Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Watercolors And Dive Bombers

I’m not sure what to make of today’s post, but I’m going to go with it. It’s a series of things that are interesting to me and I don’t have any linking scheme or anything, but I like these individual parts, so, here goes nothing. (Literally!)


I love watercolor paintings. And I love the process of watercolor painting. To my mind, it is the most thoughtful painting method and it produces the most beautiful results. For instance, I’ve posted about how much I like the paintings of British artist Ian Sidaway.

Good watercolors are as beautiful as paintings can be.

But, really, bad watercolors are awful.

However, for most of my life when I painted I painted from dark-to-light with opaque media. For some reason, my initial reaction to watercolors was harsh. Even when I was interested in the medium, I still was very dismissive.

For instance, in 2006 I posted a poem I’d written years earlier:

Winston Churchill Described Paintings As Cryptograms On Canvas

I’d forgotten that poem had a indirect reference to “bistre” in it, describing how I mixed my blacks, and I’d forgotten that poem mentioned Winston Churchill in the title.


Earlier today I was visiting the Model Airplane News website. (Yeah, I know I never mentioned model airplanes before. But sometimes I read the magazine that’s now called Electric Flight.) Anyway, I was. I was checking out photos of a model called the ‘Syncro’ which is an electric ducted-fan model plane that can switch between glider wings and sport-flyer wings. I think ducted-fans are perfect for powering up gliders, even though folding props might make more sense. I don’t have one of these now, but there may be one of these in my future.

But down in the lower right on the web page, they had a poll in progress, asking what is your favorite WWII Axis fighter plane:

I couldn’t believe I had a favorite, but I did, so I voted for the Stuka.

I didn’t do well in the poll. Only 13% of the voters shared my favorite Axis fighter. But, nonetheless, I stand by my choice.


Also earlier today I read this sentence: “These differing effects of white, deriving solely from the qualities of the colors separating them, fail to materialize whenever it is impossible to distinguish them.”

What a sentence. Isn’t that like saying, for instance, ‘These different intervals of pitch become impossible to hear when they become inaudible’?

That sentence comes from this paragraph attempting to find a logical scheme to Cezanne’s watercolor method:

Once again it must be remembered that in watercolor, though they appear to be the same, quite opposite functions are assigned to the ‘highest’ and the ‘lowest’ brightnesses, to highlight white and background white. The form of an apple, for example, is lifted away from the neutral paper white of the ground by means of a few layers of dark colors. However, at the same time the paper white, in a shape left unpainted and surrounded by bright color, is given to describe the form of the apple’s most rounded center. The one white is thus the deepest background while the other, in the opposite direction, has been developed step by step into the point of highest brightness. The sharp contrast between the dark tones of the shadows and the resulting ‘cold’ white of the ground inevitably places this one in the plane lying further back, as opposed to the ‘warm’ white that is created out of gradually brightening layers of color. Between these two qualities of whiteness the colors themselves are registered as increasing and decreasing light energy levels. So as to tie together foreground and background more firmly, Cezanne often created generous transition gradations between highlights and ground white, so that only closer analysis reveals their origin in the simple white of the paper. These differing effects of white, deriving solely from the qualities of the colors separating them, fail to materialize whenever it is impossible to distinguish them.

You read stuff like that and you sigh. Or at least I do.

That’s author Gotz Adriani writing in his comprehensive collection, “Cezanne Watercolors.” It’s a good book, but you can’t take the commentary too seriously.

I mean, first of all, the method as described, in itself, makes a kind of sense. If you paint that way, you can create images that make a kind of visual sense.

On the other hand, if you actually look at Cezanne’s watercolors, however, hardly any actually provide any evidence for Cezanne consciously working in this manner. One or two do. But usually whites are scattered all over the place. Forms, even simple forms like apples and pears, will have either no highlights at all, or multiple highlights at inconsistent locations.

Stuff like this, to me, makes the medium of watercolor seem trivial and idiosyncratic and, for the most part, absurd. I mean, some of Cezanne’s watercolors are interesting and even pretty. But when academics try to expand on the images and make them more than one bizarre old man’s idiosyncratic attempts at a medium he didn’t understand, it’s hard to do more than sigh.

British watercolorists typically approached watercolor with a better attitude than their French contemporaries. Even though Berthe Morisot painted maybe my favorite watercolor of all time, she was using the medium in a classically French way, where the touch of the brush was more important than the flow of a wash.

The British, I think, win the watercolor war.


The Stuka was a very effective ground-attack aircraft early in World War Two. After the Battle of Britain, however, when the Germans lost air superiority and couldn’t provide fighter cover for the Stuka, it became much less effective simply because Allied fighters could harass the Stuka so easily it couldn’t execute precision dives against targets.

Never bet against the Brits.

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This Airship, This Woman, This Dream

The Five Student Colors Of L. S. Lowry

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