Saturday, December 31, 2011

End of the Year Musings

Our family at Christmas--we managed to fit twenty-four of us at our house. My sisters Bea (in red dress right behind me) and Silvia (also in red behind one of her granddaughters) with their husbands and children. A few kids who don't live in the area are missing.

It's that time of the year again, where did it all go? When comparing 2010's count of 62 postings on this blog, this year's 51 (and many of those without paintings) seemed a paltry showing, so I thought to add one more and make it 52. One posting per week average sounds much better, especially if you take into account how tough times are. Survival seems to have taken up a lot more energy and time, consequently it's been harder to focus on art and the pure joy of painting... but we stumble on at whatever pace possible.

Dragon Display at Brookside Gardens' "Garden of Lights."

Here's hoping that 2012, another Chinese Year of the Dragon--a Water Dragon no less!--will shape up into being a whole lot better.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Solstice Walk at Chapman's

Circling a champion Tulip Poplar at Chapman's Forest--there is a third person behind the tree, but the circumference was so large, he couldn't join hands with the young lady on the left.
Last Sunday before Christmas the Maryland Native Plant Society (MNPS) did its annual Winter Solstice Walk at Chapman's Forest. I stayed at my friend Patrise's house for the weekend so I could be close-by, and Linda and I joined the group. Only about  six or seven of us had registered on-line, so I was shocked to see that more than 50 of us showed up!

Turns out that this is a very popular event and many of the local folk who worked for a long time to obtain the historic landmark preservation status for Chapman's have been doing this solstice walk for years. One lady told me this year was the best weather they've had so far, so that may account for the number of folk there. The day started out overcast, with temperatures in the upper forties, but after about an hour, a wan winter sun broke out and it began to warm up.

Our leader, Rod Simmons, talked knowledgeably about the different  types of forest and plant communities as he led us through the upper forests of shell marl, and told about the many species of oaks found in this tract, their distinguishing characteristics, etc. The leaves are the best indicators as to the species, though general shape, the terrain and the acorns also hold clues. I had no idea there were so many different types of oaks: southern red oak, chinquapin, post, pagoda, and chestnut oak, in addition to the better-known white oak, scarlet oak, pin, and black oak. Some of these are unusual in our area, and found mostly in old-growth forest such as Chapman's.

After a couple of hours of hiking around, we took break for lunch. Rod had announced we would toast the solstice toast during our break, and I thought he was joking, that it would be a symbolic toast with the water we had each brought along--wrong! A couple of the men in the group had brought bottles of Glenlivet single-malt scotch and some wine for the occasion, along with tiny one-shot plastic cups that they passed around for the toast.

After our repast, we continued on down a steep ravine. Sadly, a champion-sized Tulip Poplar that had stood there for centuries had been brought down by this past September's storms and thirteen inches of rain. There were still plenty of other champion-size trees to see.

Rod seemed to be able to navigate by these trees, which were probably like old friends to him. He allowed that he and several other men in the group had been hiking this tract since the early nineties. We stopped by a huge pagoda oak before turning towards the Potomac River, where a high bluff offered spectacular views of Mason's Neck in Virginia on the opposite shore.

We continued along the river, down another steep ravine to an area with a couple of old abandoned houses. We were told these cabins were an old duck-hunting camp that President Hoover used to frequent in his day. There was an Osage orange tree growing near the shore, and the largest sassafras tree I'd ever seen--the bark exhibits unusual ridges when the trees get to a certain age. If one flakes off chunks of the bark, one can smell the spicy scent of sassafras.

Eventually we worked our way up another hillside where I recognized the old brick chimney near the place where Virginia bluebells bloom in the spring, and realized were were now very close to Mont Aventine and our starting point. The sun was low on the horizon--we had been hiking for over six hours and who knows how many miles over some fascinating terrain. A few folks had dropped by the wayside due to other commitments, but I was surprised by how many of the group finished the course, including several elderly among us. I was bone-tired, so I can imagine how they felt, yet it was such an enjoyable experience!

I hope to explore more of Chapman's next the spring, and definitely repeat the solstice walk next year. For more photos of the Winter Solstice Walk at Chapmans, click on the link to my Flickr album.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Blue Holly, Red Holly

Blue Holly
Red Holly

The approach of winter signals the end of the outdoor painting season (at least for those of us who don't like to freeze our patooties). Other years I've made the effort to get out to paint despite the weather,  but after a particularly hard year, I'm not feeling motivated to endure the additional  hardships of cold-weather plein air this year. I'm hard-pressed to find something new for the blog, and populating it with work from my botanical illustration classes seemed fitting, especially because holly is so symbolic of this season.

These are works from yesterday's class. We were tasked with painting a value study of a sprig with fruit or flowers (previously sketched in pencil) using only one pigment, either Permanent Rose or Windsor Blue.  The idea was to use the darkest value for the leaves, the middle range for the berries with the stem being the lightest value. We were to practice various lifting techniques as well as flat and graduated washes.

I tried one sketch with each pigment, and found the Permanent Rose to be much harder to work with. The color was so bright that after a time my eyes were totally strained, and it was harder to get a really deep value even using several layers of washes.

This is a particular variety of holly planted at McCrillis Gardens that I like--the leaves have a variety of unusual shapes, some more rounded, others with three points, and pendulous branches.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Botanicals with Color

Botanical studies with color pencil

The past couple of weeks have been particularly hard--the daily road warrior commutes from my new job in Virginia have been horrendous, averaging close to three hours each evening. One evening set a new record--a four hour struggle on that quaint slow stream of traffic locally known as The Beltway. It's left me little energy for painting on the weekends, except for my Botanical Illustration classes, which I am enjoying tremendously.

A couple of weekends ago Herb and I went for a walk on Rock Creek Park (see photos on Flickr Fall Walk on Rock Creek Park) and collected some interesting botanical material: an assortment of leaves, twigs and nuts. The assignment for the Painting 103 class in the Certificate Program, which I finally decided to enroll in, is to create a "scatter composition" using leaves and flowers or fruit and paint it in watercolor using flat and graduated washes. The above is a page of studies for the elements I plan to combine.

We were given some lovely Lumochrome coloring pencils at the first Painting 103 class last Saturday, and I colored parts of the leaves in my study so I could record the colors before they changed. I'm still working on the final composition--I'll try to post my finished assignment this weekend or the next. This  drawing was scanned rather than photographed--I think this may be a better way to reproduce these small delicate drawings.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Burnt Gold in the Woods

Burnt Gold in the Woods, oil on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

 I have been waiting a year for just the right autumn day to return to paint the beech woods on Rock Creek Park where I had taken those marvelous photos the previous year that inspired two studio pieces (Beech Wood at Sunset and Golden Beeches).

The Beech Woods on Rock Creek Park

Yesterday was The Day--I packed my paints and set out towards DC in the afternoon to capture the majesty of the place at this time of the year. I had the pull-off all to myself as I walked across the bridge to find the best view for my painting. The ideal spot was right in the middle of the bridge, but of course that was too dangerous, so I set up on the far bank where a trail crossed the road.

The afternoon sun illuminated the distance, and the foliage seemed more burnt gold than last year, although there was still a smidgeon of greens on some leaves.  After quickly sketching in my composition in vine charcoal, I set to work--there was not a moment to lose--the light would be gone in a couple of hours. I laid in the trunks of the foreground trees first and then the orangy leaf cover on the ground, covering the white of the panel as fast a possible in fiery strokes. Then some very light yellow for the sun on the distant slopes, and deeper yellow-orange for the tree tops, leaving some white for the sky.

At that moment the painting looked so garish--but every painting goes through this ugly stage after you've blocked in the masses, and I've learned not to despair. I would break up the mass with the distant trunks later, after establishing the contours of the sloping hills with a bit of lilac for the shadows. The light was fading fast, the sun barely skimming the treetops as I started painting in the distant trunks.

At that moment, an owl interrupted the silence of the forest, "Who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-too?" This is the call of the barred owl, one of the birds we saw at the Soldiers Delight refuge a few weeks ago. A concert of owl calls from several different directions followed. I looked up to see if I could spot anything in flight, but there was no movement anywhere. There must have been two or three other barred owls answering the first one's call. This went on for a bit, then the owls became silent.

I left small details such as the sprinkling of leaves on the branches in the foreground for last, figuring they could be put in later in the studio if there wasn't time on site, which turned out to be the case. It was becoming dark as I put away the painting and packed my kit. The owls called a few more times while I was walking back to my car.

Here is the painting. I may put in some finishing touches with the aid of my photos after it dries, and then again, perhaps not. It manages as is to capture some of the magical quality that drew me there.

Monday, November 7, 2011

End of the Season

Tridelphia in Fall, oils on linen panel, 11" x 14"
Friday morning was cloudy, but the sky started to clear in the afternoon. I grabbed my paints from the freezer, got my kit and drove out to Tridelphia Reservoir, to a spot where the Howard County Plein Air group had painted last summer. The summer session had been in the morning (see my summer painting here for comparison); I wanted to study the changes brought on by the season and a different illumination.

For some odd reason, perhaps the inordinate amount of rain we had in September, this year our usually spectacular maples and tulip poplars have been rather subdued in color. But to make up for it, the oaks, which normally turn dull shades of brown, have taken on some of the loveliest colors--golden caramel, yellow-ocher with hints of olive, rusty reds and orange.

The breeze was chilly, and I layered up with an extra jacket so I could be comfortable. There were a couple of fishermen out on the water, but other than that, I had the place pretty much to myself. As the afternoon wore on and the sun started going down, those last rays of light seemed to set the foliage on fire. I hate seeing the days become shorter as the winter solstice approaches, but at moments like this, the brief autumnal sunshine, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, burns with such a lovely light...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Botanical Illustrations

In September I started taking classes at Brookside Gardens' School of Botanical Art and Illustration. The program offers an optional certificate upon completion of three years of study and submittal of a portfolio. The program was developed a few years ago by well-known botanical artist Margaret Saul, and the classes are usually held at McCrillis Gardens in Bethesda.

Since childhood, I've loved and admired plant and flower illustrations. My interest increased after my sister Silvia gave me a wonderful book about Margaret Mee, an amazing botanical artist who explored and painted the flora of the Amazon jungle. Recently, while I was hanging my show at the Brookside Gardens Visitors Center, I met the director of Brookside's adult education programs, and right then I decided to join the school and try my hand at botanical art. It's a rigorous study, as it requires a certain knowledge of botany and great precision of rendering as well as artistic ability.

They make everyone start with Drawing 101, regardless of how much experience one may have. I enrolled in the Saturday classes, which are two classes back-to-back and last all day. We're now doing Drawing 102, and here's a couple of practice sketches of leaves and sprigs from my homework.  Unfortunately, the pencil line drawings did not photograph very well, but I'm having a lot of fun with it. Can't wait until we get to work with color & shading.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Plein Air Buddies Paint Out

Huntington Creek Lake, oils on canvas  panel, 11" x 14."
A group of artist members from the Plein Air Artists website called Plein Air Buddies MD/DC/VA/PA/WV got together this past Sunday for our first paint-out. The group was formed by PA artist Jeanean Songco Martin with the idea of providing opportunities for its members to get together on a monthly basis to paint at a different location each time. I had suggested the Catoctin Mountain area for us because I'd hiked and painted there a few years ago and remembered how lovely it was in the fall; in addition, it is easily accessible from PA on US Rte. 15. Jeanean remembered the waterfalls at Cunningham Falls State Park as another beautiful site for painting.

Our outing took place last Sunday and what a gorgeous day! Bright and sunny, with just a touch of crispness in the air. The season was more advanced in the mountains than in the lowlands and many trees sported bright fall colors. I had a bit of a late start, despite packing my gear the night before, and by the time I arrived at the lake, Jeanean and two other painters were already set up and painting. In fact, their paintings looked to be fairly well-developed.

I walked around the picnic grounds looking at other views, but the spot where Jeanean and her friends were seemed to have the nicest, so I joined them on the strip of beach. Shortly after, a few other painters arrived and set up near us. I think we were about eight in all. We all worked until a little past noon and then brought out our lunches to eat while we showed our paintings and got to know each other.

Artists share the morning's paintings: (l to r, Jeanean, Carol, Mary Ann, and unamed artist)

 After lunch, we organized how to get ourselves and our gear to the falls. The trail from the lake is about a mile's hike through the woods, a little too long for carrying all the gear we artists usually pack. There is a small parking area for the handicapped close to the falls, and a couple of the artists had legitimate permits, so we car-pooled up there to take advantage of this. I rode up with Paul Tooley, a wonderful watercolorist from Braddock Heights, near Frederick.

The falls were swarming with people on this warm afternoon, many climbing up and down the rock faces and crossing the creek--it was hard to find a quiet spot where one could set up away from the crowd. I got off the boardwalk and stepped on some rocks over the stream to reach a quieter spot at the base of the falls, where I could feel less hemmed in.

Cunningham Falls (work in progress), oils on linen, 12" x 9"
 Painting the falls was far more challenging than painting the lake--difficult to compose and render so that the water looks like water, and the jumble of rocks gives a sense of the folds where the water spills down. The very high horizon of this piece is something I've not dealt with before. I didn't get a chance to finish this painting, and as the others were wanting to leave, I wrapped it up when I had this much down, hoping to have a chance finish it later. I think it needs a few people on the rocks to give it scale, and many other touches, I'm not sure what all at this point.

I had not realized just how tired I was until I got home, but it was such an inspiring day! Thank you, Jeanean, for planning it and for the opportunity to meet and paint with you and the other artists. I hope we'll do another paint-out real soon.

If you are interested in joining us, become a member of the Plein Air Artists website--it's free--and sign up for the group Plein Air Buddies MD/DC//VA/PA/WV.

* * *

Here is the finished version of the Cunnigham Falls painting. It only took me a few weeks to get around to it; I added some laciness to the foliage and a few figures to give some scale to the falls. The color key of the painting wasn't changed, but this version was photographed on a sunny day so overall the painting looks warmer (the study was photographed on a cloudy day).

Cunningham Falls, oils on linen panel, 12" x 9."

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Excellent Adventure at Soldier's Delight

Soldier's Delight area

Last Sunday was a gorgeous fall day such as we haven't seen in weeks. Herb and I went out in afternoon to enjoy it and since I wanted to get some field practice for the classes I've been taking at Brookside Gardens' School of Botanical Illustration, we decided on a hike at the Soldier's Delight Natural Area west of Baltimore, one of the few places in Maryland where the endangered Fringed Gentian can be found.

We hadn't visited this area in several years, so after we parked, we were heading for the visitor's center to pick up a trail map when a young park ranger came up to us and asked if we needed to use the restrooms. "No," we responded simultaneously, "but we do need a trail map, if you have one." He got one for us and then said if we were interested, he was about to show an eagle they had "out back" for a presentation to a small group. Naturally, we were intrigued and followed him.

Sticks, as the young ranger styled himself, instructed us to stand behind some picnic tables at the back of the visitor's center to give the eagle a bit of space, since he said this bird "wanted to kill him" and had in fact attacked him a few times before. The bird was a golden eagle, which along with the bald eagle is the largest bird of prey on the east coast. This poor creature had been shot by poachers for his feathers, prized by native Americans, and lost one wing. He would never fly, and defenseless, would have perished long ago had it not been for this DNR facility that keeps these disabled creatures for their "Scales and Tales Aviary" educational programs.

The presentation was fascinating, and the eagle quite vocal--Sticks explained that a particularly plaintive souding cry was actually an aggressive warning, that he wore those 1/4" thick special leather gloves because the eagle's talons could put something like 600 pounds of pressure per inch on his hand. This one was a male and weighed about four pounds; the females are generally larger than males in this species.

There were some other rescued birds in the cages out back: a bald eagle who had been shown earlier and was in a holding cage waiting to be put back in a more spacious cage, some vultures and a beautiful barred owl. After the presentation, Herb and I went back to see them--the owl flirted with us, batting the loveliest feathery eyelashes I've seen.

Fringed Blue Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita)

With the better part of the afternoon gone, it was time to look for Fringed Gentians. The trail from the visitor's center was closed, so we took another part of the Serpentine Trail that follows the top of a ridge, and walked down to the stream where I remembered seeing the Gentians growing. The Fringed Gentian is a biennial, only plants in their second year of growth bloom, and October seemed a bit late in the season to find many. We were lucky to find one very nice clump with a few blossoms and some spent  flowers that appeared to be setting seed.

I took out one of my new ultra-fine lead holders and sketch pad, and sat down on my camping stool for a closer look. Herb kept me company reading nearby, sitting on a Daniel Smith chair. The warm afternoon flew. While I was putting in the last flowers on my sketch I noticed that the petals were already starting to close as the sun went lower on the horizon.

Fringed Gentian pencil sketch

I took more photos of the clump after I finished my sketch--the flowers had closed even more. I looked around for other plants farther upstream, but saw only two more. It seemed to me there had been more Gentians growing here just a few years ago. The posted signs did say non-native invasive vines as well as foot traffic were taking their toll on this population of Fringed Gentians. I wonder if there might be a way of cultivating these rare plants and then reintroducing them to their original sites to ensure their survival? This makes me want to document other rare and endangered species with sketches as much as possible.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Patapsco After the Floods

The Patapsco After the Floods, oil on linen, 14" x 11"
Last Friday the sun finally came out. I drove out to the McKeldin area of Patapsco State Valley Park to paint at my favorite spot, this bend of the river below the rapids. There was much evidence of the record rains and flooding of the past weeks along the trail--many trees, branches and leaves down everywhere.  Just above this spot there was one enormous tree lying across the stream where the flood had eroded the bank so much, the tree had been uprooted. This gave me a clear idea of how the water must have raged through here at the height of the storm.

Today, the water was back to its placid, normal flow. A sunbeam lit the ripples of water flowing over the sandy bottom, giving it a reddish tint. The leaves, though lush, were starting to show those yellow and bronzy tones of early fall underneath. It was so quiet--I encountered only a couple of elderly hikers on the trail. Later in the morning a group of preschoolers with their teachers hiked through my spot (I'd had to set up in the middle of the trail since there was very little bank left).

When I glanced at my watch I was surprised to see that it was almost two o'clock by the time the painting was complete. After I got home and looked at it again, I realized there was something not quite right about it--the values of the shady bank on the right side of the painting are too light. The land mass should have been darker than the water, and the greens there don't seem to belong with the color key in the painting either.

I had hoped to repaint that passage in the following days, but unfortunately, with my hard week-day schedule and having to work overtime this past weekend, I didn't get the chance. So here is the previous weekend's piece, mistakes and all. I'll post the corrected version for comparison later on.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Pink Poet Antiques, oils on linen panel, 14" x 11"
A couple of weeks ago Plein Air Olney staged a show in the Laytonsville's Town Hall on the day of the Town Picnic. Laytonsville is another historic town in our area that still retains a rural feel. Our paint-out had been scheduled for the end of August but was called off because of hurricane Irene. I had wanted a chance to paint one of the lovely old  homes there, but hadn't had much opportunity to get out because of all the recent rain.

The day before the picnic dawned clear, so I finally set out to paint in Laytonsville. I chose The Pink Poet Antiques for its style, so typical of Victorian vernacular architecture in Maryland, a simple clapboard saltbox with a bit of fancy woodwork on the wraparound porch. The appealing array of odd bits around the house piqued my interest and the shady sidewalk on the opposite side of the street was another plus.

The sunlight was soft and hazy on the facade when I began, producing wonderful lilac shadows on the creamy yellow clapboard and the trees framing the house gave it a welcoming air. As the morning wore on the day became cloudier and the shadows were lost.  I saw the owner puttering in the yard tending her plants, and at one point, hard-pressed for a bathroom, I went over and asked if I might use hers, which she kindly acceded to. That gave me a chance to take in her merchandise, which ranged from lovely old linen and tableware to quaint toys and decorations. The Pink Poet Antiques is definitely worth a visit from anyone in the market for unusual gifts or home accessories. I may shop there myself when I have a bit of spare change.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rock Creek Fantasy

Rock Creek Fantasy, pastel 11.5" x 7.5."

Just my luck that during my week off work it rained the whole time--last week we had more than nine inches! I was at my wit's end--studio painting was the only recourse. It was so dark and gloomy outside, I perused through my digital photo files for something inspiring to paint. I remembered the photos of Rock Creek Park last year, taken on a gorgeous early November day when the fall colors were at their peak, and came across one of a bridge on Beach Drive near Blagden Road. That bridge is all straight lines: the road bed parallels the water banked with stone piers, and the metal railings run parallel to the road.

About a mile upstream from that one is another bridge--a narrow old WPA-built stone bridge that curves over the creek in a graceful arch. It's so lovely I keep wanting to stop to paint it every time I drive over it, morning and evening, on my way to work. Perhaps I will get around to it this year--it's a difficult spot to get to, as the road bends in several tight S-curves where you can practically see your own tail-lights. There is no long view through the arch to the creek beyond, and places to pull off are farther up the road.

I decided to be creative and imagine the old stone bridge in this location, relying only on my memory of it, therefore turning the painting into fantasy. The rest of the landscape is an interpretation from the photo. I like the way the color effects turned out: lemony yellow and lilac in the distant trees seen through and behind the bridge. The back-lit middle distance presented the opportunity for rich colors among the dark trunks, and the reflections in the water open a path for the sky to flow down to the subdued foreground. There is something very satisfying about pastels for rendering these effects.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Soft Morning at Brookside Gardens

Tea House at Brookside Gardens, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9"
The morning was overcast yet bright, what the Irish would call "a soft day," when I set out for Brookside Gardens to join the Howard County plein air painters for our weekly outing. After the recent rains from Hurricane Irene everything sparkled with fullness and bloom. The leaves of the dogwoods and maples were starting to show that bronzy color that signals the transition to fall.

I had walked around on Monday morning after hanging my show at the Visitors' Center to scout out the location for today's painting, and decided to focus on a view of the Japanese Tea House framed by the pink flower heads of fountain grasses--this view is so distinctive it's an icon for the gardens. Two other painters were already there, Rita and Brenda, but Brenda didn't feel well and left shortly after.

The skies began to darken before I'd even laid out the paint on my palette--we might have to work fast today if we hoped to get anything done. The first peal of thunder was distant, and we kept on working through the few drops that came. Then the sky brightened a bit, giving me hope it might clear up. The thing about working fast is how loose it forces one to be--I was slapping the paint on as fast as I could, trying to get the colors and shapes down.

Around eleven several more peals of thunder, this time close enough to be alarming, finally sent us packing. It began to rain before I had put everything away and raced to my car. Driving home, the rain let up but puddles indicated it had poured earlier. By the time I got home it had cleared and the rest of the day became sunny, but it was too late to go back. I finished he painting at home from memory, covering a few spots of blank canvas here and there and defining a few edges.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wooded Landscapes at Brookside Gardens

Golden October Afternoon, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9."

My show at Brookside Gardens Visitors Center, titled Wooded Landscapes went up this past Monday August 29, and will be on view until Sunday October 16. 

There are fourteen paintings, most of them done en plein air, and some painted right there at Brookside. I chose my favorite painting from last year for the show image. If you happen to be in the vicinity, please stop by to see it and enjoy the beautiful gardens.

Brookside Gardens
1800 Glenallan Avenue
Wheaton, MD 20902

Friday, September 2, 2011

Laytonsville Paint Out

Laytonsville Fields before Hurricane Irene, oils on panel, 9" x 12."
Last Saturday Plein Air Olney's Laytonsville Paint-out was called off due to hurricane Irene, but I didn't read the Email in time, so I set out that morning. I had figured since the hurricane was not expected to make landfall on the North Carolina coast until early afternoon, there might be time to get some painting done in the morning before the weather deteriorated.

Tara and the organizers were at the Town Hall and gave the seven or eight of us who showed up the news. Since I was already there, I decided to try to get in some painting anyway. The fields around Laytonsville were lush with the late summer bounty, and the skies so dramatic! A light drizzle began to fall around eleven, but by that time I had most of my panel covered. I took some reference photos before packing up.

A pair of tiny goldfinches struggled in the wind at the edge of the soybean fields and I wondered where they would find shelter during the storm...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tridelphia Reservoir

Tridelphia Reservoir, oils on canvas panel, 9" x12."
Yesterday I went back to paint at Tridelphia Reservoir with the Howard County Plein Air group. This time we met farther up the lake at another area new to me. Several artists I had met before were already there, and I was tickled to see an old friend from Lee Boynton's class: Rita Curtis. Rita is a very accomplished painter who is just starting to promote her work on Facebook

The water level at the reservoir was much lower than it had been a few weeks ago when we painted at the Greenbridge boat ramp, and these big rocks were exposed all along the banks--three large rocks projecting where a finger of the lake recedes seemed like the perfect focal point for a painting.

Lately I notice that I'm able to get down the variety of color and texture that I want in these plein air oil paintings. The ability is not consistent yet, but happens more frequently--I'm becoming more fluent in the language of color, as Lee would say. Though I probably should have put in a bit more violet in the reflections where the trees farthest away are.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rained Out in Accokeek

Piscataway Creek at Low Tide, watercolor, 6" x 9-1/2."
Last weekend at Accokeek a group of friends had planned a kayak picnic to see the full moon rise over Piscataway Bay on Saturday evening. To travel light, I had taken only my watercolors.

The weather didn't cooperate--thunderstorms in the afternoon and into the evening forced us to call off our picnic on the water. In the afternoon, Linda and I went down to the newly-installed boardwalk at the park to try to get in a quick sketch. I was maybe ten minutes into my sketch when ominous steel-gray clouds began to crowd the sky. I hoped the storm might blow over to the east of us, but a minute later, I glanced overhead, and it was obvious we were in for it. I packed up as fast as I could and beat feet to my car. The downpour had not arrived yet so I grabbed my camera and went back to the creek to photograph the scene. The first drops started as Linda and I took photos; we ran back as the rain picked up, and by the time we got back to the car it was pouring. I finished this sketch from memory in Patrises' studio. It's interesting to see how much darker and somber the photo looks. To the naked eye there was a lot more color and light, particularly yellows in the marsh grass.

Instead of the picnic, we had a wonderful dinner at Josephine Withers'--her house is most usual; I remember reading about it in the Washington Post many years ago when it was first built, never dreaming I'd ever meet her and get to see it in person. She is an art historian and counselor, and a fabulous cook--her garden-grown tomatoes & veggies were a special treat.

Tickseed Sunflowers, watercolor, 10" x 7."
Next day, I went back with Linda to Piscataway to try for another sketch. The weather was once again threatening, and light sprinkles punctuated the morning, but gradually, the sky cleared. By the time I was finishing this one, the sun had come out and was heating up the day. It was one of those DC weekends: if you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Call of the Lotus

About a month ago Herb and I went down to kayak at Mattawoman Creek--though very hot, it was wonderful, except for having to wear those bulky life vests! We rented a tandem kayak from Up the Creek at Mattingly Park. I'm going back down again this weekend to visit my friend Patrise, and hopefully we'll do a moonlight paddle as the full moon rises this Saturday.

I wonder if the lotuses are blooming? We'll find out soon enough.

I'm off to Accokeek to paddle!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Brookeville Plein Air

Brookeville Home (307 Market St.), oils on linen panel, 12" x 9."

Last Saturday was Plein Air Olney's third paint-out of the season, held in Brookeville, a historic town north of Olney, MD. The painters were to register between 8 and 9 AM to have our panels stamped, and most of us were there on time, trying to get an early start to beat the heat.

During my years as an Olney-Sandy Spring resident I'd driven through Brookeville hundreds of times, but oddly enough, I'd never actually walked around the place. I had not realized there were all kinds of interesting gravel side streets with homes tucked way back there. I met up with Hiu Lai Chong, the hottest young painter around (she's won the top prize for both the Easels in Frederick and the Ellicott City Paint It competitions this year), and we walked around together looking for spots to paint.

We both settled on this house at 307 Market Street, as the Brookeville Walking Tour Guide informed me later. The house, built before 1809, has the look of an old Georgetown row house in the Federal style, but with a lot of side yard. The morning light on the old brick and the vine-covered facade brought out such wonderful colors, it was irresistible. A little shade across the street was another plus.

I set up very close to the curb where Georgia Avenue curves around sharply, and some workmen across the street kept yelling at me that I was sitting in the "death seat" because any southbound car taking the curve a bit too fast was bound to hit me. Fortunately, no such thing occurred, and I was able to finish my painting a short time after noon, when the light had changed completely. I went back to my car and got my sandwich so I could eat lunch in the shady yard of the Brookeville Academy where the wet painting sale would be later on. I had no energy for another painting and the heat was mind-boggling, so afterwards I just got my painting, put it in a frame and set it up on my easel (after cleaning the palette).

The reception and sale started at three, with a lovely spread of home-made breads, jams and watermelon. I wish we'd had more visitors and buyers, but considering the heat and vacation season, we were glad to have as many as were there.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Greenbridge Boat Ramp

Greenbridge Boat Ramp, oils on panel, 9" x 12"
Today the Howard Plein Air group met at another location new to me--the Greenbridge Road boat ramp by Tridelphia Reservoir. I was running a bit late and by the time I got there, the other painters were all set up and working. They had chosen the north-facing side of this shallow cove where one could stay cool in the shade--the weather reports were calling for the thermometer to hit a hundred by afternoon.

The greenish-blue tint of the water looked so inviting set against the white-hot light reflecting off the reservoir, it was tempting to jump right in and forget about painting. But the local authorities frown upon that, since this is our drinking water.

I set my easel on the slope above the cove and included the figure of one of the other painters on the shore along with the boats. I was surprised by how easily the trees went in, they practically painted themselves. The water and reflections were harder, gauging the right values and colors. A cooling breeze coming from the trees helped to ameliorate the mounting heat as noon approached.

As I was finishing I happened to glance at the water and there, easily visible in the clear water of the cove, was something very large swimming close to the surface. A golden brown color similar to the tree trunks, and wide--it must have been a catfish--but of such a size, it was downright spooky! The thing actually left a wake. Maybe swimming here is not such a good idea after all.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Small Studies in Pastel

Summer Storm, pastel on Wallis paper, 6 "x 9."
I love watching the sky when a storm is approaching. For some reason, this usually happens as I'm driving, and our roads present great opportunities for panoramic views. Unfortunately, I rarely have my camera with me, and perhaps that is just as well--it might be too dangerous to get distracted trying to capture the fascinating play of light and sudden changes in the weather while driving. This is where memory comes in handy--I try to memorize every striking color combination and subtle, seemingly impossible contrast, texture and shape.

One recent evening driving home on Route 108, the summer storm was particularly dramatic: sheets of rain were dropping from one side of the low-lying clouds, with very cool bluish-gray clouds against the lovely soft orange where the sun was setting. I tried to etch the colors and shapes in my mind so I could reproduce them when I got home, but I didn't get a chance to work on it until late that night, on a small scrap of Wallis paper.

Sun in Lawn, pastel on Wallis paper, 9" x 6."
Next Saturday I did a study of the early morning light filtering through the trees in my back yard. At this time of the year a long sunbeam appears across the lawn next to the cedar tree that was split two winters ago. The radiating shapes of the light seem to be charged with meaning, like the visual embodiment of a badly-needed ray of  hope.

Evening Light in the Trees, pastel on Wallis paper, 9" x 6."
This last one I dashed off looking out my studio window as the sun was setting--the shades of the leaves against the golden light beyond were so lovely and so impossible to catch! I really enjoy these small studies where I can go hog-wild with color and freedom that I would not dare elsewhere. In a larger painting there is more at stake: investment in time and materials, so one feels more constrained to think about the rules, to turn in a "good performance." Sometimes this doesn't work to our advantage.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ellicott City Paint It 2011

Storm in Ellicott City, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 16."
The Ellicott City Paint It took place last weekend. I was one of the juried artists, and this year we were to submit two of our best pieces for the competition. The show will be on display at the Howard County Center for the Arts until August 25.

The competition was terrific--it was challenging and stimulating to compete against so many accomplished artists. After seeing all the work produced over the weekend, my impression was that the quality of the artists and work was even stronger than last year. The top prize went to a young lady from Rockville who is really hot--she also took the first place at Easels in Frederick recently--Hiu Lai Chong. I had met her last year and was impressed with her skill, but this year, watching her work on her award-winning piece was a real eye-opener!

It was great fun to run into a number of artists I'd met at other plein air events these past few years, and seeing how their work has evolved was also very inspiring. It's an honor to be among these artists.

Hi Ho Silver, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9."
My own work was not very strong this year--I painted four pieces and these two here were the best of the bunch, but definitely lacking in the drama I had hoped to capture. They show what a long ways I have to go before I can aspire to enter the winners' circle. That's wonderful part of these events, how it makes us all strive to do better, to catch the excitement of the light, the subject, everything about painting en plein air.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Rare Summer Day

Summer at Daniels Area, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9."

It was one of those rare summer mornings, unusual for the DC area--cool and with the air so clear it felt more like early fall, or perhaps Canada. The Howard County Plein Air group was painting at the Daniels Area of  Patapsco Valley State Park, a favorite site of mine.

Deborah Maklowski was already set up and sketching when I arrived, and there were a bunch of young women putting out canoes on the river. A canoe transport trailer and cars took up all the room in the parking lot, so I pulled up by the side of the road to park. The girls were from Baltimore's inner city on a special job corps program, and most of them looked as if they'd never been on a canoe before. Eventually, they and their leaders launched off on their trip and things quieted down some, although people came by all morning to launch kayaks, canoes, and even one inflatable boat. It was a great day to be on the water.

I wanted to get as close to the water as possible, but it was hard to find a spot out of the traffic. I managed to set up my easel on the slope of the bank under the thick shade, adjusting the tripod for the steep slope, and sketched out my composition.

I usually start my painting with the sky to establish the light, but today I started with the tree overhanging the water, going in really dark, then painting the areas around it, adjusting the colors against it. I think the approach worked in general, but I would have liked to get better modeling of the tree itself. I should have tried for more variation between the color of branches closer to the viewer and those farther away, to give the tree a more three-dimensional effect. As I strive to do better with each painting, every time I achieve one thing I see other missed opportunities. When does one finally--if ever--manage to get it all down?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Plein Air Olney at Blueberry Gardens

Blueberry Gardens.
My painting sold to Deborah, owner of Blueberry Gardens.
Plein Air Olney staged its second paint-out yesterday at two side-by-side properties in Ashton: historic Tanglewood estate, and Blueberry Gardens. At last year's Plein Air Olney event I painted at Tanglewood, one of the designated painting locations, but I had never visited Blueberry Gardens next door, even though I had driven past many times wishing I had time to stop to pick their organic-grown blueberries. Herb actually stopped by there last year for the first time and picked some blueberries which were delicious.

It was cloudy when I arrived at Tanglewood for the artist check-in--it had rained earlier and I was afraid there might be more rain, but fortunately, it cleared up as the day went on. I walked around Tanglewood and then up the road to Blueberry Gardens to look for places to set up. I settled on some of the picturesque out-buildings at Tanglewood for my morning painting, and walked back with my gear. Two other ladies were already there, and I accommodated myself between them trying to not get in their line of sight.

After a while another three artists set up close by, and as the morning progressed the sun gradually came out. At mid-morning the owner, Michelle, let her chickens out of the coop. We enjoyed seeing her Rhode Island reds and guinea fowl pecking around. I managed to quickly put in a few chickens in my painting. By the time the painting was finished, I was standing in full sun and it was getting hotter by the minute.

Farm Buildings at Tanglewood, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

I packed up and took the painting back to my car, deciding to skip lunch--I hadn't thought to bring a sandwich and there was not enough time to complete a second painting by three o'clock if I went out to get a bite. It was too hot to stand in the sun to paint. The owners of Blueberry Gardens had set up a tent at the end of their drive for their business. They were having open house today as part of the day's events, with free demos of the offerings at their Octagon Studio: Yoga, Reiki, Acupuncture and massage.

I asked the owners, Robert and Deborah Boggs, if I might sit on one of the chairs to paint in the shade of their stand, and they most kindly welcomed me. From there I had a wide view of the neatly laid-out rows of blueberries and the pickers, with a plastic frame greenhouse and trees as a background. I had to make this painting much looser than the morning's if I wanted to finish it in time, so I attacked my smaller panel ruthlessly, blocking in the rows and grass paths between them with broad, sloppy strokes. I tried not to worry about the mess and just concentrate on covering the entire canvas with color quickly, sticking to the big shapes, then adjusting the colors, Only when it was pretty far along did I start to bring out some details in the rows of plants and trees beyond, and add a dash of color here and there to suggest a few people picking berries. Deborah watched these steps with curiosity, especially the last ones, seeing objects emerge from this apparent confusion. I must say it surprised me too, and I liked the effect. This was closer to what I wanted than the more structured morning painting.

The time for the reception and wet-painting sale came much too soon. I carried up my painting on the easel into the Octagon studio and left it there. I had to walk back to my car parked at Tanglewood and drive around to the Blueberry Gardens to bring the other painting and the frames for the show. I slipped the Tanglewood painting into a frame working in the trunk of my car, took that one into the studio and brought back the Blueberry Garden painting to frame outside, again in the trunk, then took it in to set back on my Guerilla Painter easel.

There were lots of folks at the reception, and some delicious home-baked goodies: a blueberry buckle, blueberry mini-tarts, blueberry muffins, a shortbread with Mascarpone made by Tara, and fresh blueberries, of course! I was so starved, I scarfed these up gratefully with a glass of wine. I was so pleased that Deborah bought my painting as well as a lovely pastel by another artist. Michelle bought Tara's painting of  the fields at Tanglewood.

Herb came to the reception and managed to get a taste of the last of the blueberry goodies. After the reception ended and we had packed up all my art gear, we went out to the garden and picked a pint of blueberries to take home. I will be stopping by to pick more berries this summer, now that I know the blueberry season is longer than I thought--to the end of August.

You can see more photos of the Blueberry Gardens reception in my album here at Flickr.