Summer Watercolor Class

The sun was out so I eagerly set up my watercolor station outside on my deck where I have a small bistro table with an umbella. Typically, I paint in my windowless basement which is every bit as unglamorous as it sounds but once I settle in and set my Pandora station to my latest jazz and pop tunes, I quickly forget where I am and get into painting. So the chance to get an afternoon of painting in on the deck outside seemed ripe with promise.  Not so I’m afraid. Wind and bad glare from the sun had this basement painter quite distracted. Paper blowing all over, paint drying too fast and my table and umbrella swaying in the wind shortened my day but blustery weather not withstanding, I did finish my painting.

Last week was the first of several classes that I am teaching this summer and I started the class with an introduction to negative space painting using the spring forest as inspiration. We primarily are using monochromatic and analogous colors starting with  yellow, blues and greens and later adding opposite colors red and purple for details. We are painting the background first and leaving rough vertical areas of white paper where the trees will eventually be painted. By building layers of yellow, green and blue foliage we will begin to create our forest as we build layer upon layer.

Students can look at the steps that I created below. Feel free to comment or start a painting dialogue with this blog if you wish. I will answer your questions here or in my private email. Whichever you prefer.

Here are the step by step details:

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What Happens With Paint

In January of this year I began a six week watercolor class at Shelburne Craft School on Thursday evenings from 6p.m. to  8p.m. Classes will continue throughout the spring and summer months so check my website for times and dates or click on the following link: http://theshelburnecraftschool.org/news/projects/watercolor-skills-simplified/

The first class starts with asking each student to share a story about themselves and their painting background. I love this part of the class because it is where I get my first impressions of each student. Listening carefully I can begin to see how I can help each one get the most out of our six weeks. Some have never painted before and look forward to learning how to master the paintbrush with new ideas, some students enjoy painting after a long day at work. My class is prepared for everyone to learn. Class size is small and I use a mix of class demonstrations with group and individual instruction as needed. Everyone is encouraged to do lots of painting at home so I often give homework and we do a group critique the following week. In class, we work with photographs and diagrams that are designed to feature a specific technique that we work on that day. Here is a sample: Shelburne Barn Lesson Plan Winter 2016

Watercolor painting seems to appeal and awaken something in us. Maybe its the loose watery transparency of the medium which is like looking at the calming effects of water itself? Or the way transparency itself lets us take a layered look. I like these qualities of watercolor and strive to bring the special painting characteristics of watercolor into my classes so students can understand how to control the fluid nature of the medium.

As much as possible, I use Vermont images because I think our state has an abundant amount of environmental beauty. This is what drives me to paint and I enjoy developing my lesson plans around our buildings and landscapes, the flora and fauna that grows in our deep woods and our running brooks and lakes that reflect wonder. Learning to observe, composing our thoughts and attempting to bring light to our vision, is the challenge of an artist and I can’t think of a better platform for subject matter than our local landscapes.

Below is a sample of my current work called Backyard Stream Series:

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Teaching Happens in Odd Ways Sometimes

Teaching art through watercolor has been an area of focus that I have used to develop my instruction. My formal education in art taught me fundamental skills in color theory, drawing from the figure, and two- and three- dimensional designs through painting, printmaking and photography. I learned to teach by being around great teachers in very creative settings. One of those places was at Camp Common Ground, in Vermont. Working in a recreational environment at the CCG summer camp is where I met art instructors Jeneane Lunn and Kate Hartley. They are masterful artists. Jeneane, at the time, taught pastels outdoors, and Kate taught watercolor. Both teachers had a deep well of knowledge and ability and I tried to absorb as much as possible from these skilled veteran teachers. At the time, I worked in the camp’s office, and my job was to organize the scheduling and connect with teachers to see that they had what they needed to run their classes. I had to order art supplies, get easels and tables out of storage and set them up for students, and generally be a liaison for teachers and students. At times, we did not have a lot of amenities, but we did not lack in passion and enthusiasm for the arts.

 

After working at this summer camp, I realized that I needed to be doing my own art more often. The four weeks a year that I spent working at camp amongst professional artists, musicians, dancers and inspired performers was simply just not enough. I rented a cheap art studio in Burlington to paint, Took art lessons from artists that I admired, and just kept painting. I started selling my paintings and hand painted silk scarves at local art fairs and farmers markets. It was a great way to meet customers who were interested in my work, and connect with other artists to share ideas, stories, and all the work that goes into being a working artist. At various times over the past ten years I have been a market vendor at The Burlington Art Market, The Stowe Farmers Market, Spruce Peak Resort Farmers Market and The Waitsfield Farmers Market.

Vermont is a tourist destination. And I have always enjoyed feeling like an ambassador, of sorts, welcoming people from all over the world who vacation here. This remains one of my most enjoyable aspects of being a visual artist at the art fairs and markets that I sell at. Engaging with the public, sharing stories, learning about people are all fascinating to me.

Here are a few photos of my booth at the markets over the years.

 

Spring into Summer

Finisihing up teaching twelve weeks of watercolor classes this past spring and summer had me ready to unwind. And unwind I did. (More about teaching in my next post, where I’ll explore how a recent class of students were all highly motivated to crack the mysteries of watercolor painting.) In addition to teaching at a small local craft school in Vermont (Shelburne Craft School), I also work as a custom picture framer during the day, at ACMoore.

So lining up my week felt great. My son would water my tomato and pepper plants, feed the cat and tend the homestead. Leaving lush, green, cool Vermont in July was a first. It is pure bliss in the summer, as fleeting a moment as can be. And, speaking as a painter, if you like the vibe of the color green…. There is simply no better place to be.

I haven’t had a vacation in years, and this one, as it turned out, was going to be one for the history books! Albeit a short vacation, in one week, I visited with my beloved sister and boyfriend in Sandy, Utah, and went to a very special wedding in Meredith, Colorado, that was high up in the hills, where the Frying Pan River flows, and narrow dirt roads lead right up to the bluest skies a person can imagine. Yup, it was a Colorado Rocky Mountain High, and the wedding was filled with family and old friends. The ride from Utah to Colorado was stunning! I sketched in the front passenger seat, as my husband drove us in our painter’s studio on wheels, through the geologically-formed, panoramic eye candy, inciting me to work at a prestissimo pace, which explains the staccato strokes in several of the pieces.

One of the many rock formations that I saw driving east from SLC, Ut to Basalt, CO.
One of the many rock formations that I saw driving east from SLC, Ut to Basalt, CO.

I used Derwent watercolor pencils and graphite drawing pencils to sketch in a 6″ x 9″ moleskin type book. It allowed me to work fast as we whizzed down mostly straight and sometimes undulating highways at 80mph, the legal limit in that wide-open stretch of the country. The West grasps at your heart, with its expansive skies and textured spaces of tumbleweed, brush and wind-shaped trees. Billowy clouds, much like ones we have here in Vermont, hang over the rocky horizons, and reveal the sometimes complex dances of the winds aloft, as they create, sculpt and move the clouds in the way that winds will do. The scenery is so open and vast that it allows you time to capture shapes and forms, and commit them to paper, even as we moved at a quick pace.

I have been asked how I work so fast in a car, and the only way I can describe it is that I memorize the most dominant shape and quickly draw that. Then I establish the scale, and finish my foreground and background after that. It’s a bit formulaic, but it allows me to capture a lot of information in a short amount of time.  I now have several dozen drawings, which I will use as references, as I work on larger pieces this coming fall and winter, when the winds are blowing and snowing around my studio. These sketches will remind me, and will draw me back into, all the beauty that teems in that part of the world, as I attempt to reconstruct the most beautiful and compelling scenes that my eyes were blessed to see.

Here is a link to a short You Tube picture video I created on my IPhone along the way:

Theater on the Street

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I’ve had a wide variety of work experience before I started pursuing my painting career which didn’t begin until I moved to Vermont in 1992. While a young graduate, I wanted a more immediate result with my work, as well as paying my rent. The somber life of a painter was not for me, at least not yet. I needed to get out and move around. An introvert by nature, photographing people in NYC as they made their way to work each day was an area of interest to me and forced me to understand myself and set some goals as to what kind of job I should be working towards. The camera felt like power. A little power in a big city never hurt anyone. So I began working for a local community newspaper where I could use my photography to help tell peoples stories. I got paid per photo as a freelance. If the major dailies liked our stories, they would give me call and buy my photos. The Dailey News and the now extinct Newsday would do this and they paid a little better at $75.00 per photo plus the Dailey News would throw a few rolls of  film in when I delivered the shots.

SONY DSCI took a staff position with a small community newspaper called Greenline for The Saint Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corporation (St. Nicks for short). St Nicks offered an interesting and diverse array of programs in addition to the monthly paper.  It serviced a designated area in this section of Brooklyn with programs helping low income renters become home owners, helping small business grow in its industrial sections and acted as a kind of downtown chamber for small retail businesses, like mom and pop kind of shops that sprinkled the avenues. It was a mix of industrial, small business and dense residential pockets of ethnic neighborhoods. Italian, African American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods in the immediate areas with Polish and Hasidic in outer reaches. Oh yeah, the artists. Lots of artists who lived in some very interesting industrial spaces.  Artists were getting squeezed out of the lower east side of Manhatten and coming over the Williamsburg bridge. Rent was cheap and the spaces were huge. The artists were living in industrial places that were desolate and remote from subways so I think no one minded. But things may have changed since I last was there, I’m sure.

My work at St. Nicks was like being part of a bigger picture and I think that was good for me. I worked with wonderful people and an organization that helped to empower people in so many ways take control and navigate for themselves within a large metropolis. The small neighborhoods of NYC are so rich with character, I found all this enticing to photograph so I continued to photograph in the streets on my way to and from work on my daily subway rides.

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Freelancing was fun but still wasn’t enough to pay the bills. So I worked in several commercial printing houses where I became a custom color printer. We had to work fast and color correct by eyesight using filters by Kodak. I printed lots of advertising related materials for use in the advertising industry and larger prints that were used for subways, taxi cabs and bus stop shelters. I learned to print in two ways, additive and subtractive. From negatives which were mostly made from 4″ x 5″ slides or on cibachrome paper which was made direct from the slide.

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NYC is the center of the ad world and just about any and all available space has something hanging up. The streets are in and of itself art, theater and music.

These two pictures shown below that I took on the subway express the weekday and weekend moods of living in NYC. The woman holding the pole after a long days work versus the Sunday afternoon relaxed feeling that you see as children play around the subway pole.

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Learning

I attended Pratt Institute from 1979 to 1983 where I studied both painting and photography. My experience there was exhilarating as college should be. I was fortunate to study in NYC where I would be faced with new insights and bombarded with infinite choices of what kind of art I wanted to see and make. The first year was a foundation of color theory ala the Hans Hoffman classic push and pull theory. We had assignments using stacks of color swatches and then making paintings demonstrating how we could show the most extreme and subtle color shifts. Drawing classes were taught in the traditional form of working direct with the female and male models using charcoal and conte crayons. We then progressed with using the figure with classical lightning techniques. Only one teacher taught this way and his name was Mr. Faust. He would be in the schools studio hours before class started setting up elaborate interior still life settings. He loved doing this. His lighting was carefully executed as if setting up a theatrical stage. He had a Zen like attitude as he encouraged us to enjoy the journey as much as becoming a master at whatever we choose to focus on. Each class he taught was a stimulating exercise with light and the human form.  While light and the colors was important to capture, I was equally attracted to shape and began exploring exaggerated line in later drawing classes, something I still do today. I posted a picture of the only painting I have left in the form of an Ektachrome slide. That was how we documented back then kids! Ecktachrome (now extinct) was good because you could get away with photographing in lower light if you didn’t have access to a properly equipped studio. I may have even developed it myself and you could compensate for low light by over developing in the darkroom.

Teachers encouraged us to push our thoughts and actions into more rigourous contemporary analysis of modernism. I was 18 and I took everything in as best I could. I didn’t always understand this type of painting but respected arts role as an entry point into widening my understanding of what it means to be human. I was often going into Manhatten to see the must see shows. Julian Schnabel was the artist no one could stop talking about. The questions about his work were endless, was it necessary to paint so large to make your statement? Is large a macho thing? Just what was he trying to say breaking all those plates? Was it about excess? His work left me feeling alienated. Other contemporary artists were doing more viscerally stimulating work like Keith Harings subway doodles of crawling babies and barking dogs. Cindy Shermans selfies (the work came before the word was invented) and Barbara Krugers large headlined captioned photos with searing messages forcing us to question advertisings use of media.  I found this work far more interesting. I feel like this era (the 80’s) was birthing the use of mixed media in more interesting ways, little did I know we were on the verge of what I call the digital revolution.

Along with school, came the need to earn money to get me on a subway to go to the museums and galleries and then dine on a slice of NY pizza. I believe I lived on about 25.00 a week which included my transportation, food, art supplies, books and occasional splurges of a night out with friends for a beer or two. I couldn’t have been happier in my life. For the first time, I truly felt a connection to my teachers and what I was learning.

Artists like to dissect things

Well, we are a month into 2015 and I am fulfilling my first goal of the new year, which is to start my first blog to explain my process as an artist, record important events and influential people. I must admit I’m a bit nervous but I will get over it.  Nervous, because I think of some of the blogs that I admire that are written so well. The artists’ experiences flow through the text which can become quite elegant within a simple format like a blog. I’ve learned from artists through their blogs, and the best ones are honest experiences that have a descriptive simplicity, as if the bloggers are simply writing to themselves in a journal.

Communication is key to an artist’s success. We need to develop ourselves through the written form as well as the paint brush. So Day 1 is today. I will discover my voice, explain what puts the fire in my belly to wake up every day and be an artist who carves out a written path. I will post my artwork and photos along the way and any trials and tribulations that dust up. Artists like to dissect things, they like to get into the minutia. This is one of the ways I will continue my process as an artist. There may be some old and new dust to kick up along the way.

Please come back often!