Friday, May 31, 2019

Still Life in Pixels

Digital painting is an everyday thing. Illustrators use digital methods, so do animators, cartoonists, and even fine artists. My own work in learning the digital medium has mostly been drawing, beginning with simple line work and then gradually moving into more complex renderings. During the time I've been working with digital drawing I've also done a bit of digital painting, experimenting with the medium and the various programs I've acquired.

"Study of Silver Reflections," digital, 2018
In previous posts about digital art I've written about convenience, lack of cleanup, and so on. And it's that ease of use that I find most attractive. Still, painting a traditional, full-color image using the computer is difficult until one feels comfortable with whatever program is being used. For practice I've done many different kinds of works, from cartoons to copies of Hokusai to animal drawings. But most of the work has been drawings. I've done a few full-color images of still life subjects, and also a few full portraits, too. Here are a few "painted" still life sketches, done for specific reasons or just to use the computer. For these I used Sketchbook and a Wacom tablet.

The first still life I did with the setup was a shiny silver cup and two pieces of fruit. My goal in part was to study how the metal reflected colors, but I was also working on mastering the program itself. The silver colors weren't easy to match by eye, but the wide versatility of digital color helped a lot. since I was much more interested in rendering the reflective metal and given that this was simply a study, the fruit were left unfinished and the background simply indicated by the shadow of the cup.

"Brass Cup," digital, 2018
Metal is interesting to paint whether shiny or dull. I used the same program and tools to study dull brass. The challenge with this particular study was the limited palette. I shaded in a dull grey-green behind the cup using an airbrush tool. The color of the metal and it's shadows were also part of my interest. Like the silver cup still life, I left the background otherwise undeveloped but spent a lot of time on the edges of the cup as they turned in light and in shadow, a study that would have been more difficult using traditional media.

"Dahlia," digital, 2019
Digital painting can be useful as a way to study all sorts of subjects. Certainly something complex as a peony or dahlia can be approached more easily simply because corrections can be readily made. This painting of a dahlia blossom was done quickly as a simple way to study the complex anatomy of the flower with it's 40 or 50 tiny florets and variable colors. Again since the main idea was to study the flower I left the background and even the leaves on the stem unfinished and vague.

Although painting with computer programs is done all the time by professionals in gaming, film, and illustration, in my hands its main use is studying various subjects. That experience then can translate into oil paint, or casein or watercolor. Perhaps a time will come when digital fine art will have gained a market, but for now drawings and studies will likely be my main computer art.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

More About Plein Air

After attending a plein air workshop a couple of weeks ago, priming the pump, the past week has been devoted to painting outdoors. This despite (as of 9am today) 11 inches of rain, as measured by the gauge just outside the studio. Even with the rain the weather has been balmy--highs about 80 and scattered cumuli--and has allowed ample painting opportunities.

"Outside at Last," oil on panel, 9x12, 2019
The usual problems one encounters outdoors have been there, of course. The first day it was warm enough to attract clouds of gnats, almost a bug storm, many of which attempted to land on me despite the repellent I used and many of which did land in my painting. Because the weather threatened on occasion I painted on the shady deck outside. That way I could retreat if the rains came. Because the light changes in about two hours I painted on two succeeding days. To practice with warm and cool greens and with various kinds of edges I chose an outdoor still life of two house plants that have been moved outdoors. "Outside at Last" is oil on panel, 9x12. The wall and foliage in the distance made an interesting backdrop to the plants posed next to a railing.

"Perennials," oil on panel, 9x12, 2019
Spring brings lush growth and even more lush flowers in the perennial bed out front. The iris and peonies are bursting into bloom. The challenge is to simplify yet evoke the look of each of the different types of plant, from the upright, blue-green swords of irises to the dark green ball shapes of peonies and drooping yellow-greens of daylillies, there are challenges aplenty in painting greenery. The sloping grass in bright sun contrasted with the more shady left side of the beds and trees. Standing on the drive, I simplified much of the view, leaving out obvious details in favor of overall shapes of the various flowers and buds. The light was very bright and I was in shade, making judgments about colors and values more difficult, but at least there was no bug storm. The temptation is always to detail each portion of the painting, but here I tried very hard to start with large shapes and gradually decrease the sizes of the ensuing mosaic, trying to stop before getting too picky.

"Downstream, Druid Hill Creek," oil on panel, 12x16, 2019
The last outdoor work for the week was the view downstream along Druid Hill Creek. Rain had sent torrents down the creek bed, scouring out any branches or other detritus and leaving rocks exposed along the opposite bank. I painted the rocks and drooping honeysuckle branches over the water of the stream, trying hard to capture the movement of the water. Standing just above, the perspective of the creek became flatter and the foliage obscured the banks not far downstream, where light was filtering down, and sparking off stones and ripples. Proximity to water means more insects, but I prepared diligently with repellent and although their buzzing was an annoyance, I got no bites. It took two sessions with this subject, as with the first two.

As expected, painting on the spot is really and most seriously about seeing, for me. One must see the colors and how they are affected by the ambient light and atmosphere (moisture, dust, etc. in the air). At the same time the painter has to decide what to leave out and how to treat what is left. If you factor in changeable weather, insects, friendly or unfriendly animals and people (or traffic and everything that brings in cities), painting outdoors is a challenge. Nonetheless, it's worth it so far.

More to come.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Thoughts on Painting Outdoors

"Winter Light," oil, 6x8, 2018
Painting outside--"en plein air"--can be intimidating. Outdoors, the artist who is used to the solitude and quiet of his studio finds himself, willy-nilly a center of interest. Set up an easel in a seemingly deserted forest glade and in a short while you can have a group of watchers. In town they seem to materialize out of thin air. So if you're an introvert or bothered by an audience, outdoor painting might even be a bit scary.

On the other hand, painting the outdoors--city or country--becomes an exercise in seeing. Painting life before one's eyes means perceiving subtleties of color, form, value, and more while painting or drawing on the fly, striving to capture them. Painting outdoors is immediate--nature scrolls past mighty fast--and a challenge to simplicity and to the brush. Like painting portraits from life, painting the outdoors provides the artist with a bewildering array of visual and sensory inputs.You paint the thing(s) before you using a richer array of ideas, yet there is much to simplify, much to omit. To my mind one of the reasons people delight in the work of the Impressionists is that much of it was done outdoors.

"Autumn Blaze," watercolor, 5x9, 2018
My outdoor painting experience has been very small, but over the years I've certainly made attempts, though with varied results. Although not painted precisely outdoors, the small oil posted above was done in early morning winter light from the open door of my studio. The day was simply too cold--below zero--to paint outside and I wanted to capture the way the far branches and retained foliage were warmly lighted, even in such cold. So I suppose this is a "demi plein air." But it's important to note that plein air is simply outdoor painting without specification of medium. So many of my outdoor watercolors are in fact plein air work, just not in oil paint. Many use other watermedia--acrylic, casein, gouache--when painting outdoors, mostly because of better portability and convenience. And of course cleanup is easier when using water-based media.

Happily, a recent workshop with Garin Baker, an American master whose work in the outdoors has been a personal inspiration of mine,gave me an opportunity to use oils outdoors. We painted near his home studio in the Hudson Valley, spending much of our time on the famous Hudson Highlands at the southern end of Newburgh Bay. Oil painting outdoors is no different than painting indoors, except the artist must bring more gear and be prepared for mess and cleanup. We started our painting on a relatively grey day (it even rained a bit) but
"Newburgh Bay," oil, 9x12, 2019
the final couple of days were absolutely perfect. We painted from Plum Point,  which is encompassed by a state park, using the panorama of the river, Breakneck Ridge on the east and Storm King Mountain to the south. The river flows through a narrow gap there, and the wind can come whistling down the channel.The first day was tranquil and sunny, with great light and low, peaceful waves on the breadth of the river. I painted a passing sailboat against Breakneck Ridge, with Constitution Island and West Point in the far distance.

My recent workshop experience has hardened my resolve. This summer I will be doing at least two or three outdoor oil painting sessions per week along with my regular studio work. There is a wealth of potential in the beauty of the two rivers through the city, the park lands and lakes near my studio, and in the ever-changing streets of the city. More to come.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Velazquez

Michelangelo Merisi, known widely by the name of his Italian hometown, Caravaggio, is a particular favorite of mine. Merisi trained in Milan but his fame came after he went to Rome in the early 1590s. Not too long ago I posted about seeing five Caravaggios in Rome during a visit there, in side chapels of various churches. The hike across the old city to visit the works was worth it.

Caravaggio, "John the Baptist," oil on canvas, 1604
Caravaggio painted somewhere between forty and eighty works (there's a lot of disagreement), mostly in Rome, during his twenty year career. Owing (it seems) to an irascible, combative nature he was often in conflict with others and after killing a man in a street fight he fled Rome for Naples and elsewhere and eventually died in 1610 of "a fever." Although Caravaggio was arguably the most famous painter in Rome during his lifetime, and his work is well known today, after his death it slowly became more and more obscure so that during the 18th and 19th centuries he was widely ignored. Remarkably, though, his work and reputation were revived by the 20th, and deservedly so.

Caravaggio's mature work featured what is known as chiaroscuro, by which people generally mean the dramatic use of illumination against a dark background. An example is the life-sized "John the Baptist" in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City (right). In part it seems to me that he was emphasizing a kind of "divine light" in the surrounding darkness. The raking light and high contrast are dramatic and fix the subject in the viewers' eyes the way a spotlight does. Tenebrism is the term for such dramatic lighting. The emotional effect in the early 17th century, in candlelight, must have been enormous. Certainly this sort of dramatic effect came into wide favor during the era we call Baroque.

Despite his relative obscurity in the 18th and 19th centuries Caravaggio's work was influential in the development and art of European painters during that same period. Painters across Europe explored  this way of illuminating and dramatizing the subject, to great effect, and they in turn taught others, spreading the method widely. Today we call them Caravaggisti. Caravaggistis in southern Europe include a number of lesser-known painters, but in northern Europe enormously talented and well-known artists took up the brush. Peter Paul Rubens, the Flemish genius, for example, lived and worked in Italy as Caravaggio's contemporary and brought the style back to Antwerp with him.

Rembrandt, "Bust of an Old Woman," oil on panel, ~1630
Two of the other titans of the Baroque era, Rembrandt van Rijn and Diego Velazquez, were each and separately influenced by Caravaggio's tenebrism. Rembrandt never left Holland, but through his teacher Pieter Lastman he may have learned tenebrism as a dramatic device. It is known that Lastman studied in Italy around 1605 (Merisi fled Rome in 1606) and was probably familiar with Caravaggtio, but there is no evidence supporting the presumption. Still, there are many examples of tenebrism in Rembrandt's work. One of his famous portraits of his mother, "Bust of an Old Woman" (left) is a fine one.

This year is the 350th anniversary of the death of Rembrandt, and this year the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is holding The Year of Rembrandt exhibition that will include all of their holdings of his work, which are the largest in the world. This spring they intend to display each of the 400 or so works in their collection, while later in the year will come an exhibition of the works of Rembrandt and Velazquez together which promises to be a delicious show.

Velazquez, "Juan de Pareja," oil on panel, 1650
It is unclear how exactly Velazquez was influenced by Caravaggio, but certainly his trips to Rome on behalf of his king (1629-1631 and 1649-1651) allowed him to see and probably study many of Michelangelo Merisi's works. Additionally, Rubens had been in Rome at the time of Caravaggio and would later meet and work with Velazquez in Madrid while on a diplomatic mission between England and Spain (1628-1629). Rubens and Velazquez had planned to go to Rome together but in the end only Velazquez could go in 1629 It is interesting to speculate whether Rubens directed Velazquez to study the works of Merisi--perhaps he did.

This fall, as part of the Rijkmuseum celebration, there will be an exhibition of Rembrandt and Velazquez side by side, along with works by Hals, Vermeer, Murillo, and others. The purpose of the fall exhibition is not only to note the Year of Rembrandt, but also the 200th birthday of the Museo del Prado in Spain, which is lending major pieces from its extensive Velazquez collection. For anyone who admires 17th century painting, the coming exhibition stands to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I plan to attend if humanly possible.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Mining Old Sketchbooks

A useful practice is to go back and look at old sketchbooks. Sometimes ideas that have been partly worked through may spark new work now. This past week I leafed through a number of old sketchbooks and ran onto these ideas and sketches from last summer.

When sketching and doing outdoor watercolors my practice is to start with a graphite or sometimes colored pencil sketch then paint, then detail with ink or pencil. Sometimes of course, time prevents going beyond a graphite beginning. Lately, looking through some old pocket sketchbooks I found some graphite and ink sketches from last year's Iowa State Fair that could lead to other works in other media. In many cases these sketches have been strengthened with ink, after the fact, when I reviewed them after a day at the Fair.

"State Fair Roofs," ink, 6.5x3.5
This is a page finished in ink. I drew the original with pencil and erased the lay in once the ink drawing was complete. This is the roof line of one of the buildings, as seen from the broad, shaded porch of the Administration Building (a favorite spot on a hot August day).
'Nut Rolls," graphite and ink, 7.5x3.5
Other areas of the fairgrounds are prime sketching territory too. These food concessions are under enormous old trees behind the Admin Building. In the sketch the pencil lay in is still visible under the ink lines. Sometimes after inking with waterproof pens I go back and apply watercolor.
"Figures at the Fair," graphite and ink, 6.5x3.5
The sketch here shows various figures and types seen while sitting on a bench in the shade of those enormous trees mentioned above. Although this looks at first as if it is a coherent drawing, in fact the figures are out of proportion to one another. The father and child in the left center were added later without regard to the first group of figures on the right, and the woman in overalls and hat on the left was added even later on. If this progresses to a new painting the perspective will obviously be corrected.

"In the Garden," ink and graphite 5.5x3.5
This final sketch is a view of the Discovery Garden near the Agriculture Building. The garden is a beautiful cooperative effort that is heavily visited. I sketched this couple strolling along a graveled walk inside the garden. My original intent was to paint this scene with it varying foliage going from a mass of bright yellow-green on the left into darker and bluer greens to the right, punctuated by reds. Perhaps this will eventually become a painting.

For anyone who wants to practice drawing, the common advice is to always carry a sketchbook. As beginners, many are shy and don't want to draw too much attention so a big sketching outfit is probably not popular. Luckily you can sketch with a pocket sketchbook, pencil, and an eraser. Pocket sketchbooks come in quite small sizes--I like the Moleskine
but there are many different kinds available. They come in 3.5x5.5 inches with binding along the short side. I slip one in a back pocket and pencils(s) in another along with a kneaded eraser.

Related Posts
The Iowa State Fair
State Fair Sketchbook 2017

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Self Portraits and Me

A current exhibition of self portraits at the Neue Gallerie in New York (through June 24) has got me thinking about the subject and my own experiences. For me, self portraits are perhaps the most interesting kind of portraiture.

Gustav Courbet, "The Desperate Man," oil, 1843
Artists have made drawings and paintings of themselves for a lot of reasons. Sometimes oneself is the most available and cheapest model. Sometimes a self portrait was a way of including the artist in a work--Botticelli for example put his own face in the background of a religious painting--perhaps as a kind of signature. Others painted themselves or drew themselves for all kinds of reasons. Van Gogh couldn't afford models. Kathe
Kathe Kollwitz, "Self Portrait," charcoal, 1934
Kollwitz explored her own grief-stricken soul. Courbet painted himself desperate and frantic, probably to show his mastery. Sometimes self portraits are more penetrating than others. Sometimes they show the artist playing a part--Rembrandt's etched self portraits for example. These days, artists explore all kinds of things with self portraits. Lucien Freud, Jenny Saville, Jeff Koons, and Chuck Close come to mind.

Self Portrait, oil on panel, 2008


Like others, I have drawn and painted myself a few times. Most of the time my reason was simple convenience. That is, I was trying out new paints, or interested a genre of art, or sometimes just keeping busy. This oil painting was done for the latter reason--keeping busy painting a head while mostly working on a cityscape. In a painting like this one there is no sitter to please and indeed no one need ever see it. So a painter has the opportunity to be loose, personal, relaxed even. And although I look dreadfully serious in the portrait, the effect is because of concentration. The averted gaze is because of the mirror being used. Light flooded into the studio perpendicular to my face and neck and hiding the left lens of my glasses. I greatly simplified the background and left the bottom unpainted.

Cubist Self Portrait, charcoal, 2009
About a year or so after the oil portrait, I did a charcoal self portrait in the cubist style. An old friend and fellow artist used to say that there is still a lot more to explore in cubism but doubted that anyone would ever do so. The idea rattled around in my head for a while until one day I grabbed a sheet of newsprint and some vine charcoal, intending to do a cubist still life, perhaps. But I noticed myself in the studio mirror and made this charcoal drawing. That was such fun that I took an old oil painting failure and painted a similar selfie. Unlike the Picasso/Braque tradition of dark umbers and black, I did this one in colors mostly faithful to reality. In the end, the result was satisfying if not particularly distinguished.

Self Portrait, oil on panel, 2009

Memory Selfie, digital, 2018

And  here is a digital self portrait done as part of an online challenge. The task was to do a self portrait from memory in five minutes or less. No mirror, no reference, just straight memory.

For anyone who hasn't tried portrait painting but wants to give it a whirl, a quick and simple way to start is with a mirror and yourself. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Getting a Likeness

"Willie," digital, 2019
Making a two dimensional image appear to have three dimensions is an important goal for a realist. The artist wants a landscape to look like a real scene, a portrait to look like a real person. With a portrait it's also assumed that the artist will capture the individual. A good artist is able to draw or paint an image that closely resembles the subject. A great painter will make a portrait that presents not only a physical image but a personal impression, even a psychologic one. The first step is accuracy. Accurate drawing provides the substrate for capturing likeness.

There are many ways to draw accurately, but for a portrait, here are steps that I use. These steps or modifications of them have been used by many.

Laying In
The beginning of a portrait, whether drawing or painting, it is important to establish shapes and angles. Much of the resemblance in a portrait is based on getting the head structure right. The head must always look as if there is a skull underneath. In the drawing at right ("Willie") I began with a simple circle then added the big trapezoidal shape of the jaw beneath, being careful to establish the forward tilt of the face with respect to horizontal. The top of the circle is the top of the skull, not the head (recalling that
Features in profile
there is flesh and hair on top). Using knowledge of head anatomy and general shape and location of the features, I marked the position of each, paying close attention to the angles they made with contiguous structures--e.g. the angle between the bottom of the nose and the lip, or the angle of the ear with respect to the jawline. There are many references available that give rules of thumb for locating the features. The profile example at left emphasizes that in most people the face is divided in roughly equal thirds from hairline to brow then brow to the bottom of the nose, thence to the bottom of the chin. These are only guidelines, of course. In the diagram you can see too that the eyeballs are located about halfway from chin bottom to the top and the corner of the mouth can be located by dropping a vertical from the eye. Also, most peoples' ears are about halfway back on the head. A common error is to situate the ear on a perpendicular too, but the ear is most commonly at about a sixty degree angle. 

Using a pencil tool and drawing lightly, I established locations of the major facial features, their angles with respect to one another, and any exceptional differences. The reference photo I used was taken in nearly full profile, which is often a difficult angle to approach, but knowing how the features align is very helpful. Each of the features is important to likeness, but in my own opinion, the mouth is probably the most important. The length of the nose can be difficult to establish, too, but most people have noses that are about two eye-widths long. You can also see in the diagram that the nose is slightly less than 1/3 of the face in length. Once the basic drawing is complete, it is time to block in dark values.

Planes of the Face, graphite and chalk, 2015
Value Mapping
Attention to shapes is paramount to getting a good likeness, so I usually also lightly diagram areas of shadows. Shadows are one of the features you can use to establish dimensionality in a drawing. Consider the light source and facial anatomy very carefully when laying in the shadows. The brows, nose, and ears may all cast shadows onto the curved of flat surfaces of the head. Sometimes the eyes are in deep shadows. In short, the light and dark values of the head can be mapped and shaded. In many cases I draw on a mid-value background, which gives even more of a sense of dimensions.

In the graphite drawing at right I used an artists mannequin known as Planes of the Head a my reference model, lighted from above and slightly to the left. In this drawing I blocked in the head and features much as described above, then mapped the value changes. Under the eyebrow on the left was one of the darkest spots, as was part of the upper lip, under the lower lip, and under the nostrils, especially the one on the right. Notice how two values of line on a middle value promote the illusion of mass and dimensions.

When satisfied with the darker values, I move on to the lights, using chalk when drawing in one of the traditional ways, or a light color pencil tool when drawing digitally. Most times the kinds of shading I do with darks and lights is traditional hatching and cross-hatching when drawing. Sometimes I "scribble shade" when in a hurry. In the case of the graphite example here I mostly hatched the lights but scribbled the darks.

Finishing Details
"Mugshot," graphite and chalk, 2018
Once the facial values are finished, the final step is to return to each activity for review and revision. An old mentor once told us that no matter what stage of a painting or drawing, you must be willing to correct your errors. So review and revision means using a critical eye and strategies to correct myself. Two strategies I use are image reversal and blurred vision. In the digital format, image reversal is simply a click with a mouse, but otherwise I use a mirror. Errors are easy to spot and correct in a reversed image. In the studio I use a full-length mirror. Another way to reverse the image is to turn it upside down, again facilitating spotting and fixing mistakes. However you do it, image reversal is a great tool. Blurring the image makes details less arresting and gives a better overall view of the subject and how believable it is. In the real world, squinting accomplishes the objective and makes the light-dark pattern more understandable. Blurring is easy in the digital world, too, of course, depending on the program. Regardless, each method has its uses. Image reversal gives me information about symmetry or asymmetry, location of features and shadows, and so on. The final stage of detailing may go on for some time depending on how accurately the initial stages were complete.

Lindsay Graham, digital, 2019

Likeness in portraiture is based on a number of things. First, overall structure is critical and must be established early in the process. This means care in drawing the basics of the head, especially getting basic shapes and the angles between features correctly placed. Second, each of the features have not only classic shapes but individual idiosyncrasies. Likeness depends on the differences. Finally, care in mapping the values of the face with respect to lighting adds verisimilitude. Once the portrait enters the detail phase, the artist has to search diligently for tiny features that ensure a good likeness. It might be the tilt of the eye or mouth; or the wrinkles on the forehead or at the corners of the eyes; or it could be something more subtle. Regardless, the elements of likeness are in both the large and small pieces of a drawing or painting.

N.C., digital, 2019
NFL Retiree, digital, 2019
Louis, charcoal, 2010

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Disegnia e Non Perder Tempo

Portrait of Michelangelo, after Volterra, digital, January 2019
Regular and intense drawing is a discipline that was preached by masters of the 16th and 17th centuries. Michelangelo famously wrote to a stumbling disciple: "Disegnía antonío disegnia antonío / disegnia e no[n] p[er]der te[m]po," that is, Draw Antonio, Draw Antonio and don't waste time. Fine advice.

My daily digital practice sketches continue. Over the past couple of years, in addition to doing oil and watercolor work I've done some full-size casein paintings too. But daily digital drawing has been a constant feature of my work. For me, the more sketching practice the better my eye becomes. The speed and convenience of the digital medium has made for progress. In particular, the use of layers and multiple values--chiaroscuro drawing--has been much simpler to explore. Accurate draftsmanship is fundamental in all media of course, but particularly in those that are less forgiving, less simply corrected. Using digital program layers it's easy, leading to fewer false starts and more satisfactory results. Working in layers lets the artist isolate each and avoid complete loss of the work.

Albert Einstein, digital, October 2018
Digital drawing is obviously useful for simple line drawings, too, like the one here of Albert Einstein, the famous physicist. In this case my objective was to capture the man's likeness using only line--that is, varying line weights to emulate important edges. That plus vignetting and the use of lost and discovered edges (lines) made this drawing an interesting one. The digital program made corrections simpler.

A similar result has been possible with landscapes. I can either do line-only work or do it it layers. An example of the latter is this landscape study from earlier this year from a personal reference. We had visited Reno, Nevada to see family but there was no time to draw or paint much while we were there. Reno is famous as a gambling mecca, but it's also surrounded by beautiful desert scenery. And the Truckee River runs swiftly through the city, studded with smooth boulders and not too deep. The city has transformed much of the river front into parkland. This is a considerably modified view of one of the footbridges over the river, the drawing done in several layers.

For those who haven't tried digital media yet, my advice is to give a whirl. You can get excellent programs online at no cost, and the price of tablets continues to decline. Go for it.

Similar posts:
Digital Dailies
Drawing Digital Dailies
Digital Doodles
Digital Drawing

Friday, May 03, 2019

More Spring Sketches

Crocus, early spring, wc & ink
As days lengthen and the light returns, so many flowers and plants start returning too. Although my practice over the years has included few floral paintings or drawings, the simple joy of new bright colors and warm breezes has tempted me this spring. In our climate in the upper Midwest, spring blossoms usually make their first appearance in very late March or early April. Our gardens have accumulated quite a lot of early flowering bulbs, particularly Siberian squill and crocus. The crocus in one of our beds popped up while there was still a scrap or two of late snow lingering in the shadows. I managed one little 3x5 watercolor of a few of them, peeking through bark mulch. It's great how they propagate with little attention.

Narcissi, wc & ink
Next in the season succession here in Iowa are narcissi. Growing up I always loved the bright buttery yellows of daffodils; sometimes my mother called those "jonquils" but both of those names are common ones for plants in the genus Narcissus. Regardless, these beauties are the first flowers of any size to emerge in springtime. Our garden has at least a dozen different varieties, so it wasn't too difficult to sketch at least one clump. Although we do have a number of yellow varieties, it is the bi-colored one that attract me these days. These have white petals, yellow cups, and a beautiful orange-red center. The flowers can last a couple of weeks if the springtime temperatures stay below the mid-60s, but if the weather warms they fade entirely too fast.

Redbud branch, wc & ink
Flowering trees are a big favorite for many people. When the cherry blossoms emerge in Washington (and of course, Japan) in April you know that the seasons have at last changed. Here in Iowa we have others that signal the season--Bradford pear, redbud, magnolia trees--and along Druid Hill Creek is no exception. In the woods north of my studio are two or three redbud trees that have taken up residence in the last couple of decades, escapees no doubt from a garden in the neighborhood. Their cool red-pink flowers light up the bare branches around them. The big deciduous trees and all of the undergrowth come into leaf at about the same time, but it's the redbuds that draw attention. I did a sketch of one branch, just to study the tiny red-pink flowers. There is no use denying that a painting by Vincent van Gogh of almond flowers was in the back of my mind. The day was still one of those gray but bright spring days.

These sketches were done with an initial graphite sketch followed by paint then ink. Watercolor is an easy and portable way to sketch outdoors, so I'll continue using it. But this summer's plans also include some outdoor work in other mediums, even oil.