ON LOCATION IN SWANSEA
The painting, Swansea Shack,is accomplished May 17, 2015, during a recent, 18th Annual Henry Fukuhara Manzanar Workshop headquartered in Lone Pine, California.
Day four of the five day workshop begins on an unseasonably calm, comfortable Sunday. The subject matter of Swansea Shack is located on private property in what is, or was, Swansea. The town has quite a history, some of which will be noted later in this post.
Nearly a hundred of us string out, assorted painting gear in tow, to walk about a half-block, in a northerly direction on a narrow, dirt road, toward what appears to be the main gate to our destination. The view of the property, on the right is obscured by a rickety, wooden fence which goes a long way toward heightening the portal effect of entering through the wide, gate area. Swansea Shack is waiting just beyond the entrance.
As we enter through the gated area, we get the first glimpse of what lies before our eyes, I am temporarily stunned at what I see. To me, it is a bit like going back to one’s childhood and entering a candy shop, or toy store for the first time! So much to see and enjoy, but so little time to paint it.
In addition to Swansea Shack, here is enough material in this rather small area to last a lifetime. It is what many artist would call a dream come true.” It’s a treasure trove of subject matter, that is if you like old, weathered buildings, structures of a past era complete with all kinds of beautiful artistic “junk” strewn about. Priceless.
Shortly after arriving, we are treated to a wonderful watercolor demonstration by acclaimed California artist John Barnard. The demo goes well before an appreciative audience,made up of beginner, intermediate, and advanced painters of all ages and skill levels. Following John’s successful demo, we spread out over what appears to be, roughly, about a one square block area of private property which is open to the workshop on this particular day.
I am immediately drawn toward a shack like structure, including a type of water tower, and assorted pieces of debris which in my view is “artistic” jewel-like “junk.” It’s like Swansea Shack has been waiting years to be the subject of a watercolor painting.
THE SWANSEA SHACK ROAD MAP
I begin Swansea Shack by using a black, ink pen to create a compositional line drawing. Next, come the 4-B, pencil mid-values (about a five, on an eleven point value scale). This mid-value is assigned to selected shapes. I attempt to note the value that is needed compositionally, without regard to the scene’s actual values. Lastly, the darks (black) are added over several mid-value shapes, or symbols.
Once the simple, loose value plan is completed to my satisfaction, a high percentage of the work is done. This is often the part of the creative process that is the most liberating, the most fun.
In this ghost town of the past atmosphere, I’d swear I hear Henry Fukuhara reminding us to, Keep it simple. So it goes, after a few enjoyable minutes in the fresh air and morning sun, the value plan is completed. It now becomes a helpful road map during the creation of the watercolor painting, Swansea shack.
THE PAINTING BEGINS
The watercolor, Swansea Shack, begins with a square, two-inch brush. Shapes are laid in directly with the brush wet on dry, without the traditional preliminary pencil drawing. In this case the subject matter is blocked-in using only gray and, for the most part, the two-inch brush. The gray tone is about a three or four on the aforementioned value scale. Some readers might think of it as somewhere near a dark light, and a light-medium value.
Once most of the Swansea Shack is blocked in, the paint and paper is allowed to dry completely. When the paint and paper are dry, the black, ink pen is used to quickly and freely accent the various shapes. No attempt is made to carefully delineate the shapes themselves. To the contrary, the goal is to allow the line work to follow its own path, in what might be referred to as “out of register.”
General color is then added over the grays. This is one method of achieving the duller, less intense, weathered look of the Swansea area. A few additional symbols are added, such as the two palm trees, etc. Of course, to my knowledge, there are no palm trees in Swansea, but these perennials make a good excuse for much-needed verticals in an essentially horizontal composition.
In the final stage of Swansea Shack, the chroma of a few color areas is increased. The last step is the choice of color in specific places like the doorway (the focal point) and water tank. I vacillate between using a red or blue hue. I feel a red is in keeping with the painting’s warm temperature, while the blue adds a bit of contrast and variety to the warm Yellow Ochre. I opt for variety.
ABOUT THE LOCATION
What is now a ghost town, Swansea is located in Inyo County, just off highway 190, near the cities of Lone Pine and Keeler, on the eastern side of California’s magnificent Sierra Mountain range!
According to the Swansea web Site:
“Swansea was built in 1870 to support the nearby camp of Owens Lake. Owens lake held the furnaces for smelting some of the ore from Cerro Gordo.”
All that remains are a few weathered structures, some foundations, and several ‘No Trespassing’ signs.
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