Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Learning from Newton's Apple Tree

Newton's Apple Tree, underpainting in watercolor
In preparing for a demonstration using complementary media to make a painting, I thought I had better use a smart subject; Newton's apple tree came to mind. It was a good choice for several reasons: it featured a close-cropped and well groomed lawn, the tree itself had a picturesque shape and the image involved some good story lines which could be useful for the demonstration.

      My favored media combination is watercolor and pastel. Starting with a watercolor underpainting, I had a particular goal to show how effective it is to place the complementary color of red underneath the grass area (please see the photo above left.) That was going to be my focus during the demonstration (the first of three demonstrations given in conjunction with More & More, a juried exhibit of mixed media pieces at MS Rezny Studio/Gallery.)

      I set to work, preconceiving that I would be making an endless succession of small vertical green marks for the grass. Well, I had already ignored a couple of important guidelines that I profess: 1) Don't preconceive; don't figure that you know in advance how to render something. You will always be looking anew at your subject and making decisions based on your perception. Spend some time considering your subject and be objective. 2) Follow the direction of the image (Don't follow directions--follow the direction!) The neatly trimmed grass surrounding Newton's apple tree was similar to a napped velvet. So, rather than a vertical direction, the grass had more of a horizontal direction. Fortunately, as I was busy making all those vertical marks, our little group was enjoying a lively philosophical discussion. Finally, Mary allowed as how the grass could stand to be mowed. True! Luckily, this could be accomplished by lightly stroking the pastel marks horizontally (please see photo above right.) Which brings up a third guideline: Redemption is always possible with watercolor and pastel!


 After the demonstration, I decided to take up some of the pastel. This is accomplished by brushing on water and mopping up the pastel. The  "tooth" of the paper is restored and I could take the more appropriate approach of horizontal strokes of green to render the grass.


     This approach did the trick. I was able to give the impression of a well cared for lawn; one that would have restricted access. Since you have stuck with me thus far, I had better tell you the story about the lawns of Cambridge (the setting for this painting.) Apparently, originally the Fellows (academic leaders in the colleges of Cambridge) were not allowed to marry. Since the Fellows had to bear this sacrifice, it was considered what special privilege they could enjoy in compensation; and that privilege was that the Fellows could walk on the grass! So that is why mere mortals are not allowed to sully the manicured lawns of the colleges. But the grass is truly a side story, the subject is Newton's Apple Tree. Newton studied at Trinity College, Cambridge and in honor of his residence at the college, they keep an apple tree on the lawn in front. According to our tour guide, this tree is a succession of grafts onto the original (the one with the falling apple, presenting gravity to Newton.) Through this exercise, I find myself continuing on the learning path. Many thanks to Sir Isaac's apple tree!

Newton's Apple Tree, 12 x 18", watercolor & pastel 
   Perhaps you are wondering how it is that I came across Newton's Apple Tree. David and I were very fortunate to be part of a wonderful tour: A London Rhapsody with Fred Child. We were treated to a week of wonderful music and sightseeing in London and finished up with a trip to Cambridge to experience an Evensong at King's College. Beforehand, we enjoyed a tour of Cambridge, including Trinity College and Newton's famous tree.

      More & More will be on display at MS Rezny Studio/Gallery, 903 Manchester Street, Lexington, KY through July 2014. It is a wonderful show worth visiting!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

London Eye's Big Ben

London Eye's Big Ben, 5 x 7", watercolor on Arches paper
I'm not very handy with Photoshop and so if I want to tweak a scene, I paintershop. That is what I used for this little watercolor. We had great coach drivers for our London Rhapsody with Fred Child and this driver made a special and slow trip across the Thames so that we could see Big Ben through the London Eye. I wanted to remember it as I saw it, not with all the reflections from the glass and general blurriness. That is the advantage of making art!

Monday, June 16, 2014

6-16-14 Weekly Watercolor

Rainy Day along the Thames, 5 x 7", watercolor on Arches paper
Just a week ago, David and I returned home from a wonderful week in London. We were on a tour organized by MPR Custom Travel: A London Rhapsody with Fred Child. It was a fantastic week filled with lots of music. We enjoyed an informal recital in Handel's house of his music and his contemporary's music on a beautiful reproduction harpsichord; heard music that I had not heard before (Alwyn's Sinfonietta, and Britten's "Les Illuminations") at St Martin-in the Fields performed by the young Northern Lights Symphony Orchestra; an over-the-top entertainment concert of film music performed by the Royal Philharmonic at Royal Albert Hall; perfectly performed (by the London Symphony Orchestra) Beethoven at The Barbican; and an exquisite Evensong at King's College Cambridge (which included Fred Child's special interview beforehand with Dr. Stephen Cleobury. David and I were able to fit in visits to the Tate Britain and The National Gallery to satisfy my need to see art (and visit one of my favorites, Sargent's Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.) It was a rich and rewarding experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
     Before we left, the weather forecast predicted rain every day of our trip in London. As it turned out, there were only a couple of rainy days, and they were not too bad. The worst rain fell on us as we departed Westminster Abbey and on another day St. Paul's Cathedral. Perhaps the weather gods and the Church of England got together on this! Rain seems to go with the atmosphere in London and the Thames is a natural organizing factor for Europe's largest city. This painting celebrates the two and gave me the exercise of depicting rain on the coach's window as well as allowing me to revisit a lovely trip.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Finding Beauty Every Day

Early in the morning on Paris Pike
Previously, I have summed up my artistic endeavors with the tag line: Painting Everyday Wonders. Of late, this message has felt a little confining. The truth is that every day I am working in more ways than painting, and my expression can be delivered through means other than visual art. Sometimes my work is not about making, but simply perceiving.  I wanted to come up with a tag line that more accurately states my case and I came up with: Finding Beauty Every Day. When I am doing my true work, I find beauty, every day and it is usually everyday beauty. Often I am out on a walk when I find beauty. Sometimes I am teaching a non-self-confessing artist about working with watercolor and pastel and I notice a special gift that they have for design or color or whimsy.  Perhaps I am singing McFerrin's Psalm 23 with the choir or helping to hang a show of floral paintings. And I do spend time in my studio making paintings of everyday wonders. That is certainly part of my work.

Evensong, 12 x 12" watercolor/pastel on paper mounted on board
scene driving home on Paris Pike after choir practice

     Recently, I took part in a Music that Makes Community workshop (the photo above was taken on my way to join other St. Peter's folk to travel up to Minneapolis.) It was a wonderful experience. We worked on ways to bring people together through singing. We were urged not to focus on excellence at the expense of engaging people (who might be reluctant singers.) A founder of Music that Makes Community observed that while excellence is always important, perhaps a more appropriate goal might be beauty. I have been thinking about this ever since.  Beauty. You can strive for beauty, but you can also find it.  You can be sensitive to beauty and appreciate it when it is not so obvious in our distracted world. Inclusiveness can be beautiful.

     Beauty is just the thing that I am seeking and I hope to find it every day.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Fleeting Season


Underlit at Carnico, 7 x 5", watercolor/pastel
You have to look fast to catch this season, and this has been particularly true this year. The redbud and the dogwood came out at the same time. Still, or maybe because of this, it was a spectacular early Spring. The redbud budded out and was in full fig in a day. I have two different vantage points from which to enjoy the redbuds and my personally favorite time is in the morning, just as the sun is cresting. To the right, is a country view, at Lake Carnico in Nicholas County. I was struck by this scene because the spring green leaves were illuminated from underneath.

      The view on the right is outside my window in Lexington.  When I do my morning exercises, I am treated to this view.  It had been quite drab during the late winter months. Then the tender spring greens appeared. Now it is so leafed out that there is

Village View, 7 x 5", watercolor/pastel
not much to see except the greens that lead to Summer. To everything there is a season....

You may see these paintings at MS Rezny Studio/Gallery, 903 Manchester Street in Lexington, KY. I will use my new work space to put them in frames and they will be in the drawers at the Gallery soon.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

4-24-14 WeeklyWatercolor

Mossy Rocks in the Green Wood, 5 x 7", watercolor on Arches paper
I just noticed today that the spring green is really coming out and starting to reflect into the interior of my home. It is lovely! Last May, I took a hike with friends from St. Peter's and we spent a beautiful afternoon at Anglin Falls, south of Berea, KY. I don't believe I've ever been in such a green world. It was like spending time in an alternate universe--and it was so close to home.
      I made this little watercolor to remember that green world. Give me a few days and I'll have it all packaged up and available in the drawer at M S Rezny Studio/Gallery, 903 Manchester Street, Lexington, KY. You can have a little piece of the green world! Happy Spring!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Making Color Hum

Moss and Wild Phlox, 5 x 7", watercolor on Arches paper




      You always hear teachers say that they learn a lot from teaching, and this is true for me as well. Every time I teach a class or workshop, I know that I will gain new insights from participant-students. At my last workshop, we were talking about using only the three primary colors to mix up all the colors in our watercolor layers. Jule suggested that I check out Making Color Sing: Practical Lessons in Color and Design, by Jeanne Dobie. So I did, and it is a marvelous book. I couldn't wait to try out the particular colors that she especially values. I ordered a couple of colors that I had not tried before and set to work on painting exclusively with the recommended three primary colors.
      I love mixing colors, but there was something amiss for me. It was too high key and not nearly "murky" enough. I was itching to reach for my preferred colors--and even more than that, the "used" palettes from my classes and workshops. I always encourage my students to take their palettes with them, but they often leave them behind and I then use them for my paintings. They are actually, quite splendid, with all sorts of amazing colors premixed. They provide the same deep and indescribable colors found in nature. Then my only task is to bring out the pure and bright in spots. It really works for me. I guess I prefer my colors to hum, and even at a low register, than to sing!
Pre-prepared palettes that make my paintings hum! The bottom painting on the right is  made with the three primary colors suggested by Jeanne Dobie. Above that is a painting filled with my pre-mixed, preferred palette paints.