Seeing in a New Light

In England, the whites are not the brilliant whites of my home in Livermore, California. They aren’t colorful. In California, watercolorists love to puddle cobalts, warms, cools and granulating colors into their shadows. But English whites on a gray day are gray. They are, in fact, so gray that I couldn’t use my usual sedimentary colors, letting them settle on the top for an opalescent effect.

Instead, I used color mixes of French ultramarine blue, cobalt blue and burnt sienna. If I did mix cobalt violet, cerulean blue, aureolin or permanent magenta, I had to flatten the color mixture. To do this, I disturbed the settlement of the pigment by brushing the surface of the paint as it was drying.

Because I couldn’t count on sunshine and shadow to describe the whites by presenting contrast in value, I had to select my painting sites with care-choosing a scene that exhibited local colors that would offset the whites. The colors of the traditional architecture of St. Ives were just right: white stucco, gray slate roof or wall, red or ochre brick roof or chimney, stone foundation, black painted door, and black window trim.

The challenge was to observe the value relationships between each of these surfaces.

Illusions of Texture
Working within these restricted parameters of color, I strive to introduce as much variety as I can. In addition to developing many variations on grayish whites, I vary the application of paint to suggest texture. Sometimes I apply the paint in one wash-achieving just the color and value I want. Sometimes I apply a textured pattern over a dried wash. Other times I apply a textured pattern over the area first, allow it to dry, and then glaze over the entire area. Another tactic is to allow the colors to mingle as fluid watercolors. Then, for another passage, I apply the same colors in a flat mix, with no mingling.

Toning the Paper
For my in-studio English paintings, I tone the paper, after I’ve blocked the linear composition with my brush, but before I actually start to paint the shapes. To suggest the atmosphere of northern light, I glaze the paper with a color shift: from cobalt violet on the top, down to cobalt blue on the bottom. After the glaze has dried completely, I start painting in my customary manner: starting with the whites and working down to the darks.

A Change in Thinking
During my trip to Britain, I learned that not only my way of working but my aesthetic had changed. In St. Ives, I had an epiphany regarding wallpaper. Growing up in California, with its intense light comparable to Italy’s, I’d always disregarded traditional wallpaper as too timid in its effects. I preferred bold swaths of color and form. But in St. Ives I realized that the subtle patterns and mild tints on standard English-style wallpaper corresponded perfectly to the gentle light enveloping the clouds. Thus, the English aesthetic bespoke a harmony between the outdoor and the indoor.

“This time of intense mothering has allowed me to reflect on all aspects of my life and relationships,” says Carolyn Lord. “I’ve had time to reflect on the first 15 years of my professional life. I see my past life as a stirring, reorienting, transforming phase of my life; right now I’m gathering momentum as my child develops. Then I’ll re-emerge in the next productive phase.” Known for her luminous, plein air paintings of gardens and flowers, Lord says, “I feel as if I haven’t yet plumbed what the studio has to offer.” Her highly respected work is represented by Starry-Sheets Fine Art Galleries in Laguna Beach, California; Thompson Gallery in Livermore, California; and Nancy Dodds Gallery in Carmel, California.

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