Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas cards present (2006)

Now that the Christmas cards for this year are in the mail, they can be revealed to the world:

This year's cards, like many of those in years past, reflect a place that I have been during the year that has made a real impression on me. This year it was Vermont. I went there in late September to visit some good friends, Celeste and James Bernard, and to consult with some of the folks at World Learning.

I stayed at the Green River Bridge House, which is owned and run by a remarkable woman named Joan Seymour. The house would be on the other side of the river just behind the covered bridge in the painting (if I had chosen to include it). She tells a remarkable story of her two-year rennovation of the house, which is worth the night's stay alone. But what is really special is the setting that includes both the covered bridge and the old Anglican church. The church, looking at the covered bridge painting, is on a hill across the river to the left of the bridge.

I didn't know when I was there that I was going to make these two items into Christmas cards. When I was there, the leaves were just beginning to turn for what happened to be a normally gorgeous fall season. As usual, I waited until late November to begin thinking about the cards, and I happened to come upon the pictures that I took while I was there as I was rifling through stuff trying to get an idea. The idea for these cards is the most important thing -- and the hardest.

When I saw these pictures, I tried to imagine them in the dead of winter and with snow all around (which, ironically I am told, hasn't happened much so far this year). Getting the design together some shortly after the idea phase, and I did that with a couple of sketches (below). The sketch of the church was made when I was sitting in our end of the semester faculty at the University of Tennessee.

The other sketch came from my looking directly at one of the pictures that I took while I was there. I had taken several good ones, but the angle of this one was good enough to give a clear idea of the bridge. My big problem was cutting a lot of things out, including the guest house.

The next step in the process is getting an outline of the picture I am doing on tracing paper (right). This allows me to maintain the proportions of the sketch as I transfer it onto the watercolor paper that I am using. Here is the ssecret to doing a batch of cards (the 20 to 30 that I normally do). Each is individually painted, but the sketch or drawing is essentially the same, which saves loads of time.

Thus, a good idea equals a good drawing, which eventually equals a good sketch. It has to be simple. There's not a lot of time or space to do details. But it also needs to be expressive so that the viewer will react is some way -- positively, we hope -- to both the scene and the interpretation.

And finally, we hope that it will wish them a Merry Christmas -- as I do to the viewers of the blog.

To you all, the merriest of Christmases and the happiest of New Years.

Jim Stovall

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