December Mist Watercolor 40″ x 25.5″
Perhaps this painting needs a bit of explanation. This goes against the old maxim that if you have to explain it, its no good. There is a story here, at least for me. I have painted at least three pieces on this site. Each one is connected to the place. This area was once a bustling American Indian community. Portions of this stream was lined with white clay and the running water was clear. I recall being shocked at finding the white clay tile lining a portion of the stream. Who put them there? Was it done by the original community? Questions for which I have no answers. Many of the trees are magnificent Beech trees. Their bark is smooth, yet rugged, and in some ways resemble concrete pillars. The light changes with the season and the time of day. Time and water has eroded portions of the stream bed wall revealing a network of roots that nourish the growth along the banks. There is a presence here. You can feel it if you quietly sit or walk among the giant trees.
Even in the dead of winter the Beech trees often hold on to a few of their summer leaves. At times they curl and become almost transparent in the winter sun but they hold on none the less. I see them as a silent testimony to the original people of this land. They remind me of the ones who did not get swept away in the Trail of Tears. The ones who still call Alabama their home.
I was there on a chilly winter morning with the rising sun burning through the morning mist with only the sound of the quietly running water as it slowly made its way through the old camp.
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2017 recipient of Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award in Art and Education
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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Time to take stock:
In a few hours 2014 will officially close. It will be a part of our past. Whether it is a time to reflect on good memories or to say good riddance is largely up to you. What did you accomplish in 2014? Did you achieve some or all of your goals? What lies ahead ? While I am not into telling fortunes I do think it is wise to formulate some plans. Perhaps it is a good thing to take a hint from some pretty smart people from the past. One suggestion is to make a list. Draw a vertical line down the middle of the sheet. On one side list all of the good things; in the other column list the not so good things. See which one is in the majority. This approach is said to help in weighing decisions.
I think all of us make plans but do you write them down? It is reported that those who write their plans down on paper have a much greater success ratio than those who don’t. It is said that statistically there is a remarkable difference in the outcome of merely dreaming about it and writing it down. It seems that we are wired that way. If you don’t already do it; give it a try. It couldn’t hurt!
Working Together, Things to Ponder:
A lot of people write a lot of things about organizations. Does it help to be a member of this society or that group? I think the answer is up to every individual. However, I want to share an idea with you. A dear friend of mine, who is retired, like me shared an insight. I would give credit for this story if I knew the original author. Hopefully I will not butcher it because I will be paraphrasing. It is a story about Canada Geese. For a number of years I have enjoyed watching and sketching them as they congregate at a nearby lake and on the creek that flows behind my studio. I love watching them as they wing their way down through the valley over Paradise Creek and produce their sounds.
Have you ever noticed their formations? Being social creatures they help one another out. When flying in a V formation the lead bird is taking on the air currents and making a slip stream for his/her companions that are flying behind. They get to ride the slip stream provided by the birds ahead of them in the formation. When the lead bird tires another takes the point and falls back in the formation. Geese mate for life. When a bird is sick or injured its partner stays with it until it can recover and eventually return to the flock. Do you think we can take a lesson from these wonderful creatures? We are supposed to be smart, the top of the food chain but how often do we overlook the qualities these simple creatures seem to embody. Think about it.
Can We Help One Another ?
Now what does this simple story have to do with watercolor? Perhaps a great deal can be learned from it. I get a lot of correspondence from people who are concerned that watercolor is not as respected as oils. There are concerns about prices and selection in juried exhibitions. I hear more of this today than I ever did years ago. My son is a painter in oils who also happens to be talented with watercolor. Lately he shared with me that some of his associates encouraged him to drop watercolor in favor of his oil technique. It would seem that there is a growing group of ignorant people. This ignorance seems to be spreading even among educators who should know better. I will not go into great detail but the raw truth is that the average beginning watercolor painter who is using good materials (quality paper ,etc.) has a far greater chance of producing a lasting watercolor than the beginning oil painter. This fact shocks many people. The reason lies in education. There are several variables that can affect the stability of an oil painting. The use of a proper ground, the overuse of turpentine and more. Proper education is the key.
If you can accept the previous premise, what can you do? Educate yourself and others. You don’t have to be rude but first and foremost make sure you know your medium. Respect it enough to learn all you can. This is a life long journey. Learn all you can about other media as well. Sadly, a lot of educators today do not know as much as they should. This is not always their fault. Be careful what you hear and what you accept. Seek accomplished instruction. There are many good studios, workshops and individual teachers.
Finally Ask Yourself Some Questions About Your Paintings :
1. What am I most proud of this year?
2. How can I become better ?
3. Where am I feeling stuck?
4. Am I passionate about my work?
5. When did I feel most creatively inspired?
6. What projects have I completed ?
7. Have I allowed fear of failure to hold me back?
8. Do I have old habits I need to let go?
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol. 1 by Dr. Don Rankin now available at http://www. createspace.com/3657628
Want unlimited access to watercolor glazing techniques by Don Rankin on-line? Study at your own pace….
Check out watercolor on-line at https:// www.udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor
Enjoy a complete Watercolor tutorial by Don Rankin on DVD
The Antique Shop http://www.createspace.com/350893
SPRING 2015 WATERCOLOR CLASSES at Artists on the Bluff, Bluff Park, Alabama ..contact me for details
Summer 2016 WATERCOLOR WORKSHOP WITH DON RANKIN….contact Edwina May at Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, Boone, NC.