Ink and Watercolor

July 23, 2017

We have lots of contrast based pairings in our verbal and visual vocabularies. In our heads … and in our popular culture … we use or hear a number of them pretty regularly. It is common for us to hear references to iron and velvet, leather and lace or fire and ice. Some of them are used as cultural icons, as trade or service marks, as well as tag lines in advertising, books, movies.

We have stories within which we associate these pairing; we have truism that play over and over in our heads as soon as we hear them uttered. “Oil and water may not mix.” They convey a sort of tension, a tension that drives drama, fear, or even an ironic twist – all kinds of excitement.

It even occurs in the world of art. In fact, I had a lovely conflicting duality that played out in my head for years. As many of you have figured out, I really enjoy many forms of mixed media … and I can also be a bit of a purist at times as well.

In the past I often thought that using watercolor and ink together was too often the last resort of someone who could not make watercolor work without ink as a crutch. And I mused that an ink sketch or drawing really shouldn’t need some weak color washes to make it more appealing. We didn’t need to be in the business of gilding lilies.

On the other hand, I LOVE mixed media. I have been exploring mixed media drawing and painting myself for over forty  years and lately I have been doing a lot of aqueous and mixed media sketching outdoors. Somewhere along the continuum between urban sketching and plein-air, these sketch have usually been done with either watercolor or ink. The ink has been with fountain pens, Japanese style brush pens, as well as ink washes. And, of course I continue to create watercolor sketches in monochromatic, limited palette and even sometimes a full range of color. But quite a few have been fully hybrid pieces, straddling the line between watercolor and ink.

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So, YES, I have been using ink and watercolor together. Actually pretty frequently.

For this one I worked up a super loose set of pencil lines to get the visual movements I wanted in the piece and the barest indication of relative sizes and locations. From there I quickly started laying in ink line in the upper right corner where sky, rooflines, and the chimney meet laid. Realizing  that I was using a water-soluble ink, I stopped using my ink, got out a brush to put the lightest values of the middle areas of the paper. These were the hues of the sun lit portion of the building that I could see being the poles, trees, and bushes.

Once those initial washes dried, I added addition ink lines and color layers pretty freely. I paid attention to what was dry and what remained wet so that everything didn’t run together. However, if you look, you can see that I did allow some mingling of ink and pigments.

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Now, my initial idea was showcase the brightly lit space around the synagogue’s front steps seen through a gap in the dark foliage. As I worked on the sketch, I soon realized that my fairly high key colors were dominating the composition … and the darks were really nowhere to be found … except in the ink line work.

On Jefferson, at Beth Isreal copy

On Jefferson, View Towards Beth Israel                                                                                                                                                     Watercolor and Ink over pencil, 5×7, July, 2017

This one ended up being a relatively strange little sketch, an odd angle and odd vantage point … looking at a tree, hedge and bushes while focusing (but not to much) on the color of sunlight on the bricks and steps that are just visible between/behind them all.

Here are two others, both from yesterday, that combining multiple materials. I was working with one of my sketching classes and once I got them started I made quick little piece. The first includes watercolor (Caran d’Ache watercolor leads) and ink (fountain pen & brush pen).

The second one, below, is just a detail of an unfinished sketch combining water-soluble graphite and ink (again my ink brush pen).

C'ville Open Air Mall WEB

As you can see, my tendency to being a purist is only partially evident. In practice, the duality … the dichotomy over combining watercolor and ink in my head leans towards the inclusivity.

PS These are probably the last two sketches I will be getting in before              I head to Chicago later this week to participate in the Urban Sketcher’s International Symposium. I do hope to post about that experience… maybe even from Chicago itself. I am a wee bit excited!

 

 

Wish me luck!

Blue? Oh Yes … I LOVE Blue.

July 15, 2017

My first favorite paint color was Prussian Blue!

I have gotten older and painted with many other wonderful blue colors. I think that maybe, just maybe  Prussian Blue is still my favorite.

As a young kid, my box of 64 colors had several blues. There were light blues, bright clear blues, and a darker blue to be sure. Maybe that was navy blue … but I don’t remember anything like Prussian. Because I didn’t wear jeans much growing up, I didn’t know the beautiful intricacies of indigo (or woad) as a dyestuff. And early on, living under a Florida/Caribbean sky, anything close to Cerulean just did not register as a true “sky” blue at all. But by the time I was a teen, I had seen a bit more of the world and it’s variety of blues. The hues of summer night sky in the British Isles and the color of the Atlantic at rest and during foul, angry storms were in my head. I had lived beneath and experienced the searing blues of the dry air midday sky on the Great Plains; I had marveled as well at the hazy, smoky, just barely blue-grey sky of the southern most Appalachians.

So, by the time I became serious about painting, I had decided that Cerulean was OK, Manganese a little bit better, and those new Pthalos, well they were eye-catching but far too strident—almost unmanageable in a realistic painting.  I was drawn to Cobalt blue; immediately! I was even more excited by the very rich, deep violet-blue qualities of Ultramarine.

My attraction to that ancient color we identify as Ultramarine, traditionally made from lapis lazuli, has never wavered. The bright blue lapis stone, famous and highly valued since even before the Pharaohs ruled Egypt, has been used as a coloring agent and in jewelry. In fact, I wear a lapis lazuli stone on my ring finger every day. (Thanks Mary!)  Despite that, the paint color that lapis makes can vary quite a lot depending on the quality of the raw material and the paint maker’s craft.  So, for me as a painter,  the chemically derived version which is known as French Ultramarine, is much more consistent and preferable.

A fairly new watercolor sketch using Prussian Blue, Prussian Green, as well as Ultramarine Blue.

But, just before I went off to college, there was a new color on my palette—Prussian Blue!

 

 

 

It was divine!

Not a “pure” or boldly simple hue like Cobalt or Ultramarine – nor is Prussian as smoky as Indigo. But it is a rich and complex color, first available as a paint or dye when this synthetic pigment was created in the early 1700s. When I first came across Prussian Blue in the 1970’s, I was painting almost exclusively in oils. At first I thought of it as a sort of midnight blue.  The richness of  Prussian Blue oil paint felt mysterious and a bit hard to pin down.

Prussian Blue IS hard to pin down. You see, sometimes Prussian just looks like a dark blue … but most of the time it edges towards violet. This makes sense … it is listed as having a red slant in all the official color charts.  But under some conditions (in light tints or in very pale washes) I have observed that it can oddly hint at green too. You can see that subtle greenish qualities of the lighter tints of the hue in the color sample above.  Violet AND green in the same color? This was astounding to me as a young painter.

Prussian is beautiful alone but in combination with other blues it really sang to me, it made other blues seem richer and more harmonious. It also made wonderfully sophisticated light blue tints when mixed with titanium or zinc whites. And because it has a violet quality, as well as its ability to contain hints of green or grey, the colors it can make … especially the greens … that are really beautifully subtle to my eye.

Test strips of various brands Prussian Blue watercolor. (Source: Handprint.com)

Despite teaching color and design to hundred (OK, thousands) of students over the years … and espousing the idea that working with the cleanest, clearest, and purest pigments is the best way to learn about mixing color for a painter … I have a confession to make. When I am actually painting, I still love the slightly less than pure but very vibrant and deeply complex qualities of my Prussian Blue!  Recently I learned that, in the 19th C, chemists also created a green by omitting a step in the process of creating the blue. This chemical pigment was used to make a Prussian Green paint. (Later on most paint manufactures replaced it with a mixture of Prussian Blue and Cadmium or Chrome Yellow. Today, most paint companies use a Pthalo (yuck!) instead.

I have studied more and more about art and about color over the years; I have also become intrigued by Egyptian Blue and Mayan Blue … as well as Chinese or Han Blues. And what art geek could ignore International Klein Blue (IKB)! So, yes, I love blue, all blues. BUT … in terms of paint, I love a complex and “imperfect” color of paint … Prussian Blue!

PS … For those of us who simply love blue, there is a NEW blue pigment out there too! It looks a bit like Klein’s version of the synthetic Ultramarine. And Crayola is going to be the first to use it. I think Gamblin will soon follow. You can read about  THAT story at Hyperallergic.

Blue is GOOD!

Springing into Summer: The Studio Work & Sketching Afield

June 1, 2017

I have been working up several designs for new multi panel pieces recently, pieces for my “Shaped Landscape” series. One of the new challenges is to come up with formats that I haven’t used before. During the winter and early spring months, I spent a lot of time playing on gridded paper. Trying to come up with new multi-panel formats  is fun and I am intrigued by several that are radically different from my earlier attempts. There are also some panel configurations that I will try that are tweets of old shape arrangements … but in a new scale or with a very skewed scale relationships.

To the right you can see an image which occupies a small portion of a recently started panel. It is part of a new piece using watercolor over pencil … so far. The panel is 12×12.

Below you can see the reference photo that, along with my previous on-site sketch, I used while working on this piece. My intent is for this panel to be paired with at least one more panel … probably two or three … that present a wider view of the landscape as well as enlarged landscape details.

 I am really not yet sure which of several options I am toying with for the overall panel assembly or arrangement. As I said, during the winter I made a lot of sketches and small cardboard mock ups, sort of 2-D maquettes if you will, of possible arrangements of multi sized panels. Frankly I was a bit surprised at some things I came up with … at once simple but more complex than the configurations that I have been using recently. Can not wait to get images that will match up with the new formatting ideas!

 

 

the partially finished 12 x 12 panel

 

My other project recently has been to get out of the studio, get out of the classroom and be outside sketching, drawing, painting photographing, and writing notes for images. As part of this, I have been drawing more urban images in the towns and cities of my region or in my travels. It reminds me of my youthful endeavors … as a teen drawing the brownstones of Wichita and as a young adult drawing the warehouses and older buildings of eastern NC.

Across From The City Market, Watercolor and Pencil on Paper, 5 x 7

 

 

 

Above are another two recent cityscape pieces … both 5 x 11 with watercolor over pencil. The lower one also has areas of brush and ink and even a little work with a fountain pen.

 

 

These cityscapes have been fun and I will continue them. While they feel like a diversion in some ways, I suspect that something beyond that will emerge from the work. Just not sure what it will be. During the past few years my sketches have been more rural; scenes found along the roads, stream banks, and trails surrounding the Blue Ridge.

It was that kind of work that I have been doing this week.  In fact today was pretty productive; I started three more rural sketches this morning and afternoon … though life logistics intervened each time and I didn’t quite finish any of them. Here is the earliest stage of one of them, when it was just pencil on paper. If you look closely you will see notes about color written on the paper … even within the sketch itself!  Yes, I will have to erase those before I start in with watercolor. Or maybe just ink and ink wash.

I will write more about some these a bit more … but that will have to be later. I need to cook some dinner.

I am thinking about Teriyaki chicken and grilled/roasted peppers and onions served over a bed of lettuce … covered with a big handful of red grape halves heated and tossed with black pepper, cinnamon, and  bit of cumin seed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh Wow … Yes, Blown Far & Away!

May 1, 2017

Like most of us, as a teen, I was hard to impress. Chalk it up to: intellectual arrogance and rambunctious, an overly serious geeky nature, my faux jaded persona, or any other form of silly youthful naiveté that you can imagine. But back then, even before I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life making art,  I had figured out that art could floor me. Like science or music, art images were able to spin my head around and send me into reveries, into near stupors of joyous confusion and awe.

I had a hunger for seeing and knowing through seeing; drawing as a means of understanding the world became central to me. Perhaps because observation was developing into a key pathway, I began to hold Cézanne and Sheeler as exciting and fundamentally important heroes as Leaky and Cousteau were for me. Little did I know then, that instead of the archeologist’s, naturalist’s, or marine biologist’s adventures in scientific exploration that I had envisioned, I would end up in a life of visual investigation and creation. Once I started to move toward making art, my youthfully arrogant and ambitious ego somehow imagined I would be a great draftsman and an oil painter … the next Sargent, Homer, Hopper, Wyeth, or even Diebenkorn.

A Garden in Nassau, 1885. Winslow Homer

A Garden In Nassua, Winslow Homer

So, while still a teen, I began to study art more and more, even taking classes in drawing, painting, and classically based (dynamic symmetry) design with Betty Dickerson. She was a noted artist and art-educator who, along with her husband, the Regionalist era artist Bill Dickerson, had firmly establish the art school of the Wichita Art Association. Soon I began to fall in love with the late 19th and early 20th century American Realists and Tonalists, French Post-Impressionists and German Expressionists, and most especially … the Early American Modernists.

Apples and Green Glass, Charles Demuth

It was only later that I realize all of the artists that I really admired had experimented extensively with and had made major works in watercolor. These artists became formative in my artistic development. And, as many of you know while I adore the act of drawing and that I love painting in all of its many forms … it is the use of aqueous media, especially watercolor, that I intrigues me so very frequently .

Well, if I needed a reminder of what it was that pulled me into this particular version of optical overload and vision based thinking, this spring I need have looked no further than the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art.

You see, there is an exhibition up in Philadelphia for just a few more days that catalogues some of the very best of American watercolor art. The work runs the gamut of the 19th Century and even sneaks in a few of the best watercolor works from the first decades of the 20th century.

There are early artists that I didn’t know well … and even some that I had never heard of at all. One such artist, George Henry Smillie has a delicious small work in the exhibit.  It is a depiction of a beach and the low scrub brush just off the water’s edge. I remember trying to paint similar view when I lived in Florida and Georgia. This one seems effortless.  I know it can’t have been.

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 Coastal Scene, New York, George Henry Smillie

There certainly are pieces that many will recognize as well as a few surprises too. There is one of Georgia O’keene’s Evening Star series and even Eakin’s John Biglin in A Single Scull. I had only seen reproductions of Fidelia Bridges, Milkweeds and Tiffany’s Peonies in the Wind; here they are!  Wonderfully idiosyncratic, both of them.

    MilkWeed                                Peonies in the Wind                                                                                                    Fidelio Bridges                           Louis Comfort Tiffany

I knew of Thomas Moran’s larger than life, heroically-scaled oil paintings. And knowing how artists of his day worked, I assumed he used watercolor as a study and sketching technique. Still his pieces in watercolor surprised me with both their subtlety and their power. While his figures are not always to my liking (a bit too fussy for my taste), the landscapes do not fair badly in comparison to Turner’s.

Big Springs in Yellowstone Park, 1872. Thomas Moran

If I were to have any reservations at all about this show, it is that it stops too soon. It is an understandable thing though. I saw a similar exhibit detailing the entire history of British watercolors (Watercolour, Tate, 2011) … if you want to read about that show, see my blog posts from August 18th and August 20th, 2011. That show ran on and on, and while I was in heaven, it was huge.

This show stops after giving us only a hint, a tantalizing foretaste, of the exquisite watercolors of the early and late 20th century in America. While I can hope that someone out there will put together a really extensive 20th C. American Watercolor show in the near future (please, please, please!), the PMFA exhibition is super

Edward Hopper, Haskell's House, 1924

Whether you are looking for an excellent reason to be in Philadelphia (besides Rodin, a cheesesteak, the Liberty Bell, to sip a Yards, to see all the construction going on) or you just want to take in some of the best watercolors 19th and early 20th century America offered up … check out the American Watercolor exhibit at the PMFA.  You only have a two weekends left!

PS: If you can’t make it … the catalog is excellent. A near rival to the big book detailing the whole history of American Watercolors by Christopher Finch back in 1986.

Large Landscape Works on Paper

April 11, 2017

I am always on the lookout for interesting art work … in person or out in the digital universe.  Recently, while trying to find examples of engaging artworks for my students to connect to, I came across the work of Michelle Lauriat.

Michele Lauriat, Phil's Hill (#3)

Mixed media, 90×55, from the Phil’s Hill series

 

Frankly, I was surprised and so very excited to find her large works combining drawing and painting on paper. I think my pleasure was so intense because she works much as I do in my sketching … but does so on such a larger scale. The work also reminds me just a bit of the image making path that I was on in my early 20’s.  So, I feel enthralled by the newness and freshness of her work while also sensing a degree of aesthetic kinship.

 

 

Mixed media, Echo Lake Series, 55×42

Ms. Lauriat’s pieces hover between drawing and full-bodied painting; making use of discrete but rich patches of color as well as subtle staining of the surfaces. Using copious amounts of negative space along with fields of color and value, she carefully articulates space/depth and a tentative feeling of solidity. While there is much visible evidence of early exploratory gestural mark making that she has left exposed and even foregrounded, there are also areas that she fills with marks and passages that hint at or describe perceived textures and also bolster the visceral activation of the surface design of her work.


I see Lauriat’s working method combining a decisively bold, and at times elegant, editing process with an eye for richly observed and rendered details from the natural world.  The results are exquisite combinations of mimetic accuracy and dramatic abstraction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her website is visually easy to explore and she blogs at … http://blog.michelelauriat.com

Enjoy!

 

The Monument – An Ink and Watercolor Sketch on A3 sized paper

March 7, 2017

Tofan Gheorghe is an artist living in Dublin, Ireland.  Perusing his blog site reveals some very nice loose watercolors/watercolours! Having just posted a very different watercolor and ink sketch showing part of a local monument here in the States … it was nice to see another artist’s very different take on a similar subject.

Hope you enjoy his work and blog. JH

 

Tofan Gheorghe's Creative Blog

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Urban Sketches; Color or Not

February 14, 2017

This past week or so, I have been working on sketches, lots of sketches … and yesterday I executed a very quiet one.

I had walked through town, past the shops and restaurants along the pedestrian mall, across and under the railroad tracks a few times, and even as far east as the old coal tower. I visually explored, looking for new ways to see the familiar sites. I tried to look deeply; I sketched and even took a few photos to perhaps use as reference for later in the studio. The one image that most intrigued me was far from the obvious. I even worked it up in a manner that I only rarely use.

Stopping in a small public park near my old studio, I began, and almost completed, the piece on site. The park is dedicated to the memory of a regional war hero and it has a traditional and quite handsome equestrian statue in the middle of the park. What interested me though was the sunlight bathing the delicately carved white stone base as well as the winter shrubs surrounding the statue.

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Winter Shrubs in Lee Park (pencil w/ink and ink wash, 5″x11″)

Using the thinnest of graphite lines, I began laying in the divisions of space. As I did so, I also began to create light but articulated lines to describe edges of bare branches. While I was doing most of the pencil work, I decided to create a pale grey ink wash. In a very old fashioned manner, I layered the wash many times … very slowly building up pretty subtle value shifts as each layer of wash dried. To add contrast to the nuanced values of pencil and wash, I added a lot of fairly small black ink marks using the fine point of a cartridge brush pen. Though I might touch up some part of the sketch later, for now I believe it is done. (If you have an opinion about it being done or not, do let me know.)

As I said, this little ink and pencil piece is quite a bit different from most of my current sketch work. A more typical piece is the one I did a building just four blocks away or the one of the coal tower.  Most often, I add watercolor over pencil and sometimes I will add a touch of ink … either with pen or brush. I tend to work fairly quickly once the drawing is “blocked-in” to my satisfaction. I usually strive to keep the end result loose and painterly as you can see below. This time, for the piece above, I was using aa much slower and more patient process.

west end of the cville mall, 2016West End of the Mall (watercolor and ink over pencil, 5″x7″)

 

 

 

I am always a bit surprised at the variety of the stylistic choices I see in my sketches, the wide array of strategies I employ as I begin working with an image. Loose vs highly controlled; rich color versus open space and limited hue or tone. As a much younger artist I worried that my work was “all over the place” or too “unfocused.” Eventually I learned to look to one of my heroes,  Richard Diebenkorn, as an example. You can see some of the variety within his sketches at the following address:
[ http://hyperallergic.com/231403/a-lifetime-of-sketchbooks-from-postwar-painter-richard-diebenkorn ] So, I don’t worry about that issue any more.

For me, it is time to get back out there and make some more images. Well over half of my studio pieces are begun with the research of urban sketching or plein-air studies!

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Coal Tower, Blustery Day, watercolor over pencil, 5″ x 11″

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It Was A Busy Time of Year!

January 26, 2017

For most of my professional life as an artist and as an artist-educator, I have felt there was a time crunch from mid November to mid- January.  This year was no different than normal.

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Late Fall’s Respite, Ink on Paper, 5 x 11

Even as the busy holiday season was before me … around mid-December, I wrapped up all my projects at the art center and the last of my Fall classes. The everyday set of tasks/burdens had been lifted.  I felt a joyous, almost expansive, feeling of being done … freedom of a sorts.  So what was my response?  What it almost always is — to feel more alive and open, more aware of everything around me.

And what happened?  I immediately start seeing more clearly, visual information flooded my brain, and I wanted to be making images!  As I walked across a gravel parking lot, the fading late afternoon light backlit trees and low brush that bordered the lot and I decided to do a drawing before the light was obscured by the oncoming clouds of a cold front.

My intent was to get a few organizing pencil lines down and proceed with a ink brush drawing. maybe accent it with a few select touches of color.  Somehow, after setting out my sketching materials, I instead grabbed my disposable fountain pen and just drew non-stop.  I never even contemplated switching to the brushes for either ink or color while I worked in the ebbing light.

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Alley in the Fan, Early Winter, Ink and Watercolor on Paper, 5 x 7

A few weeks later, while on a family and Christmas errand, I happened upon a scene that intrigued me.  I was in the hallway outside my daughter’s apartment and through a window I had a view of the back of the type of alley so typical of this (Richmond’s Fan) neighborhood.

This time I began by switching and forth between drawing with a fountain pen and my fountain brush pen. I worked very lightly, very sparingly at first.  Soon I switched to watercolor, bringing in the subtle hues of an overcast winters day, before returning to finish the piece with a few last lines and marks of ink.

Much later, in the same neighborhood and after exploring sight lines from a number of other buildings and vantage points, I chose a very different vista — an oddity actually — a small, cute Mediterranean influenced apartment atop an otherwise very plain brick commercial building. This sketch, I began and finished in watercolor. In my youth I would have done this completely in pen and ink or with an ink brush drawing … but I was intrigued by the green roof and traditional stucco and ceramic roof colors.


img_3689-96-dpiRoof in the Fan, Across the Green Tin Roof , Watercolor on Paper, 5 x 11

All in all, I didn’t get a lot of art work done over that month. Life was joyously busy as we saw family and friends. The “kids” and their significant others visited. Between family and the season’s tasks, I puttered about in the studio … straightening up a bit and reorganizing.

Now, beyond the scrum of family and life “stuff” of the early winter season, I am even more refreshed, feeling totally renewed and open.  I return to the more daily task of making images!  More about those plain air and studio images soon!

Working up a Watercolor Sketch … or is it a small Watercolor?

October 21, 2016

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I was supposed to be teaching a plein-air watercolor workshop at a regional art center. That plan didn’t quite gel; I took the now unscheduled time to work unfettered as a gift from the universe and I painted outside in the wondrous fall air! I even had some extended time to paint some in the studio. It was a nearly perfect compensation!

While working on one smallish piece, I assumed that I was creating a watercolor sketch.  Soon, I began to question if that was what I was doing. You see, I am not always sure when a watercolor sketch really becomes a small painting. I have been drawing, working with sketches, making paintings, and sometimes a lot of other types of art as well, for many years now. But I am still not sure where, or even if, there is a line somewhere between those watercolor sketches and watercolor paintings. ???

Let me back up and set the stage. Earlier in the week I had been helping some adult students with techniques and processes used to work with watercolor on wet paper … what many call wet-on-wet or wet-into-wet watercolor. If you have looked at my work, you know that in my pure watercolors, I mostly utilize what is known as the wet on dry techniques.  But as I do every so often, I responded to all the wonderfully rich and soft colors that Autumn has served up this year by making room for some wet surface painting.

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Beginning as I usually do, with a brief pencil line drawing … I was soon adding some delicate layers of color … mainly to the slanting ground of the hillside, the bushes along the “ridge-line” of the hill, and the foliage and trunks of the most forward cluster of trees. These forward trees’ trunks, branches, and leaves cover almost two-thirds of the top tier of the watercolor.

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As this completed my initial mapping of the image, I quickly moved on to adding some rich golden yellow color into background on the upper left side.

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Before the thick golden yellow dried, I moved in with two very dark green, one a bit blue and more neutral … the other a bit darker but a “purer” green.  As I watched this new rich green-yellow mix began to set up and dry, I turned my attention back to looking at and working all around the image, finally concentrating on the far right side of the image … especially the deep background visible under the canopy of main “central” trees as an area of shadowed blue and violet-blue.

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At this point I wasn’t yet sure if:  #1) I wanted to make the dark bright trees at the center as bold as the ones to the left … or #2) if I wanted to paint a deep blue violet into the now bright wet blue on the right side of the composition. NOT making a nearly instantaneous rational or intuitive decision was my first hint that I might now be painting rather than sketching.

Instead of tackling that decision … choosing one of those two major options … I once again began to “play” some more all over the image, making small tweaks to the  composition. I also spent some time working on the small bushes that appear out from under the central trees, descending along the hillside in front of/below the still extremely wet dark yellow-green mass that I had painted just a few moments before.

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I scrubbed out most of the dull rose hue I had started with in the main clump of bushes. Next, I made a darker mauve-burgundy blend that I pushed into the other reddish plants along the edge of the swelling line of the hill. Finally, I scraped and scuffed the paper of the main bush before applying a purer, warmer red … as well as a few touches of the burgundy.

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Well, as so often happens … life and many other tasks intervened in the process of finishing this piece.  Dinner finally called. The next day, my students, doing necessary work out in the yard, a few household tasks, visiting with family … even another painting or two begged for my attention!

A couple of days passed before I returned to work on this little image. Luckily for me, I had made a photo or two of the location … as well as having a clear memory of my slightly agonized struggle to clearly see and process the image on location.  I carved out an hour or so to reconnect with all that and spent a bit of time looking at what had started as a simple sketch. It was time to finally commit and finish it!

Above the Rockbridge Line, watercolor w/pencil on paper, 6.25x9.75

Above the Rockbridge Line, watercolor w/pencil on paper, 6.25×9.75

About 20 minutes of painting spread out across an hour and a half or so of evaluating … as well as drying time between new color layers and it was done!

As I said at the beginning, I am not sure when a watercolor sketch crosses some type of delineation and becomes a small painting.  In this case, I am sure of two things …

… 1) This was excruciating and deliciously fun …

and …

… 2) I would rather know which one YOU think it is, a sketch or a small watercolor?

Please let me know!

 

 

Below this line there may be adds of some kind. I don’t pick them or sanction them or their product or services they advocate. But WordPress has to make a living too … so we all smile and cope as we will.

 

A trip to Water Colour anyone?

May 17, 2016

It is SO nice to get a note or postcard in the mail, especially if it has some fun or exciting art image(s)! And while I can’t pin it to my studio board … I can savor an e-message or even a digital post about art almost as much.

That was why I was happy to get a post from Mari French today.

Mari is an English artist whose blog I follow. Her quick sketches are forcefully simple, very direct, and often really spot on; joys to see!

Old landing stage and channel markers. Sketchbook, Mari French 2016

Old landing stage and channel markers. Sketchbook, Mari French 2016

Mari’s more extended works seem to flow out of her mode of sketching and making studies. To me the larger pieces are rich and sophisticated in terms color and design.

Salt & sand series,#2. Mixed media on paper, 70x50cm. © Mari French 2016

Salt & sand series,#2. Mixed media on paper, 70x50cm. © Mari French 2016

Ms. French’s blog today showed some of her pieces and other’s works included in the 2016 Royal Institute of Painters of Water Colour exhibit. She focused on several artists, especially those working in minimalist or boldly conceived abstraction; styles which she obviously enjoys/has a deep interest in … her work show an obvious affinities for those approaches. [Get a look at her post by clicking here: Mari French’s most recent blog ]

You might also consider linking to the exhibition of that show’s website too. [a link to the 2016 R.I. WC Exhibit]  There you can peruse the other watercolour (watercolors), gouache, and acrylic paintings that members of the Royal Institute are displaying this year.  It was a wonderful treat for me to see some very exciting new work by folks that frankly, I never meet … even if I travel to Britain again any time soon.

Now, any group show has a few works that are completely and totally respectable efforts, but sadly … way too predictable.  However this is a really fine show; there really are large percentage of works that are absolutely exquisite in their craftsmanship, design, or handling of content.  And a few are so amazingly simple in their execution that they astound.

Sails across the Marshes, Norfolk, by Fred Beckett

Sails across the Marshes, Norfolk, by Fred Beckett

Mountain Village, by Ralph Dalzell

Mountain Village, by Ralph Dalzell

One or two (look for pieces about topiary prisons by Karen Charman) are even funny; beautifully fresh takes/touches on the best visual traditions in early and mid 20th century illustrations, comics, and cartoons. That type of work intrigued me as a kid; Ms. Charman’s pieces do the same today.

Ultimate Humaliation Topiary Prison, Charman-Karen-

Ultimate Humaliation Topiary Prison, Karen Charman

Take a digital trip, Fares are low. The rewards are really high!

 

The Showers of April … Have Brought Opportunities and Gifts in May!

May 5, 2016

Better news!

My last post talked about how the winter and early spring had been rough … with all the demolition in the studio and the storage areas.  Well, my tiresome kvetching … and the demolition process are done and the major reconstruction is almost over too!  When the space is all new and fresh, I’ll gleefully post those images.

Now, as April has wrapped up and the rains have brought us into May, I seem to have a lighter heart and and a less frenzied head.  Frankly, it didn’t hurt that I’ve been having some fun and some good luck as well. Many of you know that I really love to go sketch outside. Working with pencil, inks, watercolor, or gouache … I make lots of small pieces.  It always feel so good to get lost in that work.

Sometimes I will even whip out a panel or a larger sheet of paper and complete a whole painting on the spot.  Working that way reminds me of my Saturday forays into downtown Wichita (yes, I lived in Kansas for a few years) to draw the stately brownstones … or of the watercolor classes that I took back at Valdosta State.  I used the “plein-air” process for ten years as my primary painting strategy.  And while today I mostly use it to help prep for studio pieces, I still get a kick out of making a good small sketch.

 

View North, Spring, WEB

A recent quick watercolor sketch, 11×17

Well, I participated in a couple of Plein-Air Paint Outs and Quick Draw events in our region recently.  Painting while dodging the frequent rain showers … and meeting and talking with new colleagues was a joy.  The energy and camaraderie were really nice too.  Of course it didn’t feel bad for the old ego to hear a few nice comments and get a little recognition from one’s compatriots after a long day out making art!

 

 

Lynchburg Quick Draw

the artist Grey Dodson and I at a Quick Draw event

 

As I said above, I use these types of sketches, studies, and small plain air works as references for my studio pieces.  I am exhibiting some of those more involved studio works this coming month too.  The exhibit is happening at The Gray Gallery, a fairly new venue in Winchester, VA.1459915120

It is a two person exhibit, titled Structured Environments ( http://www.the-gray-gallery.com/exhibitions ) featuring Kung Chee Keong’s and my work.  I have about a dozen pieces in the show, all from my Shaped Landscape series.  The newest piece … finished just a few days ago … is actually a reworked triptych that I started over four years ago. In my eyes, it has always been only “almost” right since I stopped working on it.  I recently had a few ideas for how to improve the design and to make it a lot better.  I am pleased with the new version and I am really happy to see what others think.

I like Keong’s images a lot too, they have lots of movement and energy.  It is an interesting pairing.  These bodies of work will likely create a neat visual dialogue for the viewers; they do for me.  The exhibit is now open and the reception is on Friday, May 6th. The show will run through May 28th. If you are in the northern Shenandoah Valley this month, please do stop by the Gray Gallery and take a look.  The gallery is on Cameron Street in Winchester’s Old Town district … a beautiful and very walkable downtown.  Enjoy the art and, if you have time, maybe grab a bite to eat while you are there.  Make it a day!

works from The Gray Gallery Exhibit Structured Environments

“Autumnal Abundance”, one of my pieces (left), a work by Kung Chee Keong (right) from The Gray Gallery exhibition                               Structured Environments

As you see, a few weeks have gone by and life turned another corner. This corner, this turn, has lots of spring showers, thunderstorms, and even downpours to dodge … or to dance in. Whichever approach to dealing with the rain, it is a hopeful season. More later!

 

 

 

Curating the NEW WATERCOLORS exhibition at SVAC

February 1, 2016

Every now and then a really engaging and fun project comes along.

This time the project wasn’t in my studio or in the studio with some of my excellent students. Rather, it was curating the New Watercolors exhibition at the SVAC (Shenandoah Valley Art Center); it was a really wonderful challenge.

As the works came in from up and down the mostly east coast states, I was really pleased with the quality and variety that I saw before me. When all the work had arrived, I found myself in a bit of a quandary; I could frankly see two or three versions of the show based on the work I had. In the end though, I chose to simply pick the best pieces from each of the major themes and ways of working that the artists had placed at our disposal. The seventeen artists included in the show were: Randy Akers, Ananda Balingit-LeFils, Carol Barber, Jane Forth, Rachel Gaudry, Carl Gombert, M. Colleen Harrigan, Scott Hillman, Annie Parham, Chee Kludt Ricketts, Susan Crave Rosen, Beth Shadur, Jane Skafte, Amy Smith, Chhiv Taing, Steven Wolf, and Junko Yamamoto. Each works in an exciting, new, and/or experimental ways with aqueous media.

The piece that, at first, will 11,-STEVEN-WOLF-copy-copy,-WEBprobably seem the most traditional in the show is one by Steven Wolf. He is an artist living in Virginia. An artist well versed in the classical techniques of painting, Steven subtly eschews that way of working in his piece, Row of Burnished Trees,

Upon close inspection, you way notice that he has layered his aqueous media over a toned ground; something not seen very often … and often frowned on by many modern watercolor “traditionalist.” In fact though this is a practice that goes well back into the history of water media painting. It gives Steve’s color passages a subtle, and I think, evocative quality.

A number of artists in this exhibit sent in pieces that made use of collage in some manner. This past century has seen artists of all kinds and techniques embrace the concept of collage; from the Surrealists and Cubists of the early 1900s to todays mash-ups and sampling in the performing arts. Collage has become a basic tool for artists.

4,-Harrigan-copy-copy,-WEBColleen Harrigan’s Cape Pogue  is a classic collage with its torn and layered paper merging seamlessly with rough and irregular brush marks to create a Martha’s Vineyard seaside. This work is an interesting take on the watercolor seascape; it is a somewhat more quiet and calm version than one would seen from John Marin’s collage like arrangements of color in his watercolors of the coast. While I suspect Marin’s work has informed Ms. Harrigan, it is just as likely that the late seascapes of Homer or Sargent may have been in her visual memory as she navigated this supple composition.

A totally different approach to collage and water media is evident in Jane Skate’s Four Sisters. The multi-panel piece appears to be a joyously abstract tour de force of swooping, flying shards of color contrast with solid and stable shapes and richly layered hues holding the piece together behind all the action. I have seen her work before and know that her abstractions 16,-SKAFTE-copy-copy,-WEBoften stem from careful observation of spaces and objects. Here, anyny references here alludes my eye … and I get lost in the contrast of ragged vs clear edges, the complexity of the color harmonics, and the dynamic movement of shapes.

There is one artist in the show who has taken the idea of collage deeply into his working methodology. You may not recognize it at first though. Carl Gombert layers objects and images on a surface with the abandon of a collagist, but his liquid layers of color may be hand applied or may be stamped onto the surface. And right beside these layers of color you may find rhinestones, glitter, and broken pieces of mirror. Mr. Gombert’s subject matter, 5,-GOMBERT-copy-copy,-WEBwell lets just say it is as much influenced by street art, circus advertising, and tattooing as it is anything one might find in a curiosity shop or a 1950’s variety store. His four foot tall Explanation does not fit the standard idea of a genteel little watercolor. That is part of why it is such a wonderful addition to this show!

A very different way of working is evident in a few pieces included in this exhibit. Many artists have begun to paint more frequently on non-paper surfaces in recent years. After centuries of using traditional white papers in the western and asian traditions, artist have begun to explore woods and plastics, even glass as a painting surface for watercolor and other aqueous paints.

One of the artists in this show, Amy Smith, is working on the new plastic sheeting known as Yupo. It is a synthetic fibers material that acts much like paper but has a surface that will not absorb the liquid paint. Due to this, the color sits up on the surface, remains much more vidid in hue and intensity, stays wet longer, and can thus be manipulated much more freely.  6,-AMY-SMITH-copy-copy,-WEB

This can scare some artists. Not Ms. Smith, whose Solid As A Rock is a rather raucous jumble of rich color. She has taken watercolor’s liquidity and given us as much “chunkiness” as it is probably able to manifest.

 

 

A very different sense of design

20,-TAING-copy-copy,-WEBand surface is presented by Chhiv Taing, in Rue Graveolens, which was created by layering aqueous color on paper and translucent film and combined with colored film as well. These are not just layered, but cut into sensuous shapes. The layered density creates a sense of weight and heft while the translucency of all the materials clearly  communicates an airy quality. That contact, and the delicacy of the shapes and hues makes for a joyously realized image.

Perhaps the most intriguing work for me was in some ways the simplest of the works that came into the exhibition. It was sent to us by Junko Yamamata. The work, titled 05, was created using paint and ink on strips of an oriental style paper mounted on wood.  Despite the relatively small size of the work, Yamagata has created a forceful and dynamic presence through the sheer intensity of color and the utter intentional clarity of shape.

 

12,-JUNKO5-copy-2-copy,-WEB

As I said, this has been a wonderful experience for me; visual surprises almost always are!

The exhibition, at the Shenandoah Valley Art Center, located in Waynesboro, Virginia, opened on Saturday, December 5th, 2015 and ran through January 23rd, 2016. If you would like see more of the works from the exhibition, there are several ways to do so. The large and small printed catalogs are still available at Blurb.com. There also two ways to get to see all the images for FREE as well; you e-mail me and I can send you a pdf of the catalog … or for those who would like an e-book version,  you can also download the free one from Blurb.com site.

New Watercolors (smaller book)

The link for all of the Blurb.cpm books and the free e-book is:

http://www.blurb.com/search/site_search?search=new+watercolors%2C+hancock

 

 

 

Abstract Art 101 A 1/2

January 9, 2016

Hello all; hope you are having a good start to the new year.

HERE IS A REPOSTED BLOG … written and recently posted by Michelle Andres on her site The Art of The Well Lived Life ~ Musings on Art, Life and the Art of Life … it is one that I think some of you, my readers, just might enjoy.  

 (JH, 01.09.2016)

ABSTRACT ART 101 A1/2                                                                                              A good abstract will pull the viewer in and make them want to study it further. It may remind us of an experience, a place or a time in our lives. Abstract art is to the eye what music is to the ear.

Many people don’t understand abstract art. Truth is, there’s not so much to understand as to enjoy. Here’s a brief explanation for beginners ….

Let me preface this lesson by disclosing I’m not an art historian; I’m People looking at artjust a writer and painter. I mainly paint non-objective abstracts (that means they don’t look like anything recognizable) and I’ve noticed a considerable number of people are baffled by abstract art. Some people don’t know what they’re “supposed” to think about it.

Now, this could turn into an art history lesson – but I’ll do my best to spare you. I’m not an art history teacher and have no desire to overwhelm or confuse you. Okay, I like to confuse you a bit, but overwhelm, no. My main objective is to engage your curiosity and get you to perhaps look a bit longer, think a bit more openly and try to see art with your heart.

While abstract art has been around for centuries, the formal movement sprung from the movements of Romanticism, Impressionism and Expressionism. Basically, the Church was the largest art collector of the day and they began to tighten the purse strings. Artists had to appeal more to private collectors and also got that itch, as they always do, to express themselves. So, rather than work within the confines of the church and society, these crazy artists began to colour outside the lines. They were scoffed at and considered renegades – in today’s terms – we would call them “fresh” and they would be highly desirable. So, I guess you could say, they peaked early, or they were before their time.

We all have our preferences for the types of art we like, but consider, when it comes to abstract art, you might be over looking some interesting, exceptional art under the guise of “not getting it.” Abstract art appreciation does not reflect your level of sophistication – but it does reflect your level of experience. In other words, you might have to look at a LOT of abstract art to recognize a good piece – but like wine – if you like it, that’s good enough. Appreciating abstract art is about pleasuring your eyes.

So, how should we approach such art?

If you would like to read the rest of the blog, here is the link: Abstract Art 101 A 1/2

CONSECRATION.jpg

Consecration, Missa Mater Series, (jh, ’89, 32×90, watermedia on Kozo)

Working … on and over … Watercolor sketches

December 13, 2015

cropped IMG_1561 copy

 

Fall, 2015

It has been an interesting fall season. Out making sketches, working with students, and curating a water media show. I am not sure that I have had the greatest success balancing all of this.  I do think that I have learned some things though … mostly when I was out working on my sketches!

sketch up the treeline

My work has been sporadic this fall; maybe it has been too chopped up by my schedule. More likely it has been one of those periods in the life of a studio artist when a lack of really disciplined focus slips in and nests for a while. I am not sure what is distracting me. True, I got to spend more time than I wanted in the dermatologist’s clinic than is normal (a heads up to all my fellow plein-air folk) … but I think I was off my game a bit earlier in the year. Oh well, kvetching isn’t productive either.

Anyway. Here is a sketch that I made fairly recently. At this early stage it seemed to be going along just fine. I really liked the large space that the foreground tree on the right took up compared with the “row’ of trees trunks receding on the left. I felt felt like it maybe needed just a few more details and I would be ready to move forward with color.

Preliminary sketch

So I continued drawing. But even before I finished the pencil work, I was telling myself it was getting too fussy, too detailed … and that it was really an extremely old fashioned design. I figured it would be ok as long as I kept the painting to a minimum … staying as loose and visually frugal as possible for most of the piece; picking out just a few bold details with the color.

cropped 2 IMG_1581 copy

IMG_1695

Well that was my PLAN. I somehow forgot that strategy as I worked on and on through the stages of the image! Instead, I over did everything; spending to much time on details instead of the larger, overarching design of the sketch. It has no bold, abstracted simplification!

scrubbed 1

So what do you do with a composition that is overladen with dull and fussy details and little else to say for it?  It is just a sketch after all … maybe it can just end up in the pile of discards without much worry. (Ok, you caught me there, I am already sure that the preserved preliminary pencil sketches will find a use in the planning stages of a larger panel painting or two … but more about that process another day.) For now though, I wanted to try and salvage the little guy, that plain air sketch!

Rather than tossing it, I have employed the traditional “Third Process”  for watercolor painting.  (It was regularly taught back in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in England’s Royal Art Academy.)  In this method, the painting is taken back into the studio and immersed in a bath of clear water and selectively rubbed, gently or aggressively, with a soft brush. The historic use of this technique was to unify the dry and overly separate layers of paint, thus creating a more cohesive image. So, I am hoping to salvage the sketch in much the same way.
cropped IMG_1419 I did recently bring a more successful quick field sketch back in to the studio. I had been working along the same stretch of road and still looking slightly up-hill into the fading light of the day.  With this one, I stayed much closer to the idea of working quickly, more boldly. When it was completed, I had been able to preserve some of the simplicity of my first response and achieve a delicacy of color harmonies too.

So, I’ve learned something working out there this fall season. It is not something “new”; instead I have been a bit humbled … and relearned what I have known most of my painting life.  1) Stay focused and intentional. 2) Remain willing to ruin something to make it better.  3) Be open to unexpected visual excitement. 4) Find a way to keep it simple. Those are always good lessons!
West. from Behind the Practice Field, WEB copy

 

 

 

 

 

Cooler Weather? Cool Open Studio!

December 7, 2015

I for one am hoping …

Back in late August we had some really beautiful fall-like days here in Virginia; then for several weeks in September it has felt as though summer has roared back in. I spent quite a bit of time outside making photos (lots!) as well as watercolor and pencil sketches (not enough) for my studio work.  I was seeing lots of colors changing out there … so I was quite excited that Autumn weather was on the horizon!

Aug. 2012, Studio 1, SMALLEST

As the change of season came upon us, I participated in an Open Studio Tour event for the first time ever. Well, sort of for the first time. Years ago, I had a studio at the McGuffey art center in Charlottesville, Va. It is a public co-op and we had open studio event every month as part of a First Friday art gallery walk.

But this was the first time I had folks coming to my home studio. The studio tour was sponsored by the local arts council/center (SVAC) and there were a number of studios here in the southern Shenandoah Valley that were open … a few, like mine, for the very first time. The event took place on September 19th and 20th (Saturday and Sunday) from 10 am to 5pm both days. We had some refreshments, new art, … and some fun. It was a good experience and it made me get the studio back in order after an odd little summer.

Next time we do this, I’ll be sure to broadcast the invites a bit further out, maybe a little more loudly … and early. Come visit!

SVAC_OST_poster_2015

As usual, I will be sure to put info on Facebook and on my website : JohnAHancock.com/exhibitions.html

The nights are getting chilly … even a bit nippy; some of the days have some warmth to them, and the light is fabulous!

Enjoy the last bit of the fall season!

Old Painting Friend …

March 16, 2015

I have an old friend who has a real “dog” of a painting story. I had heard this story make the rounds when I was a studio art professor … but never from a friend.

Let me set the stage though. Robert and I met way back in the late 1970s when we were both enrolled as art undergrads at VSC (Valdosta State College).

Robert was among the small group of colleagues that I would often head out with beyond the campus … so that we could make cityscape and landscape drawings and paintings. Even back then, I liked the way Robert sort of “attacked” the design and composition of a watercolor. If he didn’t like what he was getting … he would wash out passages or if he felt he had gotten too muddy he would flood them with deep rich darks. Gutsy.

After I graduated, I moved to NC.  He became a designer, travelled the world, and went into business … and I taught college and did some community service work but we had already lost touch. Only recently did we stumble upon each other through social media. Frankly, it is no surprise to me that not only are we both still painting with aqueous media … we are both now working at being full time studio artists.  It is good to know that a old colleague and friend is still out there making wonderful new work!

His most recent blog post has his “dog-eared” story … I have included the link to his blog/site below the image I stole from it. (For me, besides the story … it was good to read about and see images from the “sea islands” off of Georgia’s coast. It is a beautiful part of the world.)

Enjoy.

the-dog-ate-it

http://robertleedy.com/2015/03/12/from-the-youre-not-going-to-believe-this-files-and-a-career-first-for-me

New Work; From Plein Air Sketch to Finished Pieces

August 5, 2014

I love mixing and matching … aligning and contrasting. I do it with media. I do it with imagery and content. I’ll even use that way of working with design and stylistic approaches. Mash-up isn’t quite the right word; it is the right concept though. Maybe I am overly invested in both classicism and the early modern.

one of the studies, a reference photo, and an early stage of “Trees In Pacific Afternoon Light”

This week, as I prepare the last pieces for a two-person exhibit at a college in North Carolina, I have had several pieces that have been a hard to bring to fruition. One of them seems to have hit upon a happy ending … the other two, I am still struggling with.

Seashore-Trees,-process-3,-WEB

watercolor study, 5 x 11, from a sketch made looking across a wall from the Getty Villa

The first, an image that started as a sketch out in S. California, became a small series of watercolor studies. Soon, using the rough sketch, studies, and a dozen or more reference photos … I began the painting on an aqueous media panel.

the central image, 3rd stage ... watercolor on a 12 x 12 panel.

the central image, 3rd stage … watercolor on a 12 x 12 panel


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

None of my photos captured the almost golden light I sensed that afternoon as I prepared to enter the Getty Villa. But working from my sketch and color notes … I played about until I got an image that did portray the felt color of that afternoon.

A few days ago, as the painted section with the trees neared completion, I added a few passages of gouache, hoping  to increase the solidity of  the bare tree branches located in the blue violet shadow on the lower left.

the panel, taped for laying in color across the top register. The representational content is 85% to 95% complete

the panel, taped for laying in color across the top register. The representational content is 90% to 95% complete … ?

Yesterday I decided to stop working on the trees; not permanently … but to begin deciding what to do with the upper third of the image. I flirted with at least six or seven possibilities. Maybe a very thin red horizontal band and a muted blue grey above it? Two blue bands with several small vertical shapes in rich yellow and dark muted green clustered in the upper right corner? or perhaps in the upper left? In the end, I decided to keep this one more simple. Two tonally related but different blue bands, the darker and more intense one across the top.

Here it is with the color bands completed. I  still think that a combination of small staggered vertical bands, interrupting the major horizontals. might be interesting. But, for now, I’ll leave it as it is, tidy-up up the “loose-ends” and move on.

 

Almost completed panel!

An almost completed panel!

I do like it. Maybe I can be happy with this one as it is.

 

IMG_2329As I said above, the other two are proving to be much harder to bring to a satisfactory conclusion.

Like the painting above, I have reference sketches and photos from last fall, as well as compositional studies for this painting. The finished maple tree in autumn was to have a strip (possibly broken into a few vertical blocks) on the right side … and maybe a “free floating” block of color somewhere inside the composition in the lower left. I was pretty sure of what I wanted it to look like; now I have almost no clear vision of how it should end up!

 

The next one, a smaller horizontal piece, was started in the summer of 2012 … and I never really quite loved it.

On the Edge, Late Summer (as "completed" in 2012)

On the Edge, Late Summer  (as originally “completed in 2012)

Here it is to the right. What I liked was the general rhythm of the stalks across the field. But despite the passible late summer humidity-laden coloration, it doesn’t feel like the design is dynamic enough.

Below is the new revision so far. Originally the red-violet band was wider … the width of what is now both the dark olive green and the red-violet color panels. The newly white area is going to get a drawing of the same heather (maybe two drawings?) at earlier stage(s) in the plant’s growth/maturation process. I have left the white a bit translucent so that a “ghost” of the original color and drawing do show through.

summer 2014 revisions, so far

the summer of 2014 revisions, so far

 

Maybe I am being indecisive. I do know that I am being pretty picky (or is it just being fickle?).

As I said Mash-up isn’t quite the right word for my combination of classicism and the early modern. I am not sure what is the right description … but I will post progress on these two a bit later.

Searching for Exciting Watercolors, pt. 1

July 17, 2014

I am always looking out for artwork, especially watercolors and other works on paper, that are interesting; something intriguing or perhaps even truly compelling.

When I was full-time college artist-educator, I would always be on the lookout for any/every type of work to share with my students. Now, some of you may know that, besides drawing, I work quite a bit with various aqueous media and most often in/or with watercolor. So it probably wouldn’t surprise you that finding exciting, new work done in watercolor is a quest of mine. It has been for many years.

There are lots of fine watercolorists out there … but there is too much repetition and far too much acceptance of staid approaches to the medium.

Please don’t get me wrong, using a a traditional figurative approach is fine … and I LOVE beautifully made images created that way … just as long as there is something new, fresh, or personal about the work. Conversely, I grow quite bored with a lot that I am seeing when looking at so many of the contemporary artists working in the watercolor medium.

This is sad because watercolor has often been on a cutting edge, been a medium for artists to experiment and play with new ideas. Just think of Kandinsky, O’Keefe, etc. It has also been a medium to use for long term exploration of visions and concepts. We have no further to look than such diverse artists like Klee, Klimt, Demuth, Marin, Burchfield or the Wyeths.

I want to find new images made with watercolor, new ways of working, or new examples of the absolute mastery of combining technique, design, and content using watercolor.  New art! Please!

Beautiful Weed, Mary's Garden,, watercolor sketch over pencil, 5 x 11, 2014

Beautiful Weed, Mary’s Garden, watercolor sketch over pencil, 5 x 11, 2014

With that in mind … there are five artists whose work in watercolor has caught or has recaptured my attention; Artin, Forge, Gibson, Nickson, and Sinclair.

 


 

Roman Forum from Via dei Fori Imperiali, 1999, 20x11

Roman Forum from Via dei Fori Imperiali, 20 x 11, 1999

Wendy Artin’s work is a handsome modernization of traditional media combined with a very classically based content. An artist who is working now, Artin has begun to gain some critical and popular attention. I think that I first came across her images a year or more ago in either an issue of Drawing or Watercolour. Since I still teach a few college drawing courses each year … I was excited to share her work with my students. But for me personally, it was her nearly monochromatic watercolor wash drawings that intrigue!

Some of Artin’s pieces have the fluidity of a great Tiepolo; others have hints of the moodiness in a wash drawing by the French artist who also worked in Italy … Claude Lorraine.

Cinecittà, 40 x18cm, 2000

Cinecittà, 40 x18cm, 2000

She finds a balance between playfulness and a sense of “veritas” in her work; while combining “wet-into-wet” areas, dry brush techniques and judiciously reserved white/negative spaces with apparent ease.

The renewed and refreshed classicism of her work … not to mention the gutsy design and mimetic rigor of works like Parasol Pine Panorama (below), can take my breath away.

Wendy Artin, Parasol Pine Panorama, 2008, wc on Khadi paper, 76x30 cm

Parasol Pine Panorama, watercolor on Khadi paper, 76 x 30 cm, 2008

 


 

Andrew Forge WC?

Andrew Forge was born and studied art in England where he taught at the Slade School of Art, Goldsmiths College, and the University of Reading. He emigrated to the US and taught at Cooper Union, New York Studio School, and taught painting at, and served as Dean of, the School of Art at Yale before he died in 2002. His work as an educator and as an art writer/art critic was well grounded in his painting.

Untitled. Watercolor,14.5 x 10, 1962

untitled. Watercolor, 14.5 x 10, 1962

Forge seems to have worked his way visually and intellectually through the various styles of modernism. One thing that I see in his paintings is an early encounter with Cezanne’s way of visually processing an image into an arrangement of color patches on a surface.

And, in his later work, Forge also seems to have followed that manner and concluded with a  further joyful abstraction. His work of the 70-90s has all the delicate spareness one might expect from an artist steeped in classical clarity, nuanced perception, and a humane visual playfulness.

 

untitled, 23 x 15, 1993

untitled, 23 x 15, 1993

 


 

I came across John Gibson’s work at least 20, or maybe 25+ years ago. I saw it … and it printed in publications. I could surely see that it was good work, bold and confident. But after looking at a number of examples, it frankly appeared to be to much the same thing over and over. I grew jaded and, yes, bored.  Mea Maxima Culpa!

John Gibson, Somerville, 2014, 34x92

Somerville, 34×92, 2014

You see, Gibson works on a basically simple premise … creating believable an image of 3-d sphere(s) on a totally 2-d surface. This is the old (Renaissance “old”) task of visually rendering space and form. And Gibson does throw in a visual treat that some might find to be a bit of visual irony … almost all of the spheres he depicts are decorated with patterns.

3-in-a-line, 48x56, WC, 09-06,John Gibson

3-in-a-line, watercolor, 48 x 56

As I said, I got it; I grew bored. I moved on. Yes, I occasionally used one of his images to help me teach form in a drawing, studio painting, or watercolor class, but that was about it.

Frankly, without running across it again and again, I didn’t have much time to really be ensnared by its charms. And there are charms in this work.

Recently however, something drew me back to look at his work some more. After 30 years are so … I felt a desire to re-examine his spheres. Maybe it is a desire to understand  his obsession. Or to just be charmed!

What ever it was, I am glad I did. As I let the obvious similarities slide past, I could begin to see just how sumptuous his color was … how rich and yet carefully he used color to assist in the  rendering of BOTH rounded forms and the “vapor” of depth and space.

John Gibson, Hidden Web,2009, WC, 32×44

Hidden Web, watercolor, 32 × 44, 2009

 

These are not easy, facile works but they are quite confidently put together. I see no design magic here; rather there is a solid, logical construction to these images. The color isn’t flashy either, instead it is finely balanced and so deliciously worked into the substance of the painting.

Well, those are three of the artists whose work in watercolor I am finding exciting or challenging right now. My hope is that you saw something new or interesting too. I will finish up writing about the other two (Nickson and Sinclair) very shortly and post an addendum quite soon.

 

Right now though, the studio is calling !!!

 

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Exhibition of Sketches open, Reception today!

May 2, 2014

Sometimes little things are really quite important. Certainly the smallest thing can be extremely satisfying.

I have a new show opening today in Charlottesville, Virginia at Angelo (on the downtown pedestrian mall). It is a wonderful small venue. The show itself is also small, just 14 pieces. All the work is quite small too!

After my big shows of really BIG drawings earlier this winter, it is really a nice treat to put up these smaller, more intimately scaled pieces.

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And these works are interesting and exciting to me precisely because they are more personal, intimate, and quick in terms of the art making. All of them are landscape sketches, most started and finished in one session … with the simplest of materials. There are a few that are almost panoramic in vision despite their very small scale.  A few are really close-ups of landscape details. Most of them though are fairly typical landscape images … at least they are typical to my eye.

The best ones are done very quickly and quite simply.  A few have a hint of Demuth or Marin (not so much Homer or Girtin this time) … and just maybe the quickness (if not the sublime quality) of a Turner watercolor.  The less successful ones may help me create better larger works but, of course, I don’t share those. They are now “working” sketches. You would have to come to my studio or one of my classes to see those.

The ones at Angelo for the next two months are, I think … pretty good.

If you are near Charlottesville sometime between May 1st and June 30th, please take a look and tell me if you agree.

(PS It would be wonderful to see you at the opening too … sometime between 5:00 and 7:30.)

 

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Sketches!

April 26, 2014

It has been a busy Spring.

Winter hung in there and made it a longer chilly start to the spring season than usual. That means the garden and plants need some extra care, some extra work this year. I have not gotten all the gardening tools properly prepped for the season yet either.

Instead, I have made lots of changes to my classes at the college. (I do so hate to get stale in the drawing class studio!) At the other end of the professional duties, my exhibition schedule and speaking engagements have kept me hopping. The traveling was fun, even as we dodged the worst of the snow and ice storms!

NW Hillside, Pines and Fenceline

NW Hillside, Pines and Fenceline, watercolor over pencil, 5×11, 2014

Now, at the core of my artist life, the making of artwork, things have again settled into a pattern. Yes, a slightly a-rhythmic pattern … but one I am trying to keep moving along. Not in the studio very much; I have been working outside whenever I could … wielding pencil, ink-brush pen, and watercolor. So much so that my students have remarked that they have seen me along the roads close to campus and further afield. They think it is quite funny (¿amusing or weird?) when they spot me sitting on the cold ground in 40 F/5 C degree weather; standing at my sketching easel in 30 mph/50 kph winds.

But it is part of what I do to prep for new work; my version of hunting and gathering … seeking out new images, interesting visual material.

I have other ways of generating visual “primary sources”, but working alla-prima, en-plein-air … is so mentally refreshing.

It grounds me.

preliminary sketch for "South, Off Jarmin's Gap Road

preliminary sketch for “South, Off Jarmin’s Gap Road

Sometimes the work comes out totally fresh and clean. Almost sparse/spartan in its finished state. Other times they are labored, even overworked. Unclear. Those are not as exciting, but they still teach me something, challenge me to think, re-think their source and what it is I find engaging and exciting about it.

Hilltop Pine, Across From Rockfish Gap

Hilltop Pine, Across From Rockfish Gap, ink & watercolor over pencil, 5×11, 2014

Whichever one it is, clear, clean, and well executed … or overthought and overly fussy … I am happy to be seeing, reacting, and thinking about images outside. Just pass me my hat and my sunscreen!

 

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