- Rex Beanland on Trip To Boston to See Sargent Watercolour Exhibition
- David Lee on Trip To Boston to See Sargent Watercolour Exhibition
- Rex Beanland on Trip To Boston to See Sargent Watercolour Exhibition
- Joanne Edie on Trip To Boston to See Sargent Watercolour Exhibition
- Rex Beanland on Self Critique and the Artistic Journey
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Author Archives: Rex Beanland
We went to Boston , November 12, to see the John Singer Sargent Watercolour Exhibition at the Boston Museum Of Fine Art. I will be reporting on the exhibition itself soon but this post is just about the city and the bits of Massachusetts that we saw. This was our first visit to Boston and we were captivated by the city. To say that it is steeped in the history of the US particularly the early revolutionary days is an understatement. We stayed in the historic area of north downtown. This is the steeple of the Old North Church which was about 20 metres from our B & B. They hung the lanterns in this steeple that fateful night 238 years ago to warn about the approach of the British (1 if they were coming by sea, 2 if they came by land). This is the message that Paul Revere raced all night to deliver. His house is just a few blocks away.
This neighbourhood is all narrow streets and tall narrow row houses. Very difficult to drive a car there. Parking in the neighbourhood – forget it but a great place to walk.
Some nice coffee shops and a late night grocery store.
We stayed in a B & B on the 4th floor of one of these old buildings.
Here is the view from our bedroom. You can just see the steeple of the Old North Church. Most of these places got virtually no direct sun.
This is the street corner right in front of the Old North Church.
Below is a look up one of the side streets. Very typical of this area.
It was very interesting to watch the big garbage truck negotiate these streets. They don’t use garbage cans just put the bags right on the sidewalk.
Even though we were there between Nov 12 – 19 as you can see from this view of the Boston Public Garden there were still the vestiges of the fall colour.
I did a little painting of this bridge. This lady came and sat by me and watched a bit. She also asked to do a drawing in my sketch book.
This is my painting. It was such a beautiful day.
After 3 days in Boston we rented a car and drove around Massachusetts a bit. The first stop we made was in Carlisle about 40 miles from Boston. Like many towns in New England the cemetery features prominently. I liked these stone walls that are everywhere. They made me think a lot about Robert Frost who, in his poetry, referred to them and many other sights of New England.
This is my painting of the main intersection in Carlisle.
It turned out that we would drive for less than an hour and then we’d stop and paint for a couple of hours. It was neat with Susan and I both sitting in the car and painting different scenes.
The top image is a very typical New England house from Forge Village.
The house on the hill was up a back alley in a town whose name I can’t remember, possible Eastham.
This rock pile, again with the stone wall, was somewhere between Boston and Cape Cod.
We made a wonderful connection with some people who live on Cape Cod and we were able to spend 2 nights with them and to spend one entire day and night exploring Cape Cod. Fortunately, we were in the off season. I now understand why it is so packed with tourists in the summer. To describe the highway that travels the length of the Cape, as picturesque simply doesn’t do it justice. Beautiful houses, beautiful scenery. We travelled right to the northern tip of the Cape which ends in the town of Provincetown. It’s special geographic location possibly has lead to it’s rather special character. It seemed like a world unto itself. It also is packed in the summer season. It has become a predominantly gay town and I understand it can get very alternative in the summer.
We stayed in a lovely hotel, The Bradford House & Hotel, that was decorated very richly in an almost Edwardian style.
This is Susan painting by lamplight.
Inspired by the light I tried to capture the moment.
This is an impression of the Provincetown Harbour. There is a long history of fishing here which still carries on even though the numbers of people fishing is declining.
This is the main street in Provincetown. Very colourful, very walkable, very scenic.
This is my painting of this scene. The weather was so pleasant that I sat on the steps of a store to paint this. Just after I finished the painting it started to pour rain and never stopped for the rest of the day.
All in all it was a fabulous trip and I wouldn’t mind revisiting there some day.
Saturday, Oct 26 was Canada Watercolour Day which has been initiated by the Canadian Society Of Painters In Watercolour (CSPWC). CSPWC is Canada’s top watercolour society and one I’m very proud to have been juried into just this year.
Even though the weather in Calgary was lovely we went to Devonian Gardens, Calgary’s only indoor park located in the heart of downtown. It had been closed for extensive renovations and it was indeed very different. It’s much brighter, airier, and definitely more integrated into the surrounding office buildings and food court. As a result it is much more heavily used. All that is, of course, exactly what the city wants. Unfortunately, as far as painting I felt it wasn’t quite as enticing as it used to be. Before there used to be more secluded spots and the Koi fish pond and it was more like it’s own little world. Now it’s full of open spaces and people. Anyway here are a few photos of the new look.
I was intrigued by the light on the palm trees so we decided to set up there.
As you can see there were many people passing by but the experience was absolutely wonderful. I find that right away I just go into the painting zone and I’m largely unaware of what’s going on around me. All the people who did stop by and speak were really excited to see us painting.
As I mentioned I liked the palm trees but I find that I can’t get too excited by a scene unless there are some people involved so we asked a young girl who stopped to take a look if she would pose. She was thrilled to be asked and this is my painting.
I like the painting even though it got a little overworked. With plein air painting, however, the result is only one part of the experience. To be there with life going on all around you and with the sights and sounds and just being zoned into painting is a true pleasure. When we left I think we both felt very pleased and inspired.
Until next year.
I’ve been studying Charles Reid lately. He has a unique watercolour style that is very accessible and inviting. In particular I’m looking at his approach to portraits. He was one of the first instructors I met that made me really take a look at the way I held the brush and applied my strokes. I painted far too much with the tip of the brush which can lead to overworked washes. He recommended really pushing the hairs of the brush into the paper and let the brush make the biggest, boldest stroke possible. This was excellent advice and allowed me to make much more creative use of my brush.
Anyway, these 2 studies of my wife, Susan, are my attempt to apply aspects of his style to my own subject matter.
This was the first one. I think it’s a very pleasant portrait though it bares only a partial likeness. There is a nice liveliness to it and I really like the hair and the colourful scarf. In fact I like it a lot.
This is one I did last night. I love the dappled light on the vest. I think the composition is very effective and has a very nice feel of light overall. I would like to improve the main eye. It seems like it’s a little confused as to whether it’s looking ahead or straight at the viewer. The likeness is quite close and it does capture the look of pondering that the photo had.
On a technical note. Reid uses raw sienna a lot. I have traditionally not used it much at all. I dug out my tube of it for this portrait. You can see it very plainly in the jaw line. I’m still not sure if I like it.
The Alberta Society Of Artists held their annual BBQ a few weeks ago at the heritage site, Perronoud Ranch just north of Cochrane. This was my first event as a new member of the ASA. It was a wonderful day. Sunny and warm. By the end of the day it was sunny with gale force winds.
My wife and I went early to do a little painting on the property. I was very pleased with my little study. We ate on this veranda. Some of our meal was simply blown into the surrounding fields by the wind.
I was very pleased to be juried into the ASA this year. I think the thing I like most about membership in art groups like this is the connection and networking with other like minded artists. To associate with, share ideas with, and learn from your peers is wonderful and very motivating. I’m always amazed at the range of interests and directions that others are pursuing. And most of all is the wonderful sense of camaraderie I feel, fellow travellers and all.
I find the colours and shapes of the school buses very attractive. When I saw them against the autumn colours of the trees I thought this is something to paint. Both studies were done on location.
The interesting challenge was how to capture the sense of the bright yellow trees without actually painting millions of yellow leaves. The beauty of plein air painting is that you need to figure out how to handle these challenges and you need to do it quickly.
It reminds me of a saying I made up when I was teaching grade 4′s. ”What do you do when you don’t know what to do – do something.” In this case I think it worked out.
We are having new water pipes installed at the end of our street. Today I was watching a workman cut a hole in a huge concrete pillar. The street was filled with the smoke and dust. The trees disappeared into the white smoke. As soon as I saw it I thought it would make a great painting. I rushed out with my paints to capture it. Can any other medium offer the immediacy of watercolour for quickly capturing the essence of a scene?
I’m finding myself drawn more and more to people doing things. There is always an energy in a painting when there are figures involved especially when they active.
Technically, this painting doesn’t happen with out extensive use of white gouache for the smoke/dust combo. It adds a very nice feeling of depth.
One of the skills that is necessary for an artist is the ability to self critique, in other words, to study, analyze and correct a painting in order to solve the problems and issues that come up. I’m a firm believer that everyone has the ability to self critique their work. I say this even though I have found many students really want to rely on someone else like the teacher in order to figure out what they need to do to keep their painting progressing. A working artist can nearly always identify parts of a painting that work and parts that don’t. Further, experience has given the working artist a number of options to correct areas that don’t work.
A case in point is this painting of the area downtown that contains both the Mustard Seed and The Inn From The Cold, organizations that work with the homeless and other vulnerable people. This painting came from a plein air study done this winter on an overcast day. I enjoyed painting it and I enjoyed looking at the finished painting. I wanted to do it in a much larger format and came up with Version 1. (I should mention that I never took a photo of it at this stage so this image has been digitally created to represent that painting. It is very close.)
Anyway, I finished it about 6 months ago and when I looked at it I loved the bottom half. I felt that it had a very compelling story to it and the arrangement of shapes was original and effective. But over those months people who saw it never reacted with the enthusiasm that I had. Eventually, I had to admit that while it had some great parts, as a whole it had problems. Maybe because I liked the bottom half so much I never could see the faults. Eventually I decided that looking at it just wasn’t getting me anywhere so I turned it to the wall for 2 months.
Just last week I turned it round again and the second I saw it I had a flash of insight that overall the painting was not interesting enough. Then right away my eye went to the bottom half and again I fell in love with the painting. After when I thought about this reaction I was finally able to see it realistically and put it my thoughts into words. The bottom half is great but the top half isn’t. And now, understanding the entire painting I knew the solution: bring some interest to the top half. To create interest we must use contrast. So even though I wanted to keep to my original vision of an overcast day without a lot of shadows I had to up the contrast. I used a lot of glazing to bring more sublte contrast between the buildings. I also added contrast to many of the windows both by using darks and by adding colour contrasts. Finally I added a bit of detail up there with various railings, lines etc. Now my eye travels around the entire painting much more effectively.
So the lesson I take away from this is that I can figure out any painting if I give it all the time. I’m reminded of the line I’ve heard a lot lately: Everything works out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out then it isn’t the end.
In conclusion this painting is now a favourite.
One of the most important lessons I have learned from painting is that I learn more from my mistakes than I do from my successes. When a painting works out really well I tend to admire it, appreciate it, etc etc. But not much more.
However, when a painting doesn’t work out it bothers me. It’s like having a sliver, it irritates until I do something about it. With a painting this involves analyzing why it didn’t work out: composition, value, technique, colour. What is the problem(s). Then I need to figure out a way to correct the problems. Then I redo the painting with a better plan. Almost always the new version is an improvement and always I learn a lot by doing this.
I was reminded of this important lesson at this week’s Art In The Garden show and sale. I did a demo there and this year I thought I would work plein air by choosing some scene and painting it live. Normally I would work from a photo. There are many more potential problems painting live but it also can be a much richer experience.
I chose a scene with some people sitting under an awning. I started by doing a quick thumbnail sketch to bring some order to what I was seeing. This is the thumbnail I created.
The paper I took to do the painting on was 9 x 12 so when I did this thumbnail I used a little viewfinder set to 9 x 12. So far so good. This is the painting that I did. I started it on location and finished it in the studio that evening. Since I didn’t take my camera I only had my thumbnail as reference for the painting when I got home.
While I think there are a few positives about this painting I’m not happy with it. I like the sense of light behind the left side figure. However, I don’t think the composition works. The 12 x 9 format doesn’t seem suited to this subject. The main part (the figures) are more horizontal. The big problem with it, for me, is that it isn’t really a watercolour. There is none of the luscious glow that watercolour is famous for. It’s too busy and over worked. I got caught up in seeing all the things in it as separate objects, ie the people, the individual leaves, flowers etc. I wasn’t seeing things just as shapes and connecting those shapes to create a pleasing composition. In other words I wasn’t seeing the bigger picture. This is a very common problem with beginning painters but we can all be subject to it from time to time.
I decided to redo it and began by making changes to the format. Instead of 12 x 9 I squared it up to 12 x 12. I also tried to see everything as just shapes that have a certain value and colour and as much as possible I tried to connect these shapes. I was also determined to be bolder in my use of paint so I could get those glowing washes the first time instead of glazing them over and over and losing that luminosity. This is the result.
I’m much happier with this version. As always I can see changes and improvements I would like to make but it does capture a nice sense of the scene. I has a much nicer composition and it is definitely a better watercolour technique. It was fun to do whereas the original version was work.
Normally, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to post a painting that didn’t work out but I felt that there was something very important to learn from this entire process so I said, “What the heck”.
The important point of this whole experience was that it showed that, indeed, we can learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. For me I have found that this lesson applies to the rest of my life and not just my art life.
This is the preview for our latest DVD which will be out shortly. It’s an excellent introduction to the fine art of painting watercolour on location.
If you order a copy now you can get it for an introductory price.
First the confession.
I was returning a book to the library late at night a few nights ago and looked over at the liquor store. For some reason I just saw it as a finished painting with the black sky and the light pouring out of the store and an arrangement of cars in front of it. I did a quick value sketch but I really felt that I needed to go back and paint it. In fact I did go back the next night with my plein air painting equipment. However, when I got there I just didn’t want to get out of the van. I was over come with feelings that people will stare (even at 10 pm there were quite a few people in the parking lot). My thinking was along the lines that this is quite a strange thing to be doing, painting in a supermarket parking lot late at night. I was on the verge of saying I’ll just leave it for tonight and then I realized if I do that I’ll never do this painting. I’m pleased to say that I did get out of the van and set up right in the parking light under one of their lights and had an incredible experience painting for about an hour. I was too focused to look around but I don’t think people even really noticed me. This may not mean anything to people who have no fear but as someone who frequently self sabotages this was a big moment for me.
Second the painting.
I love the painting. It’s exactly what I envisaged in the thumbnail sketch. I love the sense of light pouring out of the store. I also feel that there is a strong sense of story in the sense of getting liquor late at night and why that’s happening. I like the looseness, you can see all the paint runs. It was painted with abandon. At this point I’m still too caught up in the experience to be objective about the real quality of the painting which will come as I live with it but at this point I’m very pleased. The bright red circle on the left is the logo for the new Target store.
In terms of a critique the one thing I would change next time is the sky. It has the right value and it has a nice impression of the lights in the darkness but I used 2 washes on the sky. I knew it had to be almost black and I thought my first wash was strong enough but later I realized it wasn’t. I felt I was being so bold in putting in that first wash but I was comparing it with white paper and it was certainly much darker than white but I needed it to be stronger still. That means using paint almost straight from the tube. The other thing I would change is to lower the building so it’s closer to the composition of the thumbnail sketch.
So the lesson from this whole experience is to feel the fear but do it anyway. Where will we get to if we keep letting our fears control our life?