Definitely Try THIS in a Small Town

“Harrodsburg, Kentucky” (watercolor, 9 x 12 in.)

“In the mid-80s, as an ambitious student from Japan, I traveled to the United States for the first time to spend a summer in rural Kentucky,” says Keiko Tanabe. “Eager to experience the American way of living that I watched only in movies and popular TV sitcoms, I was welcomed into a wonderful family with four kids in a small town of Lebanon and lived a life of an American teenager with my American brothers and sisters around the same age. For a city girl who never left Japan prior, I found each day to be an episode of culture shock, but thanks to my host family who kept me busy with all kinds of activities and day trips, I soon adjusted quite comfortably to a different way of life, and even did some work as a cultural ambassador to school children I met there.

“The summer in Kentucky was a life-changing event for me and it eventually impacted my decision to return to the US to live years later. My American family has always been very supportive as I’ve gone through various life events, even though we didn’t see each other for decades, and I must say that it means so much that they own some of my paintings.

Another view Harrodsburg, Kentucky, in watercolor

“Just recently I had an opportunity to teach a workshop not far from Cincinnati and realized I was pretty close to Kentucky, so I decided to make a trip to Lebanon to see my ‘big sister’ and ‘younger brother. As I drove there, the beautiful scenery of rolling hills of bluegrass and farmlands ingrained in my mind from years ago almost brought tears to my eye. I felt very emotional when they said ‘welcome home’ to me and we talked as if time stood still. I realized then that the landscape evoked so much emotion in me because I already had a sense of connection to the people and the land I got to know in the past.

“Harrodsburg, the oldest town in Kentucky, is one of the places that my host family took me to and I’m glad that I re-visited this time to paint this street scene and a few more. The simple beauty and the serenity of it was an attraction to me because it represented the way I remember the area. I also loved the lovely color contrast of brick houses with green roofs and trees but had to make sure that the shadows in the foreground would add necessary excitement that I felt this painting needed.

“Like the last time, I left Kentucky with wonderful memories along with a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon.”

In “Storytelling with Watercolor,” Keiko Tanabe shows you how to choose what’s important for your paintings, what to leave out, and when to imply objects rather than including lots of detail.


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PleinAir Magazine and American Watercolor Weekly Editor-in-Chief With more than 20 years experience in art publishing, Kelly Kane has served previously as Editor-in-Chief of Watercolor Artist magazine and Content Director for The Artist’s Magazine, Drawing, Acrylic Artist, and Pastel Journal. She has interviewed many of the preeminent artists of our time and written numerous articles about painting, drawing, art education and art history. She is now the Editor-in-Chief of PleinAir Magazine and the American Watercolor Weekly newsletter. Click here to send her an email.

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