Tofan Gheorghe is an artist living in Dublin, Ireland. Perusing his blog site reveals some very nice loose watercolors/watercolours! Having just posted a very different watercolor and ink sketch showing part of a local monument here in the States … it was nice to see another artist’s very different take on a similar subject.
Hope you enjoy his work and blog. JH
This past week or so, I have been working on sketches, lots of sketches … and yesterday I executed a very quiet one.
I had walked through town, past the shops and restaurants along the pedestrian mall, across and under the railroad tracks a few times, and even as far east as the old coal tower. I visually explored, looking for new ways to see the familiar sites. I tried to look deeply; I sketched and even took a few photos to perhaps use as reference for later in the studio. The one image that most intrigued me was far from the obvious. I even worked it up in a manner that I only rarely use.
Stopping in a small public park near my old studio, I began, and almost completed, the piece on site. The park is dedicated to the memory of a regional war hero and it has a traditional and quite handsome equestrian statue in the middle of the park. What interested me though was the sunlight bathing the delicately carved white stone base as well as the winter shrubs surrounding the statue.
Winter Shrubs in Lee Park (pencil w/ink and ink wash, 5″x11″)
Using the thinnest of graphite lines, I began laying in the divisions of space. As I did so, I also began to create light but articulated lines to describe edges of bare branches. While I was doing most of the pencil work, I decided to create a pale grey ink wash. In a very old fashioned manner, I layered the wash many times … very slowly building up pretty subtle value shifts as each layer of wash dried. To add contrast to the nuanced values of pencil and wash, I added a lot of fairly small black ink marks using the fine point of a cartridge brush pen. Though I might touch up some part of the sketch later, for now I believe it is done. (If you have an opinion about it being done or not, do let me know.)
As I said, this little ink and pencil piece is quite a bit different from most of my current sketch work. A more typical piece is the one I did a building just four blocks away or the one of the coal tower. Most often, I add watercolor over pencil and sometimes I will add a touch of ink … either with pen or brush. I tend to work fairly quickly once the drawing is “blocked-in” to my satisfaction. I usually strive to keep the end result loose and painterly as you can see below. This time, for the piece above, I was using aa much slower and more patient process.
I am always a bit surprised at the variety of the stylistic choices I see in my sketches, the wide array of strategies I employ as I begin working with an image. Loose vs highly controlled; rich color versus open space and limited hue or tone. As a much younger artist I worried that my work was “all over the place” or too “unfocused.” Eventually I learned to look to one of my heroes, Richard Diebenkorn, as an example. You can see some of the variety within his sketches at the following address:
[ http://hyperallergic.com/231403/a-lifetime-of-sketchbooks-from-postwar-painter-richard-diebenkorn ] So, I don’t worry about that issue any more.
For me, it is time to get back out there and make some more images. Well over half of my studio pieces are begun with the research of urban sketching or plein-air studies!
Coal Tower, Blustery Day, watercolor over pencil, 5″ x 11″
Below this line there may be advertising placed here by WordPress. Like the rest of us, they have to make a living too.
For most of my professional life as an artist and as an artist-educator, I have felt there was a time crunch from mid November to mid- January. This year was no different than normal.
Late Fall’s Respite, Ink on Paper, 5 x 11
Even as the busy holiday season was before me … around mid-December, I wrapped up all my projects at the art center and the last of my Fall classes. The everyday set of tasks/burdens had been lifted. I felt a joyous, almost expansive, feeling of being done … freedom of a sorts. So what was my response? What it almost always is — to feel more alive and open, more aware of everything around me.
And what happened? I immediately start seeing more clearly, visual information flooded my brain, and I wanted to be making images! As I walked across a gravel parking lot, the fading late afternoon light backlit trees and low brush that bordered the lot and I decided to do a drawing before the light was obscured by the oncoming clouds of a cold front.
My intent was to get a few organizing pencil lines down and proceed with a ink brush drawing. maybe accent it with a few select touches of color. Somehow, after setting out my sketching materials, I instead grabbed my disposable fountain pen and just drew non-stop. I never even contemplated switching to the brushes for either ink or color while I worked in the ebbing light.
Alley in the Fan, Early Winter, Ink and Watercolor on Paper, 5 x 7
A few weeks later, while on a family and Christmas errand, I happened upon a scene that intrigued me. I was in the hallway outside my daughter’s apartment and through a window I had a view of the back of the type of alley so typical of this (Richmond’s Fan) neighborhood.
This time I began by switching and forth between drawing with a fountain pen and my fountain brush pen. I worked very lightly, very sparingly at first. Soon I switched to watercolor, bringing in the subtle hues of an overcast winters day, before returning to finish the piece with a few last lines and marks of ink.
Much later, in the same neighborhood and after exploring sight lines from a number of other buildings and vantage points, I chose a very different vista — an oddity actually — a small, cute Mediterranean influenced apartment atop an otherwise very plain brick commercial building. This sketch, I began and finished in watercolor. In my youth I would have done this completely in pen and ink or with an ink brush drawing … but I was intrigued by the green roof and traditional stucco and ceramic roof colors.
All in all, I didn’t get a lot of art work done over that month. Life was joyously busy as we saw family and friends. The “kids” and their significant others visited. Between family and the season’s tasks, I puttered about in the studio … straightening up a bit and reorganizing.
Now, beyond the scrum of family and life “stuff” of the early winter season, I am even more refreshed, feeling totally renewed and open. I return to the more daily task of making images! More about those plain air and studio images soon!
Last Wednesday and Thursday, I was supposed to be teaching a plein-air watercolor workshop at a regional art center. That plan didn’t quite gel; I took the now unscheduled time to work unfettered as a gift from the universe and I painted outside in the wondrous fall air! I even had some extended time to paint some in the studio. It was a nearly perfect compensation!
While working on one smallish piece, I assumed that I was creating a watercolor sketch. Soon, I began to question if that was what I was doing. You see, I am not always sure when a watercolor sketch really becomes a small painting. I have been drawing, working with sketches, making paintings, and sometimes a lot of other types of art as well, for many years now. But I am still not sure where, or even if, there is a line somewhere between those watercolor sketches and watercolor paintings. ???
Let me back up and set the stage. Earlier in the week I had been helping some adult students with techniques and processes used to work with watercolor on wet paper … what many call wet-on-wet or wet-into-wet watercolor. If you have looked at my work, you know that in my pure watercolors, I mostly utilize what is known as the wet on dry techniques. But as I do every so often, I responded to all the wonderfully rich and soft colors that Autumn has served up this year by making room for some wet surface painting.
Beginning as I usually do, with a brief pencil line drawing … I was soon adding some delicate layers of color … mainly to the slanting ground of the hillside, the bushes along the “ridge-line” of the hill, and the foliage and trunks of the most forward cluster of trees. These forward trees’ trunks, branches, and leaves cover almost two-thirds of the top tier of the watercolor.
As this completed my initial mapping of the image, I quickly moved on to adding some rich golden yellow color into background on the upper left side.
Before the thick golden yellow dried, I moved in with two very dark green, one a bit blue and more neutral … the other a bit darker but a “purer” green. As I watched this new rich green-yellow mix began to set up and dry, I turned my attention back to looking at and working all around the image, finally concentrating on the far right side of the image … especially the deep background visible under the canopy of main “central” trees as an area of shadowed blue and violet-blue.
At this point I wasn’t yet sure if: #1) I wanted to make the dark bright trees at the center as bold as the ones to the left … or #2) if I wanted to paint a deep blue violet into the now bright wet blue on the right side of the composition. NOT making a nearly instantaneous rational or intuitive decision was my first hint that I might now be painting rather than sketching.
Instead of tackling that decision … choosing one of those two major options … I once again began to “play” some more all over the image, making small tweaks to the composition. I also spent some time working on the small bushes that appear out from under the central trees, descending along the hillside in front of/below the still extremely wet dark yellow-green mass that I had painted just a few moments before.
I scrubbed out most of the dull rose hue I had started with in the main clump of bushes. Next, I made a darker mauve-burgundy blend that I pushed into the other reddish plants along the edge of the swelling line of the hill. Finally, I scraped and scuffed the paper of the main bush before applying a purer, warmer red … as well as a few touches of the burgundy.
Well, as so often happens … life and many other tasks intervened in the process of finishing this piece. Dinner finally called. The next day, my students, doing necessary work out in the yard, a few household tasks, visiting with family … even another painting or two begged for my attention!
A couple of days passed before I returned to work on this little image. Luckily for me, I had made a photo or two of the location … as well as having a clear memory of my slightly agonized struggle to clearly see and process the image on location. I carved out an hour or so to reconnect with all that and spent a bit of time looking at what had started as a simple sketch. It was time to finally commit and finish it!
About 20 minutes of painting spread out across an hour and a half or so of evaluating … as well as drying time between new color layers and it was done!
As I said at the beginning, I am not sure when a watercolor sketch crosses some type of delineation and becomes a small painting. In this case, I am sure of two things …
… 1) This was excruciating and deliciously fun …
… 2) I would rather know which one YOU think it is, a sketch or a small watercolor?
Please let me know!
Below this line there may be adds of some kind. I don’t pick them or sanction them or their product or services they advocate. But WordPress has to make a living too … so we all smile and cope as we will.
It is SO nice to get a note or postcard in the mail, especially if it has some fun or exciting art image(s)! And while I can’t pin it to my studio board … I can savor an e-message or even a digital post about art almost as much.
That was why I was happy to get a post from Mari French today.
Mari is an English artist whose blog I follow. Her quick sketches are forcefully simple, very direct, and often really spot on; joys to see!
Mari’s more extended works seem to flow out of her mode of sketching and making studies. To me the larger pieces are rich and sophisticated in terms color and design.
Ms. French’s blog today showed some of her pieces and other’s works included in the 2016 Royal Institute of Painters of Water Colour exhibit. She focused on several artists, especially those working in minimalist or boldly conceived abstraction; styles which she obviously enjoys/has a deep interest in … her work show an obvious affinities for those approaches. [Get a look at her post by clicking here: Mari French’s most recent blog ]
You might also consider linking to the exhibition of that show’s website too. [a link to the 2016 R.I. WC Exhibit] There you can peruse the other watercolour (watercolors), gouache, and acrylic paintings that members of the Royal Institute are displaying this year. It was a wonderful treat for me to see some very exciting new work by folks that frankly, I never meet … even if I travel to Britain again any time soon.
Now, any group show has a few works that are completely and totally respectable efforts, but sadly … way too predictable. However this is a really fine show; there really are large percentage of works that are absolutely exquisite in their craftsmanship, design, or handling of content. And a few are so amazingly simple in their execution that they astound.
One or two (look for pieces about topiary prisons by Karen Charman) are even funny; beautifully fresh takes/touches on the best visual traditions in early and mid 20th century illustrations, comics, and cartoons. That type of work intrigued me as a kid; Ms. Charman’s pieces do the same today.
Take a digital trip, Fares are low. The rewards are really high!
My last post talked about how the winter and early spring had been rough … with all the demolition in the studio and the storage areas. Well, my tiresome kvetching … and the demolition process are done and the major reconstruction is almost over too! When the space is all new and fresh, I’ll gleefully post those images.
Now, as April has wrapped up and the rains have brought us into May, I seem to have a lighter heart and and a less frenzied head. Frankly, it didn’t hurt that I’ve been having some fun and some good luck as well. Many of you know that I really love to go sketch outside. Working with pencil, inks, watercolor, or gouache … I make lots of small pieces. It always feel so good to get lost in that work.
Sometimes I will even whip out a panel or a larger sheet of paper and complete a whole painting on the spot. Working that way reminds me of my Saturday forays into downtown Wichita (yes, I lived in Kansas for a few years) to draw the stately brownstones … or of the watercolor classes that I took back at Valdosta State. I used the “plein-air” process for ten years as my primary painting strategy. And while today I mostly use it to help prep for studio pieces, I still get a kick out of making a good small sketch.
Well, I participated in a couple of Plein-Air Paint Outs and Quick Draw events in our region recently. Painting while dodging the frequent rain showers … and meeting and talking with new colleagues was a joy. The energy and camaraderie were really nice too. Of course it didn’t feel bad for the old ego to hear a few nice comments and get a little recognition from one’s compatriots after a long day out making art!
As I said above, I use these types of sketches, studies, and small plain air works as references for my studio pieces. I am exhibiting some of those more involved studio works this coming month too. The exhibit is happening at The Gray Gallery, a fairly new venue in Winchester, VA.
It is a two person exhibit, titled Structured Environments ( http://www.the-gray-gallery.com/exhibitions ) featuring Kung Chee Keong’s and my work. I have about a dozen pieces in the show, all from my Shaped Landscape series. The newest piece … finished just a few days ago … is actually a reworked triptych that I started over four years ago. In my eyes, it has always been only “almost” right since I stopped working on it. I recently had a few ideas for how to improve the design and to make it a lot better. I am pleased with the new version and I am really happy to see what others think.
I like Keong’s images a lot too, they have lots of movement and energy. It is an interesting pairing. These bodies of work will likely create a neat visual dialogue for the viewers; they do for me. The exhibit is now open and the reception is on Friday, May 6th. The show will run through May 28th. If you are in the northern Shenandoah Valley this month, please do stop by the Gray Gallery and take a look. The gallery is on Cameron Street in Winchester’s Old Town district … a beautiful and very walkable downtown. Enjoy the art and, if you have time, maybe grab a bite to eat while you are there. Make it a day!
As you see, a few weeks have gone by and life turned another corner. This corner, this turn, has lots of spring showers, thunderstorms, and even downpours to dodge … or to dance in. Whichever approach to dealing with the rain, it is a hopeful season. More later!
I am always looking out for artwork, especially watercolors and other works on paper, that are interesting; something intriguing or perhaps even truly compelling.
When I was full-time college artist-educator, I would always be on the lookout for any/every type of work to share with my students. Now, some of you may know that, besides drawing, I work quite a bit with various aqueous media and most often in/or with watercolor. So it probably wouldn’t surprise you that finding exciting, new work done in watercolor is a quest of mine. It has been for many years.
There are lots of fine watercolorists out there … but there is too much repetition and far too much acceptance of staid approaches to the medium.
Please don’t get me wrong, using a a traditional figurative approach is fine … and I LOVE beautifully made images created that way … just as long as there is something new, fresh, or personal about the work. Conversely, I grow quite bored with a lot that I am seeing when looking at so many of the contemporary artists working in the watercolor medium.
This is sad because watercolor has often been on a cutting edge, been a medium for artists to experiment and play with new ideas. Just think of Kandinsky, O’Keefe, etc. It has also been a medium to use for long term exploration of visions and concepts. We have no further to look than such diverse artists like Klee, Klimt, Demuth, Marin, Burchfield or the Wyeths.
I want to find new images made with watercolor, new ways of working, or new examples of the absolute mastery of combining technique, design, and content using watercolor. New art! Please!
With that in mind … there are five artists whose work in watercolor has caught or has recaptured my attention; Artin, Forge, Gibson, Nickson, and Sinclair.
Wendy Artin’s work is a handsome modernization of traditional media combined with a very classically based content. An artist who is working now, Artin has begun to gain some critical and popular attention. I think that I first came across her images a year or more ago in either an issue of Drawing or Watercolour. Since I still teach a few college drawing courses each year … I was excited to share her work with my students. But for me personally, it was her nearly monochromatic watercolor wash drawings that intrigue!
Some of Artin’s pieces have the fluidity of a great Tiepolo; others have hints of the moodiness in a wash drawing by the French artist who also worked in Italy … Claude Lorraine.
She finds a balance between playfulness and a sense of “veritas” in her work; while combining “wet-into-wet” areas, dry brush techniques and judiciously reserved white/negative spaces with apparent ease.
The renewed and refreshed classicism of her work … not to mention the gutsy design and mimetic rigor of works like Parasol Pine Panorama (below), can take my breath away.
Andrew Forge was born and studied art in England where he taught at the Slade School of Art, Goldsmiths College, and the University of Reading. He emigrated to the US and taught at Cooper Union, New York Studio School, and taught painting at, and served as Dean of, the School of Art at Yale before he died in 2002. His work as an educator and as an art writer/art critic was well grounded in his painting.
Forge seems to have worked his way visually and intellectually through the various styles of modernism. One thing that I see in his paintings is an early encounter with Cezanne’s way of visually processing an image into an arrangement of color patches on a surface.
And, in his later work, Forge also seems to have followed that manner and concluded with a further joyful abstraction. His work of the 70-90s has all the delicate spareness one might expect from an artist steeped in classical clarity, nuanced perception, and a humane visual playfulness.
I came across John Gibson’s work at least 20, or maybe 25+ years ago. I saw it … and it printed in publications. I could surely see that it was good work, bold and confident. But after looking at a number of examples, it frankly appeared to be to much the same thing over and over. I grew jaded and, yes, bored. Mea Maxima Culpa!
You see, Gibson works on a basically simple premise … creating believable an image of 3-d sphere(s) on a totally 2-d surface. This is the old (Renaissance “old”) task of visually rendering space and form. And Gibson does throw in a visual treat that some might find to be a bit of visual irony … almost all of the spheres he depicts are decorated with patterns.
As I said, I got it; I grew bored. I moved on. Yes, I occasionally used one of his images to help me teach form in a drawing, studio painting, or watercolor class, but that was about it.
Frankly, without running across it again and again, I didn’t have much time to really be ensnared by its charms. And there are charms in this work.
Recently however, something drew me back to look at his work some more. After 30 years are so … I felt a desire to re-examine his spheres. Maybe it is a desire to understand his obsession. Or to just be charmed!
What ever it was, I am glad I did. As I let the obvious similarities slide past, I could begin to see just how sumptuous his color was … how rich and yet carefully he used color to assist in the rendering of BOTH rounded forms and the “vapor” of depth and space.
These are not easy, facile works but they are quite confidently put together. I see no design magic here; rather there is a solid, logical construction to these images. The color isn’t flashy either, instead it is finely balanced and so deliciously worked into the substance of the painting.
Well, those are three of the artists whose work in watercolor I am finding exciting or challenging right now. My hope is that you saw something new or interesting too. I will finish up writing about the other two (Nickson and Sinclair) very shortly and post an addendum quite soon.
Right now though, the studio is calling !!!
Below this line there maybe be adds or links to advertising placed here by WordPress. Please remember that they have to pay their people and their bills too. Do be gentle with them dear readers and friends. JAH
Sometimes little things are really quite important. Certainly the smallest thing can be extremely satisfying.
I have a new show opening today in Charlottesville, Virginia at Angelo (on the downtown pedestrian mall). It is a wonderful small venue. The show itself is also small, just 14 pieces. All the work is quite small too!
After my big shows of really BIG drawings earlier this winter, it is really a nice treat to put up these smaller, more intimately scaled pieces.
And these works are interesting and exciting to me precisely because they are more personal, intimate, and quick in terms of the art making. All of them are landscape sketches, most started and finished in one session … with the simplest of materials. There are a few that are almost panoramic in vision despite their very small scale. A few are really close-ups of landscape details. Most of them though are fairly typical landscape images … at least they are typical to my eye.
The best ones are done very quickly and quite simply. A few have a hint of Demuth or Marin (not so much Homer or Girtin this time) … and just maybe the quickness (if not the sublime quality) of a Turner watercolor. The less successful ones may help me create better larger works but, of course, I don’t share those. They are now “working” sketches. You would have to come to my studio or one of my classes to see those.
The ones at Angelo for the next two months are, I think … pretty good.
If you are near Charlottesville sometime between May 1st and June 30th, please take a look and tell me if you agree.
(PS It would be wonderful to see you at the opening too … sometime between 5:00 and 7:30.)
Some things below this line may be advertisements; we know that even WordPress has to make a living. My apologies if it is something distracting or if it isn’t to your or my taste/liking.
It has been a busy Spring.
Winter hung in there and made it a longer chilly start to the spring season than usual. That means the garden and plants need some extra care, some extra work this year. I have not gotten all the gardening tools properly prepped for the season yet either.
Instead, I have made lots of changes to my classes at the college. (I do so hate to get stale in the drawing class studio!) At the other end of the professional duties, my exhibition schedule and speaking engagements have kept me hopping. The traveling was fun, even as we dodged the worst of the snow and ice storms!
Now, at the core of my artist life, the making of artwork, things have again settled into a pattern. Yes, a slightly a-rhythmic pattern … but one I am trying to keep moving along. Not in the studio very much; I have been working outside whenever I could … wielding pencil, ink-brush pen, and watercolor. So much so that my students have remarked that they have seen me along the roads close to campus and further afield. They think it is quite funny (¿amusing or weird?) when they spot me sitting on the cold ground in 40 F/5 C degree weather; standing at my sketching easel in 30 mph/50 kph winds.
But it is part of what I do to prep for new work; my version of hunting and gathering … seeking out new images, interesting visual material.
I have other ways of generating visual “primary sources”, but working alla-prima, en-plein-air … is so mentally refreshing.
It grounds me.
Sometimes the work comes out totally fresh and clean. Almost sparse/spartan in its finished state. Other times they are labored, even overworked. Unclear. Those are not as exciting, but they still teach me something, challenge me to think, re-think their source and what it is I find engaging and exciting about it.
Whichever one it is, clear, clean, and well executed … or overthought and overly fussy … I am happy to be seeing, reacting, and thinking about images outside. Just pass me my hat and my sunscreen!
Some things below this line may be advertisements; we know that even WordPress has to make a living. My apologies if it is something distracting or if it isn’t to your or my taste/liking.
I make images.
Duh, I make images. Sometimes though I make images that you could almost call objects; like my shaped panel painting. Most of the panel paintings are just that, paintings on panels. But the ones I bolt together into non-rectangular shapes might qualify even more as “object” than image. Other works that might be considered as “objects” are the larger of my mylar drawings. the ones that cascade off the wall or ceiling and onto the floor.
But for many years, I worked on paper. Sometimes pretty big paper.
I regularly worked on paper that was 40×60 or 30×90 or larger. Starting in the 1990s, I usually worked on paper sheets that were a bit smaller … measuring around 30×40.
Well every now and then I return to that 30×40 way of working. I am not sure if I do it for comfort? … as a self-diversion? … or if there is a deeper reason? I just KNOW that sometimes I want to work on a single large uninterrupted sheet of paper. The expanse of the surface excites me; the response of wet color or dry mark to the paper entices me. More easily than any other medium, working on a beautiful sheet of paper with materials I enjoy, I become entranced. Reverie!
This piece, Abundance, had it’s genesis a while back, late in 2011 if I remember. It began on a crisp, cool clear day in a narrow glen of western-central Virginia, below a mountain ridge known for it’s ski resort … Wintergreen. I was with my wife and “mi mum” and we had stopped for lunch when I spotted the wild looking group of bushes and a gnarled tree. The grey, nearly leafless bush was full of red berries. There were so many good vantage points with this subject. But … I was with family … so I made a quick sketch and several photographs. The little finished sketch was exhibited in a show during the fall of 2012.
This larger painting I began while that show was still up. I even showed it, in a less finished state, in December and into January of this year. But, when it came back to the studio, I just wasn’t sure that it was done.
I set it on a drawing board in my studio and I looked at it. I looked at it from January to June.
Let me explain my quandary. I am frankly always leery of overworking a piece but I want to create a visual feast as well. I do subscribe to an esthetic common in traditional oriental painting … leaving white space in a work, going for an understatement. It is also at the core of early western classicist’s and early modernist’s desire to seek and to express what they view as the essential in an image/object. Probably that is why I am so very drawn to the works of Charles Demuth and Paul Cezanne. They made lots of marks and layers (visual feast) … but always seemed to leave room for the work to breathe, for the viewers eye to roam, and the viewers minds to complete the image (essence). To me, it seems rude and silly to beat the audience into submission by rendering every single detail.
Even when I was young, the end results of demonstration artworks in “how-to” art books felt disappointingly over-done. (I usually liked the work at step #3 or #4 better than #6+) Well, with this one, I feel like if I take it much farther … it will be overworked. Can’t have that!
For now, I have moved it to a less active corner of the studio. I will look at it for a while again; just like I did from January to June. Hopefully I will decide more quickly than that if I want to return and do something else with this piece.
Yes, I do think it MIGHT be finished. What I am asking is … is it essential? … is it a feast for the eyes?