Painting This Uniquely American Place

9 Jun 2011
Edwin Dickinson watercolor painting, Boatyard, Provincetown
Edwin Dickinson's watercolor painting, Boatyard, Provincetown (1921,
15 1/4 x 19), with its delicate washes and subtle color, shows how well
suited watercolor medium is to the maritime subject matter of Cape Cod.

America is a land of rich diversity that extends throughout our landscapes, cities, and regions. I'd say that one of the most distinctive places we have is Cape Cod. Now, being a born-and-raised Southern girl, I have always romanticized the northern coasts and beaches because they always look so post-card perfect for idyllic summer getaways with their sandy beaches, tumbling beach grass, and towering lighthouses.

Perhaps all of these unique visuals are the reason why so many artists throughout the decades have painted the Cape Cod landscape with such varied points of view, as shown in a recent exhibition, The Figurative Tradition of Provincetown Painting, at Acme Fine Art in Boston.

One highlight of the exhibition is Ross Moffett. A contemporary of Charles Hawthorne, Moffett created numerous paintings of figures in the Cape Cod landscape in the early and mid-twentieth century--documenting the maritime culture and community whose livelihood was made at sea. His works are stark and bleak, but simplistically beautiful as well.

Contemporary artist Richard Baker has done tongue-in-cheek still life paintings of the bounty of the sea-lobsters, oysters, and clams painted alongside lemon wedges and a knife to pry the shellfish open-as if the painting is just as much a snapshot of supper as a fine art painting.

Richard Baker's painting, Agreeable View
(oil on linen, 2005, 24 1/2 x 35 1/4)
is a fun still life version of a
lobster bake--abstracted and sans pot.
But one of my favorites is Edwin Dickinson. His works are filled with a lovely quietness that corresponds with my childhood dreams of Cape Cod. One of my favorite works of his is a watercolor, Boatyard, Provincetown. Personally, I feel like the best medium to capture the light and breezy atmosphere of Cape Cod is watercolor. In this work, the transparent washes make the water, air, and boats all seem inseparable-which makes perfect sense as part of the narrative of this place. Dickinson is a master of delicate washes that are warm but don't feel heavy with pigment.

That kind of dual looseness and control is one of the watercolor painting techniques I keep trying to learn...and relearn. But with each attempt I get more and more confident. Because I learn best when I receive visual references during watercolor instruction, I've found that the American Artist book, 600 Watercolor Mixes, has been really helpful. It has a visual for everything, and by breaking down so many color washes and recipes, I feel like I'm learning the techniques that will allow me to paint my own take on Cape Cod really soon.

And our Artist Daily Hurt Book Sale is going on now, so 600 Watercolor Mixes and plenty of others are ready and waiting for you at a great discount. Enjoy!


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