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

Paintings and Drawings of Cats

Real Cats: Bitty

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The painting above I made from a photo of cat on a rock in a pond - it was such a cool photo, I had to ask - how did the cat get there? And, why would she ever leave the rock? The rock seemed like such a cool place to be, surrounded by water and flower petals. 

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Real Cats: Marl

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I wanted to make a painting of my cousin's cat, Marl, who is a striped cat with beautiful markings. It was fun to paint Marl basking in the sun on a checkered carpet, it was especially fun to paint Marl's little footpads. 

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^ Here is Marley Cat hanging out at my cousin's place. 

Real Cats: Flash

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One day in Houston at my grandpa's house, a mostly white kitten appeared and stopped by to eat the kibbles of grandpa's much older cat, Xena. Fairly common in Houston, stray cats tend to come and go -  everyone in the family was expecting the wayward white kitten to move on to another house, but the kitten decided to stay. The kitten would appear intermittently and would race about the yard, and so the family named the kitten "Flash." He was fully adopted and now has his shots/tags and is overall here to stay. I made the above drawing of Flash in the garden, and the below drawing of Flash in Clip Studio Paint. Flash is white, but I reimagined him as a cat in the shade. 

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Imaginary Cats

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I started out this series of colorful cats in oil with a sort of "Wayne Thiebaud Cakes, but with Cats" kind of take. The thick oil paint makes the bright colors stand out quite a bit. I'd love to do more in this sereis with non-pale backgrounds, maybe more with leaves/foliage or household surroundings. Overall these were just fun to make. 

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Painting this cat's feet was fun. ^ At this level of thickness in paint, the paint takes on a sculptural quality, and I'm not even painting so much as sculpting or building dimensional form. I often start out paintings like this with a small undersketch in orange (so that it is easy to see) and then I fill out the full-bodied paint forms from there. It's interesting how no matter what kind of paintings you make, it all starts with the foundation of drawing. 

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Cats but with watercolor or acrylic ink. 

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For Inktober 2017 I made the cat above, what's interesting is people see a lot of different shapes in this cat. It's a bit like a cloud in this way.

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Several cats also make an appearance in Tilted Sun, a sci-fi fantasy comic that you can check out on 

October - November 2017 Studio Update: A bit of everything

This month I began working in a new format - miniature paintings!

A miniature of Mt. Elbert in Leadville, Colorado

A miniature of Mt. Elbert in Leadville, Colorado

Another miniature of Mt. Elbert - about 3 x 3 inches

Another miniature of Mt. Elbert - about 3 x 3 inches




These mini paintings take about as much concentration or more as a larger painting, say an 8 x 10. Decisions just have to be better and more precise. 

I'm still working through painting my memories, many of which involve video games from the 1990s - up next is a painting of an Arcology from Sim City 2000. Here is the underpainting and the original Arcology: 


On the other side of the studio I have been finally working on something that has been in my to-do pile for months - lettering my comic, Tilted Sun. 

I'm accomplishing the lettering project in Clip Studio Paint (Formerly known as Manga Studio). Although learning Clip Studio Paint took a few painful failures for me and several Googlings of how to get text to work the way I wanted, it's been worth it. (I might try illustrator for this too, soon?) 

All in all lettering has made the comic more real. I've set up about 60 pages of the comic so far without any words, just scribbles of notes of the words that I wanted to use. Ironically this has worked to make the images more expressive - the images were working almost like a silent film until now. 

The font I am using for the comic, Sequentialist, which is a pretty rad font! 

The font I am using for the comic, Sequentialist, which is a pretty rad font! 

The first part of the comic also took different turns than I expected - I had most of it written out but then decided to discard a lot of the first, second, x drafts, in favor of what felt better, or indulging "what the comic really wanted to say". 

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It continues to take me a long time to work on this comic because writing and doing art for and lettering a full color comic takes many hours of thought at different levels. Oil painting feels like a break compared to it. It works for me to spend time on both, especially since paintings emerge into the world as physical objects, and the comic just lives in screens (for now).  So, painting is the day-by-day mini reward that helps me keep going through the comic. 

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All in all October was a solid month and November is off to a great start! Thanks for stopping by on the blog, and catch you soon! 

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