Passing Thoughts

27 January, 2019. Ah yes, another pleasant hour toying with my watercolor kit while the wind howls, fierce with cold. All the while, I dream of warmer times, perspiration on my back and the comfort of a cool breeze. The chill I feel isn’t from the evaporation of that trickle of sweat, but from the hard, cold wood floor of my studio space; the windows rattle and leaves fly past traveling on the gusts of wind. I return my attention to the half sheet of watercolor paper, the first wash almost dry enough now for the glaze that follows. I ponder the technicalities of painting something so much larger than the page of even my largest sketchbook. My discomfort translates into an exploration of an approach I’ve seldom embraced these last several years, that of working large. And though this is far and away much smaller than those enormous canvases I once smeared with thick layers of oil – still! This is bigger than the hand held sketches I churn out as I wander through life. To do something new and uncomfortable is the artist’s way.

This is the second painting I’ve made of this subject. Does two constitute the start of a series, or is it simply the continuation of a passing thought?

Watercolor on 300# Arches Cold Press, approximately 20 x 13.5 inches.


August Watercolor Reveries

23 January, 2019. The botanical garden wasn’t huge. Divided into many small sections and organized thematically, it was a pleasure to explore the many varieties of plant life on display.

It was last August, I think – or at least so my field notes and references indicate. I distinctly recall the day was very hot. Moving quickly out of the sun and under the different canopies of green provided some respite. Gradually – even somewhat quickly – a slight breeze became evident, and the perspiration running down my back evaporated, my damp shirt dried out. And ironically, was immediately wet again as the skies opened up and it began to rain.

It was far from a deluge – a gentle sprinkle only, and there was no longer a need for shelter – not from the sun, and not from the rain either. Meandering, I entered one enclosure of foliage, a Japanese-influenced water garden. There, among the lily pads and green stems and fronds was a school of gold fish. Idly, they hovered in place, inches below the surface. Everything was calm, everything seemed perfect. The moment was golden and I was charmed enough to make a few quick sketches while I stood there.


Today is cold and icy. Schools are out because the roads are too dangerous for students to travel, and I am daydreaming – not about snow, but about August days and t-shirts and walking shorts and cool shade over a pool of still water.

These daydreams call for a large sheet of watercolor paper and paint freshly squeezed from tubes. I take many liberties along the way, deviating from my summer references so that colors are the important things this morning. I don’t consider myself to be a watercolor technician, but I get out a bottle of liquid frisket, an idea in mind as to what I’d like to accomplish. Who knows? Perhaps the liquid just old and spent, or – more likely – I simply don’t know what I’m doing with it, but to my chagrin I discovered it wouldn’t release from the paper.

Lost in my August watercolor reveries, there are no worries though. I simply leave the frisket in place and incorporate it into my finished work.

I didn’t want to labor over details. The fish is a simple silhouette, wetted with clear water, then Cad Red Light dumped onto the wetted surface. I dragged a touch of Cad Yellow Medium into the center while still wet, and one of my blues – I forget which – along the wet edge of the wash. Then left it alone.

The sun has come out and glances across my drawing table. For a few minutes on this frigid day I feel warm.

And so it goes.

25 September, 2018. A friend of mine has made a painting or drawing every day for years now, posting to her blog every single day. It’s a remarkable achievement and I’m envious as hell.

The first several weeks of school are always busy ones for me. Art teachers need art supplies. New schools need functioning art departments. Students need to know how to hold a pencil, what the difference is between warm and cool colors, how to use linear perspective, and so forth. Most of the drawing I do, I do for my students for demonstrations, and when I do draw for myself it tends to be spectacularly quick.

And so it goes.

It’s one of the reasons I prefer the sketchbook over the easel. Grab and go.

Sunday morning I fit in a relatively short ride out to Fountain Bluffs Park and back. There are several ponds in the park. Although the foliage is still dense, the weather has suddenly begun to feel very much like Autumn, the time of year I enjoy most. Straddling my bike and standing in front of one pond, I was struck by the symmetry of the reflection: Sky above, sky below. Fountain pen scrawled incredibly quickly across the page. Scribbles become masses, shapes; those masses darken and fill, squiggly lines merge and, hopefully, convey something of the reflection I see. Birds sing, the light is perfect.

And then my sketchbook is back in my bag and I’m back on the road, turned toward home.

And so it goes.

Shinto Shrine

25 October, 2015. I don’t know why this plein air sketch got overlooked, but a recent comment on a later entry to this blog from November reminded me of the outing. The comment was brief: “shinto shrine.” I presumed the writer to infer a certain metaphorical connection to the later sketch. Perhaps it was only coincidental that immediately behind me on that particular November day – perhaps less than fifty yards, in fact – stands a simple post and beam structure, situated cozily beside a pond. Open on four sides, with a small bench placed underneath for contemplation and communion with nature, this place looks remarkably like a Shinto shrine.

And it was this reference that led me to recall standing under the simple roof as I painted the pond a few weeks earlier.

Unlike today’s wintery conditions, the Fall foliage was in full color. As usual, I was less concerned with capturing the photographically accurate rendering of the place and more interested in communication of color. Thus, the clear ultramarine sky became bleached, with a hint of mint, and the path, nearly hidden from view from my vantage point was given greater emphasis, along with the warm patch of empty hillside. Greens tend to aggravate me to no end, and I look for ways to introduce variety and neutrals in an often elusive quest, a fine balance between believability and loosely blobbed paint. (Martha Lafite Thompson Nature Sanctuary, Liberty, Missouri. Gamblin oils on 9 x 12 panel, about 45 minutes.)