Sketching in Watercolor

I’ve started to really warm up to watercolor lately. It still gives me some anxiety- I worry too much about not being able to “go back” like I can with acrylic-, but I’m getting better. I’ve found that when I decide to sketch with watercolor I can be much more relaxed, and therefore more free and spontaneous. Since I’m not worrying about ruining a finished piece, I feel like I start to use the medium more effectively. I really treasure this sketch that I did in the “secret garden” on my college campus. I like it more than the finished painting even!

Even though the door/windows are crooked, and the shadows are inaccurate, I feel like I really captured the feel of the place, which was very relaxing- It was a nice, calming space (on a nice, cool day!) I look forward to letting loose more in the future by sketching in watercolor, gaining more confidence in the process.

Simple Beauty: Leo Lionni

Leo Lionni books were some of my favorites as a kid. Lionni stories are deceptively simple fables always involving animals and an appreciation for the magic and wonderment of nature. Thumbing through these stories again reminds me of how stunningly beautiful the illustrations are.

Every story has its own distinct style of illustration as well. For instance, in Swimmy, the story of a fish searching for his own place in the world, explores the beauty if the ocean. As a result, the illustrations make use of wet paint applications.

In contrast, for The Biggest House in the World, which tells the story of a snail who’s insatiable desire for a bigger and bigger shell spirals out of control, Lionni employs a more sharp, smooth use of pencil.

Then, of course, there’s Frederick, the story of a mouse who, instead of collecting grains, corn, and other supplies for winter, instead collects “colors… for winter is grey,” and words “for the winter days are long and many, and we will run out of things to say.” This is all, of course, much to the chagrin of his fellow mice. But when winter rolls along and the food is long gone, the mice turn to Frederick for his “supplies.”

The illustrations use paper to highlight the colors and simple beauty that Frederick sees around him. I see this story as a testament to the importance of art and culture- it’s just as essential as food and shelter to a community. Looking at it now, this story may even be one of the reasons I became interested in being an artist at such a young age. Just as Frederick did, Leo Lionni’s stories remind us all that our world doesn’t just provide us with the basic necessities of life that feed the body, but with a profound beauty that feeds the soul.

The Floral Menace!

A lot of my fellow art students and artists that I meet (that consider themselves contemporary) have a bit of a beef with flowers. They don’t like them. They think they’re cheesy, boring, and ugh, as art subjects. They’re for “old ladies!” I used to feel this way as well. Floral paintings just always seemed so cheesy to me. It seemed like such an art cliche- the still life of flowers in a vase, on a table with some sort of fabric strategically laid out. We’ve all seen the mediocre watercolor flower paintings, seen our grandmothers tablecloths adorned with loud floral patterns. And I’m sure we’ve all seen every amateur “photographer” proudly post a close-up view of a flower to their flickr account. Flowers seemed like such a safe, saccharine subject matter to me as a young artist. The inherent sexism of it all- what with all this animosity towards subject matter that was so overtly feminine, was lost on me then.

It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I discovered (and could appreciate the erotic undertones of) the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe. Her work essentially woke me up to the fact that flowers, like any subject, held the potential to produce amazing, innovative work if in the hands of a capable artist.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit No.IV

Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit No.V 1930.

Nevertheless, I just never really got “into” flowers all that much. I drew them occasionally through the years, but flowers have never really excited me as a subject. However, recently I completed a painting commission for a family friend who wanted me to do a painting of Plumeria, the flowers that grew around her childhood home in Hawaii. And she wanted it to be 22×30″. So, a huge painting of flowers. I was a bit scared, to say the least. But, I got over it, and researched the subject and approached it as I would any drawing/painting. And I found that I really enjoyed it. Here is the finished result:

Megan Koth, Plumeria. Commissioned work. June 2012. 30×22″

I love doing commissioned work because it takes me out of my comfort zone. Artists can get stuck into ruts of sticking with what makes them feel safe and secure, even when they think that they’re challenging themselves. For me, as a student, it’s especially important to me that I avoid doing this. I’m not saying that I’m gonna start churning out flower paintings left and right, but now that I know how well I can incorporate flowers into my style of working, I’ll be a lot more receptive when the time comes.