On the first day of our workshop with Shari Blaukopf, we drove ten minutes out of Montebello to the home of Sara Pettigrew, set on 100 acres of rolling fields and woodland. We participants gathered around Shari while she explained what drew her to her subject.
Shari begins all her compositions with a value sketch, usually no bigger than a large postage stamp. For the sake of the demo, she made it a bit larger. The value sketch helps the artist plot out where the darks, lights and mediums will fall. This becomes important when laying down paint. Can I extend the sky wash below the horizon line? Or do I need to preserve some white areas? How can I create definition around this light area?
Another function of the value sketch is to decide on the framing of the subject. What to include? What to exclude? Looking for interesting shapes, both positive and negative, for a tension between straight and curved, light and dark, horizontal and vertical. How can I lead the eye into the piece? What is this about? I don't remember Shari talking about focal point: perhaps this is just intuitive for her.
The value sketch is put aside for continuous reference.
For subjects that require more veracity, like when the proportions of a building are key to a successful painting, Shari will use a B pencil to indicate the major shapes on the watercolour paper. In this case, I believe she went directly to pen and ink after a few swipes with the pencil.
Next came a very watery wash for the sky. Shari likes to drop extra pigment onto the wash while it is still wet to create more interest and surprises.
Using some of the grungy remains of previous efforts on the mixing portion of her palette helps Shari to create more interesting greens for the foliage. The next green builds on the palette remains of the first, with the addition of yellow or blue-green or red, and this continues with little regard for keeping the block of paint, the palette or the brush clean.
At this next stage, more detail is put in with brush strokes and sometimes textural lines with the pen. Notice the bits of white that remain, to enliven the composition.
Shari says that she knows the work is finished when there is nothing more for the brush to add. She graciously presented Sara with the painting when it was completed and signed.
These almost two-hour demos which began every day had us all standing, mesmerized and uncomplaining in the bright sun. We observed the small details of how Shari worked, including her easel, her posture, and how she held the pencil, pen or brush.
Below is a charming little sketch done by Catherine, one of the workshop participants, of the group "in action".