The south end of my dining room table is used for…well, dining. But the north end, where the
light is just perfect for painting is most often the site of a different sort of spread, as papers, paints,
brushes, and a cup of tea vie for space.
Guests at my dining room table know that the hostess is pretty informal. Consider yourself a guest
at the OTHER end of the table, where I will occasionally share informal musings and pictures of
work-in-progress. I am also looking forward to the fun of producing printable coloring pages every
month or so for the child in your life and the child in you! No booster chair needed!
I'm fighting off the February funk by illustrating it. It's a beautiful time of year, so clean and sparkly and white, so why not? This first series is "Snow Day." I'm often tickled by the fact that a snow day means kids spend many more hours outside than they would if school was in session!
I’ve been watching this year’s gorgeous (despite all predictions) flare of Fall color and feeling the urge to go out and paint. Painting “en plain-air” is simply going outside and painting whatever you see there. I really enjoy it. I also find it very challenging.
First of all, the logistical problems are daunting, from hauling a lot of stuff to balancing that stuff somewhere near enough to reach while painting. (Although I have a new folding chair with a table attached that I’m anxious to try out.)
Secondly, um …people. People are delightfully interested and cheerfully complimentary and so I feel positively mean wishing they would not stop and talk to me. I feel shy. I feel like they’re not being honest about whatever mediocre thing happens to be on the easel. It’s awkward…I don’t know why! Go figure.
Thirdly, things change! The light is constantly, fluidly, imperceptibly changing. Clouds gather. It’s amazing. And beautiful. But also difficult! If I don’t hurry, the light and shadow on the barn will not match the light and shadow on the trees behind the barn.
Which brings me to the title of this post. Plein-air painting and jazz seem to have spontaneity, split-second decisions, and improvisation in common. In my opinion, the best plein-air paintings have a freshness, an immediacy, and evidence of speed in execution. When painting “en plein air” there is no time for re-working a section of the painting. A good plein-air painting, like a good jazz phrase, seems to be almost an accident, involving improvising and building on “mistakes” rather than re-working them.
Not surprisingly, both plein-air painting and jazz require years of preparation to be done well. Winslow Homer is considered by many to be the greatest 19th century American painter. The paintings considered his masterworks are in oil, done in the studio. Yet his watercolors, done en plein-air are some of my absolute favorites. I do love his works that were “perfected” in the studio. But the watercolors done quickly, some as sketches for paintings to complete later…ah! Those are clearly painted by a genius. Compare the three watercolors below to the well-known oil “Breezing Up,” all by Homer and see if you agree with me.
I am planning to venture out, bravely, with all my stuff, on the next sunny day. Coltrane and Homer will be on my mind.
I once read that watercolor pencils were really great to use for animals and yesterday I spent the day trying them. Such fun! Just like using colored pencils, which I've done since I was a kid. But with the added...and delightful... twist that you then pick up your watercolor brush and loosen it up. The colors run and play together but the lines/texture remain. Some colors become more vibrant when you add water, some less. You can fill areas in with more than one color and then see what adding water will do to the mix.
I have two types of watercolor pencils. Derwent Aquatone Watercolor sticks were used for the chipmunks. Tomorrow I hope to try the Caran D'Ache Water soluble pencils and compare the results.
This little ball of bunny cuteness was done with the Caran D'Ache pencils. I like both types... It will be fun to have them as tools and may provide some mid-winter experimenting fun.
“When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college- that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, "You mean they forget?"
Recently I spent Saturday morning with Sally Kamerling talking about illustration and The Golden Cap at a children’s library. The children in the group were delightful and attentive, but some wandered away to the playhouse area and some were getting a bit squirmy, perhaps thinking about the sunshine and possibly the city pool, which had just opened. …Until we started playing The Scribble Game!
If you’ve never played The Scribble Game, it is the easiest game in the world. One person draws a scribble; the other adds whatever they want to turn it into something that they see in the scribble…a dragon…a bird…a fish…Then they switch roles and do it again. It can go on for a long time this way…(as long as it takes for a slow waiter to bring the kid’s menu....which is why paper and pencil were always in my purse when our kids were little.)
Our Saturday morning session seemed to take on a life of its own. The children played the scribble game on the white board long after the formal session was over. The fun thing about this group of children was that often, they seemed to not draw “things.” One after the other, they seemed to just draw whatever fanciful shapes came to mind. I caught myself wanting to say “No, you’re supposed to draw “things!” But as I watched them, I realized that the marvelous and kooky things that were taking shape were so much more wonderful than the “things” that I would have drawn. Something in the wiring of a child seems to bypass the need for the analytical when putting pencil or marker to paper. More than ever I sense the need to rediscover that wiring in my own art.
“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up” – Pablo Picasso
This week a friend and I had lunch with the Bard. Well, actually with the Binghamton Shakespeare Dramatic Society. Last year I was delighted to be part of a group of illustrators-artists who created an exhibition of Shakespeare-inspired art. A member of the Dramatic Society saw the show at the Bundy Museum in Binghamton and invited us to share our process and our inspiration.
So this week Wynn Yarrow (creator of richly colorful landscapes which you can see at Wynnyarrow.com) and I spent an afternoon sharing about Shakespeare and art. It turns out that a roomful of Shakespeare-lovers is also a roomful of art-lovers. And book-lovers. The conversations around the tables were wonderful. We showed examples of the art we all had done, described our own creative processes, and Wynn chose someone to read each reference quote aloud, which was fun. (Club rules: if you're asked to read you cannot refuse...) This society of Shakespeare lovers has been in existence for 100 years, reading two plays a year together at bi-weekly meetings.
It was nice to be welcomed into their circle for the day.
Here are two pictures I shared with them. A painting of Puck and Bottom the Weaver from A Midsummer Night's Dream and a photo of our puck-ish granddaughter who obviously served as a reference:)
I've been inspired to paint this sweet little girl, Gracie Lu, who reads to her dog and hugs chickens as big as she is. More to come, courtesy of Emily (her mom and my niece) who is quick with the camera. Also experimenting with mixing pencil sketches and watercolor. Seems promising!
A new coloring page as Easter draws near. Pysanky seem so much easier to draw with a pen than with wax on the actual egg (I'm dreadful at it but I keep trying.) Here are some wonderful things about Pysanky: You can't do them quickly. You must do them with candles on the table. It's best with loved ones gathered around doing them together. They are a vibrant and gorgeous reminder of resurrection.
The few that we've made over the years sit on the table all during Holy Week.
When our first granddaughter was about two and a half, someone let her walk around with the camera and take pictures of everybody. She loved it! The result was, predictably, hilarious! Aside from the unflattering gallery of stomachs, thighs, and rear-ends, it was a reminder of how different the world looks to a child. Children have a delightfully unconventional and topsy-turvy way of seeing things.
I had a fun conversation with my husband about things we remember from our topsy-turvy years. We both remember lying on the floor, looking long and hard at the ceiling, as we imagined walking around in an upside-down house. I remember watching the sky and trees spin by as I twirled on the swing. I’m proud to say that I stood on my head for one whole cartoon show. For many children, every pause is an excuse to jump up and down, turn a somersault, or jump on a parent’s back.
I’ve been thinking, lately, about child’s-eye view, bird’s-eye view, and the creative way that many illustrators delight young readers with unconventional views of the world.
I love the way Patricia Polacco fills her pages with rich color, strong diagonal lines, and beautifully realistic sketched faces. She does not hesitate to present a topsy-turvy world. Sometimes it seems the whole scene is drawn at a slant. It would be difficult to choose a favorite, but “Rechenka’s Eggs,” “The Bee Tree,” and “Thundercake” are especially wonderful.
Stephen Gammell’s wonderfully diverse illustrations seem to actually move! A friend once told him that his pictures “look like they just happened before you turn the page.”' That became a goal for him, leading him to work without sketching first. Freshness and childlike exuberance are on every page! “Old Henry” is a favorite. The old house in the story leans at crazy angles, as does Old Henry.
The breath-taking watercolors of Jerry Pinkney have been delighting children and adults for 50 years! His paintings are brimming with action, color, and, of course, the translucent beauty of watercolor at play. “The Lion and the Mouse” brings the reader down to the eye-level of an adorable field mouse. I just bought myself a copy of the “Tortoise and the Hare.” I’m inspired to try to paint a topsy-turvy world of animals with both realism and humor as he does.
Today winter has returned to us, here in the Northeast, with a blast of whiteness and sobering temperatures. It’s a good time to surround yourself with color and lively action! Grab a favorite picture book and a child or two and read!