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Entranced by Jerusalem

I was in Jerusalem, and took my outdoor-painting gear with me to the old city. I found a comfortable bench to sit on and started painting what I saw. I had meant to take photos of my painting as it progressed, but I forgot, painting completely absorbed me. I sat in a very touristy area, and there were people about, but they generally respected my privacy and left me alone. Children however are different, and are less hindered by social restraints. There were three little children, maybe between 5 and 8 years old, who came and sat by me, watching me paint, and not uttering a word. They watched until their mother called them away. They lit my imagination though, I think three bright-eyed children watching someone intent on their work can make an interesting painting…

This painting didn’t feel too difficult. It is hard to do too badly with a view of Jerusalem and with people watching it.

Outdoor Painting

“Have you ever painted outdoors?” I asked one artist. “Yes, I have” he said. “I try painting outdoors at least once a year. It is a hassle though” he explained, “you must deal with the wind which blows your things away, then there is the sun glaring on your painting and blinding you, so you need a parasol. There are  also flies that come to you. It is not as romantic as it sounds.” He thought a moment. “It is not easy” he continued, “painting from real life is very different from painting from a reference photo. In real life your eyes pick up much more detail and much more color than a photo can produce, and all this information can overwhelm you. You must learn to discriminate, and to simplify what you see.”

I wanted to do this outdoor painting thing, or, as it is called in art jargon, plein air. I took a market trolley and packed it with the following items:

  1.  A small paint box
  2.  Two brushes, one large and one small
  3.  A black pen and a black brush pen
  4.  A pad of watercolor paper
  5.  A jar
  6.  Some toilet paper (to wipe the brushes)
  7.  masking tape
  8.  A plywood board (larger than the watercolor paper)
  9.  A small folding stool
  10.  A large bottle of water
  11.  Some nuts (to give me energy)

I left the house with my trolley and made my way to a local botanical garden. By the time I arrived the sun was high, it was hot, and I was tired. Desperately I looked for a shady place to sit and rest. I found a small dark path, shadowed by large trees. I went there, took out my stool, and sat down. I looked at the path and the trees, wondering how they would look in a painting. As I was contemplating the path, I noticed this stem with leaves waving in the breeze, and I thought it sweet and liked it. I turned my stool around to face it squarely, and took out my painting supplies.

I taped a piece of watercolor paper to the plywood board with the masking tape, and put the board on my lap. I filled the jar with water, opened the paint box, and put the brushes and pens beside me. I looked at the leaves I wanted to paint and wondered how to start. It was quiet except for a few birds chirping. There were very few people around, nobody was foolish enough to come out in that heat. In the shaded spot where I was sitting it was cool and comfortable. I made a few lines with the pen, then started painting the leaves.

I ate some nuts and continued:

The rock underneath the plants was challenging. I realized what the artist meant by being overwhelmed by all the detail and colors our eyes can see in the real world. I continued with some darker colors:

I looked at my watch and realized that I was sitting there already an hour and a half, and I was starting to feel uncomfortable on the stool. I added some washes for the background, then traced the stem with the black brush pen. I was done. 

I packed my things and left.








African violets with DIY painting set

I had received some new watercolor paints that came in tubes. I didn’t have pans to put the paint in, and so decided to make my own watercolor box with paint pans.  I took a plastic box and glued inside it caps from empty water bottles, and filled the caps with the new paint. For a color mixing palette I cut out the bottom of an empty water bottle. This worked so well as a color mixing palette, that I made myself a few more.

With my new watercolor set, I went forth to paint a pot of African violets that my mother had given me. It started like this:

But it looked too simple, and so I added some dark accents:

It looked too childish, and I was losing patience, and so I took my big brush, soaked it in water and pigments, and just let go, adding wet paint generously and carelessly, soaking up the paper, until it looked  like this:

I thought it good enough, and let it be. 

The Human Spirit

I saw the documentary of the ballet dancer Sergei Polunin, and was impressed. It made me proud to be human, for the amazing potential humans hold, and the places they can reach. This painting was inspired by Sergei Polunin’s “Last Dance”, where he dances to the music “Take Me To Church”. I tried to convey here some of the exhilaration of his leaps, like the human spirit reaching higher and higher…

Mother Nature

I was in an exhibition of living statues, where people dressed up in different manners and posed as statues.  This painting was inspired by one of the living statues, a woman who sat amidst what looked like rocks made of paper. I liked her pose and calm demeanor.

I had enjoyed the freedom of the abstract painting I had previously done, where I just let my hand roam freely on the paper, making random designs. I wanted to do something free like that again,  but to combine the abstract lines with a clearer subject from reality. So I took a black pen and drew the lines needed to describe that woman posing as a living statue. I then continued in wavy lines, covering the rest of the paper with the whims of my hand.  Next, I opened my box of watercolors and had fun applying bright colors to the drawing.

My intention was to have the figure blend seamlessly with the rest of the drawing, making her part of the abstract shapes around her. The result looks to me like some sort of goddess of the earth — mother nature. She is not a figure situated in a landscape, she is the landscape itself. And while she is very powerful, it is not a masculine power, but a feminine one, very earth, slow, and gentle. 


Fantasy Bookland

I bought myself some new pens, black artist’s pens and black brush pens. I came home and tried them out, just making random marks on a paper. I used the thicker brush pen to try my hand at straight lines, as well as curvy lines, and what came out reminds me of books and geological folds. As time went by the random marks turned into a strange fantasy land, glimpsed at through the covers of the books, or so I imagined. I took out my paints and carefully added color. 

Capturing Light

Trying to catch light in a painting is like trying to hold water in cupped hands. Trying to capture the light of a setting sun is a race against time, as the colors change by the second. 

This I painted last week, but did not like it much. I remember once I almost tore up a painting that I had just finished because it did not please me, but I didn’t, and instead let it lie on my table, and went to sleep. The next morning when I looked at that painting, it seemed much better, and now I can even say that I like it quite a lot. I hoped that this painting will improve over time as well, just by letting it lie on the table. It did improve a bit, and I find that I am starting to like the colorful palette, as well as the softness of its washes. 


Less is More

Here I painted a scenery from Eilat, the southernmost city in Israel. Eilat is beautiful to me because of its blue skies, the lofty reddish mountains surrounding it, and the brilliant blue of the Red Sea by which it lies. But this picture shows Eilat on a rainy day, when the brilliancy was washed away leaving the landscape pale and grayish. 

This did not take me much time to paint. There is very little color here, and very little detail. A few pale washes and some simple brush-stokes for the date trees and I was done. I look now at this painting, and something in it pleases me. I can almost feel the cold breeze that blew that day, and the sense of calm as I looked out onto this view. It was not supposed to be an ideal day to enjoy the city, but I found beauty in it nevertheless. This painting did not take much effort or much paint, but it feels real. Sometimes less is more. 




One day I found that a large flower had popped out of the ground. “It is a poppy” I was told. Was it? It couldn’t be, where poppies really that big? It was as big as an apple! I opened some botany books and was convinced that that large flower really was a poppy. Over the next couple weeks I saw the flower changing into a perfectly shaped seed pod. 

I painted here a time course of this flower, showing it when it was a bud, when its petals opened wide, when its petals were falling, when it was a green seed pod, and when it was a dry and grayish seed pod.

This is no meek plant. Its flowers are large and bright, demanding attention. Its pods are beautiful in their symmetry. Its little black seeds are nutritious and are used in baked goods, sprinkled over bread or as the basis of poppy-seed cakes. Its latex (which oozes out when the pod is scratched) when dried is opium, a powerful substance that has helped many as a medicine, but has harmed many when abused as a drug.


Spreading Happiness


“Come, I want to show you something” a friend of mine said, pulling me into her office. There on a table was a large beaker filled with roses — big roses, small roses, some still buds, some in full bloom, some red, some yellow, and some pink. Their fragrance filled the little office, and I breathed it in with delight. I sat down and watched as my friend lovingly rearranging the flowers. She told me how Mrs. K had taken her to some fields where they had picked the roses. “She is the nicest person I know” my friend told me. “Here, smell this one!” and she handed me one of the roses. She then chose a few of the roses, and gave them to me to put on my desk. 

Later that day as I was working at my desk, I looked up and beheld the roses, and was moved by their beauty. I took out my sketchbook and pen, and after some minutes got up to show my friend this:

“It’s beautiful” she told me, “but you should do it in color”.  

A few days later I searched through the photos in my phone, and found a pictures I had taken of that wild rose bouquet. Then, with paper, pencil, and eraser, I carefully copied every petal and every leaf from the photo. I worked on the drawing for many hours until I was satisfied. Finally the box of paints was opened, the water flowed, colors mixed, and the above watercolor painting emerged. 

“Grandma’s birthday is coming up” my mother reminded me the next day. I looked at the painting from the night before, and thought I knew of just the gift that might make my grandmother happy.