Tag Archives: watercolour

The Eclipse Report from a Haunted Inn

Solar Eclipse, Full Totality
digital photograph
© 2017 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Rabun Gap, GA

A partial view of the recent solar eclipse on Monday, August 21 simply could not compare to full totality. This was truly an awe-inspiring event that photographs cannot do full justice.

Jimmy and I drove to Rabun Gap, GA, a mountain region in the path of totality. Thanks to a last minute cancellation, we were able to book a room at Georgia’s oldest continuously operating inn, which was, of course, haunted.

During the nearly three hours of the moon’s complete journey across the sun, I did a series of small, quick studies of the various stages of this celestial transit in watercolor pencils. When the moment of totality was moments away and only the thinnest sliver of gold remained, I only had time to draw the solar curve before suddenly, an eerie darkness fell and the night crickets began to chirp as the moon lined up with the sun for 2 minutes, 37.2 seconds of indescribable majesty.

It was so dark at the time of totality that I couldn’t tell with great certainty which colors I was selecting for the study. Hoping for black and light blue, once some sunlight returned, with surprised relief I was able to confirm that yes, I had indeed picked up my targeted pigments!

A nearby rooster must have wondered why the night was so short as he crowed to welcome back the sun.

Like certain other natural events and amazing discoveries that inspire me, such experiences sometimes need to swirl around for awhile in the creative melting pot of my mind before I know how I am going to best utilize the input — but I have a few ideas already!

While both sets of Jimmy’s camera batteries mysteriously drained (we blamed the inn’s ghosts!), thankfully we were able to capture a few shots of the totality with my DSLR; you can see the best one above. Along with the fast watercolor pencil studies, these shots, albeit quite pixilated, should be sufficient to serve as reference for whatever way I utilize this stunning celestial event in future artwork.

Following Eclipse Day, we found that Rabun County boasts five lovely lakes and over two dozen waterfalls. While on a hike to Panther Falls, we came upon an unexpected, captivating area where visitors had ritually placed flat, water-smoothed stones in a series of short stacks within the creek that flowed alongside the trail.

Stone Stacks on the way to Panther Falls
digital photograph
©2017 Amy Funderburk
All Rights Reserved
Rabun County, GA

A local we met said she wasn’t sure how long the tradition had been upheld. While it is considered controversial to some who consider it disruptive to the ecosystem, she explained that others enjoy the practice as a meditative act while being in touch with nature. I really liked how the patchy filtered sunlight echoed the pattern of the smooth stones.

Naturally, coming upon this surprise discovery planted the seeds for a new installation in my mind, so don’t be surprised if I ask you to start stacking stones on the floor soon.

Another highlight of the trip was hiking up Black Rock Mountain in the Black Rock Mountain State Park to photograph some amazing views, passing through some lush, large areas of ferns, wildflowers, and other flora along the way. While my hopes to see a black bear (under peaceful conditions, of course) were not met, I did hear a guttural, huffing sound that was unmistakably bearish – twice!

Neither of the two ghosts reputed to haunt the inn made such a sound – thankfully.

Posted in Art Travels, Creativity, Travel Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

New Work: How Does an Artist Know When a Piece is Finished?

Blue Moon Fire Spiral, detail; June 4, 2017Nest Study #1: The Floating Nest, in progress June 1, 2017Nest Study #2 - The Vortex Nest, in progress June 28, 2017Nest Study #3: The Tangled Nest, in progress July 4, 2017

Blue Moon Fire Spiral. A question that artists hear a lot is, “How do you know when you are finished with a piece?” My college painting professor had the best answer:
 
“When he or she stops working on it.”
 
Traditional painting wisdom dictates that we should work all over the entire composition at the same rate of speed, so that at any point in time, our creation might look complete to an outside viewer – and better yet, giving us the option to stop at any point along the way. In oil painting, there are additional important technical reasons why this is a sound approach. Not every artist works in this manner, of course, and the method doesn’t necessarily work with all media.
 
The way I would answer the question of how I know that I am finished is when my vision for a piece of art is fulfilled. Not every work ends up looking exactly like it did in my head when it was just an idea; after all, someone originated the saying, “The best things in art happen by accident.” But depending on the size or complexity of a work, I tend to have a mental or physical checklist of what remains to be addressed before I consider a piece to be completed. Once I mark the items off that to-do list and am pleased with the way that the individual compositional components are working as a whole, I am finished.
 
During my Spring Subscribers’ Studio Soirée, visitors saw the completed version of my first interactive meditative watercolor, Blue Moon Fire Spiral. However, I am living with it for awhile before I show everyone the entire work.
 
Watercolor is an exacting task master, so if there is an aspect that does not turn out to match your original intentions, it is not as forgiving as oil. I may decide to alter a particular aspect of this piece – we shall see. After all, we are talking about a painting that, early in its development, I purposefully burned off the bottom edges of the paper!
 
As soon as I am decisively satisfied with it, I will present it here and in my newsletter. In the meantime, I have included a detail of the main action to tantalize you! I really like how this central area takes on a vortex-like depth if you let your eye travel the curve of the snake to the center, as you would a mandala.
 
Studies for The Bird’s Nest Mudras triptych, in progress. My longtime newsletter subscribers may recall that I have been exploring various oil application techniques in order to increase the speed of my painting time while still achieving a similar final appearance. To this end, I have enjoyed working on some studies of three bird’s nests specifically in preparation for an upcoming triptych. This process has been very educational, and I now feel that I have a good direction in which to head by using a version of the indirect painting method. For non-painters, this means applying a layer of paint to a previous dry layer, rather than working wet-in-wet.
 
In the first panel, Nest Study #1: The Floating Nest, I employed an approach very similar to what I have traditionally used. I started by wiping out the highlights from a wet underpainting. I followed this step by applying a wet-in-wet layer with several values, and then once that was dry, I worked on top with subsequent layers — though, since this is a study, not to the level of detail to which I would ordinarily go.

Nest Study #2: The Vortex Nest is a hybrid of sorts, while with Nest Study #3: The Tangled Nest, I employed a more purely indirect technique by layering thin, translucent glazes and scumbles on top of a dry initial layer of flatter, local color.
 
Each little nest and their respective eggs now only lack some highlights and simple background information. The cobalt blue you still see in the backgrounds of Nest Study #2 and #3 is still the original underpainting.

You can get a good sense of how I am building lights on the darker values in Nest Study #2: The Vortex Nest — I have finished the top portion with highlights, but have not yet addressed the closer rim of the nest. As you can see above, I have not yet applied any of the lightest lights to Nest Study #3: The Tangled Nest. You can view three of the colors of my Nests palette with the last article below.

The recipe for your style and creative practice tends to just evolve organically as you continually add items from your growing artistic experiential buffet. It is very interesting to step back and purposefully recalculate your route so as to navigate a different path to reach your desired destination! To stretch yourself in this way, or through a residency or workshop, keeps your practice fresh and keeps you growing as an artist. Get out of your comfort zone: explore, examine, and experience.

Once they are completed and have informed my approach for the final triptych, these studies will be framed and available for purchase. Please contact me for further information.

To see other in-progress images of these studies and Blue Moon Fire Spiral, please visit my Works in Progress gallery.

Posted in Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Meditation and yoga, Painting and painting techniques, Works in progress Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Inspiration in Paradise: A Love Letter to Puerto Rico

Tropical Flower on Wet Asphalt
digital photograph
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved
At the parking area near La Coca Falls, El Yunke Rainforest, Puerto Rico

In December, Jimmy and I took a much-needed vacation to a place where we can just relax and recharge our batteries – Puerto Rico. This was our third trip to the island, so it may surprise you that this destination now ties with both Ireland and England for the number of visits we have made.

We seem to have a thing for islands.

Even though this wasn’t a working art trip, you can’t turn off being an artist – it is in your soul, and always takes hold when you see inspiration. The muse of Puerto Rico never disappoints.

The narrow, cat-filled, cobblestone streets of Historic Old San Juan are lined with textured color: the crumbling decay of buildings perhaps kissed by one too many hurricanes stand side-by-side with restored, repainted beauties, all from a by-gone Spanish colonial era. Without staying here any longer than they seem to, I don’t know how the day-tripper cruise ship tourists can get a true feel for this vibrant city.

This time, we took in Castillo San Cristóbal, conveniently located just a couple of blocks from our bed and breakfast. There was a small arts and crafts fair happening there during our stay, and two of the fort’s stately iguana invaders made for fascinating models. One of these scaly friends may aspire to be the basis for a dragon one day!

One night after dinner, we took a stroll down to the side of the fort, lit only by the cool, almost-full moon on the ocean side, and just a bit of golden street light spilling over on the right. Inspired by the limited range of low key values I could discern, I decided to invoke the Victorian expat artist Whistler and think “Nocturne!” as I quickly drew the 15 minute sketch shown below.

Considering just the touch of light I had to work by, I didn’t really know exactly what I had until I returned to our room! When I saw the drawing, I felt I had responded to the values and shapes in a rather energetic way. As I worked, I couldn’t help but think of the Old Masters creating by candlelight. However, I’m in no danger of reenacting the legend of van Gogh wearing a halo of candles around his straw hat.

Calle Sol, Old San Juan
digital photograph
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Mourner, reference photograph
digital photograph
© Amy Funderburk 2016, All Rights Reserved
Statue, Cementerio de Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

As our top pick for artistic inspiration in Old San Juan, the sheer magnitude of the Cementerio de Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis makes it a don’t miss – this was our second visit.

Dramatically situated above the ocean, these large grounds are awash with statues of angels and stone mourners. I have yet to visit the renowned cemeteries of Paris, but this Cementerio has set that particular bar quite high.

The oldest section of the cemetery dates from 1863. After photographing just a few potential candidates from among the many beauties there, I spent the afternoon under a hot sun with the figure shown above, first executing a pencil drawing to warm up, then honing my watercolor skills with some painting studies.

It was here under the bright blue Puerto Rican sky that a preference for my beloved panel surfaces by Ampersand swelled to the devoted level of a firm and lasting commitment. As I worked, I completely gave up on the watercolor block produced by a leading manufacturer after it refused to perform remotely how I expected. It simply would not tolerate my predilection for scrubbing and lifting (isn’t that just like an oil painter?), unlike the tolerant Aquabord and Encausticbord Ampersand panels. Indeed, these panels seem to revel in my oil painter-like behaviors.

The Formation of Clouds, reference photograph
digital photograph
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Pico del Oeste (West Peak) from the Yokahu Tower, El Yunke Rainforest, Puerto Rico

In the El Yunque Rainforest, even if you aren’t up for a hike, you can enjoy lush natural beauty from your car as you drive down the PR 191. Several waterfalls, most notably the impressive La Coca Falls pictured below, are right by the road.

As home of Yuquiyú, the indigenous Taíno tribe’s “Good God,” El Yunque is sacred ground. To protect his people from destruction, Yuquiyú was said to do battle with Guabancex, the fierce Goddess of storms and chaos; her storms were the Juracán. Indeed, the mountains of the El Yunque rainforest do just that, acting as a hurricane barrier to the land beyond.

The Yokahu tower stands guard beside an impressive overlook with a view all the way to the coast. From the top of the 69 foot tall tower, we could see the Los Picachos and El Yunque peaks in one direction, but the real show was happening around the Pico del Oeste, the West Peak (above).

Jimmy realized what we were witnessing – the actual formation of clouds as the sun dramatically sucked up moisture vapor in slow, snaking tendrils. When the light would occasionally break through the sun’s fast-moving, thick cloud collection, it was pure magic. My very quick watercolor pencil sketch felt like a meager attempt to capture just the essence of this ever-changing weather drama in action.

This cloud nursery is the very reason they don’t call it a sunforest, however. As soon as we began our hike down the Big Tree Trail, the rainforest began to live up to its name.

After remembering the old travel adage that it’s about the journey rather than the destination, my perception changed to one of appreciation. I immediately began to notice how eerily limited the depth of visibility was within the canopy of surrounding lush vegetation. We were inside the moisture-laded clouds. You can see what I mean in the photograph below. Art supplies stuffed into my backpack remained unused – nothing like soft rain to impede the creation of a watercolor.

La Coca Falls, El Yunke Rainforest
digital photograph
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
El Yunke Rainforest, Puerto Rico

Value Changes, El Yunke Rainforest
digital photograph
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
El Yunke Rainforest, Puerto Rico

My View of Paradise with Sailboat
digital photograph
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Our spectacular island backyard, Puerto Rico

School of Blue Tang with Friends
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Snorkeling in our backyard, Puerto Rico

After leaving Old San Juan, our next stop was one of the smaller remote islands off the coast of Puerto Rico. It takes a bit of extra effort to get there, which is part of what keeps these islands from getting too commercialized. Staying in such an off-the-beaten-path location can give you a different perspective on the elements, even if you are someone who tries to stay in connection with nature as much as possible in a modern world.

Before we left, I was sure to purchase a wide range of watercolor pencils in those saturated blues and greens that unmistakably say “Caribbean.” Of course, snorkeling gives you a window into a remarkable world fit for sprites and mermaids that you can never imagine if you only look at the surface of things. Not to mention, a chance to swim with the unassuming underwater rock stars – the sea turtles!

Since our rental house used a cistern for its water supply, we were careful not to leave water running unnecessarily, and had to use bottled water for cooking and toothbrushing. Nothing makes you even more conscientious about your water use than repeatedly returning to the supermercado for mas agua.1

While you might not normally want any rain during a vacation, after a few days without it, I began to wonder about the water level in our cistern. We welcomed the pattern of quick-moving, brief afternoon showers that started midway through our stay, knowing that they replenished our supply.

This shift in perception to an island mindset about rain was best illustrated during a fantastic local drumming performance. The bayside restaurant that hosted the event had been built with one side open to allow little boats to dock. When a brief shower suddenly blew in, instead of voicing any irritation over getting wet, the drummers simply moved their drums three feet forward, and everyone cried joyously, “Mas agua!”

Underwater Rock Star: Green Sea Turtle
digital photograph
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Snorkeling in our own backyard, Puerto Rico

Orion and Friends
digital photograph
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Winter Solstice, Puerto Rico

Of course, these rains are carried on wings of air.

While the trade winds alleviate the need for air conditioning or a clothes drier, when it is strong, the wind is a magpie that likes to steal things. It pulls clothes off the line, hides papers in corners, and folds yoga mats into origami.

It also stole a bit of my sleep. A couple of days into our stay there, the wind got so loud at night that I repeatedly woke up. A pair of earplugs later and this was sorted, but it certainly gave me respect for what it must be like to wait out a hurricane – an infinitely larger proposition than just the harmless rush of a noisy, thieving gale.

At night, we could see the Milky Way, and more stars than you could ever count. My old friend Orion was easily recognizable in the Winter Solstice sky, and perhaps brighter than I’d ever seen him. I could even discern the Orion Nebula without a telescope as the fuzzy middle “star” in his sword. The only light pollution was the warm glow of St. Thomas, one of the US Virgin Islands, at the horizon.

We had the seasonal visual cues of charming holiday decorations, some a bit weather beaten and sun faded. But who knew winter could look like this? Suffice it to say that we didn’t miss the bitter cold snap that hit home while we were in this tropical paradise. But even though the first day of winter here was quite warmer than what I am accustomed to, the days felt noticeably shorter in this place where we wanted to spend all of our time outside.

This is how we were able to mark the season.

Somehow, my conceptual experience of the elements on this trip is going to make its way into the broader scope of my work. Going beyond your daily routine to color outside the lines of life can lead to wondrous experiences that are rich creative fodder.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

Sunset Behind Cayo Luis Peña from Playa Tamarindo
watercolor study on Encausticbord, 5″ x 7″
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Culebra, Puerto Rico

Castillo San Cristóbal at Night
December 12, 2016
5 1/2″ x 8″
sketchbook drawing, pencil on paper
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico


1 Mas agua – Spanish for “more water”; supermercado is a supermarket.


 

Posted in Art Travels, Artists' Materials and Resources, Creativity, Drawing and drawing techniques, Painting and painting techniques, Sacred Sites, Travel Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Complementary, My Dear Watson!

Still Life for Mastering Color workshop, August 27-28, 2016 Lit by green gel to show red shadows © 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

Still Life for Mastering Color workshop, August 27-28, 2016
Lit by green gel to show red shadows
© 2016 Amy Funderburk, All Rights Reserved

In this Still Life, what colors do you see?

If you aren’t familiar with the Color Wheel, in essence, it is a system of organizing the colors of the rainbow by placing them in a circle that flows from one color into the next. Red and yellow make orange, so red flows into orange which in turn moves into yellow. Yellow and blue create green, so yellow melds into green, which flows into blue, and so on. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet move around the Wheel, then violet connects back to red.

The way colors combine with other colors on the Color Wheel, interacting with our eye to create certain optical effects and emotional reactions, are called color schemes.

For my recent Mastering Color workshop, after setting up these objects, I lit them with a spotlight covered with a green theatrical lighting gel to demonstrate how a color will create natural shadows of its complementary color. Complementary colors are those opposite each other on the color wheel — in this case, green and red.

Look in the shadows cast by the objects in this still life. Once my angled green light hit the objects, the shadows appeared dramatically redder.  The complements look for one another.

They also neutralize each other when mixed, and look for one another. This is the most dramatic of color schemes, and provides the highest color contrast. As artist Marc Chagall said, All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.”

Claude Monet knew this when he painted his wife and son in Camille and Jean on a Hill — or any number of other works, for that matter. He did not hesitate to daub red within the dramatic cast shadow in the green grass, rather than simply relying on a darker green. This results in a lively, rich shadow.

The other main pairs of complements are yellow and violet and blue and orange. Start looking around you!

The Report on Mastering Color

On the weekend of August 27-28th, I hosted the Mastering Color workshop at my studio, and was thrilled with the color scheme projects created by the participants.

We explored the nuances of that most emotionally evocative of elements with the help of the Color Wheel, and examined some of the reasons behind our physiological and psychological reactions to color. The participants’ enthusiasm was infectious!

Many thanks to all those who attended! If you missed it, I hope you can join me the next time I offer the workshop.

All the best, and Namaste,

Amy

August 27-28, 2016 © 2016 James C. Williams, All Rights Reserved

Mixing demonstration in watercolor, Mastering Color workshop with Amy Funderburk August 27-28, 2016
© 2016 James C. Williams, All Rights Reserved

Posted in Creativity, General art discussion and philosophy, Other artists, Painting and painting techniques, Photography and photography techniques Also tagged , , , , , , , , |