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.
Hey, guess who's in the September 2018 issue of Drawing Attention? That's the online zine of the Urban Sketchers, an international community of artists who draw on location. This "Cool Gear" piece shows that I jerry-rigged a portable easel on my rolling backpack. Simple, cheap and lightweight.
Story and photo by Mark Leibowitz, on page 40 of Drawing Attention.
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.
If you follow my blog you may already know that during my art school days I studied the figure, still life and landscape using oil paints. But I like to challenge myself and learn new things. So lately I've been reading up on watercolor techniques and trying them out.
Many old school watercolor books I've found are written by purists who use transparent watercolors only, and look down their noses on any use of opaque media. I get why they love the fresh, luminous look of transparent paint. But coming from oil painting makes staying in the transparent zone easier said than done. I'm used to the option of painting light over dark. And you can't do that using transparent paint. Light colors just won't show up over dark.
Nevertheless I persist. I continue practicing transparent techniques to get better. But sometimes, after I've already tried and failed, it's time to save my work ... by any means necessary! And why not. It's kind of liberating, actually. Besides, after a recent trip to the Metropolitan Museum I couldn't help noticing that many of the modern and old masters made drawings and paintings in mixed media. Watercolor with charcoal, watercolor with pastel, watercolor with opaque white, watercolor with ... you get the idea. I'm by no means a watercolor historian so I'm not sure when the cool kids got so pure. But I'll look into it and get back to you.
I'm determined to learn how to paint with watercolors. This was my seventh try on this little bouquet of yellow carnations. Thank goodness these cut flowers last so long!
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.
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.
Here in New York City we had a strangely balmy February, with temperatures occasionally rising into the 70s. So it's a good bet that March will bring an early spring ... along with the official ending of the 2017 Mallomar Season.
Mallomars are only sold from October to March, primarily in the New York State region. So you may not know about these beloved, gooey, s'more-like cookies. They've got a marshmallow center, a graham cracker crust, and a crispy dark chocolate coating. Way back in 1913, when Nabisco first began making them in New Jersey, they were delivered without benefit of refrigeration. So during the warmer months the chocolate would turn into a melted mess.
But nowadays don't they keep their trucks adequately chilled? Why do devoted fans have to yearn for their return in October? Who knows. It certainly adds to their mystique. Perhaps Mallomars just like to play hard to get.
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!