ocean study

August 22, 2015

For many years I lived in Vancouver, B. C., which is considered one of the top 3 ‘most livable’ cities in the world.  One of its best features is being surrounded by water on three sides.  On one occasion I was painting a view from Locarno, one of the many beaches, and was suddenly overcome by a summer storm.  It seemed to descend out of nowhere.

As I was not going to escape getting soaked, I soldiered-on and managed to get as much as I could onto paper without the deluge completely washing away everything while working.

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‘ocean study Locarno Beach‘, Vancouver, 13cm x 18cm (5″ x 7″)

Fortunately I had some sort of makeshift shelter–even so, rain splattered onto the painting as I worked.

Painting on location has its rewards as well as its hazards.  In those years, I wouldn’t paint at all unless it was outdoors. I was something of a purist, and felt watercolour was meant to be done on location–its immediacy and qualities almost demand it being put to use that way. But bad knees are what they are, and now I almost can’t imagine having to go do that again–which is really a shame.  Working from photographs is not my idea of what watercolour should be about.

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

breakers

July 22, 2015

The depicting of waves in watercolour is particularly challenging when one has decided on being a ‘purist’ by refraining from both opaque white and masking fluid.  Personally speaking, masking fluid has become so offensive in terms of smell (its natural thinner, in case anyone wonders, is ammonia, which is why it smells so awful–but a little ammonia will indeed thin thickened masking fluid, if stirred in slowly), and damaging brushes (even when dipping them in soapy water first), and causing the hardest of edges when removed, that it’s rarely a choice for me.  It does make for quite lovely snow squalls when flicked from a stiff toothbrush, I must say–and great fun, too.

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‘Third Beach, Vancouver’, watercolour, painted on location, 35.5cm x 23cm (14″ x 9″), Arches Hot Press 140lb. Paper

Breaking waves challenge any student of watercolour (and every single person working in this medium will forever be a student) because of having to leave paper white for crest foam, swash, and the receding backwash effects.  This, coupled with understanding which part of the wave receives more or less pigment, not to mention the change of pigmentation if backwash is curling up and drawing in sand at the same time, comes the added realisation that sky is being reflected off top surfaces the further from shore one looks.

There truly is nothing for it but to get right into the actual physics of spilling, surging, plunging, and collapsing breakers, each of which exhibits its own characteristic properties–ones our eyes are very accustomed to and therefore recognize in a flash when viewing surf–properties a viewer expects to be reproduced in paintings (if the painting is trying to conform to the challenges of representational art, that is).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breaking_wave  Drawing each of these examples over and over again makes wave action less of a mystery and eventually becomes familiar and far less challenging.  However, a single line of waves is always backed by more, multiplying the visual dynamics, adding to the confusion of having to depict row upon row of breakers.  Where does foam end and the gathering wave behind it start?  For this, it is very instructive to carefully observe photographs and again draw over and over how this actually does look.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breaking_wave)  Only then, personally speaking, do I find painting on location not as daunting, for stopped action is easier to analyze than sitting in front of actual pounding surf.

Painting water is a dedicated pursuit all of its own.  There is a painting friend of mine who includes water in every single piece he does because he is dedicated to the depiction of water, whether in the form of rain, surf, river, lake, stream, waterfall, because in each case there is a lifetime’s worth of challenge.

mountain storm

May 24, 2015

MOUNTAIN STORMS ALWAYS COME WITH high winds and occasionally with hail, and here in Kamloops, British Columbia, are often felt in one part of the city and not in others. Being a city of roughly 90,000, built around, about, and on top of mountainous terrain, the overall elevation is about 350 meters (1,125 ft).  There can be terrible flashes and crashes and gusts–much huffing and puffing–with the promised deluge itself being delivered everywhere else but on our crispy, thirsty yard and gardens.

'Mountain Storm'

‘Summer Storm’ 

watercolour, 30cm x 23cm, (12″ x 9″), Arches Cold Press 140 lb. paper,

G.W. Weisser Collection

the stuff of watercolour

April 22, 2015

 

 

 

WATERCOLOUR is simply a mixture of pigment (ground-up minerals: organic and synthetic) held in a semi-solid form by a binder (usually gum arabic).  In days of yore (not that long ago)–this was sold in little square cubes, called pans or cakes.  The pans are ‘activated’ by adding a drop of water to them, causing the gum arabic to dissolve enough for the pigment to loosen and adhere to the brush tip.

TODAY IT IS DIFFICULT (for me) to find the pans, which have only pigment and a touch of gum arabic in them.  Today everything is sold in tubes.  This isn’t because tubes are so superior.  No.  It is because the painter gets stuff like water, glycerin, corn syrup, and who-knows-what-else, and only then, some pigment. . . 

 

 

 

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I HAVE PANS (winsor newton) which are 40 years old and just as good and useable as ever.

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DO YOU THINK my pallets are messy?  Have a gander at the pallet of one of the most renowned watercolourists, ever–Winslow Homer . . . 

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FROM THIS MESS he painted this . . .

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“Boys In A Dory”, Prouts Neck, Maine, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Winslow Homer, 1873, 25cm x 35cm, watercolour on paper

The only comparison which has any remote bearing is the messiness of our pallets.  Other than that, watercolour painters of my calibre only stand in awe of his eternal greatness. 

BEFORE YOU GO, do have a look at another of Winslow Homer’s delicious watercolours . . .

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“Shore and Surf, Nassau”, Winslow Homer, 38cm x 54cm, 1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art

WOW. This man did not paint over top of washes (except to strengthen the intent of the line) allowing the whiteness of the paper to pass through, dazzling the eye.  And adding even more punch, Winslow Homer did not shrink from placing great and deep darks right beside the lightest lights, thus heightening the power of the contrast.  What a master.  Wow.

 

 

THE FEDERATION OF CANADIAN ARTISTS had its beginnings in 1941, and had as its goal the unified representation of all Provinces through one organization.  Canada’s premier artists, The Group of Seven, were instrumental in organizing The FCA, with A. Y. Jackson as the Ontario head, and Lawren Harris in charge of the West Coast region.

TODAY THE FCA has become largely a Western Canadian organization with most of its activity within the Province of British Columbia.  The hub is Vancouver [www.artists.ca] with regional Chapters throughout B. C. and Southern  Alberta.  The Thompson Nicola Shuswap Chapter (which I am a member of) has been hosting two Annual Art Shows for many years, with the 2015 National Show being mounted this coming Wednesday, April 8th.

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THE NATIONAL SHOW is open to any qualifying FCA member, but submissions for jurying are limited to 3.  Digital images of a member’s work are submitted to Vancouver and juried by three Signature Artists who use a point system to arrive at which pieces will be accepted and which will be declined.  Of the 130+ digital entries, only 85 pieces are selected for inclusion into this National Show.

MY OWN SUBMISSIONS (two) have been juried, one being accepted–

‘Approaching Storm, Sechelt’, 25cm x 35.5cm (10.5″ x 14″), Watercolour on board

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It is considered an achievement simply to get into this Art Show, while Opening Night, Friday the 10th, will be the occasion when $2800.00 in Prizes are awarded by another set of Jurors for those paintings which stand out as the best of The Best.  Only once has a piece of mine ever been awarded a prize.

SENIOR MEMBERS OF THE FEDERATION have these paintings being considered for The SFCA Prize, with only one receiving top honours.

SFCA 13

 

SFCA 6

 

SFCA 3

 

SFCA 5

 

SFCA 4

 

NEARLY ALL THE WORK submitted by artists for these Shows is rendered in acrylics or oils, with some pastel, and a few watercolours, and fewer still graphite drawings. Watercolour, generally, is not the preferred medium of most painters. It is considered difficult and problematic because of its demands and limtations.

 

Why The Moon Glows011a

Moral:  don’t mess with Mother Nature (or the Ocean Man).

~~~~~

Aneleise (Ane) at her Grandparents’, age 8. . .

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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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THERE WAS an old schoolhouse in the Township of Pritchard, British Columbia, just down the road from my friend Shiela. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was kept on a corner of field by a rancher who had attended it, hoping someday someone would see to its restoration.  Eventually it was torn down, but not before I was able to photograph it.  And I have painted it several times, choosing to situate it where I please….

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This is the initial drawing.  Because the rancher kept horses, I decided to position one for sake of interest.  The paper is Arches Cold Press 140 lb., stretched stapled and taped onto gater board, approx. 15 x 20 in.

 

Gettysburg

January 28, 2012

Gettysburg.  The very name sends all manner of emotion through my heart and out the other side.

I began studying this famous American Civil War Battle (July 1,2,3, 1863) some twenty years ago and then in 2001 I simply bought a plane ticket and up and went there to see the place for myself.  My sister and brother-in-law met me in Syracuse, New York, and drove me down to Southern Pennsylvania to spend five days absorbing the importance of those hallowed forests and fields.

I’m no fan of war, believe me.  But having been born an American yet having now lived more than half my life as a Canadian, I study the differences between the two countries.  Both British Colonies, the one revolted over taxes and the other still has The British Monarch as its Head of State.  One couldn’t find the means to end slavery peacefully, while the other saw it dissolved once and for all under Britain’s 1834 Slavery Abolition Act.

Having studied in detail The Battle of Gettysburg, and while there in June of 2001, I brought along my paints and did on-the-spot watercolour sketches of the most poignantly-historic locations among those now-peaceful fields.

 

 

'The Copse Of Trees -- Gettysburg'

 

 

On July 3rd, 1863, on a stiflingly-hot afternoon, after two entire hours of constant cannon bombardment of the Yankee position on Cemetery Ridge, General Robert E. Lee ordered a massive charge across a mile-wide expanse of field.  This was the concluding, and most desperate action of the horrific three days as tens of thousands Southern troops marched shoulder-to-shoulder into the deadly cannonading of Northern forces.

They were instructed to aim for an inconspicuous, yet noticeable ‘copse of trees’, dead centre in the Union Line.  Only one hundred or so made that destination, the more than 20,000 others suffering an indescribable onslaught of cannon and massed rifle fire.

After painting this little painting, I solemnly walked the distance to those trees.  It was a sobering, awful, respectfully-difficult-yet-important mile-long journey through the wind-blown grasses of a place now very hushed and calm.  I’ve never been quite the same before, or since.

What an enormous difference between two neighbouring countries, all due to differing attitudes to being deemed ‘Colonists’.

 

 

 

 

Rainy Day Study I

January 23, 2012

Golden Ears Provincial Park is one of the largest in British Columbia (over 62,500 hectares;1 hectare=2.47 acres) and features the pristine Alouette Lake. It also has three campgrounds and hiking trails through extremely rugged terrain.  Vegetation is typical of the coastal western Hemlock forest of BC and the mountainous backcountry is not only rugged but has–almost annually–proven fatal to the unprepared.  Those who go off are cautioned to understand what they’re getting themselves into.

Normally, Alouette Lake looks just like this . . .

Alouette Lake, Golden Ears Provincial Park (courtesy of Parks B. C.)

But the day I attempted to paint this scene, it started out very foggy, then changed to drizzle, then showed some promise of clearing-up.  I was in the camping area that was the most primitive, and of course only when I decided to begin painting did it actually start to full-out pour.  By then I was so into it that I had to keep going, even though drops were falling directly onto my work-in-progress (though I did have a make-shift tarp).  But to this day, this is one of my most favourite paintings because even though it has its distortions, I didn’t give in and stayed until I finished it . . .

'Alouette Lake Study'

I can still smell the coleman stove coffee and feel the warmth of the mug against my numb fingers as I celebrated by putting my brushes away–and swearing I’d never paint another #%$#!@# watercolour again in my life.

Mount Peter

January 21, 2012

To look up the face of Mount Peter– (the sibling of the larger Mount Paul), the signature mountains overlooking our city of Kamloops, B. C.–is to look upon the core of a mountain. These are mountains so ancient, all that remains are the inner cores–their souls.  Time and erosion have scarred and left them displaying a beauty it takes the eye a while to appreciate.

The roads about their base feature yellow diamond warning signs cautioning drivers to watch for Big Horn Sheep.

Big Horn Sheep (courtesy Wikimedia)

As a watercolourist, it took me a good two years before I attempted the challenge.  They are unusual subjects, and not easily rendered.  It was wise for me to wait, simply because I was so accustomed to the forested peaks of the Coastal Mountains that I regarded these as ugly. Until they finally become beautiful to the newly-arrived, these ancient and weather worn heights are probably best not attempted at all by art enthusiasts like me.

'Peter's Face'

High Country

January 9, 2012

Within the Kamloops city limits lies The Lac du Bois Grasslands Protected Area,  dedicated to preserving native grasslands and the sweeping vistas of this special region.  Old time ranching and a culture of horses and cattle survives.

This is a region of British Columbia with wide open spaces, with sagebrush and cactus and Ponderosa Pines.  It’s a land of Eagles, Hawks, Owls and Ospreys.  Through it winds the North and South Thompson Rivers and above their winding, watery ribbons is high country.

'High Country"

One Room School

January 3, 2012

Not far from Kamloops is the lovely rural town of Pritchard.   On Duck Range Road was an old one room schoolhouse that was ‘adopted’ by a local farmer who had attended it as a boy and hoped some community-minded group would see to its preservation and restoration.

Unfortunately, that never happened and in the summer of 2011, it was finally knocked down.  Although this painting takes some liberties over the school’s original setting, the rendering of the building itself is true to the way it looked.  It was hung in The Federation of Canadian Artist’s Open Show in The Old Kamloops Courthouse, and was a favourite in a fund-raising draw for The Federation.

watercolour, Arches 140 lb. Cold Press, 8" x 10", private collection

"One Room School, Duck Range Road, Pritchard, B. C."

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