twilight time

June 26, 2015

DUSK HAS ALWAYS BEEN a magical time for photographers and painters alike.  Exemplifying this is John Singer Sargents’ famous work, ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose’ . . .

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He would work on the piece by running outside every evening at that magical time to take in the effects the setting sun created in his garden, and add more detail to this wonderful painting–and did this over an entire year, between 1885 and 1886.

It borders on fatuous to have a Singer Sargent and something of mine on the same page, so please refrain from making a comparison.  Rather, note along with me that regardless of who is photographing, painting in oils, watercolour, or pastel, trying to gain an understanding of the effects of the setting sun continues to be a worthy and challenging pursuit, no matter which century we happen to find ourselves living in.

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“Winter Sun”, watercolour, 20cm x 30.5cm (8″ x 10″), art board, unsold

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composition woes….

May 3, 2015

MY GREATEST CHALLENGE when painting anything is composition.  For years I felt I was being a ‘purist’, insisting that I always paint on location, never in a studio setting.  And once at the location, I convinced myself that if a tree was in that spot, then that was how it needed to be depicted.

IT WAS ALL DUE TO my tendency to early-on stop referring to the subject in front of me and become more and more involved in what was happening on paper, to the point where I may as well have not been on location at all.  So in an effort at self-discipline, I decided that not only should I paint what things actually look like, I shouldn’t muck around with how and where ‘mother nature’ placed them.

THE SILLY THING WAS, I ended up choosing a composition by default because of course, I couldn’t paint everything my eyes saw in front of me.  And more often than not, it was not a good composition.  So now, not only do I go to some lengths to study the skill of creating an interesting arrangement, I realise it is the painter’s task to take what ‘mother nature’ provides and make art out of that.  Fences do need to be repositioned, as do trees and hills and clouds.

SO NOW I MAKE thumbnail studies first on matt board before beginning anything . . .

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THE OBJECTIVE is to provide a focal point, a visual way in towards it, then additional visual interest so the eye has more to discover by wandering beyond the subject itself.  These thumbnails are exploring the use of a compositional figure ‘Z’ shape to lead the eye of the viewer.

 

 

 

Local Mountains

April 8, 2015

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A decision has to be made as to whether this painting ‘holds up’, composition-wise.  It succeeds in conveying the misty atmospheric conditions of winter in the mountains.  But the composition is troubling me.

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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Miniatures

March 20, 2015

THE DARK-EYED JUNCO ignores the feeders hanging in the red maple just beyond the front window, shunning the bossy finch rabble bumping one another off the perches.  A Junco will head below, delighting in the shower of sunflower crumbs spit from Goldfinch beaks, already shelled, served on a bed of fresh snow.

 

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STELLAR JAYS have the tact and grace of a sociopath.  Self-absorbed to the point of being incognizant there even are other lifeforms, they bray and scatter seed as though perpetually going through puberty.  Once chaos has been accomplished, they go over to our neighbour, Brenda, and do the same with her feeder.

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES dart in to claim a single seed, flit to a branch, hammer the shell apart, then dart in again–chee-cheeing a mantra as though making merry to themselves alone.

2″ x 2″, and 1/2″x 3/4″ , watercolour on Arches 140 lb. Hot Press Paper

 

 

THE OLD SCHOOLHOUSE is once again the subject……

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THIS TIME around, a horse was to be included, which meant it could not be a nocturnal scene, as that would be an odd addition to a night painting.  The choice was made to have only a single horse, even though horses are most often seen in pairs or groups, being a social animal…..

 

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THE DECISION over depicting a single horse was selected as adding to the feeling of isolation: a lone horse beside an abandoned school in a lonely, forgotten field in the dead of winter……

“FROZEN IN TIME”  

watercolour, 12″ x 15″, 140 lb. Arches Cold Press Paper, Kamloops Courthouse Gallery, Kamloops, British Columbia   http://www.kamloopscourthousegallery.ca

 

 

 

 

Painting progression 5

March 16, 2015

THE FINISHED piece–“Abandoned Schoolhouse, Pritchard”.  The rocks needed darkening and definition.  Pines were added.  Spattering of snow was used to unify the whole and add a feeling of movement.

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Painting progression 4

March 15, 2015

MORE TREES needed adding.  The suggestion of rocky outcrop is introduced.  The aging building is blocked in.  Shadowing completes this phase…..

 

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Painting progression 3

March 14, 2015

THE MOON and schoolhouse roof were masked, then a wash applied in the sky areas.

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Once done, a decision was made to next eliminate the horse, it becoming an unintended focal point if left in. (A lone horse standing at night in front of an abandoned school in bitter cold would be incongruous).

Painting Progression 2

March 13, 2015

TREES are painted in very dark and the watercolour pigment tempered a bit in order to have it resist being completely taken away by an overlay of secondary wash.

 

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Jamieson Creek

May 6, 2012

This little painting (6″ x 7.5″) is of Jamieson Creek, which is not even ten minutes drive from our front door.  This is a desert-like region, featuring its own local cacti (which I discovered by way of my hand), and is called The Sunshine Capital of Canada.  Water, while not scarce, has usage restrictions and homes are now being installed with water meters.

So to have the Jamieson splashing over and around rocks and fallen timbers is a great joy.  It is the epitome of the ‘laughing brook’ of literature, and compliments the broad, slow-moving Thompson Rivers which run through town.  Were it not for our rivers, Kamloops would be uninhabitable.  Right now the creek and rivers are swelling from the melt-off of  mountain snows.  Kamloops itself is some 4,000 ft in elevation, the mountain snows are up that much higher, and June is when the river level is at its peak.

 

“Up The Jamieson”, L & M Jones Collection

 

This painting was on the wall no longer than ten minutes before it was sold.  My colleague in art, Lynda Jones, thought it complimented her pottery so well she went with her impulses.  And that made my day.

 

 

Watercolour has its limitations and its unique requirements. About the biggest challenge is the understanding that anything white in a watercolour is the paper left blank. So white clouds are achieved by painting blue around them. Whitecapped waves are accomplished by painting the dark part of the wave and leaving the paper white for the crest. The same goes for snow, of course, and really anything at all that’s white.

The famous British painter, J. M. W. Turner (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851) is widely regarded as the artist who took watercolour to its pinnacle–who forced it to be considered a serious medium, alongside oil (though even today watercolour is not treated with the same gravitas as oil). His work is nothing short of astonishing. And apparently he often achieved some of his whites by ripping at the paper with a long fingernail.

My training was such that the use of opaque white was absolutely forbidden. It was considered a breaking of the most important ‘rule’ of watercolour: that only the white of the paper (called ‘reserved white’) was acceptable in a pure, transparent watercolour.

I have, though, been talked into letting myself experiment with a limited usage of opaque white. A great many watercolourists use it, though sparingly.

The following picture was my first attempt at using a bit of opaque white in the branches of the trees. The clouds, grasses, snow, and other whites were achieved by reserved whites (leaving the paper blank) and/or scratching out with a knife (my fingernails aren’t nearly long enough).


"Snug"

Great Nephew II

January 17, 2012

About the scariest thing in my younger days was our basement, which featured a gigantic coal-fed furnace complete with horrifying facial qualities.  The grill was its mouth, and I went down there only to fling my soggy snowsuit over one of its tentacle arms in order to then put on a freshly-dried suit.  Once done, I’d try not to peek at the flames licking at the hideous mouth as I raced back out into the snowball fight du jour.

Tied for second in the scary department was the black-and-white-filmed 1951 classic “A Christmas Carol” starring Alistair Sim, (whose facial qualities were probably borrowed by the designer of the furnace grill).  It was back then a relatively new movie and always gave me recurring nightmares.

I happened to be taking a few snapshots when the older of my two Great Nephews was watching that very same 1951 “A Christmas Carol’ in 2006.  Up till then he wasn’t allowed to see it (which restriction I wish my own parents had imposed on me), so this was his very first glimpse at Jacob Marley screaming his way through Scrooge’s bed chamber walls.

'Marley's Ghost Makes an Appearance'

His Aunt and Uncle are obviously ‘Christmas Carol’ vets, regarding the shrieking spirit as ‘just an undigested bit of beef’.

This painting was juried into one of The Federation of Canadian Artists’ Open Shows a couple of years ago.  The words ‘Open Show’ indicates that the show is open to all qualifying artists across Canada.

Winter

January 8, 2012

It has been quietly thrilling to once again become reaquainted with the four seasons.  Vancouver–my city for over twelve years–effectively enjoys a very prolonged Spring and a very prolonged Autumn.  Indeed, on rare occasions there are days of snow, and days of oppressive heat, but they remain rare.

Moving to the Interior–specifically to Kamloops–in December of 2007,  was a sudden re-introduction into what Winter truly is all about.  The day of our move turned into the biggest blizzard I’ve ever experienced, then or since.  Driving up the Coquihalla Highway was treacherously risky, its two lanes effectively reduced to a cow path.  And from that moment on, I have learned to love all over again the unique characteristics of each of the Four Seasons, for Kamloops is surrounded by a wonderful and distinctly different landscape which has captivated my artistic spirit!

Above all, it is Winter which I’ve come to revel in the most. . . .

watercolour, Arches Cold Press Paper, 7" x 11", private collection

"Columbia Street Noel"

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