Tag: watercolor painting

The Firebird

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I am in Tucson now for a bit, and the other day I decided to try to do a watercolor of the mountains at sunset. With their vast swaths of deep blue shadows it seemed, visually, like a simple image to capture. I retrieved my travel watercolor kit, 3 x 5 watercolor block, HB pencil, and squishy eraser and walked to the park where there was a view of mountains beyond the highway and power lines. I balanced my cup of water on the rough and not terribly flat surface of the wall, poised pencil over paper, stared at the mountains hard and tried to look artistic, rather than suspicious to any passersby.

When I opened up the watercolor set to begin painting, I noticed that the popular colors—and the colors I would need—were mere scraps of paint clinging to the sides of the pan. Oh well, I thought, it’s only a 3 x 5, surely I’ll have enough paint for that. I unsheathed the tiny travel brush and dipped and dribbled water into each cake of dry paint. But when I started painting, I quickly realized that brush was way past its sell-by date as my husband is fond of saying. It had lost its spring and now resembled, more than anything, a tiny dispirited scrub brush. I plodded onward, painterly speaking, but the deep dark blues of the mountain shadows looked anemic on my paper. I let the painting dry before folding everything back up, because sometimes a painting that I think is awful doesn’t look so bad, given some time and space. (This one didn’t, so you’re not going to see it.) I had began my disappointed trudge back to the house when a flash of hot-coal caught my eye. I stared. What kind of bird was that? Much too red to be a cardinal. Disappointment forgotten, I followed the bird from tree to tree, weaving from one sidewalk to the other. I certainly looked suspicious now, but I needed to see that bird. Back at the house I went on the internet and learned that it was a vermillion flycatcher.

Vermillion–now that’s not a word you hear too often outside of painting. It’s a pigment, made from ground cinnabar and it’s a brilliant, nuanced red. The saturated color of the vermillion flycatcher contrasted, in my mind, with the anemic colors of my watercolor attempt to capture the rich beauty of the mountains–and my dissatisfaction about it.

And then I got it. There is transcription, and there is the thing itself. And that firebird had just reminded me not to forget to rejoice in the thing itself.

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By the Sea

Snails, we are brought up to think, are slow. I am here to tell you that snails are not slow. Not when you’re using them as models as you perch on a low-tide rock, peering into a tide pool with watercolors balanced beside you and you are in the full grip of an artistic fever to capture this light and shaped-filled moment. Then snails hunker along quite annoyingly rapidly. What was, when you first spied it, a sinuous curve of light and dark, two snails in a perfect sine wave and you catch your breath with the awe of it and quickly, quickly! get your pencil and brush and paper out and, secure in the knowledge that snails are slow and you have plenty of time—all the time in the world, in fact, given that snails are so slow—lay down a line of shape and hue and glance to your models and discover that, oh my gosh, that sine curve is no longer. Now the space between them only speaks of space between them and not a beautiful visual harmony and you shake your head a little wondering if in fact you were mistaken at the beginning and then you realize, HEY, they are moving! Little-thick-antennae-sticking-out-suctioning-along-pulling-the-shell-behind-purposeful-moving.

I don’t pretend to know where snails in a tide pool are going. It’s only a tiny tide pool after all. But they have shown me that slow is relative and that time, tide and snails wait for no man.

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Big Talker

Remember back when I posted about my work schedule in Stephen King is my Boss? And how I said I sat down at 9:00 am and wrote until 1:00 pm (except for my elevenses break) six days a week?

 I’m a big talker.

About a month ago, the thought of sitting down at 9:00 am to slough through a morning of revision made me real, real tired. My brain did not want to revise. It wanted to make some jewelry—so I let it. I hauled out my beads and little pliers and wire cutters and those tiny but essential findings and had at it.IMG_1850

I spent a happy two days in my “pop-up jewelry store” as the hubby called it, creating with color and texture, letting my writing brain rest. IMG_1856Sure, I had a twinge of guilt for not writing, but not enough to stop me. And after the jewelry, I needed to work with color some more, so I did a few watercolors,glowy chicken 1 completely unconnected to illustrating anything. Just five little watercolors for a show at a gallery in Connecticut. I called it my “glowy animal series.”

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A few days ago, a friend sent me an article by Maria Popova on her Brain Pickings blog that made me realize why I so enjoyed those non-writing days. It was an article about a book called “Uncommon Genius,” published in 1991. The author, Denise Shekerjian, interviewed forty recipients of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” grants about their creative process. Lo and behold, a  very big component of the creative process for them was downtime, drifting-around time, unconnected-to-your-work time. Ta-da! Validation.

Now I’m ready to write again. Nay, I’m eager to write again.

A change, as they say, is as good as a rest.

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Tying Up Loose Ends

The Muse tells me it’s time to break for summer, and like the Wife (heads up, husbands) the Muse is always right. To that end, I will be on vacation from my blog until the beginning of September, when, I hope, you will join me again.

To tie up a loose end before I vacate: The Sweater has been completed. The Twenty Year Sweater  Here is a photo.

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I know. I never said I was a good knitter, did I?  Check out the oddly puffy sleeves. When I put The Sweater on, I’ve got a weird Shakespeare-in-winter thing going on.

This morning I am going to go outside and paint a watercolor. Even though I have a boatload of books to review and three writing projects awaiting various revisions, I am still going to shove them aside and do a watercolor.  It won’t advance my career or make me money, but. . .

I am the product of two very different people. My mother has, as my dad likes to say, two speeds: slow and stop. But I think he might be envious, since he’s fast and faster. I tend to be more like my dad, until I remember that I’m also part my mom. Once I asked her how she avoided over-doing. She told me that she does three “things”—“things” being chores—per day, and once they are done, she’s off the hook and free to do what she wants. (I believe one of the “things” is making the bed, so you see she’s not unduly stressing herself.)

When I find myself in a muddle of work, I remember her words. Painting a watercolor this morning is going to be more satisfying than disciplining myself through a revision and what’s more, I suspect it will free up other creative areas in my brain, making me more effective when I get back to writing.

If you’re more on the driven side like me, maybe today you can try to do one thing you truly enjoy, for no other reason than that you truly enjoy it–see how it goes.

Until September, then. Have a lovely summer.

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