Archive for the ‘Art & Life’ Category

From Chicago; Then Back Home Again …

August 24, 2017

As I promised, I have finally gotten around to posting some more of the sketches from my recent trip to the Urban Sketchers gathering in Chicago a few weeks ago. This first image was actually done in the morning of the last full day of the symposium. I was on Michigan Avenue near the river; I was watching the morning light and shadows play across the tall buildings across the river.

Early Morning Shadow, Wrigley Building

After doing the one above, I shifted a few feet on the sidewalk and completed a second sketch using just ink (both fountain brush pen and fountain pen). Again I was drawing the Wrigley Building but after the full eastern façade was in light. (As an aside, I’ll admit that I really like the light poles and lights I found through out the Loop and Grant Park  parts of the city!)

Wrigley Building, Chicago

Earlier, during in the first full day in Chicago I participated in a class led by Lynne Chapman, an illustrator and urban sketcher from England. In her class, we concentrated on using line and color separately … finding ways for them to harmonize or counterpoint one another rather than always controlling color with line. It was an interesting experience; one that I have worked on with the students in my classes but sometimes need to remind myself to do more often in my own work.

For our first exercise we glued down several pieces of arbitrarily shaped pieces of color paper onto to our sheets of watercolor paper. Then, using inks and other materials, we drew a view of the skyline across Michigan Avenue. Here was my 2nd exercise piece from that session.

My 2nd exercise piece from the Lynne Chapman’s workshop USk-Chicago

I had lots of fun with this … it felt good to be back in “student” mode a bit, It resonated with how I imagine my adult student feel when I push them to try a new type of project. After several exercises, we all went off to try and incorporate some of this idea into a piece on our own. I worked up a watercolor sketch using a different part of that skyline and some of the bushes and trees of arboretum that we were seated within. I worked very loosely, applying color and lines … sometimes together, often separately; trying to define forms using some line and some color … but rarely directly conjoining the linear and color shapes.

stage 2 of  my watercolor sketch of the Chicago skyline across from the arboretum

Chicago Skyline (as completed in my USk-Chicago workshop w/ Lynne Chapman)

One of the last pieces of my time in Chicago was agian down along the river on Michigan Avenue. This one is in some ways my least successful piece. I was working on a large-ish (1/4 sheet, 7.5 x 11) watercolor sketch of an icon of early modern architecture in Chicago … the Tribune Tower.  It proved most difficult. The building with its soar mass and ornate gothic style top is so distinctive and so very impressive. The sketch had big shoes to fill; it needed something of that felt solid and yet leaps towards that intensely complicated and powerfully graceful beauty that graces the upper portion of the building. My sketch feels too overworked: I should probably have diminished the visual weight and attention tI gave to the building immediately behind the Tribune. Those shadows along the road and bridge were also real … but they too seems a bit heavy.

I guess it an honest attempt … that just falls a bit short.

North on Michigan, Towards the Tribune in

Frankly, like trying to sketch the Tribune building, everything about the experience was SO very intense. There were many, many fine folks there; right at 500 or so talented and committed sketchers from all around the world. I worked with several great teachers and workshop leaders. Besides Lynne Chapman , I also had wonderful sessions with Uma Kelkar (the beauty of mystery) and Jane Blundell (on one of my favorite topics, the permanent watercolor pigments). And I got to meet some favorite artists, Marc Taro Holmes and Sheri Blaukopf … both hailing from Montreal.

I must not forget the friendly, gracious, and magnificently helpful member of the Chicago Urban Sketchers chapter (including Paul Ingold) all of whom worked tirelessly as volunteers.

Charlottesville Rooftop View

We did make it home of course. And I have returned to sketching between and in the cities and towns near where I live. It feels really good to re-acquaint myself, to re-adjust, back into my more normal practice.  And if I struggled a bit with the immense height that the central core of Chicago presented me with … my hope is that some of what I saw, did, and experienced in Chicago will rub off on my work as well as my teaching of sketching.

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Working Westward to Chicago & the Urban Sketchers Symposium!

August 19, 2017

Westward.

Earlier this summer I was exploring sites just east of the Blue Ridge range. In old neighborhoods and part of towns that I seldom cross through much less actually see.

Oak Street Cemetery Gate, Charlottesville

I was also up on the the Blue Ridge, south of Afton Mountain, and back into the Shenandoah Valley. Meandering a bit, both northward and to the south, I kept finding old places I wanted to re-explore and new ones that tweaked my interest … everything from old walled cemeteries entrances to beautiful vistas viewed from between road signs.

… an unfinished sketch of farmland in the Shenandoah Valley viewed from behind two road signs

But then, it was time to head to Chicago for the International Urban Sketchers Symposium.  And when I got there, what can I say …

Wow! Three days of non-stop sketching, working with a few hundred other artists … all sketching in pencil, ink, and/or color! I think they may be part of my tribe!?

I took a couple of workshops and watched lots of demos. These took me out of my sketching routine; a big help actually. (Besides revitalizing my work, it is a great reminder what my students sometimes feel when I ask them to do something new!)

Unity Temple, Interior, 3rd state WEB

Interior, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple, Oak Park Chicago IL
 Wabash Street L, Chicagom WEB
Under the “L” at Wabash and Congress

The first two sketches I made, I kept them pretty low key and simple. One, the interior of F.L. Wright’s Unity Temple done with a fountain pen and a fountain brush pen. The second, of the “L” seen from Congress and Wabash, I started using a light, loose pencil underdrawing but quickly substituted the pen to continue the line work. As I neared completion of the lines, I began to use the pen to lay in areas of dark. Before the ink could dry, I applied a wash to unify most of the linear elements into a cohesive whole. This wasn’t my only sketch of Chicago’s elevated train tracks, but I think it was one of the most successful.

As the next three days progressed, I was constantly pushed and pulled by the workshop leaders and by the shear vertical scale of Chicago’s buildings in the central loop and at the lakeshore. The camaraderie was great; folks were intensely supportive too. The local Chicago chapter did a marvelous job as hosts as well. assisting all the 500+ participants in so many ways.

Well, I have to go do some work in the studio now; I will post a few of my more color rich Chicago sketches as well as some from the trip home pretty soon.

 

 

 

 

 

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 found myself thinking 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 to 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 pieces. The first includes watercolor (Caran d’Ache watercolor leads) and ink (both 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 be 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.

george+henry+smillie,+coastal+scene,+new+york

 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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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!

 

 

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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)

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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Stanley Spencer; Modernist & Realist

November 24, 2013

Self-portrait, Stanley Spencer, 1914

Self-portrait, Stanley Spencer, 1914

Some Realists make work that reminds me of wonderful and simple sugar candy; a rush of pure visual excitement, easy on the eyes, and nothing complicated. (Yes, I know it isn’t easy or uncomplicated to paint that way; just try to create a delicate and sensual confection like Fairfield Porter’s work!)

Then there are Realists so enigmatic that their work creates all kinds of quandaries which rattle about in my head for a long time. Those are the Realists that I love most.

In the States, I immediately think of the works of Andrew Wyeth or of Raphael Soyer. The former stretches credulity and design into a wonderfully complex matrix. Soyer, seemingly effortlessly, pushes you towards his subjects personal space … involving you, almost uncomfortably in their lives somehow.

In England, I am entranced by the life and art of Stanley Spencer. His work, to my eye at least, stands as a very modern type of realism. Maybe not the rough, even harsh newer realism of Lucien Freud but still modern and engaging. (I haven’t yet read anything to tell me that L. F. was influenced by Spencer, but I suspect that he was.)

Terry's Lane, Cookham circa 1932 by Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959

Terry’s Lane, Cookham, c. 1932

Spencer, as an artist who matured within sight of the first World War nearly a century ago, certainly had access to both the grand traditions of the past and the visual ideas of the new century at his disposal. He continually experimented with elements of both in his art.

We can see in his drawing and painting that he had the training we would associate with that tradition. We also see in his work that he had an eye for composition that was not traditional … he crowded the viewers perception, pushed his subject into our world, dragged us into his equivocally desolate and lush visions.

So to, in his life, he experimented and fumbled … ending up in a bit of a peculiar place when it came to relationships. That may have been why he lived so much of his life in and around the village of Cookham; midway between London and Oxford, a place where he could work out his own direction.

nude-1935

Nude, 1935

In the end his work did not seek refuge in some safe and comfortable romanticism for days gone by. Neither did he unquestioningly embrace and advocate everything that was new. Instead, he engaged in the tumultuous negotiations between past and present, internal and external … that we all carry within us.  You can see current events of his day in his work and timeless subjects. Not the same old take on those subjects … rather he looks upon them with a very personal perspective, and giving them a modern if sometimes quavering and enigmatic voice.

Spencer’s work and his life are not quickly or easily understood. He is not “pure and simple” unless by that you mean he is himself. That is possibly why I keep wanting to look at his work so much. To get a better insight into his work try taking a look at the site below: http://modernbritishartists.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/stanley-spencer-heaven-in-a-hell-of-war/ Rickett's Farm, Cookham Dene 1938 by Sir Stanley Spencer 1891-1959

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An Imperfect drawing! Leonardo?

November 3, 2013

Leonardo

Leonardo da Vinci,                        “Head of a Young Woman”, 1480s (Study for the Angel in the ‘Virgin of the Rocks’)

Imperfect? A Leonardo drawing? Yes. Thankfully and beautifully, yes!

(Notice the imprecise … the MULTIPLE misplaced imprecise lines in this drawing. This is Leonardo! What is up with this? Is it a forgery? Why are we forced to look at imperfection and call it great art? Why is it even in a museum if it isn’t perfect?)

You know, we humans often get it wrong. We work so hard at doing something perfectly. We assign so much prestige and even power to creating art that is “perfect!” Have you ever looked at a work (perhaps your own) and praised its mechanical, photographic precision? Or perhaps you remember bemoaning or besmirching a work that wasn’t precise enough to your eye?

We praise the precision and ignore the perfectly wonderful. I have a surprise for you and all the folks who read this … Perfect is not spelled P-r-e-c-i-s-e.

(I can now hear some of my former students chuckling in the distance, colleagues snickering around the corner, my own illustrator daughter rolling in a fit of raucous laughter.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love precision … I have taught that it is a virtue to be sought after. In the right time and place, it can be gloriously beautiful. It can also be boringly mundane.

Somehow the human hand, the human heart, the human mind creates beauty without being precise. Maybe a hint or a heaping helping of precision is there … sometimes none at all. But compelling images and beauty can find ways through with or without precision!

I could go on and on, droning through this idea. To understand/solve this quandary, we are going to have to really see what is going on here. Perhaps a better course would be to steer you to a better source. If you are of a mind, try this blog …

http://hyperallergic.com/91475/single-point-perspective-the-most-beautiful-drawing-in-the-world

Studio Trauma!

June 5, 2010

Well, there you go!  The winter of 2015/2016 was a a mess.

Water, water, water, and finally more water. Four plumbing based floods atop some poor construction decisions (years before we ever bought the space) added up to disaster! Our walk out basement household storage area, the utility room, my studio storage and both the small work studio and the large studio (the converted garage) were effectively un-usable!

It might not really qualify as a disaster, but it was certainly a serious dose of family and professional disruption, a messy state of affairs! That has been the story around here; for close to five months now!

IMG_2081

The large painting space where I work on the mylar drawings and larger works on paper, and the early drawing phases of the multi panel pieces. Isn’t that a lovely hole where water damaged the baseboard and lower portion of the wall!

Slowly and expensively, we are getting things in order. These photos will give you some indication of the level of tear down we had to endure to get at all the problems. With this much work, it shouldn’t surprise any of my readers that we found more problems as we went along. Joys were heaped upon joys.

IMG_2089

Here is a view from the family storage area, past the mechanical and electrical utilities room … behind the heating and ac units is the hole in the wall we saw in the last picture. You can see where we have already begun to rip down the interior wall as well.

IMG_2085

View from the small painting space and the foot of the stairs, past the studio storage area and into the main portion of the basement storage area. It is a big empty space now. All the wall materials have been removed and we have only just begun to reframe the space.

While I have hated being distracted from

IMG_2113

Looking past the steps and utility room to both of the studio spaces

so many professional and studio plans the past few months … we have found a few silver linings. During the process we had things all apart, so we made some required and needed upgrades. (Psst … having the heater off-line for a week in the really coldest part of late winter is NO fun. Thank goodness for the fireplace and plenty of sweaters and blankets.)

 

IMG_2092

This is the small painting area where I work on individual panels and studies. It was the least damaged space, we only lost a door jam and some wall. But it was where books and the sketchbooks got wet and musty

 

 

We’ve also had some wonderfully skilled technicians here; I interviewed a number of new contractors for some highly technical work. It was really good fortune to meet a couple of helpful structural engineers and to work with my favorite local contractor again. (It is just to bad it wasn’t something on our list of “desired” projects!)  I have also gotten to know the ins and outs of our space SO much better too.

Now, slowly things will begin to get back to normal. I’m on the verge of being able to work a bit in the big studio. I will have to patch that wall between it and the utility room first; I’ll need to repaint the walls, doors, and floor.

Then I will have to tape, mud, and paint the new drywall in the small studio. With that done I can begin to move some of my painting supplies of the dining table! Mary has been SO patient and accommodating.

IMG_2083

This is the opposite view of the small studio space. Above the door is one of the pipes that ruptured and flooded the space. That leak damaged the door sill, frame and drywall.

I will also need to finish the newly repaired wall between utility and main basement space.

While I lost a few pieces of studio equipment, none of it was crucial “stuff.”  I did lose some really nice paper and supplies … a number of art books, and four or five 20-30 year old sketchbooks too. The destruction of the sketchbooks is more than a little disheartening; it really  hurts. I had hoped to pass those down to my illustrator daughter.

There will be joy though. I will have to get some new supplies of paper and such. New toys! The studio budget will be tight … but that is just how it is. It is another chance to be flexible and creative!

IMG_2114

a small 6×12 panel, part of a diptych I am working on … more on that a little later!

Crozet Pine, web

Crozet Pine, a recent 4×5 watercolor and pencil sketch on paper

I have to wait to ramp up production of multi-panel pieces for my fall solo show just a bit longer. I have been working on a few while teach my various classes. but that is a bit sporadic. Luckily … Spring is now here. I can more easily work on watercolor sketches and individual small watermedia panel pieces outside.  But it is time to get the bigger pieces off the ground; there are only 4 1/2 months to go!

Well, a bit of kvetching, some pride in the new and shiny parts we have gained, and a bit of hope that we never have to walk this crooked path ever again!

 

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The main studio … in happier days.  Looking forward to a return to normal!

 

 


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