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!