Today, when I was trying to figure out Wild Things for #WorldWatercolorMonth2019, I was really in a sourpuss mood. I had to cancel a photo shoot with a friend and was not happy about it. When you are tired and don’t feel well . . . you are absolutely crabby! Hermity. Crabby. Hermit crab. (How is that for subtle?)
I didn’t feel patient, and I didn’t feel capable of anything with a bit of subtlety. I needed containment. I wanted my shell. I wanted limits and boundaries. I wanted to feel safe. Lines are perfect for that! And as I have not done a line-and-wash watercolor for a month now, today I indulged.
And lets face it – hermit crabs are downright cute and fun with all their different colors and shells and homes. Seeing them always makes me laugh – don’t know why, but they are such a delight. And, as a result of this drawing, I, too, am in a much nicer mood!
Long before we had metal dip pens, artists drew with reed pens and with quills cut from the pinion feathers of a swan, turkey, or goose. If you look at the ink sketches of artists such as Rembrandt or DaVinci, you will see some very common characteristics. The ink lines vary in width – narrow, wide. Often the ink is brown, and so those not in the know think that brown ink was a thing way back when. In reality, it is the degradation of iron gall ink (aka oak gall ink) through time. When initially laid down, it was black. With time, it turns brown, and with a lot of time and depending on its degree of acidity, the iron gall ink can destroy the paper and drawing.
Over the past week, I have been playing with iron gall ink and a quill pen I cut from a turkey feather. I have some homemade iron gall ink nearly done – come Thursday, it will be ostensibly ready to use. Today, because I am finally at a point where I have time to play, I drew with iron gall ink and my quill, and then applied watercolors. The ink took its sweet time drying, and I didn’t blow dry it, but let it air dry or blotted it to see what would happen. As it is a damp day, it took awhile. Anyway, the following three pictures were first done with the ink, dried, and then painted in with watercolor. If you look at the pen strokes, you will see variations. I’ve never drawn with a quill before, so it was a new experience, one quite different than with a dip pen or fountain pen.
The kumquats were the very first drawings I did with the quill and ink. I had to really think about textures. You see, when you use iron gall ink, it begins as a light grey, but as it is exposed to the air, it becomes darker and darker until it is black. This made values a challenge!
Here, the ink in the picture was not quite dry, and some bled into the watercolors as I lay them down.
For the melons, the ink was taking forever to dry! I decided to see what would happen if I blotted the ink. The result was smudges, which you can see throughout the picture.
This final set was done with a sketchy watercolor. No thought was really given to composition or to color as I wanted to use the ink to express outlines, shapes, and shadows.
Altogether, this was a lot of fun, and for me there is a potential I hadn’t really thought about in getting a sense of history by using historical tools – quills, iron gall ink – that were once the best technology had to offer. I wonder what Rembrandt and DaVinci would think about paints in a tube, rather than the task of purchasing, grinding, and creating their own paints . . . perhaps they made their own quills and inks, too.
This past week or so has found me wandering into another element of water-based media: Ink.
Ink is used in drawing, but it is also used in writing, whether using the Roman alphabet, Cyrillic, Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, or any other form of an alphabet for any one of the myriad of languages found throughout the world.
Making ink is an art, and that means knowing something of chemistry (no matter how simple) and permanency. Ink is black and ink is colored – as are paints. This past week has found me suddenly distracted by the making of iron gall ink, also known as oak gall ink, and cutting quills from feathers. You can read about my adventures here, here and here for starters. You can return to Ink, Yarn, and Beer for more updates, too, if you want.
Consequently, I have not had much time to paint or draw as I have been spending a lot of time reading about ink and quills in particular, as well as watching videos on the same. This morning, I came across one which rather blew me away as it is global in nature, but local in artistry. Huh – what does that mean? Take 30 minutes of time to be quiet and to watch . . .
Well, I’m back! I’ve spent the last 2 weeks dealing with all the little sticky bits of paperwork and choices for retirement, from choosing a supplemental Medicare program to whatever. It’s a lot of drudgery, but has to be done. I’ve everything except one card – the prescription card – but the rest is in place. Besides that, I have also had the time and desire to focus on conquering some software issues, now resolved but only to have another pop up. Thus, back to painting – so much more enjoyable and fun, even when things go wrong . . .
Here, the life cycle of the pomegranate, from flower to fruit to food for birds when it bursts open. The local botanical garden has several of these lovely trees, now in the stage of bloom and setting fruit. Large, ripe fruits come later in the year, of course. I don’t know why I thought of doing a life cycle, but it seemed like a fun thing to do – maybe a mirror of my own life cycle? Done with the weekly commute and such?
A couple of weeks ago I took a photo of loquats, not really ready to be eaten, but certainly not too much sooner!
The loquat is a fruit tree indigenous to southeastern China. It is frequently grown in California gardens for its fruit and decorative qualities. The fruit is a pale yellow to a golden color, and the leaves are stiff and dark green. The contrast of the roundish fruit with the wide, pointy leaves makes for an interesting painting subject.
The photo from which the drawing evolved:
Painting the loquat has a bit of cross-cultural history behind it, too; ink painting tradition honors the loquat in Asia.
It would be easy enough to paint a loquat in watercolors, without ink, as well.
I have finally gotten out to the local botanic garden after a month long hiatus. I went a couple of days ago on a bright sunny day. Today, in the foggy gloom, I went again. Both times, camera in hand. The sunny day I was accompanied by a friend while this morning one of my dogs came along.
In today’s gloom, the bright green lichens on this tree caught my eye. I’ve photographed it a number of times, in different seasons, under different lighting conditions. There are spots of green, white, and dark grey. Textures range from smooth to rough. In the textures of the garden – leaves, flowers, critters, stems, branches, – it is easy to overlook the subtle beauty of a couple of branches.
We headed out to San Diego for the last several days, to see the zoo, to walk around, to explore a bit of the city, and to just get out of town. It was really nice, but no painting or drawing got done! Lots of photography and fine dining and hiking all over. It was a very welcome break from the daily routines.
Now, back in town, everything is caught up and time to play! I moved out to the side patio where we have peppers, flowers, herbs, and sundry plants for our pleasure. We have a few resident lizards, too; they dart around and sometimes we find them in the house. When we do, they are gently moved outside. They are a lot of fun to watch as they do push-ups in the sun. And that is what we begin with below – a 5 minute ink and watercolor sketch of milkweed and a lizard that flitted in and out of the picture. Rather a stiff picture – amazing what you lose when you don’t paint or draw every day.
From here, I looked toward the fence facing the front of the house. Here we have a jasmine, bulbs, and mint. Behind them are the blue tomato cages, sometimes used to support tomatoes, and sometimes peppers or vines. Another ink and watercolor sketch; this time, 10 minutes allotted.
Finally, just watercolor. Lavender is a lovely plant, and this one is making me so happy. I believe it is English lavender, as opposed to French, as it is shorter and more compact. I could be wrong. I could look it up on the internet. But I don’t feel like it! Okay, I did. I have no idea what kind of lavender it is! There are so many kinds . . .
As an aside, I bought some Holbein water-based gouache when we were in San Diego. There was a Real Art Store a few blocks from the B&B we stayed at. And a bookstore. And a lot of good restaurants. So, expect some adventures into gouache in the future. Meanwhile, it felt good to pick up a pen and colors to just diddle around on a sunny afternoon, enjoying retirement.