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It's Still about Water

Over the years I’ve painted rivers, clouds reflected in the water, water churning next to a ship, rapids … well, it’s still about water for me. Water in all its forms continues to fascinate.

For instance, it’s amazing to me how similar frozen water (glaciers) and falling water (waterfalls) are. Several times last year I tried to paint one and ended up with the other. None of them turned out to be very good and I was very frustrated.

But now, I think I’ve figured out how to paint a waterfall using my acrylic on raw canvas (atmospheric) technique. Dry Season was a test case and it worked well.

Dry Season 14×11 2020

First, I painted the sky (very pale violet), the distant mountains (violet), and the rocks below (varying shades of ultraviolet blue and sepia) using my wet-in-wet acrylic on raw canvas technique. Before it dried I used a paper towel to wipe out the areas where I wanted the water to be. After it dried, I added the trees and foliage at the top of the cliffs. Finally, I started rubbing in the white water with a damp rag, leaving it translucent (to see the rocks underneath) in some places and adding more white to make it opaque in others. Lastly, with a pallette knife or a sponge I added specs of white for accent.

Even though all that water was gushing over the cliffs and falling to the rocks below, it was still the middle of the dry season when I saw Victoria Falls, and it was absolutely overwhelming. During the rainy season I’m told there is no dry land. The fog and mist from the falls keeps everything and everyone wet. I can’t begin to imagine it. Even in the dry season, Victoria Falls lives up to its name: The Smoke That Thunders.

Tons of Inspiration

Well, this was my eighth trip with Overseas Adventure Travel (OATtravel.com) and, as expected, it provided tons of inspiration for my painting. While most people on the safari trip were focused on the animals, I was busy taking pictures of the sunsets, the trees, the rivers, the waterfall (Victoria Falls) … the stuff I knew I would want to paint.

And boy, was Africa beautiful. Specifically Kruger National Park in South Africa, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Chobe National Park in Botswana and Lake Kariba and the rivers that link to it. Unending inspiration.

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Kruger Sunset

Of course, every day I was in Africa there was a beautiful sunset. And I got to see it because it never rained. And it was often reflected on a river or lake, or peeking through the amazing umbrella thorn acacia trees. This is just the first of what will be many African sunset paintings.

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Morning in Hwange

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Africa is hot, so safaris go out in the early morning and late afternoon to see the animals (usually napping during the mid-day heat). As a result, all my photos were early morning or late afternoon. This painting is a meld of several of my photos from Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe around 9:00 in the morning. We were on our way to see the animals (lions, giraffes, impala, zebra, hippos, etc.) and I was busy taking pictures while everyone else waited ’til we got to the animals.

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Kruger Reflection

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Southern Africa had just gone through a year’s drought and this was the dry season, so water levels in the lakes and rivers were very low. Often you could see the tops of dead trees sticking up out of the water (they would have been under water absent the drought). There was something very abstract about the composition of my photos and so I decided to do a smaller test (this is 12×7) since I wanted to combine the soft reflected sunset in the water at the top and the hard edges of the trees sticking up…all on raw canvas. I ignored the hippos, the crocodiles, the fish eagles, etc. and just focused on the dead trees and the reflection.

Square is still “liberating”

My fascination with a square canvas continues. For me, square is still liberating.

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This was my experiment putting red on the inside and white on the outside (a reaction to my previous Beyond Insight). Then I decided that red and white was too limiting.

And, of course, red is not my favorite color. Blue is. So I decided to continue the “Square is liberating” experiment with blue.

Above Blue

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Above Blue is all about using various blues and white to express sky or water, soaring above or looking up to the light. There’s a wonderful feeling of freedom, which is what the square format seems to give me.

So I decided to try again, still with blue.

Sounds of Blue

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Still blue, still abstract, but no white. But I like the feeling of movement. Not sky or water this time. Just blue. A little bit of depth and the focus on the upper right.

Yup. Square is still liberating.

Alcohol Inks Are Liberating

With alcohol inks, I simply decide what colors I want (Maroon and Yellow) and then it all gets out of hand. I put them down, add some alcohol, blow on it with a straw, and the results are so unpredictable … it’s liberating. I add color, and blow some more, I add alcohol and blow some more. Slowly (VERY slowly) I learn how to get the effect I want. If I needed to be immediately successful, it would be excruciating. But I don’t. I’m free to experiment … and I love it.

Finely Tuned

With Finely Tuned, I wanted to see what I could do with combining a variety of circles, some open, some closed. When it was finished, it reminded me of the inner workings of a clock.

Cool Blue

Cool Blue was clearly an experiment with color: blue and yellow with green as the combination. I experimented with softening the outside edges while maintaining the inner intensity. Lots of blowing through a straw, but I’m clearly starting to get the hang of it.

Wave

The combination of red and blue (and only the tiny little bit of the combined purple) make this a fascinating experiment. I had NO idea this would be the end result.

Summer is my time to experiment. I don’t think I will want to stop these experiments when I go back to my classes at the League in September. Of course, those are experiments too…

Square is liberating

Who knew? All my artistic life I’ve painted on rectangles (paper, canvas, whatever) where one side was longer than the other. Not square, in other words. Well, for some reason I decided to try painting on a square canvas. Well, guess what? Square is liberating.

Rectangular canvases speak to me of landscapes, skyscapes, waterscapes … semi-abstract, but not completely. Somehow, a square canvas speaks to me of nothing, or rather nothing I recognize. It frees me to just put down some paint and see what happens. And then I do it again. The end result is almost completely unplanned. Liberating.

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This is my first experiment with a square canvas … and a new color (red). I can’t exactly tell you how this painting happened. It just did. To counterbalance this, I started another square painting, this time with the red in the center and the white on the outside. We’ll see how that develops.

In the meantime I played today with alcohol inks on square canvas with an artist friend of mine. Two hours later…

Hmmm 8×8

Alcohol inks are hard to photograph, they’re so shiny. I’m not even sure if this is finished. I almost don’t know how to think about it. But it’s fun.

Bottom line: I’m liking these squares. Square is liberating.

Experiments are still fun

Experiments are still fun, even though the learning curve sometimes seems awfully steep. I briefly went back to watercolors (my original love) but this time I wanted to see if I could use them on gessoed canvas (I just happen to have a supply that I didn’t want to waste).

Someone on Instagram mentioned using watercolors on gessoed canvas with two coats of Absorbent Ground on top. Golden says Absorbent Ground is “opaque acrylic primer for water media” so nothing ventured nothing gained. I decided to give it a try.

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Distant Trees 8×8

My first attempt turned out reasonably well. A lot of playing with it later, I discovered that it is really hard to get a smooth wash, unlike watercolor on watercolor paper. I liked Distant Trees, so I decided to try another one.

Tried again to get a smooth wash, and failed again. I like the final result, Moonset, even though it didn’t turn out as intended.

Giving up on smooth washes, why not just see what develops?

Sunset 8×8

Clouds don’t necessarily require smooth washes, so … not bad. I have a lot less control than I’d like but, hey, story of my life.

I had one more 8×8 canvas board with Absorbent Ground, so what did I have to lose?

Memory 8×8

Well, a lot, actually. The purple on the bottom was way too strong, so I tried toning it down with white. Didn’t work. Since it’s watercolor, I then tried running it under a faucet and rubbing the purple off. That worked better (you can’t believe how strong the original purple was) and then I added more white on top.

So none of these are disasters, but working with watercolor on Absorbent Ground was much harder than expected. The whole time I was saying to myself : “This would be much easier on watercolor paper.” But I didn’t really want to do that. What I really wanted was to get back to using acrylic on raw canvas.

So that’s what I’m doing.

Not my blackout

Soooo glad I live in the Bronx right now. I remember the last major blackout when I had to navigate from 34th Street to 231st Street via walking, hitchhiking, jumping on a bus and hanging on for dear life … and then climbing up 16 floors of stairs to get to my apartment. Blisters on my blisters. Never want to do that again. Whew. Not my blackout.

My sympathies though to the thousands of people going through this one.