Lake Anna, Et Cetera

Once again, I’m painting from other people’s photographs and I’m very thankful I have friends who are such good photographers. They provide me with much inspiration. Below is a painting I did from a photograph taken by my friend Chip Bumgardner. He has a house on Lake Anna in Virginia and he took this absolutely stunning photograph of the lakeshore during the snowstorm last winter.

The sky was a dark, almost midnight blue, which faded to white and eventually picked up the reflection of color from the shore. The sun was shining on the trees around the lake and they were red hue except for where they were covered with snow. There were a few visible snow covered boathouses. Then the entire scene was reflected on to the smooth, clear surface of the lake. I don’t know if Chip was lucky enough to get these colors straight from his camera, or if he adjusted them. Either way he deserves the artistic credit for the photo.

I don’t believe I did the photo justice, but I had fun painting it. My engineer’s brain struggles with composition because I am compelled to paint what is there. As I study and learn more about composition, I learn what makes a good arrangement, but still struggle with adapting the scene. The beauty of this photograph is that it’s perfect composition all by itself. The eye is drawn through the painting to the middle, most distant part of the shore. The contrasting colors cause the trees to stand out as the focal point of the picture.

My job was easy. I just copied what I saw. The tree colors in the reflection were slightly lighter and brighter and the water was darker and grayer. The boathouses were fun. I took a few liberties regarding their number and placement.

Below is the finished painting followed by Chip’s original photograph.

Lake Anna in Snow Chip B's Lake Anna Sunset

Continuing with photos from friends, I had not done a butterfly in a while and my friend Sharon Little took a very pretty picture of a Viceroy butterfly last summer. Below is a watercolor done from her photo.



I was always challenged by skies, so lately I’ve taken them on with a vengeance and I feel like I’m seeing some success. I was showing photos of some of my paintings to my friend Rob and he remarked that my skies were nice, so I have a second opinion.

Part of the problem is my engineer’s brain.  Sky is blue, clouds are white, and cloud shadows are grey, right?  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Once I got past that things got better.  A couple of events helped me.  One was seeing some paintings by a Bobbi Pratt, a local Northern Virginia artist.  Bobbi does beautiful colorful skies. Second was the class I took from Andras Bality, who helped talk us through mixing our palette, pointing out the violets in the clouds.

Back in 2000 I painted a picture of a photo I’d taken of the Pont Du Gard in the South of France. I always loved the painting, but I hated the cloud.  I actually repainted this when I first started painting again last year thinking I’d get it right the second time.  The cloud is better, but still not right. I might have to try again now that I’m getting seriously into clouds.

2000 Version

2000 Version (acrylic on canvas)

2014 version (oil on board)

2014 version (oil on board)

Sunrises and sunsets have become some of my favorite subjects since I’ve been getting into skies.  I’ve taken on some truly challenging scenes, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results.  Last spring we went to St. John, USVI for our anniversary and my husband took a stunning photo of the sunset from Zozo’s, a restaurant in the Caneel Bay resort.  In an act of total bravery I decided to try to paint it and I’m so glad I did.  It came out wonderfully.  I ended up painting most of the clouds with my fingers because I couldn’t get the brushes to do what I wanted.  I’ve learned more about brushes and how to select and use them since then.  I remember after I finished the sky I was terrified to paint the palm trees for fear I’d screw it up.  I didn’t.  It’s one of my favorite paintings.

Sunset at Zozo's

I also did it on the iPad.  The two ended up being sort of parallel studies for each other.  I was doing the painting in our mountain house.  I worked on the iPad version while I was in our Northern Virginia place.  I finished the iPad version first.

iPad version

iPad version

Last September I spent a week in the mountains and every morning I would walk to an overlook to photograph the sunrise. One morning the clouds were particularly luminescent.  I decided to attempt a painting of that.  I like the sky.  I painted the shadows first and finished the highlights in pure white after everything had dried.  I struggled a lot with the mountains and how they faded in the distance.  It’s not a favorite, but ultimately I like the result.

September Sunrise in Wintergreen

I’ve already posted my painting of the clouds lying in the valley, but this one was great fun.  I thought about naming it clouds from both sides 🙂 What’s nice about this one is that the photo almost appears to be black and white except for the streak of orange-yellow sky in between the layers. I tried to make the colors, except for that streak, very subtle to keep that black and white feeling.   I’m thinking about painting this one again in a larger size to go over my fireplace. That thought makes me nervous.  I’m not sure I could do it as well a second time around.

Three Ridges in Cloud

Most recently I decided to try a sunrise picture I took several years ago on the North Carolina shore.  This is still a work in progress and I’m not sure how I feel about it.  The colors are great.  I painted the sky and let it dry and then painted the clouds.  This is good if you want sharp edges, but it isn’t good if you want things to blend.  Some of these clouds have sharp edges but others are wispy.  I had to repaint the wispy ones with part of the sky to get them to blend.  There is also a cloud that looks a UFO.  I still need to work on it.  There may be hope for this, but I’m not sure. I’ll post the finished version if it’s any good.

A work in progress...

A work in progress…

In the beginning…

In 1998, I decided I wanted to try my hand at painting. I actually don’t recall what led me to this idea, but I tend to be a bit impulsive, so if the idea popped into my head I probably acted on it. At the time, I was a co-founder and Vice President for an Internet startup. We were still trying to figure out exactly what the company would do, so I had some free time on my hands.

I had taken art classes in high school and showed some aptitude. My older sister is an artist and I was always intimidated by my inability to keep up with her so I never pursued art outside of the classroom. I also never attempted anything as ambitious as painting with oils or acrylics.

As I said in my “about me”, I’m an engineer by training. More specifically, I’m a computer scientist — some engineers would take issue with me calling myself an engineer, but you get the idea. I’m a logical thinker and I approach problems in a specific way. Painting was no different. I went to a local craft store and bought some acrylic paints, brushes and canvas paper. I think I also bought a plastic palette that was covered and would keep paints wet for a few days. I didn’t know if I would be any good at painting so investing in actual stretched canvases seemed frivolous. I then began to experiment to see how paints worked.

I had a photograph I’d recently taken of a dogwood blossom. I decided that would be my subject. I practiced mixing colors and testing brush strokes. I wasn’t sure how to capture the background. The photo was focused on the blossom so the background was blurry. I decided to just paint it dark green with some slightly contrasting leaves. The leaves and the blossom in the foreground I painted in more detail. Interestingly enough, I ended up liking the painting, and I was encouraged to continue. I guess that’s a good thing because I now derive great pleasure from painting.

At some point later I actually had that first painting framed and gave it to my mother as a gift. Because it was on cheap canvas paper I had to have it mounted on a board. It ended up looking pretty nice as you can see from the photograph. Both digital photography and my skills at photographing paintings have improved a lot since the 1990s, but you get the idea.

First Painting

So this is how my journey from engineer to artist began and it continues…