The Illusion of Spontaneity

Spontaneity in watercolor is and is not an illusion.  For the beginner, it looks spontaneous when you watch an adept painter at work.  For the beginner, you realize what is looking spontaneous is not because you cannot replicate what the adept creates.

Nearly everything requires practice – practice leads to skills that lead to mastery.  I should know this.  My problem is my impatience and my tendency to not focus.  In today’s world it is hard to find time to focus and means a deliberate choice to make time.  Rather than fritter away time putzing aimlessly on the internet, it is better to take that time to do something which will hone my skills a bit.

Frustrations with Contrast

Sunday, 3 September 2017

It’s sort of a quandary.   Should I blame myself, the weather, the paper?

First, we have been housebound, not by hurricanes, but by interminably hot and stinking weather, weather so fiercely hot that heat stroke is easy to come by.  Temperatures have been soaring to 112 F and 30% humidity – for a desert gal, this is not fun.  Dry weather and moderate heat is okay, but living in the darkened house, in a house filled with air conditioned air, and melting outside, is getting old very, very fast.  Tempers are short around here, and hopefully the weather will break tomorrow with 85 F and begin to cool.  I hate being inside and being inactive.  I don’t belong to a gym, but it is too hot to go for a walk or a run, probably even in the middle of the night.  So, it pisses me off!

Next, I am impatient and annoyed – a lot because of forced inactivity because of this disgusting weather.  This doesn’t help when watercolor paper needs to be used up for practice, but the sizing is so crappy it buckles and creates weird areas that show poor quality – and possibly poor quality control.  And the practice itself is hard to do – in part because of my monkey mind and my need for some good aerobics to rid myself of the wiggles so I can focus.

Oh, poor me!

But now that I’ve bitched a bit, maybe I can look back at what I am doing . . . working on my ever-present nemesis:  contrast.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Okay, I got over myself.  I tell you, though, that a week of unrelenting heat and humidity of 110 F and 35-100% humidity is not fun.  Today, humidity has dropped because of rain, the temperature is down to about 85 F.  I am in a much better mood.

Yesterday, I walked away from my abominations, knowing full well that contrast was the real issue I have.  Like I have said many times, I am drawn to color.  Color.  COLOR!  I don’t like doing the “basics” in knitting (i.e. swatching) and I have never given much credence to monochrome studies, even though it has been stated and re-stated multiple times.  Finally, I gave in, and did some grey scales in pencil and watercolor.  In watercolor I did some wet-into-wet, and then layered washes.

And finally I did a watercolor.  The grey-scale study was invaluable – lesson learned!

There are parts of the preliminary drawing and final grey-scale study which are good, and some which are bad.  I followed a video on YouTube by Paul Talbot-Greaves that was very clear.  He has a few others I will look at as well.  Seeing something done always helps me to learn.  A book is good, but watching the steps a painter takes is even better, especially when recorded and you can go back again and again to do the studies.

The steps I took here began with a simple light wash over all parts of the building – very, very light – into a lot of other areas in the picture.  Then I did some medium layered dry washes, just to do them.  These are on the bushes and foliage behind the two trees on right.  the building had wet-into-wet, moving it into the bushes in front of the door.  At this point, I had my white and middle value established, so I thought it would be fruitful to do the very darkest areas next.  I think it was a good idea as it then allowed me to then return to shades between the whitest and darkest shades.  This study was in Payne’s Grey on a student-grade Strathmore paper.

I also found another video, but cannot find the link for it.  There was an excellent suggestion of creating a grey scale, and holding it against colors as you paint.  What shade is your yellow or red?  That will help with the contrast.  Right now, let’s see what I can do with a few colors . . . this is gonna take a lot of discipline!  But, I am doing it, which is more than I was a few weeks ago.  Yay!

An Afternoon’s Painting Practice

I am an unabashed Charles Reid fan when it comes to instruction books and videos and style in watercolor.  I love his loose style and the way his colors flow in and out of each other without getting muddy.  Honestly, I am really a novice when it comes to watercolor painting – and mud is my usual result.  Somewhere in the past 6 months a part of me just quit worrying about what I produce, and this gave me the freedom from self-criticism (and condemnation) about what results I get.  I don’t care anymore, and this freedom is opening up doors which have been slammed shut by my unrealistic and unrelenting worrying.  It’s a great feeling!

Having a bunch of watercolors and supplies on hand, I dug out some water brushes and my traveling palette.  Out on the patio, with earphones on to listen to a spy novel, a bunch of paper towels and some water, I pulled out Reid’s book.  My watercolor pads came along with me, as did my coffee, water bottle, drawing pencils and who knows what else.  The verbal distractions of the audiobook keep me from getting too emotional about my practice pages.  I propped up Flower Painting in Watercolor and got to work, reading captions and color suggestions, drew some rough sketches from Reid’s exercises, and got to work.

I think one of the hardest things to do is to leave white paper.  I just want to paint it all up.  And I also want to just keep going on – and this creates mud – without pause for paper to dry and paint to settle.  Rush, rush!

Well, I did succeed somewhat.  The crocuses above are one of Reid’s studies, and I was pretty pleased with it.  In reality, it doesn’t look half as good as the photo, but then it is on a piece of messy paper with scribbles on it and test swatches of color.

This was a quick study, more white space being left open.  I went back after I finished this study to use my pencil to add some shape to the white flowers.  I like lines – and it is a problem I find with my own sense of a “successful” painting – I need lines to define things.  Sometimes lines work – sometimes they don’t – but I do love the Renaissance ink studies I’ve seen, and lines have always held my eye.  Lines are expressive – but so are shapes of color.

Here, simply color shapes to imply a flower or a leaf.  My experience in sumi-e brush painting makes my understanding of controlling a brush – even an inexpensive water brush with nylon bristles – much easier.

One thing Reid pulls out is shapes without definition – just implication of form.  This is great practice for my line addiction!

Another issue I find is contrast and value.  It’s hard for me to really get these right in a painting.  Reid mentions he makes his dark not super dark – not black – but installs a medium dark early on to establish value.  I struggle with this but with more practice I think I will get better at this.

And here is the last one . . . not the best, but one which does have some good areas of contrast, and black lines from an India-ink pigmented pen.  Sketchy, painterly, and totally fun to do!

Quality paper is a must-have.  I have some tablets that I bought which I absolutely hate because of the texture and sizing in the paper.  However, I used them up and ordered more of the Canson’s Montval paper, in a spiral booklet form, 9×12 with 20 pages.  It’s a good working size – and it’s good paper, with a nice texture and sizing which doesn’t blotch up and look horrible.  It’s also very reasonably priced.  The Schmincke paint box may have Schmincke paints in them – or not.  My paint supplies include Schmincke, Winsor & Newton, Daniel Smith, Holbein, and M. Graham professional-grade watercolors.

I’m glad I sat down to paint – it’s such a wonderful feeling and one which gives me satisfaction.  Did I produce anything worthy of framing?  Not at all.  But working with my hands, seeing some success, is something which cannot be described – only experienced.  You know what I mean!  It’s like love!

Why Draw?

I am not quite sure what hit me the other day, but I wandered off to the local library to look at kids’ books.

Where I live, we are fortunate to have a well-run, financially sound (so it seems) library system.  There are about 130 K people here, and only two libraries to serve the population, but both libraries are well-designed, light, airy, and busy.  Busy meaning there are kids and teenagers and adults, as well as scheduled activities, such as lectures and movies.

The children’s section of the library is separate from the adult.  There are sections for young adult, for research, for youngish readers (8-12?), and for non-readers and beginners.  The shelves are the right height for kids, and topped with books and displays to catch the eye.

Okay, so what does this have to do with drawing?  A lot!  Good illustrations add so much to a story, for both children and adults.  Textbooks without illustrations are unattractive.  Color adds more.  And children’s books need pictures – just like Alice said, “What is the use of a book if there are no pictures?”

Yeah, there is a lot of use for pictureless books – but they are even more useful with illustrations.

So, here I am, wandering through the children’s section, looking at this book and that.  Most books had written words with pictures to illustrate them.  And then I came across Clown by Quentin Blake.  Blake is the illustrator for many of Roald Dahl’s books (you know, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).  Clown is a story without words, only pictures.  I had a few good laughs as I “read” the book, and totally enjoyed the illustrations.

Blake is the master of light mood, caught with pen and watercolor.  A loose style that, nonetheless, is filled with details.  When the clown wriggles out of the garbage can, you have to look to see it happening – but you do!  When I looked again and again, so many things showed up.

Then I looked at more of his books.  Cockatoos had me laughing out loud.  Illustrations and story worked so well together – I loved to see all the cockatoos hiding, and I loved the last line in the story.

I blither about art, and drawing, and writing, a lot.  The mental arguments are strange and annoying.  I put up barriers and fill time with meaningless twaddle when I could be out doing something.  I have fought with myself over and over again about my “style” in the painted, colored, drawn world.  It was never technically accurate or realistic enough.  I am confident about my writing style – academically, I can crank out papers at an appalling rate – but with drawing, I drag my feet, tormenting myself with my perceived failures and inabilities.

The light bulb went on with Clown.  I love that loose, fun style.  Is it “art”?  Probably not – but why should that matter?  If it brings pleasure and communicates, I guess that is definition enough.

Yesterday, I took out my own pen and ink and began to doodle.  I didn’t care what I drew.  My imagine was allowed to play without rules.

Thrills.  Intoxication.

How I love paper and pencil and ink!

Why Write?

 

The benefits of writing . . . .

I think most people who write with any degree of seriousness or purpose are well aware of the benefits of writing.  Even more so, there are benefits of writing with a pen or pencil, rather than sitting at a keyboard.  There are lot of articles and studies which show there are benefits – psychological, physical, emotional, and health – that are produced in writing.

The Huffington Post had this article about writing concerning some ways in which writing can transform your health:

  1. Writing by hand can help you learn better.
  2. Expressing emotions through words may speed healing
  3. It could help the way cancer patients think about their disease
  4. Consider it a fundamental part of your gratitude practice
  5. Writing down what you’re thankful for could help you sleep better
  6. It make your mind and body better

Jordan B. Peterson and Raymond Mar have produced a lovely document in pdf entitled The Benefits of Writing.  What is especially enriching – if you like research – are their cited works at the end of their article.

Another article discusses five benefits of writing everyday.  These include waking up your brain, stream of consciousness purging, recalling dreams, vocabulary maintenance and expansion, and evening contemplation and relaxation.  Writing about traumatic experiences helps, too, especially if you express things you have never expressed before. Stepping back from an experience can be done with writing, and change your perspective; writing also can trigger dopamine!  Much of who we are is chemical, mysterious, and still unknown, but we do know a few things! There are definite health benefits to writing expressively.

A return to writing, with a raison d’etre . . . .

For many years, I kept a journal.  It was really a way to whine, and at one point, after 50 volumes, I was ashamed of my whining.  There was no purpose, and it had become an addiction in a negative sense – I would write about problems, feel better after the writing, but not do anything to change a direction or attitude.  I think it made me more passive and less purposeful.  I’ve shredded and burned those journals.

Today, I find myself not really happy about my life as there is so little mental and emotional room for creativity.  I get up, go to work, come home, clean up, go to bed and return to the pattern the next day.  Half of my life is shot on a weekly basis – 10 and 11 hour days are draining.  Mere existence is a waste of appreciation for the life I have been given, doing a job that has increasingly lost value and meaning.  I plod on as retirement is in the near horizon.

As that horizon approaches, I know I must change my outlook on my remaining time and tune into that core value for my own sense of well-being:  creativity.  Years ago I gave up painting and artwork as I searched and searched for the answer to a seemingly unanswerable question:  what is the purpose and meaning of art?  After years, the answer was clear:  it means what it means to me.

Pretty simple, huh?  But in those intervening years, I stopped.  I lost – and can never regain – 30 years of productivity, of creativity, of growth and exploration.  I did pick up the pen, to whine, but not produce.

So now, I am journalling again, but with a purpose.  I am choosing something to write about, to explore, to consider, to see how something fits into my life or can benefit me – and in turn, benefit those I love.  I am working on short stories, writing about ideas, and being creative in the blotches of time my work schedule permits.  (I am also practicing for my retirement!)

Leaving the meetup group was a good thing – a good trigger for regrouping my perspectives.  What was a traumatic, negative experience helped me realize and focus on what I already knew.  So, thanks to the geezer and needy group leader, I am more focused, and a lot happier as a result!

 

Disappointment & Enlightenment

Disappointment:  The meetup experience did not go well.

Being interrupted and being told “you are wrong,” in no uncertain terms by an old geezer, and then being attacked by the group leader for telling the geezer to let me finish talking and stop interrupting, is wrong.

Further in the session, the geezer told someone “those are the rules” without clarification.  What rules?  How to put a sentence together?  What do you mean?  Explain, please.

My initial impression of the moderator was not impressive – he felt needy and off-balance somehow.

Facing the geezer, my first thought was here is a man used to being in power and control, who feels it is okay to interrupt others.

Rudeness and ego-centrism do not have a place in a group such as this.  Other groups I have been in have not had these elements from either members or the moderator.

I am sad, too, as I had looked forward to becoming part of a community of writers.  The other members of the group were good, and there was some talented writing.

Enlightenment:  While disappointed by this experience, it also served to make very clear to me something which had been rumbling around in my head for some time:  Scheduling things to do on my days off does not always work in my favor.

Each time I schedule something that needs some work – such as a writing meetup – it means a lot of focus on that event.  If it becomes something that takes up a lot of time and energy without reward, ultimately I am exhausted.  As an introvert, quiet time with self-reflection and thought is a necessity for self-renewal.

Scheduling time with people I value, doing things I enjoy, is a completely different thing.  I come away refreshed and joyful.

I knew this before the meetup.  I know this now even better than before.  My choices are very clear.

 

Ramping Up

Moving from the idea of putting in a lot of time painting to writing was a big, important psychological and creative shift.  Choosing words over color was pragmatic:  I do not have time to paint.  I do have time to write.  I can write early in the morning, at work, outdoors on the patio, at the library, or sitting on a bench in the park.  In short, I can write just about anywhere.  Painting, not so.  But I can sketch.

This morning, I am going to my first of (I hope) many meetups with a local group of writers.  We were sent stories and excerpts to read and to critique – what works, what doesn’t work – with the admonition to do more than say, “I like this!” or “This sucks!” Giving reasons for a like / dislike helps the writer, but it also helps the critic get in touch with his own writing.

Of course, we all have our preferences for reading matter, but reading things which are not to our liking is no reason to push it aside.  My own prejudices have steered me away from otherwise good literature . . . just because I was told “You will like it!” or, worse, “You should read it!  It’s a classic!”

I hate being told what I should like, should believe, and should do in any form.  It’s the word should that makes me say “No!” immediately.

And sometimes, I am wrong.  Thinking about what makes something work creates a different mindset in the reading altogether.  I’ve learned something prior to even getting to the first meeting!

Reflection

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the “happiness factor” – creating an active pursuit of doing the things which make me happy.  This has been a conscientious activity on my part.  One large element in this activity has been to simply write about things that interest me.  Approaching journalling this way, instead of my historical whining about things making me unhappy and trying to figure out how to fix them, is proving to be beneficial.  Add a few floor exercises in the morning as well, and life appears pretty darn nice.

I am not an especially intellectual person, nor am I spiritual or religious.  Put simply, I am nothing extraordinary.  What I am, though, is creative, and creativity for me involves working with my hands and with my mind and eyes.  Sitting at a computer to write provides some satisfaction, but more comes from thinking and using a fountain pen and a piece of paper.  I think pretty well with a pen and paper; here is something I wrote on 4/25 while drinking coffee and thinking about something I’d read about measurements:

4/25/2017 Tuesday

Today I read about measuring, and how measuring shows information.  Once there is information, change can follow.  And following the info can be some really ugly truths.  These ugly truths can also lead to more info, and more truths, and in turn, more changes.

Is change always good?  Who knows.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Today, I am thinking about the last few weeks, and I can say that I have a better sense of satisfaction in my own daily life.  I have felt alive rather than just in a suspended state of living, waiting for the weekend.

This has been brought about by writing every day about things I read or see or do – not what I am whining about.  This approach is the key – to move from the internal tumult to the external world and experiences, and then mull them over.

This conscientious effort has produced for me a measurably increased satisfaction and overall happiness.

The Happiness Factor

Over the past several days I have returned to journaling.  (Of course, I am using my new pen!)  Instead of crying about my problems, wah-wah-wah, I decided to approach it differently.  I decided to write about my more intellectual and artistic ideas and pursuits, to set out plans for creativity, and to take action.  In and of itself, writing is a creative process that brings a level of satisfaction and contentment that just existing does not.

The “happiness factor” is a key element to life.  Being dissatisfied is a great motivator, but I think the “pursuit of happiness” is better.  Thus, analyzing what produces happiness for me has really been helpful.  My free time – time when I can actually think and do things – is not 7 days a week.  Because I have very long workdays, I can merely function half the week.  This means doing the things life requires, like working, and then coming home, eating dinner, going to bed and getting up to do it all over again.  However, there is a small window of time in the morning, and a small window after work, and using these productively does produce a sense of happiness.  What activities does this entail?

In the morning, I enjoy reading the news and looking through blogs as I drink my morning coffee.  Most mornings I spend writing for about 15 minutes, not whining, but thinking.  Sometimes I edit photos.  In the evening, I am lucky as dinner is on the table.  Some news, some reading, some socializing, some TV – whatever.

The “doing” is helpful.  Creativity.  Writing.  Thinking.  Planning.  I looked back over the past 5 days and analyzed my feelings, my sense of happiness, my sense of satisfaction, and by doing all these things, I realized I have felt happier over the last 5 days than I have for some time.  I have given purpose and meaning, conscientiously, to a rather tight existence.  Saturday, too, I have plans:  a first-time with a local meetup writing group.

Too many times we simply flutter day to day.  I do not want to live like that.  Mortality is for real, and I want to enjoy the time left on my road before it is gone.

The Power of the Pen

I love pens, particularly fountain pens, especially vintage ones. My collection is largish, but not like some people’s. Modern fountain pens seem just be made for making money, but every now and again a new pen hits the market that is worth considering. For me, I often turn to the Japanese companies of Namiki, Pilot, Sailor, and so on. I love the beauty of lacquer or abalone, the hand-ground gold nibs, but they cost so much! When the Vanishing Point came out, I liked it immediately, but it was too large to be comfortable. And then I came across the Decimo, a slimmer version of the VP, and bought one. In lavender or purple, whatever you want to call it, with a broad nib.

I’ve had the pen for one day.  I’ve used it a lot!  I have used it to copy quotes from my current read – Wuthering Heights – to doodle with, to practice cursive.  My checkbook has new entries in it, with a fountain pen.  Next week’s check-paid bills will be with a fountain pen.  Click!  Write.  Click!  Nib contained.

The physical act of writing is my form of meditation these days.  I write on paper with a pen.  I consider a word, then write.  Yes, I do have Scrivener, I have a Chrome book, and I have scrumptious paper that lets a nib glide across its surface.  I practice my roundhand, my Spencerian, my Palmer cursive.  Ascenders and descenders are considered for slope, looping, length.

Ink is also important.  I have bottles; some vintage, some just more than a few years old.  Colors range from trusty black to iron gall for dip pens to ones with exotic names like Poussiere de Lune.  New inks and extra converters are arriving on Monday.  More paper, too.  I can practice my penmanship and write a story or two.  Maybe I’ll write a friend a letter and seal it with wax, or write secret love letters to my husband and hide them, so he can find them years hence to open when I am gone.  Pen and ink dreams in a mechanized world.