Thursday, April 14, 2011

There is a heaven on earth for artists!

I’ve recently returned from a wonderful retreat called Kanuga Watercolor Workshops.  The Kanuga conference center is an Episcopal church facility on a lake – a lodge, an inn, cabins and cottages, and a youth camp,  scattered in the hills and around a small lovely lake.   Water media artists from across the country convene there annually to participate in up to 12 workshops with well known watercolor artists.  The workshops run concurrently, just this one week of the year,  so the campus is studded with classrooms.  Maybe 250 artists, once you count the instructors, staff, and students fill the campus, and art conversations dominate at breakfast, lunch and dinner.    There are late afternoon and evening programs most days – demos, critiques, lectures – and sometimes free time to continue working on art or explore the extensive woods and grounds.
 Pat McGraw and I headed there on April Fool’s day, taking two and a half days for the drive. We enjoyed Berea, Kentucky’s shops and galleries (on the both trips, down and back), and took the back roads into Boone, North Carolina in order to visit Cheap Joe’s art supply store in person.  The roads were way more memorable than any mere art store could be – hard to believe people drive on these all the time, in all kinds of weather and have any energy left for anything else! But what views. And fortunately for our safety, we had perfect weather.
Carla O’Connor was the instructor in the workshop I took.  She’s a funny nice woman who plays on her uncanny resemblance to the food celebrity Paula Dean. 
Carla has developed unique ways of using the figure in her compositions that spoke to me every time I have seen her work (see She has a strong mastery of the figure, having painted since she was a child, and now integrates the figure with patterns, color fields, and symbolic images, making it so much more than it might have been. Technically, she is using a technique of gouache and watercolor paints on a ground of metallic gold gesso on hot press watercolor paper. This allows easy lifting as well as layering. The gold of the gesso becomes the mother color as it flavors all her compositions.  Carla’s paintings grow and change as she works: she cannot conceive of knowing how a completed painting will look as she begins.
She’s also a disciplinarian, the class was not an easy one, and she was (justifiably) tough on those class members who couldn’t seem to figure out how to turn off cell phones the entire week (don’t get me started . . . )! We did three hours each day of drawing from a model, starting with a long warm up of gesture drawings, up to 50 on one sheet of paper.  Carla also showed us ways to use even these un-studied markings as the basis for interesting compositions incorporating the figure – using her suggestions, we would never be without source material, whether or not we had access to a model.  Several times we worked directly from the model onto our watercolor paper (hot press), so we came home with starts for further studies.
So here I am, home again, with all these starts and a palette of gouache and watercolor.  I have a pre-workshop painting that Carla critiqued and is no longer “finished”. And I have a horde of ideas and feelings I need to get started painting.   And what am I doing? Typing this.
Well, I guess I know the solution to THAT.  Goodbye for now!

1 comment:

  1. Carla O'Connor is fantastic! I edited her DVD workshop (my day job is editing for Creative Catalyst Productions) and she's such a fantastic instructor. Love Carla!