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.

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. 


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. 


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.


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.

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.

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

Catherine’s Ornament

And now for something completely different…

My friends Catherine and Mike, who bought my Lake Bled painting, recently bought a new house.  It’s their first single-family home, a necessity now that their son Connor has joined the family. Catherine came to me and said Mike is excited and just loves the house.  She wants to give him another special present and asked me if I could paint their house on an ornament.

My first suggestion was that I paint their house and we have it transferred to an ornament, but she really wanted a hand painted ornament.  I told her I would give it a shot. Catherine provided me with several pictures of her house and I began to explore options.

I found out you can buy wooden ornaments in various different sizes and shapes on Etsy, so I ordered some round ones that are four inches in diameter.  I decided that was as big as I dare go to have it be manageable as an ornament on a tree, but as small as I was willing to attempt to paint.

My original thought was to do the painting in acrylic.  I traced the ornament onto a piece of paper and did my first study of the house.  I really didn’t like it.  The acrylic paints were pretty unforgiving on the small scale.  The result was messy.  I decided to try watercolor.

This presented me with a new set of challenges.  With acrylic, which is opaque, I could just paint on the wood. If I was going to use watercolor I’d need to prime it with something. I got on line and found a product called Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground, which claimed to work on all surfaces, including wood.  I bought some and primed the wood so it had a nice white surface.

I was going to try another study but I felt brave and decided to try the ornament (I bought four so I had backup).  I did a good sketch of the house on the ornament and then realized it was crooked by about 45 degrees!  I flipped it over and tried again and got a pretty good sketch.  I proceeded to paint it with watercolor.  The primer didn’t really absorb the cerulean blue sky quite as well as I would like, even after a couple of washes.  That said, the visible texture of the wood grain actually adds to the charm.  The rest of the house came out pretty good.  I used a white gel pen to bring out the trim.  I was worried that it would fade or run, so I seald it with a watercolor fixative. I also painted the back with blue acrylic paint, which covered up the crooked sketch on the backside 🙂

Here is the result (which looks better in person than in the photo).  I hope it holds up and provides Catherine and Mike with a unique keepsake of their first real home together.


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.



Nimrod Hall Main House – original top, repainted below

Nimrod Hall Sketch


Nimrod Hall Post Office – original top, repainted below



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)


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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.


Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program 2015

I just returned from a wonderful weekend at the Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program.  This year I took a watercolor workshop from Purnell Pettyjohn, a wonderful watercolorist from Lynchburg VA.  I chose the watercolor class because it’s a medium I struggle with.  It is very unforgiving and requires a lot of thought and planning.  My engineer’s brain struggles with the idea of leaving whites white and painting certain colors and shapes before others, so this was a good exercise for me.  The most important thing I learned was that it’s not as unforgiving as I had thought.  I learned how to tape and lift mistakes by scrubbing them with a bristle brush.  Just that lesson took a lot of the fear out of me.

Purnell is an excellent teacher!  We spent the first morning doing a step-by-step painting of a lady carrying pails of flowers in a field.  The fact that there was a human in the picture scared me, but her posture and the fact that she was walking away made drawing her manageable.  We started with the hat and shirt, moved on to the trees and  rocks on the left and right, did the washes for the mountains and the foreground and finished with the fence and a few shadows.  Everyone in the class (including the absolute beginners) did a great job. Below is my version.  I’ve also included the reference photo provided by Purnell.  Lady with Flowers

Lady with Flowers

Next, that afternoon, I attempted a plein aire out on the lawn.  I tried to apply what I learned but I struggled.  As I expected, I couldn’t discern the right order to do things in.  Purnell saw that several of us were challenged and did another demonstration.   During that demo I learned that order doesn’t always matter.  I also got to see her do trees where she did light leaves followed by darker leaves and then did the trunk and the limbs.  I was fascinated by her technique.

By this time it was late on Saturday afternoon.  Sunday is an early check out day so usually there is no additional painting. I was so anxious to try Purnell’s technique with the trees that I sketched a scene with the hammock in front of the old post office building and vowed to get up and paint before breakfast. I did and completed the painting below before I left Nimrod (except for a few finishing touches).  Purnell remained attentive and stopped by frequently giving several pointers that greatly improved the final product. I consider it a success that shows I did in fact learn a lot.  I also think I need to continue to practice because I’ve got a long way to go.

Nimrod Hammock

Nimrod Hall is a wonderful place.  The setting is gorgeous.  It is not luxurious, but it’s clean and comfortable. Most importantly, it’s intended for creativity.  You don’t have to worry about getting paint on things!

Here is a photo of Purnell painting on her porch this morning while another student looked on.
Purnell P 1

Here is a photo of the main house followed by a close up of the tub of flowers by the porch.

Nimrod Main House

Tub of Flowers

Here is a photo of my cabin.  This has four rooms with two shared bathrooms. I was in the room on the far right this time.

My Cabin

Here is one of the many beautiful views.

Nimrod View

I love Nimrod Hall.  I can’t wait to go back next summer!