Sunday, May 27, 2018

Quick Glance | Long Look

I saw it for just a second...

I can’t explain why I am attracted to certain scenes and subjects, but I’ve learned to pay attention to the “glimmers” of paintings that I see on a regular basis. I see them out of the corner of my eye, or when I turn my head, or they flash by the windshield while I’m driving. Sometimes I find them in snapshots that weren’t intended to be painting references. The moments are like shooting stars, quick flashes of light.

The scene at right is an example of a persistent “glimmer” that I can’t escape. This farmhouse is located on Middle Road (Rt. 628) in Frederick County, Virginia. I’ve looked at it under cloudy skies and pelting rain, through blinding morning glare and hazy afternoons. No matter the season, the time of day, or the weather conditions, I am attracted to this place. There is something about the proportions of the house, the bright red roof, the contrasts of the geometric forms against the slope of the hill and the irregular trees.

I’ve tried to photograph this house dozens of times, whether as a passenger in a moving car, or after pulling off along the road. None of the photographs ever manage to get at what I’m seeing. But I have learned to use photographs as tools to explore my vision of the scene, and that’s where the quick glance evolves into a long, long look. From photographs and memories, I’ve completed drawings, ink and watercolor sketches, and color studies. Nothing I’ve yet done has captured whatever it is that is tickling my instincts, but in the meantime, I am enjoying the journey and looking forward to finding an unknown destination.

My long looks sometimes take years, as is the case with this subject, or in the case of a plein air sketch, maybe it’s only a few hours. But even in  abbreviated painting sessions, I’ve found that I develop a heightened sense of familiarity with subjects because I’ve committed effort to paper. The places and people become part of me, and I feel a jolt of emotion and remembrance when I revisit a place that I’ve painted.

Quick glances inspire; long looks feed the soul.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Accepted in Virginia Watercolor Society show in Winchester, Va.

"Ascension" - watercolor on paper
© Kristen Colebank
Long, long time (a year, actually) since I last posted anything. I've not done much formal work in the last 12 months, but I have been playing and experimenting with several things, including a class last fall in oil painting and taking up plein air in both oil and watercolor. Both have been invigorating in many ways and have fed new ideas that I want to explore.

And now for some really good news! I've learned "Ascension" (see above) has been accepted in the annual Virginia Watercolor Society's juried exhibition. The exhibition will take place at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Va., Oct. 14, 2017, - Jan. 7, 2018. MSV's website is, and the Virginia Watercolor Society website is

VWS has very strict residency requirements for their shows, but this past year they approved a provisional membership category for border-area artists who volunteered to help with a given VWS exhibition. Since I'm so close to Winchester and know the exhibition chairwomen, I'm helping with the show take-in and pick-up, and any other duties as requested. I am thankful for the opportunity to enter this year, and humbled that juror Mike Bailey selected "Ascension" as one of the accepted pieces. VWS has always put on top-quality shows, so I consider this a feather in my cap.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Long absence, acrylic and plein air

It's been a tremendously long time since I've posted anything. Unfortunately, I'm still not painting in a serious way, but I've tried to dabble in a couple of new things to try and restart my creative life.

Yesterday, I took a plein air class at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Va., taught by a local art teacher, Cindy Redmon.

I've not really done plein air before (I did a plein air demo of sorts years ago at the local craft co-op, where I mucked around tremendously), and certainly not painted in a group setting for a while.

The other spin on this class was that the medium was acrylic, which I have no experience with.

Add in the triple-digit heat index in the Shenandoah Valley, and it certainly looked like it would be a very long day.


However, it ended up being a very enjoyable experience. The gardens at MSV, which are part of the Glen Burnie estate, are magnificent. The class coordinator, Courtney, was great at taking care of our needs (and providing lots of water). And Cindy did a great job leading the class.

The sketch I've posted here is of the statue at the end of the Pleached Allée. I completely lost the light as I moved down the figure, so it doesn't make a lot of sense, but I did move quickly enough to get the light set on her face. I think that's the biggest challenge of plein air....the sun moves so quickly that the scene completely changes in no time.

The acrylic was really frustrating for me at the onset, and still was frustrating by the end of the day (the value shift as it dries is maddening), but it was oddly fun to make a different kind of mess. I'm not switching to acrylic, but I think I would like to play with an opaque medium a bit more.

If you are traveling through the Valley, take time to visit MSV and see the gardens. Learn more at

Friday, September 18, 2015

Working on block printing

I'm making a serious attempt at a linocut for the first time in years (actually decades, to be truthful).

It's based on a watercolor I did earlier this year. I really liked the stark value contrasts in the watercolor, and thought it might work as a block print, especially when I saw the painting converted into grayscale.

However, I ran into problems trying to plan the linocut (I could not make my mind work negatively using "positive" tools - black ink on white paper). So I found black sketch paper and a white charcoal pencil, and did my planning with that (at left in the image above).

So now I've started cutting the block. I hope this works out, but I'm prepared to try another one. I know I'm really, really rusty at this. After all, it was 1990 when I last was doing lino and wood cuts(!)

Wish me luck.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Art at VMRC 2015

"Glow" is currently on display in Harrisonburg, Va., at the juried multi-media exhibition hosted by VMRC through June 30.

The annual show at VMRC is a fine mix of 2D and 3D art, representing many media and styles. It's well worth the trip and it's an honor to be included in the show. Plus, work at this exhibition often sells, and I learned today that "Glow" will be on its way to a new home after the show closes.

While visiting the show today for the awards ceremony, I was approached by a lady who had purchased "The Red Shed" in 2013. She told me how much she and her husband loved the painting and that they had it hanging in the perfect spot in their home. It's a special feeling to know that something you have created has had an emotional impact on someone else, and that they love it as much as you do.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Art heals...

6-year-old Z's painting from summer 2009
Today I had a wonderful conversation with my friend Mary. She's in her 70s, and recovering from some serious health problems. But she reports she is feeling stronger by the day and is counting her blessings.

Mary is one of the angels in my art journey. She alternately chides and cheers, always with the best intentions. She regularly sends me clippings from magazines, postcards, exhibit catalogs, books and more, usually with little messages scribbled in the margins and on scraps of paper tucked inside.

This week she sent me a book, "Watercolor by Design," by Marianne K. Brown. It was the right book at the right time. It affirmed the ideas I've been exploring in my paintings, gave me the language to explain my choices, and motivated me to keep going.

At a time when my friend Mary needs love and support, she loves and supports others in a thousand little ways.

Here are a few details about my friend Mary: She cherishes the paintings of John L. Wellington, she delights in birds, she adores the color red, and she dearly wishes she could work in her flower garden right now. It's spring, and she wants to feel the warm earth in her hands and coax colorful blooms into life.

But doctor's orders - she can't work in her garden. So she's turned her nurturing instincts to other outlets, scattering seeds of artistic inspiration everywhere she turns.

As the days pass and Mary grows stronger, she told me she feels her desire to paint is returning. After all, if she can't plant the tulips, she might as well paint some. And they'll be red tulips, of course.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Try, try again...

I had finally ginned up the nerve to start on a large watercolor that I've been planning since last fall...... and it's turned into a muddy mess already.

I think I'm going back to the start, transferring a fresh drawing to a fresh sheet of watercolor paper, and starting over.

My biggest mistakes were looking too closely at a color photo reference (leading to no color harmony in the painting) and getting too dark too quickly in the largest shadow masses.

I've made the same mistakes before.

I had managed to avoid these pitfalls for most of last year, but here they are again. I remind myself that I've heard several interviews with respected watercolor artists where they acknowledge throwing away lots of bad paintings. "So it's not just me," (I tell myself).

And I start again....

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


"Sunstruck" - 5"x8"
I took a detour and spent time on this sunflower for a few weeks. Given how cold it's been, I think it warms me up by simply looking at it.

I developed this composition and its feeling of bright sunshine by following some of the "rules" I listed last year for doing small floral paintings (see the original post here).

  • Tight focus on a primary subject
  • Little to no detail beyond the subject
  • Extreme value contrasts
  • Dramatic lighting

I think the leaves and stem fall under the "little to no detail beyond the subject" rule. The point is the flower (and maybe the bee), but not the plant. So merely suggesting the greens is sufficient. There's no need to get fussy over them.

Now, about that my original drawing, the bee was the focal point. But in the painting, the extreme value contrasts on the lower petals really hog the scene. I had already blocked the bee shape in when I realized that I might have a problem. I thought about scrubbing the bee out, but I decided to leave it. I'm hoping it encourages the viewer's gaze to move around all the petals, rather than focusing on just the brightest ones.

I used six pigments: Lemon Yellow, Cad Yellow and Quin Gold, as well as Permanent Rose, Pthalo Blue (GS) and Quin Burnt Orange.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


"Glow" 8in x 8in
I did this painting back in September as part of 30-day painting challenge, and then I let it sit for weeks and weeks because I wasn't sure how I felt about it.

The September challenge also completely burned me out for a long time. I have barely picked up a brush since then.

However, the recent posting challenge from fellow WVWS Signature member Andrea Burke was good for me. It helped motivate me, and I finally finished another painting that I had half-heartedly started before Christmas. Can't show that one at the moment; it needs to sit so I can think about it.

As part of my fresh start, I took a good hard look at this September challenge painting, and made some subtle changes. I now pronounce it finished, and it feels good to move on.