Archive for the ‘My way of doing it’ Category

Plein Air Priorities

Friday, June 15th, 2018

I had hoped, in touring some of the western National Parks this past May, to do some plein air painting along the way.  However, as I had found in the past, guided sightseeing tours do not provide many opportunities for full-fledged painting setups, and by the time we got settled into our hotel rooms at the end of each day’s excursions, I was too tired to head out on my own.  (Yes, I know that many would say that if I were a true die-hard, I would venture out to capture the sunset or some iconic view of the locale.  More power to those who can!  But at my age, I’ve learned to be realistic about my physical stamina and need for adequate rest.)

“Grand Tetons” by Charlotte Mertz (4″x6″ watercolor, #180510w)

Although I was able to do a very small, quick watercolor in the Tetons while the rest of the group watched an informative film, most of my output was in the form of even quicker pencil sketches, for which minimal setup and time were required.  Sometimes I could snatch a moment during a lunch break.  At other times, while waiting for the bus to get underway, I would sketch the scenery directly from my coach seat.

"Jackson Hillside" by Charlotte Mertz  (#180509p)

“Jackson Hillside” by Charlotte Mertz
(#180509p)

Would I discourage others from taking sightseeing tours?  Definitely not!  And here’s why.  I was able to accrue innumerable reference photos during our travels, saw sights I probably would not have seen, and learned information I probably would have missed if I had been traveling on my own.

And the short sketching stints encouraged me to look for the essence, such as the overall silhouette shapes, intertwining textures, and interplay of values within this stand of firs.

"Yellowstone Firs" by Charlotte Mertz  (#180512p)

“Yellowstone Firs” by Charlotte Mertz
(#180512p)

However, I would recommend, for anyone who wants to spend considerable time painting, that you establish your own schedule and priorities.  Arrange travel time around your painting time, rather than trying to squeeze the painting into a pre-scheduled tour itinerary.  If you want a tour, look for someone local who can fit a bit of sightseeing into your painting schedule, preferably one who can provide guidance to promising painting sites, as well as offer insights into regional lore.

 

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.

2018 Watercolor Classes

Monday, January 1st, 2018

A new year marks a good time to take a fresh look at the methods and approach I will be taking in teaching my watercolor classes this year, as well as to redefine my goals for them. I look forward to starting my new 5-session series of beginning watercolor classes next week in both the Verandah and Pelican Preserve communities here in Fort Myers.  I want to give my students more than bragging rights for a “refrigerator magnet” style one-time souvenir.

Instead, I have two goals.  The first is to provide my students with the basic understanding of the medium, technical know-how, and confidence to be able to begin painting in watercolor on their own, from an unlimited choice of subjects, for the rest of their lives.  The second is to instill in them a joy in painting so they want to continue developing their skills and understanding, increasing in both confidence and satisfaction in their ongoing efforts.

"Still Life with Ixora Blossom" by Charlotte Mertz (171207w detail)

“Still Life with Ixora Blossom” by Charlotte Mertz (171207w detail)

As I review my course syllabus, I know the information to be covered in each class session will lay a groundwork upon which any further learning can be based.  But more important than that is the enthusiasm I hope to express as I talk with my students and demonstrate my own joy in painting.  Enthusiasm (or lack of it, unfortunately) is contagious.  So I want my joy to always be apparent both in my own work and in my attitude toward the students and each topic I present, so each group of students bonds into a supportive community, enthusiastic and encouraging toward one another as we learn from both our successes and that inevitable “School of Oops,” from which few of us ever entirely graduate.

Art is one field in which we can never “know it all.”  It’s a wonderful subject for those of us who consider ourselves “lifetime learners,” because it poses a never-ending challenge to exceed whatever our current level of skill and expertise might be.  No matter how innately “talented” we may be even without instruction, or how developed our skills become through extensive education, there is always room to learn more.  But without a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction we will probably feel little impetus to maintain a long-range drive toward excellence.

So that is my primary goal for these beginning classes—not that I necessarily start my students on a road to becoming great artists, but that they feel motivated with an inner sense of pleasure and satisfaction to pursue their budding interest in watercolor painting and carry it as far as they will.

While maintaining an atmosphere of camaraderie and encouragement, my subsequent 5-session series of Continuing and Intermediate classes in both communities will continue to build on the basic skills learned in the Beginning classes.  The Continuing and Intermediate classes will focus more on general artistic principles, which contribute to a sense of perspective and reality.  Although my classes will address how artistic principles can be applied specifically to watercolor work, understanding them can enhance compositional design in any medium.

Will you be joining us as we begin our classes next week?

Winnowing the Yield

Friday, December 1st, 2017

One of the plights an artist faces is what to do with the vast amount of “product” that accumulates in the studio.  If we are skilled and in demand, much of what we create sells promptly and clears the way for further work.  Although I’m not quite at that point yet, I intend to keep working at it.

As we climb the stairway toward greater success, years’ worth of practice, studies, and still-immature work tends to accumulate, gradually encroaching on the working environment, consuming shelf, drawer, wall, floor, and other storage space until there’s scarcely room to move.  So sometimes we need to glance back down that stairwell to see that though what we achieved at each step succeeded in teaching us something to carry us a step further, that we had not yet reached our destination.  Just as I did in this depiction from several years ago of an unusual natural-wood stairwell configuration.

"Spiral Stair" 11"x15" watercolor (#130702w)

“Spiral Stair”
11″x15″ watercolor (#130702w)

Even knowing that my own work has not always lived up to my hopes or expectations, I often find it difficult to discard what amounts to ideas.  (Surely they could be useful to me sometime in the unforeseen future.)  The problem is that the material accumulation of unsuccessful or unfulfilled “ideas” can interfere with my continuing work in the present and even deter fresher ideas from coming to fruition!

So as we approach the end of another year, it’s time for me to winnow out the chaff—those earlier efforts that reaped no rewards beyond experience (a good enough reason in itself to have painted those pieces) to make room for more mature work.  Three stacks soon accumulated:  discards, salvageables, and keepers.

“Salvageables” fell into several categories—those that require only minor work to bring them up to acceptable standards; those from which I would like to make another attempt of the same subject, usually in a different medium (Oh dear, there are those ideas again!); and those from which I can reuse the canvas or framing materials, if nothing more.

The decisions aren’t easy.  (I can be ridiculously sentimental about some of my work.)  But as a professional, why would I want to waste space on pieces of much lower quality than I can currently produce?  I mustn’t!

Certainly, selling it might bring in a bit of immediate revenue, but it wouldn’t help reinforce the brand quality that I want to project.  So some “tough love” has had to come into play.  And some forthright frankness with myself about what lives up to, or at least approaches, my current level … and what simply doesn’t.

The job of culling the crop isn’t finished yet, and may not be before the end of the year … but hey, … I can already see a little open rack space again!

Casting new light on the subject

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

One of my goals for October is to study the effect of unusually colored light sources.  Such study helps train my eye to see the real colors before me—not just the local color we expect to see but how that color is influenced by the color of the light.   The colors within shadows and reflections are also affected by the unusual color of the light, as well.

"What Shell I Paint"  (watercolor, 10"x8", #171001w)

“What Shell I Paint” (watercolor, 10″x8″ #171001w)

One of the studies I made was of a still life in whites with warm, earth-tone influences.  I used a red bulb to illuminate it so that even highlights on the white satin shone as a pale pink.   The shadows were strongly influenced with turquoise—the complement of the red light cast by this specific bulb.  But because most of the elements of the still life were reflective, bouncing the red light back into the turquoise shadows, the colors of the light and shadow combined into variations of lilac.

Not surprisingly, the red light emphasized the warmth of the warm color spots on the subject, enriching its appearance and enhancing its appeal, while the cool shadow areas provided a contrasting foil.  Incorporating some muted yellows and warm browns helped balance the color harmony, which could otherwise have appeared too “sweet.”