Art at Altitude

We recently made a short trip to New Mexico for a family event. I’ll post photos and backstory about that soon, was a great trip. I took a little travel kit of sketchbook and watercolor markers to have something to do during the downtime. A big chunk of downtime is just flights and layovers. Jammed into a tiny seat on a tiny table at 30,000 feet above Louisiana, it had time to do a little study of a winter cattail.

Working from memory is oddly easier than working from a photo. The thing about watercolor is it has a mind of its own and may not want to cooperate. Especially true when you’re still a newbie and don’t know how to predict what will happen, or coerce it to do what you had in mind. But working from memory, you get into a sort of feedback loop with the paint and water and paper. Instead of trying to force it to look like the photo, you get into a conversation with it. Dabble a little pigment and water on the paper, then respond to whatever happens, play off the result and add to that.

Sometimes an accident results in an interesting effect that’s worth amplifying, then following to see where it goes. When you try to reproduce a photo, you can get caught into a frustrating loop, trying to recreate one visual medium with another – but the results are not comparable. It’s a sort of dead end with no exit and no way to backtrack.

I may unhitch my intentions from that mooring and just follow where the wind blows, see where we end up.

Day 6 or 7 Watercolor Self-tutoring ~ Crow

I’ve sort of lost track of time. Things have been weird lately. After a long crappy day, I went back to a sketch I did late last night and this evening spent a half hour adding pigments and ink to it in the sketchbook.

It helped a lot.

Day 4 ~ Watercolor Self-tutoring

Got to play some more yesterday. Had to throw away two to get here. Amazing how much you can lose the groove in a week.

This one is done with paint, graphite, and fountain pen. Again using cards and paper towels and some canning paraffin – things that didn’t come from the art supply store. I seem to get better results with unconventional materials.

Watercolor Tutor

First success

I’ve been teaching myself some things about watercolor. It’s harder than it looks. That was the easiest part to learn.

The hardest part to learn – which took me until the third day, and half pad of paper – is like many things you can ruin a good thing by overthinking it.

Next after overthinking, is just knowing when to quit. Surest way to ruin something halfway decent is to keep messing with it when it’s done.

This started a couple of weeks ago. While waiting for some cheap paints and paper to arrive, I played around with a digital stylus on a tablet. That has been fun, and I learned a lot from it. Essentially, it lets me use a photo for reference, picking up color from the image to load in the stylus, then you paint over the photo on a new layer. With all my experience editing photos with digital tools I got the hang of that pretty quick, and like the results – enough that I’ll keep doing that. It’s quick and fun.

Stylus and tablet rendering of anchoring out inside Smith Island, just after sundown.

When I finally got analog materials, I wasn’t surprised to learn that working with those is a whole lot different. And a whole lot harder. My first attempts were, to my eye, overworked and overthought. This was the best of that batch:

I couldn’t seem to disconnect my brain from my hands, and it was pretty obvious my brain didn’t know what the heck was going on. Today, I finally gave up on “trying” and just did a handful of mindless experiments, letting the brush and paper lead. That started to show promise. Not only less frustrating, but less effort, and the results are better.

One of the quick exercises.

This let me realize that, when it comes to visual art, at least, breaking the rules is better than following them. The painting at the top of the page was done less with actual paint brushes. Instead, I used a combination of credit card, spray bottle, toothpick, paper towel, crappy glue chip brush, fountain pen, and yes, a watercolor paintbrush or two.

I hope to try more of this soon, and hope to remember to forget what my brain tells me.

Circle, Circle Back

Finished pieces in the shop.

T finished up 38 pieces of art for a show that opens Friday. We delivered everything on Sunday. It’s a really great body of work that’s been underway for most of the past six months. She was quite the dynamo in a fit of creative fervor.

I’ll post more updates here of the opening and the final gallery space over the coming weeks.

Here’s a blog post she just published of some background. Since the onset of COVID, when we had a lot of time and nowhere to go, she cut nearly 10,000 circles of paper. By hand. Some of those are now included in four pieces in the show.

We had a nice trip over the mountain to Staunton, one of our favorite nearby towns. And a very nice gallery space, too. They’ve posted info about the show here, featuring some of T’s work in the poster:

The gallery space, ready for hanging.
Lunchspot in Staunton