30-in30: Painting a quick watercolor portrait

Portrait of Lee Watercolor in 500 Series Mixed Media Hardbound Art Journal
Portrait of Lee
Watercolor in 500 Series Mixed Media Hardbound Art Journal

People often ask if I paint portraits from life. Yes, I do, and I prefer it actually. But no one wants to sit still for that as many hours as it takes me to paint a portrait.

But as part of my 30 in 30 challenge (30 days of painting for at least an hour a day from life only), I persuaded a visiting friend to sit for me for about 2 hours. We were listening to my fiddler and her banjo-player have some major old-time tunes, and she was itching to dance (she’s an avid and talented dancer). Between the wiggles and the occasional clogging break, I managed to get this quick portrait of her.

By the way, if you’re looking for a journal that will take watercolor, I suggest the Strathmore 500 Series Mixed Media Hardbound Art Journal. It will take several sloppy washes and a lot of pigment with only a minimal amount of buckling. And the image doesn’t bleed through to the other side too much, which makes it useful for journaling. And the binding is a sort of fake leathery-looking material, so it feels a bit rich and special, which we all need sometimes.

 

You can hear the music here:

 

 

30 in 30: A shadow-box still life of a deer antler teaches me the value of composition and simplicity

Why, oh why do I always gravitate towards the complex, the difficult, the ornate?

This antler (naturally shed, I’ve been assured) was just given to me. How exciting! I’ve wanted to make some antler images for a long time, but deer aren’t just dropping their horns all over the place in the Bay Area. This antler was actually the reason I finally got myself together to make a shadow box for still lives.

I will admit, this painting took me longer than the hour I’ve allowed for the 30-in-30 challenge; I worked on it for about 2.5 hours. So much for my day. But I love the shadow box!

What’s wrong with this painting

When I complain to the fiddler about my paintings, his question to me is always, what’s wrong with it and how can you fix it? So I thought I’d publicly pick this one apart a little.

Part of the problem is the placement of the antler in the space. The paper is 8″ x 10″. You can see that, while the shape of the antler is interesting, it’s not really filling the space.

The solution

With our friend Photoshop, I cropped the painting.

Antler (cropped) Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press
Antler (cropped)
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

That is much better. Now the beautiful spaces between the horns are more noticeable, and the shapes the object makes against the background are more interesting. The antler fills the space, and gives the eye a shorter distance to move to the edges of the paper, which helps lead the viewer around the painting.

Another problem is that I didn’t take time to draw the antler carefully, and pay attention to the form shadows. I’ll be revisiting this subject in charcoal, so seek a better understanding of how it takes up space.

Antler (close up) Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press
Antler (close up)
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

Here’s a close up. I tried to simplify the bumpy parts of the horn, while still wrapping my mind around all the patterns of the littler forms.

Next painting? Maybe something simple. An egg?

 

30 in 30: Painting loose watercolor trees with wet-on-wet and plenty of puddles

Jan9_Trees
Trees outside my window, January 9 Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

Some days you just want to slop paint on paper. I woke up with a yen to work wet on wet (I normally work wet over dry).

My friend Cynthia Brannvall once said to me that she liked art that suggested rather than described, so that she could make up her own story. I try for that in my work, but my literal mind often wants to control my hand. I love how sometimes watercolor will puddle into suggestions, the less help from me, the better.

Note to self: play more.

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 a shell in watercolor

Shell painting
January 4: Shell in window
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

I needed a change from cyclamen and orchids, so I chose a conch shell that reminds me of my years living in the tropical seas. During the chilly mountain winter I sometimes miss the torrid tropical heat.

This complicated subject really begs to be a long, painstakingly arduous still life. All the while maintaining the freshness of this hour-long sketch. Super exciting!

The secret to creating the glow of sun through shell is in making your dark values deep enough to contrast with the lights, all the while avoiding the chalkiness that sometimes comes from dark watercolor pigment. This means I had to lay down multiple translucent layers of progressively darker paint. I use Arches #300 paper because it soaks in the moisture and dries faster than the thinner papers. Try it; it’s worth the expense.

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.

Daily painting

December 31, 2014 Watercolor on #140 Arches
December 31, 2014
Watercolor on #140 Arches

I don’t normally go for internet challenges; what seems like a good idea at the beginning of the month often feels like torture by the end of the month.

But since I’d already made my own challenge to paint regularly during the month of January (barring any offers of full-time employment!), I have decided to participate in Leslie Saeta’s Thirty Paintings in Thirty Days.

Cyclamen
January 1, 2014
Watercolor on #140 Arches

Most of my paintings take many hours to complete; I’m slow and I’m fine with that. But I’m also going to try to complete one small painting a day in one hour. Why one hour? I want to figure out how to draw something quickly, make design decisions on the fly, and  describe something in color accurately and without over thinking.  I want to experiment, and have some fun with paint.

January 2, 2014 Watercolor on #140 Arches
January 2, 2014
Watercolor on #140 Arches

There might be a lot of posting this January. If a painting is ugly, should I still post? Should experiments see the light of the internet? What do you think?