Carol Creel, renowned Baton Rouge watercolorist, will not be running out of subjects any time soon. Filing cabinets line one wall of her home studio, overflowing with hundreds of photographs. Recently, Carol flipped through the photographs waiting to be filed. “I was in San Miguel De Allende [Mexico] in August, with seven other artists. We are all going to paint some paintings and have a joint show in the fall,” Carol said, spreading seven photographs of a bird of paradise on her workbench. “I take two, three, four rolls of film for each subject. After that, I look at all the photographs, and some really great photographs wouldn’t make really great paintings. I often have to mix various elements, taking, for example, the play of light on one leaf, and transferring that light onto another picture which has a greater variety of shadows.”
Across the room, on a large easel, rests a new work by Creel in the second stage of her process. “Once I have decided how I want the painting to look, I draw a sketch on 300-pound weight watercolor paper, which has a smooth surface so I can get a lot of detail,” Carol said, tracing the intricate folds of her latest floral study. Every line seems purposeful; each leaf and petal works toward the artist’s purpose.
Carol believes that two of the most important things to know about your painting are where to start and where to finish. “If I am painting a person, I always start with the eyes; the eyes are the heart of the painting. And if I am painting a flower, I start with the center of the flower, because the center is the heart of the flower.” Returning to the photographs of the bird of paradise, Carol points out how in one photograph the light filtering through the leaves is broken up by shadows cast from the center of the flower. “This will be the heart of my painting.”
Carol did not only find flowers in San Miguel. She returned home with a wealth of portraits as well. “I took pictures of people on the street, and one of the pictures I took was of a beggar lady, and, from her face and her clothes, I could tell she had a story. As an artist you have to wonder what the story is.” Carol decided the beggar woman of San Miguel’s story was best told through her eyes. The finished portrait, which is surprisingly crisp for a watercolor painting, does not include the woman’s outstretched hand, but focuses interest on the silent plea in her eyes. “When people see a woman with her hand out, they tend to look away, to assume they know her story. I wanted people to look at her, to slow down and really see her.” The cracks and crevices of the beggar woman’s face are a roadmap to her past. As a viewer, taking the time to make the journey, however, is well worth the effort.
“Deciding when to finish can take a little bit of time. You can continue tweaking it, just doing one more thing forever, but you have to know when to stop. I knew this painting of the beggar woman was done, the same way I know all my paintings are done. I hang the painting up for a few days and don’t let myself touch it. If after a week I walk by and there is nothing that jumps out screaming at me, then I know the painting is complete.”
Using this method, Creel has become one of Baton Rouge’s most prolific artists. “I usually have a painting I’m working on at any given time, and I have never left a painting unfinished. One advantage to watercolors is that they dry so quickly that there is no need to have four or five paintings going [simultaneously]. I can focus completely on one subject at a time.”
“This is helpful when teaching watercolor painting as well,” Carol explained, “my students aren’t overwhelmed by having five paintings going at once.” In addition to adding to her ever growing body of work, Carol also finds time to give private lessons to aspiring watercolorists. Every Monday and Thursday Carol transforms her home into a workshop, instructing six to seven students at a time. Carol’s students learn the methods and techniques, which have made Carol a staple of the Louisiana art scene.
Carol’s first student, Hazel Hardy has been taking classes with the watercolorist since 1990. “It’s just stimulating to have someone as enthusiastic about art as Carol is. And she is the best technique teacher in art anywhere, Hazel explained. “She shows you what really works in composition the right balance of forms and values. She points out details you would have missed; it opens up a whole new world.”
An accomplished artist and teacher, the works of Carol Creel are not to be missed.
Thomas Moran hopes to continue playing Cupid for the arts-bringing artists and patrons together on the pages of Country Roads.
For Further Exploration:
A large sampling of Carol Creel’s work, twenty-plus watercolor paintings of varying size depicting still-lifes and floral designs, will be on display March 14 to May 8 at The Grapevine Market and Cafe – 211 Railroad Avenue, Donaldsonville, La.; (225) 473-8463 Featured among the works on exhibit is Delft Blue, a study of light, lace and cherries that appeared in the Summer 2004 issue of Watercolor Magazine.
Carol Creel: www.carolcreel.com
Grapevine Market and Café: www.grapevinemarketandcafe.com