Cloud patterns (and sky colours) over the mountains are often enormously varied and complex, and this picture captures that. Here I worked with pastels and a bit of watercolour (pencils and paints) on Canson Mi-teintes pale blue paper. I chose the more textured side just because I thought it would grip the pastel better. It didn't really grip at all -- if I hadn't been told this was paper for pastel I would never have guessed -- and I don't care for the mesh effect, really (clouds don't have grids, do they?). So this clearly won't be my go-to paper -- and when I do use it next time, I'll be sure to use the smoother side!
Last full day in the Smokies, and I loved the look of clouds reaching up like larkspurs or turrets. So I had to paint them.
... in watercolour paint (sticks and half pans), gouache, pastels, watercolour pencils, non-photo blue pencil, and ink. The right side, with the detailed ridge with all its trees, is a deliberate contrast to the left, in which I indicate space and distance without wanting to 'fill it in'. So this picture accomplishes the objective of closely observing and recording what I actually saw, while keeping the scene open and airy and not being a slave to the masses and masses of indistinct detail. Here I picked out what I wanted to look at and what I wanted to recall. The rest is an impression that highlights the importance of the featured trees you see.
This is a wide and deep scene rendered miniature, in pastel (pencils, hard and soft sticks) on a 5" x 7" Ampersand Pastelbord. The board is mounted with artist's tape to the front of a small cork placemat. This way I could work on the picture easily on my lap.
...but the light grey-blue will need to be re-done with more of a baby blue. That is why it makes sense to see the yarns woven into an actual sample.
The light blue of the computer mock-up (below) is what I had in mind, though the purplish 'pink' it shows isn't right: the woven one is.
... in rain and shine (and very often, both at the same time). The top view was done in pencil but I wanted more definition and drama so I laid on some marker. The bottom view is in Schminke Horadam watercolour, with Winsor & Newton watercolour sticks and soft pastels giving added texture and solidity to the near mountain ridge
I can't seem to get enough of this pair of trees that stands just beyond the chalet, with mountains in the background. They are a maple of some sort (left) and a pitch pine (on the right). I like the way they complement each other, and I particularly like the way the pitch pine holds its upper leaf clusters aloft like candelabra (charmingly, the pitch pine is also known colloquially as the candlewood, for its resinous knots). These pictures in my 6" square sketchbook were made with watercolour marker.
I suppose that really I should draw these trees on larger paper, to give them some room and perhaps to stick them up somewhere on my bedroom wall. Below: a still of 'the friends' from a video I took of stormy weather.
This is the picture that kicks off my new square mixed-media sketchbook (Bee Paper Company, 6 x 6 inches). The photographic reference is Betsy herself, as a not-quite 3-and-a-half-month old puppy. That photo was taken indoors, in the evening (see below). What I did was 'transfer' her (along with her beanbag) out into the lanai, where my fuschia and Alsobia dianthiflora were hanging, though not in the proximity seen here. The blue swashes between them represent the white voile curtain on the other side of the lanai door. Beyond we glimpse a shaded fence and a vague profusion of foliage -- but I'm not aiming here for precise realism or even particularly convincing perspective. This picture might instead be titled 'A few of my favourite things', to wit: the hanging plants and the puppy. The plants were drawn from life (but see the Alsobia as my camera now shows it, with many flowers). Incidentally, I coloured the Alsobia leaves in an olive way because that's how they appeared to me in the sunlight at the time. The photo shows the plant in a different location, and the leaves look more Castelvetrano unbrined-olive than the anchovy-stuffed ones I drew. But: I was drawing from life!
I finally got this drawing off my camera. The digital date-stamp is 20 March, and I probably photographed it if not the same day then soon after drawing. Her head is resting on her beanbag in the lanai, and I sketched this while viewing her from my chaise longue.
I was planning to paint, in watercolour, a reduced aspect of this scene, but actually I like the whole thing as a still life from real life -- the fruits that I habitually like to eat, and use in cooking; the flowers my husband brings home because I like cut flowers in a vase; the pencil and sharpener, with that lovely bright redcurrant-jelly red; the deep blue pot by the vase that is growing a cutting of Alsobia dianthiflora (unseen in the photo); the cheap but lovely glass bowl dotted round its rim with glass beads; the pool robot in the water beyond (and the cloth on the table is simply cheesecloth):
Collins English dictionary defines this as 'the branch of astronomy concerned with the description and of the surface features of the moon'.
I came across it while encountering the stunning pastel works of master pastellist John Russell (1745 - 1806). I love the portrait of the little girl with cherries: it's her hair that says the most about how alive she is: it seems to swing with her head as she holds the cherries out to show you.
Then there is the selenographic portrait of the moon waxing gibbous. Amazing, and amazingly modern as a subject -- but more carefully rendered and studiously observed than most contemporary pictures (Russell was a serious moon-watcher). Both of these works are reproduced in the glorious book, The Art Of The Pastel, which I am making my way through with great savour.
by Arthur Hughes, a Pre-Rapahelite painter, c. 1855-56. The man in the background is weeping, and holds a rose with fallen petals. The mauve of the woman's dress was a new pigment derived from coal tar, and was 'all the rage' for a few years in the mid-century. In sum, the young lady may be disappointed in love, but she is certainly fashionable!
It's a game artists often like to play among themselves -- the game of 'if you had to be in one camp or the other, would it be the colorito camp (traditionally represented by Raphael) or the disegno camp (likewise represented by Leonardo)?'. Of course from a modern perspective Raphael has it all, but other Renaissance masters sometimes were more critical, and the 'pre-Raphaelite' painters of Victorian England wanted, if I don't misunderstand their objectives, a return in painting to 'slice of life' pictures rendered in worldly detail (as opposed to otherworldly detail, in the imaginary realm of gods and goddesses). To put it another way: They wanted their pictures to be more like what we understand as illustrations, each with a story that unfolds as we take in its lifelike, carefully chosen details. The Royal Academy of Art had been holding up Raphael as a model of what painters should aspire to.
But I digress. The 'colour' versus 'design' (or 'drawing' or 'lines') idea is one that survives because it is possible to create art using only one or the other. The American artist Tom Hoffman creates watercolour paintings that mainly consist of swipes by a brush, using colour to represent distance, solidity, and form (both the general shape and any details). Then there are artists that work primarily with graphite or ink and achieve a high degree of realism with it. But in the main, I think that both viewers and artists themselves feel that the pinnacle of satisfaction in art is the meeting of colour and line -- the interplay between them, with line relenting to let colour do its work, and vice versa. In short, not only do I as viewer and artist have one foot in each camp, I really think that the camps are irrelevant to what I enjoy and what I hope to achieve. To be truly delighted with an artwork, I generally require not only the presence of colour but more especially the contribution of colour to the mood and sensual appeal of the work. At the same time, colour that is highly vague, all the same texture, suggestive of nothing but art itself -- that I find to be a dead end rather than an avenue of pursuit. For me, colour really shines and takes on meaning when it has recognizable form -- when it's giving life to a design that has a place in space and time. This is one reason, maybe the main reason, why landscapes have triumphant popularity in our era: we never tire of them because we never tire of seeing arresting colour married to arresting forms. And the fact is, it's silly to think that as artists (or viewers) we have to choose: one wouldn't ask an audience after a Mozart concert whether they most admired the sound of the instruments or the notes they played: we all know that the magic comes when they work together.
This is the Sienna plein air pastel box -- though I don't see any particular requirement for the 'plein air' bit: this would be just as useful indoors if you had no other pastel compartments and no other easel. This will however be super for summer in the mountains, when I have to leave my studio behind. On the back of the lid, unseen, is a tray that latches on to the side edge, as a work area: meanwhile it sits within the lid top and is secured by two little magnets. (See the commercial picture, below.) The provided hook can be used to dangle a cloth, as shown. On the easel for demonstration purposes: a new work in progress. I often note that in any film or book, the artwork shown 'in progress' is actually and obviously a complete and finished work! I don't know why it never occurs to movie directors that they'd be more true to life if they hired an artist not to paint the whole thing but just to paint part way and stop! Or lend, for a fee, an unfinished work. Even art books, unless illustrating step-by-step instructions, share this tendency to show finished works rather than otherwise. So there you go: I am showing the box with its adjustable edge supports, with a great deal less than halfway-through work between them! It's just basic fine-grit black sandpaper that I had on hand in my toolbox!
The Richeson half-stick soft pastels, set of 24.
I suppose I could look into the reason why this particular statuette is the trophy for all that are recognized each year -- whether they be directors, actors, writers, technical wizards, or makeup artists -- by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (could they have come up with a more pretentious organization name? -- I think not). But I'm too busy studying the art of the pastel over the centuries, which is far more fascinating. I'll simply observe that Oscar seems neither dramatic nor sensitively stylish, and he's a bit of a head-scratcher aesthetically. I don't think it's going too far to say that style-wise he'd be right at home in Munich circa 1933. Weird.
Erasers perform slightly differently on different papers, but I wanted to see them perform side by side, just to confirm (or test) my judgements so far.
I made a chart, the image you see. FC means Faber Castell, CC is Cretacolor Caramel, Auto refers to my Helix Auto Eraser, Mars is the Staedtler Mars Plastic eraser; and then we have the Pentel Clic eraser -- a round that you advance somewhat like a mechanical pencil. Last is kneadable eraser, which is a dark grey putty.
So which did I like best? The Mars is a good strong eraser, but creates more debris than Faber Castell, and I don't like that. I prefer the FC, overall. The auto eraser with its fine vibrating sliver is usually effective, especially for tiny bits and precise work -- but you can't use it with any of the darker soft graphites, as it tends to smear the graphite into the paper rather than remove it! The other erasers worked fine, but I like the kneadable easer best for removing smudges rather than stark marks: being a putty it is not as precise as the others, and it's not as resolute, either. My least favourite is the Cretacolor Caramel, which creates a lot of crumbs and is less good than just about every other eraser.
Summary: use kneadable eraser when you can: doesn't hurt the paper, doesn't drive colour into the paper, and doesn't create unwanted crumbs. But use Pentel Clic or Faber Castell Dust-Free Eraser for less sensitive jobs, and if you want tiny removal of non-smudging pigment, go for the Helix auto.
I like this painting: I have it on the small mirror (not even a compact, but it's Britain so you pay more and get less) that is a 'souvenir' of the British realism exhibition currently running in Edinburgh. It's 1939, so the woman is wearing a Lastex two-piece bathing suit (we are told in the catalogue) -- a stretchy fabric made from latex threads with a genuine textile wrapped around them. Beats wool for swimming, anyway, which is what they wore in the previous decade. There is something delightful about the woman's athletic, even muscularly defined, body -- not simply posing for the viewer but just enjoying life, responding to nature, her back turned to us. The problem is that her response doesn't seem justified by her context. The spray, surely, could hardly reach her. Those rocks she's on: they look awfully high. To my eyes, she's on a high cliff, not at the water's edge. Try as I might even to see it as a tidal pool, I just can't. Unless she has the bravery -- or folly -- to dive into the sea from a great height, the whole thing seems odd. She is a bather, but where's the beach? Which goes to show that realists might be convincing but they are not necessarily truthful.
I was looking up the 20th-century British sculptor, Dame (Jocelyn) Barbara Hepworth, when I saw this photo of her in the Daily Mail. It was taken in 1970. She died in a fire in her Cornwall cottage, which was also her studio, reportedly because she had been smoking in bed. (Apparently this was similar to the fate of the American actor, Jack Cassidy -- father of Sean and David.) The fire happened in 1975, when she was 72. That means that in 1970, when the photo was taken, she was 66 or 67 (depending on the month). Which is simply amazing. She doesn't look like someone easily under 70. She looks about 108. Never mind booze: that's what the sun will do to you.
Currently reading the National Galleries of Scotland companion to an exhibit called True To Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s. I'm interested in the period, architecturally, culturally, and politically, not to mention the tiles and domestic decorations of the time, so this book will help to round that out. I'm also someone for whom the farther edges of both realism (e.g. any serious botanical or bird artist) and abstraction (e.g. Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock) have little or no appeal. So-called photorealism raises the question of why not just take a photo -- and the answer is that all art as art selects and distorts, in a different way than the camera does. But the visual effect of photorealism, in which the virtuosity of the illusion is the point, impresses up to that point and then rarely goes farther. On the other hand, an artist whose book is devoted to loose gestural painting, speed of rendering, and vivacity failed entirely to convince me: I preferred the 'before' picture where the round floats on the boats he painted were truly round, and solid like cherries, and had a pleasing density both of colour and form. To my eyes, his looser, more washy version (he works in watercolours) had moved in the wrong direction. To me, there is a sweet spot between too tight and too loose, too precise and too vague. It depends what one is trying to achieve, of course. The economical suggestiveness of Marcia Brown's 'Cinderella' illustrations is admirable. There are as many or more ways to find that sweet spot, and to give it new expression, as there are artists.
To return to the True To Life exhibit: the cover of the book features a striking oil portrait, called 'By The Hills', which was painted by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst and is dated 1939. It features the head of a successful model, actress, and minor aristocrat, and, we are told, the arms of the painter's lover-made-second-wife. Apparently he judged the aristo to be too thin, though given the slimness of the existing arms, and the fact that the aristo was a healthy woman -- she lived till 2002 -- this seems rather unlikely. Anyway, the man was an artist: if her arms lacked sufficient fullness or shape, why not just paint them as he wished them?
Moving on. The face is captivatingly beautiful (even if her eyebrows are too pencil-thin for contemporary taste), but eventually you do look at the head hair rather than just allow it to contribute to the overall impression. And when you do look at the hair, you realize (or I did) that the hair is far less 'realistic' than the face. It looks like a kind of shiny chocolate ganache. In the large and sharp reproduction of the cover photo, the hair looks like something squeezed from an icing bag.
I didn't have all my art supplies with me -- I had to leave much of it at home. So: no pastels, no dry coloured pencils, no artbars, and so on. But I bought a set of art markers and some Prismacolor Verithins, and I made some studies. In particular I studied the nearby trees, taking their 'portrait' more than once, and the stone boy at the water feature (complete with blue cotton sun hat, which someone had placed on his head), and the still life of apple, mineral water bottle, and gin bottle (Tanqueray). What a delightful summer.