|Guide to Good Eats|
Cover Artist Helen Krayenhoff
On Light, Color, and Nature
When I paint with watercolor, I first observe the light and dark areas and how the contrast between them creates the shapes I perceive. Where does an object face the sun? What part of it is hidden from the light? How do gradations of tone between light and the absence of light fill the spaces between?
As I start to paint, I decide where I want white or light tones and apply little or no paint to those areas. I try to recreate the colors I see in my subjects as simply as possible. For many years I have mostly used the same eight paint colors and now instinctively know how to mix them to get what I want.
In the painting on the cover, “Home from the Market,” I wanted to show not only the fall produce I find at the farmers’ markets, but also the distinctive quality of autumn light. At some point near the end of August, there is a day when I remark to myself that the light has changed and the colors are back. The blasting summer sun that bleached out colors is gone, and the now-slanting rays create more and darker shadows. This is a favorite annual moment. It always moves me to paint.
To revel in nature’s variety, I often choose plants or vegetables to paint. I’m drawn to beauty, but my curiosity is also piqued by the mysteries of nature’s processes. I can watch insects for hours, noticing how flower color attracts them. I see how the garden produces food in the sunny spots and inedible beauty in the shady areas. I am in awe of the generosity of nature, and I strive to follow its model.
For years I have lived with and learned from plants in our garden. More recently I have started to experience them in a new way as I discover pigments in some of them that I can use for dyeing natural fiber. What alchemy is at work as I simmer magenta salvia flowers and end up with green wool? As I grow traditional dye plants and dye brightly colored sock yarn, I marvel at how these colors are so different from my watercolors. Many are very complex, and sometimes it’s nearly impossible to find a succinct name to describe the colors they produce or photograph them authentically, since they can look very different in artificial versus sunlight. But wonderfully, they all look good together!
While my British-brand watercolor paints are made in France, the dyes I extract from plants originate in my garden or come from foraged plants and trees in my neighborhood. They are site specific, and most importantly to me, a reflection of this time and place in my life and community.