What a difference a couple of months makes.

14 June, 2019.

It was late in the day, and between thunderstorms – although I didn’t realize it at the time: I thought the first downpour was the entirety of the weather and I’d headed off for a long ride in the country. The sky was still pregnant with potential though, and I stopped atop one rise to quickly record the dense wash of sky and the long shadows. A little later, I realized the rain was a sandwich and I was the filling. For the better part of forty minutes I pedaled through showers, enjoying the breeze and the feel of rain on my face, and hoping the kit on my back remained dry.

I’ve been working almost exclusively in my Stillman and Birn sketchbooks recently. I like the paper in these books for sketching with pens quite a lot, and they are better than acceptable for adding watercolor. Strathmore Aquarius II also does an excellent job with this particular combination, and excels with pencil and watercolor. It’s why I make “sketching pamphlets” from that paper – accordion-fold booklets that are light and easy to carry with me for watercolor sketching. On this day I selected a pamphlet that was nearly full: One small spot remained untouched, and today I would finish it with my impression of the post-rain/pre-rain farmland I encountered.

Those sketches of houses were made in March, and wow! What a difference the world has undergone in that short time! And wow! What a difference my color selections have undergone as a result!

Greens fight me when I toy around with gouache, and I feel like they are overworked. The same colors are more readily accessible to me in watercolor, which I think it is likely due to their transparency of pigment.

I’m drawn to dramatic skies, and that looming rain holds more visual appeal for me than the clearest and bluest of atmospheres. I’ve a vivid recollection of swiftly laying down the grays of the sky in that house sketch to the left of yesterday’s scribble. It was so satisfying to capture some essence of that day! Each stroke was deliberate and intentionally restrained, intentionally leaving some parts of the white paper untouched. And suddenly, in a matter of seconds, it emerged. Sometimes, watercolor is infuriating, and sometimes it’s just magic. I live for those latter moments.

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Watercolor and pencil on Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper.

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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.

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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.

November has arrived

1 November, 2015. A last gasp of summer weather on the first day of November. Swarms of gnats were blown around the park in the gusting wind, and a few of them managed to find their way into the wet paint. (Once dry, their little corpses can just be brushed off the surface.)

Seemingly empty of anyone but me, there was not a car, a hiker, a baseball player, or a fisherman to be seen. Even in such a setting, standing in front of canvas seems to be some sort of people magnet. I watched as a four-wheeler made a beeline toward me from across the fields. One of the park maintenance guys wanted to see what I was “photographing” and he was happily surprised to discover I had a painting on the tripod, rather than a camera. (Fountain Bluffs Park, Clay County, Missouri. Oil on 12 x 9 inch panel.)

 

I’ve been asked before about the pochade box I use, so I’ll share a little about my kit here. Although I’ve got a couple of French easels I’ve never found them especially useful in the field – they’re bulky, hold one very exposed canvas, and almost never seem to want to adequately adjust to my needs. So about fifteen years ago I began to research pochade boxes – compact artist kits that allow one to carry their studio with them into the field. One of those I discovered was the Open Box M design, a three-part system comprised of a folding palette (pictured above), a size-adjustable panel holder that will hold four wet panels, and the exterior box. At the time, the boxes were handcrafted and quite attractive. I believe the original designer passed away a few years later, but looking at the website it appears the craftsmanship is still superior – although very spendy. I’m also not seeing the original exterior box on their website…hopefully I simply overlooked it, because it’s the part that organizes the entire kit.

The folding palette is a nice, simple bit of engineering. As you can see in the photograph, the lid lifts up to reveal a paint mixing surface. The lid has spring-adjustable prongs that hold the panel firmly in place while painting. A couple of strategically located tighteners on brass arms (not pictured) make adjusting the angle a snap. And an extra detachable “wing” provides the artist with a little additional flat space for brushes, tubes, etc. The palette attaches to a tripod by means of a tripod socket on the underside. Frankly, this is the most useful/functional field kit I’ve used for oils. The caveat here is that I was fortunate enough to get a kit that worked for me several years ago and never felt the need to test anything else out – there may be kits out there that work far better for someone else’s needs; this does the job for me.