Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Fabulous Four: Enjoying a Limited Watercolor Palette

I've painted with watercolors most of my life and though they are considered a difficult medium, you need to think in terms of not minding "mistakes" since, unlike oils whereby you can paint over a problem, in watercolor, it's right there looking at you.  But, I find that simply thinking of watercolor as "play" helps move things along.  For instance, you can wet down your paper, drop in different colors here and there, then, as the paper dries, go back in and define your subject.  Or, of course, you can be more precise which I admit to being with the art-work presented here.

But, I want to talk here about using a limited palette.  Only four colors.  I've squeezed mine into a simple little Winsor-Newton dish (see above) which I can carry around with a single brush and a little bottle of water if I want to go out and paint en plein air.

(All the paintings illustrated here are done with only these four pigments ... except for one, so noted.)

"Cow Creek at Pecos"

These particular four colors are among watercolors' most transparent.  Some months back I wrote a posting about painting on plasticized paper whereby the paints could easily be lifted off with a wet brush.  But these particular four colors lend themselves to lifting off as well--though not as completely.  They also mix beautifully together, not producing mud.  And they seem to shine on white paper with a wonderful luminosity.

"Summer Mowings"

"Lisianthus Dawning"

These Fabulous Four--Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Aureolin, and Rose Madder Genuine--are what are called transparent colors because they allow more of the white paper to show through.  (Conversely, the Cadmiums, Prussian Blue, and French Ultramarine are among the opaque colors.)

Left to right:  Cobalt Blue, Aureolin, Viridian, Rose Madder Genuine

"Daffodil Morning"

"Cosmos at Fiesta Time"  (Though most of this is done with only the four pigments, I dropped some Winsor Red and Cadmium Yellow Deep into the center to draw in the eye.)

"St. Gauden's Apple Tree"

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A New Batch of Something A Little Different

Twice before now, I've compiled some of the best videos and sites friends have sent me.  Here is a new batch which I think you'll enjoy.

The first, "40 Inspiring Workspaces of the Famously Creative," shows everything from a single desk to fully equipped writers' studies and artists' studios.  The contrast between the spartan and the chaotic is fascinating.  (Scroll)  Link 1

(Note:  Alas, Link 2 is no longer available.)

This one is called "15 Unbelievable Paintings That Look Like Photographs."  You would swear they're photos, but they're not.  (Scroll)  Link 3

A Parisienne left Paris at the time of the German occupation, closed up her apartment, and never went back.  Like a time capsule, it was finally opened some 70 years later.  (Scroll)  Link 4

This features the Circus Roncalli in an act featuring a fur coat.  I promise you, you'll take a second look.  (1:02 minute video)  Link 5

How close can a Chinese train get to a vegetable market?  Surely, no closer than this!   (43 second video)  Link 6

Here is a totally charming prize-winner about the ennui of a French feline.  (2:06 minute video)  Link 7

Set in a plaza in Spain, we get some wonderful Beethoven in this "Som Sabadell Surprise."  (5:42 minute video)  Link 8

Finally, here's a slow-mo rendering of an owl in flight, heading toward the camera.  Even the action of the feathers adds to the beauty.   (59 second video.  Skip the ad.)  Link 9

Another workspace ... no, not my own.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Mom Nature and the Founding Dads

Am I right or haven't those good words, "mother" and "father," been shunted aside by a folksy rendering of  "mom" and "dad"--unless it's something literary?  I mean, at least we don't speak of Gertrude as being Hamlet's mom or Jocasta as being Oedipus's.  And we fortunately don't refer to Dad Time.  Or the mom in the bottom of a bottle of apple cider vinegar.

I grew up thinking it was only children who spoke of their parents as moms and dads.  As in, "What are we having for supper tonight, Mom." It seemed a personal form of address rather like calling one's daughter, Sweetie Pie.  So that, referring to girls in general today, we might now say, "The sweetie pies will gather at Susie's before the ball game."

I'm not sure what my beef is except possibly our constancy in making things lite or liter whether in language, dress, manners, ambitions, expectations.  Might Lincoln have ended the Gettysburg Address by saying, " ... and that government of the folks, by the folks, and for the folks ..."?  Or today he might have slipped in "you guys" instead.

I was once lunching with some older (my age) friends from Wales who'd just arrived in the States.  As we perused the menu, the waitress returned and asked, "So do you guys know what you want?"  I saw my friends sit up just a bit ... but they smiled and gave their orders graciously.

However, the waitress was no sooner out of sight than one of them asked me,  "What is this 'guys' thing?  Is that like 'Guys and Dolls'?"  He was quite good humored about it but did seem curious.

But, hey, I can go along with all this ... and I'll even pass along a useful little tip.  (And here's the editor in me.)  For anyone writing, remember not to capitalize "mom" or "dad" in the middle of a sentence unless you're using them as you would a name.  "Hey, Dad, a fox just crossed the road!"  Otherwise, "The moms are taking yoga every Thursday morning."

Speaking of it, Happy Father's Day.

A dad ... who happened to be mine though we called him Pop.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Empty Spaces

Ah, how lightened I felt after November's presidential election to be free of all that hype and campaigning.  But then, immediately post-election, I started hearing talk about the 2016 election.  We weren't allowed any empty space.  Just as, if one went out in the evening in early November, one already saw Christmas lights.  No waiting around, even, until after Thanksgiving.  We used to make it a practice to not play Christmas music--and that included such wonders as Bach's Christmas Oratorio--until after Thanksgiving dinner.  The whole Winter Wonderland complement had been piping through stores at that point for what seemed weeks, and we were of the opinion that less was more.   (Wish our election process felt the same way.)

Then, after reading about the upcoming new addition to the British royal family, I saw a piece, "What Will They Name the Baby?"  Why not, And Who Will the Baby Then Marry When He or She Grows Up?  And who will their heir then be?

There's the noise thing, as well, when something labeled "music" serves as a backdrop whether we're out by the gas pumps filling up or waiting in a doctor's office.  Let's leave some empty space there, too--called good old silence.

And now our skies are getting it.  When I was back in Santa Fe for a few weeks this winter, the formerly bright blue skies were being filled with pollutants on a regular basis.  Some excuse this by saying these are simply the normal exhaust trails from commercial jets called condensation trails.  But con trails are short-lived ice crystals that quickly evaporate.  These are more like an aerosol chemical soup.  It's apparently happening all over but easier to see in the West where the sky seems endless.  Not stuff I particularly want floating down on me ... or on the crops I eat.  I don't consider this blog to be the place for a discussion of the why's and wherefore's--if you're curious, look it up on line--but here are some photos I took.
Looking west one morning around 9 a.m.

Looking east from the same spot

What the sky then looked like a few hours later

Next morning, same place, same hour ... what the skies SHOULD look it!  (If those had been commercial flights, wouldn't they reappear each morning?)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Wabi-Sabi As I Understand It

Old tree ... irregular

I have been interested in the concept of wabi-sabi since a friend introduced me to it some twenty years ago.  Basically, it is a Japanese aesthetic that embraces the modest, the imperfect, the irregular, the evolving/devolving.  I like it because it recognizes what I might call an un-Madison Avenue, un-Hollywood beauty.  Something with a more spiritual approach, recognizing a humanity, even, within the subject, whether that is an old gnarled tree or a misfired clay pot that no one pays all that much attention to.

One thing I've decided is that wabi-sabi is pretty much the opposite of what we in the West think of as beauty, ours being based on the Greek ideal of perfection.  The young beautiful girl, the perfect piece of hand-blown glass.  Not the woman d'un certain ├óge ... or something with a highly polished sheen from eons of use. 

In the advertising mode, we are faced with images that are meant to knock our socks off, to make one's jaw drop.  But how often can we keep that up?  So we disconnect.  We drop out.  We decide we want something calmer.  No drama queens, please.  Not even those who pretend not to be.  Here's the weather, they say.  Look at (and celebrate the anniversary of) the disasters that have hit these particular places.  Here's the news.  See what awful things are being done here and here and here.  Here's a program where a couple is looking for a house.  Watch how she wants something in the city and he something in the country.  Oh, conflict, conflict.  Who will give way?

And then our national aesthetic focuses on the bright, the glitzy, the honored, the one that calls out, "I am best" or even, "You are best."  So, to look at the very opposite (and something that does not speak of glorification) can seem downright subversive.  But what a treasure one can find in quietly invisible places, in places that are, that do not shout out to be recognized.

Wabi-sabi, then, is the beauty--even the spiritual path--found in that which is humble, incomplete, rustic, unsophisticated, overlooked, simple.  In a farmers market, it might well be the basket of "Seconds."  The tomatoes that didn't make the expensive cut.

Ferns ... devolving
What I'm wondering is:  as we (as a nation, as people) mature, as we are possibly faced with more austerity in our lives, will we find ourselves tapping more and more into something related to wabi-sabi?  We've so long learned that beauty is perfection that we automatically negate this whole different approach.  Where is the excitement in the modest? we ask  But we can turn that around to ask, what is there within the modest, the imperfect that we never noticed before?  I do believe we're ready for this more internal view, this totally different outlook than the one that's been drummed into us.

Apple orchard farm stand ... rustic
The best book I've found on the subject is Leonard Koren's Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers (Stone Bridge Press)In it, he shows photos of a leaf decomposing on the ground, the intersection of two mud-straw walls in a typical Japanese room, a trail of rust made by a nail in a piece of wood.  According to him, one of wabi-sabi's metaphysical tenets is that all is evolving or devolving from or to nothingness.  "And nothingness itself--instead of being empty space, as in the West--is alive with possibility.  In metaphysical terms, wabi-sabi suggests that the universe is in constant motion toward or away from potential."  (p. 45) 

Shadows on a wall ... impermanent

Aging leaves on top of a stone wall ... modest, rough