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 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!

Drawing a candle holder for beginning a watercolor painting


After all those eggs, it feels good to be painting something else besides eggs. Well, and eggs too.

Graphite on paper underdrawing for beginning a painting
Graphite on paper underdrawing for beginning a painting

This is how I start a drawing; by measuring the angles, horizontal lines, and vertical lines. It’s kind of like using a grid. For subjects that aren’t so man-made as this candle holder, I can often hold the grid and the lines in my head, but for this I needed to make sure that my horizontals were level (I tend to drift down when I draw horizontal lines), and that my verticals were really straight up and down. Before I start to paint, I’ll erase many of these lines, and lighten the rest. I’ll also erase lines that need to be soft edges, so that I don’t forget when I’m in the heat of applying pigment.

I’m not quite done with this drawing. There are a few area I want to perfect. But it’s pretty close. It’s been for this image that I’ve painted all those darn eggs.

Now I’m going to get to paint something else, and I’m eggs-cited.


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.

30-in-30: Watercolor painting is not a cup of tea

Teapot Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

Despite my best intentions to control my time, this painting of a little tea pot got away from me. I spent far more than one hour on it and it’s only beginning to be what I want it to be.

I worked hard on the initial drawing. I wanted it to be correct before I began splashing paint around, as pencil is easier to change than watercolor. But I could have worked on it longer; man made objects are hard to draw accurately.

Now the question is, should I work on it a few more hours, or should I give up and start over with a fresh drawing of a better composition? One of my favorite painters, Thomas Aquinas Daly, might simply scrub out parts of the painting. Sometimes I think we give up too soon on paintings, so I’ll keep hacking at this one until it’s destroyed or becomes a better painting.

Plus I’ll start something new tomorrow.

Teapot Close up Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press
Teapot Close up
Watercolor on Arches #300 hot press

Thought it might be interesting to see some of the brush strokes.

Open Studio Profile: Karen Olsen

Today you’ll be able to visit the 5 artists profiled at Mockingbirds at midnight. I do hope you’ll come let us delight you with our offerings!

The last artist interview for Silicon Valley Open Studios is with Karen Olsen. Karen paints beautiful landscapes in oil and watercolor, and her career in graphic design is evident in the strong designs and bold shapes she uses for her paintings.

Late Light at Grand Canyon Watercolor © 2014 Karen Olsen
Late Light at Grand Canyon
18″ x 24″ watercolor on Arches
© 2014 Karen Olsen

Describe your artistic journey
I was one of those kids who drew from the time I could hold a pencil, but my mother, who was very talented but had an unfortunate career path as an artist, encouraged me to pursue anything except art.  In my early twenties, I learned to paint in watercolor, and I dabbled in it between feedings of my newborn daughter, but still with little serious intent.  My life took an unexpected turn after that, and I was on my own, needing to make a living.  I eventually landed in the graphic design field, and for 25 years I have made my living in it.  Another life surprise recently brought me back to painting, and I now consider that I have a dual career as both designer and fine artist.

Where has art taken you in life?
I think my previous answer covers this…

Gnarled Tree at Canyon Rim Watercolor © 2014 Karen Olsen
Gnarled Tree at Canyon Rim
12″ x 16″ watercolor on Arches
© 2014 Karen Olsen

What do you think about when you begin painting?
First thought: “I wonder whether I can pull this one off??!!”

Yes, that’s sort of a joke.  But in a way it’s not at all.  Each blank sheet of paper or canvas is the beginning of a new adventure.  I may be trying a new brush, a new color, a new technique I want to experiment with, or a type of subject I haven’t done before.  Or maybe a subject I’ve done but want to see if I do better.  If it’s plein air, it’s new and unknown every single time!  Weather, changing light, curious onlookers, even bugs make for interesting challenges when painting outdoors.  So…to answer the question—I try to assess the environment I’m in and what I want to achieve, then try to figure out how to go about it.

Runner at Papohaku Beach, Molokai Oil © 2014 Karen Olsen
Runner at Papohaku Beach, Molokai
32″ x 40″ oil on canvas
© 2014 Karen Olsen

Tell me about one of your favorite paintings or drawings that you’ve made. Why is it your favorite?
Gee, I guess I’d have to select one of my Hawaiian or Grand Canyon subjects.  They are my favorites because of the joyful personal experiences that went into their creation, and which I hope are passed along through the eyes and into the hearts of the people who see them.

If you could ask one question of an artist you admire, who would it be, and what would you ask?
This isn’t an easy one.  I’ll let you pick…I can’t.  🙂

to Anders Zorn: “Your stunningly beautiful watercolor painting Sommarnöje (Summer pleasure) is so evocative, and so…well…Swedish!  It’s one of my favorites.  How long did it take you to make it?”

to Monet and friends I’d ask: “Hey, can I come out and paint with you guys one of these days?  I’ll bring a picnic…”

to Georgia O’Keeffe I probably wouldn’t ask anything.  I’d just tell her, “I could look at these paintings forever…except after a while, they make me DIZZY!”

and to Leonardo: “Who is that lady?”

You can see more of Karen’s work at  www.karenolsenfineart.com

Karen Olsen will be exhibiting May 10-11 at 1471 Hollidale Court, Los Altos, CA 94024 and May 17-18 at  247 Velarde, Mountain View.

Open Studios starts this Saturday! 

Silicon Valley Open Studios

May 3-4

What a way to spend a day: Looking at contemporary art made by local artists.

This year, I’ll be exhibiting my artwork. I’ll have my watercolors, illustrations, and prints available for sale, many for the first time ever.

I’d love to see you there. Step up and say hello, and mention you read my blog and that you know the secret word, and you’ll get 15% off on all purchases of finished prints and paintings at my tent only.

But what’s the secret word?

Here it is. I’ll tell you. But shhhh, it’s a secret.

Secret word
Zingen (it means to sing in Yiddish)

And for a show special, I’ll be offering a 10% discount on all portrait commissions engaged this weekend.

See you there!

The other artists exhibiting at this site will be:

Elyse Dunnahoo

Brian Corral

JoAnne Perez Robinson

Where we’ll be this weekend:

May 3 – 4, Site 72: 1191 Sherman Avenue, Menlo Park, CA 94025  (click on the map to go to Google maps.) We’ll be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Open Studios 11-5
Open Studios

Things learned and a few abstractions

Abstract 1
Abstract 1

Last week I lived beyond cell phone and internet reach as I  attended a week long workshop taught by watercolorist Ted Nuttall. As I expected, I learned so much (yes, the back of my head blew off a couple times!). Let me share just a few of the most important concepts I took away from this wonderful experience..

1. Slow down. No, I mean s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. I spent a lot of time thinking about my next brush stroke. Where should it go? What color should it be? How would it react with the other colors already on the paper? When I finally acted, it was with intention rather than panicked splashiness.

Abstract 2
Abstract 2

2. Think abstractly. This was probably the single most important concept I tried to internalize. I’ve been unhappy with my work lately, finding it a bit flat, and lacking the broken color and fine edges that make my head ring with internal music. By concentrating on making each small passage its own tiny abstract painting, (that of course, relates to the whole image) I was able to add interest and visual variety to otherwise flat passages.

Abstract 3
Abstract 3

3. Think color. I tend to get stuck in one single color: orangey-red flesh tone. But that’s not what a person looks like. Skin tones are made up of many different hues and chromas. By varying color, saturation, and value, the painting is not only more exciting, but more like life. So I went (a little) crazy with color, using combinations I don’t normally choose.

Abstract 4
Abstract 4

4. Be uncomfortable. I made a decision that every brush stroke I put down would make me uncomfortable. I not only walked a watercolor tight rope, but I bounced a bit on the artistic high wire.  Sometimes my brushstrokes set me teetering and wheeling, but after a bit of nail biting (and whining), I regained my balance and continued  painting. You know what? Those seemingly near disasters turned out to be the best parts of the painting.

My workshop painting is still not quite finished, so I’ll not post it yet, but I’ve cropped a few of the tiny abstract paintings that make up the whole. I find them quite lovely all by themselves.