Saturday, April 20, 2013

Watercolor in Central Park

Central Park Path, 2013, watercolor on paper, 10 x 6 3/4 inches
Turned out to be a warm beautiful day yesterday, and what a better way to spend it than to walk around Central Park among the blooming trees. I will be doing more plein air watercolor this spring, I would really like to become more comfortable with the medium and loosen up, hoping this will allow my oil paintings to become more fluid. To be honest I don't know how I feel about this specific watercolor, but what the hell, Rome wasn't built in one day. I'll have to keep trying until I get the results I'm looking for. More to come.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Watercolor Playtime!

It's a great coincidence that the Sargent watercolor exhibit opened in Brooklyn recently and that I have been investing a lot of time in getting the perfect collection of watercolor paint. It all changed last October after my visit to St. Maarten, where sunshine, water and sand inspired me to work with it.
I enjoyed doing plein air in watercolor so much that I decided that I needed to do this more often! It's funny how one thing leads to another, just before my trip to St. Maarten I enrolled in a workshop that will take place in Cortona, Italy, this June. The focus of that trip will be on egg tempera and plein air painting in watercolor. Now you see where I'm going with all this?
After coming back form St Maarten I began to get my color sets ready, spending a lot of time looking at different colors and brands and figuring out what would work best for me. My starting point were my Kremer watercolor sets, which I took apart and divided the colors into blues and greens, yellow-reds, and earth tones.
As a birthday gift I received an empty watercolor box so that I could fill with new colors for my trip. All this led to nights of putting new sets together and creating labeled color charts...organization is a must for me, at least when it comes to studio practices!
I haven't had this much fun in a long time! Having little pans of watercolor all over my counter was like being in a candy land.
Creating the color charts was fun, I was able to test new colors, some very transparent, some very opaque, and a few that were very gritty. Most colors I purchased from Kremer Pigments, I believe them to have some of the richest colors out there and I like the fact that they are full sized pans at a reasonable price.  Besides, I worked for Kremer years ago, I knew that I could trust the quality.  But Kremer didn't have some colors I needed, and for those I bought Schimincke half sized pans.
Schmincke watercolors are also rich and opaque, and I like that since I would love to do some thick an thin applications just like Sargent did; not that I consider myself to be a good as him. The downside to the Schmincke colors is that they only come in half size pans, at least the ones that I could find. I'm sure a lot of watercolorist out there can agree that it's a sad thing that watercolor in pans are really hard to come by these days. Not even that, but a nice metal box is almost non existent.  How can these beautiful things go out of fashion, I don't know?
Testing out some of the new colors have been fun, but I have not had the chance to take them out in to the field yet, but soon as I do I'll make sure to let you know how it goes. I'm hoping for good results...fingers crossed!
All this talk about watercolor has not made me give up my oils, let's not get crazy  now! This is just something a little extra to help me become a better painter.
Bellow is the scan of the three color charts I created according to the three watercolor sets I put together. What do you think, am I ready for this, or what?

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Great Sargent

 John Singer Sargent, The Bridge of Sighs, about 1903-04, translucent and opaque watercolor with graphite and red pigmented underdrawing, 9 15/16 x 14 inches, Brooklyn Museum, New York
A much anticipated exhibition, John Singer Sargent Watercolors opened this Friday at the Brooklyn Museum, and without a doubt it met every expectation and more. Four large rooms filled with 102 works by the artist, most of them watercolor, will surely please and amaze visitors. This exhibit brings together for the first time two collections from the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, respectively. In the long and successful career of the artist, Sargent only participated in only two watercolor exhibitions in the United States. The first show took place in 1909 in New York and Boston, and the Brooklyn Museum bought it as a whole. The second exhibition took place in 1912 and its entire content was purchased by the MFA. As the catalog accompanying the current exhibition states, "together they trace Sargent's path across Europe and the Middle East as he explored the subjects and themes that habitually attracted his attention: sunlight on stone, reclining figures, patterns of light and shadow."
 John Singer Sargent, All'Ave Maria, about 1902-4, translucent and opaque watercolor, 10 x 14 1/16 inch, Brooklyn Museum, New York
Soon as you walk in to the exhibition you are greeted by three watercolors which show Sargent's mastery of landscape, figure, and still life. One of those pieces is Mountain Fire, below, a stunning almost abstract arrangement of blues and warm pinks depicting one of many mountain scenes in the show. This was a very difficult piece to look away from, I have to say I was mesmerized and this was only the beginning of the exhibition.
 John Singer Sargent, Mountain Fire, about 1906-7, opaque and translucent watercolor, 14 1/16 x 20 inches, Brooklyn Museum, New York
It is hard to say what part of the exhibition I liked most, all of Sargent's watercolors on display are masterpieces of luminous color and confident strokes of genius. If I were to choose, the first room had me at hello! In this first part of the exhibition the viewer is presented with visions of Venice, a subject that was painted by Sargent more often than any other. The beauty of a mystical place like Venice combined with Sargent's bravado create a symphony that is sure to send you spinning and dancing in the gallery. I know it sounds like a cliche but that's how I felt, I kept moving from one piece to another and then going back, it was a constant back and forth, side to side dance that had me smiling from ear to ear.
 John Singer Sargent, Boboli Gardens, about 1906, translucent and opaque watercolor with graphite underdrawing, 10 x 14 inches, Brooklyn Museum, New York
Perhaps what came as a surprise to me was finding out about Sargent's use of opaque watercolor applications. To watercolor purists the white of the paper is what is used to show highlights, you're supposed to paint around these areas which for anyone not well experienced in the medium can be difficult to do. Sargent used thick applications of white watercolor paint and it would sometimes be mixed or glazed over with other colors. Most highlights were achieved using this technique, as an example, in the painting above Sargent used thick white and yellow to get the sun spots on the ground at the bottom left. Opaque white watercolor was also mixed to create misty effects, specially when painting some of the mountain scenes. His approach to watercolor was very similar to the way one approaches oil painting which I connected with immediately.
 John Singer Sargent, Bedouins, 1905-6, opaque and translucent watercolor, 18 x 12 inches, Brooklyn Museum, New York 

 John Singer Sargent, Corner of the Church of St. Stae, Venice, about 1913, oil on canvas, 28 1/2 x 22 inches, Private Collection
As part of the exhibition some works on canvas were included as well, most of them executed during the same period and at the same places the watercolors focused on. I can't denny that I wasn't excited to see some oils, some of them very well known works I've never had the chance to see. Take the painting above as an example, a beautiful Venetian painting in private hands. I found it incredible how the oil paintings were treated in a fluid, watercolor like manner. Some of that technique is most apparent in the elements describing the structure of the white building on the right.
 John Singer Sargent, Villa di Marlia, Lucca: A Fountain, 1910, translucent and opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 15 7/8 x 20 7/8 inches, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 John Singer Sargent, Pomegranates, 1908, opaque and translucent watercolor with graphite underdrawing, 21 1/2 x 14 3/8 inches, Brooklyn Museum, New York

 John Singer Sargent, Simplon Pass: The Lesson, about 1911, translucent and opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 15 1/16 x 18 1/8 inches, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
One of the great things about this exhibition is the amount of attention placed on Sargent's technique. Throughout the galleries, small video screens show a watercolor artist recreating nearby paintings like a step by step tutorial of how anyone, if interested, can achieve some of the same effects. Xray and infrared imagery also helped dissect some of the pieces, revealing Sargent's secrets.
 John Singer Sargent, Villa di Marlia, Lucca, 1910, translucent and opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
 John Singer Sargent, Gondoliers' Siesta, 1902-3, watercolor and ink, 14 x 20 inches, Private Collection
Trying to put this show in words has been a difficult task, nothing can describe how overwhelmingly beautiful each painting is. One visit is not enough, there is so much to take in and if you're a fan of Sargent's work then this show will capture your heart and send you spinning off your axis.
John Singer Sargent, Santa Maria della Salute, 1904, translucent and opaque watercolor with graphite underdrawing, 18 3/16 x 23 inches, Brooklyn Museum, New York

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

New Painting: Goose Rocks Beach

Goose Rocks Beach, 2013, oil on linen, 18 x 24 inches
Sooner than expected I put the finishing touches on this painting. Honestly I didn't think I would ever complete it since I had started work on it close to two years ago on a smaller canvas. The proportions were  more square, and after a while something about it didn't seem right, and so I put it away, unfinished, looking sad like an unwanted child against the corner. As part of my new year's resolution to finish paintings I had started long ago, and believe me there are  many, I set the small canvas on the easel and it hit me right  away that I was trying jam everything in the wrong canvas. Well there goes another painting to the trash! Before trashing it, I had made up my mind that the painting needed to be restarted on a fresh canvas with the right proportions. I think it was the best choice since everything about this specific piece became more enjoyable to work on after that. Now it's time to keep plowing and finish other paintings that are patiently waiting in line.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Alla Prima Portrait of Sophia

Sophia, 2013, oil on panel, 14 x 11 inches 
It has been two months since I've updated this blog, but this doesn't mean that I haven't been working. As a matter of fact I started three new paintings since January, one of which is almost close to completion. In the mean time I wanted to share this alla prima portrait of my six month old niece, Sophia. This little angel has brought so much light and happiness to the homes of my sister and my parents because of her lively, happy personality. Already at six months she shows a strong character, and this is what I wanted to capture in this quick portrait. Painting a baby was perhaps the most challenging kind of work I've done so far. You can not instruct a baby to sit still and pose for you, that would be too ideal, and since  we don't live in an ideal world I had to work quickly, even more so than plein air painting. It took a total of three sessions to complete, the first session of about an hour I dedicated all my effort in sketching out her features and establishing the values. In the second session, which I had to work from memory, the goal was to flesh out the skin tones and try to keep it loose. The third session was all about finishing touches and adjusting the colors. I am looking forward to more portraits of Sophia as she grows up, I guess this little princes now has her own court painter. More to come!