in order to say the most.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Now that you know that this blog is not literally about learning to watercolor, I can switch mediums.

Off and on over the years I painted in acrylics. And mostly I painted landscapes. I could go for years without painting and then bring out the acrylics and splash the paint around wherever I wanted without any need to make it resemble the real scene. It did not matter whether the real tree was a oak, pine or cedar. It only mattered that tree-like shapes made the landscape work as a painting.

Painting a human figure presents a greater challenge. Because of that I did very few. Happily, just a few paint strokes satisfactorily caught this image of my youngest daughter as a toddler playing in the sand.
 This painting has always brought me pleasure. No photographs of her--as delightful as many are--capture her as does this painting. Which brings me to a new insight.

In this the summer of my 70th year I began to realize that I was losing interest in painting just natural landscapes. In the watercolor class I found myself attracted to scenes where there was a trace of human beings--buildings, lawn chairs, clothes hanging on a line.

Then, on my way home I stopped in Santa Fe at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. Suddenly I found the whole of her work to be very lonely and in that moment I felt a great rush of affection for people. I wanted to run out and embrace all the wonderful people I've ever known. It was a watershed moment. Then I knew that I had to paint this amazing creature God had made. If I was now going to be able to devote my time to learning to paint again it would express my love for people.

This beautiful child of mine. What was she thinking as she shaped the sand into her own creation. She is one with the beach and sky and yet she is already her own being. Somewhere deep within her depths is there still a trace of whatever she was experiencing in that moment?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season. . . 

That Scriptural image from Sunday continued to dance in my head.  I found a small scrap of paper with some doodling I had done in oil pastels maybe a year ago. I turned the paper around until I saw the possibility of a tree. Then I took the largest brush I had and used the paint left behind from the last painting. I felt the tree should sing and dance.

As an artist I chose not to put fruit on the tree. (The painting is so loose you might not have recognized it if I had!)

But I cannot put fruit on the tree. The tree will bear the fruit as a natural outcome of drinking from the stream of living water. We can produce many things but that which lasts comes in its own season. I find myself asking if my season has finally come. Will my tree come to bear fruit before winter arrives?
In the summer of my 70th year I learned the importance of taking the time to do a carefully studied sketch. No wonder my sporadic attempts at watercolor in the past have failed. Watercolor requires a lot of thought and planning on the front end. I had to study all the angles and juxtapositions in order to lay out even the first wash of color. Even the colors had to be thought through and noted on the sketch. (Painting in last post.)

I wonder what difference it might have made in my life if I had disciplined more of my "ideas" into careful plans on the front end. Did I have to grow this old before I gained the patience to do this?

Monday, September 24, 2012

We started with the basics. I did not mind learning all over again about the color wheel and basic design principles. It felt as if oil was being applied to rusty gears. Somewhere within me something began to move again  and it felt so good. A degree in art from 48 years ago mattered little. This is where I needed to begin anew. I attempted to pretend that I knew nothing and wanted to be a clean slate. But the old learnings surfaced on their own. After a few days in the studio we went on a field trip to a small town northwest of Ghost Ranch. We did two sketches in one town, then two sketches in another. The rest of the week we spent in the studio developing our sketches and painting. Here's a photo of my first subject and the painting that I completed.
A little awkward and stiff. (Looks even more awkward with the paper edges showing.) But I've preferred landscapes in the past so I was pleased that I made a building the subject of my first watercolor. I was intentionally pushing myself away from my usual inclinations. Ha! Fooled myself: Wouldn't you know that my first subject would be a church?
I take lots of photos. Sometimes they provide me with inspiration for a painting. I cannot find the original photo for these paintings but the photo was taken at Camp Allen (Navasota, Texas) on the road to Lake Coffield with its characteristic tall pines and thick brush. From that photo I did my first watercolor (above) after returning home from taking the class in New Mexico. Then. . .

The second painting is an effort to feel more free with the colors and lines. (Same photo.) I thought it was fine at the time. Then a few days ago I decided I didn't like that painting at all. I washed as much of the paint off as I could, then came back and painted over what was left. This time I was feeling more comfortable with the watercolor and allowed it to drip. Trying to find the unique possibilities of the medium.

What this means is that the second painting above no longer exists. What is now on that same piece of paper is the third one.

Sometimes you just need to know when to wash things off and find a fresh start. But can anything be totally erased? Watercolor can be unforgiving. It stains the paper so that much of the color stays behind. The watercolor paint is mostly transparent and doesn't really cover over (hide) anything. Here's part of its unique challenge: You're still defined by what was once done. You take what you have and do with it what you can. I'm glad I tried.

This blog began seven weeks following that first class. Of the paintings that I have done since that time this is the one that I like best. Quite a story it is! I promise to show you from the original photo and sketches to first rendition and then to the second effort and all its variations.

It was the 70th summer of my life. As if I suddenly realized I needed to breathe I had realized that I had to paint. Ghost Ranch in New Mexico offered a course in watercolor. Two weeks before my birthday I began to paint. Not the acrylics I had used off and on over the years. I wanted to begin all over again in a new medium--as a beginner.

Here is a photo of my work space on August 7, 2012. This is where I began to learn to watercolor.