Friday, June 15, 2018

Getting Into Roses

Choosing a subject based on what’s in bloom at the time of our painting sessions led us to several weeks of roses in the summer of 2017. Until then, I’d never noticed how rose thorns are positioned, where buds form, how leaf colors and shapes vary. 

For me, there’s a constant struggle between painting precisely what I see/what is real and giving the piece a sense of spontaneity, even a sense of humor. If all we wanted to do was create an exact replica, we’d be photographing the subjects, or using another painting style. 





Monday, May 21, 2018

Paintings by Season

[This post is the latest in a series I started as a way to chart my development in Chinese watercolor painting. See the first entry here.]

Soon after my first lessons, I realized that the subjects we painted in each 6-week session were almost always tied to the seasons, and in particular, based on flora in our teacher’s own garden. Such an approach helps inspire us, and from a practical perspective, provides actual live subjects we can see and imitate.  



Summer 2017. The Lingnan School doesn’t rely on strict realism. Furthermore, our teacher often says we should, as artists, have some fun with our paintings. That’s my excuse for the various shortcomings on this rose and hummingbird painting! 

Pursuing a New Creative Outlet

While I still enjoy cooking (and eating!), serious gardening has taken a back seat to a new-found hobby of Chinese watercolor. Almost two years ago, I started taking lessons from Darlene Kaplan, a well-respected local artist. We grind our own ink, mix our own colors, and try to imitate as best we can the classic strokes and styles of the Lingnan School.

As a way to chart what I hope will be some improvement in my painting, I will post some of my projects on this blog. Please feel free to comment with constructive criticisms, and share your own works.





2016. One of my first paintings, this is a Eurasian Kingfisher. I hadn’t yet learned how to properly apply a wash to the background, and the bamboo isn’t realistic. Back to the drawing (painting) board! 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Wine Basics: Not Your Mama's Bootcamp

The explosion in the number of Virginia wineries in the last 20 years has bred a common weekend pastime: visiting the vineyards via any one of a number of different routes and areas. But those visits tend to revolve around tastings of that particular vineyard's products. That's not hard to understand -- they want to sell what they're peddling. There's nothing wrong with discovering new wines that way and learning what you like and don't like, but those tastings don't often result in much of an education about wine.

Winemaker Carl was informative
and entertaining.

Enter the Wine Bootcamp at Little Washington Vineyards. Held by winemaker Carl in one of the rooms next to the tasting room, the Wine Bootcamp was informative, relaxed, and fun.  In 2 hours we learned about the process of taking grapes from planting to harvest to fermentation to pressing, aging, racking, filtration and bottling. During the talk we had a chance to taste several wines from around the world that complemented the information Carl imparted. Here's where this winery differs from most of the others I've been to in Virginia: Instead of a focus on their own wines, we were introduced to wines from Chile, France, Italy, Uruguay, plus one from the U.S. -- a wine from Idaho. Yes, Idaho!

My personal fave -- Sawtooth Skyline
Red from Idaho.

Since we were there in summer, rosés were a topic of discussion and one of the wines we tasted. Carl quickly quashed the naysayers, explaining that rosé's reputation for being cloyingly sweet is inaccurate and likely a leftover from his generation's exposure to such sweet rosés as Mateus and Lancer's. We all had a good chuckle as we recalled what we thought was the height of sophistication in our late teens/early 20's.

About halfway through our class, we were ushered onto the deck with sandwiches that were carefully paired with a crisp sauvignon blanc while the staff changed our place settings for part two of the class -- chocolate pairings.

Sandwich break on the deck. This photo doesn't
do the pretty view justice.
When we returned to our seats, we each found three small chocolates -- one milk, one dark, and one chocolate-covered peppermint patty -- along with one white and two red wines. I was certain that the peppermint was some sort of joke or test to see if we'd foolishly screw up our palates. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised when we paired a bite of it with the sauvignon blanc. It was delicious! Carl explained the molecular pairing theory, the chemistry of why certain foods pair well with certain wines. The Sawtooth red was delicious with the dark chocolate. I'm not a fan of milk chocolate, so while its pairing with an Italian red bubbly was surely appropriate, it didn't do anything for me.

Chocolate pairing setup.

Carl imparted a healthy dose of practical information for dining out:

  • DON'T bother smelling a cork at the restaurant --  none of them smells good.
  • DO swirl the glass before tasting and accepting the wine you've ordered if it came with a natural cork; "corked" wine can destroy the wine with bacteria and smells like a wet paper bag. Swirl it, give it a few seconds, sip. Do it again. (Note that there's no risk of a corked wine with screw topped and synthetic corks.)


And for buying wines:

  • The ultra cheap wines (a certain "Chuck," for example) are high in arsenic and to be avoided. 
  • 2007 had a dry spring, which was good for Virginia wines. Conversely, spring 2016 was wet, so it's not likely to be a good year.
  • Virginia's Viogniers are best when they come from areas south of I-64. The weather is typically too cold north of 64 to sustain a successful harvest and a good wine. 


Little Washington has a number of award-winning wines they can be proud of, including George, its signature Meritage blend. George has been named the #1 red in Virginia and is a "frequent ringer of the $100 Bordeaux guess in blind tastings."

What a terrific afternoon. Little Washington offers several of these classes -- I think I might try Around the World in 80 Minutes, The World of Malbecs, or Virginia Versus the World next.  Thanks, Carl!