For the past two years I have been following an international watercolour artist Keiko Tanabe on Facebook. I say following because that is a nicer term than stalking - stalking might make you think negatively of me. Just because I kept asking on Keiko's posts when she would come to Australia to do a workshop doesn't mean I had convinced her to come to me, instead of me having to come to her. So when the opportunity came to consider a painting workshop overseas, I jumped at the opportunity of 2 weeks of workshops with Keiko Tanabe in two different states in the USA.
On returning home a few days ago, I have been reflecting on my trip, my experiences, my `aha' moments, my new arty friends. I think there is something special about the connections you make so quickly with people with similar interests such as art, and that is what has made this a once in a lifetime adventure (that I hope to repeat bi-annually - if I don't put the goal out there in the universe it will never happen, right!).
I had the pleasure of watching an incredibly intuitive and fearless painter demonstrate many times over the 9 days of workshops. She draws quickly and accurately, getting a feeling of the place rather than a precise detailed portrayal. My favourite of Keiko's remarks was near the end of the second week, when drawing a street scene, Keiko said `I know I am not being accurate, but I don't want to be.'
My first workshop was organised by Art of the Lakes at Battle Lake, Minnesota, (population approx 900) where along with painting techniques I learnt about Mid West hospitality.
We had a group of 21 female participants many of whom I came to know quite well as we socialised in the evenings.
Big thanks to Jody and Sharon for opening their homes to welcome any or all of us a the end of the days work. I experienced pot luck, sloppy Joes, was brought to tears being touched that because of these ladies generous hospitality I saw chipmunks, squirrels and hummingbirds for the first time.
This region is known as the land of 10000 lakes and has rich agricultural land. Many people have summer homes here, as you have to be pretty tough to get through the winters. I saw many beautiful lakes, large and small, and the long days with sunset about 9.30 were just gorgeous.
During the course of the week Keiko guided us with 2 demonstrations each day. We started with tonal studies to help us understand that we can use any colour as long as the tone is correct. This was a great opportunity to learn how to simplify the scene into big shapes without being caught up and distracted by colour and detail.
We also spent two sessions out painting en plein air. The local grain elevator (pictured below) was a source of fascination and Keiko painted this from a vantage point under a tree. Sadly I had a camera/phone glitch and have lost the photos of us gathered around her easel while she paints.
One of my key learnings from Keiko's initial demos was about the way she draws the scene first as a simple series of boxes to get the sizing/proportion right for the page. she then goes back to create the shape of the boat/shed/building/car within that box. I have always been aware that my drawings `grow' and the scene is always bigger and closer to the viewer than I intended in the planning. Adapting my drawing to boxes first has made drawing complicated scenes much easier to break down and simplify.
In both workshops we painted a cafe/restaurant interior scene, which was a new experience for me. In Battle Lake we visited The Boathouse, a new restaurant with great decor and many interesting boating paraphernalia on the walls and ceiling. Keiko transformed a corner of the bar, with a walkway through to the restrooms into a painting with loads of depth and interest. In a closed restaurant with no people in the scene (besides us gathered behind her) she expertly popped in a bar tender, waitress and people at a nearby table.
I look at cafes differently now as I eat out, or just pass by. I have my painters eyes on.
Just this weekend I was doing my roster at a local art exhibition with live musicians in the room with us, and it looks like a painting waiting to happen... with all those beautiful darks and reflections on the floor.
Farewelling new friends in Battle Lake we were on to Kenosha Wisconsin, for the second workshop with Keiko. Arriving in this lovely harbour town on Lake Michigan I had a free day to look around and take loads of photos for later painting reference. All of my favourite subjects were in abundance - water, boats, and fog rolling in and out to keep changing the scene.
The Kenosha workshops are organised by the Transparent Watercolor Society of America (TWSA), and coincided with their 40th Annual Exhibition. The 80 works juried into the exhibition were of a really high standard, with several rules in place to ensure transparency of the watercolour. Because I was travelling from one town to the next with Keiko I had the unexpected honour of walking around the exhibition with Keiko and one of the TWSA committee members. Keiko was one of the jurors, along with Frank Eber, and this was her first viewing of the paintings in person. It was like a little insider tour.
Later in the week both Frank and Keiko did a judges tour of the exhibition and discussed several of the prize winning paintings.
I could have spent hours studying these paintings. A link to all of the works in the exhibition - http://www.watercolors.org/exhibitions/2016/
Kenosha was a another great setting for workshop, and my the view from my hotel room, and my spot in the workshop room was spectacular. Again Keiko reinforced the importance of tone and we started the workshop with a tonal study of lavender fields in France. This tonal study was one of my favourite paintings from the two weeks of class. There is something special about black and white, or should I say greyscale because I don't own black watercolour! We went on to do a street scene with cars, street scene with cafe, painted out at the marina, painted out a a local cafe Sazzy B's, plus more.
Everyone knows I am easily distracted when painting, and a sticky beak at heart, so I really enjoyed my trips over the the building next door (Kenosha Public Museum) where Frank Eber was also teaching a workshop for the week. It is always interesting to see what other tutors and classes are doing, and get a small insight into the different styles of the tutors works.
I was so glad that I had decided to spend the Saturday after the workshops in Kenosha to attend the 40th Celebration Dinner and awards presentation, as there was a civil war reenactment on in Kenosha. There were some great characters as part of the reenactment, and I have so much great painting material now to work through. There was a lovely bearded gentleman in the band who caught my attention and I am sure will make it into a few paintings. Every girl is drawn to a wild musician isn't she?
Keiko Tanabe and Frank Eber both did demonstrations on Saturday which were open to the public, and were well attended. It was really interesting after nine days studying Keiko's techniques, watching her demonstrate and talk through the process, and also demonstrate plein air with little opportunity to stop and explain: to then see her in this format with a new large group of people. There was a collective intake of breath many times as she loaded the brush with rich dark colour and just placed it on the paper, no fiddling, no tweaking, great confidence in her brushstrokes and ability. And of course the knowledge and experience that comes from the amount of brush mileage she has under her belt was clearly seen.
Keiko painted this scene of Captain Mikes, a local bar across from our hotel.
Frank's style and technique was quite different from Keiko's, but again the confidence and expertise shone through. His demo reinforced to me the most about changing the scene to make it a great painting, rather than my tendency to paint it as it looks to my eye. I felt so lucky that Frank chose to paint the scene that we looked at each day from the hotel where many of us stayed. I had painted the same view from my window the first day of arrival, and so had Keiko, as it was too windy to paint outdoors, and I think we were both determined to paint. I see how all three of us interpreted the same scene, made me see that my literal rendering of the scene as I saw it, even though I was aiming for loose, was boring. Both Frank and Keiko pushed the middle distance much further into the background, creating stronger focal points and an exciting
interpretation of the scene.
I went on to have this amazing last few days of my trip in Chicago and San Francisco, walking around the beautiful cities, finally able to do some shopping (just a tiny bit of course - just a few souvenirs that needed an extra suitcase to get themselves home).
Since returning home, I have been determined to reinforce what I learnt and the style and techniques that I want to master needed immediate attention! I have been painting and creating like a mad woman. I have done 5 paintings in the 3 days I have had time in the studio.
I am making sure I -
** pick photos that I would have hesitated with prior to the workshops,
** focus on quick drawings (not perfection, but an impression), and using those boxes to keep it the intended size
** big loose first washes to mostly cover the most page in the right tone with beautiful warm and cool colours (leaving the whites of course - no gouache for us transparent painters!)
** splatter water, splatter paint, create interest & texture in that first wash and don't stress about blooms. Most days I wore more paint on my face and arms than my landed on my painting.
** let all those awesome colours just run into each other and bleed
** tackle the hard stuff
** make my figures fatter (I always knew they were too skinny)
** drop that cad red in somewhere to vary and warm up the thick rich dark tones
and lastly ** keep on loving that turquoise.
Paintings since returning home - pictured below
I have to say thanks to Keiko for putting up with me for so many days workshops, and all of the days in between, before and after! I have had such an incredible experience and learning journey with you.
For my local painting friends, you will be glad to hear that the Facebook stalking has paid off as I think I have tempted Keiko to holiday and teach some workshops down under. Watch this space...