Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Out & About

One of the homework assignments I give my sketchbook journaling students is to paint a variegated wash on a sketchbook page without any thought as to what they might decide to draw later on the page. Then, after the wash dries, they are to begin their sketches, using the earlier wash as a unifying color theme for their drawing or painting. Since what's good for the student is also good for the teacher, I did the homework assignment for myself...

8-1/2" x 11", ink & watercolor in a Stillman & Birn Zeta Series sketchbook

It started out like this:

First, I used cobalt turquoise, cerulean blue, permanent rose, and one of my yellows (not sure which one) for the variegated wash. Then I penciled in the grid boxes and did my first two sketches...


These little drawings only take a minute or two to do. The painting takes a little longer, due to drying time. For many of them, I started painting them onsite, then snapped a photo and moved on while the paint dried, adding the final touches later at home.


What's great about this technique of doing a preliminary wash over the whole page is that, when it's time to paint your sketches, your work is half done for you! Take a look at this little sketch below. The sky, sidewalk, and street were all left as the original wash color.

The warm colors on the page worked beautifully for this picture of pumpkins outside a shop in Waynesburg.

Having the background wash as the first layer on a sketchbook page adds continuity to the page and offers exciting color possibilities that you might not have thought of without it, like the rainbow sky that is reflected in the sidewalk and grass in this sketch...

This technique is a lot of fun - give it a try!

Monday, October 27, 2014


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

I plant a packet of mixed sunflower seeds in my garden every summer. I water them, weed them, and prop them up when a storm blows through.

I don't harvest the seeds to eat or to fill our bird feeders. The birds usually cling to the centers and peck the seeds right off the plant without any help from me.

Those big, ungainly plants don't serve any purpose at all in my garden. They just take up space that could be put to use producing a nice practical crop of beans or broccoli. So, why do I plant them year after year?  

I plant sunflowers because they make me happy! Because those big, beautiful explosions of yellow, rust, and gold make my heart sing. Because that $1.59 packet of sunflower seeds is the biggest bang for my buck that I get all year.

(This original watercolor painting is for sale. Beautifully framed and double-matted, $300.00.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Blue Hydrangeas

My hydrangeas barely bloomed at all this year. The winter of 2014 was so harsh that every one of my hydrangea bushes died back, and it took all summer for them to recover and reach any size at all. Two of them began to blossom around the end of August and are now covered with blooms and buds...just in time for winter Sheesh!

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

The other fifteen or so hydrangeas that I have planted around the house are still sporting nothing but leaves. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that next year will be better. I missed those beautiful blue blooms this summer.

In this painting, I combined two different varieties of hydrangea. The one in the foreground is Nikko Blue...

and the other is a variety that has pretty pale yellow centers.

If you visit this earlier post, you'll find a step-by-step tutorial showing the process I use in painting hydrangeas.

The flowers in the background were painted with less detail...

Leaf veins were painted in various ways:

negative painting...

The leaf was first painted a golden color, then darker areas were painted with green, avoiding the vein areas

scratching lines into wet paint...

Vein lines scratched in with a wooden skewer

lifting dried paint with a damp brush, and drawing lines with a pen...

This leaf shows veins detailed with negative painting, lifting, and ink lines

The pen I used was a Noodler's Nib Creaper Flex pen filled with Noodler's Lexington Gray ink, available from Goulet Pens.

(This matted & framed original watercolor painting is available for $300.00. Please contact me by email if you're interested.)

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!

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