Posts Tagged ‘dry brush’

Trying to Capture the Late Night Shadows in a Watercolor

April 26, 2013
Painting in the Man Cave Late Friday Night

Painting in the Man Cave Late Friday Night


Detailing the Door and Darkening the Surrounding Shadows

Detailing the Door and Darkening the Surrounding Shadows

If a painting is good, it will be mostly memory.

Andrew Wyeth

I spent much of this evening, listening to Andrew Wyeth documentaries on VHS and DVD, as the shadows gathered in the Man Cave.  As I look at Wyeth’s drybrush and watercolor sketches, I am mesmerized at his dark, dim interiors.  The D’Arches paper I use makes me think I am painting on snow–it is so white and reflective.  I apply countless glazes of pigment, trying to darken the areas around this pale blue bucket and capture the essence of the dim interior of a garage, work shed or barn.  One of these days, perhaps I’ll figure it out.

I did enjoy “scarifying” the door in the background.  My Man Cave has nine aged doors that I keep moving around and studying for their varying textures and colors.  I really want to master abused wood textures and colors in watercolor.  This has been a fascinating study for me.  I have combined watercolor, x-acto knife scrapes, colored pencil, watercolor pencil, graphite and fingerprints to build up layers of door grime.  I just love getting into this.

I’m still not sure how to get the blue pail to “pop.”  The blues I have been pouring on it have not really worked to my liking, yet.  I have worked transparently, layering wash after wash.  There is still plenty of paper surface shining up through the layers of pigment, but I’m still not getting the luminosity I want.  I’m not sure how to solve this issue yet.

The overturned Coca-Cola crate has surprised me.  I’ve barely touched it, and I feel that it is about “there”, if not “there” already.  I had this same issue twice before when painting a cast-iron skillet in my two large still-lifes back in January.  The skillet only required minimal work and was done.  I was disappointed!  I wanted to work it, re-work it, and re-work it, applying layers and textures, and building up pigments, but it seemed to shape itself rather quickly.  That is what has happened to the Coca-Cola crate–I had all kinds of plans for it, and it looked “finished” before I even got into it.  Oh well.  Maybe the next time it will be more obdurate.

Well, it’s getting late.  I have a plein air invitation pending for tomorrow, and I’m seriously considering participating in the event.  So I guess I’ll turn out the lights and give this painting a rest.  Tomorrow in the daylight I can see if I like what’s happening.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint to remember.

I journal because I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.


Friday’s Plein Air Attempt at Lake Whitney

November 24, 2012

Lake Whitney Tree

Happy Holidays!  I have some catching up to do.  I tried to upload my plein air experiments while camping over the holidays, using my BlackBerry.  I followed all prompts and hit “Publish.”  Nothing happened.  I’ve come to expect that from BlackBerry.  So, let’s try this from the lap top.

I was invited to spend Thanksgiving time with beautiful friends and family at some campgrounds in Lake Whitney.  I was picked up Thanksgiving morning, and returned home late Friday night.  The food, companionship and conversations were all truly delicious, and there was so much space for reading, journaling and plein air watercoloring.

I slept in the bed of a pickup truck Thanksgiving night as the temperatures dropped into the low fifties.  It wasn’t a bad experience at all, the blow-up mattress supported me and the down comforter kept me cozy and warm.   The night sounds were soulful, the deer were out everywhere and the moon shining off the lake was affirming and serene.

Cold north winds blew in by morning, and never went away.  I was awakened at 6:57 to a steaming cup of coffee, and used it to the best of my ability to drive away the chill.  Finally, I took up residence inside the tack room of a horse trailer, with the door open so I could see out across the park.  I was reading (trying still to finish) Rollo May’s My Quest for Beauty, but I kept getting distracted at the sight of the morning sun shining off the bark of this tree in front of my open door.  Finally, I thought “Why not?”  I took out my watercolor tablet, Winsor & Newton watercolor field  box and worked on this tree, laying down washes of Winsor Red, Transparent Yellow and Winsor Blue (Green Shade).  I then dyrbrushed over the drying wash with mixtures of Winsor Green and Alizarin Crimson, along with the primary colors previously mentioned.  I kept trying to work in shadows and grooves in the bark.  Finally, I took out an HB pencil and began drawing the bark, occasionally enhancing the texture with Albrecht Durer watercolor pencils (Warm Grey VI and Dark Sepia).  This is the result of the sketch.  I absolutely loved working on it, and would have gone further, but the sun retreated behind the clouds and did not come out the rest of the day.  So, it was back to Rollo May and writing in my journal.  I brought along my copy of Thoreau’s Walden and re-read the final chapter of it.  The day was splendid beyond description.

Thanks for reading.

Bringing my Wyeth Drybrush Experiment to a Close

October 30, 2012

Experiment in Andrew Wyeth-type Drybrush Watercolor

“Beneath our loquacious character, there is a silent language of our whole being which yearns for art and the beauty from which art comes.”

Rollo May, My Quest for Beauty

I arrived home from school this afternoon, ready to enter the silence of my Man Cave and give this drybrush sketch a final push.  One hour later, I was finished.  I surprised myself, completing an 8 x 10″ watercolor in three hours, with no intention of doing a “speed painting.”  I suppose that my last few years of plein air experimentation has caused me to move more quickly and decisively.  But honestly, I never felt that I was rushing this painting.  In fact, the only reason I know the time invested is because of a habit of mine (begun during the plein air phase) to record my start and stop times.  Honestly, once I get immersed in making art, I have no conception of time.  Today was no different.  Whereas I listened to Blues music yesterday, today I played a VHS tape of Andrew Wyeth interviews and just listened to his voice, his words, as I painted.

Silence.  That is what I feel when I look at a watercolor by Andrew Wyeth or Edward Hopper.  Silence.  That is what I feel in my life right now, when my work day ends, and I enter the studio to explore new dimensions in sketching and watercolor.  Silence.  That is what I know in my heart when I read quality literature (and today I must certainly say that Rollo May had a wonderful calming influence on my Being as I contemplated this new enterprise.

I have turned my attention to another antique door, complete with doorknob and locking plate.  I am working on some preliminary sketches tonight, and if nothing arises to distract my attention, I shall attempt my second watercolor still life tomorrow in the man cave, of yet another antique door.  As for tonight, I still have to pull together materials for tomorrow’s Philosophy class on Ralph Waldo Emerson (one of my prime muses).

Thanks for reading.

Memory Lane: My First Significant Art Sale, 40 Years Ago

April 30, 2012

Grandfather's Cabin

No, this is not the painting I sold 40 years ago, but I have a story to tell, and I need an illustration!

I am continuing my study of Andrew Wyeth’s drybrush and pencil techniques, and realized a few moments ago that this spring marks the 40th anniversary of my first significant art sale, at age 18.  I was a senior at Northwest High School in House Springs, Missouri.  I really want to tell my story.

Throughout my four years in high school, I was competing seriously in student art competitions throughout the greater St. Louis area.  During my senior year, while at the Two Rivers Art Association competition in Fenton, Missouri, I noted with astonishment the framed and glassed drybrush watercolors submitted by an 18-year-old from north St. Louis.  He was competing in the professional category, rather than the student.  I managed to win the student competition, but he won the professional.  His technique was a carbon copy of Andrew Wyeth.  I could not believe my eyes as I surveyed every square inch of his barns, wagons, broken down houses, rendered in sepias, ochres and grays, with not a trace of green or brilliant hue of any kind.  They were all fall and winter landscapes, and his dried-out weeds and foliage and stark naked trees just made me stare in wonder.  How could an 18-year-old produce such sophisticated work?

I encountered this young man’s work later that spring, further north, in the Warson Village Shopping Center.  Again, he was competing with professionals, and again he won.  And again, I stood before his work with an air of worship, overwhelmed at the understatement and sophistication of his pencil and dry brush technique.

I did not own watercolors.  But I took a piece of white mattboard, and diluted my Liquitex acrylics to apply as watercolor, and attempted my first Andrew Wyeth-style dry brush painting.  The subject was the one posted above, only much cruder, of course.  But I left the sky totally white, and all the foreground, save for dry brush stabbings of grass and gravel, white.  The old cabin was rendered in sepias and grays, and I worked plenty of graphite over the woodgrains of the worn-out siding.  Once I finished, I knew I had something.  The Andrew Wyeth signature was unmistakable, the large blank areas gave the composition a sense of remoteness, and I knew I was on to something better than before.

Returning to school, I approached my art teacher, Mr. Elfrink, under whom I had studied since 8th grade.  He was unloading the kiln in the suite between the two art classrooms.  His back was to me as I entered the room and said: “I tried to do a watercolor over the weekend.”  His response: “And?”  I said nothing, but just held the painting up.  He turned around, and his dark eyes immediately focused and flashed, and his entire countenance changed profoundly.  Searching for words, he said something like: “Now that is . . . , it’s got . . . , it’s . . . that’s good.”  That was all I needed.

Soon afterward, our school art club sponsored a sidewalk art exhibition and sale on the high school parking lot, during school hours.  We were able to attend the show during our art classes and study hall, but not during regular classes.  So . . . during my stay in one of my real classes, this is what happened:  A vending truck pulled to the shoulder of Highway 30 in front of our high school.  The driver hopped out, walked down the hill to our parking lot, looked at the work on display up and down, then stopping in front of my easel, asked: “Are these for sale?”  Someone told him “Yes.”  He responded: “I’ll take this one.”

Forty years ago this spring.  My first Andrew Wyeth-style painting sold.  And now I’m still on his trail, studying his work for clues, trying to understand his magic, and hoping some of it will rub off on me.

Thanks for reading.

Filling Station Desolation, still in progress

February 22, 2012

Robertsville, Missouri Abandoned Filling Station

I admit surprise at how fast this large watercolor is coming together.  I’m used to longer stretches of time for “composting” as I think through what I want to do exactly.  But time to paint is really scarce these days, and when I approach this particular watercolor, I seem to be painting faster.  Today I added the dark trees on the left border and worked on the power line as well as the guidewire attached to the post at the left.  I’m still tinkering with the drybrush weeds along the left as well.  I’m not sure what to do next, so I thought I would go ahead and put this on the blog to let anyone who reads this know that I am still chipping away at this piece, and think I may be finished with it in the next day or so.

I still want to deepen the shadows and heighten the contrast, hopefully to give the composition a nice “Edward Hopper” kind of pop.  I always gravitate to his watercolors because of their delightful use of contrast.

Thanks for reading.

An Andrew Wyeth Meditative Moment–1903 cabin in Arkansas

May 22, 2011

1903 Arkansas Cabin

Good afternoon!  After a long weary drive, Sandi and I are relaxing at a Mount Vernon, Texas Rest Area along Interstate 30.  We still have a couple of hours’ driving time before we get home.  However, I found that there was wireless Internet service here, so I thought “Why Not?”

On the final morning of the Plein Air on the White River event (Saturday), Bill Barksdale drove me to this site to see (I believe) the third home built for the railroad boom town of Cotter, Arkansas.  The date (I believe) is 1903.  When we pulled up to this cabin around 6:30 a.m., I could not believe my eyes.  The longer I gazed at this structure, the more “Andrew Wyeth drybrush” details I saw all over it.  I wanted to spend the entire day just rendering it in pencil.  But, plein air you know!  So I sketched it as quickly as possible, got out the water and brushes, and went to work on it.  We only had about 90 minutes to work, so I did what I could.  Hopefully I’ll post the watercolor sketch after I get home tonight.  But for now, this is my easel, and in front of it you can see the fabulous setting that I had exclusive access to during that delicious early Saturday morning.

Ready to head the rest of the way home.  Thanks for reading.  Today and tomorrow I will try to post to the blog all the rest of the final details of this fabulous event (including my surrealist Emergency Room visit).

Part 3 of the Entire Saturday of Plein Air Watercolor Painting

May 8, 2011

Andrew Wyeth Meditation on a Tree

This was my final successful stop on my all-day Saturday plein air excursions.  I stopped occasionally for coffee, journaling, and a little book store browsing.  There are two more tree studies in progress, but not good enough to post and blog.  Perhaps I will return and make something better of them.  The winds really got up, and thank goodness for a good Winsor & Newton watercolor easel with a successful mechanism for clamping the watercolor block in place.  Everything else, including my leather art bag, was getting knocked over by the gusting winds.

All I can say about this work is that I got totally lost in the bark of the trunk.  I felt as though I were “channeling” Andrew Wyeth, though I realize how arrogant that sounds.  I don’t pretend to approach his greatness, his eye, his technique.  But what I intend to say is–I feel for the first time in years that I have a sense of how he must have felt when he got lost in a dry brush study to the point where he lost all track of time.  I honestly don’t know how long I lingered over this work, but it was totally satisfying and I didn’t want the day to end.  When I get lost like that, or “in the zone” of watercoloring, I wish that I could seize the tail of that comet and ride it forever.  But alas, Proust has reminded us that all attempts to seize such Gifts result in their dissolution.  And so this study came to an end, but I cannot wait for the next time such a Moment arrives.  I’m still grateful for the experience this day as I think over yesterday’s activities.

Thanks for reading.

Part 2 of “An Entire Day of Watercolor Plein Air Painting”

May 8, 2011

Foot of a Tree in a Sunny Saturday Park

I have already posted Part One of my Saturday plein air activities, where I began in Sundance Square.  From there I moved on to Chisholm Park in Hurst, Texas.  The sun was getting up and I required shade (sun block was starting to get drippy!), so I thought I would try to capture some trees.  I liked the mottled sun spots all around the base of this tree, but once I got into that, I lost interest in the rest.  High up in the tree was a juncture that I found fascinating, and I knew I could not fit it onto this page.  So I aborted this one and moved on to “part three.”

Thanks for reading.

Druidic Texas Tree in Winter Dry Brush

March 15, 2011

Druidic Texas Tree in Winter Dry Brush

It’s nearly 10:00 p.m.  I have Muddy Waters playing on my turntable in the garage, and I’m suddenly seized with this compulsion to try an Andrew Wyeth-style drybrush of a Texas winter tree I photographed a few days ago while fly fishing in rural Hillsboro.  I was out fishing with a long-time buddy of mine from Lamar High School days–a custodian who always looked out for me in those days when I struggled as an inexperienced art teacher.

The crappie were hitting pretty good that day, but I couldn’t stop staring at this winter tree out in the overgrown pasture near the pond where I fished.  The Texas landscape is strewn with these druidic-looking trees, dripping with character.  The entire winter scene that afternoon looked like an Andrew Wyeth drybrush or tempera.  I have never been satisfied with my watercolor trees.  Something is still missing.  So, again I give it the old college try.  I need to capture that “essence” as the 6th-century Chinese painting master would have it.  I have a strong feeling that I will be giving this one multiple tries this week–it’s really gotten under my skin.  There are a host of subjects that hold my attention in watercolor, but these Texas winter trees always escape my brush and pencil.  So, let’s see what happens this week.

Thanks for reading.  Spring Break has been absolutely wonderful for a musing watercolorist!