…. mackerel sky

January 29, 2016

There is an Old English saying about weather which goes:  “Mackerel scales and mare’s tails make tall ships carry low sails”.  ‘Mackerel scales’ refers to Altocumulus clouds which (to some) resemble the markings on the sides of mackerel.  ‘Mare’s tails’ refers to Cirrus uncinus clouds which–according to the saying–must, like mackerel scales, indicate strong winds, though the two types wouldn’t likely appear together in the same sky.

 

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The subject is taken from a view of the British Columbia coast, beaten down by the effects of storm after storm.  Having lived on Vancouver Island at one point, the weather forecast for the most northerly tip seemed to nearly always call for wind and rain which made me thankful we lived on the most southerly end.  We received quite enough rain as it was.  However, seldom was it ever a pelting, all-out soaking torrent–which made local people say to tourists complaining about the constant drizzle, “Yes, but it’s a dry rain.”

This was painted on treated illustration board.

 

…. Tranquille Creek Gorge

January 21, 2016

The watercolour video demonstrations of David Dunlop are challenging and yet simple.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgtg-Adql1Y&index=6&list=PLtEJwQmsB7SvVg8C4J2c4LDijerH7SSKF (I tried to embed the video itself in this post, but WordPress thought otherwise).  But here is the blurb describing it….”Emmy Award winning David Dunlop takes you to his Connecticut studio to demonstrate a two minute watercolor, used as preparation for an oil sketch or to explore ideas“.

Mr. Dunlop is an artist/teacher from Connecticut, whose manner when teaching is inspiring and animated.  He is a great follower of descriptive, energetic Masters like J.M.W. Turner and Winslow Homer, and seeks to employ their methods, while demonstrating their techniques.

The video cited above challenges painters to do two to three minute painting sketches, which convey the movement and mood and spirit of the subject, without stopping to think and rework.  In an effort to ‘do’ and not think, the subject chosen here is a favourite–a place about 20 minutes from our house–called Tranquille Creek Gorge.

 

 

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Mr. Dunlop’s videos are quite dynamic and aimed more at oil painters a bit more than watercolourists, but full of very encouraging lessons because of the force of his optimistic personality and sense of fun.  They are well worth watching, for those who enjoy painting as a means of expression.

 

….the silt bluffs

November 22, 2015

An area east of Kamloops, B. C., follows the South Thompson River which flows between dramatic limestone cliffs originally formed (it is estimated) 270 million years ago.

Among those cliffs is a gully–a waterworn ravine known as ‘the silt bluffs’, featuring very distinctive rock formations which have the look and feel of something out of a Western movie.

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Massive geological formations such as these require some form of treatment by a painter in order to adequately convey their uniqueness and grandeur.  This watercolour attempts to do that by purposely choosing to paint directly into the sun.

This part of our landscape gets quite literally baked by heat at midday, so when painting outdoors it is important to get it done quickly.

 

 

A FEW LAST COMMENTS about this painting…..there is a decided difference between nature and the art of depicting nature.  Mother Nature is not only a hoarder, but not interested in housekeeping nor pruning, encapsulating, or boiling-down.  She wants it all, all the time, and enjoys lavishing on us the plentitude of what happens when everything we look at, at any given moment, reproduces at will and overwhelms us with dozens–and even thousands–of itself.

FOR THE LANDSCAPE PAINTER the challenge, always, is to take Nature and make it into Art.  It is the very human discipline of paring down, re-arranging, configuring and composing.   What separates raw Nature from the art of painting is having a limited space, with only two dimensions, which is ultimately going to end up on a wall inside a human-made space.  That restrictiveness requires moving trees and clouds and birds about in order to have a sense of balance or sense of wonder or sense of drama.  It means the painter must dare to alter time itself, put limits on colour, and restrict amounts of what is naturally before the painter’s eyes.

MAKING ART is similar to the difference between looking at a field of wheat and sitting down to a loaf of freshly-baked bread.  What happens between those two events is the act of altering something to create something else.

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THIS PAINTING is not what the photograph of this scene looks like.  For many years I struggled with whether I was ‘allowed’ as a painter to do anything other than depict Nature as it presented itself to me.  Sitting out on some stoney ground, I would suddenly find myself slavishly working at painting the weeds between cracks of rock, then painting the seed heads on the weeds to look exactly like what my eyes saw, when really I knew the larger purpose of sitting there in the hot sun was not to pay attention to weeds, but to paint the distant mountains above and beyond them.  By the time I’d gotten away from doing weeds justice, I was so hot I had to fold up my equipment and go back to the car.  And I went home with a painting of weeds between rocks and a big expanse of white paper above them.

THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN ANYMORE.  I have learned that I must take what is presented to me and do with it as I wish to do.  That is the work of a painter.

A PHOTOGRAPHER has a whole different set of challenges because a lens is very different from a human eye (it can’t do half of what a living, ‘breathing’ eye can do) and from human imagination (once it has seen what is before the eye) .  But I have noticed some irony happening between the worlds of photography and painting.  In the past, painters often worked very diligently to make a painting ‘look like’ a photograph.  These days, with technological photo-shopping manipulation, a photographer seems more or less obsessed with trying to make a photograph look like a painting.  I am not convinced either enterprise is worth spending all that amount of time on.

IF A PAINTER WISHES TO BE A PHOTOGRAPHER, then don’t go trying to make a painting into a photograph.  Do go and take courses and buy equipment and learn how to take photographs and do the work a photographer must work at in order to eventually become a photographer.  And IF A PHOTOGRAPHER WISHES TO BE A PAINTER, then leave the photo-shopping manipulation apps alone and do take courses and buy equipment and learn how to paint paintings and do the work a painter must work at in order to eventually become a painter.  They are two distinctly separate and inherently different artforms and–in my flawed way of viewing things–should stay that way.

AND YOU…what’s your view?  Tell me how I’m missing things you’ve discovered!

 

 

 

 

 

 

BECAUSE WATERCOLOUR is such a watery, transparent, delicate medium–one which must always allow the paper it’s laid on top of to breathe through it–one which traditionally doesn’t use white pigment, but relies on the paper to be the white of the painting–BECAUSE of this (and more) the challenge of the watercolour student is to convey an illusion of texture, without the ability to actually build up a surface texture.

WERE WATERCOLOUR PIGMENT applied so thickly as to create an impasto-like texture on the paper beneath, it would lose its luminosity and look pasty, muddy, dull–worse, it would crack.  Watercolour pigment only works when the paper beneath dazzles through it and brings life to the pigmentation.  In other words, watercolour as a medium is more the business of staining paper than it is a business of building up layers and coats of daubs, stipples, slatherings.

THAT’S WHY CARE is required to not apply so many washes that the luminosity of the paper receeds and eventually provides no life at all.  And that’s why the whites of the paper must be thoughtfully reserved and left untouched in key areas–the crests of waves; the moon; snow; clouds; a picket fence–and skill taken to paint AROUND these places to let the paper be the white.

SO….a student of watercolour (me) learns early-on that (s)he will be a student of the medium for life–that mastery is illusive–and failures, many.  A good piece is approached very thoughtfully, noting where the paper will be left to serve the function of white (pigment) and painted around.  Then the student will also have to gather enough courage to apply exceedingly dark washes in one ‘go’, while maintaining a sense of secure, carefree animation in order to present an immediacy and liveliness in the final piece.

THE DEATHKNELL of a failing, dying work of watercolour is finicky overworking of areas, and a refusal to accept what happened when water joined pigment joined brush joined paper.  It is NOT a medium for those who love to micro-manage or be in control.

THE STUDENT OF WATERCOLOUR has to be more a Peter Pan than a child wanting to grow up–loving the thrill of what happens when ‘danger’ is courted, yet having the assurance that daring will win the day.  However, that daring and search for adventure–on the surface of a good piece of paper–will only be pulled off if it is backed by enough experience to have a good hunch about what will happen when such-and-such is tried.

ATTEMPTING what remains beyond one’s ability isn’t courting danger–it is ignoring it.  Trying to fly without thinking happy thoughts will give a person a broken bone.  Within the bounds of representational art–(i.e. wishing to have a tree ‘look like’ a tree)–a painter cannot ‘pull off’ a landscape with lots of shadows if (s)he has yet to study them in some depth.  Trying to do a scene which includes far far more than what one yet learned how to interpret is an invitation to frustration and wanting to give up watercolour for say, acrylics (oh, my).

AND SO FOR MYSELF, I know by this time that I must confine my attentions to learning about how corn grows, what it feels like, looks like, behaves like, before I can throw my abandonment into rendering a watercolour of winter corn in January.  Not only that, but I must also have studied the qualities of snow–the qualities of what a winter sun does to shadows of corn stalk–the blues, the purples.  And only then can a learned abandonment bring about a possible reward.

IT TAKES A LONG TIME to find the right paper, the right brushes, the right working pallet of colours, the right approach and the right subject matter.  Knowing what can be done when paper is sopping wet–and what can’t–depends on who made the paper, how thick it is, how textured it is, how stretched it is, how quickly it will dry.  Knowing when to wait until the paper is exactly wet or damp or dry enough to throw one’s energies at it, comes (usually) through ruining (many pieces of) good paper.

HERE IS THE LATEST DEVELOPMENT of the subject of Jamieson Creek in a February thaw…..

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TOMORROW will (hopefully) provide a photo of the finished piece!

 

 

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JAMIESON CREEK is about a 15 minute drive from our home, along a dirt logging road.  The Kamloops, British Columbia, region is a geologist’s dream come true, featuring some of the oldest mountains in Canada.  As a student of watercolour, I am fascinated by stone and rock, particularly because it is so challenging as a subject.

 

This is Jamieson Creek, taken four years ago around February, early March….

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And here is my initial drawing of the subject…..

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As you can already see, photography is not my gift (which is why I paint, lol)–so forgive the darkness.  It was taken, pre-dawn in the spare room which serves as a studio.

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