My focus the past few weeks has been to rest, refocus, and continue to develop a workable, helpful rhythm of life, as I mentioned in my post of August 14th. Grief seems to drain me of creative energy, even when I’m not specifically thinking of recent losses, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading the past few weeks since we lost our sweet Petra. Reading often calms my mind so that I can think constructively and, more importantly, seems to renew my energy and motivation for doing things that need to be done (laundry, cooking, etc.) and for creative expression, whether sketching, painting, or writing. I will often think I’m just being lazy or that I have lost all creative ability, but if I then spend a few hours reading, interspersed with a couple walks with Ramble, all of a sudden I find that I’m eager to start sketching or even planning a painting.
I’ve mostly been sketching trees, either with ink, which I love because of its simplicity and the way it lends itself to both bold expression and subtle nuance, or with watercolor and gouache as I attempt to capture fall colors. I’ve also continued to sketch Stephen as he reads in the evenings, and sometimes myself from my reflection in a window as Stephen reads aloud to me.
Three years ago Stephie Butler from England and Joanna Lodewijks-Pijlman from the Netherlands came to visit for a week and for Stephie to teach a two-day portrait workshop. We had a such a marvelous time that it seemed afterwards as if it had been a dream, and I wished they would come back. Well, they did! Last week they both came for another visit (nine wonderful days this time) and another portrait workshop. We had the best time exploring the Hudson Valley, painting together, experimenting with art mediums and styles, eating good food, and just hanging out together.
Other than the two days of the workshop, we spent some time at home most days and some time visiting someplace pretty. On Monday Joanna demo’d painting loose, colorful backgrounds and flower painting in the morning, then we went to the Vanderbilt to see and sketch the river views.
On Tuesday we worked on various paintings from Monday and then, since the weather was perfect, we grilled steaks for lunch and ate on the deck, then walked and sketched on the Walkway Over the Hudson.
Wednesday I did a demo of Chickadees in the morning, after which we had lunch at The Matchbox Cafe in Rhinebeck (they have the best burgers!) and then wandered around Rhinebeck (of course stopping in the Rhinebeck Art Store), then went to Olana, the home of Frederic Edwin Church of the Hudson River School of Art, where we enjoyed the river views and the sunset.
Thursday we visited Topfield Equestrian Center, where there are beautiful, friendly horses in a picturesque landscape. We had a wonderful time sketching and photographing the horses, after which we headed to Beacon for lunch at Homespun Foods, which we wanted to go to since we had enjoyed it three years ago. It was just as delicious this time, and we very much enjoyed the peaceful outdoor courtyard surrounded by flowers.
Friday and Saturday were Stephie’s watercolor portraits workshop– an excellent workshop! Stephie is an outstanding and inspiring teacher from whom I have learned so much and gained much enthusiasm for painting portraits. My mother and sister and one of my brothers were also at the workshop, which made it extra special for me.
To me it is really interesting to see how we each use the same general approach, and yet maintain our own style. As a good instructor, Stephie always encourages her students to develop their own style, while incorporating her approach and techniques.
Sunday we were ready for a break, so after I got back from church we stayed home and played with charcoal. I hadn’t used charcoal in a very long time, but Stephie and Joanna had done some charcoal drawing together a few weeks ago, which inspired me to give it a try. That is one of the great things about spending time with other artists; I picked up many tips and new skills, and also was inspired to try out new mediums, approaches, and subjects.
Sunday evening Stephie and Joanna treated Stephen and me to dinner at Shadows on the Hudson, where we finally got to see the beginnings of fall color on the far side of the river. By the time we were finished eating it was dark, and the Mid-Hudson Bridge was lit with beautiful blue lights- a wonderful finale to a great week. I am already looking forward to Stephie and Joanna’s next visit!
My father and I have continued to make portraits for children through The Memory Project since first doing portraits of Ukrainian children in February (click here to see those portraits). In March we did portraits of children from Bolivia who live in an impoverished area on the outskirts of a city. My father did a caricature of a thirteen-year-old boy named Jose and I did a watercolor of thirteen-year-old Laura. My sister, Jennifer Thompson, also did a watercolor of fourteen-year-old Isidro, and my brother Thaddeus Thompson did an acrylic portrait of a Bolivian boy, Jose Michael. It was fun to do these as a family!
After doing the portraits of Bolivian children, my father and I wanted to do more, so in April we did portraits of children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I did a watercolor of nine-year-old Abati and my father did a caricature of eight-year-old Baraka. These children have very likely suffered from war, violence, displacement, and malnutrition.
I’ve never considered myself a portrait artist, but it is a privilege to be able to do a portrait that will help a child in these circumstances realize that he or she is special and valued as an individual. While painting the portraits, I often pray for the child I’m painting, that somehow he or she would experience God’s love and care and that my portrait would in some way convey that love to the child. If you’re interested in participating in The Memory Project, you can find out more information at https://memoryproject.org/.
My father and I just participated in the Memory Project, which connects artists with youth around the world who have faced poverty, abuse, neglect, violence, loss of parents, or other serious challenges. The Memory Project sends the artist a photo of a child, and the artist then creates a portrait of the child and sends it back to the Memory Project. The portrait is then delivered to the child along with a photo of the artist, with the goal of helping the child feel valued, important, and cared about as an individual.
We were sent photos of two young Ukrainian orphans, Ilya and Ivanna. Artists can make the portrait in any style or medium on paper or canvas, so I did my portrait in watercolor, and my father did his as a caricature (he has done many thousands of caricatures of children around the world). He drew the boy playing soccer, since it is such a popular sport in the Ukraine. I really enjoyed working together with my father on this project., and we’re planning to sign up again, along with my sister and one of my brothers. I’d really would encourage any artists who do portraits to consider doing this very rewarding project.
I started this painting in Stephie Butler‘s watercolour portraits workshop here last August, but then got busy with life (a new grandchild) and didn’t have a chance to finish it until yesterday. I also often take a while after a workshop to let the ideas and instruction settle in my mind as I practice the techniques on other subjects, before I go back to have another go at the initial subjects. This woman’s smile and obvious joy captured my attention as soon as I saw her photo (by Steve Evans), so I was eager to paint her and attempt to share some of that joy in watercolor.