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I recently took a trip to Vilnius, Lithuania for business. First things first — I made sure I had my travel kit with me. Note the brand new Moleskine watercolor journal — how exciting (and a little daunting) it is to crack open a new journal.Note also the not-so-happy dog  laying on the guilt. I hate leaving Max when I travel.

My painting got an early start due to an 8-hour delay in Boston. My original flight to Vilnius (via Washington D.C. and Vienna) was cancelled due to mechanical problems, so I was re-booked on Lufthansa through Frankfurt. After getting my luggage and re-checking in, going through security again, and enjoying a tasty dinner, I found a spot on the floor and painted the view from Terminal E. I embellished the view a bit. Those of you who have flown out of Terminal E at Boston Logan will realize that this is not quite the view that greets you — it was a tad more bleak than my painting suggests. I chose to paint this because the bay and the town on the far side intrigued me…  and there weren’t many other options.

A couple of kids stopped by to watch the painting, but for the most part it seems I blended into the background… or maybe people were a little put off by a grown man sitting on the floor lost in his painting. I got the basics of the sketch by looking out the terminal window before it got dark, but by the time I got to the painting it was too dark to see, so I made up a nice sunset version of the scene. I painted a light glaze of ultramarine blue/burnt umber over the left side of the painting to darken it up a bit (it was looking too bright for a sunset). At a recent workshop I attended, the teacher (Ann Lindsay — I highly recommend her book, Watercolor: A New Beginning) said that pavement might as well be purple. I kind of liked that idea, so I painted the pavement of the runway with a mix of ultramarine blue and permanent rose.

Here’s a sequence of the painting:

During my layover in Frankfurt I got a hotel room at the Hilton so that I could take a shower and nap — not a bad way to spend an 8 hr layover during a long trip! I ate an early dinner at the Hilton before heading back to the airport and did a very quick sketch of the only other people in the place — a mother, her kid, and a grandmother (presumably). Can you tell which is which? 🙂

I think they were a little creeped out by me looking over at them intensely  throughout their meal. Note to self: learn how to sketch people without creeping them out.

In Vilnius I attended a set of meetings for a project I’ve been working on for the past 2 years. One day after our meetings a group of us stayed after to prepare for a conference the next day. This is a quick sketch of my colleagues. I tried to capture the gestures/shapes and not pay too close attention to the details (a la Sketching People by Jeff Mellem). Not sure if they realized I was sketching them… Or maybe they were feeling creeped out, too, and just didn’t want to tell me. I was very gratified when one of my colleagues was able to guess who was who with about 75% accuracy.

That same day, we had an hour and a half between the end of our meetings and dinner. I faced the dilemma I always face — do something blobbish (e.g. take a nap; read a novel) or go paint? I think I encounter this decision much more frequently than I realize, and I often unconsciously choose to do the blobbish thing. I’m trying to become more aware of this choice and to choose to invest in things that grow me rather than just entertain me.

The latter (decision) won out, so I grabbed my paint kit and found the closest paintable scene that I could from our hotel, which happened to be the Vilnius Old University as seen from the courtyard of the presidential palace.

My setup:

Instead of diving right into the painting, I first did a quick sketch to try to get the composition down—I’m trying to be more thoughtful about how I lay out a painting.

The final painting (I decided to leave out the flag):

I did a couple of things differently for this painting. First, I took a risk on the sky. Ellen has told me that my skies are kind of ho-hum, so what I did this time was first lay down a very light ultramarine blue wash, then when I was done with everything else, I loaded my brush with a little more ultramarine blue (and plenty of water) and “squiggled” it over the initial wash. I like the effect.

Also, I didn’t use any pen on this painting — just pencil. Not sure what to think about pencil vs. pen… I like how the painting turned out, but I also like the sharp lines of pen.

Then there are the shadows. As you may notice, each shadow is a slightly different color. I’m undecided on whether to do shadows of one color (violet, for example), regardless of the background, or to  make a shadow by adding a color to the existing background color (e.g. the complementary color to make it more gray/muddy) which means each shadow has a different color base (which is what I did here).  I’d love your feedback if you have thoughts on shadows.

Finally, I wasn’t sure what to do with the face of the two yellow buildings. In real life they had no texture, but in the painting it looked rather flat. So I added a little texture to the walls. One of the artists I’ve taken classes from talks about the tension between being true to what you actually see (which is what the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brainteaches you to do) versus taking artistic license when a detail or element in the picture just isn’t going to make sense in watercolor or is just more appealing to be left out/added in.

Another artist told me that often you’ll like one part of a painting and not the rest. I think this painting may look better if it were cropped.

I’d love to get your feedback:

We had a few hours one afternoon and everyone wanted to go check out the market. I parked myself on a bench and painted a market stall (same old dilemma of how to use my time). I really do think these people were creeped out (I’m seeing a theme here…) by me sketching them, but they warmed up to it and even came over to look over my shoulder.

I painted a raw sienna wash over the background rather than painting on white. I like the warm yellow-ish hue it brings to the sketch. I also like the blue streaks (ultramarine with lots of water) on the glass to show the curve. The woman in white is supposed to be leaning over on a counter, but whoops, I forgot the counter, so she’s levitating.

Here’s the actual scene:

I found a little cafe later in the week and added the paint while enjoying a cappuccino. I’ve found that if I don’t find the time to add paint pretty soon after I do a sketch, then it just remains a sketch.

After the market my colleague from Poland, Malgorzata and I decided to grab a latte at one of the many outdoor cafes. We picked one that had a good (well, good in the way of beauty, but bad in the way of difficulty), sketchable (this is arguable) scene. This was the view from our table:

While Malgorata took care of a business call, I did my best to sketch this piece that challenged my ability to draw perspective.

I think to get the perspective right I would have had to spend more time planning out the sketch and laying down perspective lines. What was really difficult was trying to accurately draw the portions of the building that jut out (adding a third dimension to the perspective – yikes!). But most people who have seen it seem to like the sketch anyway. Ellen especially likes the mustardy and purply colors.

On my final day in Vilnius, I climbed to the top of the Old University tower that I painted on one of my first days. Here’s a short gallery of views of Vilnius from the top of the tower. What a beautiful city!

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