Nymphaea

There is something in the air, a time of change. Our rather thin rainy season is trading places with our dry season and summer has stepped in close enough to spread warmer temperatures and bright sunshine over the islands. By now most of the Kolea, have left for their cooler northern breeding grounds, and local birds are rushing to build nests, raise their young, and in a matter of weeks, take off to enjoy the world under bright blue skies.

The birds are not the only ones feeling the energy in the air, the sense that a season’s wheel is turning even here in the tropics, the garden seems to be feeling it too.

Nympaea Colorado

Nymphaea Colorado

Passing by a group of water tubs that had laid green and dormant over the rainy season, there was a nymph waving at me, well, a Nymphaea or water lily that is, with a peach colored glow.

There is something in the air, and seeing the unexpected pop of color appear seemingly out of nowhere inspires me to get back to playing in water as well.

With an idea already in mind I start by pulling out three previously collaged watercolor papers, part of a group I did last summer to have on hand for something just like this.  Sometimes when an idea pops in for a visit I want to get to painting as quickly as possible before they leave again so it helps to have a little stock pile of prepared papers on hand.

Trio of collaged watercolor papers

Trio of collaged watercolor papers (11″x15″)

A glass of iced tea close by, reference photos at the ready, and I am off.  Starting with a sketch of the flowers using a water soluble graphite pencil, I want to take advantage of the abstract collage and draw over and under some of the papers.

001

Beginning Sketch

 

The next step is adding the watercolors and in the process lifting and blending some of the graphite lines with the paint.  The watercolors are nice enough, but wanting something a bit more opaque and with texture I reach for water soluble crayons to deepen the color and highlight the bumpy terrain of the collaged papers.

Watercolor and crayon

Watercolor and crayon

Once I have finished the flowers, my attention turns to the top border area.  Wanting to keep the water garden theme I draw out lotus leaves with a watercolor pencil. Liking the idea of a division between night and day, out comes the Moon in a cool darkened sky.

Adding the top

Adding the top border

Finally, to balance things out and bring the focus back to the bottom portion where the water lilies are blooming, I go in to the background with more watercolor, lightly adding clear water to allow for more movement and letting the color find its way over the ridges of the collaged paper beneath, pooling in the valleys and sliding over the smoother areas.

Now it is time to set this aside for a bit.  I still have two more prepared papers from this trio to play with, I like working in threes, and will continue on this path for the both of them though painting different types of water lilies for each.  When they are done I will collect all three and view them together and see if anything else will be added before moving on in my journey.  There is something in the air, the seasons have changed, and more creative paths are waiting to be explored.

Nymphaea Colorado

Nymphaea Colorado

Collage: The journey across familiar landscapes

Our trades are back. Outside the coconut trees wave their leafy fronds as if greeting newly arrived friends, and the breeze in return brushes past with a cool embrace and whispers of storms far out to sea.

With the weight of the past week’s oppressive heat being lifted by the return of the trades, it feels good to get started on the next part of the journey across collage landscapes.

It has been a few years since I have traveled across these paths of collage, but like many journeys, if you walk a path long enough and far enough, you may begin to see familiar surroundings. Like the oddly shaped boulder at the curve in the road, or the cluster of trees that makes me think of a group of old friends telling secrets.

Painted map

Painted map

Similarly, with painting the collage landscape, some portions, those previously lain down by the original loose under painting are easily recognizable, but in the beginning, the rest of the terrain seems new and strange and requires time to just sit and stare. This part can be very meditative, while focusing only on the collage, the external worries and distractions of the day are ignored and allowed to drift away, and as they do the mind begins to see a landscape emerge from the torn paper shapes on the table.

Collaged underpainting

Collage under painting

After a while, once I have reminded myself for the umpteenth time to relax and not worry about the end result, I see my first ‘familiar’ shape. It is just a rock, a bit off to the side of the waterfall, but I like the shape and color, it becomes my starting point. From there I let my mind wander to the next connecting shape and then the next, like piecing together a puzzle, but only with my eyes and mind. Eventually I can ‘see’ the landscape, I have found the familiar shapes of the terrain, and am ready to begin painting and exploring.

Familiar shapes appear

Familiar shapes appear

The start might be slow at first, but with each step my confidence grows and the pace begins to quicken which is why I try to remember to stop periodically and take a step back. If I do not pause every now and then I might not notice that the path I seem to be following is a false trail and a better one is available. When that happens all I need to do is load my brush with water and lift the paint, much like sweeping away my footsteps from the pathway. I let the area dry and then begin again, only in a different direction. This back and forth business, sort of like a dialogue with the painting, will continue for the duration. Eventually I come to the end of the landscape but not the journey.

A landscape appears

A landscape explored

I will let the piece sit for a few days and come back to look at it again with fresh eyes to see if there will be any changes made or not. In the meantime another collage landscape is waiting to be discovered and the adventure continues.

Collage: The first part of the journey

Ready for collage

Ready for collage

With a glass of refreshing and cool iced water to drink in one hand, and a fistful of neutral papers in the other, it is time to get started on the first leg of my collage journey.  Glancing over the different pieces of colored tissue strewn across the work table makes me think of landscapes so that will be the first trail to follow.  With that in mind, most, if not all of the paper used, will eventually be covered with watercolors after the collage is finished and dried. The papers are a mix of purchased and found, some neutral and others tinted with watercolors.   I try to avoid anything that will be too dark since I will be painting over them with more watercolors later and I will want to play off of the varying colors and textures of the collage papers beneath.  In a way, the collage papers are a type of secondary under painting, the first step having been to loosely paint general shapes with watercolors on an 11”x 15” sheet of 300lb Arches watercolor cold press paper.

Loosely painted shapes

Loosely painted shapes

The painting offers a general idea of the composition and a map of sorts that will help guide the placement of the torn pieces of papers. Once the gluing with matte medium begins and a rhythm is found any paper within my reach is fair game as the work table becomes a sort of paper maelstrom…at least I like to imagine it to be so. There are a few things I try to keep in mind such as composition, balance and placement, trying not to use too much of the same paper or color in one area, and not tearing everything the same size or shape. But these things sit at the edge of the mind, like birds on a branch that pipe up every now and then when I seem to be veering off course, while the rest of the time they stay silent, allowing me to settle into the rhythm I spoke of earlier. If I think about it, most of my creative travels seem a bit meditative, there are aspects of ‘letting go’ and doing things intuitively, but usually within a preplanned idea or area. Laying down the torn papers is no different, as long as I follow the general pathway laid out by the under painting I will not get lost in the flurry of shredded bits.

Collage under painting

Collage under painting

Before I know it time has flown and the first sheet is finished.  The beauty of collage is if there is anything that bothers me later, even after it dries, I can either pull the offending paper off or collage another layer right over it which helps to alleviate any worry.  After a quick refill of iced water to help reinvigorate any wilting energy, it is time to move on to the next sheet.  For this reason I like to have several under paintings ready to go so that it is easy to move from one to the next while I am still in the rhythm and while I have this pile of papers available.  After the last landscape collage is finished I move on to doing a few semi-abstracts and from there I finish up with some still-life subject matter.  By the end of a couple days just gluing down paper I am happily tired and feeling like I accomplished something.  I also have a nice stack of projects ready for the next step of painting, several sheets with watercolor dyed under paintings from tinting collage papers as well as a nice  mixed group of collage.

Ready to be painted

Ready to be painted

I sweep the table clear of all the torn paper, putting them back into bags and drawers, or just piling up a few with a promise to self to organize them later. The hot and humid days of summer continue with us and the air is still.  These kinds of days seem to almost slow down time itself with the heat, so the best thing to do is get another fresh glass of iced water to sip on while taking my time in deciding which collage will be the starting point for the next leg of my collage journey.

Collage: watercolor dyed paper

It is summer in the islands and the air is weighted with humidity while the trade winds are barely a whisper on the skin. So for the next week or two, watercolor and collage will be my mode of transportation for the creative journey. With the air being fairly still, I can leave my papers out and not worry about having a paper chase every time a breeze wanders through the opened windows. On the other hand, with this sticky weather, I have to be careful not to brush up against a stack of torn paper bits or I might become a walking piñata.

The fact is I love paper. Always have. From store bought papers to found bits and scraps of plain, printed, textured, and or tinted ephemera that we come across in life’s journey.

Small variety of collage papers

Small variety of collage papers

Whether a delicately textured rice paper, or a sheet of elegant Chiyogami paper, even the pretty little postage stamp on yesterday’s mail, all are like little treasures, and with collage, most of these will wind up being torn, crumpled, painted and glued to make more little treasures.

Over the years, the paper I get the most use from are those that I can tint or ‘dye’ with watercolors. Most often these are ‘found’ papers, particularly plain tissue paper or other light weight papers used for stuffing or wrapping commercial purchases.

My process of dyeing the papers is varied, but all are fun and carefree. Unless I am after a particular color scheme, it is a go with the flow kind of thing which is great and therapeutic in helping to shake off the stresses of the day. During these sessions I just lay the papers out on a backing board, sometimes in a single layer and other times overlapping up to 3 layers depending on the thickness of the paper. It all becomes a mad experiment on color mingling and intensity with no worries about making a mistake.

Under-painting from dyeing collage paper

Under-painting from dyeing collage paper

Periodically I will place the papers on a sheet of 140# cold press Arches watercolor paper and approach it as I would an under-painting. I will do several at a time and it is always exciting peeling off the dried paper and seeing what lies beneath.

Examining the remaining imprint, often a textured looking under-painting, frees the imagination to run loose and come up with painting ideas. I also use this method with my sketchbook, tearing smaller sized papers and using random colors on various pages.

Subtle pops of color

Subtle pops of color

Later when I am doing actual daily sketches, coming across one of these pages can not only inspire a drawing, but perks up the visual senses with their subtle pops of color.

Keeping a few plain papers on hand also helps when I want to clean out color wells to make room for fresher paint or to make use of the remaining puddles of paint in my pallet’s mixing area. Instead of wiping up the sometimes large mixed color puddles with a tissue and throwing it out, I can dye a few papers, and often times these interesting color blends really make a difference when used later in collages or other projects.

Looking at the  papers now strewn across the work table, landscapes come to mind. Cool landscapes with a water feature, a good destination during these overly warm summer days.

Paper landscapes

Paper landscapes

First I need to gather up the papers I will be using, maybe a glass of iced water, and then we can get started.