Saturday, December 22, 2012

The catalog for the Art School at Laguna Gloria in Austin has arrived! I've studied it carefully. I know I must take Life Drawing. This is as much a required discipline for an artist as prayer is for a priest. But in addition I'm still intrigued by learning this new medium of watercolor. Looks like some opportunities are presented. First I must get my spouse's next surgery scheduled. That defines the parameters in which I can work.

I'm on the road a lot and I naturally look with an artist's eye. Now the landscape is almost totally in earth tones with splashes of green (mostly cedar) here and there. Whereas I have only been able to see these scenes as acrylics something is changing: Now I'm seeing watercolors. I don't know why.

There was another experience with watercolor at Camp Allen that I have not yet shared. Because it was a little more conventional as a watercolor, perhaps I found some encouragement there. First I will show you a photo of the scene. Then a quick watercolor--spent only a couple of hours with it. The last photo is a close up of a section of that painting that I found especially pleasing.
This is an early morning scene. What intrigued me was the almost turquoise color of the water against the earthy and green tones surrounding it. To my delight I have found that a Payne Gray will convey a lovely bluish gray sky. Add Alizarin red to it and one has a gorgeous color for the bark of the pine trees. Here's the watercolor interpretation:
No, it doesn't look as serene as the photo. Perhaps I spent too much time with the various textures. But I was pleased with the colors. Here's a nice section of the painting:
I like! I like! Maybe I can do watercolor. It is interesting that I'm now seeing the landscape in terms of watercoloring. Where I am with this right now is that watercolor is a good medium for studying a subject. Perhaps I can use watercolor "sketches" as studies for painting in. . . . Have I said this yet? I want to return to oil painting! More on that later.

For now I must return to other callings: I've got three sermons to deliver: One tomorrow--last Sunday of Advent; one for Christmas Eve--Tuesday; and one of the following Sunday. Thanks for giving me an excuse for this little break to indulge in art or to procrastinate: Whichever it is!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Camp Allen is a beautiful conference center located about an hour's drive northwest of Houston. I often spend a week there as chaplain-in-residence. The only requirement is to lead morning and evening prayer and to be friendly and helpful to guests as needed. Most clergy use it as a time for retreat. Many of us are so tired by the time we arrive that the first few days are spent catching up on our sleep. I went there the week following Thanksgiving and napped my way through the first three days. 

For me Camp Allen is also a wonderful place to paint. Years ago they allowed the chaplain-in-residence to stay in one of the cabins which looked out on Lake Coffield--Sassafras Cabin. It's located at the far end of the lake where there is a lot of variety: It is marshy, providing a delightfully ragged edge and hosts a great variety of plants. Momentarily waterbirds or deer have flashed across the scene. From that location I have done many paintings over the years.

However, the popularity of Camp Allen began to require that they keep Sassafras Cabin open to paying customers and clergy were moved to Bluebonnet Cabin. It is a nice cozy little cabin nestled into the woods but without a lake view. Try as I may I've yet to find a single inspiring scene from the vantage point of that cabin. What that has meant is that I spend a lot of time driving around to find a place to paint without intruding upon others. After a couple of days during this stay I realized I had turned the "opportunity" to painting into an "obligation." How can one paint if one is not inspired? So I gave myself permission not to paint unless I found a scene that made my heart sing. In other words, permission to spend the week without painting.

Then it happened: I decided to drive over to Sassafras Cabin to see if anyone was there. No one. So I parked my car and walked down the long slope  to the water's edge where I could look around to the right of the forest to see that favored spot. It always looked different but this time it took my breath away! The scene was a riot of color: Tallow trees (never noticed before) lighted up the landscape in their bright red fall colors. It was the kind of scene that makes one want to fall upon their knees in awe!

Okay. There being no one around I worked up one drawing that morning and another from a different perspective in the afternoon. My plan was to return the next day--hoping there was still no one around--and begin two watercolors: One from the morning location and the other from the afternoon. 

Those painting never got started! The cabin was rented starting the day I had planned to paint. So I didn't go back. I did have my sketches but they were not well developed. Not much I could do working straight from them. What a huge disappointment! Back into the car I drove to the other end of the lake where I could see the scene in the far distance. I could vaguely see the blaze of colors and thought I'd see what I could do in reference to my sketches. But it was frustrating not to see the details. 

I became immediately angry with even my attempt to try. After an initial wash of color I considered the effort futile. I looked around in my supplies and found some felt watercolor pens and quickly scribbled over the background wash. I had given up on the painting and felt I had nothing to lost. As a last impulse I pulled out a mat knife and scratched into the paper. My emotions were running high by then and was careless--giving a finger a good nick. I tried to wrap the finger and stay with the "art working" but it kept bleeding so I decided to stop. I didn't need my blood for the red color!

The next day I looked at what I had done with fresh eyes. It wasn't the painting I wanted.  Some of the scratches are a little severe. But, by golly, I felt like I captured the spirit of the scene! I decided that the "painting"--wrestled once again with the angels--found its own valid song to sing.

Fall colors can be so rich. I see so many scenes that I long to paint. This is a small acrylic painting that I did some years ago of a seasonal creek that runs across the front of our land. It's dammed so that it forms a small pond before overflowing onto the neighbor's land. Can you see that there's many layers of paint? Just like life, I had no idea how it would come out when finished.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Aging has its challenges! I haven't posted for awhile -- or painted for awhile--because I've not been well and because my spouse had surgery. However, dealing with an aging body and mind as one struggles to grow and stay challenged is a primary concern of this blog.

What I have discovered in these past two months is that there tends to be a lot of stopping and starting. That's hard because it takes planning and energy to start up anything. Then, when something forces one to stop there's the disappointment and frustration to wrestle with and the fact that the starting up again will require all that energy once more!

I am finding that I am losing money on taking classes. I signed up for a Life Drawing class this Fall. I loved it!! It was so encouraging and invigorating to see that I could actually do this again. I had wondered how I would do in such a class after not doing it since college. I worried about how stiff my drawing might be. Already I knew I couldn't purchase the larger tablet because I just could carry it in as a younger me would have been able to do: Those are some of the adjustments one has to consider.

How wonderful it felt to see the lines flowing and shapes emerging! So much energy began to pour forth. Felt great. Each class made me eager for the next. Then suddenly it all came to a halt with the spouse's surgery. Neurosurgeon's office hours were the same morning in Houston that my class was in Austin.

So I missed three sessions. When I was free again only one session was left and I felt half-hearteded about it. Even if I did get it all going again, where was it to go? The class had come to an end. However I went but I had also forgotten that I was using two kinds of paper and all I brought was the cheap newsprint. (Aging mind issue?) So I couldn't work much without tearing up the paper. Even so I was reckless and determined and used water to wash in some values. Probably just venting some of my anger about lost opportunities.

I go into all this detail because this is the reality of Learning to Watercolor--or any such effort--when the body (and the bodies of those for whom you have close relationships and responsibilities) begins to present its challenges. This, then, is the point of this particular post: Starting and stopping and starting and stopping is a real and energy sapping reality in attempting to do anything of this nature as one ages.