We have been back in Seattle almost a week – time to rest, readjust to Seattle’s weather and time zone, and reflect on what this trip meant to me. I wanted to immerse myself in art in a way that seems elusive at home. This involved both soaking up the work of master artists over the ages and a daily regimen of making art. Along the way I knew we would see some fantastic places and meet wonderful people. So what did this mean to my art?
For six months before going to Europe I took a weekly drawing class with Howard Hansen. Howard had us drawing with pencil and, just before we left, pen and water soluble ink. He stressed line and value (shading) to make pleasing images. When I studied masters’ paintings in London, Amsterdam and Paris the wisdom of this training became apparent. All great artists draw beautifully, regardless of their painting style. It is reflected in the sureness of their lines and the use of value to enhance the effects.
During our artistic sojourn I tried to find the simple lines in a subject. One experiment with this was to paint with one color, which increases the importance of line. Here are some apples I did during our art residency at Atelier de la Rose. Crisp lines and sharp edges outline the apples, shadows, and other shapes.
Near the end of our journey we visited the Ceret Art Museum and we found a room of Matisse ink drawings. He captured so much with so few lines! I was inspired to try to interpret one of his portraits with as few ink lines as he used. Just 32 lines represent this woman.
The second lesson Howard stressed each week was to use light and dark values to increase interest. He often asked that we go to extremes in light and dark. I kept reminding myself of this while drawing and painting in Europe. Here is another portrait of a woman in ink, but on this one I used the water soluble ink to begin to put some value differences into the picture.
Of course values play a large role when working with color. I pushed the light and dark values in this painting to dramatize the font and the setting.
Another of my goals on this trip was to push myself to paint more landscapes, particularly plein air. My greatest challenge in landscapes seems to be choosing what to include when viewing a complicated scene. With my new awareness of line and value I hoped that I would be better able to simplify landscapes.
I did many landscape studies with pen and ink.
Another method of simplifying was to us a large brush with watercolor and not do a preliminary drawing. This is sort of drawing with color. The large brush means I am forced to lay down large shapes of color. Here’s an example of that from Montcabrier.
I like the fluid look to this image. My oil landscapes did not have this same feeling. I will continue to work on those.
Still lifes or what I call portraits of objects remain the most interesting subjects for me. I did many of these using pen and ink, watercolor, and oil. Here is one in pen and ink that I particularly enjoyed. Although it looks detailed and laborious, it was a very fast drawing. The secrets were to get the lines down quickly without worrying about perfection and then using the water wash to give the pine cone some shading.
I enjoyed several watercolor object portraits. The fruits and vegetables around Montcabrier presented a bounty of subjects.
Flowers have always attracted me. I think now I’m getting some of that wild feeling into the images that I’ve had in my mind. It has taken a while to get this sort of interpretation from my mind to the paper or canvas.
Where does that leave me now that we’ve returned to Seattle? It has been a slow reentry with little painting. What I want to do is continue painting every day and keep pushing myself to try new ideas. Line and value exercises will continue so I can hone my skill at recognizing them in what I see. I want to expand the value range with oils in a manner or style similar to what I’m doing with watercolor and pen and ink. And, I will continue to push myself to paint landscapes.
Creating art is a journey. It doesn’t require traveling to Europe, exotic materials, or a great deal of formal training. The basics of line, value and color are quite well documented. What is required is putting time into the practice of art. That’s what we gave ourselves on this trip.