In the first week of December of 2019, I made my way up the frozen Maine coast to see my old friend who moved there to pursue her dream of opening and art gallery and shop. It was a lovely visit, and I was happily unaware of the coming public health crisis.
Whopaints Galleryis owned by Wendilee O’Brien. She sells paintings large and small, as well as lovely cards of her works. Now that we are all in various states of self-isolation, I am missing the spritied inspiration of my art friend, and it is a good time to remember my visit.
While it isn’t possible to physically visit now, Whopaints gallery has many riches for the art lover. Wendilee has completed training in Asian painting techniques in Japan (she speaks fluent Japanese!) and uses these skills to merge her contemporary vision with traditional technique. She renders lively interpretations of her home town of Winter Harbor Maine, representing it in all seasons and moods. Whopaints has a range of watercolor, pastel and oil works for sale; and Wendliee makes it a point to make her art accessible to all budgets.
Like everyone else, Wendilee has had to adapt to the current public health situation. She offers virtual studio tours, online classes and daily inspiration to her clients and followers. You can see her work on Instagram, Facebook, and on her website at Whopaints.com
I just finished an excellent 7-week class: “Observational Drawing” offered by Zullo Gallery in our town. The instructor (Ron Krouk) did a wonderful job of moving the course online when the state issued the “stay at home” advisory.
My goal for this course was to revisit my basic drawing skills. I took “Observational Drawing” to make sure I am really looking and transferring what I see to the paper as I see it. Armed with some new tools for approaching drawing, I hope I can use the “lockdown” time to really practice.
Today, Ron gave us some very useful ways to approach drawing the figure. Representing the figure using gesture, contour, and straight lines helps get the basic structure and proportions right. It became very clear that understanding and mastering these methods was essential to getting the results I wanted. Knowing anatomy is not enough!
Guided by Emily Hirtle, at the Main Line Art Center I started to think about how I wanted to represent different animals with watercolor and gouache. I no longer find watercolor scary and I am motivated by representing the many animals in my life. I want to get better at drawing and painting because I love animals! Emily inspired the class with images of animals by Wyeth, Sargent, and other artists who captured color and gesture with watercolor. I will keep practicing seeing the shapes that form the animal bodies.
I’ve been trying to improve my drawing skills, and much of drawing is seeing. These days, I think it’s good to remember that perception is not always reality. One’s reality has a lot to do with experience and assumptions. For example, one of my art assignments was copying this master drawing by John Singer Sargent. Here is the original…
My first observation is that the hindquarters are somewhat small compared to the shoulders. How is it that the shoulder is so large and the rump so tiny? Maybe this is a representation of perspective. I take this to mean that the horse is moving into the foreground away from the man. This is what I perceive. Without tracing, I copied the drawing. Here is my copy…
OK. I thought this looked pretty good. I’ve been drawing horses since I was five. I sent it to the teacher (Emily Hirtle) and her comments came back — there are some proportion problems! Hm! I did not see these! I took the original and put my copy over it, then I could see where I went wrong. The green lines show the original. Wow! I missed the mass of the neck and placement of the left front leg!
The horse’s legs are on the same plane as indicated by the horizontal line in the painting, so I don’t think the horse is moving into the foreground. On closer look, I think Sargent is showing us a more subtle movement of the horse – bending of the rib cage. The quarters are likely smaller because the horse has a slight bend toward the human with the forehand (shoulder) and quarters bending away from the viewer. In many years of studying dressage, I know this is possible. A supple horse can bend his rib cage! My initial perception was that my drawing was not quite right. I missed the subtle bend of the horse’s body and the size of his neck and shoulders. Perception is not always reality!
Copying a master painting is a very useful exercise. Here is The Favorite Horse by John Singer Sargent. First make the “linear placement” — where the shapes go on the page. Then, start to think about how Sargent did this very warm and subtle painting.
This was a challenging assignment, not only because I haven’t been working in watercolor, but it is very difficult to reproduce the physical properties of wet watercolor. Although the copy is miles away from the brilliance of the original, copying this helped me to see the importance of relative values, and subtle things that occur when there are only small amounts of light.
It has been an entire year since my last blog post! Last year, when visiting Maine, I was blissfully unaware of the events of the coming year. Pandemic, crazy politics, national unrest, weird weather! Still, there were positive things about 2020. I tapped into several high-quality online art classes sponsored by community art associations. For me, quarantine was an opportunity to fill in some of the holes in my art education.
In March, it was difficult to concentrate until the level of biological threat was clear. Thinking that I would like to work on my drawing skills, I enrolled in Ron Krouk’s excellent class through the Zullo Gallery. This class lit the spark to continue with my drawing practice.
Late Spring and Summer
I learned so much from Ron that I took another class. This was a continuation of basic drawing with a eye toward preparing for a painting. The online format worked surprisingly well.
Late Summer and Fall
Yet another class with Ron, taking the drawing toward painting. In this class I made peace with acrylic paint – learning to build it up slowly, rather than apply it like oil paint or soft pastel. In this class, I made some good mistakes – ones I can learn from. My best accomplishment to actually start to think of using my drawings for paintings, even though most of the paintings had mistakes. It was a good year in this regard!
2021 and Beyond
I’m still fond of my colored pencil landscapes. I love to blend the colors using my knowledge of color theory. I’m going to continue with these, while trying to remember all of the things I learned in 2021. Also, I’m signed up for an animal drawing class (alpacas are a current fascination) and I will be working outside when the air is warmer and safer.
I had some acrylics left over from my class so I thought I’d use them to practice what I learned in my last painting class. The messages from class: form makes a strong painting, value is important in the “reading” of the painting, and finally, a photo can be somewhat of a tyrant. It is nice to depart from the photo. It is somewhat of a revelation (at least for me) that this is what allows for interpretation.
This was only roughly drawn from a photo. Using what I learned in class, I did a quick value study and used the study as the basis for the painting. I like the painting because it is mostly drawn from memory, and painting it helped me remember this sweet dog.
I would like to gain enough skill to use drawing as a second language for expressing ideas, feelings, and places. After so many years of playing with drawing, I feel as if I am learning skills I can use for this. After 9 classes, I can see that this is going to take a lot of practice! Still, our instructor has been taking us through some of the most challenging drawing problems: drapery, human heads, and the human figure. I still have a temptation to refer to a photo, but gradually, I am able to draw what I see without the aid of a reference image.
For this commission, the client provided several photos of the dogs sitting in her house. She wanted them placed in a favorite location on the East Coast. It was a challenge, but a welcome imaginary trip to the ocean during the pandemic lockdown.
Having just finished an excellent, inspiring and helpful observational drawing class with Ron Krouk, I gave myself 7 assignments, each one corresponding to one of the lessons we had during the big lockdown.
Week 1 – Perspective and Basic Shapes
Week 2 – Thinking in Shapes
Week 3 – Approaches to Drawing
Week 4 – Heads
Week 5 – Light and Perspective in Space
Week 6 – Drapery
Week 7 – Everything
Week 1: Perpective and Basic Shapes
This lesson was a much needed refresher on the rules of perspective and how light falls on objects in space. My self-assigned “homework” for this lesson was to remember the rules of perspective and be patient about rendering them. This is a collection of stuff that happened to be on my patio table after a drawing sesson.
Week 2: Thinking in Shapes
This lesson was about seeing things as abstract shapes and noting relationships in space. My “homework assignment” for this lesson was to find one of my sketches and do a notan sketch for planning a painting.
This week, I’m working on the “Approaches to Drawing” lesson. The aim of this lesson was to try three different approaches to rendering what I see: