Qalupalik – Blame it on the Photographer!

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Blame it on the Photographer!

The photo above was taken by a photographer called Kirk Alkire and is the photograph that changed my theme – a photograph that captures everything I love in one single image …. colour, light, water, flowers and sunsets.  The photograph caught something in me that made me stop and look and just enjoy …. you feel you could sit behind the flowers and just look at the scene and be absorbed in its beauty and atmosphere.  The photograph captures a moment in time and in beauty at Parsons Lake, Nikiski, Alaska

This single photograph taken had by 23 July been shared over 5000 times and had over 20000 ‘likes’ on Facebook and prompted me to get in touch with the photographer to ask his permission if I could study his work and use some of his photographs for my theme as he had captured my imagination so deeply. Very happily Mr Alkire replied and gave me permission with absolute pleasure – I also have his very kind permission to reproduce his photographs for my theme book and blog. The only agreement is that I always let Mr Alkire know how I use his work which I will be doing so with absolute joy.

A personal side to this theme is that in 1997 my late Mum and Dad drove a 10,000 mile round trip from their adopted home in Florida to Alaska and back.  Mum spoke so much of the flowers and fauna and scenery of Alaska and said there was every colour you could imagine in clear hues and beauty that you had never seen before.  I have a few photographs from that trip that I will add into the theme book and combine with Mr Alkire’s for inspiration but there is one of his that taken at exactly the same spot as one I have of my late Mum and their car – for me this personal connection to Alaska means I know I will be able to put my heart into this theme and as it turns out there are other connections too.

So firstly who is Kirk Alkire?  the best answer I can give is in his own words from an email he sent to me:

“Kirk Alkire is an Alaska based photographer who enjoys capturing his adventures ‘field to frame’ across Alaska through the lens of his camera.
Kirk spent a career serving in the US Army traveling the world.  Upon retirement from the Army, he started RMEVET Photography.
He is motivated by sharing his pictures with those less fortunate than him because of their physical or mental disabilities to get outdoors. Brightening someones day with the beauty outside is something he is very passionate about. Kirk and his full time assistant Hatcher Jack, can be found outdoors year-round in any weather conditions capturing the beauty that lies all around us. “
Hatcher Jack is Mr Alkires much loved dog who clearly enjoys his role as assistant!
So now I guess I had better explain the title to the theme!  I had debated for a few days what to call it and freely admit to putting out a request on an OCA Facebook page and the suggestion was for Qalupalik which is an Inuit legend albeit not a too pleasant one but then a fellow student explained why he had suggested this and I quote:   “If I’ve understood the legend correctly the Qalupalik took wayward children and then brought them up as her own. That struck me as an interesting metaphor for the way art develops – we take ideas/inspirations from a range of places and then shape them to our own thoughts and needs.”  I added ‘Blame it on the Photographer’ as a tongue in cheek reference to the photograph which has captured my imagination so much and also mean it very much as a compliment too as already doing the initial sketches has given me so much enjoyment.
The photograph below is of the front cover of my initial A3 sketchbook/theme book and also shows more of Mr Alkire’s amazing photographs and also gives an idea of how hard it will be to choose other specific ones to work from!

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My first painting I did as part of a summer sketchbook challenge on Facebook (mentioned too in other blog posts) and done on my now favourite NOT watercolour paper with watercolour paints.

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My initial idea was to concentrate on shapes and try doing this similar to ‘paint by numbers’ but with less concentration on defined leaves and flowers in the foreground.  I still cannot make up my mind on this particular picture as I do not feel it ‘up to standard’ as a watercolour painting but at the same time I like the colours of the sky and the slightly abstract effect of the foreground – it could work as a textile piece whether stitched or printed and in fabrics or yarns or maybe even silk painted.  The sky is something that I would like to take from this piece and work on separately and I feel is the strongest section for me.

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As I was not happy with the first trial I decided to try a different version but this time on a pale blue Murano paper which I had never used before.  For this one I decided to concentrate more on the flowers (believe they are the Alaskan White Fireweed and quite elusive from what I have seen Mr Alkire write on RMEVET’s Facebook page).  I wanted to keep the leaves and stems quite loose in form and to remember the lessons taught in the mark making exercises of the first assignment of this course.  I also tried using a wet-on-wet technique for the sky but found the paper meant the watercolour paint dried very quickly so had to wet the paper more than normal.  The only area I really do not like on both of the paintings so far is the suns rays as although they are very uniform I am not an painter by nature and found them more difficult to try to capture.  Again like the above picture I can still see how this painting can be used but maybe using individual sections rather than the whole piece – for this one I like the sky again as the colours are stronger but my favoured part is the Fireweed as it is more delicate and loose and can see it translating into stitch very effectively.

…. and then there is the piece that meant I admire any artist who did the pointillism technique more than ever (and Georges Seurat who invented the technique and his piece called The Bathers is directly responsible for me trying it!)…… the patience involved is staggering!

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This piece was purely done in watercolour and using a Round brush (number 6) and only lightly touched to the paper.  The A3 piece took over 5 hours and I literally didn’t move as it was more addictive than I expected. I I have included a photocopy of part of the piece in  my actual sketchbook as the original is being framed for near my desk. I am much happier with how the sun’s rays appear in this piece and love the overall delicate effect of the pointillism style.  The obvious reaction to it was that I can see how this would translate into French knots and would look absolutely wonderful.

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I decided to do a second version of this but using the pointillism style only for the sky and then adding dash-like marks for the water and a more painterly style for the Fireweed in the foreground.  I also did used more variety of colours in the sky and used a bit of artistic interpretation with the Fireweed and added in more oranges and yellows to emphasize the colours along with making the leaves more green and browns and therefore bringing them forward even more.  I also decided to try taking out the land at the horizon which changed the image from that of a sunset over a lake to that of sunset over the sea and the Fireweed takes on the appearance of fauna on dunes – this was an interesting lesson in how simple changes can totally change the look and atmosphere of a piece of work.  I do like the fact that this painting seems more textural – in part this is the use of the NOT watercolour paper but mainly due to the different styles I believe for each section of the piece.  Like the first painting in pointillism style I can see how this will very easily translate into a stitched piece with different stitches for each section and perhaps with this one including some printed or painted areas and this would work wonderfully well on silk.

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Unusually for me I decided to try a tonal and mark making study next – thinking of Van Gogh’s use of marks when he did his pen and ink studies.  I tried to go more for an impression of the photograph and the textures of the scene rather than accuracy and to give me an idea of stitches – I kept my use of pencils to a few basic ones including 2b, 6B, 2h and 6h to create the tones.  I also tried using a rubber for the first time to rub out the suns rays – simple technique with results I liked.  This has become one of my favourite of the sketches and I am  looking for some sepia coloured ink to try a similar one in pen and ink in the style of Van Gogh.

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After doing the pencil sketch I wanted to try using another colour paper and this time chose a black Murano with some oil pastels recently purchased.  This pushed me to use brighter colours and more definition.  Again I used other colours in addition to pink for the Fireweed – purple and yellow.   I did two versions of this because the first is also being framed as I really like the way it has turned out.  The lines and marks are simple but with shading and I kept the style loose and free and can really see how the background again changes the look totally – this a definite for trying on black fabric with a different selection of stitches (French knots for the flowers and perhaps inverted fly stitch for parts of the leaves and stems).  This piece would also work as a silk painted and stitched textile work too – the silk would have to be a cream with black added very sparingly to prevent losing the colours unless a different type of fabric paint was used that ‘sat’ on top of the fabric rather than being absorbed by it as normal silk paint is.

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As a final pastel sketch I decided to ditch normal colours and try a more psychedelic look …. much harder than it looks to do orange see and red and green sky!!  This was done on grey Murano paper and a real lesson on colours but I freely admit I love it! By doing this I can see again how simple changes can totally change the look of an image of change and even though it is done in the same style as the pastel work on black paper it looks completely different so an interesting and enjoyable experiment.

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In the last of the series of ‘sketches’ to date (2 August 2015) I decided to try doing a collage or mixed media piece …. for this I used a combination of blue tissue paper, cardboard, blue acetate style wrapping paper. pastels,   brown garden string plus pink, orange and purple tissue paper.  I cropped the picture to concentrate just on the Fireweed in front of the setting sun and again used a little artistic licence with the colours for the flowers so they would pick out the colours of the sun more.  The combination of media shows me how this could work in different fabrics and yarns again and I am starting to really understand how the use of different drawing and collage techniques can be use.

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Throughout all the sketches and paintings I have kept a record of watercolours colours used and also what colours I mixed as a source for future reference and also  a small section showing the individual pastel colours.  This record is at the front of the sketchbook for easy reference – it is surprising just how many colours I used throughout as it started to build up but also a useful practice to get into.

Before I go any further with the sketchbook I decided to take photographs of two colour bags – one is full of bright colours and the other is a more muted palette that I was originally thinking of for another theme but am thinking of using a combination of both at this stage.

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Looking at both photos above I prefer the more pastel threads and yarns but also am aware of some of the other colours in Mr Alkire’s photographs so feel it is likely to be this selection with a few added brighter colours for highlights but this is a decision that I have time to make.

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I have added small samples of the fabrics on the left into my sketchbook as these are some Egyptian cotton hand-dyed fabrics in my collection I purchased simply because I liked them (and knew eventually I would use them!) and also a piece of ice-dyed fabric that I had dyed last summer – the ice dyeing seems an appropriate technique for this theme and also have some blue ice-dyed fabric too which will be added to this selection.

In addition I have one small piece of fabric that is the remnant of a some purchased in Alaska by my late Mum and the colours are of the pastels bag of threads above – this is only a tiny scrap but it will be added to the sketchbook for inspiration on colours and also reminds me of the shapes of the glaciers which I believe were behind the fabric design itself.

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At this point my ideas are to start some stitched samples and possible on a cream hessian background or one of the cotton ice-dyed fabrics to see where this particular photograph takes me but I also have another 6 or so photographs that I am looking at too with a view to see where I can go with them too.

I guess my own journey through Alaska has just really begun….

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