Nova Scotia 21″ x 14″ Watercolor
The end of July is come and like other parts of the country, Alabama is under sweltering heat. Currently I am sitting in the cool of my studio waiting for a wash to dry. Momma red-tail hawk is outside my studio window calling in a shrill voice urging her young children to fly. Her sound reminds me of younger days and being outdoors in all sorts of weather sketching and painting. These days my activity is a bit curtailed. Geneal and I spent the last part of April and part of May in northern California. She had never been and I got to revisit places of my youth when I would spend time in California with relatives. Of all the state, I prefer northern California. However, it is a beautiful state with a lot to offer any visitor. My travel has been restricted for several years and perhaps this was a bit risky. The only down side was a case of HAPE, high altitude pulmonary endema. I’m still working through that. If you are getting on in years be very careful about airplane rides.
At any rate we came back with tons of videos, photos and sketches. Memories in a can, if you will. Those things are great but the personal experience is worth more than all of the reference. A lot of folks are anxious to see my California pieces. Knowing my way of working, it may be a while. I like to let things percolate inside of me before I put brush to paper. Sometimes it happens quickly, at other times it is a slow, perhaps painful, process. In the meantime I am working on a piece that I sketched many years ago in Nova Scotia. Talk about hopping the continent! While publishing two of my first watercolor books I spent time in Maine and Nova Scotia. I think viewing the Pacific and the Big Sur prompted me to compare it to the Atlantic coast. While both are beautiful, they are different.
I remember the day I reluctantly left Maine to board an overnight ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The rest of the family was up for it but I really loved Maine and felt that anything else would be anti-climatic. Well, I was very wrong. Nova Scotia was incredible. I made two trips up while writing my books. The first trip was in the Spring and the return was in the Fall after all of the tourists were gone. I have always been drawn to wilderness and the population was not crowded. In some cases the foot print of mankind was not as evident as in other places. The color of the water, the trees and the salt in the air has a presence that is different from any other place. The light is incredible. As I looked at my recent efforts in California the effect and contrast became very evident. While there are several physical differences there is an atmosphere that any coastal area seems to possess. While the atmosphere has similarities, it also has striking differences. Those differences are extremely important. Those are the things that I seek to embody in my work.
This current work has haunted me for years. It has haunted me every time I looked at my sketches or the photos I took,but I kept delaying. Finally, I told myself it was time to paint. I have no explanation for the delay. It just happens. I wasn’t ready. Now the time had come. I’ll digress and provide a little history. I remember that it was an early morning well before midday. The light is very different and in combination with the atmosphere it renders objects in a more dramatic way than in other latitudes. At least that is my experience. The light, the air, the stillness was like a magnet that drew me in.
I used a 140 lb. cold press sheet of Kilamanjaro watercolor paper. The paints were Andrew’s Turquoise from American Journey (available at Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff). M. Graham Gamboge, Holbein Marine Blue, Holbein Leaf Green, M. Graham Sap Green, Holbein Marine Blue, Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon, and Winsor & Newton Red. The reds and blues were mixed to create some of the stronger dark passages in the watercolor. The painting approach was very simple with a number of layers of color applied with brushes as well as a natural sponge for some of the foreground , especially near the edge of the building. The tiny flowers were suggested by using a combination of incredible white mask with a handy little gadget called Cheap Joe’s splatter screen. Texturing and masking tools: Natural sponge, Incredible White Mask and Cheap Joe’s splatter screen.
As a general rule I don’t ruin my natural sponges by dipping them in masking fluid. In the past I have used plain screen wire at times but Joe’s screen with a handle is a bit easier. A word of caution if you choose to use brushes in the masking fluid make sure you lather them thoroughly with soap first. If you don’t you run the risk of losing a good brush. Also dried masking fluid in a screen, brush or sponge is almost impossible to remove.
How I use it and why:
Hopefully the arrangement of the flowers in the foreground looks fairly random and natural. The idea that one would want to sit and methodically apply each drop of masking fluid to the page would border on insanity to my mind. However applying a bit of masking to the screen and then BLOWING a short breath of air creates a more natural, random pattern. If you hit spots you don’t like you can blot the masking fluid out or better yet, cover the areas you don’t want to mask with bits of paper. For the uninitiated we use the masking fluid to preserve either the white of the paper or previously painted areas. In this case both methods were used. Some wet ‘n wet wash areas of bright Winsor Red and Gamboge were applied first. After they dried masking was applied. Once the masking was dry, then I used a combination of washes (from light to dark) and a natural sponge to create texture. Some areas of dry brush and fine detail should be evident. If you are not familiar with dry brush technique, I’ll give a brief explanation. Literally it denotes that there is more pigment than water in your brush. It allows you to draw and create texture with your brush that is different than a broad wash. It requires a bit of practice but is a very effective technique for enhancing an area of a painting. Like any other approach, avoid over doing it. Too much pigment can produce a dull over worked effect. The same is true of glazing with layers of wash. Some painters go to extremes killing the natural beauty of glazes. Above all PRACTICE. Get to know your materials, it will pay off. We often learn a great deal more from out set backs than we do our fleeting successes.
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