A Bit of Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is located in south central Colorado. It is, as the park site states:

The tallest dunes in North America are the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. Stay on a moonless night to experience this International Dark Sky Park’s starry skies.

I never ceased to be amazed by the beauty of the natural world.

9×12 hot press Arches, 140#, gouache.

Tracks Across the Fields

I do love the bleak look of winter. With watercolor, a limited palette of 3 or 4 colors can express so much. Admittedly I used more, but I usually like alizarin, ultramarine, burnt sienna, and Hooker’s green for the colder time of the year.

Following through on points for some of the classes I have been taking, I am working to simplify subject matter, colors, and lead the eye. I think I managed to do this here, leading through the fields to the houses on the hilly horizon. I tried to contrast warm and cool colors, with a bit of warm on the buildings with the hope it will draw the viewer in. I also used wet in wet and dry brush, working from general shapes to more specifics; light to dark in general.

In addition to the painting, I am trying to make myself do a preliminary drawing before I touch brush to paint to paper. I did this one today. Lesson – it is actually worth the time, and I have been a silly bunt not to take on this fine habit sooner!

Watercolor, 9×12 CP Extra White Fabriano Artistico 100% cotton paper.

Changing Seasons

It is really important that if you study art that you make studies! I’ve been following along in my haphazard manner a number of teachers I like, online, and am trying to implement what I am learning. Or what is being taught – and then working conscientiously to absorb some of it. Being a magpie doesn’t help as I am so easily distracted by this and that. Focusing on one thing really helps bring mastery, but I get bored with doing only one thing. I know a lot of single-minded people, and I rather envy them. However, we all have to follow our own drummer.

The focus here is to lead the eye to the orangish, autumny trees in the distance. The water does it primarily, but I hope the curves of the field do, too, as well as the lines along the horizon. I am not too thrilled with the trees on the right, but c’est la vie.

So many artists say a value sketch is important. I like to think I can create the values in my head as I become more sophisticated in my abilities. I have decided to create some kind of preliminary sketch before painting as a habit and that is not an easy task for me – even if it only takes a few minutes. Well, the one below is not really a value study, but it did help me work on some compositional elements. Hmmm.

Kilimanjaro rough 140# paper; watercolor.

Sycamore

Yesterday was a meeting of the Pencil Portraits in the Park group, but drawing people held little appeal for me. So, I decided to try something I had briefly seen somewhere and thought interesting: during their travels in the 19th century, many people sketched in pencil (graphite) and then colored the drawings with watercolor. These days most people sketch with waterproof ink and then color things in, but I rather liked this idea. A sycamore tree in our park, dressed out in autumn finery made a nice portrait, methinks.

9×12, hot press 140# Arches. Graphite and watercolor.

Abandoned in Winter

Well, this one sure had me going for a while! The idea was to avoid angles, and look squarely into the building, and so I did . . . and then came along the Esposo who said, “Nay! This does not work!” And, damn, if he wasn’t right! So, I had to pull out some gouache to overlay a roof on the tree in the background, and make the roof look rather beat up and weathered, with beams and such visible. Sort of a success.

And, I wanted to paint falling snow. Falling snow in a photograph varies from white, sharp dots to elongated shapes. Time to experiment. I used some gouache, diluted, and applied some streaks – I wanted a sense of wind blowing from upper left to lower right, with snow pushed by the wind. It was okay. So, I got a fan brush and made a wet mess of the white paint and splattered and splattered and splattered. I even got it my coffee. Luckily the paint isn’t poisonous, so I shall return.

Overall, this is not a great success as a painting, but it was fun. I rather like the composition with the tree in the very front of the painting. The barn is w-a-a-y off as far as believable perspective, but such is life. But, I have been sticking to my snow themes, and perhaps it is time to do one more and then move to a different season different subject, or put it away for a few days and get back to sewing or doing photography. I can now hobble forth on my partly healed broken toe.

Arches rough, 140#, 10×14. Watercolor with a splash (well, several splashes) of gouache.

Garage in Winter

I feel I somehow turned a bit of a corner when it comes to painting. Shari Blaukopf’s online classes are helping a lot. She applies color directly and doesn’t follow “the rules” – by this I mean applying all the light colors first and ending with darks. Instead, she applies color to areas and moves on, making sure in many cases to let the paint dry. (Gotta love those hair dryers!) The corner also started to turn when I decided it was time to add some of the rest of the world to my painting, meaning buildings and so on. Thus far, buildings, but I am gaining confidence with them, so why not with people and urban scenes?

The fact is, I was getting pretty tired of my limited subjects, so this is a good thing. Now, even my boring suburban neighborhood is taking on a totally different perspective – there are a lot of things to paint, even here.

10×14 Arches rough, 140# paper.

A Messy Thaw

Nothing like a slushy pile of dirty snow alongside the road to make you really appreciate bright, white clean snow!

I thought I would do this for more practice painting snow, using some of the things that stuck in my mind from the Shari Blaukopf’s class on painting snow. Add to that, I tried to recall and implement some of the things I have learned over the past several months from my courses with Ian Roberts. Something seems to be shifting!

Kilimanjaro 140# CP; 9×12.

Class: Sketching Winter – Capturing the Colours of Snow

There are a lot of watercolor instructors out there. Many are good, some mediocre, and others not worth the time. Among my favorites are Rick Surowicz, Oliver Pyle, and Shari Blaukopf. Most important is if I like their paintings or not! Next is their teaching style. In person classes are hard to find, get to, and can be expensive, but online courses are often repeatable. I am beginning to find this to be the best venue for my own learrning. Blaukopf has a number of short courses, very reasonably priced, which fous on this or that. Shari Blaukopf fits both criteria – great painter, great teacher.

I have purchased a number of her courses. Over time, her classes, already good, have gotten even better with more details and focused studies. You can learn a lot from copying a painting – a long, traditional history for the art student – but when you watch a painter achieve a painting, how they apply paint, when they explain their approach, learning is an even better experience.

I can paint snow and have done it fairly well, I think. What I enjoyed about this class was to see her sequence of painting, understand the logic behind her approach, as well as the fact that her painting is pretty direct. Shari applies her colors directly to the paper, sometimes mixing on the palette and other times on the paper while adding other colors. The key factor in her success is she does not overwork her painting!! She also explains why and where she is using hard and soft edges, as well as warm and cool colors. Not everyone is this clear.

In the end, her painting always have a lively freshness to them, with plenty of detail mixed with a painterly quality. Perhaps a lack of fussiness? Whatever it is, her painting seems very spontaneous to me. Seeing / learning how she achieves this has been the highlight of her classes. She is thoughtful, plans ahead, and yet achieves a looseness that is hard to match. As watercolor – or “watercolour” – is such a challenging medium, good techniques are like gold to me.