Archive for February, 2018

Sidetracked by the Muse

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

As I look ahead to adventures planned for this coming year, I have also been looking back at our travels from 2017.  A camera gives me an opportunity to “relive” travel experiences, recalling the imagery of specific moments.  But painting from those images also allows me to recall the atmosphere and the specific elements that attracted my attention, that drew me to capture at least the visual scene in the photograph.  Through painting, I can more freely interpret that scene, drawing out from the overabundance of visual information only those key elements that mattered to me and minimizing the extraneous detail that might detract from it.

So, despite my recently-stated intent to narrow down my focus for now to figurative work, when I felt inspired to work on a specific project that did not conform, I found myself following the muse.

I had photographed a prickly pear cactus as a memory from my youth, when I had spent several years at various locales in the American Southwest. The plant has a rhythm in the linking of its lobes, a characteristic texture of its surface—with obvious spikes … and less obvious ones that (as I  learned early) can prove quite as troublesome if you brush too close…, as well as delicate, tissue-like blossoms that spring out in glorious color in the midst of the dusty, sun-baked surroundings.

“Prickly Pear” by Charlotte Mertz (8” x 8” watercolor on Arches hp paper, #180201w)

Using watercolor pencil, I sketched in the plant against a background of dried desert grasses.  A subsequent water wash couldn’t bring out the play of color the subject demanded, so I treated it as an underwash, following it up with multiple glazes of QoR watercolor to provide greater depth of color and contrast.

Prickly Pear is not a plant I want in my Florida garden, nor as a potted specimen on my Wisconsin deck.  But in the vast expanse of the desert lands of the Great Southwest, I found it an enchanting and rather nostalgic sight.

Limiting Options to Raise Productivity

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Last time I wrote about combatting burnout by trying something new.  I love having many different media available to work with, and developing the confidence to use each one comfortably.  Each medium has its strengths as well as its drawbacks.  So it would seem counterintuitive to regularly limit my options in using them.

But the truth is that I have a tendency to spread myself too thin.  We used to call that being a Jack of All Trades, which, of course, can easily preclude becoming a master of any.  With too many options at my disposal, I find I actually accomplish less overall than when I concentrate on a single medium.

The first quarter of this year, I am teaching watercolor classes.  So during this period I’ve decided that the focus of my own work should also be on watercolor to explore a variety of techniques to broaden the repertoire of my skills.  When I attempt a variety of techniques in, say, oils and pastels, at the same time, can I gain enough practical experience in the multiple media to benefit me much in any of them in the long run?  Probably not as rapidly as if I focus on developing skills in one medium at a time.

Similarly, if I divide my practice time among landscapes, portraiture, and still life, my visual attention will be scattered.  Whereas, if I focus on landscapes alone, I can attune my eyes to notice perspective, value and saturation changes, atmospheric effects, shape differentiation, and so on.  If I focus on figurative work, I am more inclined to notice how the angles, planes, and variations from “the norm” reveal the identity and attitude of an individual, as well as consciously observing the hue and temperature changes in various skin tones.

Although I may select more than one subject to use as examples for my students, my own practice and production should reflect the focus of whichever studies (both subject matter and medium) that I’ve selected to concentrate on, for my own benefit, at any given time.  In this way my attention isn’t so scattered, and I’m less likely to become sidetracked into less productive directions.