I have long been a cloud watcher. My husband and I share this fascination with clouds. We were delighted to discover that there were like minded souls out there when we encountered the character of Doc Homer in Barbara Kinsolver's novel, Animal Dreams. Doc Homer spent hours photographing the desert clouds. It is not uncommon for my husband and I to pull off the road just to watch the changing cloud formations and take pictures. One day, as I rummaged through a used bookstore I discover the another text about a fellow cloud lover, Luke Howard. The book, The Invention of Clouds, tells the story the father of modern meteorology's life and how he defined and named the clouds and their formations. Admired by the German poet philosopher, Goethe, Howard's work became known throughout Europe making this quiet, unassuming Londoner the toast of a continent in a day when natural science "philosophers" spoke to sold out crowds.
As I sit on the beach, the crowded atheneums of the 18th and 19th century Europe seem far away. My chosen medium, watercolor, seems well suited in my attempt to capture the mutability of the clouds. I learned quickly that in order to capture clouds in paint, one does not paint them at all, one paints around the cloud with only the most subtle values within their non-corporeal bodies in order to define the forms within. Here are a few of my first cloud sketches below:
My interest in clouds seems to always be marked by serendipitous events. I suppose that should not be surprising for such an ephemeral phenomenon as clouds. During my most recent visit to The Met in New York, I encountered a small exhibit of new works whose focus appeared to be clouds. The first to catch my eye was a work by a small watercolor by the great British landscape painter, John Constable. The viewer can immediate gather these are "cloudscapes" painted by landscape painters. Notice the low horizon line and atmospheric perspective enhanced by masterful handling of subtle hues and values defining the earth forms and the depth and movement of the sky. So much of the white of the paper is used. It seems to me that like poetry, the challenge of clouds is to not paint too much, less being more.
The real surprise to me however, was a series of woodblock prints by Georgia O'Keefe's mentor Arthur Wesley Dow. Experimenting in the Japanese Ukiyo-e technique Dow created the prints seen below. It is interesting to note that Dow is also the author of what was for the early part of the 20th century a well known text, Composition. Dow's compositional principles are greatly influence by the Asian aesthetic, in that there is a strong focus on the use of and carving of negative space as an active contributor to visual movement and balance within a work of art. I suppose it is not surprising then that Dow loved clouds too.
Those of you who have worked with me know my long time interest in the American artist, William Hamilton Gibson. As I progressed in my sketch studies and observations of clouds, an evening with a full moon gave provide a wonderful opportunity: clouds framing the moon. Looking out at the moon rising over the water I was reminded of an Illustration be Gibson, seen below. Nest to that is my first attempt at this amazing challenge in values.