Last night was the opening of my show of watercolors and mixed media at the Patricia Ladd Carega Gallery. The weather was soggy, and luckily the brunt of the rain had passed and the threatened hail and high winds did not materialize. I spoke for a few minutes about the different challenges of sketching on the go versus painting “Big Brush Watercolors” in my studio from my sketches.
This show is a combination of my small travel sketches, done on sight, from observations, often in my journals, where they’ll remain, and what I call Big Brush Watercolors, based on my sketches (not photographs) and worked over time, building up layers and layers of paint, sometimes with a charcoal underdrawing.
One of my challenges is scale–in the sketches I use relatively large brushes (my favorite is a 1″ flat brush), and I can drop in a lot of paint in one stroke. The white spaces are left intuitively. I’ve been sketching like this for years and years, learning as I go.
When I go large, in the Big Brush Watercolors, it’s hard to keep the spontaneity. I use quite large brushes, but can’t get the depth of color I want in one stroke. The green in my travel box that looks great in a small sketch looks really dead and flat in a large shape. So I have to mix more, layer ore, work it more. I come back over and over, layering color until the brush strokes start to show up inadvertently. Then it’s a matter of figuring out when to stop, before the transparency is lost. Or of lifting paint with water to get back to more transparency, letting it dry, and then layering again.
Another challenge I’m taking on is working from travel sketches, not from the New Hampshire scenes I love so well and know so well.
I love to sketch when I travel. I very rarely get to stay in one spot for long; usually we are on a tour or a ship, so I can only absorb the scene for a few minutes. I do take photos, but I prefer my sketches overall. So I’m learning to work from sketches of places I don’t really know–very different from working from New Hampshire scenes I’ve studied and contemplated and drawn for almost 60 years.
Here is a photograph and a sketch of the same scene. One reason I don’t paint from photographs is they actually distort the perspective. The mountains drop into the background and practically disappear. The foreground gets enlarged and emphasized and dominates the scene. Everything in the camera’s lens in forced into one-point perspective. When i sketch, my eye shifts its focus from one place to another. I ignore the rules of perspective. I control the emphasis, the focal point, and I edit out unnecessary detail.
I think charcoal may be a good way to work into the travel sketches. When I draw in charcoal I feel as if I can sculpt the shapes, the volume of things. I can wipe out and redraw. I can create detail in some areas and not in others. And I like the way it mutes the watercolor when I come in with paint. Charcoal gives me both value and line, reminiscent of my fountain pen that I use for sketching. It builds up a stronger surface than straight watercolor and is more forgiving in terms of correction. So that is what I am looking to explore now.