Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas 2010

I've prepared Christmas cards for this year, and I've modified my usual painting of a snowy barn -- and instead painted a snowy house.

This is the house that's been the subject of an ongoing project for many, many months. The house was the childhood home of my father, and it was destroyed in a fire around 30 years ago.

Dad has wanted me to paint it for years. The problem has been that there are no photographs of the house...only random slivers accidentally included in family snapshots.

So I've created this painting from a composite of images. I'm also now working on the larger painting of the house, which will be completed in time for Christmas. I'll post pictures of that project when I am closer to its completion.

In other news, one of my lunchtime paintings has been included in the "First Art Show" in Winchester, Va. The show is in its third year, and proceeds from the show go to support First Night Winchester -- an organization that plans family-oriented entertainment for New Year's Eve in Winchester. The exhibit is at the Shenandoah Arts Council on Loudoun Street.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 1, 2010

White Iris

It's taking me forever to complete the little lunchtime paintings, but sometimes they turn out to be worth the wait!

I really like this little painting because of the strong sense of light. Because the contrasts are so strong in some areas, I felt as though I didn't need to fuss with a lot of details to make this come together.

I really like this pared-down, simple-is-best result. I also enjoy the hints of colors that bounce around in some of the shadowed areas. Overall, I think the petals sing with energy and color.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jeannie McGuire workshop

I am finally getting around to a report on the Jeannie McGuire workshop hosted by the Morgantown Art Association on Oct. 2-3.

McGuire is steadily gaining attention in watercolor circles for her distinctive style and approach to painting. Most of her paintings include the figure, and her painting energies are devoted to incorporating those figures into spare and suggestive compositions.

One of my early impressions during the workshop was contrast. McGuire is a slender, petite woman, her voice is soft, and in the crowded workshop setting, it took a while for everyone to stop chatting and turn their attention to her.

However, McGuire carries a big brush, and she's not afraid to use it. Faced with a piece of pristine watercolor paper, I still feel weak in the knees. McGuire looks at the same paper and immediately slaps down some fat, dark washes just to show the paper who's boss.

Most of her work is completed with large flats, Robert Simmons White Sables, in 1-, 2-, and 3-inch widths. The large sizes are helpful when working on large-scale paintings, and she enjoys the sense of confidence necessary in using such large brushes.

As she demonstrated for the group, she explained that she doesn't have any set palette, other than her unorthodox use of titanium white. She is open to experimentation, and watching her paint is a little like watching a performance. She readily admits that she's not sure what's going to happen, but she intends to enjoy the journey.

That's the point where I had some difficult distilling the process McGuire utilizes. She is a very intuitive painter, and will change course in an instant if she creates a particular "mark" that she feels will advance the work and strengthen the composition.

So there's no step-by-step guide for painting like Jeannie McGuire. And that's a good thing, when you think about it. Because she moves so intuitively around her work, the end result is very much a personal statement about a moment and a mood.

Mark-making, as she she describes it, is important to her process, and the large flats assist in this style. Large swaths of color go down quickly, and then she steps back to reflect on the next step. There are no super-soft graduated blends and tentative, watery effects in McGuire's work. The end result, after multiple revisions, is painterly and energetic, captures movement and mood, and is carefully composed -- values and shapes lead the viewer over and around and through her figures' environments.

What I learned from the workshop was to let go, if only a little bit. I had brought some black and white reference photos that I had already cropped into compositions. I created drawings based on the photographs, transferred the drawings to my watercolor paper -- and then I panicked. It was the weak-in-the-knees moment, as usual.

The first day's painting was left incomplete, but I did try to carefully think about creating shapes and values in and around my figures that would help direct the viewer's gaze. I made bolder marks that I usually do, and I left that evening with a positive sense of what was possible.

The next day, on a separate project, I panicked again. This time I stared at the drawing on my paper for an hour, wandered around the room to see how others were progressing, and determined that I had no chance of being successful. When I finally put my first marks on the paper, I immediately did not like them, and knew I had ruined the painting.

Then I got a little angry. Since it was just a piece of paper, as I kept telling myself, I started slapping paint in a reckless sort of way, just to get through the afternoon. I was ready to crawl back into my watery glazes and overworked details, but I still had to ride out this workshop.

And an amazing thing happened. I looked down at the painting at some point, and nearly fell over. It was bold and realistic and exhibited movement and character. I had unwittingly gleaned something from McGuire's discussion and demonstrations, and had managed to paint outside myself for a while.

And I liked what I saw.

Where I go from here is uncertain. I have the ideas of some great painters percolating in my mind, and I don't know how to go about fitting these ideas into my "style." Honestly, I'm not sure that I even have a style.

But it's been an eye-opening year in many ways, and I am excited about what will develop as I continue painting.

Thank you to Jeannie McGuire for being such an inspiring teacher.

For more about McGuire's techniques, read the the August 2010 Watercolor Artist magazine, where she is featured by writer Christine Proskow. And to see more of McGuire's amazing work, visit her website at

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Class at Women's Retreat

Things were so busy at my beginner watercolor class at Camp Pinnacle over the last weekend that I never had the opportunity to take any photographs of the ladies at work. But here they are at the end, each holding the two completed paintings (to see a larger image, click on the photograph).

Etta Mae (from left), Shirlene, Cindy, and Becky tackled multiple projects over the three days. On the first evening, we went over basic materials, and discussed watercolor paper, paints and brushes. They also completed some basic exercises: flat washes, graded washes, wet into wet, glazing, etc., to get a feel for the medium and for the proper consistency of their paint and water mixture.

They also had some fun with completing background foliage exercises, a matter of wetting paper and then dropping pigment to create spreading blossoms. With a hard edge along the bottom, the blooms easily transform into clumps of trees and bushes with spreading branches.

The next morning, we set to work on color mixing. The landscape the four were tasked with involved only two pigments: French Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna. I explained how the two colors were complementary, and how that created possibilities for chromatic shifts between the two, with the middle neutral as a critical component of the painting.

The wet-into-wet foliage exercises from the evening before were quickly put into use, and more wet-into-wet work defined the winter pasture and hill surrounding what would become an old, white farmhouse. Careful application of the mixed neutral from the two pigments developed the house's shadows and created its form.

The large pine tree to the side of the house caused some consternation. In the example painting I had done prior to the class, I had fussed over the tree and tried to develop more detail than was necessary in its branches. The tree is secondary to the house in the composition, but my decades-long struggle with creating realistic tree shapes got the better of me.

That fussiness quickly was emulated by the students. I tried to explain that they did not need to replicate what I had done with the tree, and in fact many of their early, loose washes were superior to mine, but they could not help themselves either. I think we finally found a happy medium for everyone, but it was a lesson for me in creating class demonstrations in the future.

With the detail in the house complete, the group took on the foreground areas, and created the fence line and the long cast shadows from the setting sun.

And after that long day, I decided they all needed a break. We were going to face a troublesome project in the morning: a still life that depended on smooth graded washes to create the curvature of a round crock, but I could not expect them to dive into that after struggling with and then succeeding in their landscapes.

We quickly rushed into the project early Sunday morning. I switched the paper to 140# Arches, cold press, for this project (the landscape was on Canson's Montval, cold press) because I knew the Arches could handle the attempts at smooth, graded washes better than the heavily sized Montval could.

We used the same two colors for the gray crock and added a touch of raw sienna to the palette just to create the soft bounced light on the shadowed side of the crock. For this project the group also used a reference photo to guide their work. I had painting an example painting beforehand, but it incorporated an egg into the composition's foreground, so it was not an accurate example of their subject.

We rushed into our washes, constantly switched on the hairdryer to quickly dry damp areas, and completed the pieces just in time. In many ways this was a much harder project than the landscape because the touch needed to get smooth gradients is so critical to the creation of rounded forms, but the ladies did very well with a difficult task.

In the end, I think everyone was pleased with what they had learned.

I also hope that they want to wade in watercolor a bit more.

Catching up

Oh it's been a while since my last post, but it's been for lack of time, not for lack of painting. The last three weeks are probably the most productive period I've had in years!

In brief, I have been engaged in a series of tiny color studies to work out the palette for the landscape of my dad's childhood home. So far I've completed five, and have made several modifications from my original plan in a effort to maintain realistic colors in a very limited palette.

Essentially, I want to boil this down to a value painting as much as possible, but still maintain harmonious color relationships. I'm not a colorist by nature, and since this entire scene has been recomposed in my head, I don't have any color references. So, keeping it simple is my plan.

I also had a very interesting watercolor workshop the first weekend in October with Jeannie McGuire of Pittsburgh. She works mostly with figure drawing, and her work is evocative and striking.

She was recently featured in Watercolor Artist magazine, and that's how I learned about the workshop. I saw the piece in the magazine, liked her work, and went to her website: There I saw her workshop list, and Morgantown, W.Va., was one of her upcoming stops.

Nearly the next day, the Morgantown Art Association (the sponsors) sent a flier to the West Virginia Watercolor Society about the class, and I was quick to sign up. I'll be sure to talk more about Jeannie's workshop in an upcoming post.

Lastly, I've also had to prepare for my beginning watercolor class at Camp Pinnacle this past weekend. I will write more about that experience soon, but, in short, the four ladies in my class worked hard and came away with excellent paintings of which they can be very proud. Thanks to the Hardy County Extension Office for sponsoring the retreat!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Small Works, Great Art"

The "Small Works, Great Art" show is open now through Dec. 18 at Water Street Gallery in Petersburg, W.Va.

Small Works seems a better description than" miniatures" and it accurately sums up the breadth of pieces included in the exhibit.

Mary is also inviting visitors to the gallery to create their own "Small Work" of art. She's created an art station in the corner of the room with paper and some basic supplies.

So stop by and see some lovely pieces, and create your own masterwork to take home!

Water Street Gallery is located near the intersection of WV 55 and U.S. 220 at the stoplight downtown in Petersburg. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Call 257-4513 during gallery hours to learn more.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another tiny landscape

Here's another of the tiny landscapes that will be part of the Water Street Gallery show. When I last visited owner Mary VanMeter, we were doing an initial run at organizing the pieces by putting them on the floor of one of the gallery spaces and moving them around.

She's planning to clear a wall in the front room of the gallery for the small works and bunch them into groups and rows.

A range of subject matter will be in the show, including landscapes, florals, religious iconography and fishing flies.

I'll find out when the show opens shortly and pass that along.

I also know that she's planning an open house for one Saturday during the show which will offer visitors the chance to make their own small works.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Miniature show

My friend Mary VanMeter at Water Street Gallery in Petersburg, W.Va., is excited to be organizing a small exhibit of small paintings!

We've engaged in an ongoing, friendly debate over calling the paintings "miniatures."

Inevitably, it seems, we fall into calling them miniatures out of convenience and habit, but I've argued that, technically, I don't think a small painting necessarily equates a miniature painting. To me, a miniature is created when an artist consciously attempts to paint a realistic scene or object in as small a scale as possible.

Much of what I do in small scale isn't so much a matter of attempting to paint as small as possible, but as conveniently and quickly as possible (e.g. my lunchtime paintings).

So are my lunchtime paintings minis? I guess it's up to the viewers to decide?

What do you think? What is the definition of a miniature, and is size the determining factor?

At right is one of the small-scale paintings I did for the show, which will open in October. I'll pass along details when Mary gets everything arranged. The size of the painting is 2 inches by 4 inches, and it's matted in a 4x6 frame. It's one of four little scenes that I completed, which, as a set, complete a larger landscape. So I guess it's part one of a "tetraptych."

The image is a little blurry because I forgot to photograph it before framing. So I shot through the glass with a polarizing lens to neutralize reflections. Sorry!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Finally calling this one finished

After three months (most of which was time spent in my tote) I declare this little iris to be finished (thank goodness). Already sketching out the next one to occupy me during lunch breaks.

After the horrible middle patch where I thought I had lost the painting, I think I recovered fairly well. Unfortunately, the compositional elements which interested me were lost with the failed background. But that's okay. Try, try again.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Saved by scrubbing

Well, I kept working on the background, resorting to some light scrubbing in places, and finally brought it into harmony with the iris. In the areas where I scrubbed, I went back in while the paper was still wet with Thalo Green and some yellow to brighten things. I think the roughened areas now add some texture as well, which helps add interest.

So now I'm down to working on the stem, the beards, and the veining. Boy, this one has been a struggle, but I'm nearly there.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Big change

Well, with the obvious failure of my original background, I got out the darks (Thalo Green and Permanent Rose) and resorted to one of my usual background techniques.

However, because this was an impulse substitution, I find that the iris no longer fits with its surroundings ... mostly because of its color. It's too pink, or something, and the areas where I had continued to darken the iris falls now don't work very well because they are disappearing into the dark background. I need more highlights and contrasts.

It's amazing how my natural tendency to work all over a painting helps avoid these kinds of errors. By naturally balancing tone and value in a comprehensive manner, paintings work better. My unplanned and sudden amendments have thrown this painting into limbo.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Background blues

Well, it was around this point that I decided I just wasn't happy with how the background was turning out. In my highly manipulated photo reference, I really liked this idea, but in the painting, I found that it was highly distracting.

I kept trying to darken the iris falls to to move the eye back to the foreground, but, as you can see it's just not working. I think this was a faulty concept. Sometimes I have to remind myself that keeping things simple is often the best design framework.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lunchtime painting lingers

Oh, the dog days of summer, when everything moves so slowly.....

This lunchtime painting certainly falls into that pattern. I've been carrying it around with me since May, I think, and it's still not finished. Someday, I keep saying.

This is a little larger than the other minis have been. It's about 5 inches square, and I heavily modified the source photo in Photoshop to create the effect I wanted . . . sharp foreground with a particularly washed out background, but with some supporting diagonal lines to hold the composition in place (the diagonals are some background stems and the shadows from the siding on my house).

I really liked the tension the background created. I also like the slanted angle and the offset focal point.

I applied most of my preliminary washes very wet-into-wet to achieve the soft, out of focus effect for the background. I'll continue to glaze in the iris to build up its definition.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Return to Pinnacle

I don't know the details yet, but I've been asked to return to the women's retreat at Camp Pinnacle this fall as an instructor!

The retreat is organized by the West Virginia University Extension Service office in Hardy County, led by the Community Educational Outreach Service (CEOS). I had a good time teaching a beginner watercolor class there last fall, despite the injury I sustained to my ankle (and my pride).

To read about the class experience last year, check the "Class" label in the list to the left.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A big difference!

Well, Kadie 2.o is finished, and when you place her next to Kadie's an amazing comparison!

The original Kadie (which can be seen through this blog . . . click on the "Kadie" label in the list to the left) was a more traditional head and shoulders portrait, but I've cropped this image to match the current Kadie's dimensions.

I was feeling a little unhappy with some aspects of the new Kadie, especially in her hair, but I readily admit that all that unhappiness is washing away as I stare at these two paintings side by side. It's so much better than the first portrait, particularly in the ruddiness of her complexion.

The palette of Jane Paul Angelhart is so much more flexible and so much more vibrant. In the first portrait I was struggling with Raw Sienna, Cobalt Blue and a mixed red called Dragon's Blood. In the new version, it's Quin Coral, Perinone Orange, Quin Red, Cobalt Violet, Quin Gold, Cobalt Blue, Quin Burnt Orange, Quin Violet and more! And somehow, despite the numerous pigments in play, they all work together beautifully!

To see Jane's full palette, visit this page on her website:

I'm going to take a break from portraits for a bit, but I'm so excited about the possibilities!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kadie Redux

On the last day of the Angelhart workshop, I decided that I would apply the techniques to my Kadie portrait -- the first portrait I had ever painted, which I finished in the spring of 2009.

Well, let's just say that what I did at the workshop doesn't merit sharing. I got the shadow areas too opaque too quickly, and tossed the painting as a false start.

So when I got home, I decided to start again.

Here are the early stages of the painting. The original painting was a more traditional head-and-shoulders image and included her left hand as she was holding it up (I think she was in the process of waving goodbye when I snapped the reference photo). For this exercise, I cropped to just her face. I never liked how her hand came out in the original. It was badly drawn and out of proportion to her face.

The face washes are mostly built with quin gold, quin coral and perinone orange, all pigments that Angelhart heavily relies on for building skin tones.

These are pigments from Daniel Smith, which first I worried about because I thought they were so much more expensive. Turns out, when you compare the same-size tube, they're not any more expensive than Winsor & Newton. It's just that W&N offers pigments in 5 ml tubes, so instinctively you think that paying $13.44 for a 15 ml tube of Daniel Smith Cobalt Blue is terrible. In fact, the 14 ml tube of W&N Cobalt Blue costs more -- $15.72 (priced at

Here I am still building up skin tones and adding darks to help me gauge values.

And here's pretty much where I am right now. I've done a bit more work since this image was taken, but it's been nearly two weeks since I last touched any of my brushes. I hope to get back into the groove a little bit this weekend. I've got a lot to do on her hair (which is very different than the approach I took with the original), and I think I've got to lighten some areas around her face.

I'm really struggling with trying to make colors bold enough to be seen from across a room, but also work when seen from only a short distance. I guess that's where working on large pieces is a benefit. You can eliminate the "close-up" view from the equation because you can only process the image from a distance.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Angelhart workshop

Days and days after the close of the workshop, and I finally get around to talking about what a wonderful experience it was!

Jane Paul Angelhart, whose work can be seen at, led our 11-person class through a couple of demonstration portraits, stressing color mixing, glazing, and "mapping" -- what she terms the facial details you draw with your brush directly on the paper.

In essence, she explains, she goes about portraits in reverse. Most of the time, watercolorists are instructed to lay down large washes at the start, work from light to dark, and develop the details later in the work.

For portraits, however, Jane argues for going into the details at the onset, particularly in the areas of the eyes, nose and mouth. Her method, she believes, allows her to capture the subject's likeness at an early stage, giving her the confidence to apply those larger washes.

Her glazing techniques also use those initial detailed areas as "roadmaps." They don't disappear under a light skin-tone wash, so they help guide her through the development of the facial structure as she builds up layers of glowing colors.

Her palette is also a point she stresses. Most of the colors are from Daniel Smith, and nearly all are transparent. As Jane puts it, muddy colors make mud. (Her website includes a link to her complete palette if you'd like to learn more. Look under the "DVD" link and click on her palette at the bottom of that page.)

I didn't get all the the pigments prior to the class, but I got the basics, and Jane was more than willing to share a squirt of her paints to help us see how she achieves such glowing colors. I've already built a wish list to pick up some more of the paints sometime soon.

Here's an example of one of the structured demos Jane provided:

These small works (about 7x10 inches) are not in perfect sequence because they are live demo pieces Jane works on during her classes, but they show that progression of mapping features first, then adding some darks to help gauge values.

Jane also advocates for mixing colors on the paper rather than on the palette, laying pigments next to one another and letting them blend. Controlling the amount of water in the brush matters immensely in this sort of paint application, so she regularly blots her brush with a terrycloth towel to avoid unexpected backruns, etc.

Jane also cautions that too many blues and purples applied too early can deaden skin tones. She applies bright reds and oranges, along with greens as a neutral tone, and only later goes into the cool blues and purples.

The avoidance of blues and purples was the issue that hampered me most. I so badly wanted to dive into some cobalt blue when perplexed by a shadow area. But, as you can see above, Jane has depicted beautiful shadows and highlights across the young girl's face without resorting to those kind of color choices.

Here, several class participants look over our versions of Jane's demo. For a group generally inexperienced with portraiture, we had many positive outcomes with this demo! Click on the photo to see a larger version of the image. My version is to the far right, sans hair and background.

Here's a closer view of where I got on this demo. I was being very meticulous on layering light washes of color to achieve the right effect, so I didn't make a lot of progress.

The last day of the workshop, Jane encouraged us to bring in our own materials -- whether a failed painting from the past, a photograph, etc. I decided I would try my Kadie portrait again.

You may remember Kadie. I completed her early in 2009, and she was my first attempt at a portrait. I was very proud of her at the time, but now I'm not so happy with her given all the new ideas I have on glazing, shadow colors, etc. (To see my work-in-progress discussions of Kadie, search for the "Kadie"blog post label in the list to the left.)

Kadie 2.0 is nearly half finished. I'll post images of her progress soon.

And here is Jane Paul Angelhart! At the end of a busy last day, Jane went over the displayed works with everyone (mine is behind her head -- look for the bright green sunglasses). She encouraged everyone to keep painting, and also encouraged us to stay in touch with one another.

As I said, it was a wonderful workshop, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet Jane.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Well, it's been a busy month so far (thus no new posts), and I've just completed an amazing workshop with Jane Paul Angelhart on watercolor portraits.

I'm not a regular "workshopper" as some artists are. I've confined myself to about one per year for the last six years, and they've all been somewhat regional, so my workshop observations and experiences are limited. That said, I think this was the most amazing three days I've ever spent with a brush in hand.

Jane, I think, has really opened up some ideas for me. For this workshop, the approach to energetic glazing (my description) was directly related to portraiture, but I'm already thinking about how to inject the philosophy into other paintings.

Again, it was an amazing three days, and I want to thank Janet Lee Wright for making it all possible.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Finally finished

Well, he's finished. I'm sure there are all sorts of things I could do to tweak this or that, but to be honest, I'm getting tired of him (the painting, not Zack, of course). I've decided to call this a successful stepping stone and let him be. I'll do better the next time, I'm sure.

In a related topic, that next time may be sooner rather than later. Janet Wright, the teacher of the portrait class, contacted everyone in great excitement a few days ago because she was on the verge of landing Jane Paul Angelhart for a portrait workshop in Harrisonburg, Va. How this all came to be is a long story, but the short of it was that Janet needed to find 10 participants in just a few days to pull the workshop off.

So, I'll be taking the Angelhart workshop on May 20-22 somewhere on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University. It's only a little over an hour from here, so I'll drive back and forth. Hope to get even more advice, and maybe I can improve on my next painting of Zack. But I've got to work on one of little sister Avery first!

Friday, April 30, 2010


I'm getting close. I'm going to avoid going back into his face and concentrate on trying to get his hair and his shirt set. But I feel like I'm getting close.....

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Eyes Have It (Sort of)

I've really been struggling with Zack's eyes, as I had feared. I alternate between panic attacks and satisfaction. In the end, I keep fiddling with them. Good thing Arches paper is tough.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Happy so far

Here's my progress to this point on my portrait of Zack. I'm trying to darken some of the areas along his jawline, so that's why it may seem uneven from one side to the next. I'm also trying to blunt the sharpness of his chin a bit.

I should also post the photo reference so you can see how close I am to capturing a likeness so far:

I'm really worried about his eyes. They are deeply shadowed in the photograph, but, based on my preliminary value drawing, if I try to match the deep shadows, he appears to have black eyes and bruises. So I think I'm going to have to find a happy medium to make his eyes work.

But the larger question still looms. Does it look like him? Sometimes I think, "yes." But then I find something that's not quite right. And, as I learned with the value drawing, what likeness I've captured can easily be lost with some ineptly placed values.

Friday, April 16, 2010

AWS awards

Saw that the American Watercolor Society had announced their award winners for this year. Two of the top winners are among my favorite contemporary watercolorists.

John Salminen was the Gold Medal winner, and Dean Mitchell was awarded the Silver Medal.

John Salminen's work first attracted my attention when I saw the painting "Cadillac Sign, Times Square" in an art magazine. It had won first place in the National Watercolor Society exhibit that year, and I was amazed at the subject matter and the painter's approach to composition and design. His winning AWS painting this year is "Morning Fog."

Most of John's paintings reflect similar urban, fractured scenes, which are held together by judicious value-based compositions. He's prolific, regularly recognized for his work in national exhibitions and magazines, and keeps a busy teaching schedule.

Dean Mitchell caught my eye when I was looking through the winning paintings in the now disbanded Arts for the Parks exhibition (the competition in recent years has been been folded into the PaintAmerica organization).

I can't be certain of the specific painting (and the old competition website is no longer available) but I think it was "Rustic Elegance" (click on the link, then scroll down the page and click on the thumbnail to see the painting in a larger format).

For those who know me, you also know of my love for architectural elements in paintings. Edward Hopper famously said "Maybe I am not very human - what I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house." Well, sunlight on the side of a house transfixes me, and Dean Mitchell's ability to transform that light into lyrical passages stopped me cold.

More of Mitchell's work can be found at one of his representing galleries, Bryant Galleries of New Orleans, and there you can see more of his amazing landscapes and architectural paintings, but you can also see the scope of his work, including his gift for figures and portraits.

His winning AWS painting for this year is "Sunshine in New Orleans."

The AWS site is

Another great piece of news from the AWS is that the traveling exhibition of the show will come to this area! From March 11 to May 8, 2011, the show can be seen at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, Md. Can't wait to see it!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Portrait Class

I attended a watercolor portrait class this past weekend in the Shenandoah Valley.

Sponsored by VECCA (Valley Educational Center for the Creative Arts), the class was taught by Janet Wright. She said this was the second time she had taught a portrait class (the first being with the Shenandoah Valley Watercolor Society, based in Harrisonburg, Va.) For this being only her second time, I thought Janet did a wonderful job, and I learned quite a bit about mixing colors for portraits in a very short time.

Here is Janet working on a painting during the demo portion of the class. In the background are some of her paintings that she brought as examples of her work.

Here are two more examples of Janet Wright's work (sorry about the reflections from the overhead lights). I'm really partial to the portrait on the left because I love the loose background, and I love the challenge she posed for herself in completing the piece. The painting is done using only three colors, a blue, red and yellow, which are visible at the top in the flowing background. All of the colors are mixed from that triad.

I'm working on a painting of my nephew Zack as a result of the class. Prior to the class, Janet asked us to complete a sketch of our subject and transfer it to our watercolor paper.

In addition to my outline sketch, I also worked on a value drawing before the class met. It's still not finished, but it's close. I'll post it when it's done.

The class began with a discussion of everyone's sketches, and tips for approaching some of the difficult areas. Then Janet began work on a painting while we all gathered around and watched. I paid close attention to how she mixed her flesh tones, and how she blended the paint around the face of her subject. Everyone nearly gasped at the intensity of her first washes, but she emphasized that being bold is essential. Tentative washes lead to tentative paintings.

After she finished her demo, we all went back to our own drawings, and tried to emulate what Janet had done. I know I struggled at the onset, but after being convinced I had ruined my painting within the first few strokes, I got into something of a rhythm and made some good progress.

I didn't finish a lot of detail in the painting of Zack during the class, but I think it was a good start, and I'm amazed at some of the colors to this point. Janet said she bases her palette on the palette of Jane Paul Angelhart, which is made up of many bright quincridones and other bright, transparent pigments. To see some of Angelhart's work, see her Web site:

Here's where I am to this point:

Now, let me also say a few words about the group that hosted the class: VECCA is a nonprofit organization that has been working to provide arts education and art opportunities for several years. Based in Woodstock, Va., many of the organization's classes are held at the Old Edinburg School in Edinburg, Va.

To see VECCA's Web site, including more classes and workshops planned over the summer, click here.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mt. Hebron Cemetery

I wandered up the street at lunchtime earlier this week and positioned myself on a comfortable bench in the Old Lutheran Cemetery portion of Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester. From this vantage point, I sketched the striking Mt. Hebron gatehouse.

The gatehouse, dressed in locally quarried bluestone, was designed by architects James Stewart Barney and Henry Otis Chapman of New York, the same men who created the stunning Beaux-Arts Handley Library a few blocks away.

The design of the gatehouse, however, certainly does not match the flamboyance of the Beaux-Art library. A recent application to the National Register of Historic Places describes many of the gatehouse's elements to be Chateauesque, with additional nods to medieval castles, complete with decorative arrow slits and rounded turrets.

I completed this sketch in about 20 minutes. I don't think could have focused much longer given the blinding sunlight that afternoon.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Life lesson

Given the sadness that has permeated the last two weeks, I look at this little painting and try to draw some comparisons to life.

My conclusion: It's not the ending that matters so much as the journey. Enjoy the journey and learn from it as best you can.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Yeller" old

I'm almost there. . .

Close to wrapping this up now, but the process been slowed by the lovely weather during the last few days. It's been difficult to stay inside during lunch to work on the mini. So I've taken a few walks this week rather than paint.

The next mini, I've already decided, will move back to a point of comfort: a purple iris. The challenge will be its composition. I'm planning a square, which is always tricky to imbue with energy. Plus, I'd like to see if I can loosen up in such a small painting.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Baby steps

Well, I think it's looking better. The contrast of the rust/maroon elements on the falls helps immensely, I think.

Looking back over my color chart from the weekend, it appears that the most attractive mixes come from using Yellow Ochre. Those samples actually exhibit some almost silvery effects. Most of the others tend toward brown or green.

But I'm loath to use Yellow Ochre in most of my paintings because it is somewhat opaque, and it exhibited "milky" and dull attributes the few times I've tried it. Perhaps I was using it with incompatible pigments, so with some more experiments I might give it a second look.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

All about yellow . . .

I'd like to take some time to talk about yellows, since they are giving me so much trouble in this new mini.

By the way, here's the next stage of the iris:

Some progress, but it's still been very frustrating to create shadowed areas without turning them into mud.

So I decided I had to do some research. It's too late for this one, but I might be able to learn something for a new attempt.

So, out with the color wheel to discuss some color theory.

On the color wheel, colors that are opposite are complements, and when they are mixed, they neutralize one another, creating, in theory, a gray.

I use this principle all the time in my snowy barns series by mixing French Ultramarine Blue with Burnt Sienna. Those complements, representing blue and orange, create wonderful neutral tints. I can create a rich gray, or shift the balance to make the gray warmer or cooler.

In theory, as can be seen on the color wheel above, purple and yellow are complements. So, they should also be able to create a range of "grays," or neutral tints.

But, it's not that simple, it seems.

Somehow I'm pleased to see that, even on the color wheel, the window showing a mix of purple and yellow (circled in the image above) creates a muddy brown.


Muddy browns are not I'm after in creating the shadows in the iris' standards and falls, But that's what I keep running into as I work through the mini.

First, here's a rundown of some of the available yellows I have. These are all Winsor & Newton Professional Water Colours.

The range runs from cooler colors such as Winsor Lemon, to the warmer Quinacridone Gold. (Note on Quin. Gold -- this is W&N's new formulation which uses several pigments to mimic the appearance of the original one-pigment paint using PO 49. The one-pigment formula was discontinued in 2005, according to Bruce McEvoy's Handprint site.)

There are also two more opaque yellows in this mix, Cad. Yellow and Yellow Ochre.

The yellows I actually have used in the iris are Aureolin and Quin. Gold.

The pigments I've used within those two yellows to create shape and depth are two mixed purples (from the other irises) made from French Ultramarine Blue (PB 29) and Perm. Alizarin Crimson (PR 206). One purple is mixed with more blue, the other with more red. I've also used touches of Pthalo Green (PG 36) and Perylene Maroon (PR 179) as reflected colors within some of the shapes.

Now, if I create a color-mix swatch using all of these options, will I find that some mixtures are more successful than others?

Doesn't look promising. To the two mixed purples, I also included Ultramarine Violet. (To see the chart more clearly, you may have to click the image to see it full size.)

But, I'm going to use this chart for a future iris to help in planning. I hope that will lead to a better result.

In the meantime, stay tuned to see if I can rescue this mini . . .

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Yellow with fear

Well, I've started a new Lunchtime Painting, and I've listened to the challenge of a friend who told me I should try an iris in a different color.

Well, here it is, and boy it's been difficult.

I have never attempted to mix much with yellows before, and creating neutral tints for the shadows, etc., has been problematic.

Lesson learned: You can make some really sickly colored tints with yellow if you don't know what you are doing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A happy ending

It was a happy ending for me, at any rate. Very pleased with this one, and I enjoyed having such a detailed record of the process so much that I finally worked out how to create an Adobe Flash slideshow just for the occasion.

If you visit my Web site,, I've created a new entry page that features the Flash movie, with each stage of this painting softly melting into the next. I find myself watching the movie for long periods of time. I'll focus on some particular section, a portion of a fall, for example, and watch how that little section changes. Then I'll move to another small area and repeat. It's hypnotic.

Thanks to my friend Roger, I also might have a name for these minis that I complete while on my lunch hour. "Lunchtime Paintings," was his off-hand suggestion. I rather like the sound of that, but I wonder if anyone else has some ideas. Speak up, if you do.

I want to keep working on little projects during lunch (and have already started another iris). When the weather improves, I'd also like to wander downtown and do some plein air sketches from time to time.

The end result feels greater than this little painting. I feel enthusiastic about painting, for the first time in months, and keep thinking of ideas and experiments that merit further exploration.

Lastly, thank you, Eleanor, for your kind words about the penultimate stage of this mini. I hope the end result doesn't disappoint?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wait for it!

Okay, sorry for the unoriginal misuse of the classic Monty Python line in the title. But, just as a tease, let me say that I'm REALLY happy with how this mini wrapped up. Yes, I'm working one image ahead of the blog, but let me encourage you to check out the next post to see the final image.

However, back to the image in this post . . . I continued to glaze into the darkest areas to highlight contrasts and create depth in the form.

At this point, most of the formative glazes are finished. What remains is the critical addition of veins into the standards and falls, and from the several irises I've painted over the last few years, that final step is what really determines the realism in the flower.

So, stay tuned!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pleased so far

So far, this mini feels successful. I think I have better contrast in the standards and falls, and I think the shape feels much more dynamic. I like how the positive and negative space interact. Essentially, it's a diamond in a rectangle.

It might be a little too centered, but I don't think it feels static. The structural shapes within the iris provide movement.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


The background was the first thing I did on this mini, and, as you can see from these updates, I haven't changed it. It was completed wet into wet, and I mixed the colors on the paper rather than on my palette. Mostly it's Thalo Green and Perm. Alizarin Crimson, with splotches of New Gamboge.

As for the color of the iris, it's a mixture of Ultramarine Blue and Permanent Rose. I pre-mixed two purples from these pigments, one warmer and one cooler. I use the two to create depth by pushing some of the petals (technically standards and falls) to the foreground, and others to the back. It's the technique I used in my class last fall, and using two color temperatures also creates more energy and interest.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Step-by-step mini

I've switched from a night to daytime work shift, which includes a required one-hour lunch break. The first week or so, I had great difficulty dealing with the break...I wanted something to do.

Then I decided to continue on another iris mini while on my break. So last week, for the first time in ages, I painted every day, and the hour for lunch FLEW by!

Time is still limited. By the time I eat my sandwich and then get out my supplies and water dish, I only have about 40 minutes for painting. Then, with the slower drying time of the 300# paper, I'm limited further still, but it's been such a relief, even if my time is so short. I wouldn't want to tackle anything larger than these minis on such a limited schedule.

Each night I've recorded the progress from each day, so I have a detailed, step-by-step series of photographs. I'm working in Flash to create a slide show that shows the iris forming right before your eyes, but with Blogger, I have to content myself with sequential images.

So here's the first stage, with several more to come.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Iris mini finished

After months of neglect, I finally pulled out the Iris miniature I had been working on in October and finished it. Because of the gap between posts, I've included the original work-in-progress image at the bottom.

As I said back in October, this is on 300# Arches cold press. It's about the size of a baseball card, so about 2.5 by 3.5 inches.

I had a tough time getting used to the absorbency of the paper, especially with the wet-into-wet background I developed.