In a few weeks, I will be teaching a class at the Watermill at Posara, north of Piza in Tuscany. While it would be lovely to just paint pasta, fruit stands, maybe the occasional poppy field, I know I'll have to help people tackle Tuscan architecture. To that end, I've been practicing a variety of styles to accommodate a range of skill sets I anticipate students to bring to the class.
I've enjoyed playing with wet-into-wet for a looser, more impressionistic style. After all, this is a holiday painting workshop, not a drafting class. Save that for sweating it out at home.
One of my favorite British watercolor artists is Sara Midda; her South of France book is lovely. Her style has a sweet whimsy to it that I admire and feel could inspire many entertaining spot illustrations in our Italian journal.
Wabi sabi is a quintessential Japanese aesthetic that can inspire our own art. A minimalist counter-point to the slick, saccharine and strictly prescribed standards of beauty that we, in America, seem to adhere to, it is the realization of beauty to be found in things impermanent, imperfect, incomplete and unconventional. Developing an appreciation for wabi sabi can greatly inform our own rationale as artists by freeing us up from Western ideals of beauty and allowing us the space to take chances and risks in our art.
It is a perfect paradigm for these recessionary times – since lavishness and excess are not politically correct, wabi sabi offers permission to celebrate what is readily available: sparseness, the beauty in decay, the haunting loveliness of a gray morning, or the raw beauty of a winter landscape. It is a nature-based philosophy that can restore a measure of sanity and proportion to art, an antidote to superficial, de-sensitizing corporate style.
In a way, wabi sabi is just another approach to seeing. We can retrain our artist’s eye to see the beauty of things wabi sabi by being somewhat familiar with its moral and spiritual underpinnings. Based on Zen tenets, it allows that truth comes from the observation of nature. By carefully and closely looking at the elements of the world around us, we come to understand a few fundamental ideas:
All things are impermanent – everything wears down and fades into oblivion. Embracing a compassionate understanding of this eventuality can mean seeing and appreciating the beauty of the ephemeral; the loveliness of a withered leaf, a dried seedpod, or the simple spareness of a leafless tree. To an artistic sensibility that celebrates the notion “to everything there is a season”, the terms rusty and weathered might easily come to mind.
All things are imperfect – when we look very closely at things we see flaws. The natural progression of all things to devolve toward oblivion necessarily means they will break down, become less than perfect and more irregular. Wabi sabi emphasizes the vagaries and inconsistencies in the construction process, adding to the originality and grace of the object. Asymmetry in shape, colors and textures that emphasize the unrefined, and an accommodation for degradation and attrition all point toward a ‘flawed beauty.’ While Wabi sabi seeks to coax beauty out of the homely, it eschews the grotesque.
All things are incomplete – since all things are either in a state of becoming or dissolving, when are we to say something is ‘finished’ or ‘complete’? There is no concept of completeness in wabi sabi, and this translates to seeing the singular beauty in moments of beginnings or endings. Metal in various states of rusty or tarnished patina, cracked and weathered wood, the curling delicacy of petals about to unfold; these are evocative of an undeclared and pensive beauty.
Wabi sabi is the notion that ‘beauty’ is about the context, circumstance and frame of reference of the artist. It represents a state of consciousness and point of view that encompasses the value existing in inconspicuous and often over looked details, revering instead the unpretentious and unassuming. To turn Vladimir Horowitz’ quote around, “Imperfection itself is perfection,” if we only have eyes to see.
This old fence
Artichoke full flower
Art Graf - Dry Seed Pod
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who reminded me of the power behind affirmations. Years ago, I admit when I first encountered the concept of using affirmations to retrain the inner dialogue I did a mental eye roll, but then I thought it's probably like taking a deep breath or drinking more water through out the day....in other words, it can't hurt. It might just help.
I dug around my studio and found a lovely hand bound journal I'd been meaning to do something with, someday. That day was today. I'll be the first to admit that my handwriting is NOT the greatest. It's legible, but barely. I did bit of googling and found that I could take Post-It notes, attach them to a sheet of paper and run them through the printer (kudos here to tatertotsandjello.com for the idea). Problem solved.
I was happily filling my little journal with all sorts of empowering phrases and thought, 'What if I had loads and loads of washi tape to keep them put?' Now, I don't mind pinching a penny here and there, and this morning I plain REFUSED to go on Amazon and buy, buy, buy. I mean, I have on hand plenty of failed watercolors. Why not just use double sided tape and cut out my own colorful washi tape? It works! Now to implement those affirmations.
Lately, I’ve been attempting to clean up my studio; a most daunting task at times. I have projects in progress and scores of completed small watercolor or gouache pieces laying about. Often these are samples or demonstration pieces for classes I’ve been teaching recently (and not so recently). I decided to try to archive and store these little works where they can still be accessed and enjoyed. Thus, the accordion book/folio.
The accordion book came into my radar during a class I taught a couple of years ago, Experimental Landscapes. We used watercolor paper in strips longer than they are wide to create some pretty fun, free form paintings. And, since its a fairly interactive process, you tend to make ALOT of them. One thing I suggested and demonstrated for displaying these landscapes was to make an accordion book out of them. We got all crafty in developing the front and back covers, and I think things went fairly well. One student wrote to me after that she LOVED the accordion book/folio concept as it allowed her to collage onto the folded pages the many other little paintings she’s made over time. Huzzah, I thought….a convert!
On that note, I’ve been making accordion books, with a very nifty technique of using one single full sized sheet of watercolor paper. By folding and cutting and folding some more you can get a little booklet….all ready for gluing to fun DIY covers. Add ribbon, twine, or elastic and you are good to go. The beauty of this design is that both sides of the full sheet are available, presenting surfaces for direct painting or for adhering in those little masterpieces looking for a home.
A couple or three landscape panels joined together and folded.
Thank you to Gail Wong for sharing her completed folio.
Other options for keeping book shut: grommets, dongles, elastic.
We had a fun day throwing the paint around, creating fun holiday projects. Here are a few results.
Thrilled to be featured at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History….past fungus fair posters.
I’ll be teaching a series of 3 botanical themed workshops at the UCSC Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. May 15, 16, & 18, 2019. Learn to sketch botanical wonders!
Thrilled to be an ‘Artist in the Garden’ during the Home Garden Tour sponsored by the UCSC Arboretum – April 27, 2019; 10am to 4pm
I’ll be hosted by a generous Arboretum supporter, meeting and greeting visitors as I paint and sketch her lovely garden.