Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Virginia State Arboretum

The Blandy Farm in November, oils on panel, 9" x 12."

Yesterday afternoon I finally got out to paint in oils, something I haven't had a chance to do since last spring. I drove out to the Virginia State Arboretum, part of the Blandy Experimental Farm, which I pass every morning and evening on my way to work. The Blandy Farm is a 700-acre facility deeded to the University of Virginia by Mr. Graham Blandy, a wealthy New Yorker.

The Arboretum is a lovely place with many wonderful huge specimens of native and exotic conifers, boxwoods and other unusual plants. The previous weekend I'd taken Herb there to show him the place and we walked around to explore the various gardens and plantings.

It was difficult to choose a view--I wanted to show the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background, but didn't have much time to look around so I chose this view from the main house looking through some dramatic evergreens down to the fields. Though most of the foliage is now gone, the grasses on rolling hills showed some lovely colors in the afternoon sun, with the lengthening shadows for interest.

My skills have become rather rusty during these months of moving, and I'm afraid I didn't do justice to the landscape or the afternoon light. It didn't help to have a large group of very loud teenagers (college students I presume) who were having some sort of program nearby, and were making so much noise as to make it impossible to concentrate or enjoy the place (were we ever this loud at that age or have young people become ruder?).

My painting turned out rather ordinary, yet it felt so good to be out painting again! As the shadows lengthened it became chillier, and my hands were starting to get numb; it seemed like a good time to stop as the light was fading. I hope to do better on my next session as I get back into practice.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Refining Graphite Studies

Dendrobium light & shade study

In our Drawing 309 class we have been working on refining our graphite techniques: using the botanical piece we did in our previous class we are now developing a finished piece in graphite. The process involves using tracing paper overlays in layers to develop first, a light and shade study (above). The second layer is a value study superimposed on the light and shade (below). A third layer, which I am just starting, will deal with details of the flowers.

Dendrobium, value study superimposed over light and shade
In addition to the main project, we did a couple of other exercises: a sketch of some button mushrooms, and shading a bunch of grapes to clarify what is in front and what is in back. It's interesting to apply the same principles of articulating different planes that I've used in landscape painting to a drawing where the focus is so much smaller, and the planes may be only a few inches in distance, rather than miles. The same principles apply to both.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Calm During the Storm

The Trees Before the Storm, pastel, 9" x 12."

I took some photos of my new back yard Saturday before last--there is a hollow back there where the ground drops off steeply and a rivulet of runoff has allowed this copse of tall oaks and other trees to grow lush. The trees were at the peak of their color in the early morning sun.

This past Monday morning my boss sent the word out--we should all leave at noon to get home safely before Hurricane Sandy hit our area, expected to be around 8 PM that night. As I was driving west on Route 50 the rains were coming down steadily and the gusts of wind getting stronger. I prayed that no trees or big branches would fall as I was passing underneath--there are so many old  and fragile trees along the way--or that flooding would not have closed down some of the low-lying bridges.

Oddly, it was raining less when I got to Front Royal; I guess being farther away from the coast lessened somewhat the effects of the storm. But as the afternoon progressed, the skies darkened and the wind began to howl. I knew by morning there would be few leaves left on the trees, so I was glad I'd had  chance to photograph the lovely color while it lasted.

What better way to spend a stormy evening than in the studio? My new studio has a big window overlooking the back yard. It was too dark to see much out there as I worked from my photos, snug and warm while the wind howled. It seemed wondrous to find myself in this new safe harbor after the upheaval of moving this past summer. After I had most of my painting done I went downstairs and Herb lit the gas fireplace for that extra cozy feeling.

In the morning I went in to look at my little painting and saw out the window (no surprise!) that the leaves were down and one can now see the outbuildings of the farm on the other side of the steep ravine. My newly-planted trees all came through the storm just fine, and the saffron is starting to sprout.

Herb carved our traditional jack o' lantern to display for Halloween, but disappointingly, not a single trick-or-treater came to our door. There are only a few children in our new neighborhood, so I suppose it's not done around here.