I registered to spend a week at Nimrod Hall again this summer, but it was not to be. Laura Loe, the owner and operator of Nimrod, decided to cancel the whole 2020 season in light of the need for social distancing to stay safe. I was heartbroken, but it was the right thing to do. I will need to focus on the 2021 season instead.
Nimrod is such a magical place where artists go to fuel our creativity. This year I had signed up with Kesra Hoffman again. I don’t usually sign up for the same instructor, but Kesra is very versatile (watercolor, acrylic, gouache), allowing me to run with whatever medium I am in the mood for. But since she really excels at gouache I thought I’d practice a bit. Here’s a painting done from a photo I took of the Raven’s Roost Overlook, on the Blue Ridge Parkway not to far from where we live.
It’s on Arches 140 lb hot pressed watercolor paper. For watercolor I usually work on cold pressed paper, which has a rough surface. I thought the smoother surface would be nice with gouache.
Gouache is opaque watercolor, so in many ways it behaves the same, but it is also very different. One thing that really struck me for this painting is the difference in how the colors work. Watercolor dries lighter than what it appears when you apply it. Gouache dries darker. As a result, the colors in this painting are bright and bold, and not particularly realistic. I ended up not minding that too much. I particularly like the highlights and the shadows in the mountains. I can’t get that effect in watercolor. I think that is partly because watercolor is transparent and blends more than gouache, and partly because of the smoother surface of the paper. I will need to experiment more.
I hope everyone is home and safe and free from COVID-19. Please take care and be well!
I apologize for this really long post. I wanted to capture the whole week-long journey all at once. I love Nimrod Hall!
Day 1-sketching and getting my Rhythm
We arrive on Sunday afternoon. Actual painting days are Monday through Thursday. On Friday, check out time is about 11 AM. So that’s four full days of painting. A rare luxury of which I planned to take full advantage!
Monday morning I decided the best approach was to go out with my sketchbook. This would give me a chance to loosen up and get comfortable. Laura Loe is good at putting cute little paint-able things around. Last time I visited I noticed this bicycle at the front entrance to the property with geraniums and other flowers planted on it. I regretted not taking a photo of it since my last visit, so I decided it would be my first subject. I chose watercolor pencils as my medium, but did the foliage on the trees with regular water color. The challenge with this one is that it was our hottest day and I was sitting on my uncomfortable folding stool in the blazing hot sun. I could only tolerate that for so long. I did get a fun little sketch.
After that, I decided I needed to get 1) out of the sun, and 2) into a more comfortable chair, so I decided to paint the two red seesaws on the lawn between Square House and the Post Office. This allowed me to sit in an Adirondack chair under a tree. It was much more comfortable.
I chose line and wash as my medium. I did the sketch and inking (mostly) before lunch. After lunch the sun had moved so I was forced to move my chair. The charge in light and perspective did not matter too much since I’d already captured the drawing. I spent the afternoon finishing This up and felt it was a good second effort for the day.
Day 2- Landscape Painting in My studio
Monday evening our teacher, Kesra Hoffman did a gouache demo for our class. She said she resisted the medium at first but then decided that she could just use it like watercolor and grew to love it. I’m not sure I totally agree with that, but I do agree that if you start with a wash and build up, that first layer is similar to water color. Watching the demo was humbling because Kesra is so comfortable with the medium. I knew I needed to try it to see what kind of results I could get.
Another factor that helped set my direction for the day was my realization that I should get over needing to do plein air and paint in my studio. As I said in my earlier post I have always thought of Nimrod as a plein air location, but found that many of the artists there with me did not subscribe to that way of thinking. I figured I had paid for the studio so why not use it?
I went for a nice walk on Tuesday morning and took some nice pictures. I decided to spend my day painting a landscape from one of my photos in both watercolor and gouache to compare the two mediums. The reference photo I used is below. I like it because of the clouds and the contrast between the green grass and trees and the golden fields. I also noted the clump of trees right at the end of the road. Technically this is a composition no-no, but I kind of liked it so I decided to run with it.
I painted the watercolor and the gouache together, switching from one to the other during drying time. There are similarities and differences between the two mediums. I learned that the gouache can get undesirable “blooms” just like watercolor. The gouache yields harder edges where soft edges are easy in watercolor.
When Kesra came by in the afternoon and did her critique she pointed out a couple of things. First, my road did not go far enough into the center of the painting. She showed me how I’d made an error in the proportions as they appeared in the photo. Second, she pointed out that the trees at the end of the road weren’t really working. I’d hoped they would, but I was wrong. She also pointed out that the variations in color along the tree line in the gouache were really nice, but the watercolor was too consistent.
I was able to cover and move the road in the gouache, but that was not possible with the watercolor—a distinct difference between the opaque and transparent mediums. I also lifted some color on the tree line in the watercolor, but in a subsequent critique Kesra pointed out that it was a little too formulaic. Here are the two paintings. They are 10” x 4” on Arches 140 lb. cold press paper.
I really liked doing the same scene in two different mediums. It was very educational, not only in learning about the different media, but also in studying and interpreting the scene. I decided to keep it going the next day by doing the same scene in oil and acrylic.
Day 3 – More Landscape Painting in my Studio
When I was packing to go to Nimrod I packed way more than I needed for art supplies, because I didn’t know what I’d be doing and wanted to have whatever I needed. I am happy I did that, because I ended up doing some things that were out of the ordinary…like painting in acrylics. I had these two little 12 x 6 stretched canvases that I tossed in. I like the 2:1 footprint for landscapes, although I usually paint bigger. Painting smaller has its advantages if you’re painting plein air or trying to do a lot of quick studies.
So on Wednesday morning with my two little canvases in hand I set out to paint the same scene in oil and acrylic. I haven’t painted much in acrylic in years. I get very frustrated with it because once I switched to oils, I couldn’t take acrylic’s fast drying time.
Once again I switched back and forth between the two. Of course, that didn’t allow the oil to dry…that takes weeks or even months. Switching still gave me a break. It’s always good to look away.
Similar to the gouache, the acrylic yields much harder edges. The fast drying paint makes it hard to blend the colors, but the oils are very difficult to get hard edges with. You can do it if you wait for it to dry, but that takes a long time.
I like the colors better in the oil version. There is more variation. Some of that is the nature of the slower drying oils, but I also had a more extensive palette of oils to start with. I only had a limited number of acrylics, even after supplementing them by buying more in “The Art Box” bus which is parked at Nimrod every summer to provide artists with materials they find they need but don’t have with them.
When looking at all four versions I found that I got bolder with the skies on the second day, so the oil and acrylic versions have much more dramatic clouds, which I think is an improvement. I found myself wishing I’d been more daring with the skies in the watercolor and gouache versions. Here are the two paintings from Wednesday.
Day 4 – Another Day of Gouache and Watercolor, but Not the Same Subject
I had one last day to paint and after spending two full days interpreting the same scene I was ready for something different. I did two more paintings on Thursday – one watercolor and one gouache.
On Tuesday evening we had a thunderstorm followed by brightening skies and a rainbow over a nearby ridge. I brought out the camera and took a lot of pictures. While I was doing so I pronounced, rainbows are nearly impossible to paint. So what did I do? I painted the rainbow!
Several years ago I did an oil painting of a rainbow from a photo a friend had taken. I was not happy with the result. I decided that watercolor might be friendlier. I hoped that if I did a wet in wet approach I could get the primary colors to bleed into a full ROYGBV* spectrum. It kind of worked, but not nearly as well as I had hoped.
The criticism Kesra had for me was that I did not get enough atmospheric distance in my mountains. They were too green, which is never the case when you’re looking at them at a distance. This is something I’m still trying to train my engineer’s brain to do. I need to learn to see, and paint what I see, rather than painting what I know to be true. Yes, the mountains are green…and yes they look green to me in the picture, but they are much bluer than I think. I really need to work on this! Here is the painting. (10” x 7” Arches 140 lb cold press)
And here is the reference photo.
* red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet
In the morning I’d gone for a walk and I found a pretty scene with a dead tree (dead trees are great fun to paint) and a field in the background with hay bales. I decided it would be fun to do as a gouache study for my final painting. This is probably the one I spent the least time on. We had the walk-through that evening and so there was a lot of pressure to get it done.
Kesra didn’t have a lot to say about this one. I like the sky but the rest of it is a little flat. I could probably correct that if I spent some time on shadows and highlights. I may also do this again in watercolor. Here is the painting. (6” x 12” Arches 140 lb. cold press)
Each Nimrod art week finishes on Thursday night with a walk through where everyone displays what they were working on and people walk through and see it. As Laura Loe explained, it’s not really a critique… it’s more of a “love-fest”. I must say, people did some lovely work.
I painted up until almost the last minute and then tidied up my studio, which of course was a mess. I did take a break to shower, but most everyone was well dressed and I was still in my shorts and t-shirt. Oh well.
People seemed to like my story about my scene that I painted in different media. They were interested in which I liked best and I explained that all had their pluses and minuses, but the process was very educational. Here I am with my work.
Is I said in an earlier post, Kesra did her own thing in the morning and did critiques of our work in the afternoon. She did some beautiful work. Her gouaches really pop. I’m hoping to keep practicing my gouache. I’m inspired by how beautiful hers are. Here she is with her body of work from the week and a few other things she threw in. The two landscapes on the upper right were the demo she did for us on Monday evening.
Nimrod is a magical place and it’s wonderful to spend time with such creative people in such an inspirational place. I’m already looking forward to next year.
As I said in an earlier post, I recently had the good fortune of traveling to Paris to meet up with my sister and to visit some good friends who are living there. I have been enjoying doing watercolors of some of the photos I took.
One of the things we did while I was there was visit Giveny, where Monet lived out the later part of his life. We visited his home and his spectacular gardens and famous water lily pond. This was on my bucket list and it was every bit as magical and inspiring as I had hoped. I expect to be painting from the photos I took for a very long time.
Below is a shot of the garden followed by my watercolor interpretation. I tried to capture the bold color of the sky and it’s reflection in the water. It took two attempts to get this. I’m still learning the watercolor process and the approach to painting. I after a blue wash I painted the lilies followed by the water reflections and then the trees in the background. That seemed to work well.
Here is a photo of me in the garden standing on one of the famous bridges looking and feeling awestruck.
I’ve been trying to do some watercolor sketching of the many flower photos I took. Here are two from my sketchbook.
Finally, I took some lovely photos of Paris in the evening while on a dinner cruise. I only had my iPhone with me, but it does have a pretty good camera and is quite good in low light. I have attempted a watercolor cityscape from one of these photos. Unfortunately, I don’t think I captured the evening light well at all. It’s hard to get the richness of the colors as night falls in watercolor. This one begs to be done in oil, so I am going to do that soon. I will post when I’m done.
We picked up the mail today and there was a check from Falls Church Arts. I didn’t have anything in a show, so it could only be for one of my prints in the print bin they have in the lobby of Art Space. It was! Someone bought a print of Monarch on Yellow. I’m pleased to know that someone liked one of my butterflies enough to buy it.
The original for this is hanging in my office. It was done in gouache and ink.
For anyone else who happens to be interested, my prints are also available for sale in my Etsy shop.
I had a great weekend painting in the mountains. I even did a new butterfly — it’s been a while. I also have something almost finished here in my studio in Northern VA. I will be posting some new things soon!
Last Thursday I played hooky from work and took a plein aire workshop with a local artist named Christine Lashely. I found her because she was one of the chosen artists for the Bath County Plein Aire Festival, which I’ve been following because there is some overlap with artists that I know from classes at Nimrod Hall. I liked her art and noticed that she was local to Northern Virginia, so I got on her mailing list.
The workshop was held at Ross Farm in Dickerson Maryland near Frederick. It was a lovely setting with a view of Sugarloaf Mountain and lovely barns and buildings. The leaves were pretty close to peak and it was a beautiful day.
We started off with a watercolor of Sugarloaf. My watercolor skills are improving, but still challenged, and I got frustrated and put it away to start on an oil painting. Christine got me to bring it back out and provided some very helpful critique. One of the first things you learn about her is that she sees purple in everything, but she’s right! She got me to tone down the orange trees on the mountain with purple, which helped account for atmospheric distortion from the distance. She also got me to put on more layers of paint in general, making the work bolder and brighter and more complex. Below is the finished product.
I say finished, but as it turns out plein aire painting doesn’t allow for perfect. That’s part of what makes it fun. You have to take what you get because you have a limited amount of time and the scene is always changing. Even with the challenges it has many advantages to painting from photos. You see colors that are much more vivid and the depth of the scene is not lost to the flatness of a photo.
After we finished our watercolors we moved out of the wind a little – which was blowing hard enough to blow easels over. I chose to paint the big red barn and the brilliant orange tree that was next to it. I don’t like the perspective of my painting, but once again, plein aire doesn’t allow for perfect. I do like the colors and the rest of the scene. Once again, Christine provided critique that much improved the painting. Of course we added some purple which once again improved the scene more that I would imagine. She also helped with a new brush technique to smudge the paint in places. Below is the result of the oil painting session.
Even a bad day plein aire painting is better than any day at the office. I need to do this more often!
I just finished a painting I’ve been working on for a while. I painted it from a photo I took walking along the Tiber river in Umbertide, Umbria, Italy during my Spring visit there to see my sister. It was early Spring and the leaves were just barely coming out on the trees. The mountains in the distance were still brown. There was a row of evergreen trees and their blue-greens contrasted with the yellow-green of early Spring. It was a still day, so there wasn’t much movement in the water. The reflections were clear and sharp. I’m happy enough with the result and I enjoyed painting it.
Since I have my new-found watercolor skills I decided to do a study of this in watercolor before I did the oil. I think this was a good exercise and I might start doing it more. It has several benefits. First, it helps me keep practicing watercolor. Second, I found that doing the watercolor first made me much more familiar with the nuances of the scene, allowing me to capture them in the oil painting, which I probably would not have done otherwise. Below is the study.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself in a painting mood with only a few hours left in our mountain house before having to return to Northern Virginia. Starting something new – especially getting out all of my oil paints etc. seemed daunting. I decided to paint a butterfly because I hadn’t done one in quite a while. Below is the result of that exercise. This is a swallowtail with blue on the wings, which presented an added challenge but I was happy with the result. The paint is gouache and the black markings are ink. I hope you like it!
Every year Falls Church Arts has a plein aire painting competition in the Spring. To be eligible, paintings must be done between April and June and they must be done outside on location, within the City of Falls Church. Artists register to participate and then they must have their supports (canvas, paper, etc.) stamped by Falls Church Arts before painting.
Last year I registered, but I didn’t actually put anything in the show. The only plein aire painting I’d done prior to that time was in an “Art in the Parks” class I took with Jennifer Schoechle about ten years earlier. I did one painting of my friend Susan’s house. I was very self-conscious about painting outside among crowds, so I decided Susan’s front yard, which was protected by a hedge, provided the privacy I needed. The painting did not meet my expectations, so I didn’t enter it.
This year I registered again. The one big thing that’s changed since last year is that I’ve gotten over some of my self-consciousness. I don’t really care if people watch me paint now. That’s a big step. As a result, I’m starting to do a little more plein aire painting.
That said, there are many other challenges. Falls Church is pretty urban. I’m much better at painting nature thank I am man-made objects. I have challenges with straight edges, corners, perspective, etc. Nature is much more forgiving when it comes to those things. Urban scenes also have people in them. Learning to draw people takes a lot of practice. I took a portrait painting class more than ten years ago, also from Jennifer Schoechle, but I haven’t drawn people since.
This year I have two paintings that I’m going to actually enter. As it turns out, I don’t really like either one much. They are very primitive (that’s my nice way of saying that the perspective is bad and the people are not very good). I’m entering them anyway because I want to support my art community with my participation.
The first painting, is of the Mad Fox Brewing Company, a local watering hole on the first floor of a retail/residential building. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, because in my first session I got rained on which took quite a toll on the painting. I got a chance to do a second session where I first repaired the damage and then I finished the work. This painting is 12 x 9 oil on canvas board.
The second painting I did yesterday at the Tinner Hill Blues Festival. This festival is held every year in Cherry Hill Park in Falls Church. I started the painting early before there were too many people there. I did try to capture this one guy who shows up and dances every year, along with a few other people sitting around watching the early acts. I did this in oil pastel, which is not a medium I have much practice working in. It was a good choice on this occasion because it is not liquid, making it easier to transport and use in a crowded environment. This piece is 10 x 8.
These will both be on display with the show at the Falls Church City Hall and then at Artspace. I’ve seen a few of the other pieces and they are lovely. Next year I expect to be even better at this. Now if we only had some mountains in Falls Church.
Butterflies inspire me. They are delicate and colorful and beautiful. When I started painting I had some photographs of butterflies and decided they would be great subjects. I did my very first butterfly pictures in regular acrylic paints on paper. Acrylic was all I had and I hadn’t really explored other alternatives. They came out well, but the acrylic paint was heavy on the paper.
Around the same time, my sister told me about gouache. She had done a painting for me from a trip we took together to Germany and it is gouache and pencil. I’ve always loved the look and thought the paint looked sheer and classy. I decided to try my next butterfly in gouache.
What is so fun about painting a butterfly is getting into the patterns on the wings. The good news is that they don’t match exactly. If they did, my engineer’s brain would obsess about getting them to match and I’d never be able to finish the painting. I really liked my swallowtail that I did in gouache. I scanned it in and still use it as letterhead for my personal stationery and cards.
A few years ago after several years of not painting at all I was struggling to get my eye and my technique back. I decided that I needed to do some butterflies. The good news is that there’s not a huge time commitment. The gouache is tidy so there’s minimal set up and clean up and you can focus your time on doing the painting. For these more recent butterflies I used gouache but did most of the black on the wings with ink. I recently entered these in the Loving Life show (October 2014) at Falls Church Arts. They did not win anything nor did they sell, but they got a nice spot right by the door. I was also proud that they were selected, as this was my first curated show.