Flowing in Frame

Bonny Lundy’s Watercolors Reveal Impressions of Nature

By Jeanne Blackburn | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 07.27.18 – In the Studio, Lifestyles

Anyone who’s ever attempted to paint with watercolor knows the frustration of trying to control the unpredictable medium. Unlike its responsible cousins oil and acrylic, watercolor lacks the ability to behave.

That is, except when it is tamed by Bonny Lundy, an artist who embraces and leverages watercolor’s erratic nature. “The fluidity that allows magical surprises is like exploring new possibilities every time—that’s the appeal of watercolor,” she says. “I start by letting the pigment move through water—colors interact, making expressive forms with the values appearing early and mingling possibilities of watercolor.”

She knew watercolor was her medium from the start. “I felt it, and had the urge to create and excel in it and paint every day,” she says. From her Pleasant View Studio in Brookeville she is enveloped by the beauty of nature that inspires most of her work. The scenic vistas and the topography in the region is reminiscent of the beauty of Western Pennsylvania that surrounded her growing up.

“As a child who spent a lot of time on my own, I loved being out in nature. My creative mind wakes up every time I see the Catoctin Mountains behind Frederick or Gambrill State Park, the lakes and ponds,” she says, ticking off some of her favorite painting locations around Frederick. The rolling hills and streams pique her interest during all seasons of the year. Once she’s out in nature, the trees, field shapes, gardens, flowers and farms—blending with the smells of the changing of seasons—all fuel the fire of her creativity.

Nature as inspiration is just that—a launch pad for her creativity. She is not a photo realist painter. “I may see a field that has particularly appealing shapes or colors and begin to arrange things as I would like to see them, changing color and moving or eliminating trees, for instance,” she explains.

Her work, while it appears invitingly simple, is rather complex—a mix of hard and soft edges, colors that either stay put or run together in some pre-ordained way or placement. Using a mixing palette, just four or five pigments are used in most of her watercolors.

She has a distinctive style, easily recognizable in local galleries and shows, that is best described as “abstract realism.” It’s a style that’s evolved over time and was originally inspired by well-known practitioners of the medium, initially that of Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet, and the poetic paintings of Albert Pinkham Ryder. Later influences included the colors and techniques of the modernists like John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe and Milton Avery.

There was a time of change, however, when she went through a period of reining herself in, focusing on teaching herself composition, color harmony and drawing, because she felt the need to develop some discipline through learning “the rules” of the craft. “Without order, painting becomes chaotic. Now when I paint I follow some rules and disregard others, depending on what seems appropriate for the painting,” she says. This is where abstraction enters. “I’ve learned to be true to myself through spontaneity, conveying emotion through inventive color and shape, contrast, simplicity, and rhythm. These are the most important elements of my style.”

About her approach to constructing a painting, she says, “I like to establish darks early for strength. My compositions are developed intuitively and in the process a focal point can emerge. Sometimes from the beginning there is one shape in the landscape that goes in first, establishing its importance.” She is a colorist and from the start loved the transparency of watercolor. “I like to use expressive colors and contrast, developing an area leading the eye to the focal point.”

Surprisingly, her colors of choice are not always totally within nature. She sees the nuances of color in everyday objects and is able to pick out and highlight the reds and yellows in brown, the blues and yellows in green. She not only sees but is able to depict on paper the subtle colors in nature that only an experienced and discerning eye can detect. These are the elements of nature that fascinate her and inspire her work. “The soft haze of color tints that form in early spring, the bright contrast of snow and trees, the sound of a stream, forest, mountains in the Shenandoah” have all been subjects of her expressive talent, and need to create.

Lundy is also a teacher. The art of seeing much more than the obvious color in a subject and the interplay of light and shadow is also what she encourages in her students. Many of her classes are titled “Flowing Watercolor” and it’s an accurate description of the techniques she employs to achieve the style for which she is so recognizable. It also indicates her lighthearted approach to teaching her craft, and the fun she expects each student to have, not only while in class with her, but also while painting on their own—indoors or en plein air. Her dedication to watercolor is never diminished by her admonition to have fun, and encouraging her students to enjoy the process of chasing pigmented water across a piece of paper accounts for the popularity of her classes and workshops.

“Watercolor can be restrictive in that there is often no way to alter something that went wrong. When dealing with elements like water, the student needs to learn to let the medium do its magic while simultaneously controlling it,” she says.

As a teacher she encourages each student to find her or his own style; she’s not interested in cloning others. “It is important to me that students do not copy exactly what I do, but use what I do as a jumping point for their own experience. This is a more thoughtful way to learn if the person truly wants to develop their style,” she says. “I want to empower my students with the tools and confidence in their own voice that it takes to create a great work of art.”

To that end, her classes and workshops include demonstrations in not only color blending but also instruction in some of the techniques she uses to achieve varying effects. As she demonstrates, she doles out a bit of art history, citing the works of watercolorists known for their very distinct styles and the ones who have influenced her work and the evolution of her style.

“It is most important for a student to know from the start that anything is possible. To be open, patient and accepting of what appears as one creates is the key to using what we already innately have. It is wonderful watching people find answers, improve, change and grow. Everything creative is connected.”

The real joy, for Bonny Lundy, comes in helping others make that connection.