Plein Air Painting at Harper's Ferry

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This Jullian easel has been with me for almost 15 years as it was a high school graduation present from my dad to me. It’s heavy, but it carries everything. Whenever anyone asks me how I became so fit, sometimes I want to answer “Painting” but I know they wouldn’t take me seriously, so I usually tell them I am just genetically blessed. There’s a part in van Gogh’s letters to Theo where Vincent is basically beaming at the fact that his doctor mistakes him for an iron worker. It’s something no one would believe after years of being pummeled by ‘art is weak, math is strong’ pop culture. Painters have to be incredibly strong.

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Painting itself is an effort to understand the world, space and time, and to interpret it in a way that is interesting to others, or interesting to you. Sometimes, the only goal is to just try, and to accept that nothing is perfect, no art happens in a vacuum, flies will get in the painting, people will say it’s an ugly painting, but it’s still important to try.

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At the top of a small hill in Harper’s Ferry there is a monument to John Brown, but the whole town is a monument to him, with a structure at the bottom of the hill being dedicated as John Brown’s Fort. Almost every building has a placard and a historical marker. After a while you realize how well-preserved the town is despite seeing what must be millions of visitors each year.

The coffeeshops and the restaurants of the town were packed with visitors from across the USA and international visitors alike.

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Viewing the local stonework is also worth a visit at Harper’s Ferry. The fact that people used to make structures this way absolutely blew me away. Where did they find all of this flat stone? Was it chipped out of the mountainsides? Hauled out of rivers? Both? Each stone is like it’s own story - imagine someone laying mortar and applying these stones, layer after layer, hour after hour. In many cases, it would have been an effort of several months or years of piecemeal expansions.

I found myself staring into the details of each wall, and each one was unique, and built up over years with different mortars, different composites of stones.

Harper’s Ferry is a place which rewards a slower, more careful eye - which is easy to have given the sheer ancient feeling of the place. Aside from cliffdwelling ruins and other Native American structures, and there aren’t many old places in America left.

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Wandering between the old rail tracks and the river, you can find this fenced-off garden. It isn’t clear what grows here. I struggled to understand why it was there - it was one of the few structures in Harper’s Ferry without an explanatory placard. I liked this - I’m one to go to the museum and not take the audio tour and I never read artist statements. With historical structures, since they aren’t exactly art, it’s probably better to try to read up and understand what a structure was, but I liked the mystery of this garden. Who knows what someone was trying to do with it? It’s fun to think about.

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A few years ago I read a book on pictographs and pictoglyphs in the American West, and one photograph showed a man standing next a boulder with a drawing of a human figure on it. The rock was at the site which would become Lake Powell. The man was standing on ground which would be covered in hundreds of feet of water soon. I was floored at the injustice of it all - some artist had carved the rock probably 5,000 years ago, and here we were, burying the pictoglyph in water.

But then again, what else could be done? The artist’s rock was in a remote place - you couldn’t exactly haul it in a truck bed to the nearest art museum. You couldn’t even chip the rock into pieces safely and take just the slab. So, the pictoglyph stayed, and now it’s still at the bottom of Lake Powell.

It’s not hard to imagine someone in an impossible future diving into Powell and looking at the pictoglyph at the bottom of the man-made lake, or someone in an even further future walking up to it after Lake Powell has dried. Harper’s Ferry feels like that pictoglyph at the bottom of a lake - it’s a part of the past where people tried, it’s in an inconvenient place, a man-made thing which can’t be moved into a museum.

Related Blogs:

Plein Air Painting in Washington DC

Plein Air Painting in Leadville

Van Gogh’s The Rocks

Who wrote this:

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I’m a painter and I make comics, I also travel! I live in Maryland-shy-of-DC. Catch you next time …

-Becky Jewell

Sketchbook Confessional July 2019

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How do you talk to someone on the bus about your book you’ve been writing for two years? How do you even talk to your spouse or best friend?

How do you talk casually through monumental creative challenges?

Can you?

The creative world would benefit from some kind of confessional ritual, a place where you can go to speak your deepest artistic truths to someone behind a curtain, someone who can sort of forgive you, who is likely just as flawed as you, but invisible.

For this reason, I’ve created the Sketchbook Confessional, a post where I confess what I’ve been up to lately. This is an attempt to keep myself accountable and also try to reel in the absolute chaos of creativity that is otherwise off the chain … if the chain ever existed in the first place.

I have this feeling that if we don’t talk about what we go through as creators, if we don’t get it out somewhere, it’s no good.

That said, I have no idea if this will work. I’ll try it out and get back to you.

Confessions for July 2019:

Confession 1: I went to the Critical Role panel at Denver Comicon in June and was charmed and awed at how great the D&D community was. What’s cool about D&D is that it brings people together - and with a common goal. I started offering to draw D&D characters for my friends, and was quickly buried in over 20 requests! For some reason, I thrive on absolute chaos and was able to crank out a few D&D characters - if you’re still waiting I’m sorry, I’m hustling!

Truly, drawing D&D characters is really fun and a great way to improvisationally make characters. The great rule of Improv is saying Yes, And … - and saying Yes in art and life seems to work for me. I will make many more!

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Confession 2:

I mowed a lot this month. Dear reader! The plants in Maryland are insane, growing something like seventy inches every year. I am very certain that my neighbors want me to mow even more, and that they perceive me as a very lazy mower. Despite my best efforts, I am the proud owner of some kind of local citation for having too many ugly overgrown plants in my yard. I promise you that I am trying my best to both mow and make art.

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While mowing my criminally-overgrown yard, I thought a bit about plants in art that I’ve made and I really haven’t focused enough on plants. Similar to mastering hands and interior design, plants are the next drawing challenge on my plate to charge at.

In other plant-related news, I went to the Lotus Festival in DC and had never seen so many amazing lotuses. I took some photos to bring back to the studio. The lotuses were over 6 feet tall. Something to write home about!

It’s weird that I ran into giant lotuses in real life after working with lotuses as a theme in Tilted Sun, but, it might also be that lotuses are an eternal art symbol that you are bound to run into from time to time.

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Confession 3:

Tilted Sun is almost back up and running! There are 20 pages bumming around on my iPad Pro, just waiting to be launched, but …. I’m being so possessive and cautious about them! It’s at the point where if I do not put out these pages, my iPad will surely get stolen or cracked or something, so I’d better do it soon. I’m thinking end of August.

Here are work-in-progress sketchbook images from my iPad in Clip Studio Paint for Tilted Sun

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I’ve also made a few process GIFs - all the pencilling is digital, so it technically doesn’t exist. I wish it did. This is the only bad thing about making comics digitally.

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Confession 4:

There are a lot of moments in Tilted Sun concept art where I don’t exactly know exactly when or where the concept is going to fit into the plot of the comic, but I want to get the concept onto paper anyways. Some of the concepts take more or less framing and set-up than I expect, which is part of the fun of making comics!

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Confession 5:

I started drawing romance again. How romance works for me is, the worse the world gets, the meaner it seems, the more I tend to start drawing dreamy-ass romance scenes. If someone yells at me while I ride my bike or harasses me on the internet, I usually go home and draw romance that day. They spring from some kind of unkillable hope within me, I sort of wish it would die, but it’s like the white whale that cruises onward through the ocean even though he’s taken several spears.

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Confession 6:

I am working on an amazing new project with my buddy Audrey! It’s super secret, but it has to do with cats.

Confession 7:

Crow Magnum is still underway! This is a comic I am working on with author Laurel McHargue. After drinking a Red Bull at 6 pm and staying awake for 36 hours I finally got to the right place in my head with this comic.

Crow Magnum link!

Confession 8:

I was exhausted over 4th of July weekend and couldn’t muster any energy except in drawing anime, like this recreation of a cel from Cowboy Bebop.

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Confession 9:

I was able to crank out a couple paintings of Mt. Elbert. Mt. Elbert is like Mt. Saint Victoire - I’ve painted it at least 20 times and will paint it many, many more times in my life. I’m at the point where I almost believe I understand Mt. Elbert. Mountains are incomprehensible and grand.

I don’t know if I will ever stop painting Mt. Elbert.

Related blogs:

Museums for Monster Inspiration

Crow Magnum - Comic Preview!

Who wrote this?

Tilted Sun