16 December 2014

Watercolor West 2014

I made it to the Watercolor West exhibit at the City of Brea Art Gallery in the nick of time--it went up October 11, and came down December 14, and I saw it on the very last day!

The exhibit included entries from all over the world, and was juried by Judy Morris AWS NWS (with whom I took a workshop this summer!). She commented that what she looked for was paintings that "make me say to myself, 'I wish I had painted that one!'" I certainly identified with THAT statement! What a lot of talent there was in this room of 100 artists!

There were awards from First Place ($2,000) to individual bequest awards ($150), as well as a lot of "merchandise awards" from various organizations. As usual, I agreed with some of the choices and found other paintings with no award among the most appealing in the show. I'll share a few of both here.

Please note that I am putting in attributions to the artists, and I hope that none of the readers of this blog will abuse these artists' trust by using their art in any way. Featuring them here is purely an additional homage, and for the benefit of those who don't live in California, because they're just too good to miss.

I also apologize for the quality and cropping of some of the photos, as well as some unfortunate reflections of the room behind me in their glass. That's the one downside to watercolor--you have to protect its surface!

Here is first place, by Robin St. Louis, and it's characterized by her interesting technique of putting an edging of light around each of her figures to halo them and make them pop from the background. I'm not sure it's my favorite, but it's definitely a beautiful work of saturated color, texture, and light.

"Marketing Majors "(26x38), Robin St. Louis

Here are two that I loved: One received an award, the other didn't, but the subject matter and the rendering of both is wonderful. 

"Still Waiting Too" (20x24), Cristine Weatherby
"Stephan" (18x12), Tatsiana Harbacheuskaya

This one should be on the cover of a Dick Francis novel! Love the motion, the immediacy, the simple background that lets the subject matter shine.

"Home Stretch" (12x15.75), Deborah Friedman

I was bowled over by the light and shadow, the dry brush technique, and the placement of the red accents in this painting:

"Commuters in Detroit" (18x25), Yuki Hall

These two, although by different artists, shared to an extraordinary degree the look and feel of a color woodcut by Gustave Baumann. I'd love to have a discussion with them about their technique--the flat colors and the palette were so distinctive.

"Nine Bicycles" (19x29), Kris Parins

"The Blacksmith" (22x15), Mark McDermott

And speaking of a gorgeous palette, the warmth of the sun, the background, and the fruits in this were stunning--you could almost warm your hands at this painting!

"Persimmons at Sunrise #2" (16x22), Linda Erfle

As I have said before, I'm not usually a fan of uber-realism, but I have to share two paintings here that were stunning in their  technical proficiency (and also pleasing to the eye!):

"Pitcher and Persimmons (30x22), Chris Krupinski

"Nutcracker Sweet" (22x30), Cindy Brabec-King

I couldn't pick a favorite from among the paintings in this show to save my life...but here are a couple of final paintings that embody what watercolor is all about--light. Direct light, reflected light, the contrast of light and shadow, but always, mostly, light!

"The Church of San Pietro" (22x30), Dan Burt

"Oporto Fishermen" (29.5x21.5), Stephen E. Walters

I hope you have enjoyed this little 12-painting retrospective. There were many more incredibly special pieces in this show, but these were the ones that caught my eye (and made it onto my phone camera). If you'd like to see the entire show, you can mail $20 to Jim Salchak, 18220 S. Hoffman Ave., Cerritos, CA 90703-2612 and obtain a copy of the catalog!

15 December 2014

Eileen McCullough Demo

I almost missed Watercolor West! I signed up for two demo sessions this year at the City of Brea art gallery, and didn't go to the first one because I wasn't feeling well; and then I forgot all about it. Luckily, I got a reminder email earlier this week that I was signed up for today's demo session, because today was the last day the show was up! So I bailed on the two Christmas parties to which I had been invited (sorry for being antisocial), and opted for a day out with art instead.

I didn't get to spend a lot of time in the gallery, because the demo was four hours, from 1-5, and the gallery was only open for five today, but I did manage two half-hour sessions in the gallery, partly on our break and partly afterwards, and snapped some photos. But first…the demo.

I went to see Eileen McCullough, a plein air watercolor artist who paints scenes of the coast from Long Beach to Laguna. I went because of this painting below that she entered in last year's Watercolor West--it reminded me so much of the painting style of the California School of watercolorists from the 1920s to '50s such as Rex Brandt, Emil Kosa, Millard Sheets, etc. (There is an excellent website that gives full biographies and examples of the work of the California School here.) It's so beautifully loose but with a definite plan of execution and a gorgeously rich color palette. I'm so glad I attended this--I learned a lot, and was amazed by her technique.

She started out as a commercial artist, designing a variety of things from a boys' t-shirt line to Christmas displays and banners for malls, all while working three days a week as a waitress to give her a baseline income. Just six years ago, with her husband's encouragement, she finally decided to make art full-time, and began selling her paintings.

She sketches and does preliminary paintings plein air, and then does the finished paintings from the spare bedroom of her house, painting the same image over and over again, from different angles, with different color schemes, until she gets a painting she likes. She works very fast--she says she paints daily from about 11 a.m. to about 5 p.m., and typically completes two full-sheet paintings each day. She is "not a sketchbook person," but makes vague sketches with markers, pencil, and monochrome paint to size/scale on location, then takes reference photos to help her complete the painting at home. She will make multiple sketches on tracing paper until she refines it to something she likes, taping it over the on-location sketch and using graphite paper to transfer it later; although she says she does less of this as she has become a more confident draw-er.

One of the paintings she brought with her...
Her approach to materials is refreshing after all the esoteric formulas, brands, and techniques I have seen from others. She uses #2 HB pencils that she buys a box at a time from Staples, rather than fancy pencils from the art store. She buys Scotch brand masking tape in 2-inch rolls in bulk from Home Depot. She uses Arches 140-lb. cold press paper, because although she has tried other kinds and weights, she prefers the familiarity. She uses Graham paints, all transparents, because she likes their consistency. She paints on both sides of her paper (a habit from when she was broke and couldn't afford much), so if you buy a painting from her, chances are you will receive two! She uses brushes she buys at Michael's, and buys them for how they feel in her hand and lay down paint, not for their content, composition, or water-loading capacity.

She sketches and practices her line work a lot before painting. She draws quickly, almost a gesture drawing, and breaks up her lines. She doesn't like frisket or resist--she prefers to cut masking tape with an exacto to the size and shape she needs.

The demo painting she completed while we watched...
The most radical departure from other watercolorists is that she almost exclusively uses a flat brush! She lays in large areas with a big flat flexible 1.5-inch sable brush, and uses smaller flat brushes as well, both on the flat and on the edge. I was amazed to see what effects she produced with the flat brush, and can't wait to try it. I used flat brushes when I painted in acrylic, but the general wisdom with watercolor is a round brush that holds a lot of water, so I never use flat ones now. But she uses intense color without a huge amount of water, and purposely works on a slant so that she knows when she is getting too wet with her paints, because they run down the page! She also works mostly standing up, at a high desk, with a stool behind her to lean against if she gets tired, saying she likes the freedom that standing gives her arm.

The demo painting she didn't complete…which shows some of her underlying scheme.
Her palette is pretty simple--she mixes two or three colors, and goes into her drawing almost randomly with color, painting areas and patterns rather than things, and jumping around the page as impulse takes her and as she spots something she wants to do. She seems fearless about grabbing paint and slapping it in with a turn of the wrist. (She also flicks color on with her brush or a toothbrush as she goes, rather than using that as a final effect.) She does paintings in two or three layers, but doesn't go from light to dark--she works it all simultaneously, going in with full color in mid tones to darks, while saving her whites for sparkle and light. After the first layer of laying in shapes, she may go back with her pencil after it dries, to further define or refine her drawing to give her guidance for the next layer.

She believes that all the drawing over and over gives you an advantage, because at a certain point you know the image and can stop looking at your reference photo or even at your preliminary sketch and just paint the painting. She believes this process is what has made her progress from copying a realistic scene to making a painting.

There was a lot more about specific colors she likes, mixing, layering of washes, and so on, but I won't detail all that here. Let me just say it was a great experience to watch her work, and opened my eyes to some new possibilities!

Here is the painting she entered in this year's show.

Tomorrow…my faves from the show!