It’s been a while since I taught a watercolor workshop, but a couple weeks ago I sat down with 8 willing and eager participants at Ephemera Paducah to help them navigate the idiosyncrasies of all things watercolor. Thanks to Kristin Williams’ superior market skills at Ephemera, my two-day class was full with a small waiting list.
This workshop, like the ones I’ve conducted in the past, was for anyone with an interest in learning more or trying their hand at this challenging media. I’ve been at this for nearly 40 years, and I still learn new ways to make watercolor work its magic. Even I have my challenges, one of which is becoming a more adept teacher. I lean heavily on my experiences with past teachers who taught me in workshops and classes as I was starting out. And then I’ve picked up some tricks that I found to work well for me.
We started the first day with practicing wet-on-wet washes to get the hang of handling brushes and how much paint to apply versus water. The key is learning that balance – too little water and the paint won’t flow, too much and you either lose your color or produce “blooms,” thin areas of color with ruffled edges. Both extremes are things you want to avoid.
From there my eight charges followed along as I demo’ed a tropical beach scene with a rocky outcrop just off shore with waves crashing behind it and three palm trees in the foreground. I love this picture because there’s a lot going on in terms of technique. Apply some salt at the bottom edge of the blue sky wash and you get the effect of wild spray. Crumple a piece of Saran Wrap into the wet wash in the foreground and you have gentle beach waves once the paint dries.
The second day I introduced a more challenging subject to learn more about painting wet-on-wet as well as how to paint reflections. Again, I provided the step-by-step demo as they followed along, guiding them through the process.
It really is true that when you teach something if you’re doing it right you come away learning as much as your students. Demonstrating forces me think about the techniques I’m teaching, and giving them voice helps to reinforce them in my own mind. At the completion of the lesson I also love seeing my students’ results. It’s always amazing to me to see their interpretation of the image I start with. Each painting has its own style and feeling. The tonality, movement, expression, in spite of starting from the same vantage point, are all unique. That’s one of my favorite things about doing workshops.
Stay tuned for more – I’m planning my next one for early Spring 2019.
One of the places I insisted on going to for our European trip was Groningen, Netherlands. If you’ve never heard of it you’re excused because it’s not well known to those of us in the States. But I had a reason to go there. To visit my friend, Deniz, whom I hadn’t seen since we met in 2002, when I was one of her subjects for Med El cochlear implant research that she conducted for her doctorate. Deniz’s and my backgrounds couldn’t be more different; she grew up in Ankara, Turkey in a somewhat traditional though nonpracticing Muslim family with one sister, still in Turkey, and several close cousins living in the States. I’m a product of the Midwest with a Protestant upbringing and quite a few years older than Deniz. Yet we hit it off during my five days at the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, realizing we were simpatico in our views on women’s rights, our hesitance to marry, and our drive as professional women.
We kept in touch over the years, mostly through Facebook. In 2005 I emailed her when Dave and I were in Istanbul to ask about a dessert made of chicken breast that we’d had to see if she’d heard of such a thing. (It’s a real thing, called tavuk gogsu.) She got married a few years after we met and moved with her husband to Groningen soon after Continue reading “Catching Up In Groningen”
Coming to the end of our first week in Europe, we find ourselves in Bacharach, Germany, a quaint medieval village from the 1100’s. We’ve managed three countries in this first week, though it seems a lot longer than that. Starting in Paris I began to adjust to the travel life like Dave and I managed back in 2005 when we rounded the globe in 70 days. Like then, we planned and are managing the trip on our own. It can be hectic and stressful because you figure the details out for yourself, and sometimes as you go. So train connections, like getting here today, take some patience as you find the track and figure out the system the particular country uses. Humming along in the train always brings me back to those past trips and I feel that connection to the groove of our previous times on the road.
We stayed with our artist friend, Corinne, in Vevey, Switzerland, which took our breath away. The beauty of the towering mountains that came down to the edges of Lake Geneva, enveloping it in their embrace was indescribable. We’re already thinking about how to make it back there and experience more of Lake Geneva.
On our first day in Vevey Dave and I took the Vevey lake tour which rounded the eastern part of the lake into Montreux and beyond and then back to Vevey. The day was cloudless with a cool breeze as we skirted the lakeshore. A group of high school students on a trip lounged on the ferry deck with us, laughing and being boisterous as teenagers are wont to do.
Grand hotels and houses from the Bell Epoch period lined the shores at each city, throwbacks to the early twentieth century when excesses were all the rage. With life as it is more than a century on, I wondered if anything had changed.
Driving north out of town the second day we realized that besides being an area prominent for wine (and stunning landscape), we were in the land of cows. Lots of them, and all looking not very much like the ones from home.
Swiss cows come in cinnamon brown and dusky tan with charcoal markings. Their bodies and heads are blockier. The rolling hills, bordered by mountains, were a patchwork of corn, wheat, and pasture with cows grouped in clumps looking decidedly bucolic. I wanted to hug them.
We drove to Gruyere where there’s a castle and a walled city. Lots of cheese. I’ll let you guess which kind. We had fondue and a special kind of Swiss dried beef that was like heaven. Paper thin and with a creamy, smooth taste. More like a mild ham than beef. Dill pickles and pickled pearl onions to accompany it all.
After lunch we strolled around the town’s main street looking at German tchotchkes and signs with cranes, the city’s symbol. It seemed a fitting place since it was a symbol on our wedding invitation.
From Gruyere, Corinne took us to Mont Cheseause, which is little more than a restaurant at the end of a winding country road overlapped with trees and studded with a delightful farmstead here and there.
At the restaurant, we got two different tarts topped with creme, one with raspberries and the other a condensed apple that was the color of apple butter and the consistency of a firm custard. Nothing like it in the world!
We ate at a small covered outdoor terrace in the back overlooking a grand sweeping valley with the Alps rising across the way into jagged peaks. A bit of the sublime.
We drove back toward Vevey, coming into the upper winding streets, high on the hill above the lake. Corinne found a parking spot near one of the grand hotels so we could go in and look at the view from their restaurant terrace.
Walking down some steps we noticed an older woman, perhaps 70, waiting by the outdoor elevator with her rolling bag. Standing next to the railing there, overlooking the lake and mountains beyond, we began talking about our day and what we’d seen. She suddenly spoke, saying it was so unusual to hear English and asking if we’d been to the monastery on the hill above. No, Corinne told her, we’d not seen it. “I just happened to see the sign. You should go there, it’s so peaceful.” When Corinne countered that we were running out of time, the woman said, “You have to follow your own way. I’ve been all over and would do much more, but my body isn’t what it once was. My mind still wants to, but the body has its limitations.” I stood next to her as she spoke, looking at me and over my shoulder to Corinne and Dave. Her eyes were an intense blue and her voice a soothing alto. Beyond reason I instantly felt drawn to her and realized I was on the verge of tears. Her words flowed over me like a balm, and I sensed something in the moment that went beyond mere words or language or even logic. I restrained myself from hugging her, though that was my instinct. She bade us all goodbye and strode away down the stairs, saying I had beautiful eyes. Or so Dave and Corinne told me. I had not heard that part, stunned to feel the tears rolling down my cheeks and wondering what had just occurred. “It was beautiful,” Corinne assured me.
Our little town has recently become embroiled in a discussion about the importance of the arts and what impact they have on our community. Specifically, does the designation of a UNESCO Creative City benefit its citizenry, or is it just an excuse for officials to junket to far-off lands, enjoying the perks of travel and cuisine offered at these host cities? There was lots of weigh-in from our local television station, a few visitors, and many others in the community involved in the arts. Among those comments, I was most surprised by one from the president of Paducah Economic Development, who stated that there are not a lot of “art companies” targeted to relocate here and he considered that the arts make up a minuscule part of our economy.
Paducah received the coveted designation as one of three UNESCO Creative Cities in the U.S. back in 2013 for the City’s important role in the connectivity of cultures through creativity. We were the 7th city to receive the UNESCO designation of City of Crafts & Folk Art, a prestigious honor for any city but especially for one with a population of 25,000 like Paducah. But what does it mean? And maybe more importantly, what does it get us, especially those who live here who aren’t part of the arts community. Why should they care?
Paducah has the same struggles of many small towns in rural areas – attracting businesses, unemployment, aging infrastructure, retention of youth. It sits in an area of high poverty and unemployment with fewer economic resources and opportunities than more populous urban areas, such as Nashville, Tennessee or Louisville, Kentucky, a mere 2 or 3 hour distance, respectively, from Paducah. Its officials work to ensure quality schools and healthcare, opportunities of higher learning through a local community college, a growing business presence, and a vibrant city to attract businesses for growth and opportunity.
One of the things Paducah decided on many years ago was to bet on the arts. They looked to the arts as a way to make their community stand out, as a way to enrich the lives of its people. From that support came a local symphony orchestra, a regional performance center that attracts national musicians, performances, and traveling Broadway musicals, an expanding theater group active in the community and schools, an independent cinema with an annual international film festival, and a national quilt museum with two week-long festivals annually attracting participants from around the world. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of other arts related organizations with a prominent presence that impact the community artistically and add value to this area. I think that conscious decision is what makes this city I adopted more than 10 years ago stand out from others of its size. It’s devotion to the arts was one of the major attractions for me and David when we came here in 2006 to check out the Artist Relocation Program, designed as an economic jumpstart for a blighted historic neighborhood on the fringes of the downtown. Had Paducah not had that emphasis on the arts we wouldn’t have given it much thought as a potential place to transition to as a base for our art careers.
As the arts grew in our community, especially with the Artist Relocation Program, Paducah’s presence as a creative place attracted national attention. It was featured in a number of national journals and publications, such as The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and Condé Nast Travel. People traveled here to see its Lower Town Historic Art District, home of the Artist Relocation Program, the National Quilt Museum, its historic downtown, the newly opened Paducah School of Art and Design. Artists, such as David and I, contributed to the community, starting arts-driven organizations that produced annual award-winning festivals and artist-in-residence programs that garnered both national and international applicants. With each new activity, each new program, we attracted people to Paducah who became enthusiasts and champions of our community, marveling at the richness of our little river town, this gem on the Ohio River.
So it was not by accident or fancy writing that UNESCO awarded Paducah its designation. The Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau, CVB, knew well the role of the arts in the community and its economic impact on the city. The CVB recognized how the arts elevated us as a creative place worthy of recognition, that attracts others, and that had value for other like-minded communities of culture and art. That vision sparked the opportunity to invest in a wider community that would likewise enrich our citizenry.
Art is all around us. It is in our building design, our home furnishings, the plates we eat off of and the utensils we use. It shows up on our phones, our cars, our clothes. Our cityscape and parks spring forth from its vision, and our monuments stand in recognition of its presence in our lives. Art is more than some extracurricular fluff to fill up our time; it plays an intrinsic role in our lives. After all, we could just as well sit on a plain wooden box if utility was all that was required in a chair, or wrap ourselves in cloth if we only needed warmth and modesty. Art and design speak to something quite basic to who we are as humans. The impulse to embellish, to record our existence, to create is proof through the millennia of human life as evidenced through archeological artifacts.
Because community is more than economics. Community is derived from quality of life, and the arts have everything to do with that. People and companies tend to gravitate toward communities with not only good schools and jobs but also those places with rich culture, a deep involvement in the arts, and activities that enrich their lives. The arts help us to define ourselves, enrich us beyond our means, and bring joy to our lives. Paducah’s place in UNESCO’s Creative Cities, I would argue, benefits everyone by sharing with the world what makes us unique, attracting interest to our creativity, and using that creativity as a strength in building our community. As the saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” I believe UNESCO is a tide that has the potential to make our ship sail.
I’m getting ready to teach a beginners’ watercolor class that starts in a couple of weeks and goes through early August. This is a first for me to teach this many people at once. But it’s a good start since Dave and I hope to do more of it as we spend more time in Mexico in the future.
So I’ve spent this week putting together my “curriculum,” deciding on what concepts to include and what I want to demonstrate. How do you distill 30 odd years of experience into 6 classes that give people the basics and enough confidence to continue to try more? That’s the challenge.
Looking through our photos I found this guy from our trip to the St. Louis Zoo last year and thought what a fun subject he is.
I love him for so many reasons, not the least of which is he has sun-lit hairs that make me smile. So I’m deciding whether to put him on the menu. He’s a little challenging but he’s got a lot of elements to show what you can do with watercolor without getting too fussy.
My class is at Ephemera, our newest addition to the Lower Town Arts District. Kristin Williams, the owner, has been doing a super job with marketing, and the class is about full! Looking forward to starting this new adventure!
I’m still at it, painting portraits of my kitties. This week it has been Chaplin, the mama of the pair. She’s my muse with those emerald eyes that stare mysteriously into the inner and outer distance. Chaplin is just pure love, all about affection, both getting it and giving it. If she could spend her day plastered to my face, she would, endlessly washing my cheeks and chin.
And I would have no skin left.
She’s in one of her favorite haunts here, on her sheepskin bed in my studio. Today, both she and Dove are luxuriating in the early Spring breezes coming in the open windows. That’s a real treat after the winter cold.
Maybe she’s looking forward to Spring. I know I am.
My two cats have always spent a lot of time together, sleeping curled around one another, sitting side by side on the chair in my studio looking out the window, or playing, running wildly through the house. They’re mother and daughter, whom we rescued soon after we moved here. They groom each other adoringly and adorably, pushing my repressed maternal button something terribly. They’re the cats I always refer to when people ask if I have children. No, two cats — which always draws a laugh.
So, this past week I put them to good use, as more than my surrogate children and unruly minions, and used them as creative inspirations. Maybe they’re my muses. I’ve always said, “I should paint them.” But I’ve never gotten around to it. With nothing else on my plate and feeling less than inspired, I decided to look at them as a challenge and try to draw and paint them freehand and without much thought, giving way to the looseness of my preferred medium.
None of these are meant to be polished or complete as a formal painting. They’re just quick little sketches that took me no longer than a half-hour at most. My biggest challenge was to draw fast enough to complete the pose before they stretched or turned a head in response to a truck rumbling by. Only the first was done from a photo. The rest are from life, catching them in the moment.
They’re perfect models; their only fees are a few crunchies each morning and evening and lots of love and kisses. Those are my kind of prices.
This post is dedicated to my friends who inspire me with their encouragement. What else are friends for? Thanks, LeeAnn.
We went to the DuQuoin State Fair a couple years ago in southern Illinois. It brought back a lot of fond memories of growing up in Indiana and making the annual trek to their state fair. This one was a much smaller version, but there were still all the animal barns and 4-H competitions for cooking and sewing. The big difference was the emphasis on horses and horse races. We wandered through barn after barn of horses readying for sulky races and waiting inside their stalls for the next big event.
This guy caught my eye immediately for his rich chestnut color. (Yes, I know he’s bay, as evidenced by his mane, but I insist that his red is a chestnut.) I just couldn’t walk past him, he was that striking. His handler standing near by cautioned me that he was a biter, and though I’d never dream of just casually lifting my hand to stroke a strange horse’s nose, he didn’t seem too menacing. I decided to err on the side of caution and just look from afar all the same.
These many months later I wish I’d written down his name and where he came from. He’ll have to remain an unknown champion to me. I can’t imagine him of the devilish grin as anything else.
Fez, Morocco was our last stop on our world tour in 2005 before heading back to reality and our lives. If moving to Mexico could be considered reality. At that point it didn’t seem very real, or sane, for that matter. After two months of constant travel I was tired and weary of ever-changing landscape, customs, food, and trying to find cheap but decent lodgings. Morocco was a bit of a homecoming since we’d been there before, but we’d never been to Fez so it wasn’t familiar territory.
We managed to find a lovely pension on the east side of the Medina, recommended by a Moroccan we’d met on the train. He probably got a fee for finding folks like us but we didn’t mind. It was a nice place with clean rooms and friendly staff. Plus, it was just outside one of the bobs, or gates, to the souk. There was constant foot traffic of laden donkeys and streams of people going to and from the busy souk. It’s hard to describe such a place since the alleys snake endlessly through the old city such that it’s easy to get lost, and most foreigners like us are well advised to hire a guide. Which we did. My only regret, paradoxically, is that I wish we’d just explored on our own and not worried about getting lost. You can always pay some young boy to take you to the nearest bob and then hire a taxi to get back to your hotel.
The second or third evening we did decide to adventure out into the adjacent neighborhood to the east of us. This was reached by way of a winding street through neighboring storefronts that wound up a low hill into a nontourist area of the city. We like to find these spots to see how the locals really live and get a feel for the people. It was early evening, not yet sundown, with people out shopping in open air stalls and visiting. The streets were alive with people strolling and chatting, children playing, and they looked at us, these strangers with strange faces and dress so unaccustomed to their streets. We wandered into a small grouping of stalls selling produce and food to order. At one we stopped to talk with a man making some sort of flat bread to ask what it was, whether sweet or otherwise. He had only to give us a taste to convince us this was something we had to have! Yummy and warm, fresh off the griddle, it was the perfect thing to eat and stroll.
Further along the way we came upon a long line of local women, heads covered in scarves of various design, bodies clothed in kaftans, the traditional garb for women, seated along a sidewalk curb in serious discussions. This was obviously their social time, gathering in the evening to talk about their day or other topics. How familiar it felt, and yet I envied this connection they had with one another, coming together as part of their daily existence while we are stuck behind our computers, televisions, and endless schedules. More than anything else, this line of women spoke to me of community, family, and sisterhood. Though I could not understand their words or begin to know what they talked about, their story reached out to me of this ancient need to connect and share each others’ lives.
I’m in the middle of private lessons for a local woman who’s never painted or drawn except in school way back when. I like her enthusiasm, and she seems to have some natural ability in handling the medium. Our second class is this Saturday when we’ll talk about color and do another small painting.
Last week I did a demo of the two onions you see here. We didn’t have enough time left to have her do a return demo so I’m anxious to see her grape…. That’s what she said she thought she’d do.
I remember taking classes 30 odd years ago and thinking how much there was to take in. I think I’m still taking some of it in.