Friday, July 25, 2014

Painting a House Portrait Using Simple Sketching Techniques

How did this little sketch...

5 1/2" x 3 1/2", ink & watercolor in a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook

lead to this finished painting?

14" x 10", ink, watercolor, and gouache on 140 lb. Saunders Waterford paper

Well... when my dentist and his wife saw the sketch I did of the coffee corner in their office waiting room, they loved it so much that they checked out some of my other work online and decided to have me do a house portrait of the wife's family home. Her mother had recently moved from the house into an apartment and was still missing her old place. The painting was to be a gift for her, to remember the home she had loved for so many years.

Even though this finished house portrait might look very detailed and complex, up close it's not much more complicated than a simple sketch. Let's zoom in and take a look...


The trees were painted with variegated washes in shades of greens and yellows, with touches of blue and purple dropped into the darker areas. Most of the work was done with the initial wash. To finish up, I added some spattering and a few marks with a round brush to suggest leaves. Easy as pie!


Although the flower bed in front of the house may look complex, if you examine it more closely, you'll see that most of the plants were painted with a wash of light to medium value, then after that dried, a few touches of a darker tone were added to indicate leaves and shadows - two simple steps to a convincing-looking flower bed.


The stone wall was also painted in two steps: a light overall wash of grey/tan, and a darker shadow color. 



I painted the windows by simply wetting the area, dropping in touches of paint and allowing the colors to blend on the paper. Later, I drew the muntins with white Speedball ink over top of the watercolor. It worked great and was so much simpler than trying to preserve the white of the paper.


I usually just suggest the bricks on a house by painting a few individual bricks here and there, but for this painting,I went into a little more detail. It took more time, but it wasn't difficult. I brushed on a warm base of yellow ochre mixed with a bit of burnt sienna for the mortar color. After that dried, I painted the bricks with varied tones of burnt sienna. Here and there I washed over the finished bricks with a pale yellow ochre/burnt sienna mixture to soften the lines a bit.


My house portraits usually include little personal touches, like this "Dad's Garden" sign, which was a special request from the family.


The lettering on the sign was painted with gouache

And, if you look closely, back in the bushes you'll see a friendly fox who made it part of his daily routine to walk through this yard every day, right in the middle of a busy neighborhood!


The address sign was another special request. It doesn't take much time to add these personal touches, and it means so much to the recipient of the artwork.

The line work on the painting was done with a Sakura Pigma Micron pen, just like the one I often use for my sketches. I did the ink drawing first, then added watercolor.

As you can see by these detail views, my paintings are really just larger versions of my sketches. The same techniques I use in my sketchbook serve me well when doing a house portrait.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Dream Fulfilled...Teaching in Tuscany!

Ever since I sketched my way through Italy a year ago, I've dreamed of going back one day and taking a group of sketching friends with me. Well, my friends, it's happening! I've been invited to return to Tuscany in 2015 to teach sketchbook journaling, and I'd love for you to come along!


In early summer, I'll be leading a workshop at the Watermill at Posara in northern Tuscany. We'll start off with three fabulous days in Florence, then settle in at the Watermill for a fun-filled week there.  There are oodles of places to sketch around the mill, but we'll also be taking day trips to some amazing places. Click here to download a flyer about the workshop.


In the fall, during grape harvest time, I'll return to Tuscany to teach at Fattoria Bacio, a lovely estate and vineyard located between Siena and Florence. The views from Villa Bacio are amazing, with vineyards and olive groves stretching off in all directions and hilltops dotted with historic towns and castles, which we'll visit during our stay. Click here to download a workshop schedule.


I've created a new page on my blog entitled Italy Workshops, where you'll find complete information about both trips. They're both going to be wonderful - I'm glad I don't have to decide between them!


Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed
by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails. 
Explore. Dream. Discover.

 Mark Twain

Friday, July 4, 2014

Summerhill Sketching + Two Delicious Summer Recipes

Yesterday afternoon I hosted my July "Sketching at Summerhill" session. It was a gorgeous summer day around here, with blue skies, puffy clouds, and lots of flowers showing off their colors. We had such a great time sketching, talking, eating, and relaxing, and I thought you might want to take a peek and see what goes on up here on the hill on the first Thursday of every month.

I like to begin our little get-togethers with a short watercolor lesson. These tutorials aren't about theory, they're step-by-step lessons on how to approach a particular subject, and everyone seems to really enjoy them. This week's was about painting stone walls, like the one that's just outside the doors of my studio...

This wall served as our subject matter

Here's my rendering of it
 
Everyone dove right in and splashed on an initial wash of watercolor, then began to define the rocks in the wall...


A few more layers of washes, a bit of spatter here and there...


and soon everyone had a finished wall...


Then we gathered our supplies and headed outside for independent sketching time. There were sketchers scattered all over the yard...


On the patio...




and in the grass...


We drew and painted for almost two hours. It was so quiet and peaceful - everyone was engrossed in what they were doing.


Sharon filled several pages in her sketchbook...


Cathy worked on a two-page spread of flowers and the rope swing that hangs from the locust tree in our backyard...


Sandy sketched the ladies on the patio, with stone steps, bushes, and daylilies in the foreground...


Helen painted purple coneflowers...



and I did, too!
 

We all worked up an appetite out there in the fresh air, so we eventually packed up our supplies and headed inside for a glass of wine and some yummy appetizers.

First up, Pimento Cheese-Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes...

 

They may look a little messy, but, boy, are they tasty! Here's the recipe for the Pimento Cheese filling. It's got more of a kick than most, so the flavor really stands up to whatever you pair it with, like tomatoes, celery, or bread.

Pimento Cheese
½ pound sharp yellow cheddar cheese, grated
1/8 - ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp horseradish
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp dry mustard
5 T. mayonnaise
3 T. marinated roasted red peppers, chopped

In a medium bowl, stir together the cheese, cayenne pepper, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, and mayonnaise.
Blend half the mixture in a food processor until smooth. Transfer back to bowl.
Add chopped red pepper, and stir to combine.

I also made one of my favorites, California Roll-Ups...


and fruit skewers with a yummy Honey-Lemon Dip...


The recipe for the fruit dip is super simple:

Honey-Lemon Fruit Dip

½ c. plain nonfat Greek yogurt
½ c. light sour cream
3 T. jarred lemon curd
1 ½ T. honey

Combine all ingredients, stirring with a whisk.
Serve with strawberries or other fruit.

My friend, Cathy, brought a delicious 4th of July brownie dessert and even made it gluten-free for me. What a sweetie!


She took home a clean dish - there wasn't a crumb left. Hey, all that sketching really burns up the calories! We needed to replenish our energy. :)

I forgot to take pictures of all of us sitting around gabbing, eating, and sipping wine - guess I was a little too anxious to dive into all the goodies.

We sure had a great time. I love getting together with friends who enjoy sketching as much as I do. We're all so busy these days, and it feels really good to just slow down for a few hours and have fun.

If you're in the area, you're welcome to join us next month on Thursday, August 7, for another "Sketching at Summerhill" get-together. Email me for directions. I hope you can join us!



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It's A Perfect Day in Maine

I'm in Maine on vacation with my mother, sister, niece, and good-friend-who's-like-a-sister, and we're having the BEST time! We're staying in a pretty house in Owls Head, just south of Rockland in mid-coast Maine. The weather has been amazing - the air is crisp and clear and everything is so gorgeous I can hardly stand it! I can't believe I only have a week here - I could happily stay all summer.

Thought I'd share a sketch I finished this morning...


I'll have lots more to show you when I get home. Now I'm off to hunt for sea glass (I'm obsessed with it!), then walk to the Owls Head General Store for the best hamburger in the state of Maine (officially designated as such by the Food Network!), then maybe go sketching at Crescent Beach while the tide is out. Then it will be time for a glass of wine on the deck as we watch the lobster boats return to the harbor at the end of the day. And I might not be able to resist one more walk on the beach at sunset to see if the tide brought in any more sea glass. I just know that perfect piece is waiting for me out there!

I'll check in with you when I'm home again - till then, relax and enjoy this beautiful summer! 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Step-by-Step Watercolor: How to Paint a Blue Hydrangea

Everybody loves hydrangeas. They're big and showy, and the range of colors runs from the palest baby blue to deep burgundy and purple. I love them all, but my favorite has always been the traditional blue mophead hydrangea, and I thought you might enjoy seeing step-by-step photos of how I go about painting one.

6-1/2" x 6-1/2". watercolor pencil & watercolor in Strathmore Visual Journal

For this sample, I worked in a Strathmore Visual Journal and used artist's quality watercolors from a number of different manufacturers, such as Winsor & Newton, American Journey, and Holbein.

Inspiration photo

It's okay to draw and paint from a photo reference, but drawing from life is even better. When you have the flower right in front of you, it's easier to see its true colors. Since my hydrangeas aren't blooming yet, I used a photo.

Step-by-Step Instructions
for Painting a Blue Hydrangea

1 - Make a drawing of your hydrangea flower (and a few leaves) with a blue watercolor pencil.  I used a Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue watercolor pencil.


If you're intimidated by the complexity of the numerous blossoms in your hydrangea photo, try this method:
  • Lay a piece of tracing paper over your photo. 
  • Trace the outline of the main shapes onto the tracing paper with a fine-point Sharpie pen.
  • Position the tracing paper drawing behind your watercolor paper or sketchbook page. Use a light table or a sunny window to trace/draw the hydrangea with cobalt blue watercolor pencil onto your sketchbook page.
 
Step 1 - Watercolor pencil drawing

2 - Spatter on some drops of water using a paint brush, toothbrush, or spatter screen. Don't flood the drawing with water. You just want to have some droplets of water which will help to soften edges and blend colors when you add watercolor.

Step 2 - Spatter water

3 - Begin painting varying tones and colors of blue, loosely brushing onto blossom petals, leaving some areas of white. I used the following blues:
  • Cobalt Blue (closest tube color to hydrangea blue)
  • Ultramarine Blue (good for variety, for darker areas, and to mix purples)
  • Cerulean Blue (not as intense as cobalt and ultramarine, good for lighter areas, and to add variety in color tones)
Drop on water to lighten in places and cause “blooms.”
Soften some edges with a damp brush.
Paint darker tones in shadow areas.  
Wet the leaf areas and allow some blue to bleed out onto leaves. 

Step 3 - Varied washes of blues

Some blue hydrangeas have lighter white and yellow centers. Use the colors required for your particular subject.

Add touches of pink (Holbein Rose Violet) & lavender (Rose Violet + Ultramarine Blue or Cobalt Blue.)

Pink and lavender added

After step 3 - Painting is dry & ready for detail work

4 - Begin to define individual petals using mid-tones of blues. Use areas of violet and pink for variety. Some petals will be painted directly, and some will be painted around (negative painting.)

I like to use hard edges to define shapes and soft edges within the petals to show form.

To soften an edge, use a brush that's damp or wet, but not dripping, and run it along the edge of a painted area to allow the paint to feather out.

Step 4 - Negative painting

5 - Continue painting positive and negative shapes, one petal at a time. Refer continually to your photo or flower to analyze where light and dark edges contrast with each other. Paint the darker side where two edges meet.

Step 5 - Painting positive & negative petal shapes

6 - Keep adding more mid-tones and darks, varying the blues, and adding touches of pink.

Step 6 - Building up shadows

Add the darkest blue and purple shadow tones.

Darkest tones
 
7 - The flower can be called complete at this point...        .

Step 7 - Completed flower

or you may want to add more detail by using a small rigger brush to paint veins on some of the petals.

Veins painted with a rigger brush

You might decide to add a few more finishing touches to the flower later, but it's a good idea to begin painting the leaves at this point.

Flower with petal veins added

8 - Painting leaves:
Greens may be mixed using yellow + blue, or start with a base color of green, such as sap green or Hooker’s green, and vary the tone by adding ultramarine blue, rose violet, and/or yellow.

Paint a base color of green on the leaf. Vary the color to add interest. Add yellow to the sunny side of the leaf and blue to the cool, shady side. Then use one of the techniques shown below to indicate the prominent veins found on hydrangea leaves.

Leaf technique #1: Scratching in lines
Use a sharp tool such as a toothpick to incise or scratch vein lines into WET paint. Paint will settle in the scraped area, making a dark line.

Leaf technique #1

Leaf technique #2: Lifting lines
Use a small brush dampened with clean water to lift paint off the leaf in vein lines. Rinse and blot brush between strokes.

Leaf technique #2

Leaf technique #3: Negative painting
Paint the leaf with a base color of light green or pale yellow. Let dry. With darker green, paint the space between leaf veins. Leave the veins untouched. (You can plan where the veins will be by drawing them lightly with a blue or green watercolor pencil before painting with the dark green.)

Leaf technique #3

And that's all there is to it! Here's the finished hydrangea...


It does take some time to paint all those petals and make them look three-dimensional, but if you just take your time and look for edges where there's contrast, then paint the darker side, you'll eventually have a beautiful blue hydrangea blossom!

I hope you'll give it a try, and, if you have any questions, just leave a comment. I'll be happy to help.

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