Archive for the ‘drybrush’ Category

Re-exploring the Laguna Madre

August 27, 2015

imageThursday evening has offered me a luxurious gift–I was ready for tomorrow’s classes by early afternoon, and had time to paint in the studio with quality light coming through my windows. All day throughout my classes I envisioned this painting I began, knowing what I wanted to do next with it. I love Andrew Wyeth’s description of his drybrush watercolor process as similar to weaving a tapestry–he said if you drybrushed on white paper, the painting would be too harsh, too abrupt. He preferred to lay down a light wash, then drybrush over the top of it when it dried, then lay down a wash over the top, apply more drybrush, etc. I have done this repeatedly in rendering the weatherbeaten sides of buildings, and have made a few forays into landscape with the technique. But this will be the first time working on a larger piece (20 x 24″) that is exclusively landscape, with no props such as architecture to take the eye away from the land textures. I am continually layering drybrush and wash, one atop the other, and the land is starting to take on a richer complexity and texture.

The layout of the island where I stayed last June on the Laguna Madre becomes more fascinating to me in these months following, as I look at photos I took, sketches I did on location, and study closely the textures and colors of the various plant life and sand colors. This time, I am really trying hard to match the colors as best I can. Of course, I want to make a pretty painting, but I want this watercolor to be truer to the colors I saw on location, and the process is requiring plenty of experimenting and scrutiny. And I love the process.

I am hesitant to toss this photo up on the blog for two reasons: 1) I have gotten further along, but it is now dark, and my photography of my large watercolors under artificial light is awful, 2) the painting is coming along like a jigsaw puzzle, as my plan is to develop that serpentine line of ground textures from the foreground to the lagoon. Currently there is still a great deal of white paper surface that has not yet been touched, and there is no quick way for me to get that done. All in good time.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Pre-dawn Moments with the Muses

August 25, 2015

image

I who sail now in a boat, have I not sailed in a thought?
Henry David Thoreau, Journal

Rising at 5 a.m., one hour before my scheduled time, proved to be extremely difficult. I fought off every urge to return to my bed to get one more hour of sleep. Though I did not feel great physically, I really believed down deep that it was important to have at least an hour to myself before entering the classroom. Thirty minutes passed before I finally found my footing in the Journals of Thoreau. Every time I awaken with that feeling of uncertainty about what I am doing with my life, I find an affirmation in the writings of a great soul, on this occasion, Thoreau:

The hardest material obeys the same law with the most fluid. Trees are but rivers of sap and woody fibre flowing from the atmosphere and emptying into the earth by their trunks as their roots flow upward to the surface. And in the heavens there are rivers of stars and milky ways. There are rivers of rock on the surface and rivers of ore in the bowels of the earth. And thoughts flow and circulate and seasons lapse as tributaries of the current year.

As I lingered over his words, I thought of my own life as a river that flowed eventually south into the Texas Laguna Madre, settled there awhile, and then reversed its course back to the metroplex where I now try to share my vision while down there. The river is a marvelous metaphor for the life of the mind. How many times could we describe our individual selves as rivers of ideas, each of us pushed on our unique course by a passionate heart that pumps that energy throughout our bodies? Or better still, could each of us not represent a single tributary, branching from the same source and pushing on our individual odysseys? Meandering rivers. Splintering tributaries. All of us beautiful in our own way. For about half an hour this morning, I enjoyed the flow.

Taking up the pencil, I decided to push my experiment a little further down the river. I am still exploring the possibilities of indenting the paper surface with a dried-up ballpoint pen as a stylus, and then rubbing soft graphite and blending stumps over the top, to see if I can render the semblance of grass and flower patterns. I posted this morning’s example above.

Just before leaving for school, I took last night’s painting outdoors, peeled off the masquing and brushed away the grains of salt to see what lay beneath the mess:

Lower Left Corner of Watercolor in Progress

Lower Left Corner of Watercolor in Progress

I believe that with a little tweaking, I can turn this blob of color into a bed of firewheels and assorted wildflowers from the Texas Laguna Madre.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to explore.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

l’;l’

A Meaningful and Needed Gap Between Responsibilities

August 21, 2015

imageMoving into my final weekend of the summer, I was tortured as I attempted to prepare my classes for Monday while looking up from time to time at this small watercolor I began weeks ago and laid aside. And so this evening, I decided to move on a recent idea–creating a serpentine line of grasses, foliage and beach debris, connecting the dark green area on the lower left ultimately to the horizon line of the lagoon. The process was enjoyable, as I combined masquing with drybrush, pencil and blotting to create this meandering line of terrain. Though I did not get out any of his works, the drybrush watercolor sketches of Andrew Wyeth were my inspiration, as they have been since before I started the Artist-in-Residence last June. I suppose what I am saying is that I had the “essence” of Wyeth’s compositions in my visual memory as I worked on this piece this evening.

The painting time has been delicious, and I’m appreciative for that space. Now it is time to return to classroom preparations. Monday is approaching quickly.

Thanks for reading. I hope to have time, space and a quality idea to post on the blog tomorrow or sometime this weekend.

I paint in order to explore.

I journal when I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Living with a Longer Radius

July 25, 2015
9 x 10" Watercolor Sketch

9 x 10″ Watercolor Sketch

Yes, roam far, grasp life and conquer it, learn much and live. Your fetters are knocked off; you are really free. . . . Do not repose every night as villagers do. The noble life is continuous and unintermitting. At least, live with a longer radius. 

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, August 23, 1845

Having driven great distances the past couple of days, it was nice today to sleep in, and then relax into the day. Saturdays are nice for that. I devoted hours to going over my Laguna Madre papers, watercolor sketches, and digital photos. Delicious memories flooded my soul, and as I lingered over some of the photos I had taken of the lagoon, I decided on impulse to stretch a sheet of 9 x 10″ 140 lb. cold press paper and see what I could do inside such a small surface. I have posted today’s work/play. I have some ideas of what to do to tighten it up, but I think I’m going to let it rest a few days. I felt such warm feelings and memories as I worked on this piece, and I’ll remain grateful to my last breath for those six days of splendor on the island. I close my eyes, and I am back there again. There is talk of a plein air painting camp to be held on that island next year, and I would do nothing to miss out on that. I am just dying to see that heavenly environment again.

I took Thoreau’s challenge seriously. I am not comfortable, working on small watercolors, to begin with. I’m still trying to solve the problems of horizons such as this, where land masses and lagoon zig-zag in patterns I’ve never attempted to paint before. I love looking at the stacked bands of color, from sky, to trees, to ground, to sand, to lagoon, and then land again. Depth perspective still deals me fits as I try to render flowers in the foreground and gradually shift to middle ground and then background. So much still to learn, but I’m anxious to grow into this. Thoreau challenges me to strive onward and enlarge my circle of understanding. Perhaps I will be better in the classroom as I continually remember that I myself will always be a student.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

To the One Who Knows

July 25, 2015
Going over sketches and studies of the Laguna Madre Project

Going over sketches and studies of the Laguna Madre Project

The Mother Lagoon

The Mother Lagoon

The mythologies, those vestiges of ancient poems, the world’s inheritance, still reflecting some of their original hues, like the fragments of clouds tinted by the departed sun, the wreck of poems, a retrospect as [of] the loftiest fames,–what survives of oldest fame,–some fragment will still float into the latest summer day and ally this hour to the morning of creation.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, December 6, 1845

Long ago, on a late-night television talk show, I recall a host asking his guest why he spent so much time with the obscure hobby that he was presenting that night. His answer I’ll never forget: “For those who don’t know, no explanation is possible. For those who do, no explanation is necessary.” I post that remark, because I am surprised, and gratified, that there are those of you who take time to read my blog, and some of you check it out daily. Thank you. A couple of decades ago, I was filled with a youthful arrogance convinced that everything I thought and said was publishable, and should be heard/read by multitudes. I stopped thinking that years ago, and today find myself surprised to find anyone interested in my daily musings. I am still shocked at the remembrance of “media day” when I was on the Texas Laguna Madre. I saw nine people approaching in a boat with cameras. “Really?” I thought. I’m just a guy painting on the island every day. I’m boring. There is no story here. And still I am very, very pleased, and gratified, that they found the work fascinating that day. And to this day, none of those people who showed up that day has a clue as to how they filled me with a sense of pride and good will. I still look at the videos they edited and read the articles they published, almost daily.

Good day to all of you. Texas temperatures outside are soaring toward their appointed mark of 100 degrees. I have chosen to remain inside a darkened, air-conditioned studio to pore over pages of scattered thoughts and sketches scribbled in the weeks leading up to my time spent on the island in the Texas Laguna Madre. I have a 9 x 10″ stretched piece of watercolor paper sitting outside drying in the sun. Soon I’ll be watercolor sketching a small vignette of a piece of the Laguna Madre that I photographed and have been staring at on my computer most of the morning.

Thoreau is turning into the best of comrades. His journal entries from the Walden Pond years are really stunning me, particulalry the one posted above. For years I have felt shudders running through me while translating two lines from a Presocratic fragment, or gazing at a shard of an Attic Greek krater, or looking at the angles of what remained from a shattered Greek temple from the Doric ages. Thoreau is right–like color filling the clouds of a sun that has already departed, there is a Presence that flickers in these artifacts, and throughout each day on the island, I shuddered while looking on the beauty of my surroundings in that exotic place. And today, as I look back over my notes and sketches from those days, I feel my soul returning to that sacred place.

Time to paint! Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember (and today I do remember).

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Taking Risks in Watercolor

July 22, 2015
Laguna Madre Painting

Laguna Madre Painting

The life that I have chosen gives me my full hours of enjoyment.
-Winslow Homer

Taking a page from Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light, I am pushing the envelope, exploring possibilities in watercolor I never dreamt before. Homer tried out so many experiments and techniques throughout his lifetime that he became am able technician with his materials. I feel that I have become too settled in the ways I’ve been doing things in recent years. When I discovered that I was going to be Artist-in-Residence this summer, I decided I needed to venture into new frontiers of techniques, subject matter and compositional decisions. After all, I did not accept this assignment so I could keep whipping out paintings the way I had been doing. The purpose of the new assignment was to strike forth and find new ground. And so, I have to keep reminding myself to do exactly that. At my age, it takes courage to try something new, to gamble on a watercolor well under way. But I am getting bored with seeing the same results. All of us wish to keep growing, keep maturing.

With this painting, I am grinding my modified brushes into the surface of the stretched watercolor paper, scouring, and staining the colors into the paper. I’ve tried this in the clouds and am now trying it on the land. I have also decided to try out a pair of new colors in my palette, because I am once again exploring possibilities in nature’s green. I have added Winsor Green (Yellow Shade) and Permanent Sap Green to my Transparent Yellow washes, to see if I can get a different nuance when attempting to color broad expanses of grasses. I also tightened up my building a little more, working on the window frames. I’m still not quite satisfied with them. As for the clouds, I am a little shy about tinkering with them any further at this point. I may have done all I can with them. I’ll look at all this with fresh eyes tomorrow.

I have lost the natural light of the outdoors, so it appears that I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to work on the problem of separating the foreground sand from the grasses, and figure out how to texture up the sand patterns further.

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.

Coming Unto Our Own

July 16, 2015
Continued Work on the Laguna Madre Landscape

Continued Work on the Laguna Madre Landscape

. . . remember that decayed wood is not old, but has just begun to be what it is.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, March 19, 1842

Throughout my life, I have heard the laments of aging: the wry jokes as well as the moans. And in recent years I have noted the things I can no longer do effectively as I once did. But in recent months (and I hope this trend endures), my sentiments have flipped to the opposite side, and I have found delight in pleasures I could not appreciate when I was younger. I love to hear Thoreau write, in Aristotelian fashion, that as we age, sentiments emerge whose seeds have been in us all along. Existentialism urges you to “become what you are”, and Thoreau, a century earlier, already laid that principle down in his personal journal. Others have said the same throughout time. The presocratic philosopher Anaximander, in one of his fragments told of the end being already present in the beginning. T. S. Eliot wrote of the same. Aristotle said the ultimate purpose was contained in our infancy. Wordsworth wrote that the child is father to the man. I love that notion, and especially the reality that many of the sublime elements in our life experiences are not appreciated until we reach the later years.

Today, despite repeated interruptions and errands linked to the business side of art, I have worked in the studio as much as time would allow, experimenting with this Laguna Madre painting. I am probably done with the heavy foliage to the left of the Field Station, and am tinkering with the firewheels and sand in the foreground. The dock to the right and the horizon of the lagoon behind it are also requiring some close scrutiny. But I’m having fun, and that is what I enjoy most about watercoloring–the experimenting, the tinkering, and the slow emerging of a composition.

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.

Completed the Algae Study

June 23, 2015
Mermaid's Winecup

Mermaid’s Winecup

I wish I could write something profound tonight, but my brain is fried after my second day of A.V.I.D. training in Dallas. I rise before daylight to catch a train, and arrive home well after 6:00 in the evening. I don’t know how I found enough starch to stare into this watercolor and try to bring it to a close after only two evenings spent on it. I may have pushed too hard, but in another couple of days I’ll be free of meetings and travel, and should be able to relax and explore some new angles in the Laguna Madre studies I’ve enjoyed so much.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

An Oliver Wendell Holmes Kind of Day

June 20, 2015
Still Life Set Up

Still Life Set Up

Resulting Watercolor

Resulting Watercolor

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
   Sails the unshadowed main,—
   The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
   And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
   Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
   And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
   Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
Year after year beheld the silent toil
   That spread his lustrous coil;
   Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
   Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
   Child of the wandering sea,
   Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
   While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
   As the swift seasons roll!
   Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
   Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., “The Chambered Nautilus”

What a nice, leisure Saturday. A day with no appointments, no deadlines. Yesterday evening, I set up a few shells and the “Mermaid’s Wine Cup” algae specimen given me by new friends from the Biology Dept. of Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. As I stared into that tangle of dried grasses topped by small green “cups”, I became engrossed in their design and tried to find a way to translate this onto paper. After working on the mermaid’s cups, I flowed some washes and salted the background, then retired for the night.

Today, looking at the collection of shells with fresh eyes, I found myself wanting to look very, very closely at their constructions and their nuances in colors. The longer I looked into them, the more engrossed I became, and thought about those tiny microcosmic worlds beneath the salt water to which we humans pay no attention in the midst of our agenda-driven lives. I thought of Oliver Wendell Holmes and pulled his poem from the shelf. Wow, “the outgrown shell.” What a powerful metaphor! I also love the charge: “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!” Immediately my mind went back to the thought in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Circles.” He says that our lives are a series of self-evolving circles, all the time pushing the horizon further and further back. Our task, he said, is to draw a larger circle.

I am filled with joy that the school term is behind me and a summer stretches before me now, inviting me to expand my circle, to read another book, think another thought, create another work of art. The truly eduated never graduate. The drive within us is to improve, to grow. Aristotle opened his Metaphysics with “Each person by nature desires to know.” Immanuel Kant challenged readers with his essay “What is Enlightenment” with “Sapere aude!” Dare to know! There are uncharted waters stretching out before us, and last week as I daily looked across those waters, I wanted to respond to the challenge. Now that I’ve returned to my domestic familiarity, I don’t want to become complacent, don’t want to stop. It feels good to explore, and it feels even better to feel that inspired challenge rising from the chambered nautilus.

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.

Still Wondering Over This One

Still Wondering Over This One

P.S. I’ve posted this just to remind readers that it is still there, still unfinished, and I’m still gazing at it every day, wondering what exactly to do next. I’m not going to touch it again until I have a better idea of what to do. It may be waiting only for my signature.

Revised Thursday on the Laguna Madre

June 18, 2015

Note to reader: The following was composed on my laptop a week ago while at the Laguna Madre during my Artist in Residence activity:

Thursday Morning Laguna Madre Skies

Thursday Morning Laguna Madre Skies

T H U R S D A Y

My last full day on the Laguna Madre

I arose at 6:05, photographed the cloud-filled eastern skies, and wrote in my journal. Here is what follows . . .

Six Days to Get to Know Myself a Little Better

When someone asks how long I have been an artist, I never know how to answer accurately. I’ve had the artist’s eye from childhood: alertness, sensitivity to the visual and romantic imagination, fantasy, etc. I began drawing as soon as I was old enough to hold a pencil. I was encouraged. Throughout school, it was all I could do well, and I was always praised for my endeavors. I obtained my bachelor’s degree in art. But I experienced a Renaissance of learning. In college, I suddenly wanted to know everything. Studying the Bible led me to seminary where I pursued graduate study. Following my doctorate, I embraced literature and philosophy. After two years of teaching philosophy and religion as an adjunct instructor in universities, I signed a contract to teach in a public high school, and soon the humanities became my obsession. It was in the humanities that I was able to carve out a niche in the teaching arena (philosophy, art, literature and music).

The artists who seized my imagination between graduate school and teaching were Edward Hopper, Pablo Picasso and Andrew Wyeth. By 1988, I decided I wanted to pursue watercolor as deeply as time would allow, and Andrew Wyeth’s drybrush vignettes became my guiding force. As a subject, I chose dying America—the small towns with family-owned businesses that are now vacant buildings. I wanted to record the soul of these shells that used to be animated with a life and culture that is disappearing from our landscape but not our memory.

Art history became a renewed passion for me. I had taken twelve hours of it during my bachelor degree study, but began teaching it in high school, eventually expanding to the Advanced Placement curriculum. Art history I now read for pure pleasure, no longer needing to prepare lesson plans. I read now with a thirst to know all I can about the spirits and forces that drove those amazing visionaries whom I now revere as my guiding spirits.

So, currently I am a synthesis of visual images and abstract ideas. I did not pursue my studio craft for decades, but I did indeed suck the marrow out of books in pursuit of a world of ideas. Today I am a visual artist and a thinker. I doubt that my life would make an interesting story, but it’s important for me to understand myself better. And spending this week alone on an island in the Texas Laguna Madre has given me plenty of quiet and space to reflect on these matters. I needed this time and this space.

As the sun climbs higher into the sky, I notice for the first time all week the lagoon to my south taking on a much deeper teal hue. My plan today had been to paint shells, since I experienced such satisfaction from my first attempt yesterday afternoon. But I cannot stop gazing out at the waters while drinking my generator-powered-percolated coffee. Perhaps I should create my own label: Tripp’s Generator Coffee: Power Up!

Painting Number 15 on Thursday Morning

Having dashed out a quick watercolor sketch of the morning seascape with as much deep color as possible, I then turned my attention to a bag of assorted seashells that Dinah Bowman had gathered and presented to me the day before. They had been hanging overnight from a hook on the front porch. Taking out a few and pushing them around on a white sheet of watercolor paper in the bright sun, I delighted in the strong shadows cast by the small forms, and felt that I had returned to the discipline of closely-scrutinized still life disciplines.

Painting Number 16 on Thursday

Painting Number 16 on Thursday

This small still life vignette emerged rather quickly, so I exchanged the shells with more from the bag, and as the sun continued to move, I had to keep moving my small table and chair beneath the porch roof in ways to capture the sun on the paper before me, without sitting in the glare of the sun myself. In order to accommodate more easily the constant shifting of the still life, I placed the paper on a drawing board, slipped my knees under one side, and balanced the board with one end on the table in front of me and the other on my knees. As I began work on the second set of shells, I encountered a surprise:

H E L L O !!!!!!!!

H E L L O !!!!!!!!

A hermit crab emerged from the largest shell and began crawling straight toward my lap, like a large tarantula! He had been hanging in the bottom of a plastic bag all night, and now decided it was time to go back home. Picking him up by the shell, I walked down to the water and dropped him over the edge of the dock. He seemed to be smiling as he crawled away across the bottom of the lagoon.

Painting Number 17 Thursday

Painting Number 17 Thursday, this time with a dead crab

Returning to the plastic bag, I replaced the live hermit crab with a dead blue one and resumed the new still life. Again, it was a quick study, and I had Andrew Wyeth in mind, the way he drybrushed his Maine seashells.

As the afternoon stretched toward evening, I felt a deep-seated fatigue. But I had this crazy notion in my head of wanting to crank out twenty watercolors during my stay here. The boat would be coming for me in the morning, and I knew I could possibly squeeze out one more quick painting then, so if I did two more this afternoon/evening, I would have my self-imposed quota. Setting up an assortment of fish skeletons along with my crab corpse, I went for broke.

Number 18 Thursday

Number 18 Thursday

Feeling zero satisfaction from this painting of the bones, I decided to call it a day. Once this residency is finished, I’ll be satisfied with eighteen, or possibly nineteen paintings.

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.