Archive for the ‘landscape sketches’ Category

One Really Big Fire; A Lifetime Passion!

December 19, 2017

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, from the River 1834 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851.jpg

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, from the River                                                                       Joseph Mallord William Turner, watercolor on paper, 1834

Sometimes I forget how much I enjoy looking at the watercolors and watercolor sketches of Joseph Mallord William Turner.

Ely Cathedral, The Western Tower Seen from the South East, Joseph Mallord William Turner,1794.jpg

And what I love about his work is the process and progress of his painting over the span of his decades as an artist; the nearly radical simplification and experimentation that he undertook that seems to have been a passion.  I’m especially drawn to his sketches using watercolor and other media on paper; it is those that I want to share with you here.

William Turner Drawings.jpg

 

At the beginning of his career, Turner made meticulous drawings, usually with graphite, and laid in multiple layers of transparent or translucent color to create images portraying not only light and dark values but evocations of depth, mass, and texture. As you can see to the right, his early color choices were typical of the English School of the time. Turner used a cool transparent blue and an earthy orange that would produce a natural grey tone when overlaid on each other. Only at the end would he add just a few touches of more vibrant color.

Below, in this next apparently unfinished piece that he painted in Oxford, you can see just how these opposing tones create a grey.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Oxf, St Mary's and the Radcliffe Camera from Oriel Lane.jpg

It was a tone Turner used as the basis for much of the image’s structure. This is not far off the method used by earlier artists … from Jan van Eyck to Holbein … a grisaille underpainting with layers of ever stronger clear color glazing and a touch or two of possible semi-opaque or opaque color at the very end.

As Turner matured, we can see that he became surer and surer of using more direct modulation of color. He still often began the sketches with graphite line work, but even those marks, as well as much of the subsequent brushwork, became less and less purely definitive of physical detail; ever freer and more expressive of visual and emotional experience.

Artwork page for ‘Heidelberg Castle from the Hirschgasse’, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1844.jpg

Above we have again have an unfinished piece. Notice how both lines and color marks, while very much related to the things, the physical phenomenons, that they record, these marks a not as physically precise. Instead they are more spare and simple, leaving more room for the artist and eventually the viewer to complete the intent of the image.
‘Shields Lighthouse’, Joseph Mallord William Turner, c.1823-6.jpg

We can see in this late (1823) sketch of a coastline with a lighthouse, the now bolder, even rougher use of brushwork.  And as his career continued he even achieves an a nearly incorporeal quality, images were composed only of the shaped wavelengths of light we call color.

 

I was recently reminded of all this when a recent article came across my desktop. That e-article highlighted five of my all time favorite artists (I admit to having at least a top 25, maybe more). Each of these is a painter who

turner, "Norham Castle, sunrise”.jpgworked on easel paintings as well as aqueous media on paper. The problem was that, while the it was well written and talked about the specific paintings of these five near heroes of mine, it only showed the works of four of them. The author wrote about Turner’s watercolor sketches of the burning Houses of Parliament, but omitted any example of those pieces. Ouch!

 

The-Burning-of-the-Houses-of-Parliament-1834-JMW-Turner.jpg

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament                                                                                                            J.M.W. Turner, watercolor, 1834

So, I guess this is my visual form of a rant of sorts; sharing the images they might have included in the e-article (the first and last images in this blog) … and a few more to boot.

Here’s hoping you enjoy them.

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Beginning A Watercolor

November 6, 2017

Whether one is working up a large and complex piece or the smallest of watercolor sketches, getting started well can be one of the most important, even crucial, parts of the process.

Late Summer Pasture, Augusta County WEB

Late Summer/Early Falls Pasture, Augusta County

When I start a piece badly or in a confused manner, I end up having to struggle so much harder to get it all worked out, Now don’t get me wrong, getting lost in that struggle can be a wonderfully fertile process. I find that wandering about in a painting project and searching for a way through that visual disorientation can eventually open up new and exciting pathways in my work.  But starting a new work, staying focused on my original vision, and following through as best I can be a very productive path as well.

A good example of this can be seen in Shari Blaukop’s latest posting about her approach to watercolor sketching.. It is quite close to my way of working up a smaller pieces and she does a really great job of verbally and visually explaining her process.

via A step-by-step street scene

rueroysud

a recent watercolor sketch by Shari Blaukopf

Shari is a Montreal based artist whose painting and blog I have known and enjoyed for several years now. I even had the pleasure of meeting her this past summer when we were both in Chicago for the Urban Sketcher’s Symposium. Take a look at her blog post. I think you will find Shari’s painting and writing to be fresh, evocative, and engaging.

 

 

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 throughout 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 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 again 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 soaring mass and ornate gothic style top is so distinctive and so very impressive. The sketch had big shoes to fill; it needed to be something 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 it gave to the building immediately behind the Tribune. Those shadows along the road and bridge were also real … but they also seem 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 (she spoke 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.

And I must not forget to mention the friendly, gracious, and magnificently helpful members 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, to be 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.

IMG_4492 copy

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.

IMG_4493 copy

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!


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