Note to my Readers: I am back in my Arlington, Texas home. All of my blog posts from the Laguna Madre last week were done by cell phone, and therefore limited. I had no Wi-Fi access for my laptop. But I did write blog articles daily, and will launch them daily this week to let you know the events that transpired. Thank you always for your interest.
S U N D A Y
I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. . . . Morning brings back the heroic ages.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Having risen at 4:30 this morning to catch the boat to the island, and 3:00 yesterday morning, to make the eight-hour drive from Arlington to Corpus Christi, I felt fatigued and worried that Day One of my residency would be flat due to lack of rest. But as I watched Paul and Bobby pull away from the dock at 10:43 a.m., a switch flipped, and I immediately began soaking and stretching paper for my first paintings.
As the paper dried on the stretchers, I took out my small Fluid watercolor block and went to work, looking to the west by northwest at the distant gas-powered electrical plant for Flower Bluff, adjacent to Corpus Christi. The billowing clouds piled above were very attractive, and I’ve never tried to render such complex cloud formations before with watercolor. I spent most of my time on that. By the time I got to the water below, the sun had risen high enough that the colors had muted considerably. I’m thinking seriously about setting up at the same time tomorrow, and if the sun is strong and the day clear, perhaps I’ll get another look at that fabulous teal lagoon. I have little-to-no experience painting broad expanses of water and am unsure as to how to match those deep colors I saw earlier when I began.
Laying the painting aside, I resumed my reading of Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. I am about 75% through the book now, and it just keeps building. I cannot believe the flair for writing that young man possessed. Finding my stretched paper dry enough to work on, I turned my attention to a bed of wildflowers and prickly pear cactus on the south side of the field station where I’m living this week. I’ve never painted cactus before, and I’m going to have to make some more tries at this. I have trouble distinguishing it from the greenery surrounding it, and haven’t quite found the key to that. But the effort was still enjoyable. I love the process of plein air painting, even if I don’t get the results I anticipated.
About halfway through the cactus sketch, I looked out over another spread of wildflowers and lush grasses on the west side of my porch, and decided to give those a try, with a little help from a bottle of masquing fluid. I enjoyed the effort of duplicating the colors of the flowers that popped among the grasses, but also decided to make some abstract compositional decisions on the shape of the composition, thinking back over my recent experiments with Andrew Wyeth drybrush sketches.
As the sun sank to the western half of the sky, making the heat of my front porch unbearable, I retreated to the rear of the field station, finding shade, and some attractive clumps of gulf cordgrass with white flowers at their base. Sitting on a bench back there, I read some more from Thoreau, but kept looking up at the cordgrass on the shady side of the house, and could not stop thinking about the Albrecht Dürer drybrush studies of tall grasses that I have always admired. I remembered his statement that “art lies hidden within nature; he who can wrest it from her, has it.” So, I closed the book and contemplated how to solve the problem of rendering tall grasses in transparent watercolor. Suddenly it hit me: masque the white flowers on the white paper, then flood the paper with the lightest, coolest shade of green. When it dries, draw tall grasses with the Masquepen. Let it dry. Then flood the paper with a little darker green (I mixed transparent yellow into it). Let it dry. Then draw more grasses with the masquepen. Let dry. Then I added Winsor Red to darken and warm the green and flooded the area again. After it dried, I masqued more grasses. Next I added Winsor Violet to the ever-darkening green I was building up. Then I masqued some more. Finally, adding Alizarin Crimson, I made the green nearly black and painted grasses over the entire masque-and-layered composition, frequently raking my sharp HB pencil through the wet to draw out thin, spiky blades of cordgrass. Once it dried, I stripped away all the layers of masquing, and finding too much white grass, flooded it once more with a light, cool green to turn the white grasses into pale green.
This was my fourth watercolor of the day, and I’m too tired to assess whether it is any good (or any of the other paintings for that matter). But I am deeply pleased that I kicked out four sketches on Day One, got in some excellent reading, and ground out a number of journal pages.
That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
The day has been perfect, but long. Tonight I plan to sleep a long time for the first time in three nights. Thanks for reading.
I paint in order to remember.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.