Lately I've been taking my nonagenarian mother out for her morning walks whenever circumstances permit. Luckily she's an artist too. So it's not hard to persuade her to sketch outside with me for an hour or two. We can only walk a few blocks, and there aren't many parks close by. So we find little corners and courtyards and churchyards or really any old place with a few fresh blossoms that break up the gray. Sometimes it's a challenge to see beauty in an area that I'm so used to walking right past. But since we've started sketching together I've noticed more and more little spots that we can stop for a while and enjoy the view. Here are two brush pen and watercolor sketches from this week in my immediate neighborhood:
Summer is my favorite time of year. Of course I love the warm weather and the longer days. Another real bonus is that my day job schedule lightens up. So there's more time to paint outdoors, yay!
When I'm busy painting there's little room in my head for much else. Like housework, or chores, or writing posts on my blog. That means my to-do list can get really backed up. Which brings me to another catch-up post about watercolors I painted during the summer.
So-o-o-o ... here are two watercolors I did within walking distance of my home in Manhattan. One is in Central Park, and the other in Carl Schurz Park. Both paintings have long shadows from the late afternoon sun. To avoid the heat and the sun's white glare on my paper I stood in the shade and wore a big floppy hat. Looking at these paintings brings me right back to those lovely, warm afternoons I spent painting them. Can't wait for next summer!
According to the Central Park website, there are four butterfly gardens at the north end of the park. They provide a welcome stop-over for Monarchs and other butterflies as they migrate through New York. Yes, we do have nature right here in the city, believe it or not.
The Peter Pan sculpture in Charles Schurz Park was created by Charles Andrew Hafner in 1928. In a former life it was in a fountain at the old Paramount Theater lobby in Times Square. Apparently the theater was modeled after the Paris Opera House, with painted murals, niche statues, marble columns, red velvet curtains, a Wurlitzer organ and a grand staircase. Wow, what a spectacular palace that must have been!
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.
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!
This week was my first watercolor class. Watercolor requires a whole different method and mindset than what I'm used to. So much fumbling around with a new medium made me want to do a quick sketch in something I had more control over. Just to balance things out.
All right, all right. I haven't been posting much lately. But I haven't been lounging at the pool sipping mojitos, either. Because it's SUMMER! And that means it's time to sketch outdoors whenever humanly possible. Sometimes even when it threatens rain.
I especially love going out with the Urban Sketchers. They're an international sketching club with many local chapters. What a wonderful group! It's completely free of charge, and people of all skill levels meet up to sketch together at great locations. I love the camaraderie and the generous sharing of work, methods, and materials. It's a nice change from working in solitude. (Although that's fun too.) Take a look, you may find a chapter in your city. Or if you can't, then go ahead and start one!
On recent sketching trips with the "Sketchers" I've been using gouache and/or watercolor pencils, trying to figure out their qualities and get the hang of them. What I'm learning is that they require quite a different mindset from outdoor oil painting. I'll write more about that mindset in a future post. In the meantime, here are three samples of my latest sketches. I really love these materials and hope to keep practicing and improving my skills with them.
And now I'm gonna quit writing, get my gear together and go outside ... before it gets dark!
I'm a representational painter enchanted by the unique qualities of watercolor. Sometimes oils, gouache, colored pencils and other media call to me too. I started this blog to share my work and ideas about making art. Sometimes I toss other things into the mix. Such as painters I love, and art books and exhibits that inspire me. Your comments are welcome. I'd love to hear from you!