Alley Patrol

This bitter cold day with residual ice and snow reminds me of a day about a year ago when I was preparing to teach a watercolor workshop.  Two teaching goals ever at the top of my list are to find unique subject matter and methods that are interesting to students of either gender and the teacher.

I personally enjoy painting doors, and I had never assigned that subject in any of my previous workshops. Painting very old doors with colorful peeling paint that showed through another layer of a different color of peeling paint sounded fun and instructive.

Artistically anticipating the changing seasons and holidays is not my forte.  For instance, I get excited about painting poinsettias during the Christmas season, and the resulting paintings are invariably ready to hang for Valentine’s Day.  Paintings that include patriotic themes or flags are ready to frame about August 15. I paint spring in summer, Christmas after the New Year, Fall in Winter. But No one is interested in Easter themes for Mother’s Day. Should I say I am very early or a bit behind?

At least last year I realized that the first assignment to paint a weathered door could be repeated as a second assignment by adding snow flurries, a few icicles hanging from the door handle, or snow that fell softly into a small pile on top of an as yet unused door handle or collected on the top edge of a raised door panel. And for once, what I had in mind was perfectly “in season.” Like today, it was cold, with ice and snow on the ground. My photographs didn’t show flurries, icicles, or collected snow, but we could invent those details for the subsequent assignment.

Even though it was really cold, the need for reference photos for my students sent me outdoors with my camera to hunt for old doors that had unusual handles, broken screens or windows, layers of peeling paint, cracked walls, rust, and maybe even graffiti.  I hoped to take enough door photos so each student could choose a different reference photograph.   I soon realized the best doors for my purpose were back doors of the old buildings downtown.

If anyone saw me that afternoon, driving slowly down the alleys, parking at odd angles, sometimes stopping to take a photo from my open car window in an effort to stay close to the car heater, I would surely have been suspect. At least I wasn’t wearing a mask. Luckily no one called the police, thinking I was planning a robbery.

The image I’m sharing today was the demonstration painting I did in the first class to show students some techniques to effect a weathered door.  Finding a pleasing abstracted design of a portion of my own reference photo, I chose to paint only part of a door. It had the advantage of having several weathered textures - a broken stucco wall with underlying bricks exposed, a rusty screen, weathered wood, and rusty metal screws and nails.

My students enjoyed painting old doors. They did a great job, and I was proud that each put something of themselves into their paintings rather than replicating the reference photo.