Revisiting Cabin John Woods

It was relatively warm today, so I paid another visit to Cabin John Park in Bethesda, Maryland. I painted a scene like this about seven weeks ago, in warm afternoon light. Today there was some sun, but it was not as intense, and the woods seemed more subdued. I painted this quickly; it took about two hours.

Geoff Watson, “Cabin John Woods in January,” oil on linen, 12” x 24,” 2018.

Geoff Watson, “Cabin John Woods in January,” oil on linen, 12” x 24,” 2018.

Here’s what I did in December. Not quite the same vantage point, and different light.

Geoff Watson, “Cabin John Woods in December,” oil on linen, 12” x 24,” 2017. 

Geoff Watson, “Cabin John Woods in December,” oil on linen, 12” x 24,” 2017. 

Emily, backlit

Today we did more quick figure studies in life class, and again I did several charcoal drawings that I may post later. For now, here’s a look at a 45-minute oil sketch. I was mostly interested in the backlighting around her head and upper body.

Geoff Watson, “Emily, backlit”, oil study on panel, 11” x 14,” 2018.

Geoff Watson, “Emily, backlit”, oil study on panel, 11” x 14,” 2018.

Gesture studies in oil

A couple weeks ago I posted some gesture studies in watercolor, which I did at the Art Students League in New York. Today I did some gesture studies in oil. The two I'm posting here both took 20 minutes from start to finish. Fun!  I also a did a bunch of quick charcoal drawings. I may post some of those later.

Geoff Watson, Study, "Legs crossed," oil on panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

Geoff Watson, Study, "Legs crossed," oil on panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

Geoff Watson, Study, "Standing," oil on panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

Geoff Watson, Study, "Standing," oil on panel, 11" x 14," 2018.

Vermeer & the Masters of Genre Painting

Today we visited the National Gallery's show on "Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry." It was a really rewarding exhibition! It featured 10 paintings by Vermeer, which was great in itself, but much of the point was to highlight contemporary Dutch Masters who inspired and competed with Vermeer.

These guys repeatedly explored much of the same everyday subjects and tropes: people (usually women) writing letters, primping in front of mirrors, making lace, pouring liquids, weighing or balancing things, receiving guests. The exhibit was arranged thematically, so there was a room on music, a trio of scientists, a pair of lace-makers, a room of letter-writers, and so on. The room on "men" was really fun. These Dutch artists generally preferred to paint women, and when they did include men, they were often ridiculous, clownish figures. We saw more than one "doctor" taking a woman's pulse while flirting with her or her maid. Oddly, though, I thought the men were better-looking than their women. Maybe this just reflects what models were available (or willing to model). Or maybe my 21st-century sensibilities are misleading me.

Gerrit Dou impressed with his naturalistic skin tones and marvelous drapery. Jan Steen made me laugh with his derogatory depictions of men -- quacks, flirty doctors, rakes, clowns. Frans van Mieris had some stupendous figure paintings, including one of my favorites, a tiny picture of a woman with a letter by candlelight. Metsu, ter Borch, and other Masters were featured too.

And of course it was a thrill to see a few Vermeers I'd never seen in person: the Geographer, the Astronomer, the Lace-Maker, a few others. And it's always nice to revisit old favorites. The "Girl with the Red Hat" is not part of the show, but I went to look at it anyway, as I always do when I visit the National Gallery. I'm working on a copy of it; someday I will post it here. It hangs next to another interesting painting by Dou, and next to that is a work attributed to Vermeer, a girl with a flute, that's less engaging than the gal with that crazy fuzzy crimson hat.

The show concludes this Thursday, the 18th, so if you happen to be in the DC area, now is the time to go. You can learn more here: https://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2017/vermeer-and-the-masters-of-genre-painting.html

Johannes Vermeer, "Woman Holding a Balance," circa 1664.

Johannes Vermeer, "Woman Holding a Balance," circa 1664.

Odds and Ends

I started this still life a few weeks ago but haven’t had much time to work on it until today. (I’m teaching this semester, so I’m busier.) This afternoon I sneaked in a couple hours on it, sketching in three new items. It may still need an object on the right, for balance. My original plan was to highlight the tall kettle/pitcher, but we’ll see.

Geoff Watson, “Odds and Ends,” oil on linen, 14” x 18,” 2018.

Geoff Watson, “Odds and Ends,” oil on linen, 14” x 18,” 2018.

Cough drops

I’ve had a miserable cold that’s bothering me a lot more than the cold weather. Today was the first day I’ve felt up to painting all week. I chose a subject close to my heart — or, more accurately, close to my throat.

Geoff Watson, “Cough drops,” oil on panel, 6” x 6,” 2018.

Geoff Watson, “Cough drops,” oil on panel, 6” x 6,” 2018.

Michelangelo at the Met

I spent two afternoons at the Met Museum in New York so that I could fully absorb the current exhibition of works by Michelangelo. What a spectacular show! My favorite bit was the room with studies for the paintings on the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel. There was a study of the Lord’s torso, and another of His fingers in a couple different poses. This may be heresy, but in some cases I preferred the study to the finished painting.

On my second visit I also took in the exhibit on David Hockney. I enjoyed it more than I expected I would. All the lush color was a welcome change from the earth tones of Michelangelo’s drawings.

If you’re in New York this month, don’t miss these shows!

https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2017/michelangelo

More watercolor sketches

Yesterday I did a few more quick watercolor sketches at the Art Students League. This timy portrait took 25 minutes. Not a bad likeness!

Geoff Watson, “Portrait sketch of Monica,” watercolor and graphite on paper, 3” x 5,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Portrait sketch of Monica,” watercolor and graphite on paper, 3” x 5,” 2017.

These were 5-minute poses. Not a lot of time!

Geoff Watson, “Monica sitting,” watercolor and graphite sketch on paper, 3” x 5,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Monica sitting,” watercolor and graphite sketch on paper, 3” x 5,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Monica extended,” watercolor and graphite sketch on paper, 3” x 5,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Monica extended,” watercolor and graphite sketch on paper, 3” x 5,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Sketch of Monica standing,“ watercolor and graphite on paper, 3” x 5,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Sketch of Monica standing,“ watercolor and graphite on paper, 3” x 5,” 2017.

Figure sketches in watercolor

Today I brought a miniature watercolor set to the Art Students League in New York. Short poses are always a challenge, but especially in watercolor! Here is a 15-minute aketch. 

Geoff Watson, “Monica,” watercolor sketch on paper, about 5” x 7,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Monica,” watercolor sketch on paper, about 5” x 7,” 2017.

And here are a couple 5-minute poses.

Geoff Watson, “Monica reclining,” watercolor sketch on paper, 5” x 7,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Monica reclining,” watercolor sketch on paper, 5” x 7,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Monica sketch,” watercolor on paper, about 4” x 6,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Monica sketch,” watercolor on paper, about 4” x 6,” 2017.

National Museum of African-American History & Culture

Today my family and I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History & Culture in Washington, DC. It was a great experience! I thought the historical portion of the museum was particularly well done. The highlight for me was the casket of Emmett Till, which people lined up to view, as if at a funeral service. It was extraordinary.

The museum also features a fascinating set of exhibits on African-American culture, including a wing devoted to fine art. I was especially impressed by two landscapes by Robert S. Duncanson (1821-72), an African-American painter influenced by the Hudson River School of grand, romantic vistas. One is "Robbing the Eagle's Nest," which you can see here: https://nmaahc.si.edu/object/nmaahc_2009.13ab . The other, "Garden of Eden," apparently reflects Duncanson's hope for a more just America. You can see it here: https://nmaahc.si.edu/object/nmaahc_2014.299?destination=explore/collection/search%3Fedan_q%3Deden%26edan_local%3D1%26op%3DSearch . (I'm not sure whether the images are in the public domain, and the museum didn't permit photography of the fine art, so I'm just providing links.)

There is a ton to see in this awesome museum! Here's one more example: Chuck Berry's Cadillac. How cool is that?

Chuck Berrys car.JPG

Pot & pitcher

It’s been almost a week since I felt well enough to dig into my oil paints, but today I finally felt better. I added a pitcher and pot to my ongoing still life. Still lots to be done, but it sure feels great to be painting again.

Geoff Watson, “Pot and pitcher,” work in progress, oil on panel, 18” x 24,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Pot and pitcher,” work in progress, oil on panel, 18” x 24,” 2017.

Tylenol

I’ve had a stomach flu for the past couple days. Today I felt well enough to sketch something and do a quick watercolor. I chose an object that has been getting a lot of my attention!

Geoff Watson, “Tylenol,” watercolor sketch on paper, 6” x 6,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Tylenol,” watercolor sketch on paper, 6” x 6,” 2017.

Candle

I haven't had much time to paint this week, but today I managed to put in an hour on the still life I started last week. I focused on the rearmost object, the candle. I like the irregular shapes around the wick. I tentatively plan to add a little statute of a king on a drum; that's his cast shadow on the candle. 

Geoff Watson, "Old coffee pot and friends," detail, in progress, oil on linen, 18" x 24," 2017.

Geoff Watson, "Old coffee pot and friends," detail, in progress, oil on linen, 18" x 24," 2017.

Here's the whole piece; the rest is still just a sketch. I hope to fix that in the coming days!

Geoff Watson, "Old Coffee Pot and Friends," in progress, oil on linen, 18" x 24," 2017.

Geoff Watson, "Old Coffee Pot and Friends," in progress, oil on linen, 18" x 24," 2017.

Our Christmas tree

Today we put up our Christmas tree — a handsome Douglas Fir. There’s snow on the ground outside, so it was a good day to trim the tree and sit by the fire. I played a few carols on the piano, and then I painted this little watercolor sketch.

Geoff Watson, “Christmas Tree,” watercolor sketch on paper, about 4” x 6,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Christmas Tree,” watercolor sketch on paper, about 4” x 6,” 2017.

Shiny and not-so-shiny

I’m excited about my new project, a still life painting of shiny and not-so-shiny objects. Here is a photo of my setup and some early sketching.

IMG_0999.JPG
Geoff Watson, “Shiny and not-so-shiny,” charcoal on paper, 9” x 12,”2017.

Geoff Watson, “Shiny and not-so-shiny,” charcoal on paper, 9” x 12,”2017.

Geoff Watson, “Shiny and Not-so-Shiny,” oil on linen, in progress, 14” x 18,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Shiny and Not-so-Shiny,” oil on linen, in progress, 14” x 18,” 2017.

Buoys

I started this still life in summer, when I was studying with Walt Bartman, Jr. He set up all these colorful buoys, and I drew and painted them from various angles, but I didnt have time to finish. I still haven’t finished! But today I did put in some work on the piece. It’s fun!

Geoff Watson, “Buoys,” in progress, oil on panel, 18” x 24,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Buoys,” in progress, oil on panel, 18” x 24,” 2017.

Cabin John Woods

Again it was warm enough to paint outside, so I grabbed my big wide 12x24 linen canvas and drove around looking for a spot to paint. I stumbled on these woods, off Bradley Boulevard, near Potomac, Maryland. I loved the warm afternoon light flooding the scene, so I set up and went to work.

This is only the second time I’ve painted with a large-ish canvas outdoors, and I think it suits me well. The large support forces me to use large brushes — size 10 and 12 flats and filberts. And I made myself use them for just about the entire 2-1/2 hour session. The result is a less literal, more painterly first draft. I’m pleased with it. I’m tempted to sign it and call it a day, but I’ll probably go back tomorrow to refine things and add detail.

Geoff Watson, “Cabin John Woods,” oil on linen, 12” x 24,” work in profress, 2017.

Geoff Watson, “Cabin John Woods,” oil on linen, 12” x 24,” work in profress, 2017.

Just for fun, here’s a photo of an earlier stage of the painting on the easel.

IMG_0984.JPG

Mon Ami Gabi

Mon Ami Gabi is a lovely French bistro in restaurant row in Bethesda, Maryland. It's very popular at holiday time, with its festive lights and cheery interior. As I was painting, a waiter reported for work in his white top and black pants and shoes, and I just had to add him to the picture. I'd been planning to add a passerby, but the waiter was a gift! 

I tried to paint a bit more loosely here. I made myself use mostly big brushes -- size 12 and 10 flats, for you art geeks out there. Big brushes force you to focus on big shapes at first instead of getting caught up in detail. Detail is great, but if you don't get the big shapes right first, the details will inevitably wind up in the wrong place. Also, big brushes speed things along. My grand plan is to paint larger works outdoors, and to do that, I need to cover the surface faster.

Also, it's a treat to paint plein air in December! Here's hoping for more good weather. But this year I'm also determined to get outside more even when it's cold and snowy. Please remind me about that when I start wimping out. 

Geoff Watson, "Mon Ami Gabi," oil on panel, 9" x 12," 2017.

Geoff Watson, "Mon Ami Gabi," oil on panel, 9" x 12," 2017.

House on MacArthur Boulevard

I had 45 minutes free before a dentist’s appointment today, so I parked my car and painted this sketch of a bright yellow house overlooking MacArthur Boulevard, in northwest D.C. It’s obviously rough, but it has some energy. 

I hope to continue painting plein air in the winter months, at least occasionally. Cold I can manage; cold and wind is tougher! I’ve also resolved to swim (indoors) throughout the winter. We’ll see how these resolutions are holding up when the dog days of February arrive! (Or are they cat days?)

Geoff Watson, “House on MacArthur Boulevard,” oil on canvas panel, 8” x 10,” 2017.

Geoff Watson, “House on MacArthur Boulevard,” oil on canvas panel, 8” x 10,” 2017.

Elm Street

About a month ago, I did a plein air study at this spot, at the intersection of Elm Street and Arlington Boulevard in Bethesda, Maryland. I was interested in the stripes of light and shadow on the street, as well as the perpetual negotiation between car and pedestrian. Plus I liked the phtalo-green traffic light!

So now I’m doing a larger studio version. I intend to add crosswalk markings and a yellow centerline for the street. I may also add more pedestrians and cars, but I don’t want to take too much attention from the foreground car, patiently waiting for the jaywalkers.

Geoff Watson, “Green light,” oil on linen, 24” x 36,” 2017 (in progress).

Geoff Watson, “Green light,” oil on linen, 24” x 36,” 2017 (in progress).