Watercolor vs Gouache

Dear Liza,

I have been telling you about painting with watercolors for a few months now. I have been using this little MALA set we found in one of the teeny tiny libraries years ago, and enjoying it very much.

My freebie paint set!

And, as it so often turns out lately, I was wrong…. just a little bit. Since I don’t know much about how watercolors acts or looks, I assumed that the matte finish and slightly chalky feel of my finished pictures was ‘just how watercolors work’ and my slightly muted colors were because I wasn’t applying them properly.

Pretty, but not what I was expecting…

Nope.

I have been using gouache! Gouache (you say it ‘go-wash’) is a watercolor that has ground up chalk in it, so of course it feels a little chalky and looks more matte, and less transparent, than regular watercolor.

This realization came about when I re-worked of one of my fantasy islands from this…

To this….

“You shouldn’t have been able to cover that blue with the brown,” Auntie Bridgett said. “Watercolors are too translucent.” Her eyes lit up. “This is gouache!”

And suddenly, the chalky texture and soft colors of my flower vase made sense. My frustration with my non-shimmery dragonfly wings was explained. I was never going to get the transparency of watercolor using gouache.

I felt better, knowing it wasn’t ‘just me’ and that there were benefits of using gouache, not the least of which was, ‘Hey, it was free.’ But artist Auntie Bridgett, who has been very supportive of my painting, realized that she has a very nice watercolor set, and let me use it.

Starting to use actual watercolors!

This set has tubes, instead of cakes, of paint. The texture of the diluted paint is smoother and silkier. I really notice the transparency, even getting frustrated because I have gotten so used to the gouache! And it still has the “Hey, it was free” feature.

First real watercolor trial…

So now I am on a new learning curve and having fun with it. And while parts of me are in lockdown and stuck inside, other parts are just a happy seven year old with a new toy.

Love,

Grandma Judy

More Sketchbook Islands

Dear Liza,

Besides being shutdown because of the Corona Virus, Portland is now dealing with Federal troops in our downtown streets every evening. It is also about 100 degrees by noon these hot July days. So I am staying inside.

My first, ‘accidental‘ map

I have taken Hitoshi Shigeta’s sketchbook islands, sent to us by Jennifer Coile, and run with it! I made a few islands in the original drip-and-spread method, but wanted the features to stand out more. I gave the accidentally created features more contrast with my paintbrush.

As I worked, I began to see where the snow would accumulate, how the melt would flow, and what the topography of the island would be. It became a very real, very happy place for me. I named it Welcome Home.

Making it real….

I realized that my calligraphy skills were not up to labeling the features on my map, so Auntie Bridgett suggested using cut-out letters and words in a sort of collage technique, and I am really enjoying it. Years of Portland Monthly, Better Homes and Gardens, and Sunset Magazines, and all our old maps are getting harvested.

Having gotten my island to this point, I am not sure what to do with it next. But my Dad always said that if you can’t decide what to do, maybe it isn’t time to make that decision yet. So I will put my maps in a safe place and figure it out later.

And what will I do next? Who knows?

Love,

Grandma Judy

Just Flowers

Dear Liza,

Sometimes, between the Covid-19 and the political situation, it’s nice to go out for a walk, and not think about anything. I mean, to just think about what is right in front of you.

Fortunately, in our neighborhood, there are lots of lovely flowers to look at. Sunnyside Elementary and Environmental School has delightful gardens, which are being tended by staff and families while the school is shut down.

Educated flowers…..

On a street down the hill a sunny patch is filled with Black-eyed Susans and zinnias.

Sunny flowers….

Our local community garden up by the Laurelhurst Care Center, sweet-peas and dahlias stand tall in the sun.

Tall flowers….

And between our house and Auntie Katie’s place in Ladd’s Addition, the four rose Gardens are home to hundreds of bushes, all tended by volunteers. This ‘Caroline Testout’ rose, a variety that was created in 1888, caught my eye on our last walk down that way.

And historic flowers!

Have a nice day, sweetie.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Buying Arty Stuff From Artists

Dear Liza,

One of the nicest things about having artists in my life, besides knowing the lovely artists themselves, is getting pretty stuff!

My friend Ruth Inman is an artist who lives in Illinois. She does delightful, pretty, quirky art, with lots of purples, golds, dragonflies, and doodles.

Me and my nifty new scarf

She has gone into business with a company called Redbubble that puts her art onto scarves, purses, face masks, and even shower curtains. You can order these online, which is very nice for these days of not-going-out.

The scarf itself

I have been having art classes with Ruth online, and in one of these classes, she made a beautiful piece of art. I liked it so much, I bought it on a scarf from Redbubble. And yesterday, it arrived!

She can be found at Ruth Inman.redbubble.com

Care directions: Do not eat hats!

It is so soft and pretty, and huge. The colors are blue and a golden brown, which will make it useful for summer and fall, and it feels like a cloud. I am so pleased!

Even a nifty zip-seal bag

If you have arty stuff needs go visit Redbubble, just for fun.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Unfocused Rage, Intentional Joy

Dear Liza,

Our country is a very nervous place these days. People are worried about the Corona Virus, people being out of work, and political upheaval in our cities. I have been upset, too, and am doing what I can to cope.

I have donated supplies to the braver souls in downtown Portland who are standing up to (President) Trump’s Federal goons. I have written my Senators and Representatives to encourage them to use the power of Congress to censure these illegal and unwanted actions.

But other people have other, less positive coping mechanisms. One unhappy soul has been wandering around our dear Lone Fir Cemetery, kicking over beautiful, historic headstones.

Yes, I am angry and wish he (Folks have see him and say it’s a man) hadn’t done it, but mostly I am sad for him. I mean, how bad does your life have to be that you take it out on the dead?

Is this who we are becoming?

But then I see acts of love, large and small, in evidence all over the neighborhood, and I find my faith in my species returning.

People are working in their gardens, writing encouraging words on sidewalks, making beautiful, positive murals, and donating time and money to good causes. People are learning to smile with their eyes over the masks to show folks they are loved and appreciated.

Life is good, it really is. Not always easy, but good.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Full-On Portland

Dear Liza,

After weeks of feeling isolated and in my own head, Wednesday was a day that felt very connected, very Portland.

Hooray for Auntie Katie!!!

First, Auntie Katie’s bookshop, Books With Pictures, was voted BEST COMIC BOOK SHOP IN PORTLAND by our local newspaper, the Willamette Weekly. Hooray!

I am sure that her hard work and dedication to customer service in having an online ordering service and door to door deliveries during the pandemic has endeared her to everyone. With so many businesses closing down, it is wonderful to see her thrive.

And in the evening, Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett walked with me to deliver first aid supplies to the Black Lives Matter protesters. A group of volunteers called Snackbloc collect bandages, gloves, and other useful items in different neighborhoods to be used downtown to support the protesters against the Federal troops.

A beautiful mural along the way!

It pains me so much to see our government beating peaceful protesters. There has been some vandalism, but these troops are not dispersing crowds or stopping it; they are attacking unarmed people, shoving them down and gassing lines of singing women.

Protesters in Portland…. Photo by Beth Nakamura

It is as though they have come to punish these people for standing against the beatings… by beating them, like an abusive father ranting, “Stop crying or I’ll really give you something to cry about.” This is not how I want my country to be.

Police attacking protesters in Portland… photo credit, CNN

But I am a coward. I fear beatings, teargas, arrest and undocumented detention by unknown troops. So I help in a small way so others who are braver can help in larger ways.

Take care, and I will see you soon.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Sketchbook Islands

Dear Liza,

I am now spending a few hours everyday painting! It is giving the creative part of my brain a place to play while our days are just too hot to go outside. I started with flowers, but am branching out, so to speak.

Perfectly Imperfect

Auntie Bridgett forwarded me a video from her friend Jennifer Coile, called “Sketchbook Islands”. Jennifer had found the video and thought we would enjoy it. And boy, was she right!

The video can be found on YouTube.com, or you can follow this link. It shows the work of Hitoshi Shigeta, who creates beautiful, mysterious maps of islands that don’t exist.

https://youtu.be/v-AL7EqAkoghttps://youtu.be/v-AL7EqAkog.

The technique looked so simple, I had to try. And then it was so fun, I kept at it. You start with watercolor paper and two or three colors of very wet watercolor paint. Drop a few fat drops of paint onto the paper, then quickly cover it with a piece of plastic wrap. Give it a soft rub to move the paint around, then peel off the plastic.

Add some details…

You will have an irregularly shaped blob with really interesting edges and shadings. This will dry quickly. When it does, repeat with a different color, extending your ‘island’ and partially overlapping your first layer.

Odd colors, tin foil, then plastic!

Once I had it figured out, I began to experiment. I put down a quick wash of blue for the sea, then let it dry before creating my island. I played with bizarre colors and different materials. Flattening the paint with wrinkled tin foil gives a very different, ‘rockier’ island, and a combination of tin foil and plastic wrap is good, too. I tried ‘blobbing’ the wet paint on before flattening it, to give me more control and less splatter.

My getaway of the day

Once you are happy with how your island looks, you can make it more map-like by tracing the shoreline with a pen and putting in waves, sea monsters, and other details like mountains, buildings, or bridges.

This technique feels perfect for these difficult times. First, it is non-threatening and hard to mess up. Second, you are creating another world, and you get to name it. You can be as silly as you like. Silly is very good for mental health, I have found.

Finally, creating these islands lets your mind SEE these mysterious islands, and maybe, for a little while, BE there, far away from Corona virus and political turmoil. You can imagine standing on a mountain crag looking out at the sea, or walk across a grassy plain towards the beach. Feel the wind coming up the slope. Hear the gulls swooping over the waves.

A creation for a pessimistic friend

The only weakness of this technique, for me, is the lettering. I do not have a good hand for such detail work, but I am working at it. Maybe I can use stamps or collage to overcome my shortcomings. Meanwhile, I get to visit these wonderful islands.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Walking for Sculpture

Dear Liza,

We have been having such sunny weather that I have been walking every day. Yesterday, I took Auntie Bridgett on a bit of a wild goose chase looking for some sculpture.

We had two items on our agenda: to eat a picnic lunch in a park, and for me to show Bridgett a front yard full of sculptures that I had seen the day before. I thought I remembered right where it was… and I was almost right.

We packed sausage, cheese, fruits and veg, and two giant bottles of ice water. We also took watercolor supplies, as Bridgett said, “just in case.”

I led us to Market Street and then Stephens, keeping my eyes peeled for the house that I knew should be … around here … somewhere. But we had gone too far, and I was puzzled. How had we missed it? We asked a lady working in her yard, and, after some confusion, she remembered and directed us. It turns out, we had turned exactly one block too soon.

Big sigh. It was getting on to noon, and we had come blocks too far. We stood in the shade and thought… should we go forward, not see the sculpture, and eat sooner, or backtrack, see the art, and delay lunch a bit? We opted for the art, turned around, and walked. And after fifteen minutes, there it was!

It is a real sculpture garden, right in someone’s front yard. Realistic portraits, stylized African heads, and a delightful hand monument, all set among flowers, sunshine, and shade. I took pictures and we stood and appreciated to variety and arrangement.

Then it was sure and truly lunchtime, and we headed to Seawellcrest Park. There were lots of trees and shade, kids playing hide and seek, and deliriously happy dogs playing fetch. We sat and enjoyed being out in the world, watching our fellow mammals at play. We ate our lunch and then painted a little, my first “plein aire” (painting outdoors) attempt.

It’s more of a sketch with pencil and water color than an actual painting, and I’ll work more on it later. But better to start badly than not at all.

When we had eaten every crumb and knew we had gotten too much sun, we headed back home. Sunshine, art, and a wonderful neighborhood to get lost in… I am truly blessed.

Life is good.

Love,

Grandma Judy

A Day Out with Family

Dear Liza,

On Friday we got to visit Cousin Kestrel, Cousin Jasper and Auntie Katie and give Kestrel some birthday presents.

Walking through Ladd’s Addition is always pretty

Grandpa Nelson and I decided to make a day of it, so we walked the two plus miles down to Books with Pictures. We stopped at Palio to get some pastries and met the family across the street from their shop and house.

We enjoyed the croissants and little apple pies, had a nice visit and got to say hi to our friend Misha Moon when she came by on her way to My Vinyl Underground, the record store in Auntie Katie’s basement.

Books with Pictures, as seen from the field of Hosford Abernethy School

After a while Grandpa Nelson suggested we play some games. This started with a race, which Auntie Katie won. Then Kestrel taught us a game called Gargoyle. In this game, the person who is the Gargoyle sits with their eyes covered (today, we used our face masks!) and guards an object. The other players try to sneak up on the Gargoyle and steal the object.

… And they’re off!

The Gargoyle needed to be able to hear the other players’ footsteps and call them out, and because of the street noise on Division Street, this was really hard! But it was fun to be sneaking and having to stifle our giggles. Jasper won that one.

Exhausted hugs

After some other games and chalk art, we headed over for some ice cream from Zeds, the ice cream truck who is parked in the parking lot of Books with Pictures.

Princess Leia and Auntie Katie

It was moving past lunchtime when we headed for home. Pastries and stolen ice cream licks just aren’t real food, so we stopped at McMenamin ‘s Barley Mill up on Hawthorne. On their very thinly populated open porch, we had cider, a wonderful oatmeal stout, and a veggie burger. Their fries were a letdown, but everything else was delicious.

Hammerhead and Ruby the Witch are role models

By this time we were over-sunned, over-fed and over-walked, and we were still a mile from home. We found the shady side of the street and just kept at it, covering almost six miles by the time we crashed.

Whew! Getting out and about is exhausting!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Floating Anxiety (And its Antidote?)

Dear Liza,

I try not to focus too much on scary or sad things, especially when I am writing to you. But some days they are all I can think about.

Sweet peas and Shasta Daisies

People are getting sick with Corona virus while our President calls doctors liars and sells beans from his office. Peaceful Protesters here in Portland are taken away in unmarked vans by armed Federal Police. The whole country seems to be having a nervous breakdown.

Sunlight making stained glass

Many years ago, there was a TV show called “My So-Called Life”. It was about a teenage girl and her problems of growing up. One day she said, “Mom asked me how school was today. It was like it is every day, like a drive-by shooting. You just huddle down and wait for it to be over.” That is sort of how I am feeling.

Cirrus clouds dashing across the sky

But this could go in for months, or even years, before a cure or vaccine allows us to go back to some sort of normal life. Before we can travel to Paris or go to the movies, and not be afraid of the people we see. So while I am huddled down, I try to find the joys.

Our Firewood lake becomes Monet’s Giverny

I can’t articulate them very well at the moment, but here are the sights that lift my spirits.

I love you very much, Liza, and I hope I can see you soon.

Love,

Grandma Judy