Creating

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!


 

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! 

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.

Escape to Hickory Knob by Uschi Jeffcoat

Towards the end of May, I packed my watercolors, camera, a wonderful book and traveled to Hickory Knob State Park in South Carolina.

The South Carolina State Park system has an artist in residency program. This year I had the privilege of participating and it was delightful. It came at the perfect time of the year.

A time before summer schedules and projects begin. And a time when rest and respite is most welcome.

Our family world still revolves very much around an academic calendar. And the end of a semester is when we tend to catch our breaths. Our oldest had completed his first year of college and the youngest was completing his junior year. How did they get so old? So fast?

I was in the midst of some decision making. And well, Charles. He was simply t-i-r-e-d.

So this get-a-way to unplug, observe, learn, create and be inspired was soul filling.

We walked the trails during the mornings. And I took SO many pictures! Some of you may know I took an introductory class in botanical illustration in January. Paired with this book, I was reading at the time, I was on a nature and plant observation high! 

Many of our walks were not so quiet as they were laced with "informative mini lectures" based on the most recent chapter I finished.

During our stay we had a few memorable bird experiences. The pileated woodpeckers were active. One actually hit the window of our cabin, only stunning him for a moment. Long enough for me to capture a few images, though.

But perhaps most striking was the morning we came upon the hawk, which I chose to paint for the park.

We were so close to him and he didn't seem to mind at all. It was as if he was posing in this most majestic and photogenic manner. And the air was so still, quiet and serene.

A privileged moment.

Hickory Knob State Park, thank you for the oppurtunity.

Waidmann's Heil: The Hunter's Hail by Uschi Jeffcoat

My Opa was a hunter. But I feel I need to clarify, he was a German hunter, a Jäger,  and to me, hunting has a unique culture in Germany. He would rise early or go out in the evenings in Lederhosen, tall socks and a very German looking hat, not full fledged camouflage but still looking very forest green. He'd hop on his Motorad with his rifle slung over his back. Upon his return, he would tell us about what the animals were doing, where the foxes were, how many boar or deer he saw. Mostly I felt he went to observe and learn. In my eyes, he was a guardian of the forest.

Typically the deer he did shoot, were those that were older or ill, not those who were "prized".  It is serious business to hunt in Germany. You can not just "get" a hunting license. The country has some of the strictest gun laws there. Hunters are respected for their wealth of knowledge and watch over the land.

These antlers, though, of my childhood were so weird to me! Some were unusually gnarly and I imagined eyes where the little holes are in the skull, not where they truly would have been. It bothered my young self they were all twisted and deformed...let alone that they were skulls hanging on a wall. Ewww! or as the Germans would say, Igitt!

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But now, I LOVE them. Perhaps I love their imperfections most as I am learning to embrace my own. I credit my Opa for instilling in me a love for observation of the world around me during my summers.  He taught me that the Magpies are not a friend to the Songbirds, that Kespie pflücken ist wunderschön and so much more.

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And so since last summer I have wanted to paint these antlers. I have almost finished all of them. I love that on the back he's noted the date and location as well.

Ihr glaubt der Jäger sei ein Sünder, weil er selten zur Kirche geht.
Im grünen Wald, ein Blick zum Himmel, ist besser als ein falsch Gebet. - Jäger Spruch
You think the hunter is a sinner because he rarely goes to church.
In the green forest, a glimpse towards heaven, is better than a fake prayer. - Hunter Saying

I think back on some of these phrases that hung in the house. They have taken on a new meaning to me as an adult as well. Now I know his church standing suffered for marrying a non Catholic. And then this one...

Erst wenn man in der Fremde ist weiss man wie schön die Heimat ist.
It's not until you are in a strange land that you realize how beautiful your homeland is.

This image below has my Opa's father and two uncles in it. It is taken in the lands surrounding Lippein (their home prior to WW2). My great grandfather is the second to the right. They lived there for 240 years before being displaced at war's end and the family of farmers and foresters dates back to 1709. 

And while I am not hunter, I appreciate the art of the Jäger in their observation and care for the land. For more on German hunting culture, this older article featured in Montana Outdoors in 2003 describes it better than I can.

Waidmann's Heil!

Transparent by Uschi Jeffcoat

I live in a culture of good manners and southern charm. And sometimes that takes away the freedom transparency has to offer. I think about this as I compare the unspoken societal rules of respect and polite manners of small southern town living to German frankness and stoic silence - I am acquainted with both.

I believe all these behaviors, I have lived and interacted within desire simply to extend respect and kindness to the other person. Yet, still these ways of communicating intrigue me.

Where is the balance within me?  this person of two cultures? Feeling at home in both but yet, also a stranger at times.

In considering this, I have taken on another 100 day project on Instagram. (not 100% sure I'll finish this one... ) But I am taking time to revisit a few basic watercolor exercises and becoming reacquainted with my palette through play.

I do find the play on words immensely intriguing as I consider the meaning of transparency in relation to these parts of the following definition . . .

Definition of transparent

  1. 1a (1) :  having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are seen clearly : 

  2. 2a :  free from pretense or deceit :  frank b :  easily detected or seen through :  obvious c :  readily understood

from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transparent

Something to think about.

Here are a few images from my first few days as I have explored transparency, layering and how the hues which surround a subject can impact its "personality".

The first being a color study using lemons as the subject matter. 2 layers of hansa yellow medium and then 2 layers of each of the colors explored.

Theses studies are done quickly. Mainly to see and learn what tones and colors are achieved through the layering process.

I don't necessarily like posting such quick, unfinished and messy studies. I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge that my pride feels something should look just so before putting it out there. But I think I am going to try and get past that.

A book I recently read is challenging me in many ways. It references Leonard Cohen's song Anthem:

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in

And in order to be transparent, light must get in. Wouldn't you agree?

(The transparent studies in Daniel Smith Sap and Undersea Green are studies in applying pressure to the brush stroke and the impact it has in the width of the line.)

*Ok, so only after day 6, of this project, I realized I would be unable to do the 100 days straight AFTER ALL due to upcoming travel (which may or may not have internet access) and other obligations. So for simplicity's sake, I am continuing on with the exercises as I am able, but not with the Instagram posting for the 100 straight days as I had originally planned* 4/9/17

 

 

What Colour's a Blackbird? by Uschi Jeffcoat

“Drawing makes you look at the world more closely. It helps you to see what you're looking at more clearly. Did you know that?"  

I said nothing. 

"What colour's a blackbird?" she said.

"Black" 

"Typical!” 


― David Almond, Skellig
 

This painting process is of a young European Blackbird.

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I've learned that sometimes the pale unseen tender layers beneath the surface are the most beautiful ones. 

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My 41 year old eyes needed to do the hard work to see. See what is truly there, not what my mind wanted to tell me was there. And let me say, this bird is so much much more than simply "black". 

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Later today I will take on painting the background on this 22" x 30" full watercolor sheet. It's daunting at the moment but I know doing the work IS good.

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So wherever your eyes are being challenged to see more clearly today, please do the work. It is good.