Thursday, March 15, 2018


I usually have a few paintings and sketches going simultaneously, partly to allow damp paintings to dry thoroughly, and partly because I am easily bored if I work on one painting at a time! Right now, here's what I'm working:

• A floral (left) that I'm approaching with a question: "Can this painting be saved?" 
The tentative title for this floral is "Mardi Gras Iris." 
It measures 11" x 15."

• A large, vertical work, "Lochside Croft," 11" x 20." It's actually one-half of a large, square-format painting. It was unsuccessful -- so I cut it in half. After I did, I sold the right-hand side!

I'm also working on a commission for a friend. I cannot show you the watercolor thumbnails, but when the job is done, I'll post a few step-by-step images.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Back-Yard visitors

Cardinal, adult male

Keeping our bird-feeder filled is a task -- even in summer when berries, seeds, etc., are readily available. The pay-off is that we have a wide variety of feathered visitors stopping by for a snack. Photographing birds is an exercise in patience, but I've been surprised at how many stay within range of my lens long enough for me to capture a few images.

The male cardinal in the photo at right was a regular visitor a few summers ago, and although somewhat shy, seemed almost proud of remaining within focus for a few minutes. 

In my watercolor sketch, I took a few liberties with the setting -- adding some blue sky for contrast -- but tried to capture his leafy hide-away.
"Male Cardinal"  6" x 6"  SOLD  
Goldfinch, adult male (right) with female Tufted Titmouse (left)
Goldfinches are smaller and more skittish than cardinals. To capture them in a photo means waiting for just the right moment, with the camera aimed at the bird-feeder. I used the automatic shutter on my camera to take a series of shots in rapid succession, knowing that my painting would be a composite of several images.
My goal was to get a good look at the coloration and shape of the goldfinch's beak, and then create a watercolor sketch that was reasonably faithful to the real thing. In the painting, I eliminated the bird-feeder and perched the finch on the edge of a large ceramic saucer that we fill with water for the birds. 
Goldfinch, adult male
Half-way through the process..
"Goldfinch"   7.5" x 5.5"  

Recently, several Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks showed up late one afternoon. I hadn't seen any of these for decades. I immediately thought of my grandmother, who was diligent about feeding the birds and who taught me the names of many of them. 
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, adult male
I had to consult our Audubon "Guide to North American Birds," when I first saw the male Grosbeak; I wasn't sure of its name. 
Young male Grosbeak, fed by adult male
But the bright red bib and sleek black feathers, which are quite distinctive, made it easy to identify. wasn't easy to get a good shot of this very busy bird. 
He was perched at the feeder along with a young male, and I learned that adult males often feed their younger counterparts. 

House Sparrow
When planning my watercolor sketch, I used a photo of a House Sparrow, taken the same afternoon as the Grosbeak series.
Early in the process...
Tree branch sketched in...
The sparrow's pose seemed more interesting and would show the adult male Grosbeak's red bib to advantage. Instead of placing him at the edge of the feeder, I sketched in a segment of tree branch.

"Rose-Breasted Grosbeak"     5.5" x 7.5"

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Opal Peony

Here's a step-by-step description of how I painted these peony blossoms. I used a quarter-sheet (11" x 15") of #300 Kilimanjaro cold press paper, and tried to keep my palette somewhat limited. I used Winsor & Newton professional grade pigments throughout, with the exception of Shadow Green, which is a Holbein professional grade pigment. 

After creating a detailed sketch, I lightly erased the darkest lines so the graphite wouldn't smudge or show through in the finished painting. Then I began to add color, beginning with the center of the blossoms, using New Gamboge, Transparent Orange, and Burnt Sienna. I put down a light wash of Green Gold on the stems and the leaves.

I gradually shaded the base of the inner and outer petals, using thin washes of New Gamboge, Permanent Rose, and Cobalt Blue. 

The background was glazed with Winsor Green (BS), Green Gold, and Viridian. I used a loaded brush, with just enough water to allow the colors to mingle freely on the paper. Unlike my usual practice, which is to work flat on my studio table, I set this painting up on my watercolor easel, at a 45-degree angle, which  

The process of building up color in the blossom required lots of drying time in between washes of pigment. 

I aimed for a softly "glowing" quality in the petals.  

The finished painting reveals several late-in-the- game decisions. 
I knew I wanted the hearts of each blossom to be as vivid as possible, so to achieve this, I dampened those areas. Then, I dropped in a small amount of Transparent Orange and Opera, and allowed them to mingle on their own. I rarely use Opera pink, but felt it would be useful this time because of its "neon" quality. I heightened the contrast on the stems and the leaves, using glazes of Permanent Sap Green, Winsor Green (BS), and Shadow Green. I indicated shadows with a wash combining Winsor Violet and French Ultramarine.  

My final decision was to darken the background of the painting. Having completed several other florals with a near-black background, I knew the stark contrast would make the flower itself "pop." To make sure it was not a "flat" black, I mingled three colors throughout -- Winsor Violet, Permanent Sap Green, and Cobalt Blue. I kept the pigment consistency very thick and creamy, just enough to spread but thick enough to prevent the original green background from taking over. That green, however, provided a good base for the final, intense dark and it's possible to see some of that green (especially Viridian) shining through.  
The opal peony reminds me a lot of an opal ring I inherited from my great-great Aunt Maude. I think she would have liked this painting!

"Opal Peony" 
16" x 20"
matted and framed at $400.00

Shipping via UPS is an additional $25.00
Contact me by email if you are interested in purchasing this painting.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Water reflections

Two summers ago, when I vacationed in western North Carolina, I spent some time exploring Moses H. Cone National Park, which is located near Blowing Rock. In addition to some historic buildings, there are acres of trails winding through woodlands and some beautiful scenery around the lake there. I did some sketching en plein air, and took a lot of photos of waterbirds, flowers, trees, etc. 

Today I started a small painting of some water lilies, using my vacation photos as a reference (although the lilies at Moses Cone were white, not pink). I'm interested in trying to capture the reflections cast by the lily pads and the flowers -- definitely not an easy task.

I sketched the basic outlines, and began by using a mix of mostly Green Gold and Sap Green to fill in the lily pads -- I did use a touch of Winsor Green (BS) in a few places to ensure that the lily pads didn't look too "flat." I then added a line of Yellow Ochre to indicate the upward curl of the edge on each pad.

Next, I began to work on the petals, using several colors:  Opera, Permanent Rose, and Magenta. I worked wet-in-wet at first. After the petals had dried, I added shadows using a wash of Winsor violet and Magenta. I also did some light dry-brush work on some of the petals, using Permanent Rose.

Finally, I painted the reflected water lily petals in a pale wash of Yellow Ochre.

My next step will be to apply a smooth wash of blue to indicate the water, while preserving the reflections and adding a few more shadows.

The finished painting...

"Waterlilies"   SOLD

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Thumbnails and plein air paintings

During the past week, I've tried to loosen up (again) by painting outdoors. Not my favorite setting for doing watercolors, but it is a great way to become better at sketching quickly and learning the best way to capture a scene's contrast re sunlight and shadow.

On Saturday, July 16, I joined a painting workshop at Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston, MA. It was facilitated by Charlotte Wharton, also of Worcester, MA. (You can visit Charlotte's website here ). The weather was beautiful -- sunny, hot, with a slight breeze -- and the group of twelve or so was very congenial. I met (and exchanged contract info) with several other painters -- always a plus!!

We were seated in the morning near a large memorial urn that overlooked a grassy area near some woodlands. The sunlight cast interesting shadows, and the foliage in the far background was in deep, deep green contrast to the somewhat dry grass. I spent about 45 minutes doing a sketch, trying to render the urn shadows properly. Then, I pulled out my small Winsor & Newton travel set which I've filled with my eight favorite colors of professional grade W&N watercolors in half-pan size. I also used a W&N water-soluble WC stick, in Perylene Green (this color was not available in a half-pan size when I visited the Cheap Joe's store in Boone, NC last summer...). The WC sticks are interesting as they can be used like crayons but are water soluble, so they can also be treated more or less like a cake of watercolor paint.

Here is the thumbnail, followed by the finished watercolor sketch...

Tower Hill Botanic Garden #1
  5" x 8"  unframed

Fast-forward a few days to July 22. I was juggling new-puppy-duty with my need to get outside and paint. The solution seemed to be to go out in my smallish backyard and set up a painting station in the shade -- hoping that Annie, our new puppy, would settle down nearby. She was (reasonably) compliant, which gave me a chance to sketch a thumbnail and to almost finish a 7" x 10" sketch of a corner of our "rock" garden. (You can't avoid having a garden in most places in New England without accepting that it'll have a few picturesque rocks in it). 

We have some hosta plants mixed in with some of the other greens, all of which is planted underneath our only remaining shade tree. (We had two removed last year due to the precarious quality of the branches.) While I don't feel this thumbnail is anywhere near "good enough," At least I spent several hour sketching and painting this afternoon -- despite the near-90-degree heat AND the rambunctious pup!

Here is the thumbnail, and the finished watercolor sketch...

Rock Garden, July Afternoon
10" x 7"     unframed

Finally here's a freehand watercolor sketch I did of Annie in her blue plastic swimming pool. I painted it on a hot day, without a doing a preliminary thumbnail.

Hot Dog Annie
9.5" x 12.5"   unframed

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Kitchen Sunshine II

Sometimes things don't turn out as you hoped they would... In completing my painting, "Kitchen Sunshine," I ran into several problems -- one of which just about derailed the whole project. But having spent a lot of hours on the details, I was determined to offer it as a finished work, albeit with a few changes I hadn't planned on. In my previous post, Kitchen Sunshine I, the tea-towel started out with a white ground. But as I progressed, I decided to give it a pale yellow wash. Big mistake!! 
This diminished the punchier impact of the warm-toned fruit. It also downplayed a strong contrast between the stripes and the white ground of the towel. At this point, I can't say what caused me to use a pale yellow wash... I just know I wouldn't do it again.

As I began to deepen the shadows and emphasize the folds in the tea-towel, I worked too quickly. Not allowing the glazes to dry in between layers meant I was heading in the direction of mud (rather than a clear glaze of one color over another). The results of my impatience are visible, in the finished painting, in lower of the two folds.

But the most frustrating thing I ran into at the very conclusion of this project was a tear in the paper! I slid my palette knife carefully (I thought...) around the edges of the watercolor block to loosen the painting from the adhesive that binds all four sides.
As I did this, the paper ripped at the bottom...    

I was heartsick, given the number of hours I'd invested. But luckily the tear was just an inch long, and extended only about 1/2" up from the bottom. The solution was obvious: make lemonade by cropping the painting. Instead of measuring 9" x 12, its dimensions are 8.5" x 11.5" and it is available for purchase at my Daily Paintworks gallery. Click on the link accompanying the caption to go to the gallery.

"Kitchen Sunshine"
8.5" x 11.5"   SOLD

Friday, March 18, 2016

Kitchen Sunshine I

At this time of year we usually have plenty of clementines on the kitchen counter, along with a few lemons and limes.  I wasn't sure I wanted to use a striped tea-towel under the glass plate, but I do like the colorful statement it makes -- plus, it's a nice challenge. ( I first used this tea-towel in my painting "Considering the Primaries." )  

Although I erased the pencil lines of the original sketch, before I took the photo below, you can see the direction I'm going in. My paper is a 9" x 12" block of Arches cold press 140#.

My palette includes the following colors:

Winsor & Newton:

  • New Gamboge
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Transparent Orange
  • Green Gold
  • Hooker's Green
  • Permanent Sap Green
  • Dioxizine Violet
  • Winsor Blue (GS)

Daniel Smith:

  • Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet
I'll continue posting photos as I move forward...