About a year or so ago, I began to paint with watercolor at the home of my friend Violet. I started with whatever was in front of me on the Formica table–usually a piece of aging fruit. Never a fan of doing still life (I like action! gesture!) I decided to view it as a challenge rather than a bore. Soon I realized that I wasn’t really painting fruit or vegetables, I was just focusing on the color, form, and detail in front of me. And such glorious detail–bruises, dings, decay! After letting the wet-on-wet color settle and dry where it wanted to (with a little help from me), I went in with a smaller brush and meditated on the beauty of imperfection. And aging. At this time in my life, the metaphor is too apt. Recently, I was helping a local landscape artist with her autumn pruning. She pointed to her apple tree and encouraged me to help myself, that they made good apple sauce. I knocked some down and thought, now I know what a real apple looks like. Each one was unique, misshapen to some aesthetics, but charming and unapologetic, and begging for a portrait. So I did, with each and every one. Next I polished them off.
In front of me is my late-in-life splurge, an Arches watercolor block. Next to that, my nearly four decade-old Pelikan pan of paints, my travel set of Windsor Newtons, my cup of tea, and subject matter that never in all my life had any appeal for me. Still life.
Normally possessed of a loose, gestural style, I find myself slowing down to contemplate the pores of a clementine, nicks in a bosc pear, age spots of an over-the-hill banana. The paper is teaching me how to respond, and, at least for now, I am held in a suspension of trepidation and awe. The fibers snag and grasp threads of color, pulling them into eddies and puddles that I navigate as best I can. I use no more than two brushes as oars on these serendipitous outings. Occasionally I drop one.
Perhaps I am taking the path of both least and most resistance. In Violet’s kitchen there is always fruit in the bowl. And in this obscenely-paced world, slowing down to contemplate a single sunflower is an act of not only defiance, but deliverance.
all images copyright Sharon Watts 2013
Watercolors have always made me wary. So wild, so unpredictable to an artist who likes to control her medium. I pretty much have snubbed plein air painting because I’ve never felt the need (or had the ability) to “capture” nature. (And I’ve always preferred the human body as subject matter). But over the years I’ve dabbled a bit.
In the late 90s I invested what seemed like a small fortune in a Windsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors Field Box. My friend Sally and I drove into the olive orchards of the San Ynez Mountains and I officially christened that miraculously designed little box. Until recently, my paints have sat in a drawer collecting dust. Meanwhile, Sally has continued to paint–it comes naturally as breathing, and her effortless output takes my own breath away.
Shirley, my mother, has always painted in oils, pastels, and just now, in her early 80s, is embracing watercolor. While I get my talent genes from her, our interests have gone in different directions. She paints nature, animals, and still life, mostly from photographs, but she’s gone from National Geographic to her own personal photos. Over the years she dutifully captured the still lifes set up by instructors, but now she is on her own and flying. To her utter amazement, her work is in demand at the retirement community she lives in. She so modest that I see where my non-self-promoting genes come from as well.
My friend Meredith is a cantor, professional soprano, and all-around creative soul, so it was only a matter of time (i.e. kids growing up and reclaiming it) before she decided to take painting classes at the 92nd Street Y. Guess what–her first class yielded an award-winning painting! I am in awe of her finding her own style so quickly, doing something she has never done before. The award is nice, but really, the prize is that door opening–desire within the self to keep on growing, painting, creating.
Last year I started painting with my elderly friend Violet, and every Wednesday I take my tote bag to her kitchen, filled with an Arches watercolor block and that travel set of paints. I usually paint what’s around the room. I am tight, because I am older, perhaps, prejudging myself, thinking I should know how to capture something by now. I’ve been drawing far too long in a loosely stylized manner that is deceptive in that it is so very controlled. I want to loosen up, but the tight rendering is what wants to come out. Time will take care of that.
The door is opening, and the plein air is beckoning.
Let’s hope past peak doesn’t refer to me as well!
And here is some of Sally’s prolific output:
For more of Sally, check out her wonderful blog.
And my mom, Shirley:
We are still working on Mom’s blog–to be updated when I visit this summer.
So that’s a little sampling of some important women in my life, working in watercolor. We all have outlets in many other areas, because the one thing I’ve learned in life is that creative expression WILL find a way into the plein air.
All artwork copyrighted.