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.
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.
“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.
Harmal (Peganum harmala) is a little shrub growing in the middle east. From its seeds a red dye is produced, used to dye the wool in Persian carpets. But these Harmal seeds also have a psychedelic effect, and so the carpet-makers would have the experience of riding on a flying carpet.
My father, Dr Ephraim Lansky, together with Helena Maaria Paavilainen, have recently finished writing a book about this mysterious plant. It deals with the botanical background, the chemistry, and the amazing medicinal properties of Peganum harmala.
(a link to the book: https://www.crcpress.com/Harmal-The-Genus-Peganum/Lansky-Paavilainen/p/book/9781482249569)
My father then came up with the idea for this painting, which I readily undertook to paint.
I sat with paper and pencil, and began the initial sketch. This is a flying carpet, so I wanted to create a sense of flow and movement. I let my pencil “fly” in curvy lines. I drew the carpet, and made it fly over dessert hills with harmal shrubs growing on them. I drew inspiration from trips to southern Israel, where this plant grows richly in the dessert soil.
I then transferred the sketch to water color paper, and used masking fluid to cover the shrubs, some details on the carpet, and the edge of the girl’s back. I hoped by this to give the painting better definition. I then mixed some watery washes, and covered the paper in the first layer of paint.
I added another few layers of paint, waiting for each layer to dry before applying the next.
Here after this layer I rubbed away the masking fluid, revealing the white (on the shrubs and the carpet). Then I just added details and color, and the painting was done!
Last week I was sick with a flu, and I lay in bed and looked out the window. I have there a pot of pink cyclamens, and I just lay back and looked at them.
Cyclamens are modest flowers. They bend their heads down to the earth, never looking up. Unlike most other flowers, their reproductive parts are hidden, and not garishly displayed. When the weather is bad and stormy, they don’t try to resist and fight, they just get battered down to the earth, but then easily spring back up once the storm is over. They are hardy little beings, and have modest needs – growing out of the crevices of rocks and weathering stormy weather. They have a gentle appearance, but when examined closely, they turn out to be strong and tough, with well made dark leaves and thick stems.
I looked at them, it was just after the rain, and the sun shown through the pink petals. They look soft and translucent, like dashes of color casually placed one above the other. There was something very beautiful about them, gentle yet strong…
The sun went down and night came, hiding them from view. My sister came and started practicing her violin. I like listening to her, her music is very inspiring and takes me onward to other worlds. I crept out of bed and sat a my desk. I felt like picking up the brush. I didn’t really think, I didn’t have the strength to think. I picked up some red paint, and boldly lay strokes onto the paper before me. Before I knew it, I had cyclamens on paper, painted from the impressions of memory.
It is Friday, I sit at my desk after being bedridden for a week because of a flu. I have the Requiem of Faure playing on my computer, and I put in the yellow of the rainbow. I sit calmly waiting for the paint to dry, and listen to this heavenly notes. I put in the red of the rainbow and wait. Next comes the green, and finally the purple. I have a white page with only a bright rainbow in it. I pick up my big brush for Chinese calligraphy, it can hold a lot of water, and I wet the whole sky, careful to stay clear of the rainbow. I add yellow here and there, then wait for it to dry.
I sit cross legged at my desk listening to the doleful sounds of Faure’s Requiem, something about the lord of the Sabbath. It is Friday the world is preparing for the Sabbath. I look out the window and admire the raindrops on the plants, it is after a big rain. The sky on my painting has finally dried, and I wet it again, and add a luminous red wash. I want this sky to glow. When the red is dry I cover it in a layer of ultramarine blue. I wait for that to dry too. Hopefully these colorful washes will shine through the final painting and give the sky some of that glowering majesty.
I remember when I had seen this rainbow. Even though it hadn’t been a full arch, it had such a commanding presence. It had been thick, and had glowed with such a light, it had been like a glimpse of another world. I had jumped into the street, fascinated, and had taken a quick photo. I had taken another deep look and another deep breath, soaking in the majesty of the scene, trying to imprint as much as possible on my memory.
I mix darker greys on my palate, and apply it to the sky, and to the land bellow. My idea was to darken the whole painting, so as to bring out the brilliance of the rainbow, and magnify its presence. I continue working on the land, a place I love, bringing out the street and the trees. At last I put down my brushes, prop the painting against the wall, and look at it.
The Technion, where the scene of this painting is taken from, is a place full of dreams. And this rainbow to me looks like the physical gateway into dreamland. But after listening all the to the Requiem of Faure, I would say it looks like the gateway to paradise.
I tried in this painting to give a sense of the music, and the feelings it evokes. I wanted it to be colorful and full of emotion. I splashed thick colors onto the background first, not caring if it got into the main figure.
I went on to define the figure lightly with some washes…
And after a few more layers of stronger color, I thought it good enough.
This Ibex was from the beautiful park surrounding the grave of David Ben Gurion, in southern Israel. The park is full of these young sprightly animals. This particular one was looking out at us, making sure we weren’t any threat. He stood there on the rock with all the grace of a young prince, examining his new kingdom, and proud to be alive.
I started the painting by lightly putting in shades for the Ibex and its surrounding trees, like this:
I added detail, layer after layer, putting the details of its face, some yellow washes…
Working on more detail, and putting over it some more light washes to bring the image together, it turned this way: