Four Seasons in the Blue Ridge – Watercolor

A while back I posted about a painting I entered in the East-meets-West show. It was a watercolor of a stormy spring day on the Stoney Creek golf course. It was sitting) unframed on the shelf above my desk and it kept catching my eye.
I think if was the form factor and the color scheme. It’s 12 x 6 and very green.

I decided I really like that size so I started doing some other paintings in the same form factor. One that I did was a fall scene that turned out really nice. I decided it would be fun to do all four seasons, so I did.

I ended up doing winter twice. I really liked the second one. Summer is very pretty, but I think it’s a little too spring-like. I may try it again.

Now I need to get the other three framed so I have a complete set.

Holiday Cards

This year, thanks to a youtube video by Steve Mitchell one of my favorite online watercolor instructors, I decided to paint holiday cards for a short list of people who touched my life this year. All told I painted about 15. Each card was roughly 5×7. I had cardstock that was made from watercolor paper but the quality wasn’t good so I painted on Arches and cut to fit. Each painting was fixed to a card with small double-sided tape squares which raised the painting a tiny bit. The effect was pretty nice. It’s too bad that you can’t get good quality watercolor paper cardstock.

In Steve’s video he did what he calls spontaneous painting. This is a technique where he lays down some spontaneous washes and then adds details to turn the image into a landscape. (If you watch the video you’ll see how fascinating it is to see.) I started out trying this, but I’m just not good enough to pull it off. I fell back on my tried and true landscape painting process, which is still evolving.

One thing I was forced to do was to paint things that were different from the way they appeared in my reference materials. I wanted winter scenes, mostly snow scenes. I have some reference photos that are snow scenes but not enough, so I repainted some other scenes I’d recently done, modifying them to be snowscapes. It was fun and got me out of my engineer’s brain a bit, which is a challenge and is always good for me.

Below are photos of a few of the cards. Unfortunately I didn’t get photos of all of the finished products. Perhaps I’ll start earlier for next year.

Monet’s Garden

I did a post a while back on my trip to Paris and more specifically to Giverny. I continue to find inspiration in the beautiful photographs I was fortunate enough to capture.

I’ve been doing a lot more watercolor lately, and as you know I find it very challenging, but I love it. I also believe that it has the potential to make my oil painting better (as I also said in an earlier post). I continue to believe that is true.

Recently I completed an oil painting of Monet’s Garden. I spent quite a bit of time doing it, not because I was working on it, but because I would get distracted by watercolor and then would go back to it. I did it in the studio at our mountain home, so that also slows me down since we are not there as often as I’d like.

I tried to keep this painting loose, focusing on shapes and colors, not starting from the background and painting forward as was my tendency when I started painting. Watercolor simply doesn’t allow that approach and I’m also trying to apply that limitation to oils. I think it makes my work more impressionistic.

I have to admit, it’s humbling to paint a scene that was immortalized by the great Claude Monet. That said, I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to stand in the place where he produced many masterpieces and to use that as an inspiration for my own interpretation.

Weekend in St. Michaels, Maryland

In September we had the pleasure of enjoying a very relaxing weekend on the Maryland Eastern Shore in the little town of St. Michaels. We actually stayed at the Wade’s Point Inn, which was a few miles outside of St. Michaels, and was extremely serene and relaxing.  I brought my watercolor gear with me and did some plein air painting on this beautiful property.  It was very inspiring and most enjoyable.  I did several sketches in my sketchbook, but I did camp out on the lawn two mornings with all of my gear to do full paintings.  

The first piece I did was the morning sun shining on a point where there was a house and a small dock. This piece is 12 x 6, a size I like a lot for small panoramas.  
Wades Point 1

The second piece I did was the front lawn of Wade’s Point Inn.  They had a dock that several of the guests fished from, and a comfortable looking hammock in the trees.  This piece is 9 x 12.  
Wades Point 2

East and West Art Exhibition

I entered three recent watercolor paintings into the East and West Art Exhibitions at Falls Church Arts.  This show will run from August 19th through September 23rd 2017 at the Falls Church Arts Central Gallery at 700-B W Broad Street, Falls Church VA.  This show was a curated show and based on the number and quality of the works they received they could only accept two entries per artist.  

The show opening is on August 19th. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend.  

Here are the three works I entered:

Summer Leaves

Summer Leaves (Selected)

Spring Storms in Stoney Creek

Spring Storms in Stoney Creek (Selected)

Butterfly 2

Butterfly (Not Selected)



World Watercolor Month

July was the second annual World Watercolor Month.  World Watercolor Month was started by Charlie O’Sheilds, creator of doodlewash® and a designer from Missouri.  Charlie had become enamored with watercolor and started a Facebook page called World Watercolor Month in July 2016.  He challenged artists to paint and post a watercolor painting each day of the month of July.  It was a great success and had thousands of members before the month was out, so he renamed it World Watercolor Group and maintained it as a place for watercolorists of all levels to share their work.  

In 2016, I was only an observer in World Watercolor Month, although I think I did post a few paintings.  In 2017, I decided to do my best to participate. With a demanding day job, I knew this would be a challenge, but every evening after dinner I’d get out my sketchbook and try to paint at least a little something I could post.  Some were better than others.  By the end of the month I’d painted every day but two (and I still posted something on the days I missed).  It was very gratifying and I think I did improve my skills.  Next year I will paint something every day!  

Below are a few of my favorites from the month.  (#worldwatercolormonth)

HibiscusAppleButterflyCowIrisHay Bales


Painting Paris

As I said in an earlier post, I recently had the good fortune of traveling to Paris to meet up with my sister and to visit some good friends who are living there.  I have been enjoying doing watercolors of some of the photos I took.  

One of the things we did while I was there was visit Giveny, where Monet lived out the later part of his life.  We visited his home and his spectacular gardens and famous water lily pond.  This was on my bucket list and it was every bit as magical and inspiring as I had hoped.  I expect to be painting from the photos I took for a very long time.  

Below is a shot of the garden followed by my watercolor interpretation.  I tried to capture the bold color of the sky and it’s reflection in the water. It took two attempts to get this. I’m still learning the watercolor process and the approach to painting.  I after a blue wash I painted the lilies followed by the water reflections and then the trees in the background.  That seemed to work well.  
Monet Water Lily Pond Photo

Here is a photo of me in the garden standing on one of the famous bridges looking and feeling awestruck.

Me in Monet's Garden

I’ve been trying to do some watercolor sketching of the many flower photos I took.  Here are two from my sketchbook.

Finally, I took some lovely photos of Paris in the evening while on a dinner cruise. I only had my iPhone with me, but it does have a pretty good camera and is quite good in low light.  I have attempted a watercolor cityscape from one of these photos.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I captured the evening light well at all. It’s hard to get the richness of the colors as night falls in watercolor. This one begs to be done in oil, so I am going to do that soon.  I will post when I’m done.  

Paris in the Evening Photo

Eighth Annual Falls Church Arts Plein Air Show

I’ve been absent for a bit.  I actually have several posts I need to write, including one on my trip to Paris that included a trip to Giverny, but for now a quick update.

This weekend was the judging of the 8th Annual Falls Church Arts Plein Air show.  I was only in town to paint two weekends for the timeframe of the show (mid-April to mid-June). One of those was cold and rainy, the other I agreed to gallery sit at the new gallery.  I got creative and sat out in front of the gallery and painted Kensington Corner. The finished product was only minimally realistic because I only painted what I liked.  I painted the clock and the bus stop and the trees and flowers, but not the roads and only minimal detail in the buildings.  I kind of liked the result, and so did someone else, because the painting sold at the showing on Saturday. It was bought by a lovely couple who very thoughtfully viewed the show and chose two paintings to buy, one being mine.  I hope they get many years of enjoyment out of it.  

I have been so busy that I framed the painting in haste, and did not scan or photograph it.  I will need to remember it from the iPhone photo I took of it in its frame.
Kensington Corner
This show has several cash prizes.  I did not win anything, but below are the well deserving and very talented winners.  

Can Watercolor Painting Improve my Oil Painting Skills?

So I’ve been doing a lot more watercolor painting these days.  I find it a beautiful medium that is very difficult but I really want to master it.  With a few exceptions, I’m less than thrilled with the results I’m getting but I recognize that it really takes practice.  

Watercolor is beholden to the laws of physics in how water behaves. You have to learn to manage it, but you can’t really expect to fully control it.  It also requires a different technique because it is transparent, so you can’t paint lighter colors over dark and expect them to cover the dark up.  If you want white, you have to leave the paper white.  You can protect the areas you want to keep white with masking fluid, but that’s is a skill that requires practice, just like everything else.  

A few weeks back I set out to paint from a photo of one of our mountain streams.  It was a really pretty scene where the light was dancing through the leaves onto the forest floor and the rocks and water.  I had also just watched a video on pouring watercolors by an artist named Leslie Redhead.  While I recognized I am not ready to try pouring, I did learn a lot about mixing color on the paper and doing repeated washes to get deep rich colors.  I used some masking fluid to mask out white areas where the sun was coming through the leaves and some of the light on the tree trunks.  I ended up liking the deep washes, but not really the masked areas.  They looked too contrived.  I tried to fix this by adding some light colors (yellow and blue) but this didn’t really fix the problem.  I also ended up embellishing some of the light on the water with white ink.  The result was a good practice painting but nothing to write home about. 
Stream Study 1

Then I set out to try it again.   I changed the masking technique to do some spatter.  In both cases I applied the larger areas with a sponge, which in hindsight was probably part of the problem.  In this painting, I like the sunlight in the background more than the previous version. I left it white but painted in the light yellow leaves to make it look less contrived.  I did not like the effect of the light on the water.  The shape of the sponge was not correct for water flow.  I also didn’t leave enough areas white on the water, and lifting did not work.  I did not resort to white ink to add more as I did in the previous painting.  Once again, I ended up with a good practice painting, but nothing more.  I really like the foliage and the tree trunks.  I hate the water because it is too flat and does not show movement. 
Stream Study 2

Because I am impatient, I have a hard time leaving a watercolor painting alone while my layers are drying.  I need to find other things to occupy my time so while I was painting my second study I started doodling a version of the same scene on a small piece of paper.  I didn’t use masking fluid. I did some wet-in-wet, but didn’t so a lot of broad washes.  In some ways I like this one the best of the three watercolors. 
Stream Study Little

So what does this have to do with oil painting and the title of this post, you ask?  Good question!  
While I was doing these paintings I became very attached to the scene. I was also missing my oils.  While they are a greater time commitment and more difficult to set up and clean up I still know my oil painting skills are better than my nascent watercolor skills.  I decided to do a version of the painting in oils.  I also committed to use two things I’d learned from my watercolor studies.  First, I learned a lot about the scene and the way to capture the light.  Second, I decided to try something a little different. I decided to approach the painting more like I do a watercolor painting.  I primed the canvas in a light orange acrylic and then began by panting the white and yellow areas peeking through the trees.  Normally I would paint the tree trunks before the foliage and would then paint leaves over the trunks.  Of course you can’t do that in watercolor since the trunks are darker. You have to paint the trunks later, only in the areas where the foliage doesn’t cover them.  I used this same approach in the oil painting.  I painted the light leaves, followed by the darker leaves. I painted the rocks and the water and captured areas of the bare forest floor between the leaves.  The last thing that I painted was the tree trunks.  

The resulting painting was probably the most impressionistic thing I’ve done.  I think it really captures the dancing light and the peaceful dark areas of the forest while not focusing on realism. I really like the result, especially if you step back from it a few feet, not something a photograph really allows for.  
Stream Oil

So yes, what I am learning from watercolor does have the potential to improve my oil painting. I’m going to keep at it, and maybe someday I’ll be a good watercolorist too.  

15th Annual Falls Church Arts All Member Show

Falls Church Arts is opening a new gallery, and its just two blocks from our Falls Church home!  In the past they’ve always shared Art Space with Creative Cauldron, Falls Church’s theater group. So exited that they are getting their own space.  The grand opening is Saturday night with the 15th Annual All Members show.  
Show Announcement
The new space is in the retail portion of The Kensington, which is a senior living building that has just been completed in Falls Church. The building owners are very excited to have Falls Church Arts as a neighbor because they see it as a good fit with their residents.  

I have entered two paintings in the show. Depending on space availability one or both will be included.  I will also be at the opening gala!  Below are the two paintings and yes there is a vineyard theme 🙂 

Afton Mountain Vineyard oil

Rockbridge Vineyard Chairs