Changing the Best-Laid Plans

Although we can plan a lot about our artwork, there are some elements over which we have little control. One of those is weather.

As I wrote in April, I had intended to keep a watercolor sketch journal throughout a month-long European sojourn this spring. It seemed like a great way to record some of the places we traveled and the scenes we passed during our cruise along the Rijn/Rhine/Rhein, Main, and Danube Rivers.

I began with the best of intentions.

Because standard brushes would have required a separate, (spillable) water container, I had chosen instead to use a single, reservoir brush, in which water flowed directly from the reservoir in the handle, through the bristles, and onto the paper. But it didn’t handle the way I was used to, and I needed time to learn to control the water flow and harness its capabilities, which meant that my earliest watercolor sketches appeared clumsy and amateurish.

Also, consistently overcast skies and chilling rain were not lending themselves to vibrant lighting contrasts or extensive plein air watercolor sketching.

Some paintings, like one I did of windmills along the Rijn, were essentially compilations of scenes we passed too quickly to record as they appeared; managing only to suggest typical images.

130503 Koln Shipyard

The more successful sketches, such as “Koln Shipyard,” above, and “Portside in Bamberg,” below, were painted over a the span of a half hour or more while the ship sat stationary in port. After the first few days, my increasing confidence with the brush became evident in the improving quality of the watercolor sketches.

130603 Portside in Bamberg

Unfortunately, the rains continued to fall, and the rivers continued to rise. So about the time I was learning to negotiate the new brush, the rivers rose beyond safe navigability. Our river cruise suddenly turned into a coach excursion, which didn’t lend itself so well to sketching the rapidly passing scenery.

I tried, with limited success, to paint on the coach. After only one attempt, I had to abandon the daily sketch plan. From that time on, I relied instead on my camera to quickly capture iconic and evocative images to paint from after returning to the studio.

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