Backyard Sketch by Uschi Jeffcoat

chocolate vine

Last May, I began recording a series of sketches of the flora in my little corner of the world.

It was a self imposed project to foster appreciation and gratitude.

Personally, I needed to gain an appreciation for the part of the world I am currently planted in. In the summer months, I find rural South Carolina's nature to be highly uncivilized. Especially the heat and the snakes.

Simultaneously, I wanted to improve my drawing skills through drawing from life, while learning the names of all the items growing around me.

People in Florence, South Carolina will say that its people are its landscape. I would say that is true. Geographically speaking it is flat with many southern small town sensibilities, accented through a metropolis of azaleas, camellias and pine trees.

And so these backyard sketches have provided an appreciation for botany, gardeners, the seasons and natural order. I have loved the intricacies found in creation which I have discovered through closer study of these plants.

So in celebration of earth day, here are a few of my favorites from the past year.

This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are statues and there is a rumor going around that some of us are some day going to come to life.
— C.S. Lewis

Defined by Uschi Jeffcoat

I had a conversation yesterday with a friend. She was describing how she is motivated by concepts. Defining things in her life help her,  such as having a word for the year.

And I was thinking, "Huh, wonder what my word for right now is?"

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It has been a very focused past two months, of work. Both in and out of the studio.

I've been wondering why it's felt so intense and then I recalled what all the "day job" has experienced since January: the snow days, the flu epidemic and then the tragedy in Florida. All those items will shake up the day to day, just a little bit.

And I thought, "Hmm, I could use a good word right about now."

One of the perks of teaching is that you typically work with people who are life long learners and have wonderful knowledge to share.

So on a day, (like today) when you are feeling very bleh, because the pollen is not your friend and you know you need the energy of a Duracell Battery Factory to teach middle school kids in the Spring Time . . . you put on your most comfy flats, roll up the cuffs of the grey wool pants, and put on the softest sweater you own.

And what greets you in your hall?  YOUR word! And I quote . . .

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"You look so cute and very hygge today!"

hygge ???

(I love working with a good ELA teacher! They are some of the most insightful people I know.)

See the definition below of hygge from the Oxford University Press:

hygge

Pronunciation /ˈhʊɡə//ˈh(j)uːɡə/  noun

A quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)

So I am declaring this as the year of hygge for me. In and outside of the studio.

Continued contentment, comfort and enjoyment in what I paint and how I paint. An appreciation for the simple. Thankfulness for work and the ability to do so. And delight in that there is time for the sacred in it all. I'm saying Good-bye to Artist Angst. Hello to hygee.

knew there was a reason why I've been needing and burning through all those Carolina Wren candles! It's all been part of this hygge and the Danish way! :-)

 

Sapir-Whorf Meets the Twelve Days of Christmas by Uschi Jeffcoat

I learned a new Southern Culture term this year.

"Old Christmas"

I leave my tree up until Epiphany. You know, like the Germans do. At which a colleague of mine smiled and said, "Oh, Old Christmas." 

I learned Epiphany was also referred to as Old Christmas. In my mind, when I think of the word Epiphany I actually translate it from the German. I don't think Epiphany at all. I think in the words for the date. The 6th of January (der sechste Januar).

Even where I am determines my English word choice. In Huntsville, Alabama I probably would say the 6th of January. Specific and engineer like. But South Carolina has an entirely different language dance. (Pocketbook for Purse, Supper for Dinner etc.)

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis says that our thought processes are influenced by the structure of the language in which we are thinking. I'm not 100% sure if this is true. I wonder if geography doesn't also play into that. I do know, I feel differently about things depending on which language my mind is using. For example when I think in English about "the dirt" the dog has brought in, I'm feeling, "OK no big deal - I'll get to it." But when I'm thinking in German about "der Dreck vom Hund" all kinds of shaming bad Hausfrau feelings come at me.

All these many words to say,

How do you feel about the Twelve Days of Christmas?

Because my German brain absolutely loves them! A time for family, visiting with friends and reflection. AND even better, they come after all the shopping and gifting is done.

So during the past 12 days, I enjoyed creating my second 12 days collage series. This year I based it on the English Twelve Days of Christmas song, which will always remind me of the Florence Regional Arts Alliance Board of Directors and their holiday gathering. Never has it been sung by a finer group of folks.

It was also a time of play for me. I sat on the floor in front of my, by now pretty crunchy Tannenbaum of a tree, and cut and pasted. Just like my 2nd grade old self used to do. And it was a glorious creative escape.

Until the next day, when I could barley walk. Because apparently once you reach a certain age, sitting for hours on end on the floor - cutting and pasting, makes your body ache and incredibly sore!

Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy them!

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." - Charles Dickens

Wishing you all a very Happy 2018!


 

What Happens to Birds During Hurricanes? by Uschi Jeffcoat

“He in his madness prays for storms, and dreams that storms will bring him peace”
― Mikhail Lermontov

The photo of this bird was shared in a bird group I followed on Facebook. It was captured by someone after a recent hurricane hit the East Coast. And it immediately struck me. What does happen to birds in these storms? Where DO they go? How do they find shelter if caught in the midst of one? Why did this one not escape it?

I asked the photographer if I might use her image as a reference for a painting. She granted permission and since then, I have been immersed in the intricacies of this one's composition.

It captures so much to me.

That there is grace and beauty in dying. And yet confusion as to how a death can look so peaceful with a ballerina like pose. It doesn't seem polite.

It swells in me the grief cycle. Pirouettes and all.

*A sincere and special thank you to Marylee Newmann for permission to use her photograph that captured such a striking and moving moment as a reference image.

 

Time, Texture and a Few Thoughts by Uschi Jeffcoat

Happy Day Light Savings Time week, Americans! Funny how that one hour time change makes everything feel so weird during the first few days. The time change is giving me a little extra morning studio time before leaving for work.

Here are a few practices in watercolor texture for Fall. If you have watercolors, I encourage you to pull them out, pour a cup of tea and play.

 Saran wrap, applied on wet paint and allowed to dry

Saran wrap, applied on wet paint and allowed to dry

 Wet in to wet. Color drops allowed to blend and do their own thing.

Wet in to wet. Color drops allowed to blend and do their own thing.

 Gauze! Probably one of my personal favorites. Place upon wet paint or paint over without moving it and allow to dry

Gauze! Probably one of my personal favorites. Place upon wet paint or paint over without moving it and allow to dry

 Scratches with the end of a paintbrush

Scratches with the end of a paintbrush

 Drawn wax circles, then painted over

Drawn wax circles, then painted over

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Due to said time change, I find myself struggling to stay awake past 8 in the evening...and that leaves me thinking about time.

The realities of the time constraints working full time have been evident. But ultimately, we all have the same amount of time in each day. It's how we choose to use it that matters. 

My choices include trying to wake up early in the morning, while the moon is still out. Reading more and swimming whenever I can. (OK that's a lie, sometimes I make excuses and don't go the gym...But at least I still think about swimming on a daily basis.)

I've also recently decided I'd follow only one social media platform and let the others go.  More time offline is going to be a new luxury I gift myself this holiday season. 

The biggest struggle for me in all of this though is my inability to stop working on a task when it's time to put something down. I simply don't like to leave things unfinished. Often ignoring the constraints that time provides for the sake of balance.

“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”
― C.S. Lewis

Carpe Diem! 

Moirai by Uschi Jeffcoat

Fate or the Personification of Fate. In Greek Mythology, three women plus a delicate and fragile thread.

 Moirai Watercolor on aquabord 7" x 5"

Moirai
Watercolor on aquabord
7" x 5"

Ich wandte mich und sah, wie es unter der Sonne zugeht, daß zum Laufen nicht hilft schnell zu sein, zum Streit hilft nicht stark sein, zur Nahrung hilft nicht geschickt sein, zum Reichtum hilft nicht klug sein; daß einer angenehm sei, dazu hilft nicht, daß er ein Ding wohl kann; sondern alles liegt an Zeit und Glück. - Prediger 9:11 from the Luther Bible


I find the German a much more poetic and descriptive version of the sentiment expressed in the following verse.

I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.  Ecclesiastes 9:11

In the German the verb help is used (almost as if it is gently correcting our thinking about all that we think we need to have help us. Ending with "everything lies within (or perhaps upon?) time and chance". A theologian might have to correct my loose translating.

But the thought, I suppose,  remains the same. And I find it is also expressed through those mythological women holding that metaphor of a fragile thread.

Brushes and Strokes, Watercolor Part 2 by Uschi Jeffcoat

"I don't have to lay on the couch and see a therapist because my therapist is in my paint brushes."  Abbey Lincoln
 

I'm not sure if that is 100% true but these are the therapy brushes I use in watercolor. And yes, there is a straw in there too. At this point I do not own high-end expensive brushes. Most of mine are Golden Fleece from Cheap Joe's. They are affordable and they get the job done.

What Kinds of Brushes Do I Need?

I first began investing in higher quality paper, then paint and hopefully one day, I'll add fancy brushes to that list. If you are starting out in watercolor, I recommend a small, medium and large round. A one inch flat brush and a bigger or a mop brush for wetting large areas of paper.  I also have a few scrubber brushes. Sometimes you can use these scrubber brushes to lift color or pull out mistakes, but very carefully or they will tear the paper. In regards to detailed work, you don't necessarily need a teeny tiny brush. The round brushes make a sharp point that work nicely for details.

20 Techniques to Try

These brushes, a sponge, salt and bleach can create some magic. Here are a 20 strokes and effects achievable through watercolor. I intentionally used a monochromatic palette so that the transparency of the watercolor is evident. Let the water, the drying process and patience do most of the work for you. Each layer should dry before adding another.

Watercolor requires very little paint. A pool of water with a touch of pigment goes a long way. Both in regards to the painting at hand but also perhaps for that therapy as well. :-)

Meet Your Friend, Watercolor Part 1 by Uschi Jeffcoat

Watercolor is a good friend. She is quiet and listens well. Because she demands patience and a gentle touch, she tends to quiet the soul. And she doesn't require much. She is quite happy with a glass of water and a little air. Add a sprinkle of salt and watch magic happen.

Some don't understand her. But they just haven't gotten to know her.

So please, let me introduce you to my friend, Watercolor. You should know that, sometimes she spells her name with a "u"... Watercolour. :-)

All personification aside, (and hopefully you haven't hit unsubscribe because of it) - I am currently teaching a small watercolor intensive to a few friends. While I've taught afterschool art to children, I have never taught watercolor to adults. At one point in college my major was art education, but I realized very quickly that it takes a special kind of bird to teach art.

I tend to loose my words while I am painting, so to do a demonstration and explain what I am doing at the same time is really hard for me. It's as if adding the process of painting into this bilingual brain, jumbles all my words and sends them on vacation. And then some things in the creative process are simply hard for me to explain. 

However, I am enjoying finding those words so that I can share something I love so much with others.

While nothing can compare to active learning in a class setting, if the world of watercolor is of interest to you, I'll be typing a few blogs simply for the sake of sharing more about the medium of watercolor. (And to help me find those art instructional words.)

So here's Part 1.

PAPER & MATERIALS

 140lb Kilimanjaro Cold Press Full Sheet

140lb Kilimanjaro Cold Press Full Sheet

On Paper.  The kind you get matters. It's like a PB&J versus steak dinner kinda difference. Full sheets typically require stretching, unless the paper is a heavy weight. Stretching is basically, wetting the paper completely, securing it to a surface and then letting it dry.

Watercolor paper typically comes in the following weights. 90lb, 140lb and 300lb. 90lb is student grade. 140lb is probably the most popular due to quality and price. 300lb is thicker and does not require stretching. It's almost like cardboard. I typically paint on 140lb.

What does weight mean? A manufacturer will weigh a ream of 500 sheets of paper in its uncut state and gives it a number to indicate the paper’s weight. Weight indicates the quality (and usually the price) of the paper.

Texture describes the surface finish on paper. Texture can help define the character of the painting.

Hot press: smooth and slick surface. It doesn’t allow for as soft of color transitions. Good choice for detailed and illustrative work.

Cold press:  What I most use. Water absorbs well and allows for many techniques.

Rough: Bumpier surface than cold press. Good choice for textural surfaces like rocks and such.

WATERCOLOR BLOCKS

A watercolor block is a stack of watercolor paper that is attached together. The sheets of the paper are trimmed to size and then stacked upon each other. That stack of art paper is then attached to a backing board with a padding glue. This glue is applied to all four sides of the paper. These don’t require stretching. You will find an opening at the top of the gummed pages. Peel your completed paper off the stack when you are done.

AQUABORD

This is a fairly new and interesting surface to work on. It allows for the lifting of watercolor and for much more room of error than paper. However, it does not absorb the water and pigment in the same way as paper does. Ampersand makes these.

 

PAPER BRANDS

Arches Paper has been around since 1492. It is high quality and has an interesting history.

Fabriano is also high quality and lovely paper.

Kilimanjaro paper is another brand with nice quality. You can find it online at places like Cheap Joes.

 

 

PAINTS

I now LOVE Daniel Smith watercolor paints! But many other manufacturers make high quality lovely paints. Winsor Newton offers high quality paints and also a few tutorial videos on their sight.

Quality will matter, but I do not recommend that a beginner break the bank on paints.

Colors. You will want a blue, red, yellow, green, probably Raw Sienna and Payne's Grey. But honestly, there are SO many colors to choose from! I prefer to let students experiment with various colors to find those that resonate most with them. My most favorite color is Payne's Grey. Greens can be tricky. I like Sap Green best. A Hansa or Cadmium yellow is good. As far as blues, I like a Winsor Blue with Red Shade and a French Ultramarine. And Daniel Smith Pyrol Orange is a new favorite color.

If you are new to watercolor you will want a palette with a cover if you use tube paints. You simply cover what you haven't painted with and reuse. reuse. reuse. reuse. These paints really go a very long way.

If you'd like to know more, here is a great blog entry about watercolor paints, pigments and why the good stuff costs more.

OTHER SUPPLIES / MATERIALS

Masking fluid, brushes (round and flat), paint pallet, sponge, salt, saran wrap, gauze, gator board, staple gun, painter’s tape, pencil, eraser, tracing paper, paper towels. More about them later.

Giving credit, where credit is due.  My watercolor knowledge came later in life for me. From the kind and thorough instruction of Tom Herzog.

In college, I thought I was too cool for watercolor and only hung out with Oil, Acrylic and Screenprint. I now know who the real cool kids are. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to learn about the medium of watercolor.