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!

Class: Capturing the Subtle Beauty of Winter in Watercolor

Now that I’ve joined the Shenandoah Valley Art Center I’ve started watching their class schedule and saw an upcoming one by Peg Sheridan. Her classes fill up quickly so I jumped on it. Peg lives in Staunton and teaches all around the area. She’s been a watercolorist for forty years! Her teaching style and demonstration skills were great. That said, she made it look so easy it was frustrating.

I showed up prepared to be taken out of my comfort zone. I think to some extent that happened.

Peg’s initial demonstration was very loose. She reiterated something I’ve been told by multiple other teachers, that you can start light and loose and then slowly construct your painting in layers on top of that.

Through out the class Peg was a treasure trove of tips and tricks. I took as many notes as I could. For those who do not paint (or aspire to), this might be more detail than you want. Some of the more valuable ones were:

  • When you start a painting, think about the outcome you’re trying to achieve. What kind of feelings are you trying to evoke?
  • She had a lot of advice on mixing paint that go beyond simply mixing paint on your palette. First, she demonstrated mixing paint on the paper using gravity – put on your washes and then tilt the paper and let things run together. Second, she said it you do mix on the palette, don’t mix completely – just swirl the colors together but make sure you pick up some of each as well as the mix when you put brush to paper. This cuts down on muddy, over mixed colors.
  • Use the side of your brush more – don’t always hold it like a pencil. Again, this is something I do with oils, but less so with watercolor. I need to fix that.
  • Stand more while you’re painting to stay loser. You use your arm more instead of your fingers. I usually stand when working in oil, but sit while working in watercolor. I am going to start to stand more, at least at the beginning of the painting when I want to be looser.
  • If you wet the paper wait till it starts to lose its shine before painting (I knew this but it’s always a test of my patience). Then as it dries, use thicker paint. Stop before it gets too dry because you’ll start getting back-runs.
  • If you over-paint to make your whites pop, use acrylic instead of gouache to get brighter whites.
  • For blotting clouds in the sky, wet the paper towel or tissue. It will pick up more paint.
  • Also for skies, leave the whites of clouds dry but wet the shadows and tap in color.

There were some others, but these were some that resonated with me.

I did two studies in the class (shown below). Both are small. Peg’s advice was to strive to do several smaller paintings in the class rather than one big one to learn more. The first was a view of a bridge on the golf course near our house. I took the reference photo during the big snowstorm we got in December. The second was of a stream on the same golf course. This reference photo was taken several years ago on a sunny day after a big storm. Peg said she liked the first one but not the second. She thought the stream was too dark, and suggested I balance it with darker trees on the right, which I did. It still wasn’t her favorite, but I liked it well enough as a study piece.

New Galleries and Venues

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Since we’ve moved to Central Virginia full time I’ve been looking around for galleries and organizations with whom I can partner. I’ve had a great relationship with Falls Church Arts during the past four plus years, and I’ve learned so much from them. I will likely maintain that membership, and hopefully still show there occasionally when I can work out the logistics, but they are now 150 miles away, so I need to find something new.

The Rockfish River Gallery is in the valley just a little north of Nellysford in the Rockfish Valley Community Center. It is focused on showing the works of local artists. They are an easy stop along Nelson County’s famed “151 corridor” where there are many wineries, breweries, cideries and other sites to see. I have placed two oil paintings and four watercolors there and I’m looking forward to seeing how much attention they get. Below are the paintings that can be seen there.

In addition, I’ve joined the Shenandoah Valley Art Center in Waynesboro. They are an organization similar to Falls Church Arts. They have a gallery in downtown Waynesboro and run exhibits as well as provide space for member artists to show. I’ve just joined so I don’t yet have anything on display, but hope to begin participating soon.

If you are visiting Central Virginia, please take the time to drop into these two venues where hopefully you’ll be able to see some of my work on display.

World Watercolor Month

July was the second annual World Watercolor Month.  World Watercolor Month was started by Charlie O’Sheilds, creator of doodlewash® and a designer from Missouri.  Charlie had become enamored with watercolor and started a Facebook page called World Watercolor Month in July 2016.  He challenged artists to paint and post a watercolor painting each day of the month of July.  It was a great success and had thousands of members before the month was out, so he renamed it World Watercolor Group and maintained it as a place for watercolorists of all levels to share their work.  

In 2016, I was only an observer in World Watercolor Month, although I think I did post a few paintings.  In 2017, I decided to do my best to participate. With a demanding day job, I knew this would be a challenge, but every evening after dinner I’d get out my sketchbook and try to paint at least a little something I could post.  Some were better than others.  By the end of the month I’d painted every day but two (and I still posted something on the days I missed).  It was very gratifying and I think I did improve my skills.  Next year I will paint something every day!  

Below are a few of my favorites from the month.  (#worldwatercolormonth)

HibiscusAppleButterflyCowIrisHay Bales

 

15th Annual Falls Church Arts All Member Show

Falls Church Arts is opening a new gallery, and its just two blocks from our Falls Church home!  In the past they’ve always shared Art Space with Creative Cauldron, Falls Church’s theater group. So exited that they are getting their own space.  The grand opening is Saturday night with the 15th Annual All Members show.  
Show Announcement
The new space is in the retail portion of The Kensington, which is a senior living building that has just been completed in Falls Church. The building owners are very excited to have Falls Church Arts as a neighbor because they see it as a good fit with their residents.  

I have entered two paintings in the show. Depending on space availability one or both will be included.  I will also be at the opening gala!  Below are the two paintings and yes there is a vineyard theme 🙂 

Afton Mountain Vineyard oil

Rockbridge Vineyard Chairs

Adventures in Watercolor

We spent about a week and a half at our mountain home for the holidays, and I took several days off from my pesky day job to do some painting.  As I’ve said, I’ve been trying to improve my watercolor skills.  One of the ways I’ve been doing that is by watching YouTube videos.  While I have learned a lot, and I’ve gotten some great ideas, the most important thing I’ve learned is that it takes a lot of practice!  You’ve got to try it for yourself and figure out how it works, and what works for you and your style.  So I decided to do as much painting as I could and I’m sharing the adventure.  Sorry this is a long post. I could have broken it into several small posts, but I think there’s value in covering all of these together.  (Note: clicking on any image to see a larger version.)

Snowy 7th Fairway Stream

In my most recent post, just after Christmas, I shared a painting I did of a snow scene of a pond on the golf course near our home.  To do this I watched a few videos on painting snow in watercolor, including this one by Grant Fuller.  I think the videos were all helpful.  I like the foreground including the grasses peaking up through the snow. I used masking fluid to block some of the white branches in the foreground trees and one of the strongest ridges in the field.  I augmented the whites with a white gel ink pen.  I don’t really like the clouds.  Skies look easy when I watch others do them, but I still struggle with them.  

snowy-7th-fairway-stream-2

3 Ridges in Cloud (Watercolor version)

Next I decided to do a scene that I’ve done multiple times in oil, hoping that familiarity would help.  I’m not sure it did. Sometimes I think that watercolor is better if you’re not too tied to the original scene.  Photos should really just be an inspiration.  Many of the videos I’ve watched, including several by Steven Cronin like this one are done entirely from the artist’s imagination. I’m definitely not there yet!

In this painting, I like the sky, but not the way the clouds are laying in the valley.  I think the foreground trees turned out okay. I augmented them with my white gel ink pen.  For what it’s worth, this painting looks better in the original form.  The scan didn’t do it justice.  

three-ridges-in-cloud-wc

Stormy 17 Mile Drive

Then I decided to do a seascape, which was an ambitious undertaking. I have done very few of these, even in oil.  When I was showing my work at the Farmers’ Market in December, one of the other artists, Rajendra KC was quite taken with the oil version of this scene (in my gallery if you are interested).  Given that he is a very talented local artist, I was quite flattered by this.  I decided to try to do a watercolor version.  

I have to say, I surprised myself with this one. I had very low expectations but it came out very nice.  This is perhaps my best sky so far.  I did not mask the white caps. I used discipline (a challenge for me) to leave them white. (I did watch part of a video that showed this, but I didn’t capture the link.) I augmented the white caps with white gouache in places, which is how I got the look of spray. I also really enjoyed doing the rocks. I took my time, starting with washes for the lighter ones on the left and then slowly layering on shadows.   

stormy-17-mile-drive

Clump of Trees (Study)

Then I discovered Steve Mitchell’s YouTube channel. I was quite taken with his landscapes and found his approach to be more valuable, from an instruction perspective, than many of the others. I watched several of his videos, but I thought this one on “accidental painting” would be fun to try. My version did not turn out nearly as nice as his, but it was a good learning experience. It also forced me to paint from my head, although I will confess that I allowed myself to be pulled in the direction of Steve’s example.  There are a lot of things I don’t like about this painting, but given that it was a quick study it’s also not bad.

clump-of-trees-study

Springtime Field

Inspired by my clump of trees study I decided to take on a painting from a photo I took of a field near Lovingston Virginia last spring.  I had a lot of fun with this one, and most of it I like.  There are some things I might do differently if I did it again. Rather than pointing those out I think I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader.  

springtime-field

7th Fairway Pond

Finally, on the morning of the day we were to leave to come back to Northern Virginia I decided to do one last painting. I had limited time so I did this fairly quickly, but I think it turned out okay.  I like the sky and the shoreline of the pond – especially the rock!  I’m not crazy about the mid-ground trees or the reflections of the trees in the water, which I did quickly because I was running out of time.  

7th-fairway-pond

All in all, I think I made progress.  I’ve continued to watch videos and I have several more techniques I’m excited to try as soon as I’ve completed this post. Practice makes perfect – of course there is no perfect in art, but practice is a way to aspire to perfection.

Snowy Fairway Watercolor, etc.

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I have been painting and doing other art related things, just not posting for various reasons.  

One reason I haven’t been posting is that I’ve been challenging myself in watercolors.  As I’ve always said, they are much harder than oils. I’ve been doing more wet in wet painting and they just never turn out. My clouds look to heavy to float and my trees and leaves all run together. I know I will get better if I keep practicing, but I have accepted that it will take a long time.  

A couple of days ago I painted a scene from a photo I took a couple of years ago.  I did not do a lot of wet in wet in this painting, outside of the sky. Maybe that’s why I’m happier with the way it came out.  Snow is difficult because you need to leave the white white.  There is no opportunity for error. I did mask some of the tree branches and one ridge on the ground that I wanted to really stand out. It was fun because it’s a nice winter scene.
snowy-7th-fairway-stream-2

I also sold a print to someone who found me on the Internet, which is a first.  She bought a copy of the Rockbridge Vineyard Chairs that I did for my friend Kathy a few months back.  She wanted to give it as a Christmas gift to her sister-in-law who lived in Rockbridge County.  They had visited the winery together.  She told me how she searched to find me, but I have been unable to repeat it such that this painting comes up.  Still I’m very happy she found me. 

EPSON MFP image

The one other fun thing I did before the holidays. I showed my paintings with Falls Church Arts at the Falls Church Farmers’ Market. I didn’t sell anything, but several people took business cards.  Maybe I’ll hear back from one of them.  Regardless, it’s good exposure and I had fun. 

market-display

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!  I’m taking the next few days off from my day job so maybe I’ll have something else to post soon. 

Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program 2016

I am so happy to have had the opportunity to attend a weekend workshop at Nimrod Hall again. This year I chose the weekend workshop Kirah Van Sickle, who is an impressionist landscape painter based in Wilmington North Carolina. Her work is wonderful and fluid, and I was hoping she could help me get out of my head a little.

Kirah paints mostly in acrylics and also does some mixed media. The class was open to people who wanted to paint in oil, acrylic or watercolor.   We had a good group of ladies who took the class including Julia and Emily who took a different workshop the same weekend as me last year, Molly, Susan and Carol.  Everyone got a lot out of the class.

Nimrod 2016 Class

One of Kirah’s first suggestions during our Friday evening discussion is to paint fast and loose.  Most paintings will be studies, so don’t start with the idea of having a finished masterpiece. I have heard this before and know it. Being basically an impatient person I tend to paint fast. The thought that the painting I’m starting isn’t going to be a masterpiece is a challenge. Yes, I know it’s unlikely, but I have to start and approach the painting believing that it will be good – otherwise, it won’t be!

I have to say, one of the things that came from the class was getting back to some basics. I have gotten away from staining my canvases in advance and doing a good underpainting. Kirah showed how important that was to doing the value study with is a key to a successful painting.  Doing a value study allows you to identify and capture the dark and light areas of the painting without regard to color. She also said that most paintings will probably only have two to four values, which are easily captured using a burnt sienna underpainting.

Underpainting in oil is different than underpainting in acrylic.  Acrylic dries really fast so you can just paint on top of it. Oil dries very slowly. If you’re doing plein air in a single session you can’t wait for it to dry.  One of the things she showed me was how to paint on top of the underpainting without picking up too much of the color.  Put lots of paint on the brush, hold it sideways, drag and pick it up. This keeps you from actually mixing the colors.  She also pointed out that it’s critical to use a big brush and not be stingy with your paint if you want to get an impressionistic look. You also need to choke up on the brush unless you’re trying to make fine lines.

When I used to paint in acrylic as a beginner I used to paint back to front, meaning you paint objects in the most distant background first (like the sky) and then work your way forward. Oil and watercolor have both broken me of that. However, Kirah pointed out that it’s a perfectly acceptable way to approach a painting (except watercolor where you have to paint by value). With oil, you need to use the brush well, as described above, but you can paint back to front.

I always struggle with painting things a different color from what they actually are. My very literal engineers brain gets in the way. Before class I saw a painting of Kirah’s on her website of a place that looked so familiar.  I went back and looked at my photos and discovered I had a photo of the exact place from almost the same angle from a previous trip to Italy. I’ve looked at that photo and thought about painting it several times, but it just doesn’t inspire me.  The colors are too muted and as a result it’s kind of boring.  Kirah’s painting was so much prettier than reality because she’d brightened up the colors. I learned from her that it’s okay to change the color as long as you don’t change the value. Here is her painting (left) next to my photo (right).

Cortona Photos

One other point that she made was to pay attention to the undulation of the landscape. There’s a rhythm to the scene where things go up and down.  It’s important to the composition to catch that rhythm.

I painted two paintings in the class.  I had trouble finding good light to do these photos, so they are not the best representations. The first painting is a landscape from one of Nimrod’s many porches.  I did this in oil.  It had the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background with a field in the mid-ground all surrounded by lush foliage.  This painting is 20×10 and is on a Belgian linen canvas board.
Nimrod Landscape

The second painting is of the Nimrod studios and it is done in acrylic.  I haven’t painted in acrylic in years, but Kirah offered to allow us to share her Golden Open Acrylic paints.  These are specially formulated to dry slower than regular acrylics, allowing them to be blended on the canvas more like oils.  They did dry slower, but out in the open air, they still dried pretty fast.  This painting is 24×8 on canvas.

Studios at Nimrod

In addition to my in class painting I also did some watercolor sketching of the buildings at Nimrod.  Because it’s World Watercolor Month I posted these on Facebook.  I have a friend who is interested in buying them.  Now I’m challenged with repainting them since they are in my sketchbook on low quality paper. This will be a good exercise for me, since the thing she likes about them is their spontaneous sketchy quality.  I will need to stay out of my head to keep that as I redo them.

Nimrod Hall Sketch

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

All in all it was another great weekend at Nimrod.  I’m already looking forward to next summer.

Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program 2015

I just returned from a wonderful weekend at the Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program.  This year I took a watercolor workshop from Purnell Pettyjohn, a wonderful watercolorist from Lynchburg VA.  I chose the watercolor class because it’s a medium I struggle with.  It is very unforgiving and requires a lot of thought and planning.  My engineer’s brain struggles with the idea of leaving whites white and painting certain colors and shapes before others, so this was a good exercise for me.  The most important thing I learned was that it’s not as unforgiving as I had thought.  I learned how to tape and lift mistakes by scrubbing them with a bristle brush.  Just that lesson took a lot of the fear out of me.

Purnell is an excellent teacher!  We spent the first morning doing a step-by-step painting of a lady carrying pails of flowers in a field.  The fact that there was a human in the picture scared me, but her posture and the fact that she was walking away made drawing her manageable.  We started with the hat and shirt, moved on to the trees and  rocks on the left and right, did the washes for the mountains and the foreground and finished with the fence and a few shadows.  Everyone in the class (including the absolute beginners) did a great job. Below is my version.  I’ve also included the reference photo provided by Purnell.  Lady with Flowers

Lady with Flowers

Next, that afternoon, I attempted a plein aire out on the lawn.  I tried to apply what I learned but I struggled.  As I expected, I couldn’t discern the right order to do things in.  Purnell saw that several of us were challenged and did another demonstration.   During that demo I learned that order doesn’t always matter.  I also got to see her do trees where she did light leaves followed by darker leaves and then did the trunk and the limbs.  I was fascinated by her technique.

By this time it was late on Saturday afternoon.  Sunday is an early check out day so usually there is no additional painting. I was so anxious to try Purnell’s technique with the trees that I sketched a scene with the hammock in front of the old post office building and vowed to get up and paint before breakfast. I did and completed the painting below before I left Nimrod (except for a few finishing touches).  Purnell remained attentive and stopped by frequently giving several pointers that greatly improved the final product. I consider it a success that shows I did in fact learn a lot.  I also think I need to continue to practice because I’ve got a long way to go.

Nimrod Hammock

Nimrod Hall is a wonderful place.  The setting is gorgeous.  It is not luxurious, but it’s clean and comfortable. Most importantly, it’s intended for creativity.  You don’t have to worry about getting paint on things!

Here is a photo of Purnell painting on her porch this morning while another student looked on.
Purnell P 1

Here is a photo of the main house followed by a close up of the tub of flowers by the porch.

Nimrod Main House

Tub of Flowers

Here is a photo of my cabin.  This has four rooms with two shared bathrooms. I was in the room on the far right this time.

My Cabin

Here is one of the many beautiful views.

Nimrod View

I love Nimrod Hall.  I can’t wait to go back next summer!