Working Away from Home

I sketch, draw, or paint almost anywhere.

It has been a busy late April, May, and early June for me. These past eight weeks, I have made most of my images while working away from home quite a bit. Mostly it has been around Virginia but also out in Utah, and even some while actually traveling. It doesn’t hurt that I will happily work in the full view of others … almost as easily as I do in the privacy of my studio.

Lynchburg and Staunton

Abandoned Power Station, Staunton Va.

I was invited to participate in two plein-air events this spring, one in Staunton and the other in Lynchburg. Sketching in and near the urban environment has always been an interest of mine. It shouldn’t surprise my urban sketcher friends that I began to get serious about making art way back in my teens when I would go draw the “brownstones” of Wichita KS. I still like those Hopper-esque cityscapes.

For the Lynchburg event, I was even asked to do a demo while I was there. It was fun to do the demonstration and the onlookers asked some wonderful questions. I sure hope I was informative and maybe even a little entertaining.

Fredericksburg

Market Square Steps, Fredericksburg

After being invited to demo at the Lynchburg Plein Air event, I had the distinct privilege, a really rare treat actually, to be able to attend part of a workshop offered by the Urban Sketchers of Fredericksburg. The instructor/leader of the event was Shari Blaukopf from Montreal. I have followed her work for several years now and have even recommended her to some of my students. It may seem like something of a busman’s holiday to some but I have always found it interesting to observe how fellow artist-educators go about presenting ideas to students.

The artists of this urban sketchers’ chapter and those that traveled to the workshop did some really wonderful sketches and Plein-air paintings. They were also a nice group to get to know. 

And, to be sure, Shari did a marvelous job! I will definitely still be recommending her work and her workshops to students. 

Here is a link to her blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harrisonburg

After attending a family friend’s wedding in the small town of Broadway recently, I stopped in the city of Harrisonburg to get myself an iced tea. I then settled in along a street that I have driven down many, many times since coming to Virginia. What was drawing my attention this day was the sweep of a low brick wall and the deep shadows that played in the trees and inside the walled area beyond the entrance. After three to four sketches to work out what interested me the most, I was able to execute a fairly fresh and simple watercolor of the scene.

Sketches, Liberty Street Harrisonburg

Ink & Watercolor Sketch, Liberty Street Harrisonburg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late May on Liberty Street., Harrisonburg

Back when I was a professor, as spring would melt into early summer, teaching would wind down and a bit of a respite would settle into my routine. I am reminded that back then summers were often the time of year that I traveled most. (Truthfully, it probably also had something to do with being a parent as well.) As I have re-organized my life to be pretty much a full-time artist … I still find that I end up doing many of my major trips away from home during these three to five months of summer-like weather. And for the past few years, when early June comes around, I get to judge art for about a week. So it is back on the road I go! 

This year, I definitely had to travel to that gig. I will post more about traveling as an artist (on the road and in the air) very soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Monument – An Ink and Watercolor Sketch on A3 sized paper

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

 

Tofan Gheorghe's Creative Blog

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Urban Sketches; Color or Not

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-2017-foliage-in-lee-park

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.

west end of the cville mall, 2016West End of the Mall (watercolor and ink over pencil, 5″x7″)

 

 

 

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-web

Coal Tower, Blustery Day, watercolor over pencil, 5″ x 11″

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Searching for Exciting Watercolors, pt. 1

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!

Beautiful Weed, Mary's Garden,, watercolor sketch over pencil, 5 x 11, 2014

Beautiful Weed, Mary’s Garden, watercolor sketch over pencil, 5 x 11, 2014

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.

 


 

Roman Forum from Via dei Fori Imperiali, 1999, 20x11

Roman Forum from Via dei Fori Imperiali, 20 x 11, 1999

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.

Cinecittà, 40 x18cm, 2000

Cinecittà, 40 x18cm, 2000

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.

Wendy Artin, Parasol Pine Panorama, 2008, wc on Khadi paper, 76x30 cm

Parasol Pine Panorama, watercolor on Khadi paper, 76 x 30 cm, 2008

 


 

Andrew Forge WC?

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.

Untitled. Watercolor,14.5 x 10, 1962

untitled. Watercolor, 14.5 x 10, 1962

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.

 

untitled, 23 x 15, 1993

untitled, 23 x 15, 1993

 


 

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!

John Gibson, Somerville, 2014, 34x92

Somerville, 34×92, 2014

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.

3-in-a-line, 48x56, WC, 09-06,John Gibson

3-in-a-line, watercolor, 48 x 56

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.

John Gibson, Hidden Web,2009, WC, 32×44

Hidden Web, watercolor, 32 × 44, 2009

 

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 !!!

 

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Exhibition of Sketches open, Reception today!

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.

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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.)

 

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Sketches!

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!

NW Hillside, Pines and Fenceline

NW Hillside, Pines and Fenceline, watercolor over pencil, 5×11, 2014

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.

preliminary sketch for "South, Off Jarmin's Gap Road

preliminary sketch for “South, Off Jarmin’s Gap Road

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.

Hilltop Pine, Across From Rockfish Gap

Hilltop Pine, Across From Rockfish Gap, ink & watercolor over pencil, 5×11, 2014

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!

 

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Respite on a West Coast Beach …

This past March, while it was still snowing and freezing here in the mountains of the Mid-Atlantic, we visited our son out in S. California.  When we arrived it was in the 80’s … but dropped back into the lower 70s and even the 60s. It was a welcome interlude, and on one of the warmer days we explored the area around Point Dume. We trekked over the rocks and, after getting to a less visited side of the outcrop, we settled down for a respite on the beach. Everyone else soaked up some sun, sat around relaxing and chatting … or played a bit at the edge of the water.

Me, I needed some quite time. So I walked over to and climbed up into the next set of rocks and relaxed. Looking back across the sandy beach, the rocky point, and up the coastline, I was quite happy that I had brought a small set of sketching materials and my camera. Quietly drawing and laying in a few quick patches of color was a really enjoyable way to spend my time. I could have spent several hour making a few more sketches … but it was almost time for lunch. So, after shooting a few dozen photos of the surroundings, I packed up my gear and went in search of seafood and some more delicious family time too.

Point Dume, Zuma Beach
(a watercolor and pencil sketch, 5 x 11)

When we returned home I decided that I wanted to do a three to four foot multi-panel piece based on this experience. I even promised my son that he could have the piece if I felt really good about it when it is completed.

Well, this week I made the one of the first steps in that process, a larger study using the sketch and the photographs I created three months ago as resources. So far I feel pretty good about it … though it looks a bit more like a “tinted drawing” than the “painting” that I had envisioned. It may also be a bit to timid in comparison to the sketch. The first sketch had at least a few subtle hints of Demuth’s delicate control and something of Marin’s energetic brushwork. But that is why we do studies, to work out the kinks in our ideas ahead of time … to get back to some of the fearless joy of our first encounter.

Here is the study I finished this Saturday. I will keep posting the progress over the next few weeks.

(watercolor on panel, 12 x 12)

Point Dume, Santa Monica
(watercolor on panel, 11×14)

It has been a bit SKETCHY, so far.

It is a tad more than half over and it has already been a busy, busy summer in the studio! Yes, I taught a small drawing class, I took a break and judged art out in Utah, and there was that wonderful working vacation to look at galleries in Atlanta (see my previous posts about the Atlanta galleries and especially about Kevin Cole’s work). But making and prepping art work for two shows this fall is really keeping me hopping … and happy.

View S.W. from Old White Bridge Road, 2012

The first show is in Virginia, at the gallery of the Staunton-Augusta Art Center. Since I am hanging work in both their larger gallery and their more intimate small gallery, I decided to divide my show into two separate but similar bodies of work. For that smaller gallery, I figure on hanging about 25 sketches. My thought was that the small size of the works would fit the space and feel of the gallery nicely. These sketches will probably be quieter, simpler and perhaps a little bit more playful than their larger cousins in the main gallery.

For the sketches; I have been using pencil, ink, and wash drawings. A few of the sketches are done in full color. For those, I have worked in watercolor or water-soluble drawing media. When I am feeling visually playful though, I am apt to combine many of those materials in one sketch! There maybe another kind of surprise in this quieter show. I am including some sketches that definitely look like they are E. 20th Century Modern; others feel like they are just out of the 18th or 19th century (think: École des Beaux-Arts or Royal Art Academy). A few have elements of both; makes me a little bit giddy.

To get a nice group of sketches together, this year I have followed my own advice and kept sketchbooks at hand all the time. And I have been scouring the roads on both sides of the mountains … every trip, every errand.  I have been more likely to stop beside the road, wander down a creek bed, or scramble up a ravine than to get home on time. I hope I haven’t been to late to often, but the sketching has been wonderful. Relaxing and challenging all at once. Again, hopping … and completely happy.

I will have to write about the larger works … the paintings that will be in the larger front gallery in Staunton and the drawings in the Calhoun, Georgia show … a little later.  For now, it is time to get back into the studio.  And get another image started …