While I try to find a way to make or find a kind of reverse stencil to create soft patterns in water color, I return to oil paint with a renewed appreciation of its properties. Oh how thick and forgiving it is! For a while I have been contemplating the way people are attached to their environment. The time and place we live forms us in so many ways. I have been dealing with this idea in each painting that includes people but have decided to push it a bit further. Can I say this in a few simple shapes, carefully choosing the color to enhance the feeling of place and time? Many times when cruising along the streets in Google maps I come across 2 or three men or women standing on a corner talking. I always wonder what brought them there. Here is the first in a series of paintings about that. I have made the paint very thick, almost like lacquer.
One more painting with individual wet spots before I spray the whole page with water. For this one I created various flower like shapes with water and dropped in colors to see what would happen. After it was semi dry I washed over the whole thing with water and when it was dry I added ink.
Now it is really time to spray the whole paper and see what happens when I add some drops of color. It is really interesting to watch the colors run into each other but when they are dry it is not so interesting, so you never really know what you are going to end up with. At least I don't yet. With this one I added lots of colors willy nilly then wiped some of the color out with a crunched up paper towel. I wish I had some sort of sponge that was cut into shapes so I could wipe out definite shapes. I will have to make something to do that. Here I simply added some brush strokes in different colors to see what kind of patterns I could create. What I like best about these two paintings is the soft light that results from the over all wash. (Can't fit the whole page in my scanner)
So this time I sprayed the whole page and just kept dropping in colors, moving the paper around so as to make the colors run this way and that and did not use the brush at all. This is definitely fun. Is it art?
Since I am trying to find out what water color does I have decided to forget images, at least for a while, and just examine what happens when I play around with my new colors. Every water color instructor suggests that it is important to be able to produce several distinct shades of color with ease. So since I love squares I decided to start with a simple symmetrical arrangement. That keeps me calm and I notice the whole idea of water color has gotten me quite nervous. I imagine it has something to do with being an old dog who is afraid of new tricks. Here is my first square experiment. I first wet each square and then added the color, thinking this would make an even coat of paint. As you can see I was wrong about that.
I did manage to get at least 3 or 4 levels of color.
Next I decided to play in each square. The first third of the squares I dropped a color into the center of the wet square, then went around it with another color and surrounded that with a third color. This was fun to watch as the colors blended willy nilly. The next third of the squares were solid, taking up one of the colors in the mix next to it. In the third squares I blended 2 colors trying to bring the whole thing together somehow.
As you can see, although it has a certain cheery quality it really could use more of an overall compositional drive. Some darks and lights would help. I could do that but I think it has had enough of my meddling.
Tomorrow - no squares - wet the whole paper- yikes!
As you know I am in the process of trying to figure out what kind of water colors I want to make. The first one I did I wet the whole paper, made a loose water color of the scene and then after it was dry put a pen and ink drawing over it.
Next day I went outside and decided to start off with the pen and ink sketch. I had a new selection of calligraphic pens that I was eager to try. I sketched in the drawing with the pens and then using a rather larger brush then I wanted to (because that was what I had) I began to fill in the colors. The pens, which I had selected because they were supposed to be water proof, were not, so all the water colors turned a bit dark and the lines fuzzy. After the paint was dry I went in again and did some more pen and ink. This is a scene by my pool. The whole thing has gotten so fussy I'm not sure that is even visible.
BY THE POOL
Things had gotten out of hand so I decided to simply play with the colors and pens at this point. This was a lot of fun.
water color on Arches cold press
9" x 12"
Next day I hunted around my studio until I found a small water color brush, made a sketch and painted very carefully these 4 tulips that I have been longing to paint since early spring. Nothing loose about this and no pen and ink. Today I will try another version of this scene. I have to admit this was also a lot of fun. So where I am heading I do not know.
Nature is always fighting for more of what it needs. Here the plants thrust into each other for a little more sun and then when it gets too hot they hide to preserve themselves. I have painted the foliage almost the same tone so that they are united in the struggle.
This year I had a bumper crop of beautiful Alium. I didn't get around to making any oil paintings of it....at least not yet, but I did experiment with a water color. I have been thinking about making some water colors for some time and have now assembled all the supplies I need to get started. I think what I want to do is very loose water colors with pen and ink, after considering many methods. This is my first stab at it. The water color does not end abruptly on the sides as it does in the photo but blends into the paper as in the bottom and top. My scanner isn't wide enough to include all.
This is the painting I would have painted in the afternoon of the competition if I had more time and energy. I like the way old buildings are juxtaposed with bits of nature in Chestnut Hill. This building had flags flying from lots of windows creating a festive air.
I got up bright and early on Sunday morning, not even stopping to think about the New York Times Crossword puzzle, grabbed all my equipment and headed out for my location in Chestnut Hill, the 8200 block of Germantown Avenue, east side. The biggest part of the contest for me was to get to a spot under a tree with something to paint, not blocked by cars, before any other artist got there.
A little before 8:00 I arrived on 'the hill'. It was very quiet and I had my choice of places, as there didn't seem to be another soul about. I set up quickly across the street from the oldest house in Chestnut Hill. I had decided to follow the rules, as I knew if I didn't I would be mad at myself, so I had the allowed sketch ready to draw onto the canvas. Usually I would simply use graphite paper and trace it on, but that seemed not to be in the spirit of the contest, so I drew it on using a grid on the paper and the canvas to get things in about the right place.
As I started to put out my paint I noticed that I was not the only painter here after all, and in fact someone was sitting right in the middle of my scene painting my side of the street. Pretty funny really. The best laid plans in plein air painting almost always go awry. I decided not to include the painter and her umbrella in my painting as I knew if I included a figure, the buildings, which had a lot of character, would be lost. Buildings have personalities to me and these two sitting together for years had a lot to say.
Things went along swimmingly for an hour or so and then people began to wander by, the traffic picked up and it started to really warm up. Painting on the street is not exactly plein air - which implies fresh cool breezes and communing with nature. You really have to keep your concentration if you are on a busy street...and in the spirit of the occasion be as gracious as possible to people stopping by to chat.
I had planned to make two paintings but I decided early on that if I was to enjoy the social aspects of this 'contest' I would relax and be satisfied to finish one.
The children were especially delightful and quite respectful. One little boy around 4 stood watching me for a long time without saying anything. I asked him if he liked to paint, and his eyes got really big and he backed away slowly and then ran off. I think he must have thought I was asking him to paint my picture.
Two wonderful friends came by around 12 and brought me lunch. This was a real boon as I didn't want to leave everything and go anywhere else until I was done. Someone who knows local history chatted for a while and said there is a tunnel from one of the buildings I was painting connected to the Chestnut Hill Hotel. An old friend I haven't seen for years stopped by and we caught up on children and grandchildren. It got hotter and hotter and around 2:30 I was pretty much finished in every sense. I was satisfied with my painting, in that I did the best I could and it looked pretty good. It's always hard to tell what you really think of your work right away however I find, sometimes I like a painting when it is finished and hate it 2 weeks later.
The judging was not to take place until 4:00 so I had an hour and a half to kill. All the finished paintings were placed against a wall behind the hotel and they were beginning to accumulate, with the artists sitting around waiting for the judging in the heat. There was free water which was an excellent perk and quite necessary. I thought about going home with my little painting and skipping the judging altogether, but then I knew I would always wonder how it turned out, so I stuck it out.
The judge for the art work was Liz Osborne, an artist whose work I have always enjoyed. A bit before 4:00 she started sorting out the work and placing some together, presumably ones she liked. I did not envy her this job as there were 40 or 50 paintings to choose from and there were bound to be a lot of hot tired artists who would be very disappointed. I noticed mine was among those in the favored position. At this point I realized why I don't like painting contests. No matter what happens you feel bad. If you loose you feel bad and if you win you feel bad because you know that those who didn't win feel they should have, and partly blame you. It's not as if you got more points than the other team, or came in first in a race. It's all subjective.
I know the suspense is killing you and you assume that because I have described this whole scene in such detail it is because I won the contest. Nope. I got third prize. Third prize. Should I be pleased? Yes I should as my painting was chosen over many others and I am pleased to a certain extent, but really you don't want to go around telling people you won third prize unless it's maybe the Olympics.
So what would be a better conclusion to this event in my opinion? Hang all the art that the artists struggled to create and skip the prizes. If anyone sells a painting that will be their reward and they won't be humiliated if they don't.
And finally here is the painting!!!
Two Houses on the Hill
9" x 12"
oil on canvas board
Here is a link to all the winners. 1,2,3 and honorable mentions plus some scenes of the event. (I have a friend who got honorable mention at an art show and was so outraged he never exhibited in a competition again. Artists are sensitive beasts)
This is the second painting I did last week while practicing for the Plein Air Festival in Chestnut Hill. This time I used a sketch that I made after changing the photo in Photoshop so that the shapes were simplified. I painted it outside in the shade of my Elm tree while looking at my iPad using lots of juicy paint. This is a very strange method of making a painting but I do enjoy pushing the paint around into shapes that have been decided.
Here is a small blowup of the texture.
Now I have tried two methods of painting. Neither follow the rules of the competition but at least I have been working outside, testing my set up, and getting used to the vagaries of weather and seeing if I can sit in my very small chair for several hours. Now I have to decide what method of painting to use at the actual competition. Let me say at the outset that I am against competitions for something as subjective as art. But now that I am in this contest I must decide whether or not to follow the rules and how to manage the 'painting as a competition' idea philosophically. Tomorrow - The contest.
Yesterday I participated in the first Chestnut Hill Plein Air Festival. There were around 50 artists dispersed over several blocks of Germantown Ave. We were assigned a specific block and a specific side of the street. We could begin at 8:00 with a blank canvas and were to be finished by 4:00. It was a contest and judging was to take place at 4:00.
I signed up for this work because I have not painted outside for many years and I knew if I signed up I would have to get out there and do it and I wanted to get back to that taxing but rewarding approach to painting.
So, last week I went to Chestnut Hill on two occasions to check out where the sun was in the morning and the afternoon and where I could stand that was under a tree. I have an umbrella that can be used if there is a place to stick it into the ground but I didn't see anywhere with ground accross from a place I wanted to paint.
While I was there I took some pictures of possible spots, as this was part of the possibilities permitted by the rules of the contest. I decided to get some practice in before the actual event but did not want to sit on Germantown Avenue and paint so I set up my tables in the shade of my yard and painted from a photo on my iPad. Sort of plein air.
This is the first painting. Traditionally one would start with thin paint working probably directly with the brush (no sketch) starting with the dark areas and working gradually into thicker paint and lighter areas. I, however, have been trying to use more paint lately and at the same time to simplify and condense my shapes. So I make a careful sketch and fill in the shapes with juicy paint. This is not a tried and true method for painting outside at all. It is what I have been doing in my studio.
This painting was done with that method but painted outside. It is a little cut off and the 9" x 12" paintings don't quite fit into my scanner.