Three Commissioned Paintings

I never really thought I’d have people asking me to paint things for them, but that sort of happened recently. Here’s how it came about.

A visionary named Charlie O’Sheilds declared July World Watercolor Month and started a Facebook page, Twitter feed and several other social media outlets. The challenge was to paint a watercolor a day and post it on line. It caught on immediately and before you knew it thousands of people from around the world were posting watercolors paintings on line. (This movement was so successful that the site was renamed World Watercolor Group at the end of July and remains very active.) I knew there was no way that I could paint a watercolor a day, but I was trying to do more watercolor sketching and wanted to join in the fun. When I did something I posted it.

The first painting I posted was a sketch of some Adirondack chairs sitting on the edge of the vineyard on a rainy day at Rockbridge Vineyard. July was also the month when I went to Nimrod Hall, so I did some sketching there in that lovely setting.

As I completed a painting in my little watercolor sketchbook I posted it on the World Watercolor Month Facebook page and shared it with my Facebook friends. My sketchbook is very nice, but is not high quality watercolor paper. It is advertised to take “light washes” which it does. It’s great for practice and learning but not so much for archival work.

A friend of mine from high school saw the paintings on Facebook said she loved my “whimsical” little watercolor sketches and asked if I would sell them.  I explained that they were in a sketchbook and were not of sufficient quality for framing. I said I could try to repaint them for her. She agreed to buy them if I did that but it was important to her that they be small and retain the sketch-like quality.

So I set out to repaint them. My tidy little engineer’s brain really wanted to make them more perfect given that I wasn’t sketching on location anymore and had all the time I needed in the comfort of my home. Gladly I was able to overcome my tendencies and, if I may say so myself, did a pretty good job of duplicating the originals.  I think each of the three is better than the original, but the improvements are in composition and color, and not because I obsessed on making every line and every stroke perfect.

Kathy received them today and says she loves them. Thank you Kathy for challenging me to get outside of my head. You are now part of the journey. Below are the originals and the repainted versions.

Chairs at Rockbridge Vineyard – original top, repainted below.

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EPSON MFP image

Nimrod Hall Main House – original top, repainted below

Nimrod Hall Sketch

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Nimrod Hall Post Office – original top, repainted below

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EPSON MFP image

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

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EPSON MFP image

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

Urban Sketching

I mentioned in my last post that I’d become intrigued with urban sketching.  Until a few weeks ago I’d never heard of it.  I was searching on Amazon for things that might help me tackle plein air painting in urban settings and ran across a book called The Urban Sketcher by Marc Taro Holmes.  I bought the Kindle version and read it cover to cover in just a few days.  I subsequently also bought the paperback version because it’s one of those books I may want to use for more extensive study.

TUS Cover

I learned that urban sketching is actually a worldwide movement of artists who go out and capture images of the world with sketches rather than a camera.  Most use pencil, ink and watercolor, but some use other media.  There’s a website, www.urbansketchers.org, where people post their work. Marc Taro Holmes also has a blog called citizensketcher.com.

Mr. Holmes is a Canadian from Montreal who seems to be one of the premier urban sketchers.  His sketches are beautiful.  He used a three-pass technique for doing his watercolors called tea, milk and honey.  Tea represents the light washes done in the beginning.  Milk is adding the details, and honey is adding the bold colors that really make it pop.  Sounds simple, right?  NOT!  I tried to incorporate what I learned in my plein air paintings, and while the results were better than they would have otherwise been, I still have a long way to go.

Another aspect of Mr. Holmes’ technique that I struggled with is that he inks before he paints. On one level I like this idea. If you think about it, it’s kind of like creating a coloring book. In execution I found that I over inked in places and of course, watercolor doesn’t cover up ink. That said, I see that some urban sketches have a lot of ink showing through, so maybe I’m just over sensitive to it.  Still, I like softness in some things that over inking doesn’t support.

One of the things I really struggle with in urban scenes is the people. Mr. Holmes talks about doing composite sketches of people in his book but its easier said than done. I went looking for more specific instruction on this and found a recently published book called Sketching People by Lynne Chapman, also an urban sketcher.  While this is an excellent book, it is primarily about sketching faces and details.  I really need the form and function side of things to capture the feeling of a cityscape. Detailed faces aren’t important.

I just started another book called People in Watercolour by Trevor Waugh.  This one is also a Kindle book that is not available in paperback through Amazon. It may be out of print.

I’m still evaluating this one, but I’ve had some fun doing some simple exercises drawing silhouetted forms.  It’s good practice. I want to see how well I can translate it into real world situations capturing real people, rather than imitating the sketches in the book. Here are a few from my early practice.  I actually used brush markers to do this. I’m sure it will be much harder when I try it using watercolor.

WC People Sketches

Plein Air Festival

Today was the opening of Scenes in the City, Falls Church Arts’ annual Plein Air Festival.  The painting period is from mid April till mid June.   To qualify the works must be painted on location and within the City of Falls Church.  No painting from photographs is allowed.

This was a particularly tough year because it has been so rainy all spring.  That coupled with the fact that we are only in Northern Virginia every other weekend made it a real challenge for me.  I managed to enter two works, both painted on the same Saturday two weeks ago.

This show takes me out of my comfort zone.  I am at my best painting landscape paintings, in oil, in my studio, from photos I’ve taken.  I am trying to do more plein air because the colors are never right in photographs and the scene is also flattened.  That said, plein air is hard and can be unforgiving.  You have to paint the whole painting in one sitting.  You’re dealing with the elements, and curious people, and other distractions.  To add to that, Falls Church is an urban area, so I’m painting cityscapes with buildings and people, which is very different from my mountains.  And if that’s not enough, I decided to do them in watercolor this year.  (See my last post for my thoughts about watercolor.)  Watercolor is more transportable and quicker than oil, but I’m still learning to use it.

The show was wonderful. I felt very humbled when I saw the quality of the other works this year.  I did not feel like my paintings held up in comparison. I did sell one of them, so I’m pleased that someone likes my art. Perhaps I judge myself too harshly.  It was fun to be part of the show, which opened at the Falls Church Farmer’s Market.  We had great traffic – I think about 175 people voted for the people’s choice award.  This is very good for creating awareness of our little Falls Church Arts community.

Scenes in the City Photo

My two entries are pictured below. Just prior to painting these I read a book called The Urban Sketcher, which will be the subject of a future post. I was doing my best to use what I learned from that book.EPSON MFP image

Afternoon Break (At the Mad Fox Brewing Company)

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Market Day (Sold)

Finally, in case anybody doubts that I really painted these outside, a very unforgiving photo of my backside appeared in the Falls Church News Press this week.   I was so engrossed in painting my market scene I didn’t even know I was being photographed. If I had, I would have tried to strike a more flattering pose.

Scanned Document

The show will be hung in the Kensington Senior Living Sales and Information Center at 1212 W Broad Street until July 11th. Then they will be moved to Art Space at 410 S Mable Avenue later this summer.  Finally it will be moved to the Falls Church City Hall.  All locations are in Falls Church City, Virginia.

Watercolor Challenges

Watercolor continues to challenge me, but I continue to practice. I’m a long way from being a watercolor artist. When I sat down to write this post I was going to share four watercolors with you, only one of which I like.  Then I almost talked myself out of sharing the others, but in the spirit of sharing the good, the bad and the ugly, here are all four.  I’m starting with the good one, so feel free to stop reading at any time.

One of the challenges with watercolors, or at least my watercolors, is that they sometimes look good from a distance, but not so much up close. As a result, I always hate them when I’m doing them – but sometimes they grow on me when I walk away for a while. The process of scanning them and displaying them on a computer screen is also very unforgiving.  Every flaw is glaring.

The first painting, and the best in my opinion, is of Afton Mountain Vineyards. I painted it from a photo I took on a pretty summer day.  The sky was full of puffy clouds.  My watercolor technique still needs a lot of work, but the finished painting has some appeal.  I’m also really happy with the perspective on the rows of grape vines. I have thought about painting this photo many times, but have always been intimidated by getting the vines right.  Now that I know I can do that I may try to do an oil version. It needs a barn or some other building though.  We’ll see if I can get my engineer’s brain to paint something that’s not really there.

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The second painting is one I did in an afternoon, just as practice.  This is definitely one that looks better with a little distance. I was experimenting with masking fluid to keep the sun bright and also the reflection on the clouds near the sun.  It worked pretty nice for the sun, but not so much for the clouds.  The colors in the sky turned out pretty well.  I’m still not crazy about the grass in the foreground.

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The next little ditty was done plein aire at Haines Chapel just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  For the most part I like this one.  There’s a bit too much foreground.  I could crop it.  I also should have skipped the road, but my engineer’s brain wanted to put it in since it was there. The colors could be a bit bolder and brighter.  I thought about doing some more washes on it in studio, but liked it enough as is that I decided not to mess with it. I have several ancestors buried in this cemetery (great-great grandparents and earlier), which makes it a special place for me.

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Finally, I did this watercolor from a photo of the Three Ridges overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I had also done an oil painting of the scene plein aire but decided to play with watercolors.  The greens are too vivid and I don’t like the brush strokes in the nearby mountains of the foreground grass.  The wet-in-wet mountains are kind of cool and the distant mountains aren’t too bad.  Still, I don’t really like this one, but I’m sharing the whole journey, so here it is.

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I’m signed up for the Falls Church Arts Plein Aire competition, and I was hoping to do some watercolors for that.  Unfortunately, it’s been raining every weekend that I’ve stayed in Falls Church.  Hopefully next weekend will be pretty, because it’s my last chance.

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.

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Pollo Mexicano

I had such fun with this one!  These paintings were done from a photo taken by Joan Wells, a long time friend and former owner of The Queen Victoria, an inn in Cape May, New Jersey. Bill and I visited Cape May and stayed at the QV most summers and other times for a span of about 20 years, and during that time we got to know Joan and her husband Dane quite well.  A few years back they sold the inn and now they are happily retired and traveling the world.  The rest of us are living vicariously through Joan’s posts on Facebook.

I used to only paint from my own photos.  I thought it was wrong to paint from a photo taken by someone else.  Recently I’ve broadened my perspective. I have friends who go to so many interesting places and are wonderful photographers. I’m now allowing myself to paint from some of those if they inspire me, but only if granted permission to do so.

A few months ago Joan and Dane were traveling in Mexico and Joan posted a beautiful photo of a rooster walking along the edge of a canyon with a backdrop of cliffs and rugged mountains.  I knew instantly I wanted to paint it and asked if she’d mind.  Thankfully she said she was fine with me doing that.

First I did a watercolor study.  I’m not crazy about the background in that painting.  I’m still honing my newfound watercolor skills.  I do like the chicken.  Doing the study allowed me to study the scene and become familiar with the details of the rooster.
Pollo Mexicano WC

Then I did the oil version.  This is a small painting – it is on a 12×9 Belgian linen panel.  I had the paint the background a couple of times to get the atmospheric depth.  The earlier version didn’t grasp the feeling of the canyon because I didn’t capture the distance of the mountains on the other side.  I now feel I’ve captured that feeling.  I also love the rooster.  The red sets off the painting.  His plumage is quite colorful as well.
Pollo Mexicano

Finally, here is Joan’s original photo. I hope I did it justice.
Joan Wells Chicken
Falls Church Arts has a show coming up in a few months called Whimsy. I’m not really sure what that means. I think I will enter this to see what happens.  After all, what’s more whimsical than a free ranging Mexican chicken?

Speaking of Falls Church arts, I’ve entered the painting below, Carmel Sea, in this years’ All-Member show.   The show opens Friday, April 1st.  Unfortunately I will miss the opening because we will be in the mountains.  I hope others can go.  The Falls Church Arts All-Member shows are always very nice.

17 Mile Drive

I Sold a Print!

We picked up the mail today and there was a check from Falls Church Arts.  I didn’t have anything in a show, so it could only be for one of my prints in the print bin they have in the lobby of Art Space.  It was!  Someone bought a print of Monarch on Yellow.  I’m pleased to know that someone liked one of my butterflies enough to buy it.

The original for this is hanging in my office.  It was done in gouache and ink.

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For anyone else who happens to be interested, my prints are also available for sale in my Etsy shop.

I had a great weekend painting in the mountains.  I even did a new butterfly — it’s been a while.  I also have something almost finished here in my studio in Northern VA.  I will be posting some new things soon!

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.