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.
Watercolor is a gorgeous, magical medium. But until recently I never learned how to use it. Frankly I was intimidated. Why? Because I was trained in oil painting, which is an opaque medium. With oil paints if you make a mistake you can paint right over it. Or easily wipe it off and start again. That's why my adventure in water paints began with gouache, which is a kind of "starter" medium for oil painters. Gouache is opaque, and like oil paint there's wiggle room for painting over serious flubs. Whereas the transparent nature of watercolor means there's only so much "adjusting" you can do. Sure, you can lift the paint off a little. But once you've put a stroke down on paper you're pretty much stuck with it.
And that's not all. With watercolor you need to plan where your light areas and highlights will go -- way before you even begin painting. Once you put down a dark color you can forget about painting over it with a light one. The dark colors underneath will show right through. Because hey, they're transparent, right? (Although there are a few tricks that help in recovering your lights if you do happen to forget them. Like using white gouache. Purists won't touch the stuff, but many great watercolorists did, including John Singer Sargent himself.)
So, you may ask, with all these complications, why not just stick to gouache? Well, gouache is a beautiful medium, it's true. But even so, it has somewhat of a chalky look to it. Unlike watercolor, whose transparency gives the colors a special brilliance and luminosity. And who doesn't lust after gorgeous, luminous colors? Well then.
Okay, so it was time to try out my brand new watercolor set. I brought it along last week when I met up with another artist pal in Queens. We decided to check out Flushing Meadows Corona Park, at the site of the old 1964 World's Fair. And there it was, the Unisphere! Shining brightly in the afternoon sunlight. Commissioned to celebrate the dawn of the space age and the fair's theme of "Peace Through Understanding." What a beautiful globe and a wonderful theme. A theme that is still so significant in these contentious times. Definitely worth sketching!
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!
'Twas a long, busy spring ... with not enough time for making art, let alone blogging about it. Sad. But I'm back. And all kitted up with a brand new box of Faber Castell - Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils, wheeeeee! Aren't they gorgeous?
The colors are rich and beautiful when you draw with them like regular colored pencils. But the color really pops once you brush them with water. Of course I wish I had more (and more and more) colors. And I'll probably get them eventually. But so far I'm loving this nifty assortment of thirty-six.
Couldn't wait to try them! So on a hot summer afternoon I took them out for a walk in Central Park. Where I found a cool spot in the shade of this wonderful old American elm tree.
Last weekend I hopped on the F train into Brooklyn to see what the artists there are up to these days. At least the ones that signed up for the annual Gowanus Open Studios. It was a treat to chat with the artists about their work and their set ups in the quaint old warehouses and factories. And to take a break from gigantic skyscrapers to see the offbeat mix of low-rise residential and industrial buildings. And get a real good look at the sky for a change.
A Canal Runs Through It
Once upon a time Gowanus was a booming industrial and commercial district. Millions and millions of tons of cargo came through the Gowanus Canal each year. In the 1940s all the activity started tapering off, when trucks began toting goods over the newly constructed Gowanus Expressway. What remained was a waterway with a powerful stench that glowed in the dark. And eventually a Superfund site.
It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
That's one reason why I look for plein air subjects right in my own back yard. I like to set up my easel within a few blocks from home because it saves energy and time. Two things I could definitely use more of. But convenience isn't the only reason I do this. With the never-ending construction, noise, and chaos of the city all around and everywhere I go, my eyes seem to scan the scene for something, anything that's peaceful and lovely. Especially on my way to the subway or to the corner grocery store. Sometimes I get lucky and find something.
Made in the Shade
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!