Nimrod Hall 2019 – Part 2: The Art

I apologize for this really long post. I wanted to capture the whole week-long journey all at once. I love Nimrod Hall!

Day 1-sketching and getting my Rhythm

We arrive on Sunday afternoon. Actual painting days are Monday through Thursday. On Friday, check out time is about 11 AM. So that’s four full days of painting. A rare luxury of which I planned to take full advantage!

Monday morning I decided the best approach was to go out with my sketchbook. This would give me a chance to loosen up and get comfortable. Laura Loe is good at putting cute little paint-able things around. Last time I visited I noticed this bicycle at the front entrance to the property with geraniums and other flowers planted on it. I regretted not taking a photo of it since my last visit, so I decided it would be my first subject. I chose watercolor pencils as my medium, but did the foliage on the trees with regular water color. The challenge with this one is that it was our hottest day and I was sitting on my uncomfortable folding stool in the blazing hot sun. I could only tolerate that for so long. I did get a fun little sketch.

After that, I decided I needed to get 1) out of the sun, and 2) into a more comfortable chair, so I decided to paint the two red seesaws on the lawn between Square House and the Post Office. This allowed me to sit in an Adirondack chair under a tree. It was much more comfortable.

I chose line and wash as my medium. I did the sketch and inking (mostly) before lunch. After lunch the sun had moved so I was forced to move my chair. The charge in light and perspective did not matter too much since I’d already captured the drawing. I spent the afternoon finishing This up and felt it was a good second effort for the day.

Day 2- Landscape Painting in My studio

Monday evening our teacher, Kesra Hoffman did a gouache demo for our class. She said she resisted the medium at first but then decided that she could just use it like watercolor and grew to love it. I’m not sure I totally agree with that, but I do agree that if you start with a wash and build up, that first layer is similar to water color. Watching the demo was humbling because Kesra is so comfortable with the medium. I knew I needed to try it to see what kind of results I could get.

Another factor that helped set my direction for the day was my realization that I should get over needing to do plein air and paint in my studio. As I said in my earlier post I have always thought of Nimrod as a plein air location, but found that many of the artists there with me did not subscribe to that way of thinking. I figured I had paid for the studio so why not use it?

I went for a nice walk on Tuesday morning and took some nice pictures. I decided to spend my day painting a landscape from one of my photos in both watercolor and gouache to compare the two mediums. The reference photo I used is below. I like it because of the clouds and the contrast between the green grass and trees and the golden fields. I also noted the clump of trees right at the end of the road. Technically this is a composition no-no, but I kind of liked it so I decided to run with it.

I painted the watercolor and the gouache together, switching from one to the other during drying time. There are similarities and differences between the two mediums. I learned that the gouache can get undesirable “blooms” just like watercolor. The gouache yields harder edges where soft edges are easy in watercolor.

When Kesra came by in the afternoon and did her critique she pointed out a couple of things. First, my road did not go far enough into the center of the painting. She showed me how I’d made an error in the proportions as they appeared in the photo. Second, she pointed out that the trees at the end of the road weren’t really working. I’d hoped they would, but I was wrong. She also pointed out that the variations in color along the tree line in the gouache were really nice, but the watercolor was too consistent.

I was able to cover and move the road in the gouache, but that was not possible with the watercolor—a distinct difference between the opaque and transparent mediums. I also lifted some color on the tree line in the watercolor, but in a subsequent critique Kesra pointed out that it was a little too formulaic. Here are the two paintings. They are 10” x 4” on Arches 140 lb. cold press paper.

Watercolor

Gouache

I really liked doing the same scene in two different mediums. It was very educational, not only in learning about the different media, but also in studying and interpreting the scene. I decided to keep it going the next day by doing the same scene in oil and acrylic.

Day 3 – More Landscape Painting in my Studio

When I was packing to go to Nimrod I packed way more than I needed for art supplies, because I didn’t know what I’d be doing and wanted to have whatever I needed. I am happy I did that, because I ended up doing some things that were out of the ordinary…like painting in acrylics. I had these two little 12 x 6 stretched canvases that I tossed in. I like the 2:1 footprint for landscapes, although I usually paint bigger. Painting smaller has its advantages if you’re painting plein air or trying to do a lot of quick studies.

So on Wednesday morning with my two little canvases in hand I set out to paint the same scene in oil and acrylic. I haven’t painted much in acrylic in years. I get very frustrated with it because once I switched to oils, I couldn’t take acrylic’s fast drying time.

Once again I switched back and forth between the two. Of course, that didn’t allow the oil to dry…that takes weeks or even months. Switching still gave me a break. It’s always good to look away.

Similar to the gouache, the acrylic yields much harder edges. The fast drying paint makes it hard to blend the colors, but the oils are very difficult to get hard edges with. You can do it if you wait for it to dry, but that takes a long time. 

I like the colors better in the oil version. There is more variation. Some of that is the nature of the slower drying oils, but I also had a more extensive palette of oils to start with. I only had a limited number of acrylics, even after supplementing them by buying more in “The Art Box” bus which is parked at Nimrod every summer to provide artists with materials they find they need but don’t have with them.

When looking at all four versions I found that I got bolder with the skies on the second day, so the oil and acrylic versions have much more dramatic clouds, which I think is an improvement. I found myself wishing I’d been more daring with the skies in the watercolor and gouache versions.  Here are the two paintings from Wednesday.

Oil

 

Acrylic

Day 4 – Another Day of Gouache and Watercolor, but Not the Same Subject

I had one last day to paint and after spending two full days interpreting the same scene I was ready for something different. I did two more paintings on Thursday – one watercolor and one gouache.

On Tuesday evening we had a thunderstorm followed by brightening skies and a rainbow over a nearby ridge. I brought out the camera and took a lot of pictures. While I was doing so I pronounced, rainbows are nearly impossible to paint. So what did I do? I painted the rainbow!

Several years ago I did an oil painting of a rainbow from a photo a friend had taken. I was not happy with the result. I decided that watercolor might be friendlier. I hoped that if I did a wet in wet approach I could get the primary colors to bleed into a full ROYGBV* spectrum. It kind of worked, but not nearly as well as I had hoped.

The criticism Kesra had for me was that I did not get enough atmospheric distance in my mountains. They were too green, which is never the case when you’re looking at them at a distance. This is something I’m still trying to train my engineer’s brain to do. I need to learn to see, and paint what I see, rather than painting what I know to be true. Yes, the mountains are green…and yes they look green to me in the picture, but they are much bluer than I think. I really need to work on this! Here is the painting. (10” x 7” Arches 140 lb cold press)

And here is the reference photo.

* red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet

In the morning I’d gone for a walk and I found a pretty scene with a dead tree (dead trees are great fun to paint) and a field in the background with hay bales. I decided it would be fun to do as a gouache study for my final painting. This is probably the one I spent the least time on. We had the walk-through that evening and so there was a lot of pressure to get it done.

Kesra didn’t have a lot to say about this one. I like the sky but the rest of it is a little flat. I could probably correct that if I spent some time on shadows and highlights. I may also do this again in watercolor. Here is the painting. (6” x 12” Arches 140 lb. cold press)

Each Nimrod art week finishes on Thursday night with a walk through where everyone displays what they were working on and people walk through and see it. As Laura Loe explained, it’s not really a critique… it’s more of a “love-fest”. I must say, people did some lovely work.

I painted up until almost the last minute and then tidied up my studio, which of course was a mess. I did take a break to shower, but most everyone was well dressed and I was still in my shorts and t-shirt. Oh well.

People seemed to like my story about my scene that I painted in different media. They were interested in which I liked best and I explained that all had their pluses and minuses, but the process was very educational. Here I am with my work.

Is I said in an earlier post, Kesra did her own thing in the morning and did critiques of our work in the afternoon. She did some beautiful work. Her gouaches really pop. I’m hoping to keep practicing my gouache. I’m inspired by how beautiful hers are. Here she is with her body of work from the week and a few other things she through in. The two landscapes on the upper right were the demo she did for us on Monday evening.

Nimrod is a magical place and it’s wonderful to spend time with such creative people in such an inspirational place.  I’m already looking forward to next year. 

Lake Anna, Et Cetera

Once again, I’m painting from other people’s photographs and I’m very thankful I have friends who are such good photographers. They provide me with much inspiration. Below is a painting I did from a photograph taken by my friend Chip Bumgardner. He has a house on Lake Anna in Virginia and he took this absolutely stunning photograph of the lakeshore during the snowstorm last winter.

The sky was a dark, almost midnight blue, which faded to white and eventually picked up the reflection of color from the shore. The sun was shining on the trees around the lake and they were red hue except for where they were covered with snow. There were a few visible snow covered boathouses. Then the entire scene was reflected on to the smooth, clear surface of the lake. I don’t know if Chip was lucky enough to get these colors straight from his camera, or if he adjusted them. Either way he deserves the artistic credit for the photo.

I don’t believe I did the photo justice, but I had fun painting it. My engineer’s brain struggles with composition because I am compelled to paint what is there. As I study and learn more about composition, I learn what makes a good arrangement, but still struggle with adapting the scene. The beauty of this photograph is that it’s perfect composition all by itself. The eye is drawn through the painting to the middle, most distant part of the shore. The contrasting colors cause the trees to stand out as the focal point of the picture.

My job was easy. I just copied what I saw. The tree colors in the reflection were slightly lighter and brighter and the water was darker and grayer. The boathouses were fun. I took a few liberties regarding their number and placement.

Below is the finished painting followed by Chip’s original photograph.

Lake Anna in Snow Chip B's Lake Anna Sunset

Continuing with photos from friends, I had not done a butterfly in a while and my friend Sharon Little took a very pretty picture of a Viceroy butterfly last summer. Below is a watercolor done from her photo.

EPSON MFP image

Skies

I was always challenged by skies, so lately I’ve taken them on with a vengeance and I feel like I’m seeing some success. I was showing photos of some of my paintings to my friend Rob and he remarked that my skies were nice, so I have a second opinion.

Part of the problem is my engineer’s brain.  Sky is blue, clouds are white, and cloud shadows are grey, right?  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Once I got past that things got better.  A couple of events helped me.  One was seeing some paintings by a Bobbi Pratt, a local Northern Virginia artist.  Bobbi does beautiful colorful skies. Second was the class I took from Andras Bality, who helped talk us through mixing our palette, pointing out the violets in the clouds.

Back in 2000 I painted a picture of a photo I’d taken of the Pont Du Gard in the South of France. I always loved the painting, but I hated the cloud.  I actually repainted this when I first started painting again last year thinking I’d get it right the second time.  The cloud is better, but still not right. I might have to try again now that I’m getting seriously into clouds.

2000 Version

2000 Version (acrylic on canvas)

2014 version (oil on board)

2014 version (oil on board)

Sunrises and sunsets have become some of my favorite subjects since I’ve been getting into skies.  I’ve taken on some truly challenging scenes, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results.  Last spring we went to St. John, USVI for our anniversary and my husband took a stunning photo of the sunset from Zozo’s, a restaurant in the Caneel Bay resort.  In an act of total bravery I decided to try to paint it and I’m so glad I did.  It came out wonderfully.  I ended up painting most of the clouds with my fingers because I couldn’t get the brushes to do what I wanted.  I’ve learned more about brushes and how to select and use them since then.  I remember after I finished the sky I was terrified to paint the palm trees for fear I’d screw it up.  I didn’t.  It’s one of my favorite paintings.

Sunset at Zozo's

I also did it on the iPad.  The two ended up being sort of parallel studies for each other.  I was doing the painting in our mountain house.  I worked on the iPad version while I was in our Northern Virginia place.  I finished the iPad version first.

iPad version

iPad version

Last September I spent a week in the mountains and every morning I would walk to an overlook to photograph the sunrise. One morning the clouds were particularly luminescent.  I decided to attempt a painting of that.  I like the sky.  I painted the shadows first and finished the highlights in pure white after everything had dried.  I struggled a lot with the mountains and how they faded in the distance.  It’s not a favorite, but ultimately I like the result.

September Sunrise in Wintergreen

I’ve already posted my painting of the clouds lying in the valley, but this one was great fun.  I thought about naming it clouds from both sides 🙂 What’s nice about this one is that the photo almost appears to be black and white except for the streak of orange-yellow sky in between the layers. I tried to make the colors, except for that streak, very subtle to keep that black and white feeling.   I’m thinking about painting this one again in a larger size to go over my fireplace. That thought makes me nervous.  I’m not sure I could do it as well a second time around.

Three Ridges in Cloud

Most recently I decided to try a sunrise picture I took several years ago on the North Carolina shore.  This is still a work in progress and I’m not sure how I feel about it.  The colors are great.  I painted the sky and let it dry and then painted the clouds.  This is good if you want sharp edges, but it isn’t good if you want things to blend.  Some of these clouds have sharp edges but others are wispy.  I had to repaint the wispy ones with part of the sky to get them to blend.  There is also a cloud that looks a UFO.  I still need to work on it.  There may be hope for this, but I’m not sure. I’ll post the finished version if it’s any good.

A work in progress...

A work in progress…

In the beginning…

In 1998, I decided I wanted to try my hand at painting. I actually don’t recall what led me to this idea, but I tend to be a bit impulsive, so if the idea popped into my head I probably acted on it. At the time, I was a co-founder and Vice President for an Internet startup. We were still trying to figure out exactly what the company would do, so I had some free time on my hands.

I had taken art classes in high school and showed some aptitude. My older sister is an artist and I was always intimidated by my inability to keep up with her so I never pursued art outside of the classroom. I also never attempted anything as ambitious as painting with oils or acrylics.

As I said in my “about me”, I’m an engineer by training. More specifically, I’m a computer scientist — some engineers would take issue with me calling myself an engineer, but you get the idea. I’m a logical thinker and I approach problems in a specific way. Painting was no different. I went to a local craft store and bought some acrylic paints, brushes and canvas paper. I think I also bought a plastic palette that was covered and would keep paints wet for a few days. I didn’t know if I would be any good at painting so investing in actual stretched canvases seemed frivolous. I then began to experiment to see how paints worked.

I had a photograph I’d recently taken of a dogwood blossom. I decided that would be my subject. I practiced mixing colors and testing brush strokes. I wasn’t sure how to capture the background. The photo was focused on the blossom so the background was blurry. I decided to just paint it dark green with some slightly contrasting leaves. The leaves and the blossom in the foreground I painted in more detail. Interestingly enough, I ended up liking the painting, and I was encouraged to continue. I guess that’s a good thing because I now derive great pleasure from painting.

At some point later I actually had that first painting framed and gave it to my mother as a gift. Because it was on cheap canvas paper I had to have it mounted on a board. It ended up looking pretty nice as you can see from the photograph. Both digital photography and my skills at photographing paintings have improved a lot since the 1990s, but you get the idea.

First Painting

So this is how my journey from engineer to artist began and it continues…