Class: Traveling with Watercolors

I’ve wanted to attend a class or a workshop at the Beverley Street Studio School (BSSS) in Staunton Virginia for a while, but every time I’ve tried to sign up, the things I’ve been interested in have been full. My timing was lucky more recently and I was able to sign up for a two day Traveling with Watercolors class (February 15-16) with Roanoke based artist Robin Poteet. The BSSS prides itself in providing high quality art instruction in a non-degree setting. I am thrilled that they are only about 45 minutes from me and look forward to attending more of their classes and workshops.

This class interested me because I do try to travel with my watercolors, but if find I rarely actually use them while traveling. This is for a variety of reasons, but I thought maybe a class could give me some pointers on how to get the most out of painting while on travel. I also read a book called The Urban Sketcher by Marc Taro Holmes a few years back and I was intrigued by the idea of doing ink and wash sketches on site and thought this would give me more insights into that. I really didn’t have any expectations for the class, but it was great fun and provided me 12 hours of uninterrupted paint time. It allowed me to explore a new approach and mindset for painting and also gave me time to reflect on a recent vacation that I chose as the subject for this class.

Robin is a wonderful watercolor artist. She does beautiful studio work that you can see on her website, but she’s also has been leading travel painting trips for many years and has an awesome collection of travel sketchbooks that she’s developed during her travels.

She makes her own sketchbooks, which allows her to make them from her paper of choice (Arches). Watercolor sketchbooks don’t usually have 100% cotton paper in them, and lesser quality paper can be very frustrating. She gave us each a 12-page sketchbook that she made, and explained how she cuts the pages, makes the mat board covers and has them bound at Staples.

We started the class with her sharing all of her sketchbooks, I would estimate that she had close to 30 of them, and they provided great inspiration. She is a former designer and talked about the importance of the layout of each page, many of which had multiple sketches on a single page along with text. The page layout is my biggest challenge and will be something I need to work on. Below are several pictures of pages from her books.

This first one is painting from a trip to Wales. In addition to her loose and beautiful painting she has included a painting of a map showing where this place is. (Click images to enlarge.)

This next one is a spread from a trip to Ireland. This is a great example of how good she is at layout and design. Note that the image on the left carries over to the right hand page, but she’s included an inset of the countryside and the great dog painting.

This next one is the main plaza in Siena Italy. I like the two-page spread and the way she’s captured the activity and the people on the street level. This is extremely hard to do.

This last one is of Umbria, where my sister lives. This is another good example of layout with the two main pictures, but I love the window with the laundry and the pizza on the lower parts of the page. You will see that both of these inspired some of my work in my own sketchbook.

Robin provided a lot of roving commentary and critique, which was extremely useful. She did one demo of painting people, which we all said we needed. She emulated a page in a sketchbook (below). I’m sure she would have done more demos, but we were all so wrapped up in our own books we didn’t really ask her to. In hindsight I wish I could have watched her paint more.

I used my trip to Scotland in June of last year as my subject. I completed the cover and 10 of my 12 pages during the class time. I finished the last two pages when I returned home. Some of what I did is good, some not so much. There were times when I ran out of steam and it shows. Still, not too bad for a first effort.

The cover was made from gray mat board, but Robin embellishes hers by gluing hand painted tissue paper to them and then gluing a painted image to that. This part of the class was sort of ‘crafty’ and not really my thing. I think I’d be fine with mat board covers and the image and a title glued to them. She uses scrap mat board, which isn’t always clean, and also pointed out that the covers suffer wear and tear during travels so there is a need to cover them to make them look nice.

Here is my cover. The image is a quick sketch of Scottish countryside.

My next page includes a painting of the Old Packhorse Bridge and a bench outside our first hotel. I chose the bridge for this first page because I’ve painted it before and felt comfortable with it. Some of the students in the class said that painting the first page was intimidating because they feared they would mess up their book. Choosing something I was comfortable with was a good idea.

The next spread includes a painting of the first of many distilleries we visited. I included my sister standing in front — people are always hard. It’s something I need to practice more. The right hand page was a landscape, but I didn’t like it. I found it bland so Robin suggested that I could glue something on top of it to give it interest. I sketched a small botanical and did that.

The text was a challenge since I wasn’t prepared to recall details of my trip from eight months ago. Some of my pages have little to say. It would be easier to have more robust commentary if you did the book as you traveled or shortly afterward. It would also be helpful to keep a running journal.

The next spread included a lily pond from a garden we toured and a painting of laundry drying in a seaside village we visited. This was inspired by Robin’s laundry sketch. Laundry hanging to dry is always so colorful.

At this point I was realizing that my layouts were kind of boring. Robin suggested that I not include sky or frame these two in boxes, but let them fade out at their edges, which I did. I decided that the next two pages needed to be more interesting. As a result, they have more going on, but I’m clearly missing Robin’s designer’s eye. As I said, this is something I really need to work on.

I was starting to run out of steam and interesting subjects on the next two spreads. The sheep crossing the road was one of the ones I did once I got back home.

And finally, I tired my hand at a map.

While I have to say, none of this is my best work, I think I learned a lot that I can use to capture things plein air or in the room after a day of traveling. Sketching while traveling provides a new way to savor your vacation because you focus on capturing what you saw in a painting requires so much more reflection than just taking a photograph. I’m looking forward to doing more of this.

Sorry this is such a long post. If you’ve taken the time to read to the end, thank you!

Fun Line and Wash

So I’m woefully behind and need to do some posts to catch up, but this isn’t one of them. I tend to want to spend time painting rather than blogging, but both are important if I’m to chronicle my journey. So today I decided to live in the moment and post about what I just did.

Earlier today I watched a video by Steve Mitchell, Mind of Watercolor. I watch most of his videos as he is very good at teaching compared to a lot of the YouTube artists. The topic was line and wash, which is something I’ve done very little of.

I had this scene I’d been wanting to do from the valley. There’s this towering dead tree that is a dramatic form, with a backdrop of a dilapidated barn and some foothills. I decided it would make a great line and wash, so that’s what I did today. It was a lot of fun. Here is a photo…taken with my iPhone, so it’s not the best. Click on the image to enlarge.

The Next Phase…

So I quit my day job last week. I feel I’ve reached that phase of life where I can work at what matters to me, rather than just focusing on making a living. We plan to consolidate our two residences into one, our house in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once we’ve gotten through the hassle of moving I am hoping to spend a lot more time painting.

I decided that a recent painting I did was appropriate for this event. It was painted from a photo I took last fall when we visited Tilghman Island. It’s 12×6 on Arches cold pressed paper. Sittin’ on the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away…wasting time…

Stay tuned… hopefully things will get interesting.

 

Holiday Cards

This year, thanks to a youtube video by Steve Mitchell one of my favorite online watercolor instructors, I decided to paint holiday cards for a short list of people who touched my life this year. All told I painted about 15. Each card was roughly 5×7. I had cardstock that was made from watercolor paper but the quality wasn’t good so I painted on Arches and cut to fit. Each painting was fixed to a card with small double-sided tape squares which raised the painting a tiny bit. The effect was pretty nice. It’s too bad that you can’t get good quality watercolor paper cardstock.

In Steve’s video he did what he calls spontaneous painting. This is a technique where he lays down some spontaneous washes and then adds details to turn the image into a landscape. (If you watch the video you’ll see how fascinating it is to see.) I started out trying this, but I’m just not good enough to pull it off. I fell back on my tried and true landscape painting process, which is still evolving.

One thing I was forced to do was to paint things that were different from the way they appeared in my reference materials. I wanted winter scenes, mostly snow scenes. I have some reference photos that are snow scenes but not enough, so I repainted some other scenes I’d recently done, modifying them to be snowscapes. It was fun and got me out of my engineer’s brain a bit, which is a challenge and is always good for me.

Below are photos of a few of the cards. Unfortunately I didn’t get photos of all of the finished products. Perhaps I’ll start earlier for next year.

Monet’s Garden

I did a post a while back on my trip to Paris and more specifically to Giverny. I continue to find inspiration in the beautiful photographs I was fortunate enough to capture.

I’ve been doing a lot more watercolor lately, and as you know I find it very challenging, but I love it. I also believe that it has the potential to make my oil painting better (as I also said in an earlier post). I continue to believe that is true.

Recently I completed an oil painting of Monet’s Garden. I spent quite a bit of time doing it, not because I was working on it, but because I would get distracted by watercolor and then would go back to it. I did it in the studio at our mountain home, so that also slows me down since we are not there as often as I’d like.

I tried to keep this painting loose, focusing on shapes and colors, not starting from the background and painting forward as was my tendency when I started painting. Watercolor simply doesn’t allow that approach and I’m also trying to apply that limitation to oils. I think it makes my work more impressionistic.

I have to admit, it’s humbling to paint a scene that was immortalized by the great Claude Monet. That said, I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to stand in the place where he produced many masterpieces and to use that as an inspiration for my own interpretation.

Weekend in St. Michaels, Maryland

In September we had the pleasure of enjoying a very relaxing weekend on the Maryland Eastern Shore in the little town of St. Michaels. We actually stayed at the Wade’s Point Inn, which was a few miles outside of St. Michaels, and was extremely serene and relaxing.  I brought my watercolor gear with me and did some plein air painting on this beautiful property.  It was very inspiring and most enjoyable.  I did several sketches in my sketchbook, but I did camp out on the lawn two mornings with all of my gear to do full paintings.  

The first piece I did was the morning sun shining on a point where there was a house and a small dock. This piece is 12 x 6, a size I like a lot for small panoramas.  
Wades Point 1

The second piece I did was the front lawn of Wade’s Point Inn.  They had a dock that several of the guests fished from, and a comfortable looking hammock in the trees.  This piece is 9 x 12.  
Wades Point 2

Painting Paris

As I said in an earlier post, I recently had the good fortune of traveling to Paris to meet up with my sister and to visit some good friends who are living there.  I have been enjoying doing watercolors of some of the photos I took.  

One of the things we did while I was there was visit Giveny, where Monet lived out the later part of his life.  We visited his home and his spectacular gardens and famous water lily pond.  This was on my bucket list and it was every bit as magical and inspiring as I had hoped.  I expect to be painting from the photos I took for a very long time.  

Below is a shot of the garden followed by my watercolor interpretation.  I tried to capture the bold color of the sky and it’s reflection in the water. It took two attempts to get this. I’m still learning the watercolor process and the approach to painting.  I after a blue wash I painted the lilies followed by the water reflections and then the trees in the background.  That seemed to work well.  
Monet Water Lily Pond Photo

Here is a photo of me in the garden standing on one of the famous bridges looking and feeling awestruck.

Me in Monet's Garden

I’ve been trying to do some watercolor sketching of the many flower photos I took.  Here are two from my sketchbook.

Finally, I took some lovely photos of Paris in the evening while on a dinner cruise. I only had my iPhone with me, but it does have a pretty good camera and is quite good in low light.  I have attempted a watercolor cityscape from one of these photos.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I captured the evening light well at all. It’s hard to get the richness of the colors as night falls in watercolor. This one begs to be done in oil, so I am going to do that soon.  I will post when I’m done.  

Paris in the Evening Photo

Inspiration – Seeing Nature

Today my husband Bill and I ventured downtown DC to The Phillips Collection to see Seeing Nature, a visiting exhibit of landscape paintings from the collection of Paul G. Allen.  My techie friends will know Mr. Allen as a Microsoft founder.

When I first saw that this collection was coming to DC I declared it as a must-see event for me as an aspiring landscape artist.  It did not disappoint.  The show spanned five centuries of landscape painting.  I love the impressionists, but there were others both before and after the impressionists that I also loved.  Here are a few of my favorites.

This is Pierre-Jacques Volaire’s Eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  This dates to the 18th century when Vesuvius was very active.  Going out at night to see it was a popular activity.  We both really like the way he captured the light in the clouds and on the surface of the water.
Volaire

I really liked Rio San Trovaso by Henri Edmond Cross. Oddly, his name didn’t even appear on the list of artists in the advertising and handouts. This is a beautiful work. I’ve always liked pointillism. The reflections in the water are fabulous.
HenriCross

This is Tomas Moran’s Grand Canyon of Arizona at Sunset (1909).  I really like the colors and the clouds and shadows.  The realism in the foreground is beautiful.
ThomasMoran

This is a modern piece (2008) by April Gornik called lake Light. It almost looks like a photograph.  The rain clouds are fabulous.  I also love the contrasting colors of the sky, the blue mountain ridge and the green grass.
AprilGornik

Then there were the Monets. I saved the best for last.  This first one is called En Paysage dans I’île Saint-Martin.  I confess that I did not take this photo – I went through at the end taking pictures and somehow missed this one.  I still wanted to include it because it is an early Monet (1881) and the style is quite different from his later works. The brushwork was very detailed and the colors were bright and contrasting, characteristics that were unusual in a lot of his later work.
Monet SaintMartin

This is the Monet’s Waterloo Bridge which he painted many times. I didn’t get a date on this one but I think it’s from the early 1900s. This was Bill’s favorite. I also really like it.  I especially like the way he captured the yellow light under the bridge.
MonetWaterloo

This next Monet is La Palis Da Mula in Venice. I also didn’t get a date on this one but I believe it was also from the early 1900s.  I really liked the colors, especially the use of purple in the reflections on the water.
MonetVenice

Finally, This is Le bassin aux nymphéas (1919).  It’s very different from a lot of his water lily paintings in that there are more bright and contrasting colors.  I also thought the reflections were exquisite.
MonetLilies
I am now totally inspired. To my DC friends who are art lovers, I highly recommend finding time to see this show.  It runs through early May.