Thursday, February 21
Life has a way of surprising me again and again. Here I am standing in a room filled with artists and their friends. It’s the opening night of an art exhibit organized by the Fine Arts Council of the Chevy Chase Citizens Association.
I’m here with eight other artists from the Van Ness Housing Coop. It’s the first time we have been brought together to exhibit. It’s fun to meet and greet one another. One woman says, “With so many of us at Van Ness, we ought to have ourselves an artist saloon.” Maybe it will happen and usher in another surprise.
Around the perimeter of the room hang our paintings. There are oils and acrylics - mostly abstractions. They grab attention with their powerful strokes of bold color. By contrast, there’s a soft pastel. It depicts friends talking. I’m struck by expressions and their eyes. Some connect and others stare blankly beyond the painting. I wonder to myself, “If pictures could talk, what stories would be told.”
Watercolorists are well represented with four of us in the show. Each has a distinct style. Several use a line and wash technique combining ink pen drawing with delicate watercolor washes. My friend Marguerite has done some delightful street scenes from Provence France. You can view some of her work on her blog http://inkpaintwords.wordpress.com/
A new friend Martine has a whimsical painting of two cats perched on a windowsill. They’re intent on every movement of a red bird feeding outside. More of her work can be viewed at http://martineart.webs.com/
It’s wonderful to be here among these artists. A few years ago it would have been unimaginable. I was just dabbling with watercolors. Sure I went to some classes in Boston and Maine. I even got to go to workshop in Andalusia, Spain. It was a lot of fun, but through it all I lacked an understanding of basic techniques. My painting was hit and misses and often I missed.
All this changed when I began to teach. A teacher needs to know his material. I spent many hours dissecting techniques and painting them one step at a time. During my Peace Corps Service in Ukraine, long winter nights were filled with practice and then more practice. My own art work got a lot better as I understood more about basic techniques. Soon I began teaching classes to aspiring artist and enjoying every moment of it.
I submitted four paintings and three were accepted for the exhibit.
Maine Winter is from memory, but inspired by my life in Maine. Often I drove a road in South Portland and viewed the distant city from across the frozen harbor. Of course the cluster of pines in the painting is a way of identifying with Maine, the Pine Tree State.
English Cottage is an painting I made for an Internet contest. They supplied a photograph as jumping off place. I then decided to add a second building nestled into the trees. Do you see the line and wash technique? I like the way the sky formed. It uses what is commonly called wet-into-wet.
A friend asks, “How did you paint that?” We talk about the unique characteristics of watercolor. “For sure it can be difficult, but there’s magic too”, I say. “Unlike other media, watercolor flows and mixes on the paper. It’s spontaneous and somewhat unpredictable.
I liken it to having a dance partner. One leads and the other follows and sometimes roles are reversed. When I lay a wash across the paper, it’s like gliding into a first step and then waiting for my partner to responds. On and on we go responding to one another. I think that’s why I like watercolors. You never know exactly where you’re going to end up. So many surprising things can happen – just like life.”
Winter Glow comes from my imagination, but is informed by my memory of Ukraine. Ukraine can be so very cold and it has an abundance of birch trees. The glow from the depths of the forest is a mystery. Is it a sunrise, sunset, fire or some other glow? Like the mystery that is Ukraine, it awaits interpretation.
Right now the room is filling up. About a dozen of my friends have come to show support. I'm delighted. Ben, a Peace Corps friend, is here too. I jokingly call him my patron because he commissioned a painting last Christmas.
Lots of people are circulating and looking at the variety of art. Several indicate an interest in mine and ask for a card. Fortunately, I made up a few just so that I would be prepared. I haven’t sold any. But who knows, I may be surprised. The exhibit will be up for a month.
When I served in Ukraine, I got a chance to teach leadership skills to young leaders of the Country’s emerging civic society. I remember saying that before you start a new project, it helps to imagine it.
I said, “It’s like your first step happens in the mind.” I encouraged them to take time to envision outcomes and let their minds feel the contours of what they were about to start. It’s like Stephen Covey writes in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “Begin with your end in mind.”
Last New Year’s, I was thinking about finding a way to show some of my art. I thought about scoping out coffee shops and various restaurants. I began imaging my work on public display. But before I could take further steps, I got a letter - “We would like to invite you to participate in the exhibition program of the Fine Arts Committee of the Chevy Chase Citizen’s Association....”
It’s amazing how life can surprise you just as you begin to think about starting something new.