Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sarasota Farmer's Market

One last sketch from Florida...

5-1/2" x 8-1/2", ink & watercolor in a Stillman and Birn Alpha series sketchbook

It was too windy to sketch outside on the day I visited the Sarasota Farmer's market with my sketching buddies, so we snapped pictures and headed for a warm, cozy Starbucks nearby. There, we spread out our sketchbooks and paints and settled in for a group sketching session, the blustery day outside all but forgotten. We drew and painted as we sipped coffee and talked about anything and everything. 

A sketchbook is the perfect accompaniment to a cappuccino, and it has zero calories!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Fun in Florida!

I felt a teeny bit guilty leaving home when winter storm Jonas was on its way, but I had to go. After all, I was teaching in Florida!

4" x 6", ink & watercolor in a hardbound Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook

I had an early flight out of Pittsburgh, and since I had a long wait at the gate, I pulled out my little Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbook and did a simple sketch while I waited. I even had time to paint it using a waterbrush and my small travel palette.

I had a layover in Atlanta, so I grabbed some lunch before my flight to Tampa...

5-1/2" x 8-1/2", ink & watercolor in a hardbound Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook

I always talk to my students about using a thematic border on their sketches, so I took my own advice and bordered my page with a knife, fork, and spoon. I think the red dots outlining the silverware really helped to bring the page together.

I had a day to relax with my friend, Judy, before I began teaching on Thursday. We went to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to set up my classroom.

I was blown away by the gorgeous location. Here's the view from the Great Room, where my classroom was set up...

View of Sarasota Bay from Selby Gardens

So inspiring!

After Judy and I got things squared away in the classroom, we strolled around the gardens, taking in all the amazing tropical trees and flowers.

We had lunch at the Selby House cafe, then did a little sketching. It was so peaceful and quiet...and warm! Here's the view from the terrace where we ate lunch...

 4" x 6", ink & watercolor in a hardbound Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook

We took another walk after lunch, then sat down to sketch the Selby house. I was drawn to this view of palm tree shadows on the stucco wall.

5-1/2" x 8-1/2", ink & watercolor in a hardbound Stillman & Birn Alpha series sketchbook

Thursday was Day 1 of my "Sketch Your Life!" workshop, and the students dove right in and got down to business, drawing their art supplies for their first project, after I gave them some preliminary instruction about including borders and lettering.

Look at the great job they did!

Some of them had never drawn or picked up a brush before. It takes a lot of courage to sign up for a class like this and try something completely new. But it's never too late to begin!

We did another project wtih color boxes and bands. As they designed their pages, I encouraged them to include one of the interesting lettering styles I had taught them.

The next day I started out with a lesson on quick sketching and gridded layouts. It was one of the students' favorite projects (and not just because it included candy!)

Here are their "sweet" sketches...

More lessons, projects, fun and laughter followed our adventures in Candyland, including an exercise in painting a subject from varying views and a quote page.

We posed for one last group photo...

They made me strike this silly pose!

and then it was time to say goodbye. I've been invited to return soon to teach some new classes at Selby Gardens, and I can't wait! The beautiful location, supportive staff, and enthusiastic students made this workshop so much fun.

And I've finally come to understand why people flock to Florida in the wintertime - it's pretty awesome!

Friday, January 29, 2016

San Clemente Workshop: Earth, Sea, and Sky

Now that I'm home from Florida, I'm gearing up for my next teaching trip. I'll be in San Clemente, California, in February for a 3-day workshop entitled "Step-by-Step Watercolor: Earth, Sea, and Sky" followed by a 1-day plein air sketching workshop. The plein air workshop is full, but I wanted to let you know that there are spaces remaining in the 3-day watercolor class.

The "Earth, Sea, and Sky" workshop includes a series of lessons on how to paint the subjects we commonly encounter in landscape painting: rocks, beaches, water, crashing waves, reflections, trees, meadows, and skies in all their variations.

I break each exercise down into manageable steps, giving specific advice on the colors, brushes, and techniques that will bring the subject to life.

The first 3-day workshop filled up fast, so we've added a second one for those on the waiting list. It will be held February 25-27 at San Clemente Art Supply. Visit my US Workshops page to read more about it. Here's the link to register.

This will be my only west coast workshop in 2016, so don't miss this chance to build your watercolor skills with me there by your side, helping you through the challenging spots and celebrating your successes.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Commission #7: Tin Can Hollow Road

Here's the final house portrait in this series of 2015 commissions, a renovated farmhouse on the charmingly named Tin Can Hollow Road in Greene County, Pennsylvania. I took my reference photos in August when the yard was filled with flowers and the white hydrangeas were just beginning to develop the rosy blush that comes as summer winds down.

26" x 20", watercolor on 140 lb. paper

This painting is much larger than my usual work. I feel most comfortable working at sketchbook size, anything up to 9" x 12", but at 26" x 20", this one made me really stretch myself. I used larger brushes and a bigger palette, so I would have room to mix up substantial puddles of paint, but the techniques I used were the same as for smaller works.

I did a detailed pencil drawing of the home and yard, then sketched in the main trunks and branches of the trees, roughly indicating masses of foliage. I masked out the fence posts and the window frames and a few other small details here and there. Then it was time to give those big brushes a workout!

I began by painting the large tree to the left of the house, using olive green and yellow ochre for the lighter sunlit leaves and mixing in Hooker's green, ultramarine blue and Payne's gray for the darker areas. I worked front to back, meaning I painted the foliage closest to the viewer first and gradually filled in the spaces in between the light areas with darker values. I used round brushes, a natural sponge, and an old stiff-bristle oil painting brush to paint the leaves.

I began painting the light gray color of the tree trunks after I had my first few passes at the foliage, adding a touch of raw sienna to the gray where the sun was shining on the trunk.

As I moved back into the distant woods, filling in around the foreground trees, I allowed the deep, rich colors to mingle wet-in-wet. After the paint dried I lifted out a few tree trunks with a damp brush.

I repeated the same process in the trees to the right of the house, working on the light leaves first, then filling in the shadowy areas.

After the trees were nearly finished, I wet the sky area and dropped in cerulean blue, adding cobalt blue toward the top. To shape the clouds, I blotted with a tissue and lifted paint where needed with a damp brush. (I later added lavender-gray shadows to the clouds, but they don't show up too well in the photo.)

At this point, the trees and sky were mostly done, but I kept going back to the trees as I worked, adding a branch or twig here and there, spattering some color, or adding a darker tone.

Next, I tackled the lawn, sidewalks, and road. They were all built up with layers of washes. I moved around the painting, working on one area for awhile, then, as that part dried, I moved on and worked on something else.

The house is surrounded by lovingly tended gardens filled with flowers, all the work of my client, the homeowner.

As always, I painted the flowers with light, then medium, then dark values. I'm always surprised at what a difference those darkest values make. Without them, nothing "pops".

For the flag, I masked the stars early on, then carefully painted the blue background and red stripes. After the masking was removed, I softened edges and painted shadows. Doing this kind of detail work required me switching back to my smaller brushes.

The house was painted one step at a time, first a light gray wash for the siding, with a warmer gray for the roof.

A few dark lines suggested shingles on the roof...

The siding was indicated with thin broken blue-gray lines, then the large shadow from the tree was painted, making the sunlit parts of the house look nice and bright.

The leaded glass door and sidelights were carefully painted with a small brush, and I even included the wreath on the front door.

The shutters were painted a deep dark red, and highlights were lifted later with a damp brush. The darkest shadows help to define the form of each shutter.

The chimney was first given a base wash made up of yellow ochre mixed with a touch of burnt umber. Burnt sienna, burnt umber, and Paynes gray were dropped into the wet wash and allowed to mingle as they dried. Later, individual bricks were painted in a range of those same colors, mimicking the variation of colors found in the house's bricks.

To finish up I painted the white snowball hydrangeas along the front fence, then removed the masking from the fence and painted the light and medium tones on it.

Adding the dark shadows to the posts made them appear to be brightly lit by the sun, and the cast shadows on the ground add to the illusion. That contrast of values is so necessary for a painting to work.

All those individual parts and pieces added up to a cohesive whole. The picture has plenty of contrast, to look good from a distance, but it also is filled with the details that my clients love. After all, it's their home, and they enjoy seeing what they've built over the years.

I hope you've enjoyed this series of paintings and learned a little something from my tutorials. I know I learn something from every painting I do. It's all a matter of practice and learning from our mistakes. Over time, improvement comes, so take heart, and keep on painting!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Commission #6: Victoria Belle Mansion

Imagine an outdoor wedding in this beautiful location, with violinists serenading the wedding party from the balcony and guests arrayed in white chairs surrounding the fountain. That was the scene when my client's daughter was married at Victoria Belle Mansion just a few years ago.

12" x 8" watercolor on 140 lb. paper

Victoria Belle is an antebellum mansion in Hogansville, Georgia, near Atlanta. It's beautiful in any season, but autumn was when this family wedding had taken place, so that's the season I was asked to paint.

Of course, I couldn't find any photos of it in the fall. (That would have made it too easy!) Instead I had to use my imagination and a little artistic license to change summer to fall.

I began the painting by sponging and painting masses of fall foliage using yellow ochre, raw sienna, and burnt sienna. I dropped in darker color mixes while some of the areas were still damp, allowing the colors to blend a bit. I also painted the first light washes onto the tree trunks using a watery mixture of raw sienna and burnt umber.

Next, I painted the sky, wet-in-wet, with cerulean blue and cobalt blue, carefully painting around the leaves I had already put down. I lifted the blue paint with a tissue when it encroached on the areas that I wanted to remain as white clouds.

It would have been a problem if I had painted the entire sky area blue first, before painting the leaves, because painting the yellow leaves over it would have turned them a dull green. And the rusty orange colors of the leaves would have turned brown. So the tedious work of painting around the leaves was necessary. It helped to have a lot of white clouds in the sky, since I didn't have to paint around anything there - I simply allowed the leaves to stand against the white clouds.

After the sky had dried, I  moved on to painting the distant trees using mostly wet-on-dry techniques, but also dropping colors into wet washes here and there to add interest.

The tree trunks were finished with progressively darker strokes of gray-brown. The medium tones helped to give the impression of textured bark, and the darkest color (a mix of burnt umber and ultramarine blue) rounded out the form of the trunks and branches.

When I paint an expanse of lawn, I usually use a yellowy green like olive green as my main color, but I vary the color to keep the grass from looking too uniform, adding touches of burnt sienna or ultramarine blue to mute it or make it look darker and more shadowy.

I had masked off the water dripping from the fountain early on, making it much easier to paint the fountain itself and the brick walkway behind it. After the masking was removed and the water was revealed, a few bluish shadows were added to break up the bright white.

The flowers and shrubs were painted in stages of light, medium and dark washes, allowing each step to dry before applying the next darker value. For the white chrysanthemums, I simply suggested the individual flowers in the solid mass of blooms by painting tiny strokes of blue-grey shadows on the top surface of each plant.

The tan concrete and bricks were first painted with a wash of raw sienna and burnt umber, which gave me a warm tan color. After that inital wash had dried, I used masking fluid to paint the mortar lines between the bricks. Then the bricks were painted with burnt sienna and burnt umber.

Rubbing off the masking fluid revealed the mortar lines, but they still needed a little more work. I softened some of the edges with a wet brush, dragging some of the brick color onto the lighter mortar lines. I also added cast shadows where needed. The last step was to give the bricks and foreground a fine spattering with watery burnt umber to add some texture.

It was finally time to tackle the mansion. I left it until last because I wanted to have the option of cleaning up any spatters of paint that may have inadvertently gotten on it, or any misplaced brushstrokes from the background trees. It's an easy matter to lift any unwanted paint with a damp brush at this stage. If I had already painted all the building details and shadows, then tried to remove unwanted spatters, it would have damaged what I had worked so hard on.

I used masking fluid on the window casings early in the painting process to make it easier to paint the shutters and windows. After the masking was removed, all the shadows were painted using a mix of ultramarine blue and burnt umber.

Every married couple has a photo album to remind them of their wedding day, but the happy young couple who was married at Victoria Belle on that perfect fall day also has this hand-painted watercolor reminder hanging in their home - this home!

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