Thursday, October 23, 2014

Adapting What You See...It's Your Artistic Prerogative!

This painting of a Tudor house was one of my reserve paintings during the Mount Lebanon Plein Air event. I sketched it on a sunny day last summer, sitting on my little three-legged stool across the street from it, then finished up a lot of the details back home in my studio. But as you'll see, a lot of those details aren't exactly what I saw in front of me that day. I changed quite few of them to make the scene my own.

"Summertime on Rosemont Drive", 8" x 10", ink & watercolor on Stillman & Birn Zeta series paper

Because I was working in a vertical format in my 9 x 12 Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook, I just didn't have room to include all of the scene. I decided my focus would be on the flowers and the quaint cottage-y style of the old brick Tudor. There was a large maple tree in front of the house, which shaded most of my subject - I had to eliminate it, so I decided to zoom in on the house and make the whole front of it sunlit.

As you can see in the photo, above, there was a stair-step brick wall bordering the driveway. I decided to replace it with a low line of stones and more vegetation, to help lead the eye into the picture and make it more welcoming.

I exaggerated the size of the roses on the corner by the street and added more flowers to the foundation plantings.

I brought the background trees up above the roof line to soften the angular lines of the roof. I wanted the house to feel cozy and enveloped by trees.

I didn't paint all the details of the brick, but simply suggested them by painting individual groups of bricks here and there.

For the slate roof, I lightly drew guidelines with a grey colored pencil, then loosely painted in the shingles, trying not to make them look too uniform.

I guess maybe I romanticized this cottage a bit with all my changes, but isn't that my prerogative as an artist? I love pink roses, old houses, stone walls, bright blue skies, and cottage gardens, so that's what I tend to paint, and that's okay. It's me!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Old Red"

I was walking through Mt. Lebanon one day and was stopped in my tracks by a red truck parked in front of Rolliers Hardware store. The red truck with the pink, white, and red geraniums in front of it just screamed "Paint me!"

Trouble was, once I got home and looked at the photo I had taken, I decided the truck wasn't all that photogenic, and the picture would look a whole lot better with a cute truck behind the flowers.

"Old Red", 8" x 10", ink & watercolor on 140 lb. Canson Montval watercolor paper

So I went online and found an image of an old red Studebaker truck and sketched that in, instead of the homely red dump truck in my photo. The Studebaker is sleek,classic, and curvacious.

Highlights on the truck were lifted with a damp brush

She's definitely the center of interest in this painting, but I felt the picture needed a human element to add some life to the scene, so I added a woman across the street walking her dog.

The foreground flowers complement the truck and repeat its bright red color.

I like the way all the light areas in this composition and the vertical lines of the buildings and the lamp post lead your eye to the truck.

This was a fun one to paint, and since it didn't sell at the show, it's still available! The price is $300 for the framed and double-matted painting. Contact me if you're interested at

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Uptown Mt. Lebanon"

One more in my Mt. Lebanon series...

10" x 8", ink & watercolor on 140 lb. Canson Montval paper

This view of "Uptown" shows Mt. Lebanon's bustling central business district, with shops, traffic, pedestrians, and people sitting at outdoor cafes.

As usual, I did my layout first in pencil, then inked the drawing and began adding watercolor. I painted the cloudy sky and the light washes on the streets and sidewalks using a wet-in-wet technique, then I began painting the buildings, applying my initial washes of pale tans, golds, and greys. 

I gradually layered on darker tones, building up the color until it was time to add the darkest darks.

That's what really makes a scene pop. You have to have the nerve to add those darks to make the contrasting lights look sunlit.

The curvy border echoes the tones of the cityscape and makes a colorful frame around the sketch.

Check back tomorrow to see another cityscape. But this one has something big, red and shiny in the foreground! (Hmmmm, whatever could it be...................?)

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Springtime on Jefferson Drive"

I gave you a sneak preview of this painting in an earlier post, but I thought you might enjoy a closer view.

"Springtime on Jefferson Drive", 8" x 10", ink & watercolor on 140 lb. paper

I drove up to Mt. Lebanon, PA, several times over the summer to scope out the town and the neighborhoods and get a general idea of where I might want to paint during plein air week. This scene along Jefferson Drive was one of my favorites. I took photos in early June when the rhododendron were in full bloom and painted this picture back in my studio.

The page border was designed and drawn before the sketch. I drew it with pencil, then inked the lines with a black Pigma Micron pen, leaving the painting until the very end, so I could coordinate the colors with my sketch. I think it's one of the prettiest borders I've ever done!

The houses were lightly penciled in, to make sure the size and perspective were correct, then inked with the same Micron pen used on the border.

The lightest watercolor washes were added first, with successive layers getting darker and darker. I just love painting these old tile roofs!

With winter just around the corner, it's nice to look at this sketch and remember the hopeful, expectant feeling of spring, when all the joys of summer stretched before us.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Plein Air Painting #4 - Gilfillan Farm

On the final day of painting during Plein Air Mt. Lebanon 2014, I left the city behind and headed out to paint at Gilfillan Farm, which was on our list of suggested painting sites. The farm sits right in the middle of suburbia, but is owned and maintained as a working farm by the Upper St. Clair Historical Society.
10" x 8", ink & watercolor on 140 lb. Strathmore paper

It was a beautiful October morning when I packed my painting supplies and took off on the walking trail that surrounds the farm. The path meandered through forests and fields, and I finally settled myself in a sunlit spot on a hillside where I had a perfect view of the big red barn and outbuildings, with the 19th century farmhouse peeking out from behind.

I did a quick five-minute pencil sketch to rough in where I wanted the image and the lettering, lightly penciling in the buildings and larger masses of trees. Then I went in with a Pigma Micron pen to finalize the details.

I painted the sky first, then moved to the foreground and applied the first wet-in-wet washes to the fields and grassy areas. The buildings came next and were painted wet-on-dry. The barn siding was indicated with both painted lines and lifted lines (where I used a damp brush to lightly brush over the dried watercolor, then blotted to lift the paint.)

Next, I painted the larger trees in the mid-ground. After they dried, I went in around the light-colored leaves and branches with darker greens, blues and purples to provide contrast.

Then I painted the background trees with slightly muted colors, wet-in-wet.

The last step for the farm sketch was to add some interest to the foreground with a combination of washes, painted lines, and spattering.

Back home, I painted the title with a combination of alizarin crimson and cadmium yellow medium, allowing the colors to merge and blend.

The hours I spent sitting in that field at Gilfillan Farm were the most relaxing of my long and frenzied week of plein air painting. Guess I'm just a country girl at heart!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Plein Air Painting #3 - "Mount Lebanon Doors"

My favorite painting from my week of painting en plein air is this one, "Mount Lebanon Doors."

8" x 10",  ink & watercolor on Canson Montval 140 lb. paper

It's laid out in a gridded design, just like the ones I use on my sketchbook pages. The subjects are four of the prettiest front entries I found on my wanderings around Mount Lebanon, PA, during the plein air event last week.

I loved the green tile roof on House #1 (and the homeowners loved my painting so much that they purchased it on the opening night of the show!)

House #2 had lots of interesting detailing: a slate roof, unique brick work, an awning, flowers, stained glass windows, a flag, and window boxes.

The grand entrance on House #3 was irresistible. Just look at that gorgeous stonework!

And House #4 was just one of the cutest, most charming cottages I saw all week. A copper roof with a beautiful patina swooped up from the arched front door to a window box overflowing with dark red coleus and chartreuse sweet potato vines.The front yard was filled with exuberant masses of flowers, including an amazing elephant ear plant by the front door.

I'm glad this painting went to a good home!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Plein Air Paintings #1 & 2

I survived Mount Lebanon Plein Air 2014! The week was exciting, challenging, and exhausting, but a great experience for me. I made some new friends and was inspired by all the beautiful artwork that was produced. Because I had several prior commitments that week, my painting time was limited, but I completed four plein air paintings to enter in the competition. (I also entered six previously painted works as my reserve paintings. These were for sale, but were not included in the judging.)

The event schedule suggested that the artists paint in Pittsburgh early in the week, so I headed into the city bright and early Monday morning and sketched this scene of J&J's Family Restaurant in the Mount Washington area of the city. Lots of interesting people stopped by to chat as I sat opposite the restaurant, busily sketching away.

8" x 10",  ink & watercolor on Arches 140 lb. paper

The fall decorations in front of the store are what caught my eye, along with the nice detailing on the old Victorian.

The next day I stayed around Mount Lebanon and painted some of the beautiful old Tudor-style homes in a neighborhood just off the main street.

10" x 8",  ink, watercolor, and colored pencil on Arches 140 lb. paper

There are so many picture-perfect storybook cottages in Mt. Lebanon - it was hard to choose which one to paint. The pretty front walk lined with flowers gave this one the edge.

 The distinctive stonework was a lot of fun to paint...

For the slate roof, I lightly penciled in some lines with a grey colored pencil, then added more color and shadows with watercolor.

The initial washes on the trees were painted wet-in-wet, then darker contrasting shapes were added wet-on-dry. 

When I started this painting, the sun was shining on the houses, creating nice distinct shadows, but as I worked, the wind picked up and the sky darkened. I moved all my gear to my van just as the first raindrops began to fall. I set up my watercolors on the center console between the two front seats, raised the steering wheel out of the way, and kept on painting, pausing every few minutes to turn on the windshield wipers so I could see the houses I was painting. The life of a plein air painter isn't all sunshine and blue skies!

More plein air paintings coming up tomorrow!

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