Most artists around the world make their living at a day job. I'm one of them. So when the work day is over I try my damnedest to get in a few hours of painting. In the warmer months I often stop at the nearest park on my way home to look for a bench with a paintable view. All I need is a 5x7 inch watercolor block, a folding travel brush, a small palette filled with paint, a couple of paper towels and a plastic water jar. And I'm in business. Here are three summer-time sketches I made before the evening commute:
Two watercolors I painted at two waterfront parks in Manhattan. I painted them in May and have only now got around to posting them. Looking at these paintings I can still remember the thrilling sense of freedom when winter ends and it's finally warm enough to paint outside. Sort of how kids feel when June comes around and school is out for summer. Yippee!
What I got down on my paper doesn't completely match what I had in mind when I first spotted these two spectacular views on the piers. Don't get me wrong, I'm not unhappy with them! But the results are an approximation and a surprise. I'm still pretty new to watercolor, and In these paintings I concentrated on experiments with washes and dry brush techniques. I didn't know how they would turn out. Of course, an artist who wants to grow never stops experimenting and learning. After all, we're always inventing ways to interpret a three dimensional world in a two dimensional medium. Not only that, but we've only got a finite number of pigments to describe all the infinite and dazzling colors of nature. So we're always reaching. And then reaching for more. And so it goes.
This past August I took a short, lovely trip to Quebec City. It's a place full of hills and vistas, and exquisite old buildings with more turrets than a Disney castle. In other words, a perfect place for sketching.
I was traveling solo and wanted to round up some sketching buddies to share my adventures with. So I did a search on the Urban Sketchers website for the Quebec City chapter. I thought surely there must one, since it's such a charming, sketchable city. But I was wrong. Hmmmm. So I searched for artist meet-ups instead, and this time I struck gold. Turns out that artist Denise Bujold runs a wonderful series of events called "Artistes dans le Parcs". Each month artists meet at the parks in Quebec City for sketching, painting and companionship. And I couldn't wait to meet them!
They did not disappoint. There was a friendly crowd at the Parc Nautique de Cap-Rouge on the day I joined them. Denise and the other artists welcomed me warmly even though my French is horrible. Fortunately their English is a thousand times better than my French!
At the park I painted a watercolor on the bank of the St. Lawrence River. It was a challenge to catch it before the ebbing tide turned the bank back into a flowering marsh.
Larry Marshall and Yvan Breton were also at the event, and graciously invited me to go out sketching with them the next day. How wonderful it was to be with two inspiring local artists who knew their way around and could point out great places to sketch. It began to rain just as we settled down to draw at the old lower city, or Basse-Ville, but Yvan knew about a covered entrance to a building where we could draw the picturesque Université Laval while we waited it out.
Eventually it came time to say good bye to my new friends. But being with them and seeing their wonderful sketches renewed my interest in drawing. And so I continued to sketch on my own in their beautiful city.
Spring at last! On the way home from the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum I took a detour through Prospect Park to look for blossom trees. My handy watercolor kit came with me on the chance there'd be enough sun and warmth for a quick sketch. I was lucky for an hour or so, but just as I was finishing up there was a sudden downpour. Only a few raindrops fell on my work, so fortunately it didn't get ruined. Phew, thank goodness for small favors. Spring weather is so unpredictable!
What to do when you're learning how to paint watercolor portraits, but there's no model around? Actually there's always a model handy if you've got a mirror. And that's how the Self Portrait Project was born.
I bought an inexpensive 60 page sketchbook and dedicated it to painting self portraits. The only way to become really good at something is to practice. Like all the time. So I've decided to paint one a day, or as often as life permits.
To me self portraits are more challenging than painting someone else, because it's hard to hold the pose and concentrate on painting at the same time. It's easy to get mixed up, so that your nose is pointing one way and your chin is pointing in the other. And as much as I admire Picasso, I'm not trying to paint like him.
Anyway, I love a challenge, so here goes. At the end of this project maybe painting portraits will be a piece of cake. These are my first four efforts in the sketch book, in reverse chronological order. I'm beginning to get more comfortable with the process, and that gives me hope.
It's been quite a year. Learning to use watercolor turned out to be quite an ambitious project! But it's been exciting and stimulating too. And there's still so much to learn.
Thanks to all my friends for following along with me this past year as I wandered down my artistic path. All your encouragement and support helped to keep me going. I hope your own path is full of joy and meaning for you, and I wish you a sweet and wonderful new year.
Our Thanksgiving turkey was browning in the oven, and the guests were getting hungry. So I placed an appetizer on the table, and my sister said "Wow, that's beautiful, you should paint that!"
She was right, of course. So when I got the chance I created a similar set up in my studio. I love the sweet/salty aromas and tastes that the subject evokes. And all the gorgeous colors and textures, and the beautiful cast shadow under the plate. It really was a delicious composition to paint!
Summer is over. Plein air is over. Way too soon. Bummer. But not to despair. There's always still life! Just a trip to the market and you're in business.
Do you know that feeling, when it's summer time and you're learning to watercolor, and you're itching to go outside and paint? But it's raining! And raining and raining and raining ... Well, I do. Here are a couple of indoor watercolor efforts from those countless soggy summer days.
Most likely I'll be painting more interiors as we plod along into winter. Maybe you know of a cool, colorful and laid back venue in New York City. Where they wouldn't mind an artist hanging out with watercolors for an hour or two. If you do please let me know!
This was a complicated subject and frankly I was a little intimidated by it. Since I'm relatively new to watercolor, I wondered how I could possibly preserve the tiny white flowers in the planter and the skinny little sprays of water in the fountain ... when there was a whole forest of trees standing right behind them. Well, the answer is: I didn't.
Actually I take that back, I did, a little. With negative painting. That is, instead of painting the sprays of water directly I painted everything around them and left the paper white where the sprays went. After everything dried I used a wee bit of white gouache* on top for extra oomph. However, I didn't have the patience to paint around every single itty-bitty white flower in the planter. So first I painted the foliage and let it dry. Then I laid in the flowers with gouache right on top. I even used gouache to lighten up some of the foliage in front. Hey, Homer and Sargent did this all the time. So I guess it's all right!
*(Gouache is an opaque water-based paint, so it can be used to paint light colors over dark. Unlike watercolor, which is transparent.)
My name is Julie Kessler and I'm a representational artist. I love painting in oils with their vibrant, juicy colors. Lately I've been exploring the unique qualities of gouache, watercolors, colored pencils and other media. I started this blog to share my work and thoughts about making art. I toss other things into the mix too, such as painters that I love, and art books and exhibits that inspire me. Your comments are welcome. I'd love to hear from you!