A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

From the Artist’s Palette: Watercolors from the Garden

Artist Wennie Huang frequently leads art workshops at Wave Hill.

The August art workshop was Larger than Life: Watercolors from the Garden, a two-day session. We began with each participant selecting a site for their large scale, plein air painting inspired by a particular garden plant. Participants stretched full-sized sheets of watercolor paper onto large foam boards secured to collapsible easels. Following set-up, I demonstrated various wet-on-wet techniques and brushwork, reviewing washes, softening edges, charging with color, double-loading the brush, wet-against-wet and lifting, as well as the use of gravity in these watercolor techniques.Pic-1

Each participant captured their vision of Wave Hill in their choice of color and approach. Here, Michelle’s subtle watercolor of the pergola against the backdrop of the Palisades and the Hudson River contrasts with her son Michael’s vigorous drybrush of the river and Palisades.Pic-2

Lorraine demonstrates a great deal of patience as she layers wash after wash of pale color to achieve the ethereal effects of the medium.Pic-3

On Day Two, due to the forecast of thunderstorms and very hot and humid conditions, we all retreated indoors to Armor Hall, where we worked on the large-format paintings using images we had taken the previous day at the Aquatic Garden. Here, I am demonstrating how to create an even and subtle wash to tone the paper a golden color. Washes are even more of a challenge at this scale.  Students like Nancy asked lots of questions about technique and texture.Pic-4

Below is the reference photo I used, and also my sketch of the lily pads summarized as ovals, each with an axis that suggests the direction of the stem. Pic-5Seen directly from above, the lily pads are circles, but seen from the perspective of a standing visitor to the aquatic garden, they will appear as ovals due to perspective, with lily pads in the distance appearing flatter, and less round that those appearing closer to the camera.

Susan takes advantage of the natural light provided by Armor Hall’s grand windows to light up her paintings—morning glories on Day 1, then the Aquatic Garden on Day 2.Pic-6

Sandy, in her signature style, works on an abstracted interpretation of the buoyant, tropical leaves of the lotus plant, using subtle pinks to augment the pops of green she later adds.Pic-7

Baci carves out some quiet time to explore the lily pads on a smaller scale, using vibrant color.Pic-8

Joy softens the water and terracotta vase in her painting inspired by the Aquatic Garden.Pic-9

While participants are quietly working away on their large-scale paintings, I find a moment to add more color to my demo, chatting with students as they ask questions about color intensity, loading the brush and brushwork.Pic-10

Pic-11We are our own toughest critics! Here’s Aly studying her work as the class wrapped up and cleaned up.Pic-12

We finish up the day with a critique of paintings from both days, discussing composition, color and approach….Pic-13

Many students were able to near completion with their paintings – finding that working large is freeing, and worth the challenge of a more complex set-up. Here, Michelle combined the color from the image of a magenta bloom with the structure and shading of the white bloom, enlarging both the flower and the dragonfly to nearly equal size, implying a symbiotic relationship.Pic-14

Meanwhile the painting by her son, Michael, on Day 2, shows landmarks of various cities situated on floating lily pads…a metaphor for global warming? A prediction of our future? And in the bottom right corner, a part of the picture usually signifying “the end,” he paints a bud…a sign of hope for our future.PIc-15

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