Posts Tagged ‘watercolour’

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.

winter-2017-foliage-in-lee-park

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!

coal-tower-blustery-day-web

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

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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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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!

 

 

 

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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Back to “bigger” paper …

September 4, 2013

I make images.

Duh, I make images. Sometimes though I make images that you could almost call objects; like my shaped panel painting. Most of the panel paintings are just that, paintings on panels. But the ones I bolt together into non-rectangular shapes might qualify even more as “object” than image. Other works that might be considered as “objects” are the larger of my mylar drawings. the ones that cascade off the wall or ceiling and onto the floor.

But for many years, I worked on paper. Sometimes pretty big paper.

I regularly worked on paper that was 40×60 or 30×90 or larger. Starting in the 1990s, I usually worked on paper sheets that were a bit smaller … measuring around 30×40.

Abundance,-26x40,-watercolor-and-pencil-on-paper,-2012-13,-WEB

Abundance
Watercolor and pencil on paper, 26×40
(as of September 1st, 2013)

Well every now and then I return to that 30×40 way of working. I am not sure if I do it for comfort? … as a self-diversion? … or if there is a deeper reason?  I just KNOW that sometimes I want to work on a single large uninterrupted sheet of paper. The expanse of the surface excites me; the response of wet color or dry mark to the paper entices me. More easily than any other medium, working on a beautiful sheet of paper with materials I enjoy, I become entranced. Reverie!

This piece, Abundance, had it’s genesis a while back, late in 2011 if I remember. It began on a crisp, cool clear day in a narrow glen of western-central Virginia, below a mountain ridge known for it’s ski resort … Wintergreen. I was with my wife and “mi mum” and we had stopped for lunch when I spotted the wild looking group of bushes and a gnarled tree. The grey, nearly leafless bush was full of red berries. There were so many good vantage points with this subject. But … I was with family … so I made a quick sketch and several photographs. The little finished sketch was exhibited in a show during the fall of  2012.

Group-of-Sketches-on-the-wall,-WEB   Below-the-Ridge,-Nellysford,-WEB

This larger painting I began while that show was still up. I even showed it, in a less finished state, in December and into January of this year.  But, when it came back to the studio, I just wasn’t sure that it was done.

I set it on a drawing board in my studio and I looked at it. I looked at it from January to June.

Let me explain my quandary. I am frankly always leery of overworking a piece but I want to create a visual feast as well.  I do subscribe to an esthetic common in traditional oriental painting … leaving white space in a work, going for an understatement. It is also at the core of early western classicist’s and early modernist’s desire to seek and to express what they view as the essential in an image/object. Probably that is why I am so very drawn to the works of Charles Demuth and Paul Cezanne. They made lots of marks and layers (visual feast) … but always seemed to leave room for the work to breathe, for the viewers eye to roam, and the viewers minds to complete the image (essence). To me, it seems rude and silly to beat the audience into submission by rendering every single detail.

Even when I was young, the end results of demonstration artworks in “how-to” art books felt disappointingly over-done. (I usually liked the work at step #3 or #4 better than #6+) Well, with this one, I feel like if I take it much farther … it will be overworked. Can’t have that!

For now, I have moved it to a less active corner of the studio. I will look at it for a while again; just like I did from January to June. Hopefully I will decide more quickly than that if I want to return and do something else with this piece.

Yes, I do think it MIGHT be finished.  What I am asking is … is it essential? … is it a feast for the eyes?

Respite on a West Coast Beach …

July 1, 2013

This past March, while it was still snowing and freezing here in the mountains of the Mid-Atlantic, we visited our son out in S. California.  When we arrived it was in the 80’s … but dropped back into the lower 70s and even the 60s. It was a welcome interlude, and on one of the warmer days we explored the area around Point Dume. We trekked over the rocks and, after getting to a less visited side of the outcrop, we settled down for a respite on the beach. Everyone else soaked up some sun, sat around relaxing and chatting … or played a bit at the edge of the water.

Me, I needed some quite time. So I walked over to and climbed up into the next set of rocks and relaxed. Looking back across the sandy beach, the rocky point, and up the coastline, I was quite happy that I had brought a small set of sketching materials and my camera. Quietly drawing and laying in a few quick patches of color was a really enjoyable way to spend my time. I could have spent several hour making a few more sketches … but it was almost time for lunch. So, after shooting a few dozen photos of the surroundings, I packed up my gear and went in search of seafood and some more delicious family time too.

Point Dume, Zuma Beach
(a watercolor and pencil sketch, 5 x 11)

When we returned home I decided that I wanted to do a three to four foot multi-panel piece based on this experience. I even promised my son that he could have the piece if I felt really good about it when it is completed.

Well, this week I made the one of the first steps in that process, a larger study using the sketch and the photographs I created three months ago as resources. So far I feel pretty good about it … though it looks a bit more like a “tinted drawing” than the “painting” that I had envisioned. It may also be a bit to timid in comparison to the sketch. The first sketch had at least a few subtle hints of Demuth’s delicate control and something of Marin’s energetic brushwork. But that is why we do studies, to work out the kinks in our ideas ahead of time … to get back to some of the fearless joy of our first encounter.

Here is the study I finished this Saturday. I will keep posting the progress over the next few weeks.

(watercolor on panel, 12 x 12)

Point Dume, Santa Monica
(watercolor on panel, 11×14)

New Paintings, Watercolor on Panels

September 13, 2012

I am happily exhausted. And the studio is a raging mess. I delivered a solo show Monday and yesterday … a show with 44 pieces.

Lately I have posted images of the quick sketches … wash and brush drawings and quite a few of the watercolor and pencil pieces too.

Creekside Ferns
Watercolor on Panel, 12×12

But I have been working on some paintings as well. Each of these pieces are aqueous media on (Ampersand) panels. As with the two images below, most of the pieces for this show are done in traditional transparent watercolor. I will admit though that a few also have a touch or two of gouache; what the English waterclourists referred to as “body color.”

(Actually, using body color IS the older traditional method, but it had fallen out of favor for many painters during the last 100 years or so. For me, if it was good enough for Richard Parks Bonnington and Winslow Homer … I can use it too.)

Misty Mountains, Crozet
Watercolor on Panel, 12×12

Asian Dogwood Pods
Watercolor on Panel, 12×12

As is usual for me of late, there is also a little bit of a twist. In some of the paintings I have employed the strategy of including blocks of color; color passage that both obscure parts of the subject matter in the painting … and which actually set up some type of color harmony within the composition. Those pieces are single panel images (like the Creekside Fern one at the start of this blog) and also multi-panel works. These paintings are actually mixed aqueous media; making use of watercolor, gouache, acrylic and even a latex based paint.

The show is open today and  I have just seen the installation. Quite pleased is an understatement; I think it is really well done. The front gallery, where all the paintings on panel are displayed, is a large, open, and airy space. Most of the smaller watercolor studies and sketches are displayed is an intimate little gallery, a space flooded with soft light. In this smaller space about 20 works are arranged and clustered rather pleasingly. And in the transition space between the two galleries there hangs two very large watercolors on paper and a grouping several of my small works too.

The exhibition runs through November 9th at the Staunton Augusta Art Center. For those of you who are local, the opening reception is Friday, September 14th, from 5-7.

Now, about that messy studio …

Quick Color …

September 1, 2012

While I often draw and paint monochromatically outside, I also like to do small color studies. Many have a full range of color. Others, like the first and last one below, have just a few hints of hue … not enough to carry the full weight of the original scene … but just enough to give me a hint when I take it back to the studio. Or maybe enough to send me back to the location later to work up a painting on site!
For my color sketches, the work is done with pencil and watercolor. In some sketches, I rely mostly on the watercolor, in others the pencil work is more important. Usually though, I let them play pretty much equal roles. That isn’t the “accepted” way to work with watercolor. But it is the way I like to work.

This, of course, this is just a preview of a few pieces that will be in my upcoming exhibit in Staunton, Virginia. Let me know if you liked one of these. It is great to get a little feedback.

This, of course, this is just a preview of a few pieces that will be in my upcoming exhibit in Staunton, Virginia. Let me know if you liked one of these. It is great to get a little feedback.

More than twenty of these sketches (and to be sure … the larger paintings too) will be viewable from September 14th (reception 5-7 p.m.) at the Staunton Augusta Art Center. I hope you can come … I would certainly love to see you there!

For more exhibit info … check out:  http://saartcenter.org

Landscape Revelations: Watermedia Paintings & Watercolor Sketches”, (John A. Hancock, Watermedia Paintings and Drawings)

Color, like water, comes sprinkling down

August 15, 2012

Summer’s end; it may be fast approaching but the heat hasn’t broken yet. To refresh yourself when you were a kid, did you like running through a sprinkler to cool off ?

I loved it.

I loved it so, so much … it was the perfect antidote to growing up in the intense sunshine, heat, and humidity of Florida’s seemingly endless summers.

Now, sometimes as a grown up, I get a kick out of racing past a sprinkler trying NOT to get wet. And, admittedly, as a grown-up kid … I sometimes like to race past a sprinkler secretly hoping to get soaked!

Well, in that vein … the vein of secret and maybe silly passions … I have an artist I would like you to get to know. (Ok, it is NO secret that I have passions for: 1) Color, 2) Water based paint/aqueous media art, 3) Performance, Kinetic, or Installation art. [#3 might surprise some of you actually.]

Edwin Deen is a Belgian artist with a wonderfully simple idea: combine watercolor, a common yard sprinkler device, some water, a paintable space and a little time. It lacks the utter seriousness of the early sixties works of Jean Tinguely. (Remember his automatic kinetic sculpture/drawing machines?) For one, this work is much to colorful. It is more like the work of Tinguely’s wife and artistic partner Niki de Saint Phalle. (Perhaps you might remember her riotously colorful “shooting” based performance/kinetic art-paintings?)

And this idea may not appear to be highly significant or profound in the traditional, historic, conservative, or the neo-academic art sense. (But they don’t like much art after William-Adolphe Bouguereau … well, OK. maybe Edgar Degas and Andrew Wyeth. PS: I like those guys too.) So they wouldn’t be interested that this work has an echo of the Fallen Painting series of Linda Bengalis.

 But Deen’s idea, and the work he creates with it, is so physically playful, so visually refreshing. It makes some beautiful and joyful spaces. It might even remind you of delightful moments in your childhood … colors puddling, dripping, and running during elementary school art classes … or running through sprinklers in the summer.

Wait a moment. Feeling our joy … through water and through color. That IS profound.

You can access more information about Deen’s work via: http://en.paperblog.com/edwin-deen-rainbow-sprinkler-275827/ http://www.dezeen.com/2012/08/06/liquid-rainbow-by-edwin-deen/

A great show of Mughal and Persian miniatures .. in DC

August 13, 2012

I have a real love for what most of us call Persian miniatures. Whether we are talking about are Mughal, Timurid, or Safavid paintings … I am intriqued. Opaque watercolors that, besides their sumptuous surfaces, rich patterns and intricate naturalistic details … show glorious hints of both European and Chinese visual culture. There is always a wonderful exhibition of these works in London (especially at the Victoria and Albert Museums), but only for the next 5 weeks, Washington DC’s Sackler Gallery has one too!

….

Detail, a representation of the allegorical meeting of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and Shah Abbas of Persia

The Jolly Good News

The Mughal Emperor Akbar probably would be pleased with the curators at Washington’s Sackler Gallery.  The exhibit “Worlds Within Worlds: Imperial Paintings from India and Iran” shows the gallery’s love of painting, particularly the finely-detailed works commissioned by Akbar, his son Jahangir, and his grandson Shah Jahan – the builder of the Taj Mahal.

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Un-timely changes, delicious delays

August 6, 2012

There times when I am in the studio almost a day, almost all evening. And of course, there are times when I can barely break away from other concerns and get into the studio. We all know how hard it can be to balance all of life’s “stuff” in a way we feel comfortable. But every once in a while it all feels quite natural … that it flows so smoothly. That is a most glorious feeling.

Right now isn’t one of those times. Hold on … and please don’t get me wrong … I absolutely am not kvetching. Actually, I am in the studio pretty continuously. The work is going … and going well, just not smoothly in the normal sense.

Instead, it feels a bit like what I imagine a decathlon athlete experiences. They have to think about strategies and performance for SO many events, so many competitions. It seems to me though that their hardest work must be to focus on each completely while  never loosing sight of the overall picture. Me too. I am trying to focus on so many strands of activity right now … as the next exhibition is getting closer and closer. There are so many lovely details: making sure all the matting, framing, plexiglass and all the other display supplies are lined up in the studio … not to mention prepping tags, insurance info, and P.R. stuff too. That is a major job and each detail deserves my attention to quality AND timeliness.

But I am also continuing to make art, and that is keeping my head jumping from task to task. True, I have done all this before. And I made a good list this time around too. So all the practical parts are running according to good schedule.

The image creation process is not running along on anything like a smooth, predictable timetable. I have already completed the sketching, planning, and even much of the painting on many works for the upcoming show. Other pieces though are lagging behind. You see, the work keeps shifting, changing, coming to completion in quite unexpected ways.

If I was running a restaurant and the food was inconsistent, that would be bad. (The chef’s creativity would be happy, the chef’s customers and the bottom line might be put off though.) And many artists I know would recoil from that situation too. But Oh how I do love the tentative, shifting qualities I am seeing. It tells me something is really going on up there in my head! That isn’t a bad thing … but it might be better if it would just wait until I have a few more pieces completed and ready to exhibit.

            

Above are some snippets from the first three phases of an image that I am working on right now. It is based on a budding flower, known as Queen Anne’s Lace. As I work with the lines and the layers of color, I am seeing a need for a few touches of opaque watercolor or gouache to help me finish the piece … to make the opening bud seem to have just a bit more solidity … for it’s stems to have some more substance.

I am also sensing that this image, or one very similar to it, might be destined for a really large format … one of my mylar drawings. Perhaps one about “me mum.” See what I mean, I am already thinking about and planning work for next year! Frankly, if I weren’t an old hand at this I might be really scared, even frantic.

Instead, I am intrigued … deliciously so. And that is why I do this … to be intrigued and challenged; even when it is inconvenient.

It has been a bit SKETCHY, so far.

July 25, 2012

It is a tad more than half over and it has already been a busy, busy summer in the studio! Yes, I taught a small drawing class, I took a break and judged art out in Utah, and there was that wonderful working vacation to look at galleries in Atlanta (see my previous posts about the Atlanta galleries and especially about Kevin Cole’s work). But making and prepping art work for two shows this fall is really keeping me hopping … and happy.

View S.W. from Old White Bridge Road, 2012

The first show is in Virginia, at the gallery of the Staunton-Augusta Art Center. Since I am hanging work in both their larger gallery and their more intimate small gallery, I decided to divide my show into two separate but similar bodies of work. For that smaller gallery, I figure on hanging about 25 sketches. My thought was that the small size of the works would fit the space and feel of the gallery nicely. These sketches will probably be quieter, simpler and perhaps a little bit more playful than their larger cousins in the main gallery.

For the sketches; I have been using pencil, ink, and wash drawings. A few of the sketches are done in full color. For those, I have worked in watercolor or water-soluble drawing media. When I am feeling visually playful though, I am apt to combine many of those materials in one sketch! There maybe another kind of surprise in this quieter show. I am including some sketches that definitely look like they are E. 20th Century Modern; others feel like they are just out of the 18th or 19th century (think: École des Beaux-Arts or Royal Art Academy). A few have elements of both; makes me a little bit giddy.

To get a nice group of sketches together, this year I have followed my own advice and kept sketchbooks at hand all the time. And I have been scouring the roads on both sides of the mountains … every trip, every errand.  I have been more likely to stop beside the road, wander down a creek bed, or scramble up a ravine than to get home on time. I hope I haven’t been to late to often, but the sketching has been wonderful. Relaxing and challenging all at once. Again, hopping … and completely happy.

I will have to write about the larger works … the paintings that will be in the larger front gallery in Staunton and the drawings in the Calhoun, Georgia show … a little later.  For now, it is time to get back into the studio.  And get another image started …

Repair, Repurpose, and Repast

September 26, 2011

Today I was concentrating on some very practical things in the studio. I previously mentioned needing to fix/repair some minor blips on a few pieces. Well today I pulled out the sandpaper and varnishes, the masking tape and the adhesives … even some ink and paint to work on them. I also decided to spend time getting some finished paintings on panels ready for exhibition … I need to varnish their frame edges!

                
         (a recent small aqueous media piece … only 5 inches tall!)

It is such mundane work really. Yet, sometimes, I find it to be SO very fulfilling getting things ready to go out/go back out the door again. For me it is sort of a ritual …putting things right again. Regaining a balance before getting down to the work at hand.  And soon I will be getting some small pieces back from a show.  I will probably need to clean and touch them up too.

So, despite my tendency to let things hang at the edge of my to do list, I liked getting them done.  Sure, I will have to do a few more in a couple of weeks, but now I am ready to throw myself back into the fray.  Those new BIG mylar drawing and series of watermedia panel pieces are just waiting to be worked on. Delicious work indeed.

Quickly Now … Painting outside again!

August 28, 2011

This is how I used to paint ALL the time.

Gathering painting materials; organizing the equipment and materials in the trunk/boot of my car.  Driving out to spots that I had identified earlier, or sometimes just stopping when something caught my eye. Then I would spend about two hours working from the scene before me. Afterwards , I would repack the supplies and start off again or head back to the studio.  Usually I ended up with a piece that would either deserve a little finishing in the studio (cropping a touch or a few minor additions/deletions) … or a piece that was destined for recycling.

Today I got this little sketch done while working with my students from a Watercolor Landscape class.  It is small piece, all in all only 6×8 inches.  It is a good start.  Could end up as a larger work, in one of my watermedia multi-panel works (see one on my website at: http://www.johnahancock.com/paintings.html), or just as a nice little stand alone piece.

This might be me “channeling” the English landscape paintings that I saw in the Tate Watercolour show a bit.  Then again, I probably do that a good bit more than I think I do anyway. Whatever was going on with my painting, it was a deliciously gorgeous day outside after the blustery edge of Irene passed by here in the mountains of Virginia.

9 Reasons why …

August 20, 2011

… the 20th century watercolours at the Tate show in London were so marvelous!

  1.  Because there were so many works I had NEVER seen before. I     had seen other works by these artists … but not these pieces. That was such a treat.  The artist that struck me first that fits into this category is Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  His work titled Fetges from 1927 caught me off-guard.  I am not sure that I think it is a show stopper … but its careful and elegant  execution was superb. It was wonderful, not so much as in Matisse’s “art like good arm chair.” Rather , a better analogy would be, that it is like  an excellent bottle of wine, delicious and quietly exhilarating … and, yes, a little intoxicating too.

2.   Artists who are completely new to me. (Hey, I AM an American   and I don’t get to see every English watercolor artist or see every review of English work.)   One such artist Eric Ravilous whose work, The Vale of the White Horse, 1939, felt like a kindred spirit to the paintings of Charles Burchfield … at once romantic and yet completely modern.

3.  While it is not pleasurable to look at the                         devastation and depravities of war, it was good to see an artist use this medium, which is so often mistakenly associated with mundane imagery, pretty pictures, and wimpier children’s illustration (no slight intended to my illustrator daughter there … she uses watercolor and isn’t wimpy at all), to take on a subject such gravity and which is so much the antithesis of those aesthetics. While Eric Taylor’s piece, Human Wreckage at Belsen Concentration Camp, sometimes reminds me a bit to much of Henry Moore’s series done in the Tube during WWII, it is still a wonderful piece.

4.  There are dozens of works that caught my eye or  made me wonder at the technique, the vision, or the ideas of the artist.  One of the best of the 20th century pieces in that vein is Valley and River, Northumberland, 1972, by Edward Burra.  It is quite simple and straight forward; almost childlike in it’s unabashed clarity. Yet something about this piece … with a hillside that seems oddly like it ought to tumble down out of the sky (or at least off the paper) … creates a satisfaction, a sense of rightness or honesty.  Even the rock wall, at first looking almost amateurish (look closely at the blocks), ends up becoming a convincing and sophisticated paint passage.

5.    For 5, 6, 7, & 8 too, I think I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

   

 

   

9   Well, this last one may be a bit off target.  The artist is really not so much a twentieth century painter even though this painting was executed in the early years of the century.  He is the American expatriate who made his living in England and whose brush must have flashed its way all across the page.  It is not my favorite of his watercolors … but there are not any I know that I would not love to see again and again. This piece is no exception.  Of course I am talking about John Singer Sargent’s painting of Miss Wedgewood and Miss Sargent.                                                               

This show, which closes tomorrow on August  21st was exquisite.  It could have been even more of a block buster; a few more very new works might have made it stronger … as would the exclusion of one or two pieces that stretched the watercolour definition a bit to far afield. But all in all. I am still beaming with joy.

If you need any more persuasion consider viewing this Tate video:

http://makingamark.blogspot.com/2011/05/review-watercolour-exhibition-at-tate.html

Tate, Watercolor … Oh MY

August 18, 2011

What a wonderful show. I was completely entranced, blown away really. The range of work was wonderful, the history of the watercolour medium in England was masterfully presented too. A fantastically curated exhiition! Completely worth the price of a ticket to England.

I expected many items such as the early maps and the small scientific illustration pieces. And, of course, I expected the delicate work of the landscape painters so I was ready for the works by Turner, Cozens, and Cotman. Expecting them didn’t make them any less wonderful though.  But there were several pieces that just stopped me in my tracks.  The first was a small study of an oak leaf by John Ruskin.  I must have spent 20 minutes in front of that small work. I even got into a discussion about it with a fellow painter.  It turned out he was also an art professor; a nice chap from Vancouver.

 Ruskin’s piece didn’t have all that atmospheric quality that I so love  and  admire when I think about English watercolour from the 18th  and  19th century.  But it was SO honest.  The marks created a surface  that  not only looked rough but, on closer inspection were rough.  Not  any  accidentally rough and jarring marks mar the image, these are  so  completely intentional.  It is almost as if Franz Kline or Lucien  Freud  had taken up painting studies of leaves. In fact its directness  made it  seem, at least to my eye, almost American in its approach  and spirit.  Yes, I  know Constable had that intensity of mark making at times as  well …  but never, to my eye at least, to this extent and on such a  small  scale  format.

The next piece that astounded me was one I had never seen before,  not even in reproduction.  It is titled Blue Night, Venice.  Painted by  Herman Melville who I must admit is an artist with which I am less  than familiar.   But this piece is astounding. While it is not very  large, the deep night sky color in the upper two thirds of the painting  is completely seamless … and completely integrated into the  landscape below.  It almost seems to be poured into the composition.  While it is naturalistic at every turn,  it is as magically hypnotic and enigmatic as any surrealistic work by Magritte. The simple elegant quality of  that large area of wash would make most any water media artist go green with envy.  It would astound, and might scare away, many watercolor  students too.  Melville’s work was one of those pieces that stops the public, the amateur, and the professional alike.

Probably the biggest take away I had though was my renewed excitement about the painter named Girtin.  I had almost forgotten about his work. His delicate use of tone, his complexity of design so mark him as a painter of his age.  But the exquisiteness of his work is enough to make me wish I had painted those scenes.  Since leaving the exhibit I have been spending time re-exploring his work.  As I have done so, I have noticed that his coloration and tonal ranges remind me of the still life painting af the American 20th century painter Charles Demuth.  They shared an ability to capture both subtle texture and detail with such seemingly simple means and precise, deft brushwork.

I am so glad I got to this exhibit.  I am even more glad I went alone.  I wallowed decadently in the joy of spending the afternoon lost in this show.

At this point I will stop.  Frankly I need to spend some time digesting the newer works a bit more before I talk about them.  But they were just as astounding as the ones I’ve mentioned so far.

More later on those beautiful pieces!


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