Friday, March 29, 2019


Today I've taken aim at background effects. My reference is a photo of a canna lily taken at the Smith College greenhouses in 2010. Cannas have a beautiful mix of green leaves tinged with pink and red, and combined with a variegated dark background, this photo offers a bit of a challenge. Beginning with a light outline sketch of the foliage and two vine-like branches on the left, I painted the leaves with thin washes of Green Gold and Permanent Sap Green, then blocked in two branches on the left, blending Yellow Ochre with Burnt Sienna.

Once this first layer of color was dry, I worked from left to right, adding background color by mingling rich mixtures of Green Gold, Winsor Blue (GS), Burnt Umber, Sepia, and Burnt Sienna. I'm using a Robert Simmons brand #785 White Sable Round brush, Size 8. It's a great brush –– not only is it affordable but it holds an edge/point nicely, carries a full load of pigment, and when a loaded brush is dragged sideways across dry paper it makes a nice "scumbly" mark which is helpful when adding a suggestion of background foliage, etc.

In the mid-portion of the painting and moving to the right, I'm starting to suggest sunlight filtering through dense background foliage. To achieve this I used a lighter wash of green, allowed it to dry, then added darker brushstrokes on top (in some places using the "scumbly" technique).
Next, I began defining the red and pink portions on some of the canna lily leaves with a light wash of Anthraquinoid Red (Daniel Smith brand), a staining, transparent color. Once this wash was nearly dry, I added a few red stripes to indicate veins. (Having the paper slightly damp meant the red stripes would blur a bit. I'm saving hard line details in red for a later step.)
I continued to enhance depth, and add more color, leaf by leaf, leaving lighter areas for highlights and deepening the shadows to indicate layers of plant foliage. I applied thin lines of Anthraquinoid Red (in a thick mixture with very little water) to the edges of the leaves and to the stems. Where the tips of leaves curved under, and where the leaves drooped, I used a combination of Shadow Green (Holbein brand) and Daniel Smith's Undersea Green.
The two vine-like branches at left were further defined with Burnt Umber. And then I used washes of French Ultramarine in varying intensity to indicate cast shadows throughout.

"Canna Lily, study"
transparent watercolor   10.5" x  7.5"

Thursday, March 28, 2019


Juried Artists show "Nautical and Nice" reception tonight (3/28), Cape Cod Art Center, Barnstable, MA. I have two paintings on display -- hope you'll check them out. I don't generally paint seascapes or boats -- perhaps a function of living inland! But when I have the chance, I enjoy the opportunity to paint coastal scenes. Each summer, we attend the New Bedford Folk Festival, which gives me a chance to sketch fishing boats, etc. Here is a sketch of a single vessel that I painted very quickly, using my small travel-size paint-box, while in New Bedford last July.
"Fishing Boat off Fairhaven"
transparent watercolor    5" x 8"
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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Italy and the sea

Two watercolors of Italy, completed after my February 2015 vacation, are on display at the Cape Cod Art Center on Rte. 6A  in Barnstable, MA. They are part of the current Juried Members' Show at the CCAC. "Nautical and Nice" runs from March 26 to April 10; both paintings are available for purchase at the gallery. If you're in the area, please stop in and check them out.

"Fegina Beach, Monterosso al Mare, Italy"
transparent watercolor        14" x 11"

"View from the Castello, Camogli, Italy"
transparent watercolor    17" x 21" 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Garden Royalty

Garden Royalty
transparent watercolor  16" x 20"
...Near the end of summer last year, I took some photos at a garden center because I knew I'd want some good reference shots during the winter when flowers are few and far between.
Although I had painted a smaller version of the iris blossom a few months ago, I've wanted to challenge myself with a larger format. This finished painting is 12" wide and 16" high –– not enormous, but certainly challenging to someone who usually paints on a 7" x 10" or  9" x 12" watercolor block.
Often, I can complete two smaller paintings on a "good" day –– but this painting demanded an  estimated 25 hours of work, counting from the initial pencil sketch to the addition of my signature in the left-hand corner.
The biggest hurdle was the background –– I didn't want the blossom floating against a stark black background, but I wanted to avoid having the background "take over" the painting. Using a subdued, mottled green and adding the  "spiky" foliage that is characteristic of iris plants, felt like the right combination of features to highlight to blossom and yet to give it a context.
Reference photo
Most of the flower was painted using Winsor Violet, Mineral Violet, and French Ultramarine Blue. The greens were done in Shadow Green (Holbein), Permanent Sap Green, Green Gold, and Winsor Blue (GS), with added washes of Transparent Yellow.
Once the painting is framed, it will travel to Cape Cod, where I hope it will be juried into a show there....  stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The best way to start your day...

"Cuppa Joe"  
transparent watercolor 8" x 10"   shipped with white mat
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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
Click HERE to see more floral paintings at my Daily Paintworks gallery

Friday, March 8, 2019

Frances, ca. 1901

Frances Adelaide Hamilton, ca. 1901
 Step 1

Stories about long-ago family members can be frustratingly incomplete.
  Step 2

This is the case with Frances Adelaide Hamilton, born in Sturbridge in 1899. Frances was my first cousin three times removed (which means she was three generations back from me.) Married at age 25, she died in 1927 a few months after the birth 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 one of Frances was taken in 1901, when she was about two years old. It seemed perfect reference image for a watercolor sketch.

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

I added facial details with a #3 pointed round brush and a wash of Burnt Umber and Permanent Rose. Using that same brush and a dark mix of Burnt Umber, I added more details to show her softly curly hair, and to heighten 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

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"