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:
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 town. 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 empty lots filled with rubble. 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. So 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.
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!
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.)
Just when I was beginning to wonder if there'd ever be another lovely, sunny day in New York City again, there were two ... in a row! Of course it's raining again. But at least there's the sweet memory of a wonderful day in Central Park with my sketching buddies.
Haven't posted in a while, but that doesn't mean I haven't been painting. It's been a summer of study and experimentation. A time to figure out how to paint landscapes in watercolor. This summer I've been working outside and coming back home with quite a few duds. Not to worry though, because that goes with the territory when you're learning something new.
After watching some helpful tutorials on YouTube, and getting tips from friends who know how to use this crazy medium, and working really, really hard ... I finally feel confident enough to share a couple of sketches that I made down at Hudson River Park. One of my favorite spots in New York City. Trees for shade, lovely gardens, beautiful views. And a cool breeze off the harbor. Such a nice place to paint on a hot summer day.
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!