watercolor

Even Artists Have Seasons by Uschi Jeffcoat

I am incredibly grateful for a recent artist talk by the remarkable Alice Ballard. It was a reminder to me that there are seasons. I painted a LOT in the past two years, yet I still have so many ideas to put on paper.

flowering quince

Studio guilt.

It’s a real condition. The inner critic is so loud sometimes. And mine even speaks in two languages!

Why aren’t you in there in the mornings before work or at least a few minutes after work? Was ist denn los mit dir???

Alice reminded me that even if one isn’t producing, an artist is mentally always creating and processing new ideas, thoughts and work through their daily encounters. (All the emoji praise hands!) She spoke to exactly where I am ... and extended the grace I needed to hear. That these seasons provide the material for the works ahead.

And I love that.

I’ve discovered that my studio rhythm includes painting more through the months of April-December, while January-March tend to be times for where I am more in tune to the bookkeeping, reading and studying type of work. And so that is what I have been doing.

My Spring Shop is now open online. It will be open through May. I hope to add to it a bit in the weeks ahead. Putting all the works together helped me realize how productive the last two years truly have been.

Take that, Studio Guilt.

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Picture of an Educator by Uschi Jeffcoat

Robin.jpg

Six years ago, I left the classroom. A year and a half ago I returned. It is a profession which keeps me connected to people, yet also allows me the luxury of time for family.

But it is not easy work

Recently, I read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. In the novel, the portrait takes on the aging and sins of the man. And I thought about the strength that educators show in the midst of stress. Not only theirs but also that of the students. Does the outside depict the reality?

To me, the American Robin symbolizes spring, new beginnings, children playing and hope. This image to me captures a great unsettling I feel at the moment. School shootings are becoming normal, low pay is an insult to the profession and the hours are long. In what profession does one begin their day manning a metal detector shortly before entering a classroom to shape hearts and educate minds?

So I painted all the words I feel but cannot say. Recognizing that bleeding heart conversations are damask political curtains we hang.

Keeping up with the Joneses by Uschi Jeffcoat

I love an idiom. And the culture it can capture.

"Keeping Up With the Joneses" is spot on American. To me it describes what happens when the American Dream becomes grotesque. When the pursuit of happiness and freedom leads to a warped and twisted captivity.

Keeping Up With the Joneses, Watercolor, 22" x 30"

Keeping Up With the Joneses, Watercolor, 22" x 30"

The idiom finds its origins in a 1913 comic strip by the same title. Arthur R. Momand was the creator and the term made its way into a few silent animations.

Keeping Up With the Joneses, Watercolor, 22" x 30"

Keeping Up With the Joneses, Watercolor, 22" x 30"

Ranging from the accumulation of stuff that quickly loses its luster, sick social graces, self-glorifying chatter, and debt beyond measure - it is a pattern of behavior to appear on equal social-economic footing or ground.

Appearances were significant in my childhood home. I wonder if it was simply my mother's German perfectionism or her attempt to never appear "less than" our fully American counterparts?

Most recently I saw this pull within myself as my children wrestled with their college choices. Was I (or my family)  "less than" because they made one choice over another?  Did my children feel that way?

But these were essentially the accoutrements that appeal to all people who are not actually rich but who want to look rich, though all they manage to do is look like each other: damasks, ebony, plants, rugs and bronzes, anything dark and gleaming-everything that all people of a certain class affect so as to be like all other people of a certain class. And his arrangements looked so much like everyone else’s that they were unremarkable, though he saw them as something truly distinctive.
— Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych

der Brombeermann by Uschi Jeffcoat

I grew up with folklore and fairy tales. 

A Brombeermann is the symbol figure of the town of Wanfried, Germany. Some say this dates back to August 30, 1608 when Wanfried became a "city". A stipulation for city status perhaps included a provision for Moritz der Gelehrte - The deliverance of blackberries in the mornings to his Schloß in Eschwege when he was in residence.

der Brombeerman

Another version includes a beautiful story.

I am reminded of mythology as I read it. You can find it in a book written by Wilhelm Pippart, first printed in 1939, titled der Brombeermann. Wilhelm Pippart was a teacher and to me his writing is delightful to read. Maybe because his writing reminds me of the manner in which I was told and read fairy tales, with vivid detail and on occasion rhyme.

book excerpt

In the introduction Wilhelm Pippart is referred to as a Heimatdichter. In English, a "regional writer" but the German word Heimatdichter denotes more a person who drafts prose, poetry and collects stories of heimat. The book is a collection of tales and poems featuring characters such as sprites, fairies, gray ladies and magical books set in woods filled with moss, waterfalls and flowering fields. 

Here is my brief and loose retelling in English:

A dwarf was watching over Frau Holle's jewels. (Her most favorite of the dwarves.) He was most intrigued by her pearl and diamond necklace. As he was playing with this magical strand, it caught upon a rosebush and broke. But where each pearl and diamond rolled - strawberries, raspberries, currants, blueberry and blackberry bushes sprouted. Blackberries in the greatest abundance. A spell had been cast.

The only way to turn them back into their original form was to gather them all by day's end and before the owl was heard. The dwarf quickly accepted this quest to make amends for his mistake. Frau Holle encouraging him to not lose courage and to arm himself with patience and endurance as he set out.

blackberries

Quickly he set out upon his way, taking a cane basket upon his back to fill. He sprinted from bush to bush claiming the berries as his basket became heavier and heavier upon his back. Then at the end of the day. As dusk approached, every berry was in the basket except for one last full blackberry which remained. As he reached to pluck it from its height, the sun set and the owl was heard. Immediately the basket which had been full emptied.

This repeated itself day after day. The dwarf became ancient. Moss grew in his hat and throughout his knee length beard. His clothes became worn and tattered. The only thing which remind new was the basket he carried upon his back. 

Each day the dwarf kept his courage and went about his task only to be baffled by day's end. Throughout this time, berries fill the land mimicing the reflective jewel tones found within the magical necklace.  

After a thousand years had passed, Frau Holle returned to the dwarf, now known as der Brombeermann- the blackberry man. Sharing his burden, she reached and picked the last berry before the owl's voice was heard. Immediately a ray of jewel like colors radiated from the basket, covering the land. Her necklace was returned to its original state. They say you could hear elves burst forth in song in celebration of the Brombermann.

It is now said that the people of Wanfried take upon themselves the diligence and perserverance of the Brombeermann. I suppose I love the story so much because it is a piece of home to me.

Wanfried

I'm sure many versions of this tale exist. This year, I had the opportunity to see and hear a portion set to music. A childhood friend composed a beautiful piece. It is written in the old dialect of Wanfried and was sung this year in the Evangeliche Kirche of Wanfried. Enjoy!

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. :-)