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capturing Light

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S: Capturing Light with Loose Painting and Tight Control in Transparent Watercolor

BC: Peggy Flora Zalucha is a product of the 60's. When she went to college, it was considered "inappropriate" for a woman to work for a studio degree in a small private institution, so she got her BFA as a teacher. She has been learning ever since. In the mid-century world of abstraction, she was taken by the ideas being developed by the photo-realists. Having been raised with a camera in one hand and a darkroom in the basement, she was drawn to the work of Close, Cottingham, Estes, and many others. However, she preferred making room for expression, emotion, and creativity in developing representational art, and worked to be imaginative with the camera as well as the palette and brush. In 1980 she put aside acrylics and canvas for watercolor or acrylic on paper. Soon after, Peggy became a member of the National Society of Painters in Casein & Acrylic and the National Watercolor Society, winning first place at the NWS National Juried Exhibition in 1987. She is also a signature member of the American Watercolor Society, Watercolor USA Honor Society and many others. Peggy enjoys a life of painting, teaching, business, gardening and travel with her husband Tony. She is a full time artist committed to the recognition of watermedia on paper; dedicated to exploring and experimenting with the medium, pushing the limits so the viewer will constantly be stimulated by her images and by the medium. She also owns and runs a graphic design studio that specializes in graphics for hospitals.. | Peggy Flora Zalucha Currently lives in Mount Horeb, WI USA Born 1948 Peoria IL, USA 1971 Married to L. Anthony Zalucha, PhD 1972 BFA Degree from Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, IL USA 1992 Completion Certificate / Short Painting Program, Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou, China Signature Member of the National Watercolor Society (from 1983), National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylic (from 1983), Wisconsin Visual Artists (formerly Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors/ Artists in all Media from 1985), Transparent Watercolor Society of America (from 1988), American Watercolor Society (from 1992), Rocky Mountain Watercolor Society (from 1996), Watercolor Honor Society (from 1999) also: Rotary International (from 1999). cover: Sunflower Serenade, 26” x 40” transparent watercolor on 260lb. d’Arches rough watercolor paper

FC: Peggy Flora Zalucha Capturing Light with Loose Painting and Tight Control in Transparent Watercolor

1: This essay was written for an article to be included in a book about American Watercolor Painters for the Chinese Public. The text was written to accommodate the translator. Artist's Statement Peggy Flora Zalucha © 1992 These paintings celebrate the familiar. They dignify the everyday objects which surround us, exalting real worth and beauty which too often the world fails to notice. These paintings celebrate the humble. No subject is too pedestrian, too ordinary to glorify in a classic still-life setting, each characterizing the idiom of our daily life. These paintings celebrate the overlooked. They express the hidden significance in what others discount as trivial. These paintings celebrate the commonplace. They urge the viewer to observe the reality that lies below the surface of a cosmopolitan world. These paintings display beauty in simplicity, objects draped in warm, rich light, shimmering with the elegance of reflected light, disclosing the vibrant colors hidden in the mundane. These paintings show great respect for a medium which is much misunderstood. They break away from the misguided idea that watercolor is merely a fugitive sketch medium, instead introducing techniques that utilize the jewel-like qualities of the pigments, creating permanent images enhanced by their transparent and brilliant colors. These paintings reject the negative and overblown jargon of so much contemporary art. Rather, they invite the viewer to luxuriate in the simple pleasures of living. They are, in short, modern examples of genre painting. Much more than mere description, they express and reflect the unpretentious good life of late 20th century middle-class America. But in so doing the ordinary becomes an expression of the privileged, and like their Dutch antecedents, the paintings present a simple moral, defining the underpinnings of a class and a way of life which contrasts so dramatically with that of others. All artworks in this publication are subject to copyrights © Peggy Flora Zalucha

2: Capturing Light with Loose Painting and Tight Control in Transparent Watercolor By Peggy Flora Zalucha My paintings are watermedia on paper, consisting mostly of transparent watercolor and, at times, acrylic washes and india ink. Through exploration of the medium, I have created representational images, which are both pleasing and stimulating to the viewer, and which reflect the vigor and excitement with which I approach my painting as well. The Photo-representational school of art that developed in mid-twentieth century USA had a strong influence on me. Pop Culture was also a compelling force. It was one of the biggest art movements of the twentieth century and is characterized by themes and techniques drawn from popular mass culture, such as television, movies, advertising and comic books. Humor was a strong part of the art being created at that time. I enjoy being a product of those movements. In times of political and economic depression, people want to see art that reflects their feelings. They also want to see art that amuses or fulfills them. This is what I hope my art delivers. I consider myself a photographer who needed to have a hand in the final image. When I was a child, my father gave me and my siblings cameras and a dark room to develop the photos. Although I loved doing that, I felt that I needed to take the photograph to a different level. I started before computers were available to enhance, distort and manipulate photos. I did my own manipulations and enhancements on the paper. I wanted the image to appear realistic but with more of everything: more color, more contrast and more intensity. Some artists develop a series of paintings in which they repeatedly explore on the same subject over for a long period of time. My series paintings are long term but not one after another. I am constantly working between two different series: floral environments and still lives. After painting a few pieces in one series, I will alternate to paint a few in the other. In this way, I am able to keep each idea fresh and, in many cases, solve problems in one series by coming at them in a different manner in the other. Occasionally, I will try something totally different, such as a landscape or figure, in order to work out a problem that does not lend itself to my other series. Sometimes, I do not revisit a subject for many

3: years because I am not sure that I have anything more to add to the topic. Then, I realize that I know more about the subject, about myself or more about how to paint better than I did before. It becomes important to me to address the ideas again. It may be that my copper pot series, for example, may stretch 35 years from the first painting to the last one, with 20 or 30 paintings in between. The development of the series is a progression, not forced, but rather a natural evolution. Florals and still-lives enable me to convey a modern view of traditional subjects. I use the botanical paintings to explore color, pattern and texture. The paintings have a strong underlying design quality, which, when combined with confident, aggressive painting techniques, create pieces that have a firm sense of direction and a clear goal. The object paintings that I create are based strongly in the traditions of still life painting. I try to make them a statement of contemporary culture, specifically dealing with items that relate to me and to my everyday existence. Thus, all of the paintings that I create have a direct connection to me. The flowers may be in my garden. The people may be relatives. The objects are from my house. In some cases, I even put myself into the paintings as a reflection. This tells the world that I am here. There are several objects that have specific meanings in my paintings. Consistently, the red carnation represents me. Maps used in paintings reflect areas where I live and travel. Shoes, teapots, glasses and keys are all mine. I have a strong emotional attachment to red and use it to grasp attention. Often, I reflect myself in my paintings. With my objects and my reflection, many of the paintings are self portraits. Both the content and the composition are of primary importance to me. With each painting, I propose to create a new problem within these realms, then proceed to solve it. Typical problems might include developing an unusual light source, finding a way to make light and color move around a painting, creating a painting with no background or using nontraditional materials to create unusual effects. Since watercolor is an elusive medium that cannot easily be reworked, I take major steps a little at a time, working my way through technical and conceptual problems slowly. By this method, I have evolved techniques and ideas which are recognizably my own. I am not afraid to tackle problems in watercolor that may seem insurmountable because of the perceived limitations of the medium.

4: Breaking away from the traditional western idea that watercolor is a quick sketch medium, I treat it as the significant art form I understand it to be, spending many days or weeks on each painting, using permanent pigments and acid free papers. It is my intention to make paintings that utilize the jewel-like qualities of watercolor by developing techniques that enhance its transparency and brilliant color. Slowly the medium is gaining the recognition in the United States that it deserves. Since watercolor, in the past, has been considered a weak ineffectual medium, artists who use it with control and dynamism have a whole new world open to them. It is my intention to explore this world revealing it to the viewer through experimentation and, by pushing the limits of the medium, to constantly stimulate. I begin a painting or series of paintings by using the camera as my sketchpad. When I decide to work on a new object painting, I collect my items and photograph them outside. There is nothing better than direct light! On a sunny day, I will set aside several hours to photograph these items. As I begin looking at the design in the lens of the camera, I will move things around, just to see what will happen. I ask myself how the color or shadow of one item will affect the item next to it. I wonder if it would be better if there were more or less items. I shoot pictures, hoping that I will be able to capture the qualities that I am searching for. For objects that are reflective, I am very conscious of the surrounding areas and the reflections that are mirrored in the items. I carry my camera everywhere I go. I never know when I may encounter a scene that I would like to make into a painting. On occasion, I will visit gardens, greenhouses or parks in order to capture floral images. I prefer close up photos of flowers, thinking of them as portraits. My husband is a hobby gardener who specializes in peonies. I have always loved painting them and have created many paintings of the beautiful flowers. Given my photograph collection, I can paint florals even in the dead of winter when there are no gardens, just fields of white snow. For many years I took pictures with slide film. Often I would shoot 100 or more reference photos. Now, I use a digital camera. With this tool and my computer, I can shoot as many pictures as I wish and can see the results almost instantly, allowing minute adjustments that were impossible to do before.

5: The pictures can be used exactly as shot or manipulated in the computer. Either way, they are sent to a lab to be made into a slide. Using a common technique, I project the slide image onto the paper that I will be painting on. When I went to college I was an oil painter, so I learned to paint standing at an easel. I still paint vertically, managing the paint carefully so that it does not drip down the paper. My paper choice is always d’Arches French rough paper. I buy the material in rolls or in sheets. The rolls are 140 lb. and 51 inches wide by 10 yards, allowing for very large paintings. When selecting sheets, I prefer 26 by 40 inch paper size or 22 x 30 inch, a standard size in the US. Although I typically use 140 lb. sheets, I will use 300lb. paper when it is available. I use any brand of tube watercolor paint that is rated lightfast and order all of my supplies except brushes using the Internet. I use synthetic brushes most of the time. Since I do not take care of my brushes very well so I buy inexpensive ones. I like the qualities of dry pan watercolors so I squeeze pigment out of the tube into the palette and allow them to dry to a hard rock-like consistency. This is very destructive to the brushes so they wear out very quickly. Because of the detail work that I do, I prefer small pointed or rounded brushes with a snap or a spring to them. In my opinion, all types of water-soluble media -watercolor, acrylic or ink- can be used in creating a painting. Some artists can make a painting using only a few pigments. I cannot. My palettes have 60 or more colors on them. Every paint maker manufactures their pigment differently. For example, I have four types of cobalt blue. Each has a different quality of graininess. I want to have access to those various properties at all times. I use paint trays that have many wells. Each well has a different pigment and each tray as its own color character. I have trays of reds, blues, yellows, greens, purples and neutrals which include blacks, browns and ochres. It is my preference to mix the pigments directly on the paper as I create. This allows me to utilize the properties of the paints as they mix naturally. When preparing the paper for painting, I wet it thoroughly and tape or pin it to a large sheet of Styrofoam that is mounted on a wall in my studio. This stretching process removes any curl from the paper and allows it to expand and contract fully as the paper dries leaving a tight flat surface. Because of this process, the paper will not distort as much as it would have during the actual painting process. While it is drying, I set up the slide projector so that the image is shown on the paper satisfactorily.

6: At this point, some artists will draw their design using the projected image as a guideline. I do not. I leave the projector on during the entire painting process. I can see a dim picture of my subject at all times. As I paint, the projected image is obscured by the intensity of the paint. When beginning a painting, I develop a plan for its completion. I mentally divide the image into many small images, separating myself from the big picture and concentrating on what are, in effect, small abstract areas. This allows me to analyze the small area I am focusing on. I ask myself questions about the color and value that I perceive. For example, I may know that the color of the object that I am going to paint is blue. I ask myself, am I really seeing blue? Or am I seeing a deep purple, light blue and violet with tints of orange? Then, I paint the section with the colors I perceive in my mind not with the color that my mind tells me it should be. To control the painting process, I do one of two things. I either put water only on the areas where I will apply paint or I mask those areas where I do not want paint. For the former, I put a wash of clean water on the area to receive paint, not enough to make a puddle but enough to have the paper glisten. I then load my brush with pigment, placing the paint onto the wet surface. The paint floats on the water allowing me to push it around with my brush. I can add several different colors to the wet area allowing the pigments to mingle. I can blend and add until the wet area is the way I want it to be. At that point, I can dry the area quickly using a heat gun or hair dryer or I can let it dry naturally, allowing the colors to continue to combine or resist each other. If I mask an area, I prefer to use masking tape, although I sometimes use maskoid (a removable liquid frisket). When making my own mask using tape, I place the tape on the paper in the area that I want to mask. Using the projected image as a guideline, I draw the edges with pen on the tape, remove the tape and then hand cut the area that I need to mask using scissors. When I reposition the tape onto the paper, I have an excellent mask of the area. Because the smaller areas are masked, I can be very loose in those areas. This allows me to use the natural qualities of watercolor paint and paper to their best advantage. I remove the tape when the section I am working on is completed. I may then cut another mask to protect the area just completed. When it is necessary to leave a small area of the paper unpainted, I usually just paint around it rather than cut a mask. It is easier for me.

7: Each of these sections is a small “wet-on-wet’ painting to me. Whether I am working on an area that is a flower petal, a crystal glass or a musical instrument, I want to make sure that the area is filled with beautiful color. Some of these sections may be as small as a coin or as large as a head. When the painting is done, all of these various sections will come together to create the whole. When I am working, I do not think about the subject but approach the painting as a nonobjective color and value exercise. That way, I can concentrate on the shapes and not the whole image. I keep a consistent pallet in mind, using the same variety of pigments throughout. This maintains a continuity of color throughout the painting. Slowly, I work my way across the paintings, inch by inch. Sometimes I start in the center and sometimes on the edge. If there is something unusually difficult in a painting, I will paint that first. That way, if I make a mistake, I won’t have wasted many hours of work. I also like it when the most difficult part of the painting is finished so everything else seems easy or, I should say, easier. It is usually not difficult for me to tell when a painting is done. Sometimes, I may think I have a painting done, only to decide later that it is not. After looking at it for a long time, it may become clear that there is something that I can do to make it better or more complete. Some paintings have been actively worked on for twenty years. One thing that has assisted me over the years is finding a group of accomplished artists to converse with. Before computers, it was not easy to find people of similar interests in my geographic area. Fortunately, there were a few and we became good friends. We discussed art, opportunities, materials and all things watercolor. Now, using the Internet, my support group has expanded. These artists are sharing, caring people who want to see all those in the group succeed. If one of us knows of an opportunity we pass that information on to the others. If one of us has an art related problem, we write to the others for advice and solutions. And if one of us has had a wonderful experience, we all celebrate. I must emphasize the importance of finding positive art influences in order to find success.e to interact on a very deep level. I am very grateful that art has given me so many marvelous experiences.

8: Peony Bloom 24” x 24”, transparent watercolor on d’Arches rough watercolor paper from the roll Over the years, I have taken hundreds of photos of peonies and have painted pictures of many of them. I paint each petal one at a time. Before starting, I decided that I wanted the flower to have a balance of three quarters warm colors and one quarter cool colors. Most of the petals have both warm and cool. Each petal was painted as if it was a small abstract watercolor painting and has at least 3 pigments in it. The colors are blended on the paper and allowed to dry naturally. Shadows are painted as a wash over the previously painted petal. The extreme darkness of the background forces the flower to jump forward in the eye of the viewer. This painting took about 3 weeks to complete and is part of my permanent collection, which means that it is one of my favorites. | Self Portrait paintings come in all different styles. Most are direct paintings of the artist. I prefer to paint pictures of my objects as indicators of who I am. When I take a picture with reflective surfaces, I am often reflected in the objects. As the artist, I can determine what parts of the photo I want to use. I this "copper pots" case, I decided to allow my reflection to play a prominent role in the image. My face is reflected in the bottom right pot lid and also in a few other places in the painting.

9: Copper Pots with Artist Reflected 26” x 40” transparent watercolor on 260lb. d’Arches rough watercolor paper

10: Still Life with Keys and Glasses 26” x 40”, transparent watercolor and india ink detail on d’Arches rough sheet watercolor paper This painting is a self portrait. I was invited to participate in a show with the theme “Travel”. Instead of using my traditional background materials of newspaper or mylar, I decided to use a map of the areas that I travel when delivering art. The glasses and the car keys represent me. When creating paintings with objects such as this, I prefer a point of view from above. This eliminates the problem of how to rectify the forground with the background. Each word and line is painted onto the paper very carefully to make sure that all map information is accurate.

11: Transitions in Blue 26” x 40” transparent watercolor on 160lb. d’Arches rough watercolor paper This painting was created to commemorate a new beginning for an orchestra. The original conductor died and a new conductor had replaced him. I wanted to express the new beginning. This is a composite image using three different photographs. First was the butterfly, which is in a case in my home. Second was the flower from my garden. Third was the plate, music and blue and white cloth. Utilizing the computer and Adobe Photoshop program, I brought the images together to create the cohesive design. A slide was made of the computer file and I projected the image onto my paper as usual.

12: Still Life with Red Carnation, 26” x 40”, transparent watercolor with india ink detail on 260lb. d’Arches rough sheet watercolor paper

13: Still Life with Red Carnation, Although a typical self portrait features a face of the artist, my self-portraits feature my objects. The red carnation signifies me in my paintings. The red shoes and teapot are favorite red items of mine. The background of colored comic pages allow me to bounce bright colors throughout the painting. When depicting paper, I first make an under painting of it as it would be without any printing or color on it. This allows me to render the curves, folds, shadows and highlights of the paper. Once that part is very dry, I draw the design on the paper with india ink and again wait for it to dry thoroughly. The red shoes, teapot and flower are under painted in a contrasting blue and green color. When dry, a red color wash is painted over the blue and green values. Finally, the colors of the newspaper comics are the last to be glazed onto the painting. A glaze is the application of one paint color over a previous paint layer, with the new paint layer diluted sufficiently to allow the first color to show through. | Red Still Life with Pearls 26” x 40”, transparent watercolor with india ink detail on 260lb. d’Arches rough sheet watercolor paper As so many artists do, I work in series. This painting is an evolution of my “Red Shoes” grouping. Same subjects, different twists.

14: Still Life with Flute and Flower 26” x 40”, transparent watercolor with india ink detail on 260lb. d’Arches rough sheet watercolor paper For twenty-five years, I created paintings that were used as a fundraising promotion for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. When I decided to retire from that project, my final painting addressed my thoughts about those years. Usually, the red carnation represents me but in this case the white flower represents me. The flute is an instrument that I have had since I was 10 years old. The oriental papers in the background represent the direction of my life including many trips to Asia. The lines of the oriental papers are drawn with india ink. I painted small areas of the painting to completion then moved on to paint other areas. The last step of the painting was to put a wash over everything but the flute and the flower so that those objects would stand out against the busy background.

15: Petunias Aglow 26” x 40” transparent watercolor on 260lb. d’Arches rough watercolor paper This watercolor is an example of developing an atmosphere using color. By using cool colors of blue, turquoise and violet I indicated the idea of late afternoon. The petals were painted individually. Then, when the paint was very dry, I painted a glaze depicting the cast shadows on top of the previous painted area. High contrast between the white flowers and the deep green of the background adds to the drama of the painting. The purple, blue and turquoise colors are introduced into the leaf areas to maintain a color harmony.

16: Brio Blue Bottles 18” x 30” transparent watercolor on 140lb. d’Arches rough watercolor paper Many of my paintings feature red so I decided to create a project for myself in which blue was the primary color and red was an accent . After collecting many blue glass bottles, I photographed the items. In order to have interesting colors reflected into the blue glass, I placed red, tan and black papers behind them. The reference for this photo was manipulated in the computer using the Adobe Photoshop program. Cameras will distort the angles of objects. Sometimes I will allow the distortion to stay in my compositions but not in this painting. I aligned all the edges of the bottles to a grid so that they would stand perfectly. There is no layering in this painting. Each section was painted directly in one session. The brush is loaded with a great deal of pigment to make sure of the intensity of the color remains when it is dry.

17: Pansy in Glass Reflected 20” x 30” transparent watercolor on 140lb. d’Arches rough watercolor paper The photo setup for this painting was created outside. Using a shiny metallic mylar, I pulled the mylar so that there would be interesting reflections. The rose, leaves and glass are reflected in the shiny surface, as are reflections of the sky and trees nearby. The reflective background creates interesting abstract shapes and distorted colors. The viewer needs to spend time looking at the image to decide what was real and what was reflected. I have done many paintings with foil or mylar. I can have color shooting through the background of the painting bringing energy to all parts of the painting. The paintings with foil in the background were the precursors for the newspaper or map surfaces.

18: The Harley 51” x 96”, transparent watercolor and acrylic paint on 140 lb. d’Arches rough watercolor paper from the roll

19: The Motorcycle is one of the largest watermedia paintings I have made. It took about 3 months to complete. I painted all of the black areas in acrylic first, letting it dry completely. Next, I worked on one small area of the painting at a time. In order to create changes from light to dark, I painted washes of watercolor to create a value structure using neutral colors. An example of that would be in the large red areas of the painting. In these sections, the under painting was done in washes of dark paint and allowed to dry completely. To finish, an intense wash of transparent red paint was brushed over the area. All whites are unpainted areas, not white paint. All of the acrylic black areas received washes of intense transparent blue paint to give them luminosity and interest. My legs in black slacks can be seen reflected in the bottom center of the painting.

20: Copper Pots Reflected #8 15” x 22” transparent watercolor on 149lb. d’Arches rough watercolor paper My copper pots are a favorite subject for me. They reflect the environment and they reflect themselves. When painting these, I separate myself from the subject and think about the design and the colors I am seeing. Using the projected photo helps me to analyze what colors I am seeing. Then, once I have determined those colors, I can exaggerate and enhance them. As the artist, I can determine what parts of the photo I want to use. In this case, I decided not to allow my reflection to play a prominent role in the image so I left myself out.

21: Brass and Bouquet 26” x 40” transparent watercolor on 260lb. d’Arches rough sheet watercolor paper This painting pulls together all that I love: music, flowers, color, light and reflections. Although this is a very complicated composition, by breaking the painting into very small sections, I was able to pull it all together. Because the composition was developed when using the camera to capture the image, I was able to plan every detail of the design before I started. In my photograph, there was nothing but a dark background on the right side. By placing more flowers behind the horn, I was able to keep the excitement and the action of the design alive rather than have a large uninteresting dark area there. I did put a purple wash over that background area in order to push it back in the painting and to keep it from competing directly with the foreground flowers.

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