Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Big Ben Nocturne" (oil on linen; 8" x 12") sold


I thought that the nighttime view of the Big Ben and Parliament Buildings would make the perfect piece as the finale of my April Challenge series.  It was a fine thought; executing the idea into a decent painting was, well, another matter.  In the end, I managed to create a painting that would make Vincent van Gogh proud!  It must be the outstanding subject that inspired me to rise to the occasion.

What a trip it was!  I am grateful to my husband for insisting that we should take the trip.  Above all, I am grateful to our gracious hosts in Sidlesham, West Sussex, for putting us up for eight wonderful days.  There are many memories I will treasure forever.  I would also like to thank my readers for following my pictorial journey down the memory lane.

I am going to take a couple of days off to get ready for the next week's five-day workshop with Gregory Packard in Richmond, VA.  When I return on Friday, I will share the collage of the nine paintings I did for the "I Love England" series.  If you are on Facebook, please like my page, because this month I am going to give away a print of the collage to my Facebook fan!

I met my graduate school buddy, Steve, who happened to be teaching at Canterbury this semester.  We haven't seen each other for almost 20 years!  He gave us an excellent tour of the cathedral.  

At the Novium, a Roman museum in Chichester; my daughter as a Roman centurion.

We almost got blown away by a strong gale at the Lifeboat Station in Selsey, West Sussex; the sea behind my daughter is the English Channel.

Ev and Hans, our hosts, with my daughter

Yes, we did go to the British Museum while in London.  Seeing the Parthenon sculptures again was one of the highlights  of the trip.

Myself with my husband at the Parthenon Galleries.

Monday, April 29, 2013

"Tower Bridge Nocturne" (oil on linen; 9" x 12") sold


It has been over twenty years since I visited London.  It has changed much, especially in the Docklands--an area in east and southeast London.  It's not just its physical appearance that has become in some parts ultra modern.  We saw many Europeans working in the city.  Food has improved vastly as well!  The British have embraced the 21th century wholeheartedly and I am happy for them.

Of course, the iconic Tower Bridge didn't need any improvement.  I wanted to see the bridge at night.  On last Saturday of our English trip, we walked along the Victoria Embankment, crossed the new Millennium Bridge, which, if you are a Harry Potter fan, you would remember well, and went all the way to the Tower Bridge.  And we saw it in its full glory.  There was sort of a sunset with pale pink clouds against a gray sky.  The bridge glowed like a big jewel.

The egg-shaped, glass structure is the new London City Hall!

A fantastic view from the Millennium Bridge; from this vantage point, all the buildings on the South Bank of the Thames River seem brand new!

The  ultra-chic "Shard", which you can see in the above photo, is here juxtaposed with the medieval Southwark Cathedral.  I love London! 

We ate two breakfasts at this small cafe in South Kensington.  The young woman server on the far left was French; the woman in the center was from Spain.

We ate a nice lunch at the Cafe in the Crypt of the famous St. Martin in the Fields at Trafalgar Square.  Yes, it is a real crypt with burial plaques!

For the last dinner in the UK, at a pub at Covent Garden, I ate the traditional British meal of roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and vegetables.  It was delicious!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"Pink Phlox" (oil on linen; 8" x 10") sold


Yesterday morning, I took a walk at the Green Spring Gardens Park in Alexandria, VA. It has been crazy busy this year, so it was my first visit to the park.  Ah, I could breathe deeply.  I wish you were there with me.  It was sunny and mild.  There were just a few people around.  We all smiled and said good morning to each other.

For someone who likes to paint flowers, spring can be exhausting.  Flowers come upon each other like torrential rain.  How do I keep up with them?  The secret to the true enjoyment of this vernal floral glory is letting go.  I can't paint them all.  Enjoy the sunshine and breeze; bring some flowers inside and put them in a pretty vase; above all, don't forget to smell their enchanting fragrance.  If I miss some, there will be always another spring.

The rock garden in full bloom; from this angle, one can see both the gazebo and Manor House.

Spring wildflowers along the Virginia native plant trail

Holmes Run runs through the park.

A fake great blue heron at the pond

Saturday, April 27, 2013

"Victoria Embankment, London" (oil on linen; 10" x 8") sold


If you ask me what I remember most about London during my recent trip to England, I would say "the crowds"!  True, you don't visit big cities like London for peace and quiet, but the city was completely mobbed with the tourists from the UK, Europe, and elsewhere. If we had been astute travelers, we would have checked the calendar ahead and noticed that it was the Easter weekend and the beginning of the Easter holiday.

There were lines everywhere.  London had become Epcot at Disney world on a bad day.  Look at the inside of the beautiful, but packed Natural History Museum on Friday afternoon.  Or Parliament Square on Saturday morning.  Or Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square on Saturday afternoon.

The mob scene at the Natural History Museum

Parliament Square; do you see the statue of Winston Churchill?

Piccadilly Circus is ALWAYS crowded!

But who knew that Leicester Square, one of the theater districts, was this  popular among tourists?

Don't get me wrong.  I love London.  Back in my youth, I lived there for six, happy months.  The stop at the  National Gallery, which was, needless to say, mobbed, was one of the highlights of the entire trip.  I got to see in person the 17th-century Spanish artist Velasquez's "Rokeby Venus"!

This was the only picture I took at the museum until I learned that photography was not allowed.  Oops!

We finally found peace on the Victoria Embankment, a river walk along the north bank of the Thames River. Boy, we walked gazillion miles that day, which wasn't over yet. We would continue the walk for a few more hours until our legs gave out.  By the way, if you think that I painted the river with the famous, ancient Egyptian, Cleopatra's Needle too romantically, you are wrong.  Paris is not the only romantic city in the world!

I have a suspicion that the British kept these iconic telephone booths for the amusement of the foreign tourists.  The girl in a serious winter gear is my daughter.  It was cold!

Friday, April 26, 2013

"Historic Portsmouth Harbor" (oil on linen; 9" x 12") sold


Time was running out.  We had only one day left in the country before leaving for the town (i.e. London) for the final leg of our English trip.  After a lengthy discussion, we decided to visit Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.  It was close from Sidlesham, where we were staying.  Besides, my husband LOVES ships (and airplanes).  Yes, I am one of those wives who have suffered over the years to keep company of their husbands wowing over old ships and airplanes at museums.

Actually, I was glad of our decision because I got to go inside the HMS Victory.  This is the famous ship on which Lord Horatio Nelson died at the age of 47 at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.  As an Anglophile and British historian, it was touching to see the very spot of his death.  You see, the British and the French under Napoleon had been fighting like cats and dogs during the Napoleonic Wars.  After the heavy losses suffered in this historic naval battle, Napoleon had to give up his design to invade the British Isles. Hurray!

We heard an amusing (or macabre, depending on your taste) anecdote about the disposal of Lord Nelson's body.  He asked that his remains should be brought back to Britain for a land burial.  The crew came up with a clever idea of  "preserving" the body in a large barrel of rum for the several weeks' journey.  After landing, they toasted with "Nelson's Blood".  It was full-bodied!

The beautiful ship featured in the painting is the HMS Warrior--the world's first iron-clad ship from 1860.  Soon after I took the reference photo with puffy clouds, the sun disappeared for the rest of the day.  I was lucky!

HMS Victory; it is an impressive ship, don't you think?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"English Daffodil Fields" (oil on linen; 10" x 10")

click here to buy

During our trip to England last month, we had only one day to spare to "hit" a famous estate.  We chose Petworth House and Park in West Sussex, because it was close by and was famous for its art collection.  It is one of the hundreds of properties under the care of the British National Trust.  The village of Petworth is a little blip, compared with the huge Petworth Park.  Look at the stout stone walls that surround the property; it runs for miles!  If you want to take a hike along the five-mile-long trail inside the park, it will take a whole day.

We spent a pleasant day looking at gazillion paintings and other objet d'art at Petworth House.  You should have seen the beautiful sets of copper pans in its kitchen!  But you know what?  Acres of daffodil fields are what I will remember most about Petworth House and Park.

The timing could not have been better. Old-fashioned daffodils that William Wordsworth waxed about two hundred years ago were in full bloom.  Forget the cold weather and the shy sun that kept disappearing behind clouds. My spirit soared when I saw a field after a field, dotted with daffodils.  I ain't Wordsworth.  But I can paint the daffodil fields!

Impressive stone walls that surround Petworth House and Park

Petworth House, built in the late 17th-century, may not look impressive in this picture.

This nice "mansion" is the servant quarters; you can see it in the above picture on the far left.
This should give you an idea how big Petworth House is.

Petworth House is renowned for its huge art collection; it has more than 20  Turners among other masterpieces!

The kitchen, located at the servant quarters, is where they filmed "Downton Abbey".  Just kidding!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Old English Cottage" (oil on linen; 10" x 10") sold


Poplar Cottage on a cold March day. 

No chimney in the cottage, only a "smoke bay"!

A kind volunteer lady freezing inside the cottage!

This charming English cottage is called Poplar Cottage, which dates from the mid-17th century.  We visited it at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex, England.  It was a cold and gray day on our visit, but exercising an artistic license, I turned the scene into a sunny spring day!

At the open air museum we saw many old houses and farm buildings.  The oldest was from the 13th century!  They had been moved timber by timber to the museum for preservation.  We felt like we have wandered into a medieval village.  Magic!  We learned a lot about the evolution of domestic housing for common people.  For instance, Poplar Cottage used to belong to a cobbler.

As you can see in the reference picture for the painting, there is no chimney, although it was being introduced in England about the same time of its construction.  No chimney, only a "smoke bay"!  Smoke had no place to escape other than circulate inside the cottage.  Our eyes stung!  We were greeted by a kind volunteer lady who had to use a walker to get around.  I felt relieved when I saw her leaving the premise soon after our departure.

The museum was practically run by numerous volunteers, who dedicated their time for the love of the place.  They explained things to the visitors, cooked historical meals for us to taste, sewed period costumes with historical material and methods, toiled in the cottage gardens, and bore the freezing cold with grace.  We left the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum with admiration for the English--both past and present!

A volunteer lady showing off a period costume

A volunteer in a Tudor costume; another house with  no chimney!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"Rose Arbor" (oil on linen; 8" x 10")

"Rose Arbor"
click here to buy

"White Picket Fence" (oil, 11" x 14")

"Summer Garden" (oil, 10" x 10")

"Victorian House" (oil, 11" x 14")

Some paintings evoke strong feelings of nostalgia and longing.  Perhaps it is a porch, a rose arbor, or a white picket fence.  One wants to step into them and become part of the care-free place and time that these paintings promise.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Fresh as Spring" (watercolor on paper; 13 1/2" x 18") sold

"Fresh as Spring"

"Pretty in Pink" (watercolor, 17" x 12")

My daughter with spring flowers

As you may remember, I was taking pictures for the future watercolor floral projects when my daughter popped into the still life setting.  A Facebook fan of mine who saw the above picture asked me whether I would paint from it.  My answer was "probably not."  But the question reminded me of an old watercolor painting of mine--"Fresh as Spring".

The same thing happened at that time too.  I was taking pictures of hyacinths in the kitchen when my daughter, then a little girl, suddenly leaned on the table. Instead of yelling at her to get out of the picture, I laughed and took another picture.  I liked the impromptu photo so much that I painted from it.  She was about the same age (three) when she posed for "Pretty in Pink" at a rose garden in Portland, Oregon.  Isn't she cute? She is the love of my life.

I wonder if you have noticed something interesting.  Toddlers and preschoolers are not self-aware, generally speaking, so they act and smile naturally in front of the camera.  By the time they start school, the kids start making faces when they are told to smile at the camera.  If you are thinking of commissioning an artist (not me; I don't do portrait commissions) to do your young child's portrait, don't wait too long!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"Scent of Lilac" (watercolor on paper; 7" x 7") sold


"Lilac Season" (oil, 11" x 14")

Lilacs blooming in my garden

Lilacs are blooming in my garden.  It is unseasonably chilly this morning, but I went outside to take some pictures.  I love the lilac--its delicate florets, its colors, and above all, its scent!