L’Shanah Tovah!

September 15, 2020

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year marks the beginning of The High Holy Days which include Yom Kippur, the annual Day of Atonement. These are days full of ancient meaning and heartfelt traditions where symbolism and family celebrations meld together to create deep bonds linking Jews all over the world.

The sounding of the shofar—a trumpet made from a ram’s horn—is an essential and emblematic part of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The ancient instrument’s plaintive cry serves as a call to repentance and a reminder to Jews that God is their king.

“A New Year Dawns”, watercolour, 3.5″ x 5″ by Lance Weisser

After religious services are over, many Jews return home for a festive meal which typically begins with the ceremonial lighting of two candles and eating apple slices dipped in honey. Ancient Jews believed apples had healing properties, and the honey signifies the hope that the new year will be sweet. Rosh Hashanah meals usually include an assortment of sweet treats for the same reason.

Round challah: On Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) and other holidays, Jews eat loaves of the traditional braided bread known as challah. On Rosh Hashanah, the challah is often baked in a round shape to symbolize either the cyclical nature of life or the crown of God. Raisins are sometimes added to the dough for a sweet new year.

“L’shana tovah”: Jews greet each other on Rosh Hashanah with the Hebrew phrase “L’shana tovah,” which translates to “for a good year.”

[source: https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/rosh-hashanah-history%5D

Summer’s Zenith

August 5, 2020

We’ve been sizzling here in British Columbia’s Southern Interior. For the past two weeks, it has been very hot and very dry. This is when all the dirt bikes get loaded on the back of country music-blaring pickups, heading for the hills, bypassing all the slower, fishing boat-toting pickups. And even those pickups bypass the even slower camper trailer-toting pickups, with everyone and their dog all heading out of Dodge.

What’s left behind are solitary scenes of empty pasture, sun-weathered farms, the occasional horse. And not a lick of shade.

‘Sky Country’, watercolour, 10″ x 12″, Arches 140# Hot Press Paper, by Lance Weisser

We’re at the apex of Summer–the zenith–with a high today of 35C (95F). And tomorrow? Well, tomorrow marks the slow slide into September, with showers and a high of only 23C (73F).

So today we pretend we’re Texans, and tomorrow that old familiar tinge of an early Fall brings us all back to where we really are and love to be.

Lately here in Kamloops, British Columbia, we’ve been treated to cloud Cirque du Soleil. Each time I step out on our deck, there’s another stunning performance in progress:

As a student of watercolour, the challenge of painting skies on location doesn’t come from the medium itself because all it amounts to is sloshing water-tinted pigment over paper.

It doesn’t get more immediate than that.

Clouds are suspended water vapours being moved about by the atmosphere and wind. So a marriage made in heaven–immediate subject matter matched with an immediate medium, yes?

Um, well, maybe for some…. It takes a lot of confidence, deftness and elan to nail a quickly changing sky, and those aren’t exactly my gifts.

What helps move my senior’s ass is panic-induced adrenaline, like the time I brought all my equipment down to Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver. Perched in my umbrella-shaded lawn chair, sipping iced tea, leisurely sketching the Vancouver skyline, I noticed the sky dramatically changing from a fluffy blue to an angry charcoal.

After lugging everything from the parking lot to the shore, I wasn’t about to give up my precious spot for a little weather. Prudence did step in, however, and whisper in my aging ear that I had only minutes to accomplish what I’d been taking hours dallying over.

And then the rains came down, bruising the top of my umbrella, the beach crowd scattering, wind whipping the waves. As the saying goes, ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’, I finally found my spine and went for it, drops pelting my paper, gusts throwing up sand.

‘Summer Storm Study’, Vancouver, watercolour on Bockingford, 5″ x 7″, by Lance Weisser

Cloud Studies

July 21, 2020

Sometimes there’s a need to trample on whole bunches of internal dos and don’ts, accumulated over years of anal retentive watercolour practices.

‘Don’t premix washes–glaze one pigment over another right on the paper’; ‘Don’t soak the paper in the bathtub and then stretch it on a stretcher–it removes the lovely sizing’; ‘Don’t get obsessed with detail–be expressive’; ‘Don’t use opaque white’; ‘Don’t use so much masking fluid’; ‘Don’t be so timid’; ‘Don’t paint today–you aren’t centred’.

Lordy. I went to the sink, grabbed a kitchen sponge and some dollar store poster board.

“Approaching Storm”, 8″ x 10″, watercolour, by Lance Weisser, white poster board

For all who might be equally plagued by a mental build-up of watercolour dos and don’ts, have a look at this example of watercolour exploration and artistic daring:

Just as choosing to place one’s subject matter in front of bright sky produces remarkable effects as in the work of Joseph Zbukvic, so also can equally-remarkable effects be achieved when making the sky itself the subject.

An almost unparalleled master is a lesser known watercolourist than the celebrated J. Zbukvic, but a truly exquisite painter of both sea and sky, the Russian Sergey Temerev:

‘The Salty Wind, the Flowing Light’, Sergey Temerev
Sea and Sky watercolour by Sergey Temerev
‘Under the Vault of Shining Heavens’ by Sergey Temerev

Here is a video of him at work:

A Sergey Temerev workshop

Now, those are clouds.

If one were to try and name the No. 1 watercolourist on the planet–or at least the most popular and followed–it would be safe to claim it is the Australian, Joseph Zbukvic:

A Joseph Zbukvic watercolour demo in progress…..

The word ‘master’ understates the enormous talent and skill Joseph Zbukvic exudes from his artistic fingertips as he transforms a sheet of white paper into whatever his mind fancies.

Taking a moment to view these examples of his prodigious output, one thing might stand out to us when it comes to focusing in on, and studying Mr. Zbukvic’s skies:

Joseph Zbukvic’s signature artistic decision is at odds with a great many of his colleagues, because he takes the daring approach of nearly always rendering his subject matter facing directly into the sun.

This has the effect of placing everything of interest–whether it be buildings, people, horses, boats, vehicles–more or less in silhouette, backlit and often somewhat mysterious. Making this choice provides any artist with a great deal of painterly latitude simply because, whatever we might be trying to view while looking directly into the sun, is going to be greatly lacking in detail. Looking into the sun, we see general shapes, outlines of things, and blurred, obscured objects and people.

Placing everything in front of direct sunlight means one doesn’t have to attend to minute detail. It means there will automatically be contrast, exaggerated shadow, enormous differences between light and dark, and all the drama a watercolourist needs to make a painting ‘pop’.

If one does a search of YouTube watercolour instruction these days, you will find a great many Zbukvic devotees, with their subject matter silhouetted against a bright sky. It has now become almost the de rigueur approach for aspiring watercolourists.

What is sacrificed by placing all subject matter in front of direct sunlight?

Skies.

All the luscious drama of cloud formations and subtlety of light which plays in, around and between the loveliness of clouds is the price one pays. Viewing Zbukvic’s work makes that seem worth it, at least for him.

However, as influential as some artists are, and deserve to be–for those bettering their skills, it is always important to remember that variety still remains the spice of life. All painters have their own unique painterly story to tell, in their own unique manner–and not all paintings need to be looking directly into the sun. I suspect Mr. Zbukvic would be the first to agree.

Cloud study

June 21, 2020

The problem is, clouds can look terribly dark, yet the prevailing wisdom by learned painters is the caution that regardless of how dark the sky might appear, it is the lightest component of any landscape painting–except in rare cases like snowscapes, or some seascapes.

Cloud Study on Arches Cold Press 140 lb. paper, watercolour by Lance Weisser

The temptation, at least for me, is to go about trying to recreate that memorable sky full of drama by mixing up a bucket of what might best be described as ‘peat bog grey’ or ‘burned frying pan umber’ and sloshing it onto the top of the picture.

The end result is a landscape where anyone deigning to walk would be greatly at risk–paintings where interspersed throughout should be little yellow triangular signs reading: WATCH FOR FALLING CLOUDS :

“In Search of Hikers: Killer Clouds on the Prowl”

The other prevailing wisdom by a great many worthy painters, is that if one’s painting is featuring clouds, then whatever else is depicted ought to be kept rather simple and relatively free of detail. Conversely, if the focus is on whatever is happening below the sky, then the sky itself should be left unassuming and merely supportive. The above painting is a good case proving that point.

Aerosols

June 19, 2020

‘. . . in meteorology, a cloud is an aerosol consisting of a visible mass of minute liquid droplets suspended in a planet’s atmosphere . . . ‘ [wikipedia]

Watercolour is absolutely the perfect artistic medium for tackling the effervescent quality of–ahem–aerosols.

‘Raven Sky’ watercolour on Arches Cold Press #140 paper, 5.5″ x 5.5″ by Lance Weisser $100 framed, $75 matted — contact weisserlance@gmail.com

It being a rather challenging subject, more paintings featuring clouds are about to be attempted, and the results posted here in days to come.

Yay! Aerosols!

This neighbourhood-emersed, one square acre oasis in the middle of Toronto [pop. 6,129,000], was originally known as Kendal Square due to being beside Kendal Avenue…

In 1959, in recognition of the diligence and passion of Toronto’s Finnish community, the little square was officially renamed Jean Sibelius Square and featured a striking monument with the Finish composer’s likeness crowning it.

My encounter with this petite and charming park was during the socially-disruptive 70s, when The Annex was transformed from a neighbourhood of red-brick mansion propriety, to one of red-brick mansion rooming houses populated by hippies and university students.

I lived in the former red brick Victorian home of a Toronto physician with fifteen other actors–including Doug Todd, who has commissioned this painting of Jean Sibelius Square. We were members of the theatre ensemble called Creation 2 (I for seven years, he for two), which was both commune and theatre ensemble:

Life for Doug Todd and I, and others within the group, was a mixture of great bonding, high demands, internal turmoil and personal confusion. What had started out as a dynamic experiment combining the best of ensemble acting with the ideals of a close-knit communal living, began taking on the telling characteristics of a cult.

The Jean Sibelius Square Park, being a block away from our living situation, provided us with a treed, quiet, people-free place of calm and restoration. The watercolour depicting that 1970s’ oasis-like feeling is now finding its expression as it goes from outlined sketch to the initial wash stage:

Conjuring Up Wales

May 5, 2020

How does it go again? Oh yes….
I never saw a Moor —
I never saw the Sea —
Yet know I how the Heather looks
And what a Billow be.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

I’ve not travelled a great deal. My idea of an exceptional journey would be choosing some smallish city or large village, renting an apartment over a shop for a month, then spending each day walking with my portable watercolour kit and folding chair to a different, yet close spot and becoming very familiar with it through drawing and painting and observing and experiencing–everyday a new, yet local viewpoint–getting to know one place well.

Not for me, these cruises or bus/rail excursions, trying to glimpse way too much, too quickly, itinerary-driven and herded about. It’s the visual equivalent of wanting everything at an all-you-can eat buffet–determined to defy the limitations of one’s plate by having it all.

Re-reading this paragraph, it comes off as pious and rather haughty. Truly many would find my notion of travelling more than just a little boring, and yes, possibly a recipe for loneliness. In any case, for all my grand proposing, I’ve never actually done it!

I do most of my travelling via imagination. So, here’s how I conjure up Wales:

“Conjuring Wales”
watercolour, 7″ x 12″, Arches #140 Hot Press Paper
by Lance Weisser
($150/matted, email: weisserlance@gmail.com)

visual metaphor

March 28, 2020

When I look through past work for one which visually sums up how things feel internally during these protectively distant and very strange strange days, this is the one….

‘Distant Light’
watercolour, arches #140 cold press paper, 14″ x 11″
by Lance Weisser
SOLD

Here in the Southern Interior of British Columbia, Canada, our Interior Health Authority’s policy is to refrain from revealing the precise location of any pandemic cases. This causes a certain incongruity in our city of 97,000, where there remain no official instances of anyone at all having contracted the virus.

Interior Health will only generalize by revealing ‘x’ number of cases in the whole of the Interior as new ones come to light. So citizens speculate as to which of our cities, towns, and rural situations are being most affected, or, possibly being affected at all. No one really knows.

This has created a two-meter-apart sharing of rumoured cases: ‘did you know ________ isn’t well?’; ‘they say __________ senior’s residence is under lockdown’. Yet when I stand looking out our front window, all I see are neighbours doing uncharacteristic, and very fastidious yard cleanup–and couples and dogs I never knew existed strolling in isolated threesomes, as though on holiday.

For all our apparent imperturbation, there’s a newly-felt internal jolt when hearing an ambulance making its way towards our nearby nursing home–something not unusual, something not out of the ordinary–but now, in these times, a jolt nonetheless; an unexpected, yet telling one.

Our dog groomer phoned to say she’ll still do our bichon, but to call first and then put him outside the door. I put $50 in a note of thanks, inside an envelope. Punching two holes and stringing yarn through and then around Elmo’s neck, I pushed him at her. She waved to me with surgical gloves through the screen–and it came to me how even if I put $50 in an envelope and tie it around my own neck, no one in our city is allowed to groom me.

I learned the art of denial in early childhood. While I labour away at mastering watercolour, when it comes to denial, I soar: that was mastered long ago. Slowly, the onion-skinned layers of pretending and pretension are exposing important vulnerabilities within: that social distancing demands creating innovative intimacies–reaching towards those who have no picture windows, impassionately observing couples walking dogs and neighbours trimming hedges–searching for ways to help others mitigate what is becoming a knot of fear over detecting a problem breathing; wondering if their lost job will be forever lost; literally unable to remain at all calm.

In other words, I either rise to the occasion or I don’t. And I don’t think I am. It’s made a little more difficult when, as citizens, we don’t even know what the occasion actually is. But at least I can donate online to the Food Bank. At least I can consciously stop myself from denying that this is a time to mobilize and discover where help is required and try to fill it.

The above painting is entitled ‘Distant Light’. It could just as easily be named ‘Present Darkness’.

The challenge is for me to help stop the one from becoming the other.

The Long Wait

January 17, 2020

Two days ago I left the house at 9am.  Between then and returning at noon, our pipes had frozen.  It was -23C (-9.5F).  On the coldest day so far in 2020–with pipes freezing all across Kamloops, B. C.–the search for an available plumber was on.  Four tries later, I snagged one just finishing up in our neighbourhood, and an hour-and-a-half –and $165– later, we heard that lovely sound of water bursting out of multiple taps.

Waiting for Spring, 10 x 8, January 2019

“The Long Wait”, 10″ x 8″, watercolour on art board

by Lance Weisser

Seeing our rescuing plumber to the door, I saw we’d gotten some mail.  It was our first-of-many, colourful Spring Seed Catalogs.

Sentinels

December 19, 2019

It is something a fascination how one species of bird spends its nights, in comparison with another.  What they all have in common is a desire to feel protected and beyond the reach of nocturnal predators, like owls.

Ravens and crows go the safety in numbers route, heading in groupings to mutually accepted trees, with crows being particularly fond of the-more-the-merrier approach, with sometimes upwards of several thousand roosting at one time.  Ravens are less inclined to roost in gigantic numbers, and confine themselves to congregate with family and ones they’ve bonded with.

Nightwatch, 7 x 4.5, January 2019.jpg

‘Nightwatch’

watercolour on art board by Lance Weisser

4.5″ x 7″  [sold]

 

 

A Winter’s Eve

February 23, 2019

It snowed yesterday, the kind which floats down like sifted icing sugar, giving the impression that it can’t possibly amount to much, except it simply stayed that way for the entire afternoon and into the evening. And as I was cooking dinner, I glanced out and saw a van spinning its wheels, barely able to crest the top of the hill just below our house. That icing sugar now lay a significant number of inches deep, making the mule deer tracks under the bird feeders in our red maple appear as quilted dimples, leading off across the whited bedspread of the yard.

 

A Winter's Eve 6 x 4 February 2019

A Winter’s Eve, 4 x 6, watercolour on art board, by Lance Weisser

 

The mule deer–a party of three–come down from our backyard mountain ridge and go to town on the neighbourhood’s cedar hedges around four in the morning. Now, I’m not one to get all soft-hearted and nostalgic over having deer around, simply because they dine on just about anything except what mother nature provides in ample supply up beyond our neighbourhood: emerging tulips in the front–all manner of vegetables in the back–and everyone’s cedar.  The other morning around five one of them confronted our little dog Elmo in the predawn pitch dark as we did our morning walk.  Neither of them moved for a great while until the young buck got bored and sauntered off with its two pals to see what other landscape deconstruction they could manage before daybreak.

Rock and Sky

May 1, 2018

We live in a very rocky place.  Our house is situated just below a mountain ridge that is home to native varieties of cactus, sagebrush, tumbleweed, and the domain of Chukar Partridges, mule deer, black bear, a variety of hawks and owls, and the occasional Cougar.

Painting rocky scenes is something particularly satisfying due to the artistically-geometric shapes which become something of a foil for the full-blown and free-flowing movement of cloud and sky.

This was simply an experiment–discovering where shapes and natural design and configuration would lead–a painting begun without knowing where it might end.

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‘The Home Place’, watercolour by Lance Weisser, 14″ x 16″, Arches Hot Press Paper

 

 

gallery_hero_2578763-original

[source:  https://creationsbygena.zibbet.com]

An ACEO is 2.5″ x 3″ — artwork the size of sports trading cards — otherwise known as a miniature.  I personally love the challenge of painting something that small.

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Old Barn, watercolour ACEO, 2.5″ x 3″, Arches Hot Press 140 lb paper. Sold.

Have you ever done them or bought one?  I’d be interested to know!

 

‘Raven Nights’

February 20, 2018

In keeping with my fascination over trying to capture night in watercolour, here’s another attempt at mood and texture:

raven mood 9x10 august 2107

‘Raven Nights’, watercolour on Saunders Waterford Hot Press 90 lb. paper, 9″ x 10″, Sold

Results of ‘composition exercise 1’: dividing a landscape into thirds, placing visual interest at each intersectional  point….

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Results of ‘composition exercise 2’:

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and 3:

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bringing us to 4:

It has taken a long spell of waffling over what to do about being less than pleased with the finished piece.  The snowy fields seemed to extend themselves too far down, without enough visual interest to hold a viewer’s attention.  And then I gave into the temptation/artistic trap I almost always seem to fall into, which is going one step too far by defining open field with regimented rows of corn which wind up being so monotonous, the fence posts going the opposite direction only add yet more visual predictability  and kill whatever freshness the piece had going for it.

….so the only satisfactory outcome was to crop the painting and salvage what could be salvaged.

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It is a very small painting, about 6″ x 12″, and has at least enough mood still going on to make it only just worth framing.

As an exercise, however, it was more than useful, and confirmed satisfactorily that placing interest at intersectional points within a composition divided into thirds works (sans rows of corn, that is), does hold one’s attention, and lends a feeling of balance.

 

…. 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.

 

….composition exercise 2

January 17, 2016

Continuing on with an attempt to test out the compositional dictum known as ‘the rule of thirds’, which was conceived and named by John Thomas Smith in 1797 :

“. . .  Analogous to this “Rule of thirds”, (if I may be allowed so to call it) I have presumed to think that, in connecting or in breaking the various lines of a picture, it would likewise be a good rule to do it, in general, by a similar scheme of proportion; for example, in a design of landscape, to determine the sky at about two-thirds ; or else at about one-third, so that the material objects might occupy the other two : Again, two thirds of one element, (as of water) to one third of another element (as of land); and then both together to make but one third of the picture, of which the two other thirds should go for the sky and aerial perspectives. . . “

To illustrate its basics…..

ruke of thirds

Once again, this is the drawing I did initially, to put this into practice….

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And this is the first go at painting the scene….

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And now today, here is the progress so far, attempting to locate some visual interest at each of the four intersections within the piece, the barn being the first and the pine being the second and the creekbed being the third…..

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The darkest darks and greatest contrast will remain with the barn, for that is the intended focus for the picture, when completed.

The ‘rule of thirds’, as stated above, holds that generally two-thirds of a landscape be devoted to the sky, with one-third given to the land below (the sky being such a vast and dominant feature).  In this case two-thirds is dedicated to the land and a very high horizon means that the one third is devoted to the sky area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Touted often as being the most difficult of mediums, and sometimes even as ‘the medium of mediums’, not everyone holds watercolour in such honour.  Indeed, oils are deemed the zenith of painting mediums.

‘Blowing the horn’ about watercolour as the ‘medium of mediums’ is a bit rich, perhaps.  That is, until one tries to master its elusive qualities and discovers how the more it is controlled, the less it is allowed to be what it is: a medium set free by water.

Perhaps no greater example of the power of watercolour allowed to find its own way through minimum control is by the hand of its greatest advocate, J. M. W. Turner.

jmwTurner_-_Incident_at_the_London_Parliament_1834-1024x757

‘Incident At The London Parliament’ 1834

“If I could find anything blacker than black, I’d use it” is a quote which highlights Turner’s love for the power of contrast, which is what watercolour achieves spectacularly when the snow white of the paper is allowed to breathe while then bordered by the darkest dark.

'Duddon Sands' circa 1825-32 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D25226

‘Duddon Sands’ circa 1825-32 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Joseph Mallord William Turner is sometimes referred to as ‘the father of the abstract’.   It is possibly due to the apparent pleasure he took in allowing the medium to run wild, catching it back at just the right moment to indicate location.

turneryellow

a Venetian watercolour, ‘Untitled’, JMW Turner

Somewhere there is a story about how Turner was very guarded over letting anyone watch him work.  But at some sort of gathering Turner asked a young boy if he wanted a picture of something he liked.  The boy asked for a Spanish Galleon, and the artist took him into his studio, and not too long afterwards the boy immerged with a small and perfect depiction of a great ship in tossing waves.

Grilled by others about how the master had gone about producing it, the boy dazzled them in claiming Turner was very fast–almost phrenetic–using one unusually long fingernail to rather frantically scrape and tear at the paper for crests and foam of storm-thrown waves.

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