Demonstrating Watercolor in Southern Pines

Two Paintings Hang in the Watercolor Society of North Carolina’s Central Region Show “Fluidity of Vision”

This past weekend stretched me during an already busy season.

Two of my watercolors hang along with 67 others at the exhibit  at Campbell House Gallery through the Arts Council of Moore County. Plus, I got to demonstrate my watercolor skill on the following day, Saturday, April 8, from 10 am until 4 pm, during the 2017 Southern Pines Home and Garden Tour.

The show included members from the Central Region Exhibit, on view April 7 to April 28, 2017, “Fluidity of Vision.” Our works hang in Campbell House Galleries in Southern Pines, NC. “We are working with the Arts Council of Moore County to deliver a terrific exhibit of our art in this impressive locale. Campbell House is a much-sought-after venue for art exhibits. Surrounded by a lovely, 14-acre public park and garden, the Campbell House is a stately manor which functions daily as an art gallery and cultural center. Art exhibits change monthly and the gallery offers you an elegant and warm atmosphere that will add to any special occasion,” said Beth Bale, who is the Central Region co-director of the Society.

Two of my large Sea-Escape series hang prominently in the exhibit, Crab-Net and Clam Chow-Down.  We met our friends Carole and David Hobson there for the reception and exhibit viewing. We roamed the rooms, examined all the paintings, sipped beverages and hoes-d’oevres. We met new people who complimented me on my paintings, even recognizing them by name.

We followed our friends out to eat afterwards in Southern Pines, and then, on to their home, their new house in Pinehurst in which hangs three of my paintings –one over the mantel, the other two in David’s study. The next morning over toasted English muffins and cream cheese and coffee, we talked again, and they led us out to a safe connect back to the Campbell House.

“The Campbell House is traditionally first stop on the tour and there should be a lot of people coming through the gallery. In addition to the art exhibit, we thought it would be nice to have members of the WSNC (Watercolor Society of North Carolina) in the gallery or on the property, sort of like a plein air event,” said Chris Dunn, executive director of the Arts Council of Moore County. So yours truly became one of the three exhibiting artists for that Saturday.

When we arrived around 10a.m., the grounds were already sealed off, and we had to drive through the field saved for cars to the closest entrance. I went in with my new French easel, which unfolded and popped into place immediately. I congratulated myself on having brought that. Kathryn McCrae had showed me the day before the place I could spread out. Chris Dunn greeted me, pointing me to doughnuts and coffee, just what every plein-air artist needs.

I had brought two unfinished paintings with me. Each one was a portrait of a shell. I had brought photographs of sea scenes with similar colors to inspire my expression of a background, and the bright sun that flowed in definitely affected my choice of colors, which were very bright and vibrant in the first painting. I reasoned that I would not have to struggle with my main subject and prove I could paint. The seashell said enough to give me the confidence to create the rest in front of people since this was my first public demonstration. Many people came and watched, gave compliments, chatted about the picture and themselves, and signed my sheet for future contact.

Remembering several conversations, one was with a woman who worked in a correctional institute, and we agreed it was nice to appreciate each other’s expertise. I got to share my notion that people who are creatives who do not have an outlet can really get into trouble.

Another lady, a math teacher in Sanford, kept staring and walking around the painting, looking at it in new angles. “It reminds me of math,” she said. “How so?” I asked her, but she stayed busy looking. “I guess it does have a rhythm to it,” I answered. “Yes, and it reminds me of that mathematical sequence.” I agreed, and remembered the sequence which some artists actually use in placing the subjects in their compositions. I thought of Juliette Aristides and Virgil Elliott who had written about this in their authoritative art books.

She thought and thought and finally exclaimed, “Yes, it’s the golden mean. And the series is the Fibonacci series.” So naturally, “Golden Mean” had to be the title for my seashell.

We laughed. “The colors are exciting.”

Another person admired the red, and said it could be the blood of the dying sea life in the shell.

I finished that background and started on my next with more subdued colors. The lights had begun to fall and shadows descend in the garden. I did not finish that one’s background, but got it up to about mid-zone under the shell. However, back in the studio, I set it up with my camera, deciding I would talk about it as I painted it to get in practice for my teaching videos. Wouldn’t you know? I finished it in record time, and made a breakthrough with techniques I can use in painting sea atmospherically, in that time. I have just named the work, “Castle Forsaken.” It looks so regal. The colors are soft and subdued, and the waves are breaking over it.

Yours truly also got her name written down on the exhibition calendar for a two-person exhibit…in October of 2019! That is a total loop, a circling around. The Campbell House held a one-person show for me years back. I guess you could say the events were a real success. You can find all those pictures at Instagram, so check them out  The new paintings will be up soon on paintings.joriginals.net/

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NOSTALGIA SERIES LAUNCHED IN WATERCOLOR:

“Delayed Return”

Living in the South has distinct advantages. Language is one, with its soft, genteel brushing of the ear, or its amusing to the Northern ear craziness that can be rough or fine. Beautiful surrounds is another, as our Northern friends prove by relocating. Raleigh has an astounding number of new residents daily. Friendly and personal are still a plus, and hometown business contact, proverbial, still exists.

Another advantage is actively living with our decay. The famed tobacco barns from another culture, another day, are all but disappearing from our landscapes. I took dozens of pictures of our barn before we had to dismantle it on liability grounds. One drawing I did of an old John Deere tractor in a field is all that is left of the real thing. A strip mall in the outskirts of Fuquay-Varina exists there, now, but my drawing, “Reclaimed,” shows it with the Southeastern greenery, briars and vines, growing up through its wheels, seat, and steering wheel. I went every day for a couple of weeks and sat in my car finishing my piece in graphite black and white. So I guess the series began way back when I did that picture.

That tractor may be gone. But not all the country roads that lead up to such scenes have been lost or paved. And country roads will again do what the John Denver song reminds you they will do; they will take you home.

On my last photographic road trip–that’s one where you get to stop and photograph whatever you see, whenever you see it–I drove into a community that looked like a scene from “Left Behind.” The rocking chairs were set up on the porch still, the curtains hung in the windows, the folding chair made temporary sitting pleasure for a grandchild or a visitor, and the spray bottles of some household activity were still sitting in place like someone had just momentarily gone inside. This painting I’ve entitled, “Come Back Soon,” because it is so deeply inviting.

The front porch Southern mystique has faded somewhat, although two ice cream shops have grown up around Coats and Angier that have that front porch charm, and restaurants like Ron’s Barn promote the feel. We just ate ice cream with friends there the other night, sat a spell, and talked with them and the owner of the business who even on Saturday, had been working all that day. We take our grandchild there and to the other that’s become world famous in Angier (or almost, with umpteen homemade flavors).

The first of the series of the paintings is already finished, ready to enter into a show, “Grooves.”   This was a stunning building, boasting fine locks and hardware that had been left to baste in the sun and rust in the rain, impregnating the curing grain of the wood with reddish browns and the briars and greenery shooting up green tones into the wood. The famous paint crackle shows up beautifully, and the panels in the doors say it was once a fine house. Why such a lovely house would be left to ruin is a question which begs for a story, and I will investigate that one day. Now, however, it was enough to save its artistry with some photographs and paintings of what the artist sees when she looks at these moments, and enters the once private quarters to merge now and then.

Another picture is a close up of the windows, the soul of a house. Another shows a rake leaned up on the house as if the owner went inside for a meal and some sweet iced tea and somehow, just forgot to come back outside.

Another shows the gate into the garden. Yet another shows the slow dismantling of a fine structure over time and benign neglect.

I’ve avoided the clichés that came to mind first, like Come on Back, Now, Ya Hear? and Sit Down and Rest a Spell. I don’t mind the caricature, but somehow it’s a shield against all that poignant warmth and the pain of loss these pictures represent. I want you to go with me and dip into a simpler time and feel where children played outside, got dirty, knew nature, responded to the dinner bell, and the art of calls and whistles and hollering rang out across fields to other people. I wanted you to smell biscuits baking, fried chicken popping, hear the singing, take part in Catch the handkerchief, Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf, and Red Rover, Red Rover, let Mary come over. It’s the back porch communion with aging parents and grandparents who made sorghum and homemade ice cream, and love so strongly.

My beloved South. The long walks in the woods, the grove, building play homes in tree roots with moss and acorns, roaming in and out our outbuildings–the old kitchen, the smokehouse, the barns. I wanted to draw you in to what was significant in my world for so long, and just a setting like these pictures has the power to conjure back a past so poignant with memories it leaves me crying, still. The aging process itself carries with it a poignant beauty, as well.

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HOBSON’S COLLECT ANOTHER ‘McKETHAN’: “Earthweave”

Painting Added to Collection at Hobson Private Home

“Earthweave” is the title of one of my most experimental paintings in watercolor. The painting, framed in a gold-gilded shadowbox frame, could be called a watercolor weaving, since individual strips of watercolor paper were painted and woven in and out of a stationary piece of 300# Arches watercolor paper, also painted.

David and Carole, former classmates of mine, kept looking at the painting before deciding they had to have it. David helped get it down from the second story portion of my gallery/atelier. Now it hangs in David’s study in his new home in Pinehurst. Although a color match was not a primary concern, the effect was striking.

“I study it every day,” David said.

At the time the idea came to me I was fascinated with what fossils showed up in different earth layers. As a watercolorist, I loved painting with ‘earth’ colors, known in the trade as sedimenting colors–as opposed to the clearer, more transparent ones which leave no bits of pigment. Pigment that sediments approximates the earthy layers of ground I wanted to depict. Encased within these layers were all kinds of fossils, skeletons, flora and fauna.

These were painted to look dimensional which gave the shadowbox the overall effect of an aquarium. The work was one a colleague and friend of mine called “cutting edge” in a Henley Southeastern Spectrum juried watercolor show we both had paintings in in Winston-Salem some years back.

Over the years, “Earthweave” has remained viewers’ most popular pick when they visit j’Originals’, appealing equally to realists and abstract lovers. It just never found where it belonged until now.

Anybody who knows me knows I love research. This painting caused me to explore earth science in a new way. How exciting it was, then, in the last little while to have two friends and collectors–separately before they were married, and together–afterwards, decide they were fascinated by the painting and want to place it in their new home.

For my work, I used 300-lb Arches watercolor paper, a thick, multi-ply surface which I then tore the edges of to show the depth of the paper, and rubbed color into those edges to give the overall page shape interest. Organic, like the subject. I then thought of the warp and woof of a weaving’s cross pieces, a craft that fascinated me. I let each strand signify a different layer of earth. Each earth layer took the color that earth layer tended toward, whether blue, red, brown, or amber. Each strand, aka layer, contained the fossils and skeletons that would be contained in that layer. The finished work was an overwhelming hit. Everyone loved it. I nearly sold it several times. An ob/gynecologist from Fayetteville loved it so much he wanted me to paint a similar one, but in oils, on a light polyester canvas that could be turned into a motorized screen that would pull it down to hide the 70″ television, or roll up to hide for viewing programs. For him, I picked fossils indigenous to his home country, Costa Rica. Trompe l’oeil, a popular art term which means ‘fool the eye,’ it looked three-dimensional, but was not. David’s and Carole’s work is actually three-dimensional.

Fossils in furniture, coffee tables and counter tops turned quite popular, and to me was an artistry all its own. Although my research was extensive into earth science for both paintings for me, I only scraped the surface, to make a pun. However, the results are wide-ranged and expansive, rather than laser pin-pointed. In short, there are many layers in many different locales, and I am not knowledgeable enough to speak authoritative conclusions of how many there are, and the implications of evolution. So since there seem to be any numbers of earth layers, others are shown in the ground watercolor page, the colors on it continuing beyond those begun on the woven strands, around the surface of the painting.

There is, for instance, burial of nautiloids in a widespread limestone deposit at the Grand Canyon that formed rapidly, while other layers formed more slowly.

My chosen colors were amber/gold (middle), light blue, lime green, phthalo, green aqua, charcoal, pinkish-brownish: sandstone, light-colored like in the Grand Canyon’s bathtub ring. Fossils that can be found in this layer are brachiopods, coral, mollusks, sea lilies, worms and fish teeth. In the Tonto Platform, the color is a deep, rust-colored red. Fossils to be found in this layer consist of ferns, conifers and other plants, as well as some fossilized tracks of reptiles and amphibians. The Supai Formation displays a range of color from red for shale to tan for sandstone caps. Numerous fossils of amphibians, reptiles and terrestrial plants exist in the eastern portion which are replaced by marine fossils.

There is Redwall Limestone in the Grand Canyon, and behind the reddish face, the rock is a dark brownish color. Numerous marine fossils can be found in the Redwall Limestone including brachiopods, clams, snails, corals, fish and trilobites. In the layer called Bright Angel Shale, which averages about 530 million years old is primarily of mudstone shale, intermixed with small sections of sandstone and sandy limestone. The retreat of the Canyon rim is attributed primarily to the erosion of this layer which forms the top of the Tonto Platform, wider in the eastern portions of the Canyon where the Bright Angel Shale contains less sand and is more easily eroded. The color of this layer varies with its composition, but it is mostly various shades of green with some grey, brown and tan thrown in here and there. Fossils found in this layer are marine animals, trilobites and brachiopods.

The layer of Tapeats Sandstone is approximately 545 million years old, composed of medium-grained and coarse-grained sandstone. Ripple marks formed by ocean waves of an early Cambrian sea are common in the upper layer. The Tapeats is similar to the Redwall in that it forms a barrier between upper and lower reaches of the Canyon that can only be traversed where a fault has caused its collapse. The color of this layer is dark brown and it contains fossils of trilobites. brachiopods, and trilobite trails.

The Bass Formation layer of about 1,250 million years old, made up primarily of limestone with shale is grayish, its fossil record consists of stromatolites. Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite layer is 1,700 to 2,000 million years old and consists of mica schist, containing sediments of sandstone, limestone and shale that were metamorphosed and combined with metamorphosed lava flows to form the schist. This layer along with the Zoroaster Granite were once the roots of an ancient mountain range that could have been as high as today’s Rocky Mountains. The mountains were eroded away over a long period of time and new sediments were they deposited over them by advancing and retreating seas. The color of this layer is dark grey or black.

Fossils gathered from shales of the Stephen Formation are in two strata, the lower quarry Raymond’s quarry. The dark blue indicates deep ocean basins, while light blue denotes shallow seas. Rocks found in blue strata belong to the Devonian Period.

This comprises only a fraction of the overwhelming information on earth’s layers.

It took two attempts for “Earthweave” to come to life, because the size of the strip must slip through the slit made in the paper at the right points without gaping open, as when too wide a slit is made for a wide passage. The heavy paper must then be affixed to the mat backing of the shadowbox. The box is between 4 and 5 inches deep. It was not easy working the woofs into the solid, stationery sheet.

That the owners of this work are fascinated with the story of its creation, as with the painting itself, and that they like paintings that are intellectually stimulating, is gratifying. I’m looking forward to visiting Carole and David in Pinehurst, and seeing my ‘baby’ in their new home.

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Painting a Keepsake Portrait: Olive Grace

When to Use Photographs

Discussion abounds among portrait painters about the good-vs-bad points of painting from a photograph, as opposed to painting from a live model.

Painting from life brings clarity to just how soft the transitions within the face are, especially in the seamless contours of a baby’s face. However, even the folds of the wrinkles of a 95-year-old are soft. It clarifies the softness of the extreme edges, showing how they round into the light. However, painting from a photograph clarifies the absolute boundaries of eyes, ears, nose, hair, in a forever-fixed position. This brings resolution to many internal disputes the artist faces the moment she begins fixing lines on a piece of paper.

The problems with painting from life are in ever-changing lines and movements, left-right, up-down, and not having a head full enough of every angle and curve of a roundly 3-dimensional object. The problems with a photograph are many–distortions in the planes, misreading the data, not understanding the 3-dimensionality at any point along the way, interpreting light and shadows, and more.

Most veteran artists maneuver both paths.

So, when I received a request to paint a life-like portrait of a woman’s 50-year dead grandmother when she was a young child, I was not alarmed. I’ve had a lot of experience over many years in ‘reading’ photographs when I worked ten years as artist in a photographic studio enhancing portraits. So I had a wide acquaintance with old photographs and enhancing them, making the project only marginally intimidating. My emphasis with anything photographic is in making subjects jump off the page to greet you. And one fact alone ends the portrait painting discussion–if the subject is not alive, you don’t have any option other than using a photograph. My client wanted her own picture of her beloved grandmother, as another sibling owned the original one, because she had seen my work, and had concluded she would prefer a work of art rather than merely a photograph.

She lives in another state. She had visited my studio several times, however, visiting someone in the area and acquired one of my gel pen paintings. She had the vision for a piece of fine art, as well as a likeness.

So, of course she wanted the feel and sense of an old photograph. Once our back and forth was firmed up, I received an 8 x 10 black and white with all the colors described to me verbally.

We discussed parameters, found samples and examples of the exact colors desired. Her color sense was exacting and precise, and her willingness to respect and work with me as artist was an artist’s dream. She wanted a certain finished size, so I had to work backwards in designing the figure in the space, allowing the amount of space for painting in what had been the original oval mat, the pattern on it, the actual matting, and the frame width. Every aspect of frame, mat, background colors, dress color, hair, eye, complexion color were described. We decided on watercolor paint as the medium to more accurately and sensitively express an old photograph. That meant bringing back all of the lost integrity of the image. If you have ever seen chalked-in old photographs, you probably know what I mean about so much detail having been lost.

She sent me an 8 x 10 image of the original photograph, and my work began in earnest. I first drew many sketches of her on watercolor paper tinted yellow, the color of the dress. I drew her and re-drew her multiple times. In the end, I was not happy with the effect of the tinted paper, so I scrapped that version and began what would be the final on a 300# Arches cold press piece of watercolor paper, having acquired good practice in nearly memorizing her features one by one in every line variation. By this point, I had a decent hand-done oval. My drawing was nearing the ready phase.

Even then, I had to check and correct tiny little lines multiple times, moving them a hair up or down, a hair right or left. It was tedious work. Don’t ever commission someone who thinks their first line is final. However, extreme caution must be used in erasure, as well, as using the wrong eraser or overworking erasing can ruin a painting in short order, abrading even expensive 300# watercolor paper especially designed for watercolor abuse.

My biggest struggles, besides the hand-done oval, came in the colors, as the copy I had was black and white, and I had to dream up color mixes based on names of colors. I searched the web a lot for examples of ‘chestnut’ hair, and other descriptions. However, it was not my ignorance, but my knowledge that lead me astray. Knowing there is a lot of blue in a shadow color (for which I substitute green added to red to get the perfect complementary), I ended up with more shadow versions of the colors in her face than I needed. Then my client shared a painting she had bought that reminded her of someone in their family, sent me a picture of it, and I freshened up the facial colors using those. Don’t trust someone to do a watercolor portrait who says you can’t tinker with watercolors, either. You just have to know how.

A friend at one point made crucial comments that lead to change and downplaying some detail to greater effect.

At this point, the client preferred to be surprised, so the finished product was taken for its framing, a suitable was picked, along with a mat that made the unit hang together in a way that seemed inevitable, as if it had always existed. The prince of all boxes was ordered at a princely price, and the work was sent off in fear and trembling through my favorite service who picks it up at my studio. Then I followed it on pins and needles until it was received.

Finally the longed-for response arrived. “I can’t begin to tell you how ‘over-the-moon’ I am with my grandmother’s portrait!” was the first line in my thank-you letter from my client. Imagine my joy when she told me that the grandmother that was always in her heart was now in her home, too. And the very best thing a portrait artist can ever hope to hear, “You nailed it, girlfriend!”

Sigh. Now I can proceed to my next project. But first, this just came in from my client, “Oh, yes, tell Joanna she has my grandmother’s eyes down perfect. They’re the same as I remember!”

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