Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Flowers around the cabin

On the last day at The Clearing I finished my journal entry featuring our cabin.  The inside of the log cabin was nicely finished, with built-in wooden desks, shelves and cupboards.  The beds had matching quilts, handmade by others who came to the Clearing before us.  The walls had photographs and paintings of the Clearing made by previous students and teachers.

It had been a record heat wave, but a breeze blew through the open window and screen door.  During the day I could hear the laughter of fellow students, and at night the sound of thunder and rain.  The cabin was a warm and inviting place to rest.

Relatives of the flower I sketched on first day filed the foreground of this sketch.  I used my Niji flat watercolor brush loaded with mixtures of pigment for this sketch.  I left a space for some text on the left side of the page but haven't yet decided what to add.  I also have thought about extending the log wall as a light wash behind the flowers.

Lessons from this weeks class:

  • Simplify;  Use your mental back hoe to remove things
  • Re-arrange;  Use your mental sky hook to move the clouds
  • Use a limited Palate
  • Use lots of pigment;  The paint dries 20% lighter
  • Look for the light and shadow
  • Sit in the shade when outside
  • Sketch quickly;  You can fix it when you apply the ink
  • Take reference photos;  Meaning more than just one
  • Its just a sketch;  More then anything else enjoy doing it!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sketching figures

On the last day of class we focused on sketching figures.  I don't sketch figures often, but I can do them.   As long as they are from behind, have a hat on and are only an inch high.  The first exercise was to sketch a figure from a photo.  I had taken a photo the day before at Newport State Park of people on the beach, so I used that photo.

The next exercise was much harder.  Marilynn had us all sit in a circle.  Then sketch someone across from us.  We had 45 minutes.  Oh my.  Not only was it a figure, with a face, but they were sitting.  Actually the sketches all turned out well, even mine.

Friday, July 27, 2012

A place to sit

One day I did a quick sketch of the edge of Mertha's cabin.  The cabin looks down on the ring of adirondack chairs we often gathered at before and after dinner.  I only included a bit of the cabin, focusing on what I believed was the edge of the forest.  The journal entry was to be about the flow between the hardscape of man made and softness of nature.  Shapes that define and complement each other.

I came back to find the forest had moved!  Actually the forest had never been right up against the cabin.  There was a very overgrown terrace between the cabin and the forest.  I decided to finish the sketch using one of the sepia topic pens I had recently purchased.  I liked the look so much I decided not to add any watercolors.

One of the other classes that week was Landscape Design: Through the eyes of Jens Jensen, taught by Bob Grese.  As one of their class projects they had revealed the terrace.  From the now usable space you can look out across the central campus.  The students voted to call it 'Mertha's terrace', after Mertha Fulkerson, Jens Jensen's long time associate who kept The Clearing going after his death.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Steve's project

While I was busy sketching, Steve was hard at work in different class: Design and construct a stained glass panel.  This class was held in the Workshop, situated at the opposite end of the campus.

With the help of the instructor, Gary Chaudoir, the final design was worked out and the selection of glass for the various parts of the window started.  Browns for the rock, greens for the grasses, blue water glass for the glass.

The final bit he worked on was the trout.  A rainbow trout has shades of pinks, blues and greens.  The right glass selections would make it come to life.  All the final piece needed was an eye.  Then lots of meticulous work grinding, fitting, foiling, and finally soldering and the panel was complete.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Expedition to Ellison Bay

One morning six of us went on an expedition to the town of Ellison Bay to do some plien air painting.  The goal was to work on perspective as well as the mechanics of plein air painting.  Marilynn had previously been to town to ask if the classes students could come by and make some sketches.  Ellison Bay has several lovely victorian style buildings with porches and flower pots.  Several buildings in town were decorated red, white and blue, for the Forth of July.

The shop owners and towns people of Ellison Bay welcomed us and patiently waited watched as we walked the streets paying more attention to the buildings then traffic, sat on their benches, at their tables, and setup our stools in their parking lots or on their lawns.  We came back from our expedition tired and hot, but with wonderful sketches, stories and new acquaintances.

Important lessons for plein air painting are:
  • Scout the area ahead of time
  • Find a place to sit or stand that will remain in the shade
  • Carry a water bottle and a wear a hat
  • Capture your shadows all at once
  • Light and shadow work hand and hand
  • Green has many shades
  • A little bit of bright color goes a long way
  • Take several reference photos

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sunsets on Ellison Bay

Before we left for The Clearing the weather predictions were of mid 70's in the days and 50's at night.  We were looking forward to spending a week away form the 105 degree heat.  However, the week we had was high 80's to 90's in the day.  The thunder storms every other night provided some relief from the heat as well as some lively lightning shows over the water.  The rain was always done by the time we got up the next day.

It was amazing to see the calm nights after the previous evenings storms.  The sky would turn brilliant pink, casting reflections on any clouds in the sky and the mirror calm water below.  It is hard to say which evening view was more beautiful.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Morning light

We started and ended each day in the School House.  Here we labored to do better washes, haggled with frustrating perspective, agonized over color choices, lost and found items we needed, worked on page design and pondered over text.  Here Marilynn held demonstrations, led discussions, outlined our exercises and gathered us together to critique the results of our labors.

The School House is one of the original buildings Jens Jensen built at The Clearing.  The dolomitic limestone he used were quarried adjacent to the building.  The quarry area is now a mix of rock garden and wildflower meadow.  A path leads from the woods to the edge of the quarry, then rock steps climb down to the flowered lawn and around to the back door of the School House.

I had circled the School House several times, coming and going on different paths and at different times of day before I decided on what vantage point and what time of day I wanted for my sketch.  As I sat in the deep shade of the forest I watched how the light moved, highlighting one thing then another, allowing me to ponder each for a moment.  Shapes were revealed, and then faded as the light moved on.  This was one of the sketches I enjoyed doing most of all.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Begin the day right

We were sent out to the Lodge to do the next exercise: Find a still life to sketch.  We wandered around the Lodge looking for something to sketch.  It wasn't like the room was empty.  There were plenty of things, but how do you choose.  Finally I saw something that 'spoke' to me.  The coffee pot.  I start each morning with a cup of coffee (or two, or three) and that is an important part of my day.  The pot sat in front of several shelves of white cups, reflecting back other colors in the room.  The green of the tray it sat on, the red of the shirt of a fellow painter sitting at the next table.

Later I sketched the other item that was part of every morning.  The bell outside the Lodge.  The bell rang six times a day. Twice before each meal, once to warn and once to call.  Most of the day the bell was in shadow from the trees or building.  Except for midday, when the sun glints off the bell.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Seeing a flower

Our first exercise was to sketch a flower that Marilynn brought to class.  I picked a Day Lily, since a lovely clump of these cheerful flowers were blooming outside our cabin.  To get a better view of the flower I propped it up on the desk using my kneaded eraser and some tape.  The overhead lights cast a multitude of shadows, which to me seemed as interesting as the actual flower.

I finished the journal entry, then added some text and a nice border.  When I am immersed in the art side of my brain, it can be hard to switch over to language side.  I often block out a space for the text when designing the page, but come back and add it at a later time.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Clearing

I spent a week at The Clearing, a folk school in Ellison Bay, Door County Wisconsin.  I came here to attend Marilynn Brandenburger's course 'The watercolor journal goes a traveling'.  The Clearing has a double meaning.  One being the obvious physical space in the woods surrounding the buildings and overlooking Ellison Bay.  The other a more subtle experience of leaving the daily world of work behind and finding a mental clearing, where new thoughts and insight can blossom and grow.

Many of the buildings were built by the founder, Jens Jensen, a renowned  architect of the 'prairie style'.  A style of open spaces and pathways using native rocks and plants.  The stone and log buildings wrapped by flower beds and small meadows are snuggly nestled in the woods.  Yet out their windows you can catch glimpses of the open sky and nearby Ellison Bay (the water not the town) across the clearing.

Without the distractions of TV, radio or cell phones you begin to see beyond the larger beauty of the forest.  The subtle curves of the paths, the dabs of color in the small wildflowers, the play of dappled light on the trees and building roofs, the changes in color as the sun rises and sets, the sounds of each different animal.  The mental clearing begins.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sapelo Island beaches

Nanny goat beach

A road leads directly from the Reynold's Mansion to Nanny goat beach.   The road passes through the marshes and ends at a parking area behind the dunes.  A boardwalk arches over the wind blown dunes to the beach.  Sun rise at the beach is a magical time.  The quiet warm glow of the sun turns the sky and sand pink.  

Ghost crabs (Ocypode quadrata) seem to fly across the beach from twilight until dawn foraging among the wrack.  As the sky brightens they head for cover. Their burrows are tucked beneath arching stalks of Sea oats (Uniola paniculata), among lengths of pennywort (Hydrocotyle sp.) and morning glory (Ipomoea sp.) that reach down from the dunes to the beach.  The area around an active burrow entrance is covered with numerous foot prints.

The dunes are formed by an accumulation of wind blown sand.  The loose sand of newly formed dunes is easily blown or washed away.  Older dunes, stabilized by plants, shift and move more slowly.  The extensive roots and runners of the beach plants help them stay anchored on the shifting sand.  As the plants grow they form a mat that traps more sand making the dunes more stable.

It may not look like it, but the surf zone is alive with worms, crabs, snails and clams.  You just may not notice them.  Their presence is known by all the burrow holes and trails.   By following the large trails in the sand we uncovered Shark's eye Moon snails (Neverita duplicata) and a Lettered Olives (Oliva sayana).  Both of these snails are active hunters who prey on smaller clams and snails.  Shells moon snails have fed on have a small round tell-tale bore hole.

There are traces of other animals on the beach too.  The Plume worm (Diopatra cuprea) cements shell and other debris to its tube.  Pieces of the tubes covered in Dwarf Surf clam (Mulinia laterals) and small Tellin shells were found washed up on the shore among the very colorful Coquina clams (Donax variables).  Numerous empty Coquina shells were scattered along the beach, the living clams are just at the waters edge.  Small breathing holes betray them.  If you look for them you can find clams washed out by the waves rapidly burrowing back in the sand.