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)

EPSON MFP image

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.

EPSON MFP image

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.

EPSON MFP image
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.

EPSON MFP image

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.

EPSON MFP image
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.

EPSON MFP image

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.

EPSON MFP image

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.

Three Ridges in Snow

It was time to finish the last season of three ridges. I’d done summer, spring and fall.  I actually did do winter but with ice on top and clouds in the valley. It is also stunning in the snow.  The photo I did this from was actually from a few years ago.  Unfortunately, we weren’t in the mountains for the spectacular storm we had a few weeks ago.  It doesn’t matter though.  More than about a foot of snow (which happens fairly often) and the mountains become a winter wonderland.

This painting shows a beautiful clear, dark blue sky in contrast to the white, new fallen snow. The mountains in the distance have snow, but also the dormant trees making them an icy purple color.  The trees in the foreground were very red on the top – the color of the twigs, but the larger branches were covered in snow.

The fence on the right challenged my engineer’s brain. I worked hard to paint the shapes and colors, and not to focus on the thing it was supposed to be. I hated it while I was painting it, but the result was quite good.  It shows the shadows and light and captures the illusion of the deep snow.

I also had fun with the shadows and light in the foreground snow. The seedlings and grasses poking out from beneath the snow helped add to the interest of the scene.

This painting is 24×12 on canvas. Now the four seasons are complete. Does that mean I will stop painting Three Ridges? No way! It looks different in the color and the light of each new day.  I need to branch out more, but I will never tire of painting Three Ridges.
Three Ridges in Snow

A New Painting for My Fireplace

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was working on a new version of Three Ridges in Cloud to hang over my fireplace in our mountain home.  I finished it this week and I thought I’d share it.

This was an interesting experience.  While I paint the same subjects a lot, Three Ridges being a favorite, I don’t usually try to duplicate paintings.  Sometimes I’ll do a study in watercolor and then an oil painting, but that’s different because there is no chance they’ll be the same.  In this case, I really liked the original painting, but I needed a bigger version of it because of the space where I wanted to hang it.  I thought about painting from the painting rather than the original photograph, but decided against it for a number of reasons, not the least of which I didn’t want to minimize my creativity.

During the process of painting I found myself not liking the new one as well.  First of all, my brush technique has changed quite a bit.  I painted the original in January and February of 2015, which wasn’t that long ago.  However, I’m still new at this, so I’m evolving quickly.   In the last year I’ve read and studied books and sites, and I’ve taken a few classes.  Now I dab more and make fewer long strokes.  This difference is very obvious in the clouds.  I also liked the muted colors in the original, but I’ve been experimenting more with bolder colors, so I captured more color in the sky and the trees in the foreground.  When I finished it on Tuesday (my birthday) I decided I liked it better.  The additional color gives it an added richness.  I still like them both a lot – mostly because it’s a very pretty scene and a nice photograph.  I was lucky to be there on the day I took it.

Below are both versions with the most recent one first.  The original is 36×18 and the new version is 48×24.   It will look nice above my fireplace – much better than the print left there by the previous owners.  I consider it a nice birthday gift to myself.

Three Ridges in Cloud 48x24 Oil on Canvas

Three Ridges in Cloud
48×24 Oil on Canvas

Three Ridges in Cloud 36x18 Oil on Canvas

Three Ridges in Cloud
36×18 Oil on Canvas