I am back. It is funny how life shifts and things that were easy to do suddenly become hard to get around to doing. In my case, the elder care I do has stepped up. Fortunately, that does still give me time to paint. Not as often as a few years ago, but enough that I am still learning and growing. I have been working almost entirely in my sketchbook as I learn to do plein air painting, which is part of why I haven’t been posting here. I am on Instagram now, and if you would like to see what I have been doing, you can go check out my account. My name there is nmsgwatercolors. This summer, I have a schoolism subscription, which gives me access to online how-to videos. I have been doing the videos and assignments for the class “Landscape Painting in Watercolor and Gouache with Nathan Fowkes”. It has been very helpful. The principals are all things that I have read over and over in various painting books, but the instructor has a way of pulling it all together and applying it that I am finding helpful. I am working in gouache for the first time, so my assignments are a huge step backwards in my painting ability, but I hope to be able to take what I am learning there and apply it to my normal palette and more transparent watercolours. I have thought for a long time that when painting en plein air, gouache would be helpful. The light changes so fast and saving out the lights or masking them out takes valuable time. I have posted some of my least disastrous paintings on my instagram page, if you want to see my struggles. : )
My grandfather’s book – The Ship That Sailed to Mars by William Timlin
When I was little, every few weekends we would pack our bookbags with our dolls and stuffed animals and go spend the weekend at my grandmother’s house. Among the many lovely things to do there was an absolutely fascinating book with imaginative realism illustrations – The Ship That Sailed to Mars by William Timlin.
The Ship That Sailed to Mars by William Timlin
We pored over the illustrations. My mother read The Lord of the Rings over and over to us before school and rereading the book now, I can see that much of my mental imagery for that came from The Ship That Sailed to Mars. In my mind’s eye, Smog, the dragon in The Hobbit, looks like Timlin’s dragon. So does much of the architecture.
The Ship That Sailed to Mars by William Timlin – Riding a dragon
Here is Arwen Evenstar (really the Princess of Mars):
The Ship That Sailed to Mars by William Timlin – The Princess
My sister and I copied the pictures and tried to make our own in the same style. This book is part of why I learned to draw. It greatly influenced my sense of design. It was great fun to reread it now that I can paint.
One and a half more weeks in a sling! Yay! The doctor shortened the six weeks following my shoulder surgery to five. After that, I am allowed to use the arm but not lift anything heavier than a mug of tea. Fortunately, paint brushes are that. I can’t wait!
It is amazing how sick it makes you when someone punches some holes in you and messes with your bones. It has been two weeks and a half weeks. At least I don’t hurt quite so much anymore. I have occupied my time watching painting videos, exploring Instagram, and listening to audiobooks while I use the coloring books my oldest son gave me. One is a scritch-off book and the other a book of birds with lots of tiny areas to color in. He was trying to find something I could do lefthanded comfortably while I listened to audiobooks. So thoughtful! And a real success!
I also made valentines for all my family. I drew them, ever so slowly and carefully, with my left hand. (I am right handed, normally.) To disguise the shakiness of my creations, I picked fuzzy bunnies as my characters and avoided straight lines as much as I could. They took me days but I was just relieved to be able to manage anything at all.
In honor of the recent snow on Cape Ann, here are some videos about those tiny exquisite miracles – snowflakes.
Proof of their beauty:
Grow your own:
Or if that, like so many projects, doesn’t work out, watch them growing here:
If you haven’t cut out a snowflake since you were 8, you might like to try again with something better than school scissors and eight year old coordination. Use sharp scissors and thin paper, and when possible, fold in an accordion style rather than rolling up in order to keep the folds as thin as possible. Here are some grownup directions:
If you prefer watercolors to scissors, a snowflake-like effect can be produced by scattering salt on wet watercolor paint. It is also fun to layer snowflake crystals using masking fluid. Find some photos of snowflakes photographed under a microscope for reference. Start by masking out some highlights, then paint a very faint wash of “snow” color, something like windsor blue-green shade. When that is dry, mask out more of the crystal edges. Lay down another layer of wash and when that is dry, mask out more edges. Continue until your snow crystals are complete, then paint around the flakes with a darker color – dark spruce branches or night sky or whatever. Both these methods are fun to play with, especially when combined with sugar cookie snowflakes and cocoa.
Here are the small daily landscapes for the third week. I did another Beacon Marine landscape. The drawing took a long time to do. I basically drafted it, using a vanishing point and a ruler. It took hours to do but was well worth it in the end, I think. The actual painting part didn’t take long. I love walking along this bit of East Main St. in Gloucester. Lots of interesting things to look at. It feels comfortably familiar, what I think of as typical of my part of the world. Very New England – been here a long time and hopefully will continue to be here a long time. There is a painting of a clammer hauling his boat out at Conomo Point in Essex, one of the old Madfish on Rocky Neck (one of the rumors floating around is that a previous owner lost it in a game of Monopoly), and another of a sunset out over the breakwater in Gloucester. There is another sunset on some rocky coast, and two seascape studies. These last are going to take some work. I haven’t painted many breaking waves. I am excited to learn how. I can watch the waves forever and not be bored. There is deep peace in the way water moves.
Fish are highly decorative beasties, especially koi. Unfortunately, they live down in ponds where they are hard to see well enough to paint. Here is a fun solution to the problem of getting a good look at koi from the side.
(The video also helps to answer the question of whether fish are unhappy in a tank. I have always suspected that my goldfish are. They seem rather like cows. They spend all day grazing – busily picking through the gravel and munching on the plants. They recognize different people and hide from scary strangers. They beg for algae wafer treats when they see someone they recognize. They snuggle up with each other to sleep. Maybe my goldfish would not have chosen to be born feeder fish in an aquarium, but they seem content living with me, even though I don’t have a large pond for them. And this video makes me wonder if they might not perhaps like the view from tank better.)
Another week of landscapes! Two of these took forever to draw. I’m sure you can guess which ones. I did three more saltmarsh painting but only two look like saltmarsh because I was tired of painting grass and flooded the marsh all the way up to the house by Farnham’s clam shack. The road is Island Road in Essex, a favorite walking and birding spot. That day, there were many glossy ibis visiting the marsh! Two paintings are of Rocky Neck in Gloucester, one across Wonson Cove and one across Smith Cove. The light was very beautiful on both, although very different. The seascape is from the Back Shore in East Gloucester. (I need to work on sea scapes. I have only done one or two.) And there is one of Beacon Marine. I labored mightily over drawing the truck. Note to self – must learn to paint trucks. They are ubiquitous around here and I have never paid any attention to what they really look like. Unfortunately, I suspect they are like boats. If you don’t get boats exactly right, it upsets all the boat lovers and completely spoils the painting for them. And they complain loudly. When I proudly showed my carefully drawn boat lift to my mother, she said, “Nice truck!” Then my husband did the same thing. I guess the truck, which I redrew so often that I worried about the paper surface, came out ok, but I didn’t intend it to be the focal point!
When my brother-in-law became a potter, he converted the storage shed in the woods behind his house to a studio. He persuaded the power company to install a pole just for powering his kilns. He built shelves and dug a raku pit. He added a sound system. The family clan were interested in the pit and goggled a bit at the pole (you can do that?), but then he did something that really surprised us – he began cutting up his newest favorite book ISLAND.
Tom loves the Maine islands. He has family roots on North Haven and spent summers there growing up. When Tom discovered Curry’s book of paintings, he was blown away. We all were. The book is a series of paintings of the same island in many different types of weather. Talk about catching the light! The book is amazing! Tom decided that this series of paintings would be a great creative inspiration pasted up on his studio walls so he did the unthinkable – he bought two more copies of the book and took a razor blade to them, two so he didn’t need to decide which side of the page would face out. That’s our Tom!
Here is the first week of daily landscapes. As you can see, this is not a produce-lots-of-stuff-you-know-you-can-do-well project. The idea here is growth. That means doing something (like a saltmarsh painting) and then doing it again and again in more and more outrageous ways until the painting stops working. It is surprising what does work. Or it means taking some bit of advice from one of my favorite how-to books and trying it, like the advice to make the background misty. That may work for big paintings, but I discovered that on a 16th sheet (about 5″x7″), it isn’t going to work unless the painting is very simple. Make it until you break it is the basic strategy. And then of course life gets in the way sometimes. One morning, the sun came up as we were getting into the car and I looked down the driveway into the most beautiful golden mist. The most beautiful, impossible-to-photograph, golden mist. I desperately memorized it to paint later, but later came after the news that I needed shoulder surgery and although I tried to catch the light and mood of the morning, there wasn’t enough left. It took a few days to sink back into my landscapes after that news.
For those of you who would like to try watercolors and love winter, here is a nice beginner project by Swedish artist Christian Koivumaa. When I first start painting, my paintings looked faint and washed out. It can be difficult to get enough pigment on your brush and to use enough darks to give contrast to your lights. This tutorial encourages beginners to use the full range of values, from very light to very dark. The artist uses different kinds of edges (blurry to sharp) and demonstrates several techniques, including tapping water off your brush to produce a spotted texture. And unlike some tutorials, you can focus on these things because you aren’t also struggling to get a wide variety of colors right at the same time. The painter intensively studied karate before taking up painting due to an injury and I think that shows in this tutorial. I spent countless hours sitting through my sons’ competitive gymnastics practices. Their coaches broke complex movements down into pieces. My boys strengthened and stretched and practiced each piece before putting them all together. Christian Koivumaa has designed this tutorial in the same way good karate or gymnastics coaches design their athletes’ practices.
If you would like to know what you can do with the information presented in the tutorial, watch this!
In a previous post , I mentioned that the pigment charts at the back of James Gurney’s book Color and Light made very dry reading, being mostly abbreviations and chemicals. Mostly. There are comments, and this being James Gurney, some of the comments are pretty interesting. Or upsetting, depending on your point of view. The Egyptians who were mummified so they would last for eternity probably did not intend to wind up on some Pre-Raphaelite’s canvas. The Historical or Not Recommended Pigments chart says, “Mummy Brown – Discontinued not for lack of mummies but for fear of illness.” Hmm… Food for thought, that. Wikipaedia says mummy brown was made of white pitch, myrrh, and ground up human and cat mummies, and that it was popular until artists learned the ingredients. One artist is even said to have ceremonially buried his last tube of Mummy Brown. Maybe this was insurance against a curse?
(For those curious, mummy brown still exists. Today, it is a mixture of kaolin, quartz, goethite, and hematite.)
Changing subjects – It was sunny so I decided to spend the morning photographing and numbering my more recent paintings. I have a better shot at getting the colors right if I do it in bright weather out in my studio, where the walls and ceiling are painted gloss white. Here is yesterday’s landscape, a quick color study:
Ice Reflections Original watercolor painting by NMSG 5 1/2″ x 7 1/2″ Arches coldpress 140lb. Paper $50