Saturday, June 25, 2011

Don't Throw Out the Kindergarten Efforts

Kindergarten steps.  That's how it feels when you're trying something new.  But every time we step out of our comfort zone while sketching and painting, we learn. 
I tried sketching this red day lily I found in the yard using watercolor, without drawing it first.  I had in mind creating something loose and impressionistic.  The problem was the breeze.  A light wind is wonderful to keep insects away and for cooling comfort on a hot day.  But, the down side, it dries the palette rapidly.  

Always, always, I forget something when I sketch outside.  And this time it was the spray bottle.  Dropping water from the brush was too slow.  It was drying faster than I could drop it.  Trickling water from the water cup ended in a flood that had to be poured off--a comedy of errors good for exercising the sense of humor.

Add to that, too much water on the page, not enough water in my brush, and on and on it went.  Then the breeze died down.  Helpful?  Not on your life!  Something mean started biting.  I never looked up to see what it was, so intent by that time, to get this day lily on the page!  
  
When I looked at the sketch I completed while out doors (image above), I felt an "ugh" sensation in my stomach.  Primitive, tight.  I'd lost the lily petal shapes.  But then I remembered some helpful guidance I received over years of working with watercolor instructor, Ann Lindsay. Whenever we showed our work in class, she would coach, "show us something you enjoyed, that you particularly like about your work, and if there's something you don't like and want to see happen differently next time, tell us about that, too."
So I scanned my sketch again.  My eyes went to the bud, its shape and color, and it's loose leaves.  Not bad, really, for no drawing in advance.  I already knew my chief dislike, the shape of the petals.  So I pulled out my pencil and outlined the petal shapes and edges.  This came easily with a pencil.  Once I had done that, the whole sketch began to feel different to me. 
When I came inside, I lifted off paint, re-shaping the petals.  And drew in the long, droopy day lily leaves on the left page's blob of color, defining them with negative painting.  As I used my pencil to guide these changes and additions, I once again remembered how much I love to draw.  Ah, I thought.  Next time I'll sketch with my pencil first, and enjoy drawing even more!

This is a wise exercise--asking yourself to be specific about what you like and don't like about your painting or sketch.  It helps keep you from throwing out the whole effort and walking away unnecessarily discouraged. New experiences are worth the effort, even when the results feel like kindergarten.  It's not the finished results that matter the most, but what new information you add to your painting library--information about who you are, what you like, and what makes sketching and painting fun for you.

A postscript note to self:  Reorganize outdoor sketch bag with its own spray bottle and insect repellent!

Links and references:

Ann K. Lindsay
Negative painting 
painting en plein air

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Richness of Watercolor--It's Interaction

11 x 14 watercolor, Monarch on White Crownbeard.
Watercolor is rich in it's versatility, in the many different ways you can approach a subject while attempting to capture the interplay of color and light. I suppose that is true with any medium, but watercolor moves as you paint and that quality gives it a richness and a freshness that is always full of surprises. I think it is this interaction, between the pigment and water, that always stirs in me the desire to explore it more. Each time I paint and see the results, I want to try again, see what other ways I can find to express what I'm seeing and feeling.
I painted this monarch primarily from a sketch in my sketchbook that you will recognize in the heading of this blog. While painting, I relied chiefly on the sketch rather than reference photos or having the subject in front of me. It is a different experience, a freeing experience. Sketches always feel lighter to me, free from the tension that painting a "real" painting sometimes causes.  It is wonderful practice and a wonderful way to keep your painting fresh.  There is a looseness in sketching that comes from the fact that you know it's practice, there's no pressure.  You're uptight left brain goes to sleep, after all, you can easily start over again.  And there is a practical limit to the amount of detail you can capture or even want in a sketch.  In fact, the lack of detail is the magic of a sketch.
Having said that, I love detail.  It is part of my fascination with nature and is one of the reasons I enjoy studying my subjects with my camera.  The camera brings the subject closer, allowing me to slow down the activity so I can learn more about what's happening.  And what I discover never fails to delight me.  But a painting is more than just a rendition of the subject in its environment.  A painting is also an interaction.  
This interaction is one of the most intriguing and challenging aspects of watercolor. There are the primary interactions that we are all familiar with, between pigment and water, paint and brush, and of course, between the visual reality and what the artist sees and feels. But there is also the important interaction the viewer has while viewing the art. When the viewer sees the final work, we, as artists, hope they will be inspired.
For me, the delight and inspiration of watercolor is stirred by that mysterious quality in its movement.  Using a photograph for reference, as I often do, can sometimes suck me into detail, which can result in a tight rendition rather than an image that is fluid. This is what I noticed as I worked on this painting.  The sketch freed me to just paint, to focus on what I found to be beautiful about the subject, to stay with the light and airy quality of both the butterfly and the flowers, leaving the details more to the imagination.
It is this stimulation of imagination that is the root of inspiration.  As creative beings, we love feeling this.  And when my painting is finished, it is this inspiration that I want others to feel right along with me.

Links and Resources:

Paper: Winsor Newton (WN) 140# cold pressed.  Pigments:  WN Ultramarine Blue; WN Aureolin Yellow, WN New Gamboge, WN Burnt Sienna, and a touch of WN Sepia added to ultramarine blue and burnt sienna to create black.

To see images and read about my observation of this butterfly and the amazing story of its life and migration, visit:  Of Monarchs and Milkweed at Vickie Henderson Art.

"Monarch and Crownbeard" art cards and prints are available for purchase in my website shop:  Vickie Henderson Art

Bird banding with Mark Armstrong at Seven Islands State Birding Park

Bird banding with Mark Armstrong at Seven Islands State Birding Park
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Birds Close-up

Birds Close-up
Photo courtesy of Karen Wilkenson

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Adventures

A dog sled experience with Blue Sky in Churchill

A dog sled experience with Blue Sky in Churchill
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Adventures

Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill, Manitoba
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky

2014 Hummingbird Festival

2014 Hummingbird Festival
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane art banners and son, John

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane art banners and son, John

Birding with Keith Hanson and Talissa at Stinson Beach

Birding with Keith Hanson and Talissa at Stinson Beach
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Checking out the gulls

Checking out the gulls
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

End of the Dipsea Trail--Stinson Beach

End of the Dipsea Trail--Stinson Beach
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves
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