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Learning on the Job

September 19, 2019

As I recently wrote, I’m still teaching a watercolor class for beginners. Ages in the class range from 19 to 91! I don’t think 91-year-old Bettye would mind it one bit if I publicized a picture of her posing with a recent painting. She’s always very proud of her work. I photograph all the paintings each time, but I don’t usually take a  picture of an individual student posting with their work. But with Bettye I do. Every time.

Bettye is amazing. I love to tell people that she goes to spin class three times a week. She no longer drives, but has enough friends and family members to get her where she needs to go.

Teaching watercolor is my way of learning on the job. I don’t charge for the classes, but I get more than I give to it. Still, when learning and teaching a new medium or skill, it’s a temptation to stick with conventional imagery. I’m getting a little restless now, after a year of this, and have started to wonder if the ladies (plus one brave man!) would like to cut loose and play a little. That’s still in the thinking stage.

A couple of weeks ago our lesson was sunflowers. Here is my class demo.

And although I did give them a sunflower drawing as a guide, they did their own interpretations. Here are a few of them. I adore sunflowers, don’t you?

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Looking for Inspiration

August 3, 2019

Have you ever felt uninspired? Maybe it’s the summer heat, but I’ve been unable to stir up a lot of inspiration in the studio lately. Feeling a little scattered is part of it as well. I have several must-do projects underway — paintings I’ve promised to a gallery and a commission — as well as teaching the weekly beginners’ watercolor class. So my focus is kind of like a spotlight that shines brightly on first one shiny object and then the next one.

Notice that these things don’t take into consideration the daily maintenance of my surroundings and keeping clutter and dog hair at bay.

Just reading that back, I realize the problem. Too many must-dos. Reducing those down to a minimum or — ideally, to nothing — would open me up to the inspiration that would come naturally as a result. Inspiration is all around us. We just need to open ourselves to it.

In the meantime, the watercolor class I’m teaching is forcing me to get inspired for at least 2 days a week, preparing for a class and actually deciding what I’m going to demonstrate, and practicing beforehand. Then the day of class is kind of a long one, spending whatever remaining time I have before class getting ready, and then the 2 hours with the students.

This week we did sailboats. More than half of the students live on the water. We have one big river running through all of our communities, along with some major tributaries. So naturally the water and the sky are favorite themes. Here’s a fun little slideshow I made from Tuesday’s class time.

 

Something to remember: Leave room in your day for inspiration.

Mixing Media and Inspiration

July 15, 2019

I’ve frequently observed how much one medium influences another. In the past year of doing mostly watercolors, this habit of working has found its way into my subconscious. When I want to work in acrylics, I find myself wanting to make them more fluid, and move around more on the canvas.

This past week I was creating a background with acrylics on a 30×40-inch canvas that will eventually have some abstract birds in the composition. I noticed a set of alcohol inks on the studio table that I hadn’t really used all that much at all since I was gifted with them a while back. So I started applying those over the acrylic colors and got this. It’s only a start, but I like what’s happening.

My M.O. is usually to just plunge in, do something, and ask questions later. So after having a little fun with these inks, I decided to refresh my memory about how other artists have been using them. I mainly wanted to know how permanent they are (they are, unless you disturb them too much with rubbing alcohol) and therefore I’ll want to fix them with clear acrylic spray for the canvas.

Here’s a YouTube video by Tim Holtz, who represents a specific manufacturer, but he gives you a pretty detailed descripton of the process. This video is 17 minutes long, so you may want to fast forward parts of it.

Imagine the possibilities for collage papers and even for gelli printing. Fun time!

Are You Sitting Down?

July 11, 2019

If you’re not sitting down, you might want to do that now. I’ve decided to start posting to my blog again, at least on an experimental basis.

For the past year almost, I’ve entertained the thought that art blogs may be a thing of the past. After all, there’s Facebook and Instagram now, and people have acquired new habits of connecting. But this medium has called to me again, because when I want to find content from my artist friends, I still want to read their blogs. So why not provide that same service in return?

For this past year, I’ve been teaching a beginner class for watercolor. Because I’m a watercolor novice myself, I’m using it to get lots of practice and try to solve its mysteries. The medium requires plenty of patience and hours of practice. There are no short cuts.

This is not to say I’m not longing to return to abstracts and collage. I will in time, but am still thoroughly enjoying watercolors. You’ll probably notice in these images a tenacious quality here and there, especially if you’re a watercolorist. But I’m willing to put in the time to get it “right” — which to me means a feeling for the immediacy and luminosity that it demands.

As long as it’s fun, I’ll keep on doing it. Isn’t that what life is for? Have a creative day!

 

“Spring Creek” – Watercolor, 8×10 inches

 

“Deibert Park” – Watercolor, 5×7 inches

 

“View From the Boat” – Watercolor, 8×10 inches

Teaching is Learning

May 13, 2018

These words prove themselves to be true over and over again. Teaching is a wonderful way to learn, both in the preparation and practice that goes into the lesson to be taught, and in the discovery of new insights into each student’s unique way of seeing the world. I never tire of it, no matter what age group, experience, or abilities.

I am now teaching a beginning watercolor class, which has turned out to be a class for people who have never done any art to speak of at all. At first, I started out showing and demonstrating the different “rules” of watercolor and how to manage them. But soon we all relaxed and decided to just “go with the flow” — a completely apt description of the whole experience of watercolor. Here are their birds from Weeks 3 and 4.

Since I told them up front that it is not a drawing class, I provided bird photographs and showed them the time-honored technique of tracing an image on tracing paper, and then transferring that to watercolor paper by means of blackening the reverse side of the drawing. After they got a rough and very faint outline of their chosen bird, the fun began. We worked very wet and splashy, which was my goal. I wanted them to see from the beginning that watercolor is about water. I think they got it! The amazing and fresh rendition of the two baby bluebirds looking at each other is by an almost 90-year-old. She was thrilled with hers and rightly so.

If you want to learn something, prepare to teach it.