30-in-30: Drapery in watercolor, with orange

Watercolor painting of dishcloth and orange
Dishcloth with orange
Watercolor on #140 Arches cold press

I really want to title this, “It’s a dishcloth, fella. Orange you glad you asked?” But I thought I’d be kind.

Here are the thoughts I had about painting drapery in the aftermath of a frustrating morning:

  • Take time setting up the subject. You want an interesting composition, with large shapes that are easy to see.
  • Plan the color scheme carefully. Remember what Jeanne Dobie says about “mouse power.” Those rodent-grays will make the saturated color glow.
  • Before you start slopping paint around, plan the highlight patterns. They will lead the eye and give shape to the drapery.
  • Draw the shapes of  the darkest shadows, and figure out how you can simplify them and connect them. This helps keep the painting from looking splotchy.
  • Then figure out your large shapes. Think of them as zones. Which zone will you use as the focal part of the painting? That should have the most contrast, the brightest colors. Which zone is closest to the light? Furthest? Paint accordingly.
  • Don’t get too dark too fast. It doesn’t give you any room to play.
  • Think more about the edges. For instance, figure out which side of a fold has soft edges (and maybe both sides of the fold have soft edges).
  • When painting the soft edges, don’t get all blendy. It looks mushy. If you look closely, there are some hard and soft edges in the rounded folds. They might be low contrast, but they are there.
  • Think more about reflected light.
  • Remember what Ted Nuttall says about shapes. Each shape should be it’s own tiny abstract painting.

It’s important to learn how to paint draped cloth for many reasons (like if you want to put clothing on your live model!). But as I was painting this, I realized how similar the folds in cloth are to the folds of hills and valleys in the landscape.

Drapery. More interesting but not as hard as eggs.




30-in-30: Painting a white dishcloth in watercolor is better than doing the dishes

White dishcloth with orange Watercolor on #140 Canson cold press
White dishcloth with orange
Watercolor on #140 Canson cold press

I swore that I’d give myself only one hour for this little painting. Honestly, I did.

But after about three brush strokes into this piece I knew that the kind of detailed work I love to do wasn’t going to be possible. I tried to tackle too much information in a short period of time and a small space.

The best thing to do in that situation is to work on just the large masses, so I concentrated on the dark and light patterns to strengthen the composition. And I tried to limit my time on it, in order to make big decisions rapidly.

It’s been a long time since I drew value studies of drapery. As you well know, drawing is the foundation of painting. I see a month of drawing in my future.

30-in-30: Painting an orange in watercolor is sweeter than painting an egg

Orange with cloth 5" x 7" watercolor on #140 Canson cold press
Orange with cloth
5″ x 7″ watercolor on #140 Canson cold press

I’ve been working hard on the Candled Egg painting, and I’m almost finished with it. After working on it for the last 4 mornings, I was tired of painting in such a restricted fashion (choosing colors carefully, debating about shapes and brush strokes, trying for realism), so today I gave myself an hour to paint this cheeky little orange on a dish cloth.

I’ll post about the Candled Egg soon, but that might be a series of very long posts, and I need to attend to business offline.

Happy Monday, everybody!

30-in-30: Going east at dusk, watercolor in hand

Jan22_LandscapeJournalJan21_LandscapesThese are what my car-journal pages look like. The smaller rectangles are 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches, and the vertical rectangles are whatever size my little heart desires.

We don’t travel much, so I don’t always remember what colors are in my little travel palette. It helps to make a little swatch palette before I begin (that’s why there are twelve color swatches all in a row on the page at top).

Interstate 680 through Pleasanton at dusk
Interstate 680 through Pleasanton at dusk

30-in-30: Plein air watercolor painting at 60 miles-per-hour

Distant water 3.5" x 2.5"  watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Distant water
3.5″ x 2.5″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

This week I had to make a sojourn to the Bay Area. The fiddler likes to drive, so while the fiddler steered the infernal combustion machine, I painted.

I love passenger-seat painting. Give me a wide enough view and a straight enough road (I suffer from motion sickness), and I can paint for miles.

In the studio, it’s easy to get in that zone of hyper-focus where thought takes a backseat to conscious action. If you’re a painter, you know what I mean. Pick up some color with the brush, dab it on—ooo pretty—dab some more—ooo pretty pretty—dab, dab, dab—pretty pretty pretty—dab, no, wait, dang it, arggh! What have I done? If you don’t pause and move back, pretty soon you’ve created a muddy mess.

Green Hill 3.5" x 2.5"  watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Green Hill
3.5″ x 2.5″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

Painting landscape studies in the car (while someone else is driving—duh!) is a good way to break that kind of zen-zoned out paint daubing. You can’t focus for very long on one scene, because the scene changes minute-by-minute. So you have to make your decisions rapidly and correctly.

Fallow field 3.5" x 2.5"  watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Fallow field
3.5″ x 2.5″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

All you have time to do in the car is decide on a quick composition, draw the big shapes, get the right color and value on the palette, and paint the shapes. I start with the sky first usually, the brightest and lightest shape. The jiggling of the car prohibits any attention to detail; it’s all about composition, color and shape.

I love these little watercolors. The challenge is to bring this freshness and life into larger studio paintings.

Winter trees 3" x 6" watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal
Winter trees
3″ x 6″ watercolor in Strathmore Mixed Media Journal

30-in-30: One more egg in watercolor before I crack

I woke up this morning all fired up to paint another egg. After reading my friend’s email, and studying Jean Dobie’s book Making Color Sing and Exploring Color by Nita Leland, I had a plan.

Egg 5 Watercolor on #300 Arches hot press
Egg 5
Watercolor on #300 Arches hot press

1. Make sure the whole egg had tone Without paint on the paper, it’s hard to show the hotspot of the highlight.

2. Up planes are cool, down planes are warm I can see this on the egg in the shadow box. Now that I’m thinking to look for it. Funny how you can look and look and look at thing, and not really see it until it’s pointed out to you.

This little practice egg shows my plan perfectly. It took less than five minutes to make this.


3. Have a plan Cerulean blue would be the midtone on the top of the egg, with a dash of ultramarine blue at the part closest to me. An orange-yellow on the bottom of the lit side, and a grayed-down purple for the “bed-bug” line where the shaded side of the egg meets the lit side. And a nice pink color for the reflected light on the bottom of the shaded side.


4. Use grays to pop colors  Jean Dobie suggests mixing grays from complimentary colors to help pop the pure colors. I spent a lot of time thinking about grays, and about which grays should be adjacent to which colors.


5. Don’t over work  Yeah. Right.

What am I looking for with all these eggs? Last night I spent a lot of time thinking about where I’m going with this. I am looking for the freshness of these little splashes of color you see here, but with the depth of an old-master style still life. Is that even possible? I’m not sure, but evidently I will obsess about it until I figure it out.

Reader, how do you solve your obsessions?


30-in-30: Eggs, eggs, eggs, all eggs, all the time

Egg 4 Watercolor on #300 Arches hot press
Egg 4
Watercolor on #300 Arches hot press

Dear reader, are you getting tired of eggs? I know I am.

But it’s not just eggs I’m painting, I’m trying to get the hang of painting a sphere. I have to admit, I’m frustrated. These eggs are not coming out like the pictures in my head. Today I emailed a friend of mine, Doreen Barton, who is a wonderful painter (really, go look at her work). She sent me a list of color temperature “rules” to think about and some suggestions; this one helped me the most:

But attack it another way – how would you “model” the form with pencil/graphite, i.e., the only area where you didn’t apply graphite would be the highlight?  In that case only the highlight could be white because you wanted the viewer not to understand that the egg is white, but to clearly see the form with all of its imperfections.  It’s another way of defining the light/shadow values.”

Funny how advice you’ve heard a million times takes further repetition to make you listen. That bit of advise—the only area where you didn’t apply graphite would be the highlight—freed me to put more tone on the lit side of the egg. I had to scrub and sand away some of the dark value, because I belatedly realized that my drawing, done in a hurry, was way off.

I also pulled out a stack of blue paints that I’ve had in a drawer. I’ve been using Ted Nuttall’s palette since last March, and I finally realized that it was too high key for what I wanted.

Color chart
Color chart

This batch of blues has pthalo blue (top left) and my favorite dark blue, Maya dark blue (bottom middle) from Daniel Smith, the two colors I went to for this egg. It’s beginning to look like what I’m after, but it’s still not there. You know what that means.

Another egg.

30-in-30: Watercolor still-life painting in a low-key color scheme

Milk Creamer and Eggs Watercolor on #300 Arches hot press
Creamer and Eggs
Watercolor on #300 Arches hot press

I’m still painting eggs this January, but I decided to add another element.

I know I’m not handling these white subjects in a traditional watercolor fashion that’s light and delicate and high-key. I’m trying to find a way to make a low-key painting with watercolor because A. The high-contrast Dutch and Flemish genre style master paintings (think Vermeer and Rembrandt) set my brain on fire, and B. I’m trying to push my watercolors to be more.

I like the work in the pitcher spout and the eggs.

Milk Creamer and Eggs (close up)
Milk Creamer and Eggs (close up)

But there’s still not enough contrast between the pitcher and the background. So after I scanned this painting, I went back for a quick, devil-may-care splash at the easel. What the heck. I wasn’t happy with the painting anyway.

Milk Creamer and Eggs (State 2) Watercolor on #300 Arches hot press
Milk Creamer and Eggs (State 2)
Watercolor on #300 Arches hot press

After washing the background with several layer of ultramarine blue, terra rosa, and some dark greeny-blue that has no name in my palette,  the contrast is working better. And now I’m starting to get a more textured background, which I also like. I’ve sanded the background twice with a rough grit sand paper, and applied multiple layers of paint, but it wasn’t until I started to put more paint on the paper that things started happening.

Sometimes it pays to have courage with watercolor.

This is part of a series exploring one 1-hour painting (nearly) every day in January as part of Leslie Saeta’s series, Thirty Paintings in Thirty Days. To see my experience with the entire series, click on the category, 30 in 30, at right.

30-in-30: Painting another darn watercolor egg

Egg 3 Watercolor on #300 Arches hot press
Egg 3
Watercolor on #300 Arches hot press

Yes, it’s another egg. I guess you could say I have a series of eggs now. It’s a good exercise to paint an egg. I’ll probably paint more of them.

This was a business day for me, so I really only had an hour to paint this egg. I wanted to see if I could paint something like Egg 2, only paint it in a shorter amount of time.