June 27, 2020

orchid botanical
Orchid, 6/23/2020 (Prismacolor colored pencil and watercolor on Strathmore cold press illustration board)

Last Saturday I joined an online sketching group and we did a virtual sketching trip to Italy. Our group leader chose a couple lovely and colorful photos to render—one in Tuscany and the other from the island of Sardinia. She set the stage for the first sketch, in Pienza, with a little intro from Rick Steves. She added to the theme by playing some Italian music and off we went—sketching/painting a lovely scene for the next half an hour. With that lovely introduction you might be wondering why I posted my latest botanical and not anything from that virtual visit to Italy. 

Here’s what happened. It started out OK, but I soon found myself struggling with the watercolor paper I was using. It’s cheap, but I thought I was such a master of watercolor I could bend it to my watercolor whim, making a “sink purse from a sow’s ear.” Before I knew it I was actually scrubbing off the top layer of paper and even the jaunty Italian music did not lighten my “pig’s ear” mood. Once the time was up and we were supposed to share I didn’t want anyone to see the definite bald spots right in the middle of some shrubbery. But I did anyway. It’s such a nice group and they were all very supportive—even those of us who were frustrated with the experience. It was funny that another sketcher shared how she had also been struggling with her cheap paper. It seems that we had a similar idea that as we were at home doing such art, nice paper was not required. Our leader shamed us, in a nice way of course, and we finished our critique. Our next stop was Bosa, Sardinia. Well by now, I was done and didn’t want to go to Bosa with cheap paper. Actually, about a third of the group seemed to beg off at this point, but I hung in there because that’s what I do. As we only had 15 to 20 minutes left I thought I would just go for it, with lots of color and big, wet, loose brushstrokes—no scrubbing. In 15 minutes I was more than done, but the group decided they would take another 10 minutes or so to finish up. Really? But as I said, I was done and there was really nothing left for me to do, but wait. That’s when I made a plan to order some good Italian watercolor paper and vowed to create something beautiful with the beautiful Strathmore cold press illustration board I had ordered recently. 

The next day I ordered five 20 by 30 inch sheets of Fabriano Artistico 140 pound weight watercolor paper, soft press (wondered why the Italian paper was cut into inches and not cms…) I picked it up as a curbside delivery in Pasadena on Tuesday and now can’t wait to take it for a test drive! And as promised, here is a botanical I created on the cold press illustration board. Actually, I have already done a sketch/post of this particular orchid, look at October 6, 2019 if you’d like to see it. For this one I did not rush, but instead did a complete and finished pencil sketch. And as I had recently repotted this particular orchid, I took a studied look at the roots and have included them here. Then I luxuriated in the planning of the colors I would use. I had recently purchased a tiny tube of Winsor Newton’s permanent magenta and that seemed an appropriate start for the petals. To that I added my beautiful quinacridone opera and the promise of the petal color was assured. Once I’d transferred the sketch to the paper/board I began to layer the pigment. The paper was a dream, taking the pigment exactly as I had expected. Having cut many sheets of this board over the years I have assorted thin leftover strips that I use to try out combinations of colors. To add to this familiar painting process I listened to some Andre Previn (After Hours, with Joe Pass and Ray Brown) and Miles Davis’s “Kinda Blue.” And the picture was complete.

Vernazza, 6:27:2010
View from our room in Vernazza, 6/27/2010 (unfinished–water soluble crayons on pastel board)

But I didn’t leave Italy completely. Around Wednesday or so I looked back at an album of photographs and other bits of memorabilia I put together after a trip there. Here I found a photo of Vernazza I took exactly 10 years ago to the day. (Well, not exactly to the day as Italy is ahead of CA time wise, so this was actually taken 6/26/2010 Pacific Coast time.) I have been enjoying my recent revisit to the Cinque Terre for several days now, but am not in a hurry to leave. I first did a small finished sketch, then a larger one. I imagined how Vernazza’s stucco buildings attached and carved into the rocks would look on the grey pastel board articulated with water soluble pastel crayons. It is my hope that it will be finished by my next post. No more cheap paper for me and no more hurrying. If I’ve learned nothing else from being at home so much over the past three plus months, there is no need to hurry, right? (Of course, if a kitchen towel suddenly catches fire, I will hurry to extinguish that.) Stay tuned for more of Vernazza… 

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