Inspired by a New Medium / by Sam Abelow

My younger sister had been doing incredible work during her last few semesters as an art minor at Miami University. Now that she is back home her materials were available to borrow. It has been a long time since I had the opportunity to paint, since my massive piles of acrylic and oil paint materials have been packed away.

These three studies are literally my first attempts at watercolor (possibly since I was in elementary school). Why I never delved into this technique of visual art I am not sure, but these initial attempts have revealed increasing confidence and appreciation for the medium.

"Nude with Flowers"

For my first attempt at watercolor, I found a source material and did a quick ink drawing. I didn’t want to become too invested in the sketch when I was not confident in the coloring that would come next. I enjoyed mixing the skin tones, recalling color theory from my work in acrylic and oil paint.

"African Bather"

Happy with the results the next day I spent more time rendering an image of a reclining woman, in a foreign, historical setting. I was inspired the cinematic and surreal imagery as well as the opportunity to challenge myself with mixing subtle skin tones. I worked for several hours, feeling rather confident with the watercolor medium, despite very little practice. I was happy with the results, but still felt as though the work is a study and not a finished art piece.

Later that day, after hours of meditating, chanting and doing yoga postures outdoors, I came back inside and composed this portrait, without much conscious thought. It seemed natural to portray myself in an ancient Egyptian posture.

I decided to place little cartoons of animals that represents elements of my psyche. I purposefully chose creatures of the water, which I connect to deeply and consistently over the years of inner travels. Dolphins and whales represent the spiritual ecstasy, oceanic bliss, while the alligator and snakes symbolize the more primitive, instinctual aspects.

Lastly, I suddenly decided to place a Kali-Shakti-esque erotic Goddess in the corner. Her position is contorted, like the statues of Shakti, seen in antiquity. The Eastern feminine figure can be interpreted as a representation of my inner muse; the anima awakened.

Ther overall composition certainly pays homage to my favorite folk art and primitive art. Particularly evident is the influence of various works exhibited by the Smithsonian museum, in their "Yoga: The Art of Transformation" collection. My recent effort bears resemblance, to a particular series of Persian compositions, used for spreading knowledge of Yoga to Sufis, entitled the "Ocean of Life".

"Laying in Lace"

The following morning, I searched through a collection of references and found an image that struck me. I knew it would be challenging to render the shadows of the lace on the body. I slowly and meticulously distinguished where lines and forms should be placed. Periodically, I tested my work in the traditional manner, measuring with my pencil and checking against the source material. 

When I was content with the pencil drawing, I inked it. Then it was time for the watercolor. I moved slowly, building up layers of color. I kept a discerning eye, looking out for the variations in shade; sublet grey, off white, pale skin tones. Eventually, I felt there had been enough buildup of color and contrasting value. I recognized that there could be more intensity between the darkest darks and lightest lights, but had been working for several hours and decided to abandon the painting, calling it “complete”.

I intend to move forward with this fascination with watercolor by practicing and developing skills doing highly representational art, from reference material. When I have a strong connection with the medium, I will go onto doing more stylistic pieces. I hope to develop a unique theme, that is recognizable and cohesive.