Monday, December 31, 2012

New year! New opportunities!

I'd like to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

I'll start off 2013 with some wonderful news. I learned early in December that Mumbles and Squeaks has earned entry in the 2013 Southern Watercolor Society show!

The show juror, Mary Ann Beckwith, selected 80 paintings from a pool of 410 works submitted by 241 artists. By SW rules, only one painting per artist was permitted.

This is the first time that I've tried to enter a large watercolor show, so I was very surprised to have made it. When I look at the work of the other artists who are included in the show, my amazement multiplies.

The show will open at the Gadsden County Arts Center in Quincy, Fla., on Feb. 8 and run through April 27.

My next challenge will be shipping the painting. I got a little bit of practice on shipping art earlier this month, so I hope this part of the challenge won't be too stressful.

You can learn more about the Southern Watercolor Society at their website:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas

 I've nearly missed the season, but here's my holiday image for the year. 

I'm not sure how many cards I made using little prints of this painting -- I used up all my blank cards, so that ended the card's run at the start of the week. 

I hope the recipients enjoy their cards -- I don't bake or do much decorating for Christmas anymore, so this activity has become my holiday treat.

Best wishes to you and yours!

Saturday, December 8, 2012


This is the final painting of Mumble and Squeaks.

And here's that failed version from earlier this year that I allude to in my previous post. You may not see the splotches easily in this image, but believe me, they are there!

Friday, December 7, 2012

And now the "rest of the story"

With apologies to the late Paul Harvey for my post title -- here's what happened between versions of Mumbles and Squeaks.

The problems with the first painting: Shadowed areas that got too dark too fast, and keeping those shadows even, yet interesting.

When I got too dark, I panicked, and tried to scrub things out. That ruined the surface of the paper, and then it would not hold paint without bleeding all over the place (ah the benefits of sizing!).

But the larger issue was the diagonal shadow cast from the little roof above the second-story door. That shape drew me to the scene to begin with, and it was so complicated, I could not paint it quickly enough to keep the wash even. Even trying to pre-wet the area with clear water didn't help me. I started getting splotches where wet areas would meet nearly dry was a mess. And I was so busy trying to just get the wash down, I was not making it look interesting -- it was just an ugly, splotchy shape.

So I walked away for several months and thought about those problems. I transferred a fresh drawing to a new piece of watercolor paper, but I decided that I would not put brush to that piece of paper again until I had developed a more thorough plan of attack.

My solution developed after watching a snippet of a John Salminen painting video. As you know, I'm a big fan of his work (see why at

This video snippet was part of an advertisement for one of his painting DVDs, and it showed him using strips of cheap masking tape to mask out an area of a painting. He layered multiple layers of tape over an area, and then used a very sharp knife to cut through the tape and expose an area of paper, which he then painted with a wash.

Watching this, I questioned how it was possible to cut the tape and not cut the paper -- but I thought it was worth further exploration.

It turns out, if your knife is sharp enough, then you can feel your way along the surface of the paper without damaging it. So after several practice attempts, I decided to use that technique to mask around the primary diagonal shadow shape.

Since I had the freedom to lay paint on quickly with the shape's edges protected, I started playing with brighter colors in areas that I thought would have reflected light. Since the entire painting is painted with four colors -- essentially a yellow, red, blue and green, it was easy to brighten areas but keep the overall color palette in harmony.

Once I had that essential shadow shape down, I pulled off the tape and began to work on the rest of the painting. As the layers went down, I went back into the cast shadow several times to darken some areas and highlight others. With the primary shape defined, I found it easier to paint in that area and keep layers even.

So, I can't imagine doing an entire painting with that kind of layered masking approach, but I did find it helpful in getting a complex shape down on the paper. And it helped me get a painting finished!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Mumbles and Squeaks"

"Mumbles and Squeaks" (11x16)
After a nearly 6-year ferment, I've finally finished this painting. Yeah!

I took the reference photo back in 2005 or 2006. It's a building in downtown Oakland, Md., that may or may not still be there. I've not been in the downtown area there since the day I took this photograph. Something about the long cast shadow caught my eye, and I quickly snapped a photo.

That quick shot helped contribute to my long journey. It included all kinds of visual distortions that distracted from the essence of the scene. I loved the basic idea -- but I did not feel comfortable in my drafting skills to render the scene correctly. I had to make a transition from copying to drawing -- and I didn't think I had the wherewithal to do it.

Finally this spring, I made the effort at translating the photograph into a detailed line drawing, and I think I eliminated and/or minimized most of the problems from the shoddy reference image. I'm still aware of one problem -- but, as usual, I didn't see it until it was far too late to correct it.

After making the drawing, I took my first shot at the painting. You may remember an in-process image of that painting from the spring. Well -- let's say that didn't go anywhere. And everything went back into the drawer again.

I'll explain what happened between the first and second painting attempts in my next post. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Red Shed"

"Red Shed"
Well, the first one is finished...I don't know that it turned out quite the way I had originally imagined it, but it will have to do. Somehow, my sketch has more balance and energy...too much concern with painting clean, straight lines has diminished those positive attributes.

Once I had finished the painting, I went back and looked at my sketch and realized that one possible problem was the background foliage. In my sketch, I had broken the mass of trees into two parts, with the corner of the background structure jutting out against the flat sky.

In the little study, and in the final painting, the foliage area had grown and now rounded that corner behind the building.

Thinking that perhaps this chance was affecting the balance of the elements, I scanned the painting and then Photoshopped the sky back into the scan. Somehow that change made me feel better, so I decided to take the risk and do the same in the painting.

I carefully masked the shape of the building with masking tape, then scrubbed out the foliage in area that concerned me. I tried to go light on the pressure, to lessen the damage to the surface of the paper.

Once that was done, I removed the masking tape, and carefully flushed more Cobalt Blue into the area to match up with the rest of the sky. The top painting is the result. The bottom is what it looked like before I made that last change.

I'm not sure that it really helped matters. I think the geometric arrangement of the overlapping structures is more dominant in the final version, but you could also argue that the foliage shape helped to soften those hard edges and balanced the two corners (lower left and upper right). I'm not sure. Based on the pencil sketch, I had really liked the arrangement, and I wanted to stay as close to that model as I could.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

First study in the series

Well, this is the first little study I've done in the series. I really liked the original pencil sketch, so when I moved to this stage, I decided to keep things very simple. I just wanted to know if the idea would work with a limited palette and simple masses of value and hue.

The color palette is Quin Gold, Cobalt Blue and Permanent Alizarin Crimson. I also made a point of mixing the colors on the paper, rather than on my watercolor palette.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Wardensville series

I've decided to try a series that examines some of the often overlooked scenes in Wardensville. It's really an exercise in composition -- i.e. looking closely at a scene and exploring the relationships between shape, masses of value and hue.

I regularly follow a number of artists who share "daily paintings" through their blogs. For some reason, square compositions are prevalent on many of these sites, so I feel that influence as I work through this series and develop paintings that are composed within squares. But, I've also completed several other square compositions prior to this, and I find the challenge of the square very appealing.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Award Winners!

Rimmed in Rust
I just received word that "Rimmed in Rust" won first place at the Randolph County Community Arts Center Gala Exhibition in Elkins, W.Va. Best of Show was won by my watercolor friend Deanna Gillum of Buckhannon. Yeah Deanna!

The volunteers and staff at RCCAC do an excellent job staging exhibitions throughout the year. Plus, the display space in the Great Hall, formerly the sanctuary of St. Brendan Catholic Church, is wonderful, with excellent lighting and atmosphere. For more on RCCAC, visit their website at:

I'm so glad this painting caught the attention of juror Michael Christie. I like the design of it immensely, but I wasn't sure if it was just me or if it did truly fit together in a pleasing way. It's difficult to step back and assess your own work.

Fire Engine Red
This recognition follows an earlier merit award for "Fire Engine Red" at Aqueous 2012, the West Virginia Watercolor Society's annual juried exhibition, which this summer was held at Arts Monongahela in Morgantown, W.Va.

Juror for that show was Beth Nash, and Best of Show was won by the irrepressible Linda J.C. Turner of Jane Lew. Linda is a jaw-droppingly accomplished watercolorist, and WVWS is lucky to count her among its members. For more on WVWS, including links to its exhibitions, visit

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Favorite painters

I have a slowly growing list of favorite painters, and I'd like to share my list with you.

I must caution, however, that I have never had any formal art training, which includes art history. I am sorely lacking knowledge of painters of the past, so my list tends to lean heavily toward contemporary painters, particularly watercolorists.

In my defense, watercolor is what I love, so I can't help but favor some great contemporary painters who love the medium as much as I do. I'm also blessed to have taken workshops from a handful of these painters.

Some of my favorite watercolorists:
Joseph Alleman
Jane Paul Angelhart
Carol Carter
Lynn Ferris
Joyce Hicks
Antonio Masi
Jeannie McGuire
Dean Mitchell
John Salminen
Ron Thurston
Mary Whyte

Some of my favorite painters:
Edward Hopper
Grant Wood
Charles DeMuth

Of course, the tricky part is explaining why these painters appeal to me.

I'll break my explanation into categories.

First, I love architecture, and several of these painters are noted for their skill in rendering architectural subjects. DeMuth, Hopper, Alleman, Masi, Mitchell and Salminen are masters who engage the viewer with dramatic interpretations of geometry and space.

Second, even though I don't really know the rules of composition and design, I can instinctively appreciate great design. All of these painters arrange the elements of their paintings in ways that simply feel right to me.

Third, you tend to develop preferences as a child, and I loved several storybooks that included illustrations that were representative of the early regionalist art movements in the U.S. So I am naturally drawn to Wood, DeMuth and Hopper because of a host of book illustrators who apparently internalized those styles.

Fourth, I appreciate efforts to push watercolor into new territory. I'll put Carter, Masi, McGuire, and Thurston in that category. Carter uses all kids of wet-into-wet techniques to reinvent her subject matter. Masi and McGuire are bold enough to use opaque watercolors in tandem with transparent watercolors, and the results add depth and atmosphere to their subjects. Thurston will break every "rule" -- as long as it looks good when he's finished.

Fifth, I enjoy dramatic light and shadow. I'll put Hopper, Angelhart, Ferris, Mitchell, Salminen, and Whyte into this group. Notice that subject doesn't really matter in this context -- Portraits, figures, landscapes, interiors -- all are enhanced by a mastery of lights and darks. Entire compositions are elevated by the effective use of this simple duality.

Sixth, I love watercolor. I enjoy watching artists ride that wave, so to speak. The move toward super photo-realistic watercolors generally leaves me cold. I appreciate the effort and the skill of the painter, but I don't feel anything when I look at those paintings.

On the other hand, let me see purple, mauve and golden hues mingling in the shadows of an old barn in a Dean Mitchell landscape, and I feel joyful. Joyce Hicks fits into this category because of the lovely bright washes that construct her landscapes -- her paintings look so carefree, as if all the washes just landed there in mere moments and were perfect at the onset. Now, I know that is not the case, that she spends a great deal of time developing compositions from her sketches and studies, but the final effect is so refreshing. Carter also really excels here with her boldly imagined florals, landscapes and portraits.

So these are a few of my thoughts on my favorites. Who are your favorite painters?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Background in

After several layers, I ended up with the background being too dark and overwhelming, so I masked over the figure and scrubbed out some of the background with a natural sponge. 

The rough treatment helped -- it's closer to the mid-range value I had originally intended, but up close you can see the bumps and bruises suffered by the paper. I really must get out of this scrubbing habit.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bright Eyes

Here is another of the class exercises from Jane Paul Angelhart's class. I did most of this while the workshop was going on, with a few extra touches done since. I think I need to get a background started before doing much more with this little girl's face. It's hard to gauge the shadows and cast shadows against the plain white background.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Returning to A.'s portrait

While I was able to look at my class exercise portrait with new understanding, I also pulled out my portrait of A. And I could see much that needed refined in her face as well. Here's where it is at the present time. If you look to my earlier post about A., I think you can see some of the changes I've made.

It's a trifle difficult to explain everything that I've done (I get in the moment and forget), but mostly I started seeing more of the nuance in the shadowed shapes that create the roundness of the facial features.

I had tried at an earlier stage to darken the far side of her face, but I lost my nerve and blotted out most of what I had done. This time, with the background in place, I was able to work more on that side. I think I've done a much better job this time. That far side of her face really seems like it's turned away into the shadow now. And, most importantly, I haven't lost any of the likeness. In fact, I think it's more like her now.

The chin is another area that I worked on that is important to A.'s likeness. It's more rounded now and a better three-dimensional shape.

I've included a close-up of A.'s features here for a better look.

I suspect that if I put this away again, I'll see even more the next time, but I really think I want to set this aside for good this time. I need to move on to new projects!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Trying to push things

I've not been painting very much of late. My "studio" space became part of a home improvement project, and it's only been in the last few days that I've gotten the room cleaned up and put things back in their proper places.

Since we are still putting the house back in shape and I don't want to start anything new, I decided to pull out the class exercises from Jane Paul Angelhart's class in April. It's amazing what fresh eyes can see!

I decided to work on the cooler parts of the shadows. Over and over again, I've heard Jane say, "Form is always turning." So I've I tried to breathe some life into the many forms that make up this face.

To explain, Jane always attributes many of her instructive comments to Yuqi Wang, a friend of hers from a previous work situation. Wang, by the way, is an amazing artist. And he's absolutely right. As the light hits the rounded forms of the face, the cheek, the chin, the lips, etc., you see the complexity of those shapes converging.

I'm getting better with these nuanced shapes, but I've still got a lot of work to do before I'm nearly as good as I want to be.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Opaque watercolor

I'd like to talk about the workshop I took at the Beverley Street Studio School in Staunton, Va., ( a few weeks ago with Charlottesville, Va.-based artist Rick Weaver ( on sketching with opaque watercolors.

I was a little confused regarding the term "opaque watercolors" prior to the class. I realized that some people  use that description when they are talking about gouache. Searching online, I found that some painters, such as Bill James (, use gouache regularly, albeit thinly, while describing his paintings as watercolors. Others, such as Donna Zagotta ( mix traditional watercolors with permanent white gouache. Donna has a wonderful blog post that describes this method in detail (

Once I got the materials list for the class, I saw that no gouache was required, but an extra-large tube of Titanium White watercolor was needed.

I had first learned of watercolor artists using Titanium White when I read a feature article on Jeannie McGuire (, from whom I later took a workshop. But Jeannie's use of the unorthodox white isn't particularly opaque -- it just adds a sense of body to her compositions.

As it turns out, Rick Weaver's use of Titanium White is much more opaque than I had previously seen in watercolors. But also Rick comes at each work from an oil painter's perspective.

As he explained in the workshop, he had started using watercolors for a practical reason -- it was easier to travel with watercolors than with oils because of all the restrictions airlines and the TSA now enforce regarding the transport of chemicals. So watercolors have become an ideal sketch medium for Rick to use while traveling.

However, his use of watercolor is consistent with the kind of painting technique you would find in oil or acrylic painting.You don't save whites. You paint over elements you may not like. And nuance in paint application and paint edges is very important.

His palette includes a lot of opaque watercolors as a start (cerulean, cad red and cad yellow, yellow ochre) as well as some heavily staining colors (pthalo green, permanent rose, dioxine violet). And then nearly everything gets mixed with varying levels of Titanium White before being applied to the paper. Water was used mostly to clean off his brush and to get a yogurt-like paint consistency.

I found this kind of painting to be very difficult. I've never worked with anything but traditional watercolors, so I had a hard time simply getting the paint off my brush. With the white mixed in, colors actually dry darker on the paper, which is the opposite of my normal watercolor experience where transparent glazes dry lighter. My inexperience definitely showed, as Rick's comments to me mostly stressed the need to move away from transparent applications and to go more opaque.

One interesting element in his painting setup is his use of colored matboard as a painting support. Like a pastel artist, the use of a toned background was often helpful, it seemed, in building body in the painted areas. I started off on plain, natural white 300-pound Arches, and really struggled to get opaque. Not having any matboard with me, I used another participant's idea and toned some white watercolor paper with a staining color. Once that dried, it was more like Rick's toned piece of matboard -- and I found it easier to work the next day because of that head start. But it was still a difficult process for me to work through.

I've not tried anything else since the workshop, but I have a little travel palette now labeled "Opaque," and I want to play with the idea again at some point. And, I'd like to know if there are other artists out there using watercolors in this kind of opaque application.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Back to class

During my absence, I've not painted a great deal, but I have taken two painting workshops. I find that I have to take workshops to reinvigorate my attitude from time to time.

The first of these workshops, in mid-April was with my mentor, Jane Paul Angelhart. I've now taken three workshops from her, and I would never have attempted portraiture without her influence.

The little girl above is one of the class exercises Jane distributes to her classes. She provides photo references and 7x11 pieces of watercolor paper with the basic outlines of the subject already in place. The reason she does this is to expedite the instruction process. This is not a drawing class. The workshop's goal is to teach people how to use her particular palette of "circus colors" in depicting a child's face. So the focus is on mixing and glazing pigments.

That said, it's always amazing to see how a group of nine participants, all starting from the same point, with the same photo reference, end up with nine very different interpretations of the subject.

I have worked on this project for a few hours since the workshop. My goal has been to try to push the rounded shapes of her face, and to more accurately depict the darker side of her face. In my portrait of A., I don't think I went far enough in creating a sense of distance and shadow on the far side. So far, I've been more successful here. But then, I also find it so much easier to work on the portraits of subjects when I don't know them personally. For me, it's much more stressful when you know the subject.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A. finished

I've reached a strange new point where my paintings look better in person than they do once they are photographed or scanned. It used to be the other way...I don't know if this is a sign of progress, but it's certainly worrisome given that most shows are selected by digital images now.

At any rate, A. is finished. I've done some good things...and some not so good this painting. But it's all a learning process and it's time to move on to the next project.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A. under development

I'm still working on A.'s portrait. As usual, I feel disappointed now that I've moved beyond those initial washes. I love the look of glowing, fresh paint in those first moments. I think that look matches the fresh look of a child's skin.

But, I have yet to master making those washes vivid enough to stand up to scrutiny from across a room. So, I have to keep working -- and I lose the freshness in the process.

Nonetheless, I'm still generally pleased with does look like A. -- a critical measure of success -- and I think there are good elements on which I can build.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Portrait of A.

Well, my last painting hit a rough patch and I now face a do-over. So, to clear my mind, I decided to jump into a little portrait of A.

This too had a rough beginning. I trashed my first start, took a deep breath, re-watched my DVD of Jane Angelhart painting a portrait, and tried again. So far, this one is working out. I've got my fingers crossed.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Building form

I am working on a new painting -- and I've really given the paper a workout with this one. My early washes were much too aggressive, so I've done quite of bit of scrubbing with sponges and brushes to regain control.

I "know" as more detail is added, the preliminary washes will recede and feel natural, but sometimes it's difficult to "know" one thing and "feel" another.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Eggs for Breakfast

I've decided to call this this one finished. I felt as though I was on the verge of overworking some areas, so I have pulled back and left some areas as suggestions.

I ended up reversing my intentions of warmer colors in the foreground, cooler in the background. That wasn't intentional -- it just happened that way. I did try to get some warmer elements into the shadows near the front, but the overall temperature feels cooler than I wanted.

So, I had to utilize edges to create the sense of depth. There are sharper edges with the shadows and highlights in the front and softer edges in the background. I hope that does the trick.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Things are developing nicely so far in my little still life.

I have finished with the eggs (though I still have the urge to fuss with little things -- I'm trying to let them be right now), and am concentrating on the fabric at present.

My goals with the fabric are twofold -- to convey the sense of texture in the fabric and to create a sense of depth, foreground to background.

I am trying to work some slightly warmer colors into the folds near the front to help with this task. But I feel as though I have more to do.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Egg-stra, Egg-stra

I'm slowly progressing on this little still life of brown eggs. I really love the shape of eggs and the multiplicity of potential colors in all the shadows and highlights that gave each egg its form. It's a very complicated challenge when you really, really study an egg.

This is the first time I've attempted brown eggs in a watercolor, and I also muddled myself at the onset by thinking too much about technique. I've recently finished Mary Whyte's latest instructional book on figure and portrait painting, and I'm in awe of her methods, especially her bold use of wet-into-wet techniques early in the painting process. So I thought I'd try to emulate...but this was not the right time or subject.

I'm still too tentative and I don't have a good sense of the amount of water in the mix. Too much water, and you end up with a weak tint that, when dry, pushes the pigment to the edges. You can still see such a result with the unfinished egg in the upper right -- that rough edge is where all my pigment ended up after being pushed there by the excess water.

So, I rethought the process and resumed my slow steady glazes. They are applied thinly. Then I soften the edges, and then I hit the wet area with a hair dryer to keep the pigments in position. I mix another glaze and repeat...over and over. There might be 20 or layers in the largest egg, for instance. I lose count pretty quickly. But it's the method I'm used to, and it allows me to stay ahead of the medium.

I want to get bolder with wet-into-wet techniques, but I've got to practice more first.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Emerging Artists at Tamarack

Fire Engine Red
We've just completed the long trip to Beckley, W.Va., to take paintings to the Dickirson Gallery at Tamarack for their upcoming "Emerging Artists" exhibition.

I've taken four pieces for inclusion, including my latest, "Fire Engine Red."

This one is a departure from my usual style. I wanted to make it bold and hard-edged -- a pop art or poster art look. I created the composition while playing with some reference photos and cropping them into squares.

The watercolor medium actually complicated matters in the case of this painting. You see, there are no red pigments that are truly staining enough to handle the kind of application I wanted to make. My goal was to soak the entire paper in vivid red (except for the yellow lettering and  the reflective highlights which would be preserved with masking fluid). Then I would mix up a deep black and paint over the red.

For this to work, the red has to stay in place when rewet with the black glaze(s). However most staining red-like pigments tend to be more rose-colored in hue, not appropriate for this subject matter.

I tested all the true reds I had (W&N's Winsor Red,  Maimeri Blu's Dragon Blood and Permanent Red Light, and DS's Quin Red) by making sample paint strips on scrap paper, allowing the paint to dry, and then lifting a line through the paint with a damp synthetic brush. First I decided that the Quin Red was too blue in tone to be useful. Of the others, none of them could withstand the lifting, even after I switched to a sable brush for a second test.

I also tried a couple of red mixes, but I didn't like the results. I wanted a deep, consistent red as the base.

I eventually decided that the Winsor Red was the most resilient of the samples and was the proper color. To increase its staying power I also decided to go with two separate glazes -- the first a wash of Perylene Maroon, and the second a strong dose of Winsor Red.

Once these two glazes were dry, I mixed a strong black and began working on the darks, but you can see the difficulties I encountered in the shaded areas -- the reds still wanted to lift when I would apply the greyed-down black, despite my best efforts with a light touch and a sable brush. So some areas are not as smooth as I would have hoped, but the overall effect still works I think.

I do think the exercise was a true test of my abilities -- this composition may look simple, but try it in watercolor, and you'll understand how complicated this kind of application can be.

The opening for the Emerging Artists show is next Sunday, Jan. 22, and the show will remain up through March 23. For more about Tamarack, visit their website at or visit the Dickirson Gallery's Facebook page at Photos of each show are posted in the Photo Gallery.