My attempt at plein air watercolor was an inspiring failure--a big chunk of it was macadam -- and I obviously don't know how to handle that. The hills weren't too bad, but the sky, which I'm usually good at was not so hot -- the sun was hot, and I had not before dealt with very fast-drying paint! Hence the crappy sky.
BUT, back on the train I was able to see Susan Abbott's painting of some industrial buildings and, because it wasn't finished, the underlying rough lines of the sketch. I would have like to have much longer to look at it. (You can see the finished version here of the Warehouse in Bradford, Vermont.)
By Thursday I was desperate for some time with paints. Thursday morning, every Thursday morning, I go to the Bishop Street Artists, a working gathering of painters at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in St. Albans and muck about with colors. And, along with everyone else, look at one another's work. This day Mary Ellen Bushey (no web presence) was there for the second time after returning from her wintering in Virginia near the Chesapeake. I was drawn to her work because it was watercolor. This day she had a small, rough sketch--below--(the kind that is splendid but that only a working artist could appreciate) and was beginning to paint the scene of the sketched marshland. She didn't sketch it larger, just began laying on the paint. She was using a type of brush I actually have and used it for almost the entire painting. I was transfixed the entire time the painting emerged on the paper. What emerged was the kind of watercolor that drew me to watercolor in the first place: free, shimmering, and alive. (I didn't have my camera with me, so I don't have a picture of the painting.)
Inside I was jumping up and down frantically. When she was done, I noticed that the sheet, though still attached to the block, was rippled. I asked about the kind of block it was--Strathmore. I was not impressed. I then went to my workspace and grabbed a 4" x 6" Lanaquarelle block and brought it to her, and suggested she try it. She laid on a few brushstrokes (at right) and then looked at what kind of paper it was. She liked it. I told her where I got it--Black Horse Fine Art Supply in South Burlington and about how wonderful the store is. I also said, because I was learning, I was trying as many different papers as I could and that so far, this one was best of all. As I slowly started to separate the sheet from the block, she said, "You can keep it if you want." And I said, "Whew, I was hoping you'd say that!"
Well, at noon I bolted for my car and broke all speed limits to get home. I mowed down the kitties on the way to my work table, and did this:
MARSH EDGE - 7" x 10"
My painting was not like hers, but the colors were. Lover of words that I am, the word "Chesapeake", and lines from Sidney Lanier's Marshes of Glynn were rolling around in my brain as I worked. (Lanier was a romantic writer of middling verse that I loved as a child.)
When I was done, I thought "My god, those 15 minutes of watching Mary Ellen work, gave me this." Better than any class where you have to stress over trying to do something which the instructor has described in words. There was NOTHING between what I watched her do in silence and what I did when I got home. It was the essence of osmosis. This may not be what people expect when they sign up for an art class, but this is obviously the way I learn best. Just think, how easy for a painter to give a "watching" class! No words, no handouts, no materials, no nothing except the actual act of creation watched. Bring it on!