Let’s face it; without light things would be pretty dismal. In fact without light there would be no life. In my painting career I have celebrated light in all of its incredible manifestations. Light and life go hand in hand. Toward that end I want to share a recent painting, actually this is a watercolor study. This study will be used to develop a larger egg tempera painting. This study has a story; so here goes.
Callie in sunlight 8.5″ x 6″ watercolor on paper
Animals have always played a large role in our household. Almost all of our furry children are rescues of one sort or another. The first cat came into our household when my daughter was around 8 years old. That has been more years than I wish to think about. So a little over 16 years ago my daughter, Carol, came to visit from one of her business trips carrying a furry ball in her arms. She had already been named Callie since it was obvious that she was a Calico. Callie had been rescued from starvation in a town where my daughter had been sent to do some field work.
Callie needed a home and like others before her, we welcomed her into our home. As everyone knows cats are not like dogs and pretty soon Callie became pretty much the dominant pet in our home. There was one exception, our Golden Retriever mix didn’t like cats. There was always barking and snarling and threats but no bloodshed. Detente reigned. In fact it was quite comical.
A little over a year ago Callie became quite ill and we went to the vet. They did a number of things for a cat that had been lethargic and with little appetite. Callie pulled through. Her personality changed. Our fairly quiet cat had become vocal and demanding, always seeking food. She started slipping out onto the deck in our fenced in backyard. She would sit for hours on the deck gazing and dozing in the fresh air. She would even brazenly strut close to Marley, our retriever, as if to say, “What are you going to do about it?” Talk about chutzpah, she displayed it in her final days. About two months ago Callie died and now rests under a stump in one of her favorite haunts in our backyard.
At this point in our life she will be the last cat to grace our home. This watercolor was inspired by one of those moments when she sat in the sunlight in our den gazing out onto the deck she loved. The light seemed to illuminate her as she melded into the light. Little did I know that she was nearing the end of her days.
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?
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Adventure with a new paper:
The paper is not really new. In fact Twin Rocker has been around for quite a while. It is an American hand made paper and you can order on line. A few months back I was posting about various challenges some of my students were having with paper. If you paint you know some of the stories. Some painters will shy away from hand made paper because they either fear the price or they are troubled about quality. As a lover of paper I am always looking for great paper. I purchased a few sheets of Twin Rocker along with a French hand made that I will feature later. This paper is Twin Rocker 22″ x 30″ cold press A. I love the feel and I love the action. It has a hard surface and takes a good washing and is marvelous for drybrush. The color hold out is superb and the dried washes sparkle. The paper is tough. It can take scrubbing out as well as scratching out with a sharp knife. It will also take masking without disturbing the surface of the paper. I have several more sheets and even though I have quite a bit of paper Twin Rocker will remain high on my favorites list. Keep in mind that I pay full price for my paper just like you so I have no monetary incentive to hype some one’s product.
About the painting….A Long History:
This is a very recent watercolor but it has a long history. I’ll explain. In an earlier post I wrote about the fact that the sketches in my sketchbooks are not in chronological order. It has always been my habit to pick up the book that is near at hand. I’ll shuffle through and find a blank page and begin to sketch. Consequently, you can flip a page or two and note that some sketches are many years apart. Perhaps this will drive many people to distraction but for me the book is a tool. When I am in need of something to draw on I get the one that is readily available. At times I will go through the studio and attempt to organize things and sketchbooks and put them in some sort of order. After all, at some point a book does fill up. At that point it is no longer in my easy to reach stack. Perhaps I am a bit too frugal in that I really don’t like to waste pages and I try to make use of every page in a book.
You could say that I discovered this sketch in one of my books. Mind you, it had been there all along yet for some reason I had overlooked it. Better yet, in my philosophy, I found it when I was ready to see it. I actually experienced this spot on a summer trip to Maine many years ago. I sketched it and fully intended to paint right there but for some reason it didn’t happen. In reality I have a life time of sketches and ideas from Maine to Nova Scotia. In fact my first two books were compiled while in that region and many of the pieces at that time were influenced by my trips into that beautiful land.
Due to current technology many of my readers will have no frame of reference for clothes hanging on a line in the summer sun. My connection is my childhood. Every Monday was wash day in the Rankin household. The only thing that prevented or delayed that ritual was terribly inclement weather. If it happened to rain or snow for a few days clothes would dry in the house. However that was unusual. I can remember my mother taking a dampened rag and walking along cleaning the clothes lines before putting the fresh wash in the lines. I can still see her wicker wash basket and canvas bag that held her clothes pins. In my mind’s eye I can still hear those sheets and some articles of clothing flapping and flowing with the breeze . It wasn’t hard for a small boy to imagine that the sheets were huge sails on a pirate ship popping as the wind stirred them. When the clothes were dry and brought into the house the crisp fresh aroma of the outdoors permeated the room. At that time in my life air conditioning did not exist but the moving breeze through the open windows added to the wonderfully fresh aroma. This sketch brought back all of those wonderful memories full of sounds and smells.
They say you can’t go back:
A writer once wrote that you can’t go back. Well, maybe he is not quite right. In reality I think I know what he meant and on some levels I agree. However, my sketchbook is my time machine. I use my sketches to propel me back to the moment so that I CAN smell the smells and hear the sounds. Granted, no doubt, much of the unimportant is forgotten or perhaps my mind remembers it the way it wants to. Regardless, there is a remembrance and I like my mind’s colors and memory better than most photographs. As I age I find even more treasure in solitude and the limited quiet of my backyard that settles near a lively creek. Perhaps there is a connection, I have always loved wilderness and now I am not as able to explore the wilderness so I draw upon memory.
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Coming soon a full tutorial on Goose-Xing…a recent painting.