Friday, March 15, 2019

Cheerful florals

In anticipation of the first day of Spring, on March 20, I recently completed several floral paintings. I notice that even grocery store entryways are channeling the return of warmer weather –– they're filled with buckets of daffodils. They were my inspiration for this brightly colored painting completed with a limited palette of greens and yellows.
"Daffodil Waltz"  
transparent watercolor  11.5" x 11.5" unframed
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Friday, March 8, 2019

Frances, ca. 1901

Frances Adelaide Hamilton, ca. 1901
Stories about long-ago family members can be frustratingly incomplete. This is the case with my cousin Frances Adelaide Hamilton, who was born in Sturbridge in 1899. Frances was my first cousin three times removed... (which means she was three generations back from me.) She was married at age 25, and died in 1927, a few months after the death of her only child. Judging by the many photos taken as she grew up, I suspect she was the much-loved baby of her family. My favorite photo of Frances was taken in 1901, when she was about two years old, and it seemed perfect image as a reference for a watercolor sketch.
"Frances" Step 1

I began, working free-hand with a #12 pointed round brush and a very thin wash of Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna. I first blocked in the background and added a few shadow details. Once this dried, I used successive layers of wash, occasionally using a darker wash of straight Burnt Umber. I have found that multiple layers of thin, pale washes are most effective when rendering vintage portrait sketches.
"Frances" Step 2

I then added facial details with a #3 pointed round brush and a thin wash consisting of Burnt Umber and Permanent Rose. Using that same brush and straight Burnt Umber, I added a few more details showing her softly curly hair, and also heightened the shadow contrasts.
Finally, I touched the eyes with Manganese Blue.

"Frances, ca. 1901"
7.5" x 10"  transparent watercolor
available at my Daily Paintworks gallery 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Fred with his Bicycle, ca. 1919

Step 1
My grandfather, Fred, who was born in Canada a few years prior to World War I, lived on a farm for most of his childhood. I have no way of knowing where he obtained the bicycle he's shown with in this photo -- or even what kind of bicycle it was. I suspect it is a model manufactured in the late 1800s, as it has no visible braking mechanism and no chain-drive.
I love the way Fred looks as if he's lounging in this photo --  acting casual, but in reality he seems impatient to get back to playing with his bike. He wouldn't even make eye contact with the camera!
I thought this photo would be perfect to use as a reference, and decided a single color would be effective for this sketch -- giving it a "vintage" feel.

Step 2
For the first step, I used a #12 round brush, loaded with a thin wash of Burnt Umber mixed with Burnt Sienna. My goal was to block in the main shapes. The challenge for me is always to avoid getting caught up in details in this initial step. Although I did this completely "freehand," after the wash was dry, I decided to use a pencil to sketch in the two bicycle wheels  -- I didn't trust myself to get the angle correct otherwise. I painted around the lighter area of his shirt and his hair, using a vignette technique.
Step two involved using a darker wash, a smaller brush -- a #4 pointed round -- focusing on adding shadows, which are the darkest values.
For the third and final step, I used a #3 pointed round brush to add details to Fred's hands and face, and to add the bicycle. My goal was to provide a rough form of the bicycle rather than a lot of fussy details. Switching back to the #12 round brush, I added some additional mid-value washes, including an anchoring shadow and a suggestion of background.
"Fred with his Bicycle, ca. 1919"
7.5" x 10"  transparent watercolor
available at my Daily Paintworks gallery

Friday, March 1, 2019

Family History watercolors, Part Three

I was better at taking photos of the process with this painting! The original reference photo of my great aunt, Thelma, didn't give me much to go on in terms of color. But since it was taken in the summer, I determined that a suggestion of green hedges and lawn would the most effective background.
Initially I had considered putting a tree in on the right, with branches reaching out to the left, to frame the image -- but decided not to add any detail that would distract the eye from the two main characters. After some deliberation, I decided to paint the dress as a pink-plaid gingham (there's no way to know, from the reference photo, what color the dress was!).

I under-painted the shadowy folds in the dress with a wash made of cobalt blue and mineral violet, let these dry, and then began adding the little pink squares.
I dampened the upper part of the painting, which I'd left white, brushed  in a pale blue wash (cobalt blue and cerulean blue). Once that was dry, I completed the background using shadow green in the darkest areas, and successive washes of permanent sap green, and a combination of green gold and Winsor Blue (GS).
I mixed a small amount of shadow green with some mineral violet to add a bit of shadow under the figures. Finally, I gave a little more color (burnt sienna and yellow ochre) to the dog's coat, using a #4 pointed round brush in quick brushstrokes.
"Thelma and the Dog"
9" x 12"   transparent watercolor

Family History watercolors, Part Two

Unfortunately, I neglected to take multiple photos of my progress on "Thelma and the New Dress." The finished painting -- from a photo of my great aunt, Thelma Helen Worby (1913-1972).
"Thelma and the New Dress"
transparent watercolor   10" x 14" 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Family History watercolors, Part One

"Thelma and the New Dress"
I have a large collection of family photographs, some dating as far back as the 1870s. All of them are black-and-white, although a few are the brown-tone common to early tintypes. Many of the people in these photos are my mother's paternal grandfather and his siblings -- farmers who emigrated from England and settled in Canada. Later, when they arrived in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom in the years just before World War One, they lived and worked as farm managers. As a result, my maternal grandfather Fred, his sister Thelma, and their cousins, spent their early childhood in relaxed and healthy rural surroundings.

My Aunt Thelma was quite photogenic. And despite the grainy, out-of-focus snapshots produced by early 20th-century cameras, images of Thelma are captivating. For quite some time, I've wanted to translate these photos into watercolor sketches. So I recently began to work on two paintings of my great aunt when she was a young girls.
One reference photo shows her smiling and proudly wearing what appears to have been a new dress. 
The other photo is Thelma standing next to a well-groomed, friendly looking collie dog. (I believe this dog belonged to the owner of the farm where my great-grandparents worked, because Thelma and her brother Fred had a scrappy black-and-white terrier named Dixie.
"Thelma and the Dog"
I knew I'd need to plan the colors carefully, and I especially wanted to capture the mood of each photograph.

The picture with the dog was easy, as it is clearly a summertime scene. My goal was to keep this simple and impressionistic, and only suggest the house and trees in the background, concentrating instead on the more lively details of my aunt and the dog.
"Thelma and the New Dress" Step One
"Thelma and the Dog" Step One

The party-dress photo shows snow on the ground and on the porch, so I decided I'd avoid that cold look for a background. I used a more "dream-like" treatment that suggests a little girl's happiness over her new dress and matching hair-ribbon.
I blocked in the background with washes of blue, violet, burnt sienna, and burnt umber, outlining the figure to be detailed later.

For the summertime scene, I made a graphite sketch, then painted Thelma's face, arms, and hair. I left white paper showing where her hair-ribbon will be painted  (to match her dress). I sketched in the dog's fluffy coat, and started to paint in the grass, working carefully around the dog in a way that would save her light-colored snout, ruff, and legs.

Detail of "Thelma and the Dog"