Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bartman Workshop

Back in October, I attended a landscape painting workshop in Delaware, taught by Walt Bartman Sr.  His son, W.M. Bartman III, was my studio art teacher at Poolesville High School, and I have been lucky enough to take classes with both of them at the Yellow Barn Studio and Gallery in Glen Echo.   Bartman Senior is always jetting off to exotic locales to teach workshops on location, and his classes aren't cheap, so I figured that this was the perfect opportunity to get his fantastic tutelage and insight at a more manageable price.

  The class of about 15 participants consisted entirely of well-to-do middle-aged ladies (and myself). This is the first painting I completed, in oils, after the first morning's lecture at the Rehoboth Art League. At the edge of the Art League's property there was this little marina encircled by a marsh. I didn't have an easel so I sat down on the pier and painted the only view I had that wasn't obscured by reeds. As I worked, droves of Great Blue Herons and American Egrets flew over--I'd never realized that they are migratory, nor that they can travel in flocks of more than two individuals.
Unfortunately, halfway through the painting, I accidentally knocked the lid of my Silicoil tank into the water, and scrambled along the rocks for ten minutes or so in a desperate attempt to catch it. Alas, it floated out to ultimately meet the wide open ocean.
Nevertheless, this is my favorite painting of the whole trip. I think it's because I used a recycled canvas that had been painted over several times, and therefore it had a really nice textured surface that was excellent for getting some more impasto techniques. 

After a short break, we all reconvened at the Art League for a quick sunset painting. This time, I switched to pastels, thinking they'd be better for capturing the immediacy of the sinking sun. We set up at the same marina that I'd painted that afternoon, but before long a new problem emerged: huge swarms of midges, apparently drawn by the odor of the paint (or perhaps just the presence of warm, sweaty bodies) blackened the air like smog.  I was crouched under a stand of tall reeds and subsequently avoided the worst of the onslaught; but one lady emerged from the experience with literally thousands of the unfortunate creatures stuck to her painting, as if someone had shaken poppyseeds all over her canvas. It was actually pretty fantastic.

The next day we painted in the historic town of Lewes (pronounced, vexingly, "Lew-is", thanks to the Dutch colonists).  I ended up with a godawful painting that will be painted over, but the afternoon was somewhat more successful. We gathered at a pristine marsh outside of town and spent four or five hours painting there. I had bought an eight-dollar easel at Michael's by this point, and though it was pretty much useless for anything other than falling over, I was able to embed its legs firmly in the rich, black marsh mud (and therefore keep it upright long enough to finish the painting above.) As you can see, I am still struggling with keeping the foliage and grasses from looking too solid, and the close-up shot has way better composition.  I'll probably go back and retouch this one at home. 

However, I still had a fantastic time because, #1, I was standing barefoot in the middle of this glorious mud flat and it was just a wonderful tactile experience, and #2, all around my feet there were tiny fiddler crabs scurrying back and forth. Whenever I needed a break, I got down on my hands and knees and watched them dashing sideways, grappling with one another, and feeding themselves with their dextrous little claws. I also discovered that they seem equally likely to be left- or right- clawed. At one point, I came across the BIGGEST crab hole I have EVER seen in my life; it was literally bigger than a silver dollar in diameter, whereas all the normal-sized holes are generally only a centimeter or two wide. I couldn't resist taking a blade of grass and poking it in there, trying to get a glimpse of what must've been a massive mutant crustacean. Presently, a MONSTER claw appeared and waved threateningly at me, but I couldn't manage to entice the owner out of his cozy hole. I guess some monsters are best left alone.

On Saturday morning the class, which by now had dwindled in size to about 10 students, met at Gordon's Pond, a beautiful part of Cape Henlopen State Park.  By this point, Mr. Bartman had cottoned on to my preference for painting on warm-toned canvases (primarily red ones), and challenged me to make a blue underpainting on white canvas and go from there.  Of course, this experience was torturous, because I was way out of my comfort zone. However, it really helped me to rethink my color selection and layering.  I'm not at all fond of the finished product (even though it's clearly unfinished, of course), but I appreciate Mr. Bartman pushing me to try something new.


That afternoon we had a class critique, which is always beneficial, back at the Art League. Afterwards we again trooped out to the marsh to paint the sunset, and again, I chose to work in pastel. Mr. Bartman had encouraged me to focus on making my work less dark, and therefore I tried to keep this one lighter and less heavy-handed than I usually do. I think it turned out all right--in fact, it's probably one of the better works of the trip. For the record, I really, really, REALLY adore soft pastels. 

The last day of the trip, Sunday, was optional.  Mr. Bartman had been dying to paint the "big purple house" in downtown Lewes, so we all met there in the morning. I didn't find the house (which is actually a spa) a particularly engaging subject, so I set off to explore the other options. Finally, I came across this scene just out of town. There was this huge cement bridge towering over a defunct train track, which had old-fashioned railroad crossing signs (no high-tech flashing lights or moving barricades to prevent you from driving into the path of an oncoming train. It must have been a lot easier to die back in the olden days.) 
This piece was done in pastel as well.  I got frustrated with the space above the bridge and actually folded the paper over so that no sky was visible above it, but Frans advised me that the composition was far better, and more open, with the sky included. He was right, of course, although this one needs some more work as well. 

All in all, it was a fantastic experience. I highly respect Mr. Bartman as a painter and as a teacher. Actually, he and his son (W.M. Bartman III) and grandson (Bartman IV--who is now three or four) are having a show this coming weekend at the Yellow Barn (Link).  Definitely check it out if you're in the area!

First Attempt at Pastels

In high school I dicked around a little with chalk pastels, but somehow never quite warmed to the medium. This past summer, however, Frans gave me a set of Rembrandt soft pastels and I decided to give them another chance. We sell this incredible stuff at Pearl called Colorfix paper, which has a surface almost exactly like that of fine-toothed sandpaper and is really extraordinary for working on with pastels. The only drawback is that it's like nine bucks a sheet *cries* But somehow I happened upon a few pieces, and was really, really thrilled with the texture.

Here's my first go with the pastels--I think this was the middle or end of August. I was driving around in Poolesville and Hyattstown, and after an hour of searching I still hadn't found the "perfect" spot to set up and draw. Finally I arrived at the little four-way stop at the bottom of Sugarloaf Mountain, and took the only road I'd never been down before. After a few miles of winding through the woods, the trees on my right opened up to this wonderful vista of "Foulger-Pratt Farm." A hand-painted sign propped up against a tree proclaimed "Miniature Horses for Sale!", so I knew this was the perfect place. (I never saw any horses, though, not even normal-sized ones.)
As you can probably tell, this is still a work in progress. I made the mistake, as I guess a lot of novice pastel painters do, of adding too much detail across the entire piece. It needs some definite refinement. But, at any rate, I immediately fell in love with soft pastels and couldn't wait to experiment with them further.

This is my second attempt at pastelling (why they call working with pastels "painting", I'll never know. I think "smudging" would be a much more appropriate term.)  Like the first time, it took me a while to find just the right location to set up and get to work. I actually drove down to Annapolis on this day, and finally came across this quiet little dock where I plunked down and "painted." The neatest part was that when I first walked onto the little pier, there was a crab pot tied to the side, and inside were two little snakes curled up with their heads sticking out above the water. Little minnows swam in and out of the cage, seemingly unperturbed by, or oblivious to, these potential predators. 
Again, there are a lot of flaws in this one--the trees on the right, for example, are way too solid, and the water past the reeds in the foreground doesn't recede enough. When I was about two-thirds of the way through, I was staring down at the drawing for a few moments, and when I looked up again, the tide had started to rush in. In a matter of minutes, it seemed, all the land and reeds in the foreground were almost completely submerged, and the boat in the distance was pointing the other direction! Consequently, I had to fudge some of the details. Still, I had a lot of fun being out on the shore and chatting with the boaters who passed by.

The Beautification of Pearl

For the past year and half, I have been resigned to working at Pearl Art and Craft in Rockville. This has its perks, some of which include employee discounts, VIP trash-scrounging opportunities, and--best of all--the ability to draw (and get paid for it) under the guise 
of creating promotional signs for the store. Here's the best of the bunch.

This was the very first, done with Sharpie and, of course, Crayola crayons. 

This is probably my favorite sign to date, and also the most time-intensive. It is a collaborative effort with Frans Boukas of Thor Thursdays and Sugarboukas Comics.  I di
d the preliminary sketch and initial inking, at which point Frans was so appalled by my line work that he commandeered the piece and added all the fantastic pustules and furrows that give it so much character, along with the gnarly plaque on the teeth. Afterward, he handed it back to me for coloring.

Here is the finished result, which was colored with cheap watercolors. The plaque spelling out the words "Foam Core" is now clearly evident, and this sign currently hangs over the paper department and terrorizes small children. 

This one was created for a new soapmaking display. It was the first time I'd played around with watercolor pencils, as Frans had recently bequeathed me a set. The unfortunate seafarer is named Captain Josiah Scurvy.

This is another one of my favorites, done in regular colored pencil on black mounting board. I had a blast doing all the fleshy bits on the fish. 

My boss, Ruth, somehow entrusted me with decorating the downstairs display windows. Initially I was excited about this, but after the fifty-seventh time of knocking over the embossing powders and glitter (massive craft supply landslide) and banging my head on the defunct light bulbs, I'd grown a little disillusioned. More fun was making these guys--a crafty fox and artsy peacock--to decorate the background. 

Frans and I felt we hadn't seen enough of the foam core monster, so here he is featured in a Back to School promotional sign. Yes, I know it actually says "Back School Sale." Yes, this was pointed out to me by a five-year-old after it had been on display for several weeks. 

Last up is a Headless Horseman, completed for the October sale's window display. Like the candlemaking fish, it's done in colored pencil on black mounting board.