We may not have reached the Winter Solstice and the astronomical beginning of winter, but winter has now begun. We had snow last night. The wind is howling through the trees in my backyard. The digits indicating temperature have been transposed; 63º to 36ºF. (roughly 4ºC). Drat it all!
This watercolor has been hanging out in one of my portfolio books without having had a photo taken of it. I was looking through only a few weeks ago in preparation for a demo I gave. It seemed appropriate for the occasion of the first snowfall of the season. It’s about the right amount of snow too. As fleeting as it had been today, it marked a very real seasonal change.
My mourning for summer has been dampened by unusually warm November temperatures. It really was 63º yesterday! I’ll take it this late in the season. I’m not looking forward to winter. As a geeza, I view the ice and snow that comes with winter to be hazards to my health. I don’t recover well from falls at this age. I don’t like white-knuckle driving in snow storms either. In my younger days, nothing stopped me from going out if I wanted to or had to. Now, when the weatherman announces a winter storm watch, it’s a declaration of my being grounded.
I will be cold all winter as I argue with my honey that a thermostat setting of 68º is too low as I put on an extra sweater. It’s OK even cooler at night for sleeping, but not during the day. And my studio usually hovers at around 62º. At least I have a heater to take the chill off down there. I have lived all my life in the upper mid-west and in my old age I have become a total wuss when it comes to winter!
Into the Woods
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 21×10.5″
This was painted in early September when just a few leaves were responding to the diminishing daylight. The woods remained pretty lush for the next month. We have had a long, damp, warm autumn. Only in the last week have the remnants of foliage fluttered down to the forest floor. If the warmth continues I fear it means lots of snow to come.
I recall the last time November was this warm was the 1978-79 winter season. I was taking tomatoes off the vine until Thanksgiving! Then, all hell broke loose and we had a winter snowfall total of 108″! My dogs could walk over our 4′ backyard fence supported by the hardened crust of the snow. I thought I would never see bare ground again. I hope my fears of another winter season like that will not come to fruition. I will just foolishly cling to summer.
This was painted while looking out over my back yard. It was late in the day when the color appears to be very saturated. You can see how wet the paper was. It’s all soft edges and very atmospheric. The wet paper creates mush for me so I can put in a few tree branches and make a believable landscape.
I take my cue from the king of the abstract ground, John Singer Sargent. He could put watercolor down and have it look like mush only to put a little detail here and there and have it snap into something very recognizable—like trees or a pool of water or fruit hanging from their branches. I look at his work and marvel at that ability. He made it look easy. I have been painting with watercolor for nearly 30 years and foliage is still a struggle for me. I think I see too much. It can be very difficult to leave information that is right in front of me out of the picture. It is just not possible to get it all in. Edit! Edit! Edit!
I’m in mourning for summer. The fall season is moving along too fast for me. It’s nearly November and the leaves are nearly all off the trees. The ash trees were the first to become denuded. They are also the last to leaf-out in the spring. I’m not looking forward to the first snowfall either. I have a questionable history with ice and snow. I’ve had three ankle fractures associated with icy, snowy conditions. I don’t go out until it’s likely that snow has been cleared from walkways. I’m too old for broken bones. It’s time for me to become a snow bird.
Watercolor on Masa Paper, 5.25×14″
This is one of several paintings done in Algoma, Wisconsin, a resort town right on the western shore of Lake Michigan. It was done late in August on a very sunny day. We now have to say goodbye to daily sunshine as winter sets into the upper midwest. Sunshine will be rare until next spring.
The fall season has been beautifully color rich. The maples in my woods have put on a brilliant, dazzling display. They dwarf the house in their magnificence. The light in the woods surrounds us in a golden light. It’s heavenly!
The dreary cold of winter can be very oppressive here. I’m thinking about winter projects to keep me busy and energized. I’ll be of turning my attention to quilting. I have all the equipment and lots of scraps which might lend themselves to some modern quilt making. I’m sure I will ruin a lot of fabric getting it right. It’s the learning curve one must experience in mastering any medium.
Meanwhile, I give you this last taste of summer encapsulated in this little painting.
I completed the piece during the same session as the painting of the previous post. It has the same kind of amorphous background which implies landscape. This is the same model as the model with the extensive tattoo on her body. I had no time here to paint that in. I was too focused on the striped fabric. I am always surprised to see how effective very few marks are in communicating a whole. A few dark spots on a knee says “knee” so well.
The transition through the joints is one of the more difficult things to master. It’s a combination of good observation and an understanding of the anatomy. One can understand anatomy in a medical way but not understand anatomy in as a draftswoman/man. Connecting the structure underlying the surface with what one sees on the surface is essential. It takes so much practice to really put it all together and actually see it. The first time is an Aha! moment. It’s very difficult to explain. It must be experienced.
Once experienced, there is no difficulty putting only the necessary marks to tell your audience what they are seeing.
This a classicly beautiful pose. The human back is very beautiful. That’s in a subtle way. The muscle structure is not well defined unless the subject is a body builder and very lean. The structures are lovely just the same. This little painting had been sitting in my portfolio for some time. It had no background. When I took it out I added the color and the wet colors bled into each other to create the atmospheric effect. The result is a suggested landscape.
I think it best not to look at my paintings for a while after their completion. What I might think is not good, takes on a different assessment after a little time has passed. Artists are our own worst critics. We may struggle with some aspect of a work and that particular struggle becomes the sole criterion for judging the whole. After some time our judgments becomes less one-dimensional and we can self-critique in a more reasonable way. I’ll come back to a piece that I had, initially, hated and think, “This is not as bad as I had thought!” Many times it becomes a favorite. Go figure!
Check out my book! Click on the cover image to see it on Amazon.
I think this is self-explanatory. I have been working on this book, on and off, for the last year. It is now, finally, a reality. You can download the book to your reader beginning tomorrow. I hope you enjoy it. And, please, give me some feed back. Download your Kindle book at the following link:
I am also giving a demonstration on Monday evening, November 7, 2016 at 7pm for the North Eastern Wisconsin Watercolor Society, 1875 Riverside Drive, Green Bay. Wisconsin. If you are in town, please join me.
This was the first time I had encountered this model. She held difficult poses as if she had been a statue! She also had the extensive tattoo. I usually don’t have time to paint in any of the tattoos that models carry in on their bodies. I find them an interesting, fun to paint, addition to the work. I have to admit that I am ambivalent about them. I know a woman who has a lot of tattoos and she goes to great lengths to cover them up for work. If you like tattoos, it seems that having to cover them is at cross purposes to acquiring them in the first place. I think it’s the permanence. Not being able to change your mind once it’s done bothers me. Also, in some contexts, tattoos seem inappropriate. A tattooed bride in her wedding dress just seems peculiar. I guess I am just too old to get the current enthusiasm for them.
This little painting has been waiting to be posted for some time. I have been away from home on a road trip vacation and away from my computer for the last two weeks. I don’t like posting anything from my hand-held devices. It’s just too awkward. Besides, when I am on vacation the idea of dealing with writing and posting from tiny devices is just not what I wanted to do. The trip was a thrilling, self-guided tour of national parks: Badlands, Black Hills, Rocky Mountain, Arches, Canyon Lands, Dead Horse, and Great Sand Dunes. We also visited the Garden of the Gods and took the cog railway to the summit of Pike’s Peak. The only word I have for what I saw is, ‘spectacular!’
We also visited the Garden of the Gods and took the cog railway to the summit of Pike’s Peak. As a flat lander, I really felt the altitude. At 8,000 feet I had to move a little slower; at 9,500 feet I felt myself get winded very quickly; at 11,000 feet I accepted my limitations and stayed in the car! At the 14,000+ feet of the Pike’s Peak summit, I became dizzy. So did my friend. We took a few pictures and got back onto the train car. At my age, I can’t risk any falls.
This is the same beautiful woman from three posts ago. She is new to modeling but very motivated. She has been doing her best to provide us with interesting poses. Sometimes I think that maybe unnecessary. The gestures we make during the course of the day are sometimes the most interesting. Things seemingly trivial like putting shoes on; reaching for something up on a shelf; mowing the lawn; or playing ball.
She held this twisting yoga pose for 25 minutes! I don’t think I could even get into this pose anymore. I don’t think I could untwist from this. Even If I could do either, my yogic pretzel would be permanently knotted! My old, geeza* body is not that flexible anymore and I work on flexibility! She has very strong arms because she does very hard physical labor during the day. We are very grateful that she comes after working so hard during the day. When she is not modeling, she has 5 boys to come home to in the evening! What a barrel of monkeys! I have, once again, placed her in the landscape. I have hinted at hostas and fantasy flowers that might flourish in the midwest. It’s all inspired by my surroundings and an invention on my part. It’s not observed but referenced.
I think people like this young woman are the real heroes of this world. They wake up every day and drag themselves out of bed and go to work. Day after day, they work at jobs, mostly mundane, for their families. It’s a sacrifice as ordinary as the rest of us who do exactly same thing. We are the heroes plodding along every day. We make the world function with our work. Hopefully, we make the world a little more bearable for our children. That’s what we hold in common. That’s what transcends our differences. Labor day is for us. The true heroes of the world.
Enough philosophy! I hope you all enjoyed your families and friends last weekend and got to share the fruits of your labors.
*Geezer is the masculine form of geeza.
The trope of the nude in the landscape continues and will continue for several more posts. The long horizontals of this and, the previous posts lend themselves to landscape. It’s the same fainting couch as before. It represents an homage to all the great reclining figures of art history from Titian to Velasquez to Manet to Matisse and all the others in between and after. The landscape comes from my surroundings. I count myself fortunate enough to live in a beautiful place. I pinch myself everyday just to make sure I’m not dreaming!
The figure and painting have fallen on hard times in recent years. The rarefied art world, for the rarefied few artist who can be counted as part of it, has decided the figure and painting just won’t do anymore. Painting is dead, they say, and the figure along with it. It can’t compete with new media. It is a leftover from the past. It’s retrograde.
I’m not buying it. People have been obsessed the human image for 40,000 years. It’s not going to go away just because some art guru has decided it has. The desire to hand make things with the greatest care and craft is so much a part of human nature that the act of painting an image won’t go away either. Human beings are the only creatures who make things with the aesthetic in mind. Things we make must be pleasing to the eye and hand, or satisfy a need to communicate, or express a particular emotional state.
What many call a frill is an integral part of what makes us human. And, we partake of it all the time. We rely on the arts and the artists who create for them. Think of all the images and videos and music we see and hear on a daily basis. Someone had to conceptualize and make them! Some well done and others not. But the wealth of art available to us should be appreciated. So go out and appreciate all that art. Appreciate all those artists. You need it, and them, to make life more livable.