Time

Since I put in my resignation and applied for my retirement funds, an interesting shift in viewpoint or perspective has occurred.  I’ve been out on medical leave since last summer, and always had a return date for work.  First it was in January 2019, and then the last day of March 2019.  (Nothing fatal, just a health situation that is taking a bit longer to “fix” than originally thought, and as I was planning to retire in July of this year, I just moved things up.)

There were “return to work” dates in my head.  Having those dates is very different than having a seemingly infinite time that retirement provides.  No schedule, no obligations to a job – just my life.

I feel as if I am standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon – which I have done from different vantage points – and the experience is heady and scary!  The bottom of the Grand Canyon is a long way down – and the view to the other rim is miles and miles away.  The river is to be traveled.  The sky is vast and filled with stars and clouds and songbirds and ravens and raptors.  What adventures await?  That is up to me to decide as much as is in my power.

The freedom is the most exciting part – the freedom to choose to do something or not do something.  The freedom to be lazy, to read, to take a walk, to have lunch with a friend, to chat on the phone, to write, to paint, to draw, to do photography, to dig holes in the yard (that has to wait – too much rain!), to shop, to bake, to cook, to sew, to design, to think, to live, to wait, to plan, to anticipate.

All of this is sprawled out like a puddle of water, an ocean, moving into nooks and crannies that have been ignored in face of the 10-11 hour work day when the only options are get up, drink coffee, have breakfast, get washed and dressed, drive to work, work, shove lunch in my face while I work, work some more, drive home, have dinner, clean up after dinner, go to bed.

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed my job, but I was tired of the lack of time for myself, to be with family and friends, tired of feeling every moment in my life belonged to someone or something else (the job, my students, my responsibilities at work) or spent on the daily chores of living (dishes, cleaning, bills, budgeting).  To savor anything personal had a pressure on it to do it quickly and efficiently so there would still be time for another activity.  Personal relationships were nearly impossible to maintain, even at home.  I think my health also suffered because of 5 years of this crazy schedule – so I got to practice for retirement with medical leave and enjoy some time of my own.

And now, I own my time except for what my biological clock and fate has in store for me.  It’s something I treasure every day.

Style

Definition search result for STYLE (straight from Google search “definition style”):  1.  a manner of doing something.  2.  a distinctive appearance, typically determined by the principles according to which something is designed. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about style of late, as in style of music, clothing, politics, painting, drawing, writing.  Since we are all individuals, we all have ways of doing things that earmark them as our own.

I don’t particularly care for what I might consider my native way of drawing and painting.  I have a vision in my mind’s eye about how I want things to look as a finished product.  That doesn’t mean no happy accidents, but it does mean I have a certain vision of clarity with watercolor paints in particular.  I think a lot of what I paint seems labored – and maybe that is because I did the laboring?  My paints seem heavy and more opaque rather than utilizing the transparency of the medium.

Copying

Copying a master’s work is a time-honored tradition for art students, whether sitting in the Louvre and copying a Rembrandt (if they still let people do that, like they did in the 1800s), or a sumi-e student in training.

Today there seems to be a shunning of such, with more of an emphasis on “originality” coupled with a fear of lawsuits for copyright infringement.  If you think about it, nothing is really “original” but derivations of other’s works or our own creative minds, but someone before you or me probably had the same idea.  Forgers can make a bit of money by copying masters, and passing them off as the master’s, but with today’s technology, I expect that becomes a bit more difficult.  By the same token, can using a photograph as a springboard to a painting can be considered under some circumstances as copying – even if you have taken the same picture yourself?  It’s my understanding you cannot take pictures of the Eiffel Tower lit up at night because those photographs are copyrighted by the lighting of the tower!  That is how crazy this world can be.

Learning from Copying

What do you learn when you copy someone else’s work?  What do you have to do to “get” there?  You have to look, think, analyze, plan, and then look, think, analyze, and plan again.  After you do that, where do you go?  How can you apply what you have learned to make your newfound knowledge your own?  I struggle with this as there are artists I admire, whose work inspires me – how do I make what I have learned in the process of copying my own?  I am still trying to figure this out.

One thing I do not want to do is pass something off as original if I have copied it as a learning experience.  That is completely unethical.  I find it interesting that certain art instructors make it well known that, if you have taken a workshop with them, any work derived from learning in that workshop cannot be sold as “original.”  Does that mean their “style” is copyrighted?  Does this mean if you develop a style with your own subject matter which is similar to what you have learned that you can be sued for copyright infringement?  If such is the case, none of us can produce anything – this building is copyrighted, that tree is copyrighted, that person is subject to privacy laws, that color is copyrighted, that song sound is copyrighted, that rhythm is copyrighted.  If you do DNA testing, you may be signing away your rights to your own body’s chemical makeup.

So, What Happens Now?

Well, I know what I want to accomplish in my painting.  To list it:

  • clarity of color
  • economy of composition (meaning not overworking something) and simplicity
  • mastery

I prefer landscapes to portraits or animals.  I can do skies fairly well.  Trees, sometimes; mountains, sometimes.  Cityscapes?  Seascapes?  Challenges for sure.  What about painting cars – part of cityscapes!  Waves – part of seascapes.  Water?  Omigod!  It’s overwhelming.

Enough whining and pontificating – time to get out the brushes and color!

 

A Sunny Day in the Garden

A few miles up the road from me is the local botanical garden.  It’s located on a series of hills that cover several acres.  Trails wander through oak groves and chaparral.  Specific areas are planted for butterflies and birds, sage plants, California natives, rare fruit, cacti.  It’s always a pleasure to meander around in it as it changes with seasons.  Different times of day bring out different animals; as well, the light shifts and changes.  Early morning, sunset, high noon.  Benches  line the paths throughout the garden.  For a wilder walk, there are the trails along the creek.  I’ve seen squirrels, road runners, coyotes and hawks.  Critters like it as much as I do.  It’s even better when you are the only one there except the wildlife!

I went out to take pictures and to draw – it’s been several weeks since I was last there.  Rain and cold as well as being ill kept me home for a bit.  With today’s 70 F, it was hard to stay indoors.  I took a couple of cameras – one film, one digital – some paper and a pen.  I wanted to see the flowers in particular, especially the spring bulbs which come up at this time of year.  I wasn’t disappointed.The outing was soul-satisfying on a personal and artistic level. I’ll be back sooner rather than later!  There is little more satisfying than time spent in solitary and quiet appreciation of nature.

Wet Work

I read too many spy novels!

So, if this isn’t about the darker sides of life, what is this about?  It is about watercolor painting.  As you may recall, I have been trying to work on my drawing and painting, between other life activities.  While I try to do one or the other daily, it doesn’t happen.  The thing that is happening is a beginning of focusing on various elements of watercolor.  Rather than just paint, I began to focus on retaining white space.  White space in watercolor is the paper itself – that is the only way to get a “true” white when painting, unless you put in white paint, such as a white gouache.  Many people frown on this.  So, retaining white means you paint around white areas, which have to be considered as you lay down color, or using a rubber-based frisket.  The frisket is great as you can paint right across it once it dries.  Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages.

In addition to retaining white space, I have added another focus in my painting.  Watercolor paper is painted on when wet or dry.  Painting wet-on-dry means applying paint to a dry paper.  Wet-in-wet means prewetting the paper, or painting onto paper where a wash is still wet.  Wet-in-dry allows for hard edges.  Wet-in-wet allows the paint to blur and blend, and how much it does this is dependent on the wetness of the paper and the slope of the easel.

The above picture was from a photo I took at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium of jellyfish floating around in their water.  The aquarium is backlit, and the light shines through the diaphanous membranes of the fish.  This was simply ink, followed through with a bit of color.  Drawing the jellyfish was fun – and in the lines of the tentacles, it almost became a dance with the jellyfish.

The jellyfish were drawn with a very fine point pen.  The Joshua Tree was done with a thick, permanent ink pen, about 0.5 in diameter (I think).  Here, the ink was used to create texture, with watercolor being secondary.

This is the point at which watercolor, ink, and white space became a focal point. I think these are a variant of snowbells, and they are found in the shade beneath trees. In such dim light, the white flowers are strikingly in contrast to the mulchy undergrowth, and in photos often are rather flat in appearance. This drawing demonstrates that flatness, but with the whiteness of the flowers preserved.

From the flatness of the line and watercolor drawing, I now worked on creating white in a dark painting. The flowers themselves look very flat because the paint I used to create – try to create – a 3D effect just pooled. The white is now filled with flat paint, which creates a flat picture. Here, the paint was applied wet onto dry paper, and the result is a bunch of hard edges. It is this realization that made me move into working a lot with wet-in-wet.

The pictures above are more attempts at preserving white, and working wet into wet. Probably the most successful one is the painting of the winter sky with the silhouetted tree.  Click on one of the paintings to cycle through the images in a slide show.

From the deliberate paintings I moved to wetting the paper thoroughly with water for the first of the two paintings above – soaking the paper with my brush, painting into the wet paper, and then painting again into the wet paint. The fir trees were more deliberate.  Here I tried to work with white space and with snow, trying to capture ways in which white can be interpreted with paint.  Again, click on one of the paintings to see the slide show.

While doing all these paintings, I started thinking about watercolorists whose work I admire, and who, I know, did wet-in-wet particularly well. Winslow Homer is one of the best watercolorists of the 1800s, and his skies have always appealed to me. The painting above is my rendition of his painting The Palm Tree, Nassau. I changed a few colors and compositional elements, but I used this as an exercise to study how Homer may have painted. He used wet-in-wet on the sky; white space for the waves and tower, and varying techniques for the palm trees and foreground.

Besides trying to understand how an artist created a painting, I also searched YouTube for artists working wet-in-wet. I came across Edo Hannema’s channel and was so impressed! He is a master of wet-in-wet, as well as working with white space. I learned a lot from observing and copying his examples; this painting may be from one of his videos or an interpretation of one I saw online – don’t recall. I think seeing his work, and copying his exercises, has started my being able to move forward. I plan to follow his lessons more in the near future. His paintings have a lovely simplicity as well as demonstrate a finely honed skill in wet-in-wet. He is from Holland, so many of his paintings show very flat land, which for me is fascinating as I live in an area with a lot of hills and mountains and valleys.

Finally, I did this one today. I was up at oh-dark-thirty, having my coffee, and thinking about all the things I have been painting over the past few weeks. It was time to try to paint something that used a lot of wet-in-wet, had a modicum of white space, and finally wet-into-dry, meaning wet paint applied over dried paint. I am pleased with what I have learned, from copying other artists’ works to my own experiments. Everyday is an exciting new adventure, and out of all of my interests and hobbies, watercolor is the biggest pleasure of all.

Below is a gallery of all the above paintings, and a couple of others as well.  Enjoy!