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

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 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.  

Adventures in Watercolor

We spent about a week and a half at our mountain home for the holidays, and I took several days off from my pesky day job to do some painting.  As I’ve said, I’ve been trying to improve my watercolor skills.  One of the ways I’ve been doing that is by watching YouTube videos.  While I have learned a lot, and I’ve gotten some great ideas, the most important thing I’ve learned is that it takes a lot of practice!  You’ve got to try it for yourself and figure out how it works, and what works for you and your style.  So I decided to do as much painting as I could and I’m sharing the adventure.  Sorry this is a long post. I could have broken it into several small posts, but I think there’s value in covering all of these together.  (Note: clicking on any image to see a larger version.)

Snowy 7th Fairway Stream

In my most recent post, just after Christmas, I shared a painting I did of a snow scene of a pond on the golf course near our home.  To do this I watched a few videos on painting snow in watercolor, including this one by Grant Fuller.  I think the videos were all helpful.  I like the foreground including the grasses peaking up through the snow. I used masking fluid to block some of the white branches in the foreground trees and one of the strongest ridges in the field.  I augmented the whites with a white gel ink pen.  I don’t really like the clouds.  Skies look easy when I watch others do them, but I still struggle with them.  

snowy-7th-fairway-stream-2

3 Ridges in Cloud (Watercolor version)

Next I decided to do a scene that I’ve done multiple times in oil, hoping that familiarity would help.  I’m not sure it did. Sometimes I think that watercolor is better if you’re not too tied to the original scene.  Photos should really just be an inspiration.  Many of the videos I’ve watched, including several by Steven Cronin like this one are done entirely from the artist’s imagination. I’m definitely not there yet!

In this painting, I like the sky, but not the way the clouds are laying in the valley.  I think the foreground trees turned out okay. I augmented them with my white gel ink pen.  For what it’s worth, this painting looks better in the original form.  The scan didn’t do it justice.  

three-ridges-in-cloud-wc

Stormy 17 Mile Drive

Then I decided to do a seascape, which was an ambitious undertaking. I have done very few of these, even in oil.  When I was showing my work at the Farmers’ Market in December, one of the other artists, Rajendra KC was quite taken with the oil version of this scene (in my gallery if you are interested).  Given that he is a very talented local artist, I was quite flattered by this.  I decided to try to do a watercolor version.  

I have to say, I surprised myself with this one. I had very low expectations but it came out very nice.  This is perhaps my best sky so far.  I did not mask the white caps. I used discipline (a challenge for me) to leave them white. (I did watch part of a video that showed this, but I didn’t capture the link.) I augmented the white caps with white gouache in places, which is how I got the look of spray. I also really enjoyed doing the rocks. I took my time, starting with washes for the lighter ones on the left and then slowly layering on shadows.   

stormy-17-mile-drive

Clump of Trees (Study)

Then I discovered Steve Mitchell’s YouTube channel. I was quite taken with his landscapes and found his approach to be more valuable, from an instruction perspective, than many of the others. I watched several of his videos, but I thought this one on “accidental painting” would be fun to try. My version did not turn out nearly as nice as his, but it was a good learning experience. It also forced me to paint from my head, although I will confess that I allowed myself to be pulled in the direction of Steve’s example.  There are a lot of things I don’t like about this painting, but given that it was a quick study it’s also not bad.

clump-of-trees-study

Springtime Field

Inspired by my clump of trees study I decided to take on a painting from a photo I took of a field near Lovingston Virginia last spring.  I had a lot of fun with this one, and most of it I like.  There are some things I might do differently if I did it again. Rather than pointing those out I think I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader.  

springtime-field

7th Fairway Pond

Finally, on the morning of the day we were to leave to come back to Northern Virginia I decided to do one last painting. I had limited time so I did this fairly quickly, but I think it turned out okay.  I like the sky and the shoreline of the pond – especially the rock!  I’m not crazy about the mid-ground trees or the reflections of the trees in the water, which I did quickly because I was running out of time.  

7th-fairway-pond

All in all, I think I made progress.  I’ve continued to watch videos and I have several more techniques I’m excited to try as soon as I’ve completed this post. Practice makes perfect – of course there is no perfect in art, but practice is a way to aspire to perfection.

Snowy Fairway Watercolor, etc.

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I have been painting and doing other art related things, just not posting for various reasons.  

One reason I haven’t been posting is that I’ve been challenging myself in watercolors.  As I’ve always said, they are much harder than oils. I’ve been doing more wet in wet painting and they just never turn out. My clouds look to heavy to float and my trees and leaves all run together. I know I will get better if I keep practicing, but I have accepted that it will take a long time.  

A couple of days ago I painted a scene from a photo I took a couple of years ago.  I did not do a lot of wet in wet in this painting, outside of the sky. Maybe that’s why I’m happier with the way it came out.  Snow is difficult because you need to leave the white white.  There is no opportunity for error. I did mask some of the tree branches and one ridge on the ground that I wanted to really stand out. It was fun because it’s a nice winter scene.
snowy-7th-fairway-stream-2

I also sold a print to someone who found me on the Internet, which is a first.  She bought a copy of the Rockbridge Vineyard Chairs that I did for my friend Kathy a few months back.  She wanted to give it as a Christmas gift to her sister-in-law who lived in Rockbridge County.  They had visited the winery together.  She told me how she searched to find me, but I have been unable to repeat it such that this painting comes up.  Still I’m very happy she found me. 

EPSON MFP image

The one other fun thing I did before the holidays. I showed my paintings with Falls Church Arts at the Falls Church Farmers’ Market. I didn’t sell anything, but several people took business cards.  Maybe I’ll hear back from one of them.  Regardless, it’s good exposure and I had fun. 

market-display

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!  I’m taking the next few days off from my day job so maybe I’ll have something else to post soon. 

An Experiment

I usually paint on location or from photos. I find that when I try to paint from my mind’s eye I lack clarity and detail.  Yesterday I tried a little experiment.  The last two times we’ve left our house in the mountains I’ve been taken back by a beautiful display of fall colors in the same place.  Driving down the hill we come around a curve and find ourselves looking up at a very steep hillside.  The time of day we do this is the afternoon and the sun is shining on the trees.  The color is beautiful but the other thing that’s interesting is that the sunlight on the trunks and branches appear almost white, in stark contrast to the bright colors.  This image has remained really vivid in my mind so I decided to try to recreate it.  It actually came out pretty good.  I actually think the real scene had more reds and oranges and fewer greens and yellows.  I may actually try it again.  I had a lot of fun with it.

It’s watercolor with white and black ink in a 5 x 8 watercolor sketchbook.

EPSON MFP image

6×6 to 12×12 Show

I have two paintings that have been accepted into the juried 6×6 to 12×12 show at Falls Church Arts.  The clever name means that all works need to be square and between the size of 6×6 inches to 12×12 inches.  That makes it interesting because these are not sizes that I, nor most of the showing artists I learned at the opening, normally paint in.  It means that we needed to paint specifically for this show.  Up until now, I have not painted with a show in mind.  When shows come up that I have an appropriate work for, I enter it.  So, this was a completely different perspective.

I knew the show was coming up and happened to be in a local art store and thought to buy some watercolor paper that was 6×6 and wood panels that were 6×6 and 12×12.  That was on a Saturday afternoon. I came home and looked up the entry date, only to find that it was midnight Sunday – the very next day!  Realizing that doing oils on the wood panels in time was out of the question, Sunday I set out to paint watercolors.  I originally planned to paint three, but I got two pretty good ones and was running out of time, so I stopped.  I got the entry in on time and both paintings were accepted.

The first is a painting of the town of Spoleto from a photo I took on my recent trip to Italy.
6x6-spoleto

The second is a view from the golf course in Wintergreen.  This was actually from a photo that I took in the early morning hours.  The trees were actually dark silhouettes.  I decided to recolor for autumn and it came out quite nice.
6x6-autumn

Both paintings will be on display at Art Space (410 S. Maple Ave.
Falls Church, VA 22046) till December 3rd.

Three Commissioned Paintings

I never really thought I’d have people asking me to paint things for them, but that sort of happened recently. Here’s how it came about.

A visionary named Charlie O’Sheilds declared July World Watercolor Month and started a Facebook page, Twitter feed and several other social media outlets. The challenge was to paint a watercolor a day and post it on line. It caught on immediately and before you knew it thousands of people from around the world were posting watercolors paintings on line. (This movement was so successful that the site was renamed World Watercolor Group at the end of July and remains very active.) I knew there was no way that I could paint a watercolor a day, but I was trying to do more watercolor sketching and wanted to join in the fun. When I did something I posted it.

The first painting I posted was a sketch of some Adirondack chairs sitting on the edge of the vineyard on a rainy day at Rockbridge Vineyard. July was also the month when I went to Nimrod Hall, so I did some sketching there in that lovely setting.

As I completed a painting in my little watercolor sketchbook I posted it on the World Watercolor Month Facebook page and shared it with my Facebook friends. My sketchbook is very nice, but is not high quality watercolor paper. It is advertised to take “light washes” which it does. It’s great for practice and learning but not so much for archival work.

A friend of mine from high school saw the paintings on Facebook said she loved my “whimsical” little watercolor sketches and asked if I would sell them.  I explained that they were in a sketchbook and were not of sufficient quality for framing. I said I could try to repaint them for her. She agreed to buy them if I did that but it was important to her that they be small and retain the sketch-like quality.

So I set out to repaint them. My tidy little engineer’s brain really wanted to make them more perfect given that I wasn’t sketching on location anymore and had all the time I needed in the comfort of my home. Gladly I was able to overcome my tendencies and, if I may say so myself, did a pretty good job of duplicating the originals.  I think each of the three is better than the original, but the improvements are in composition and color, and not because I obsessed on making every line and every stroke perfect.

Kathy received them today and says she loves them. Thank you Kathy for challenging me to get outside of my head. You are now part of the journey. Below are the originals and the repainted versions.

Chairs at Rockbridge Vineyard – original top, repainted below.

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

Nimrod Hall Main House – original top, repainted below

Nimrod Hall Sketch

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Nimrod Hall Post Office – original top, repainted below

EPSON MFP image

EPSON MFP image

Plein Air Festival

Today was the opening of Scenes in the City, Falls Church Arts’ annual Plein Air Festival.  The painting period is from mid April till mid June.   To qualify the works must be painted on location and within the City of Falls Church.  No painting from photographs is allowed.

This was a particularly tough year because it has been so rainy all spring.  That coupled with the fact that we are only in Northern Virginia every other weekend made it a real challenge for me.  I managed to enter two works, both painted on the same Saturday two weeks ago.

This show takes me out of my comfort zone.  I am at my best painting landscape paintings, in oil, in my studio, from photos I’ve taken.  I am trying to do more plein air because the colors are never right in photographs and the scene is also flattened.  That said, plein air is hard and can be unforgiving.  You have to paint the whole painting in one sitting.  You’re dealing with the elements, and curious people, and other distractions.  To add to that, Falls Church is an urban area, so I’m painting cityscapes with buildings and people, which is very different from my mountains.  And if that’s not enough, I decided to do them in watercolor this year.  (See my last post for my thoughts about watercolor.)  Watercolor is more transportable and quicker than oil, but I’m still learning to use it.

The show was wonderful. I felt very humbled when I saw the quality of the other works this year.  I did not feel like my paintings held up in comparison. I did sell one of them, so I’m pleased that someone likes my art. Perhaps I judge myself too harshly.  It was fun to be part of the show, which opened at the Falls Church Farmer’s Market.  We had great traffic – I think about 175 people voted for the people’s choice award.  This is very good for creating awareness of our little Falls Church Arts community.

Scenes in the City Photo

My two entries are pictured below. Just prior to painting these I read a book called The Urban Sketcher, which will be the subject of a future post. I was doing my best to use what I learned from that book.EPSON MFP image

Afternoon Break (At the Mad Fox Brewing Company)

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Market Day (Sold)

Finally, in case anybody doubts that I really painted these outside, a very unforgiving photo of my backside appeared in the Falls Church News Press this week.   I was so engrossed in painting my market scene I didn’t even know I was being photographed. If I had, I would have tried to strike a more flattering pose.

Scanned Document

The show will be hung in the Kensington Senior Living Sales and Information Center at 1212 W Broad Street until July 11th. Then they will be moved to Art Space at 410 S Mable Avenue later this summer.  Finally it will be moved to the Falls Church City Hall.  All locations are in Falls Church City, Virginia.

Watercolor Challenges

Watercolor continues to challenge me, but I continue to practice. I’m a long way from being a watercolor artist. When I sat down to write this post I was going to share four watercolors with you, only one of which I like.  Then I almost talked myself out of sharing the others, but in the spirit of sharing the good, the bad and the ugly, here are all four.  I’m starting with the good one, so feel free to stop reading at any time.

One of the challenges with watercolors, or at least my watercolors, is that they sometimes look good from a distance, but not so much up close. As a result, I always hate them when I’m doing them – but sometimes they grow on me when I walk away for a while. The process of scanning them and displaying them on a computer screen is also very unforgiving.  Every flaw is glaring.

The first painting, and the best in my opinion, is of Afton Mountain Vineyards. I painted it from a photo I took on a pretty summer day.  The sky was full of puffy clouds.  My watercolor technique still needs a lot of work, but the finished painting has some appeal.  I’m also really happy with the perspective on the rows of grape vines. I have thought about painting this photo many times, but have always been intimidated by getting the vines right.  Now that I know I can do that I may try to do an oil version. It needs a barn or some other building though.  We’ll see if I can get my engineer’s brain to paint something that’s not really there.

EPSON MFP image

The second painting is one I did in an afternoon, just as practice.  This is definitely one that looks better with a little distance. I was experimenting with masking fluid to keep the sun bright and also the reflection on the clouds near the sun.  It worked pretty nice for the sun, but not so much for the clouds.  The colors in the sky turned out pretty well.  I’m still not crazy about the grass in the foreground.

EPSON MFP image
The next little ditty was done plein aire at Haines Chapel just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  For the most part I like this one.  There’s a bit too much foreground.  I could crop it.  I also should have skipped the road, but my engineer’s brain wanted to put it in since it was there. The colors could be a bit bolder and brighter.  I thought about doing some more washes on it in studio, but liked it enough as is that I decided not to mess with it. I have several ancestors buried in this cemetery (great-great grandparents and earlier), which makes it a special place for me.

EPSON MFP image

Finally, I did this watercolor from a photo of the Three Ridges overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I had also done an oil painting of the scene plein aire but decided to play with watercolors.  The greens are too vivid and I don’t like the brush strokes in the nearby mountains of the foreground grass.  The wet-in-wet mountains are kind of cool and the distant mountains aren’t too bad.  Still, I don’t really like this one, but I’m sharing the whole journey, so here it is.

EPSON MFP image
I’m signed up for the Falls Church Arts Plein Aire competition, and I was hoping to do some watercolors for that.  Unfortunately, it’s been raining every weekend that I’ve stayed in Falls Church.  Hopefully next weekend will be pretty, because it’s my last chance.