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!

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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.

Words, Words, Words

Paper is wonderful! Recently, it has been replaced by the computer, which makes a lot of things easier and convenient, but it is not quite, quite the same.  

For the last several days, off and on, I have been working on a story I started last January, using Scrivener as the editor.  My Chrome book is also seeing use.  And finally, paper and pen when I just don’t want to look at another monitor, or just want to go outdoors and enjoy myself.

While I am not going to go into what I am writing, I do want to explore the process of writing.  As the title of this entry suggests, words are very important.  One of the things I find so irritating in an author is a failure to provide a variety of terms.  For instance, I recall a very popular recent author whose use of the same word within a few sentences has driven me to distraction!  What is wrong with finding a synonym?  In prose, variety is important, but in poetry, the repetition of sound creates a very different pattern, and so the usage of a word numerous times may be very appropriate and artistic.

This is where paper and pen can come to the aid of the computer-produced manuscript.  I like to take what I have written and give it double- or triple-spacing.  Then, stapled together, I take it someplace outside or at a coffee bar and sit with a pen to edit.  I circle, I cross out, I re-write.  In short, I edit with a different perspective because I am seeing the writing on paper.

While I love the convenience of computers and such, I also love the feel of a good pen on a piece of paper.  The experience is physical and sensual and intellectual all at once.  And it is a very real experience – just like we are trying to create for our readers.

Pondering . . .

When I wrote that last entry, in January 2017, I was still on vacation and filled with the idea that, yes, I could do it all.  But I couldn’t.  And I can’t.  Work sucks it out of me, and what little time there is requires things which require little time – snatches of time – to do anything.

Doing nothing is worse than doing a little.  Little things add up.

And it is darn hard to realize this.

I’ve been reading a book called Essentialism by Greg McKeown.  While a lot of it is oriented toward business, it also talks about one’s personal life.  Up front, I don’t care about my job.  I do it because I need to, but it doesn’t thrill me.  It doesn’t leave me cold, either; I really enjoy a lot of it, but my personal, creative life suffers because of my work hours.

And so, part way through the book (I still am reading it), McKeown asks the question:  What is the one thing you are really passionate about?  Yes, the overwhelming question.

For days, I pondered this.  What do I really feel passionate about?  What is at the core of my being?  And what emerged is simply writing.  Writing about everything, physically writing with a pen on paper, at the computer, expressing my thoughts.  And with paper comes paint and ink and colors and words.  And history and stories and ideas and the world pre-PC.

Paper.

Little did I realize when I started this blog that Journey by Paper would be such an appropriate title.