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:
I'm so lucky to have found a wonderful sketching group, The New York City Urban Sketchers. It's the local branch of an ever-growing circle of sketchers from around the world. In normal times we meet weekly to sketch on location at various sites throughout the city. I love sketching with my buddies, and visiting places that I wouldn't necessarily think of going on my own.
But what do we do during a pandemic, when it's impossible to meet in person? Well, we do what other groups do, we go virtual. With teleconferences. And we temporarily break the organization's rules about working onsite from direct observation. Okay, so it's not strictly "urban sketching". But it's our way of keeping our community together and staying sane during crazy times.
So, what can you sketch online? There's a great big world out there, and the possibilities are endless. We just pick a spot somewhere and find some street views and photos to sketch from. We've "met" in Florence, Amsterdam, Las Vegas and Newport, RI, among other places. We've traveled to zoos and museums. We've kept out of trouble and had some good times. Safely. And together! Well, sort of.
For these events I've been favoring a brush pen with watercolor on hot press, which is a smooth watercolor paper. It allows me to work quickly in our limited time. My absolute favorite pen is an inexpensive Pentel pocket brush pen. It's waterproof, has a brush tip that flows oh so smoothly, and I can easily draw a thick or thin line. Just ordered one in a sepia tone. Can't wait to try it.
One of the cool things about going out painting with friends is that they take you to places you wouldn't necessarily think of going on your own. My dear friend and fellow artist Shawne Cooper loves to paint in the East Village, so several times last summer I met up with her there. I'm fascinated by any greenery that manages to hang tough in this concrete and asphalt city. So I gravitated to the trees and flowers while Shawne painted mom and pop storefronts nearby.
The East Village is a colorful neighborhood with quite a few community gardens. These gardens are green oases built with sweat equity out of rubble-filled empty lots. They struggle with city bureaucracy and encroaching real estate developers to remain in existence. But exist they do. So far, anyway. And their existence contributes joy, creativity and beauty to the neighborhood, making it a much more livable place. I wish we had a few community gardens in my neighborhood!
El Sol Brillante Jr Garden (above) seems to be the little brother of a larger community garden, El Sol Brillante, both on East 12th Street. Would love to paint the bigger one next summer.
On our walk through the neighborhood I was enchanted by a sunflower beautifying the block in its elegant reach for the sun. Naturally I had to paint it. While I was working a resident came out to say hello and see what I was up to. Turns out she's one of the gardeners at El Sol Brillante! She said she decided to grow this mini garden when the tree that had been there died at the end of its natural lifespan. I was told by another neighbor that this gardener makes everything she touches magical and green. Aren't we lucky to have such beneficent wizards in the world?
Here are two more summertime watercolors that I painted on the streets of New York City.
The first was at lovely Gramercy Park, an exclusive green oasis that you're not allowed into unless you happen to be a posh neighbor with a pricey key. Since I'm not, I wandered around to the southern perimeter. There I saw the afternoon light cascading over a planter filled with red flowers. My camping stool sidewalk perch was in the cheap seats but the view was beautiful nonetheless.
The second sketch was done on another landmark block. This time at Hunter's Point, a section of Long Island City in Queens. I was struck by the contrast between the old Victorian brownstones and the towering new construction going up all around them. Life is change.
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.
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.
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!