For Artistic Purposes

I probably shouldn’t have mentioned to the farmer that I was selecting carrots for “artistic purposes” when considering the most colorful and interesting bunch at the farmers market. But I thought it might be a compliment. Instead, I got a thinly veiled, perturbed look that suggested she hadn’t toiled all season long for me to paint her carrots. I dug myself in deeper trouble when I asked for advice on prolonging the freshness of the greens. I saw the eyes roll and quickly agreed to paint soon or refrigerate. Alas, I think this bunch was well worth the effort to grow and paint.
carrots_farmers-market

A note about colorful carrots: Carrots trace their roots to Afghanistan, where cultivation is believed to have begun sometime before the 900s. A diversity of colors was the norm as carrot cultivation spread to Europe and Asia. It wasn’t until the 1500s when the Dutch selectively bred and then popularized the orange carrot. Visit the virtual World Carrot Museum for tons of information, including a gallery of carrots in fine art.

Illustrated Watercolor Journaling

I had the pleasure and privilege of teaching a full day workshop on Illustrated Watercolor Journaling at the Killington Arts Guild in Vermont last weekend. I’m always inspired by the creativity and enthusiasm that comes from gathering people together for a day of painting! I don’t usually paint much when I’m teaching, but I started this beet as part of a demonstration and then finished it back at home. I always aim to make my journal pages reflect something meaningful or interesting from my experiences, so I finished the page with some of the lessons and tips we practiced and a bit of my joy from teaching the workshop.

beets-journaling-workshop

click to view larger and read the details

I brought a variety of props for people to sketch, including some beautiful beets with weary looking greens (they were gorgeous when I bought them!). And – wouldn’t you know, I spelled “journaling” incorrectly on the page—I hate that, but oh well!

Home Grown

It’s very satisfying to grow your own tomatoes. Not just cherry or grape tomatoes, which are fine, but full-sized Brandywines or beefsteaks. While other gardeners have been harvesting their tomatoes for a few weeks, my late-maturing heirlooms are just beginning to ripen. And I suppose that’s good. The slow yield has given me one or two to eat and more on the vine to paint.
Tomatoes

This page is a bit of an experiment. I recently bought a new fountain pen—a Lamy Safari—and I tested it with a deep blue-gray waterproof ink from De Atramentis called Fog Gray. The extra-fine pen nib is still much, much thicker than my go-to Micron 02 pen. Although I loved the smooth line, I’m not quite used to the bolder stroke. I found it hard to get much subtlety, especially when shading, which I tend to add in ink before beginning the watercolor. I look forward to more testing!

En Plein Air

“Oh to love what is lovely and will not last…”
Helderledge- watering cans

En plein air sounds so much more savvy than painting outdoors. I suppose that’s why artists prefer the French expression, which literally translates “in the open air.” Regardless, working outside is my preferred way to draw and paint. Despite the challenges of sun or wind, changing light, occasional insects, and less than comfortable seating, I love the directness of capturing a scene live. I love the freshness of working on the spot. I love translating experience to paper.
Thacher Park Overlook- plein air

I thoroughly enjoyed the luxury of spending nearly an entire day yesterday painting outside. If you are inclined to paint from photographs instead of en plein air, I highly recommend you give it a try!

In the Bleak Midwinter

baptisia australis

I finally cut down the last of my baptisia pods, which were attractive in the fall, but had become bent over and forlorn since the last snow. Still, I liked the shape of this stem and decided that a stark portrait might be fitting for the first day of winter.

Christina Rosetti penned In the Bleak Midwinter as a Christmas poem in England sometime prior to 1872. The entire poem was later set to music and published as a Christmas carol in 1906. The script is based on Italics from the Treatise on Hawking by Italian scholar Francesco Moro, penned in about 1560-1570.

Note: I’ve finally updated my blog header and added a few new sketches to the journal section. Check them out when you have a chance and let me know what you think.

Apple Season

apples

I started this painting back in August when the season’s first apples appeared at the farmers market. There are 7,500 varieties of apples worldwide and I thought it would be fun to capture some of the ones grown here in New York State. I enthusiastically laid out the painting and started building up the forms of the fruit…and then a crisis of confidence swept in. What was I thinking? I’d only painted two apples successfully before. All of my other attempts ended up looking like round red balls with stems. How was I going to get eight apples to take shape? Just one miss and the whole painting would fall apart.

So I did what any self-respecting artist would do: I set it aside. I put the painting under a stack of other artwork. I left the apples in a bowl on my desk. Three weeks later, I realized it was time to have at it again or make applesauce.

It dawned on me that painting apples might not be much different than painting bird eggs, tomatoes, or other round objects that I had had success with. The key is to build up a good range of light to dark areas. Too little variation in values and the object looks flat. You’ve also got to know when to stop. Work it too long and the transparent layers of watercolor get muddy and lifeless.

I picked up the brush with renewed confidence. Leaving light areas light and adding darker shades, the fruit began to look dimensional. Once I had a good range of values, my final challenge was capturing the beautiful subtlety in the skin of each variety— streaks of color, tiny dots, and blemishes. I added final details using a pretty dry brush— and stopped. Last, I penned the text and the classic quote from English poet William Cowper (1731-1800).

Mmm…I’m satisfied. It’s apple season and I have something good to show for it.

(Watercolor on Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper, 9×12”)

Good enough to…paint

carrotsCertain vegetables are much better painted than cooked. Beets fall into that category, as does Swiss chard and turnips. These lovely Nantes carrots with their green stems and long roots still attached begged to be memorialized on paper rather than consumed. I started with a very quick, but careful sketch, determined not to get too fussy with detail. I kept the first few washes of watercolor loose, too. That enabled me to suggest the lacy leaves, rather than get caught in exactitude and overwork the piece. Now that the painting is done, the carrots lay limp and inedible…but I wouldn’t want them any other way.

Watercolor on Fabriano hot press paper, 9”x12″
(Nantes carrots get their name from their place of origin in Nantes, France. They are sweeter than other varieties, but don’t have a long shelf life.)