I recently returned from a productive week – a road trip to North Carolina for the purpose of studying with one of my painting idols, Robert Johnson, who held a workshop at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville. You can see more of Robert’s work on the Blue Spiral Gallery site. The 4-day workshop was very comprehensive with students who were beginners to watercolor journaling as well as others of us who have been making journal pages for years. There was much to be learned for me. Robert has a unique method of making value and color “short-hand” notes in the field that make it easy and accurate to match colors that may be painted in journal pages at a later time. He does not rely on or make photographs. We learned how to make a simple system of color mixing charts that correspond to the simple palettes he gave us. For me, Robert’s process enables making a journey daybook page much faster, more accurately, and helps me to identify large color and value areas and to avoid copying endless visual details that often confuse me as I view the landscape in front of me.
In North Carolina, I worked with the class applying the “color shorthand” to a page made on a mountain road near the Blue Ridge Parkway. On the rainy day after the workshop, I returned to the parkway and made a second page that shows mostly the clouds that block the mountain view. After I got home, I made my own color chart that corresponds to my personal palette, and I have made a few pages at a park site near here where the endangered Scrub Jay has been sighted.
As is often the case, it will take time and much regular, repetitive work in order to process what Robert Johnson taught me. I am sure that I will discard some of this new method of working as I adopt other parts of the protocol. Already, a big change that has occurred is my translation of the landscape into a simpler view. I am not striving so much to copy as I learned to do in my medical illustration life many years ago. I think that there may have been a subtle brain shift in the way I now “see.” After all, as Frederick Franck said many years ago, drawing is really about seeing.
I had the very decadent experience of eating very well in my week in Asheville. The city is known as the Santa Fe of the east because of its focus on art and good food. Each evening of my week in Asheville I enjoyed gourmet meals at five new, trendy restaurants with my friend and Journey Daybook alum, Lois, with whom I studied, We walked. We visited galleries. We experienced a very gentle time of restful work.