4–>Fall Fig step by step


Detailed value sketch

Here are some of my preliminary sketches, more detailed than I expect a lot of more experienced painters would do, but it helped me to fully understand what I was seeing, how the leaves and the shadows looked.


It was interesting to see that the larger sketch reinforced the thumbnail value sketch I made previously.  It helped me to do a line sketch another day.


Other sketches



So I felt that I “knew” the fig leaves and light and I had the painted value sketch hanging around on the easel over several days and I was still excited about translating it into a real painting.

Step one was to put a light under-painting to define and isolate the whites and put down warms and cools in a very pale wash. As usual in this stage, I lost my place and left whites on different leaves than my original plan, sigh!, so I just adjusted my thoughts and went with the whites I was “given”.


Stage one of Fall Fig

Once that wash dried, I put in the darks of the Italian cypress behind it because I knew that the effect of sunlight making jewels of select yellowing leaves relied on the dark values around them.

Then I started putting in the next layer, trying to mix pigments on the paper rather than in the palette, keeping in mind that cooler colors receded so I used them in the leaves in the back and keeping focal leaves pale and warm.  I also warmed up the leaves in bottom front.


Stage two of Fall Fig



I deliberately left the foreground suggestive rather than detailed. But I am open to suggestions that it might need a bit more definition, or warmth?  I really like it now because as I was bringing color down into the bottom and then just brushed it aside with a sweeping motion mixing colors at the same time, as I often see in professional painting videos.

I thought I was finished before I really was, at the stage three photo, but my daughter suggested (and I saw it when she mentioned it) that she knew I was trying to have the yellows pop, but the values behind them weren’t dark enough…and sure enough, it didn’t match my value sketch.  Once she’s left the house for college, I will have to figure these things out on my own!   I’m sure with fresh eyes on another day, I would have seen it.  If you squint at this stage three, you see that the a lot of the leaves all have the same value of darkness.


Stage three of Fall Fig

I wasn’t crazy about adding more layers to those leaves because I would be losing some of the transparency, so in the future I have to practice, practice to get the values spot on the first time.  It’s hard to do because paint dries lighter than when it’s wet, so it’s a matter of more painting and paying attention to that.

So when I was deciding what dark value blue to use, I tried out indigo and indanthrone  blue on a separate piece of paper, and noticed that indanthrone was warmer, so I chose that one to let the cooler cerulean chromium layered leaves at the very back look further away.


Fall Fig Final watercolor by Rachel Murphree.  11″ x 14″

So I would love to hear your comments and suggestions.  Do you think the foreground, left corner, needs more?  is there anything confusing that bothers you?  I really appreciate your comments and suggestions and hearing from you!






4–> 40. On the easel


watercolor in progress

watercolor and painted value study on the easel. ragged yellowing fig leaves in the sunlight caught my eye

Trying a quick post from my phone of what is on my easel today.  I am excited about this piece. It started as a plein air piece but fierce winds quickly sent me indoors. I will do more work on it today and post more in depth later.

4–>40 Tree Studies


Plein air set up painting the tree on the far left.

Today’s study subject is trees.  I’ll start out with an American elm tree that’s a volunteer in my yard and some call a “Trash” tree.  Well I’ll take that because it’s fast growing and will provide privacy especially if the pines on my neighbor’s side get hit with a bug or a freeze.  Besides, you can’t beat the cost! Speaking of trees that have a similar maligned reputation, please check out Leslie’s lovely painting of a cottonwood tree changing its foliage.  It’s stunning.

This picture was taken several days ago.  You can see the collapsible water bottle hanging from an S hook on the front of the en plein air easel and I have my small sketch pad with value sketch propped up behind the other water cup. The paper towel roll is precariously hanging on the crank handle for the tripod.  It’s a partial plan!  we’ll see how it works.  Perhaps the best thing “in the field” would be wearing a half height apron with big pockets.


First wash of the elm

I worked on it again today putting in darker sides on the shaded side and adding foliage here and there over the already dried lighter foliage.  I really studied the foliage structure of the tree and how the branches went up away from the trunk.


American elm study.  Click to view larger.

There are a variety of techniques with this including wetting a clump of foliage first and then putting in thicker valued pigment to create softer edges.  I also did the branches leaving big gaps that I later filled in with a foliage clump.  Some other times I spritzed lightly to get a softer effect and went in with darker thicker pigment.  I got carried away and it’s wider than what a sapling trunk would probably support, but oh well.  It was fun to try.


mid trunk of pine tree.  Click to view larger.

After that I worked on another study of the pine tree, but just the mid trunk area.  I have a brush called a dagger striper  that I haven’t practiced much with, and it worked quite well to make the long needles that are characteristic of this pine.  Before I figured that I could use that brush, i pulled down some color along the bottom edge of the bottom clump (as an example) and after using the dagger, I am happier with the thinner marks that you see at the top of that clump, under the branches.  Another technique to add in would be using a damp skinny flat to lift out branches that would appear to be catching the light.

I will do another more serious study of it working on the color mingling and then only putting a touch of the needles in here and there.  It will have a more professional and fresh look.  Better to suggest than to hit the viewer over the head…but I got caught up in playing!

Again, as always, thanks for stopping by and leaving comments.  They are really appreciated.

4–>40 Easel Features

The lidded palette all covered up. Usable as a shelf.

The lidded palette all covered up. Usable as a shelf.

If you remember on the first day I took the easel for a test drive, I was using a handheld palette and not the shelf palette that came with it.  I hadn’t had time to fill it and didn’t want a gooey wet mess taking it places.  Ask me how I knew that might happen!  ha!!

Over the past weekend, I decided what colors to include and what colors to put in auxiliary smaller handheld palettes to supplement the 14 wells in this one.

Cover removed and slid under as a mini shelf in front

Cover removed and slid under as a mini shelf in front

Here it is with its cover, so you can use it as a shelf.  in the next photo, you see the colors I’ve chosen and the cover turned upside down and slid under it to make a mini shelf in front.  I have taped on it the colors I’ve used and a small box that business cards came in into which I’ve put tissues.

My colors right now in this are (counterclockwise from left): viridian, winsor green (yellow shade), cerulean chromium (Daniel Smith), ultramarine blue, cobalt, quinacridone burnt scarlet, quinacridone burnt orange.  then there’s the very convenient hole for a water cup. Carmine, Winsor  Red, permanent rose, cadmium orange, quinacridone gold, new gamboge, and aurolein yellow. Notice the nice deep wells and plenty of mixing area.

This lid and palette are great because if you choose not to buy the tripod that comes with the set from En Plein Air Pro, the wing nuts allow you to slide it onto any other type tripod. I chose to buy the tripod because they recommended it as sturdy enough to hook on an umbrella, and buying the entire package was a reduced price.

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easel in action with shelf under large palette holding tissue box and paper towels covered inside a cloth type tyowel, and my sketchbook with value sketch laying on top.

So here’s the set up with a painting on the easel.  you can see there’s a pull out holder for brushes on the left, and a place to hang the included collapsible water bottle.

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Palette flooded with water

Sad to say, I had a bit of an incident with hitting that receptacle with my brush handle and knocking water onto my palette, specifically onto the oranges and yellows.  Grrr. I have been known to be sometimes a tad clumsy but I bet I’m not alone in this.

My husband dug out an S hook and today I hung the collapsible water bottle from the mini shelf at the front right and it worked SO much better!  More on that later.

plein air in my garden

plein air in my garden

Oops, almost forgot, here’s a cropped view of that painting from the easel, still working on foliage and flower blooms.

Thanks for stopping by.  I enjoy hearing from you!  Bye for now…


4 –> 40 Morning glories

Collage of various morning glory studies

Collage of various morning glory studies

The other day I took my easel outside and painted with my brush (without pencil drawing first) and it was fun! a bit challenging because breezes kept moving around the bloom, but I like their freshness.

I thought this was the last bloom of the season, but the next day another one appeared.  So summer blooms continue to linger here.  This is a favorite flower of mine because my gram and I used to plant and tend these beauties.

And because I love the orange/blue complementary color combo, I’m displaying these oranges of color charts. I learned a lot from this and think they look pretty neat too!  I created them by creating squares with strips of artist masking tape onto the paper.

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color charts of cooler and some warm reds and yellows, mixing them on the paper.

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color charts of cadmium and pyroll reds and yellows, mixing them on the paper.

Because my focus in the 4 –>40 (and beyond) is on mastering wet in wet and color mixing on paper, I didn’t mix the two on my palette.  in the one with more pinks/purples, you can see in the first full row of oranges that I was putting down a strip of each concentrated color on the edges and using a damp brush to mingle them.  I think it’s neat to see the various ranges, that way, and perhaps I’ll do that on longer rectangles.  but for the rest of the charts I put down the yellow first and while it was wet, I added the red on top.

When I removed the white tape strips, the charts just shine and sing!  fun to do.  I’ll be doing it with blues and yellows  AND viridian/thalo green and quinacridones to see the range of greens that can be produced.

Thanks for stopping by…tomorrow’ s post will be more on the easel’s palette.

4–> 40 First day with the new easel

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vitex tree with cool shadows

Saturday I took the new easel out for a test drive, and it was fabulous.  I think it’s perfect for what i wanted.  It’s from a company called En Plein Air Pro and it’s made specifically for watercolor painting.  What makes it that, you ask?  Well, I will tell you.  The plane of the paper can be any degree from fully horizontal to fully vertical.  Traditional easels made for oils and acrylics may have some adjustments, but there’s no problem with those paints being done vertically because they are fuller bodied than watercolors which tend to run when really wet!

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easel set up in the shade with the painting started

So I had about a little over an hour before needing to gallery sit at the latest Art Association show, so I headed out to Memorial Park to see what struck my fancy.  I wasted time driving around, looking at this view and that, but ended up coming back to this vitex tree with its cool shadows.  This tree is unusual in its sprawling trunks and scraggy appearance with the seed pods of this summer’s flowers sticking up all over in little points.

I knew it would be challenging…but OH those shadows!

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taking the easel indoors to the art gallery

So here’s the setup in the shade, for comfort and to not have the sun’s glare on the paper distorting the colors and values.  Because it was the first day, I didn’t have the paints squeezed onto the palette shelf that came with it, so I have the palette covered and have my existing palette on top.  As it turned out I only had 20 minutes of actual painting time so it was a good start but needed more work.

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Vitex Shadows 8″ x 10″ watercolor

Back at the gallery, it was great to have the easel and take up less floor space than dragging out and setting up a table, etc.

So, showing the work warts and all, my finished result is not what I wanted, but there were a couple of “aha” moments when it was all clicking and I realized I’d learned something..

One thing I learned in the workshop is that the instructor recommends to put shadows down first before the local color (in this case the warmth of the grass) because he feels it integrates better.  And I’m sure that’s true.  What I need to do in future is to be more sure of the value of my shadows because my first layer was too light and I went back in twice.  I know the shadow would be much better if it were laid down once.

The next thing I learned is that while I’m happy with the color blending in the foliage I need to have a better plan to get it right and somehow show a bit of those scraggly bits, but the wheels are whirring in my mind on how to do it better, so I’m expecting fun times of practice in the next couple of days.

All in all, it was a fun premiere of the easel, and I’ll tell you more about it with pictures in coming posts.  Thanks for stopping by!

4–>40 Shade


Shade.  small watercolor  (3″ x 8″) created wet in wet with wet on dry paper elements added later.

Happy accidents happen when you play around — at least in watercolor! Here are some of the steps that led to this experiment that I am calling finished.

Shade_watercolor_rachel_murphree 1

Step 1 . Wet the paper and put down pigment mixtures that were kind of thicker consistency and watch the blending and happy things happen.

Step one was dampening the paper with clear water and then putting in pigment drops.  The consistency was more pigment than water, but not pure pigment.  Various artists refer to these consistencies as various everyday objects.  Joseph Zbukvic discusses this in his book Mastering Atmosphere and Mood in Watercolor as either tea, coffee, milk, cream, butter (see also Brienne M Brown’s explanation and wonderful watercolors).  Michael Riordan referred to them all as forms of dairy: skim, 2%, whole, cream, butter.

Shade_watercolor_rachel_murphree 2

Step 2. Adding some definition and darks with paint on dry paper around the area of interest and focal point.

After that I carefully put in more darks to develop shrub/tree area.. I’m put detail really only in the area of the focal point rather than putting it on the periphery or outer edges of the painting where it would distract from the story of Shade.

Shade_watercolor_rachel_murphree 3

Step 3. Defining the tree more and making the lightest area smaller…but in the process I lost the brilliant white.

In step 3 I also filled in some of the distracting white sparkles in the foreground that I thought might distract from the focal point. In our workshop, Michael referred to this as “tinselitis”.

Final painting

Final painting of Shade.

Step 4 has the shadow of the tree to ground it.  This was a fun little piece to play around with.  It could have gone many other ways…but as in real life, there is no “reset” button!  It is what it is!

Today my plein air EASEL is scheduled to arrive!!  I hope it’s soon.  Thanks for stopping by…

4–>40 Foliage

Mountain meadow.  Small watercolor done from imagination.  $25.

Mountain meadow. Small watercolor done from imagination. $25.

I spent a couple of hours outside, this time in a chair by the patio table, working on small vignettes from my garden of a rock (moved there in my mind) in front of a lantana plant with a few blossoms left but mostly greenery.  This one bloomed into something else when my imagination took over.

I took a 12 x 16″ piece and used masking tape to break it into five various size rectangles.  It was a good way to break the page into small chunks for experimentation.  Some success, some failures.  that’s life isn’t it?

After my experiments, I have some tips on closeup foliage that I will try more in the coming days and report back!

Wet the area at the edge of the foliage out to the edge of the area. This way the foliage tops will be soft.   Then put in darker values with various shades of green, darker near the bottom (because the daylight or sun hits the tops more) and let it dry completely.  Leave interesting shaped holes for blossoms or sky/shrub holes.  Create a nice color mingling, perhaps dropping in a sedimentary color like cerulean to create additional texture. Then leave it alone to completely dry.  Resist the urge to fiddle with it.  Let the watercolor do its magic.

Then when completely dry, use a small flat brush that’s damp but pretty well squeezed out and carefully lift out lighter strips or curved pieces that could read as stems or lighter leaves.  Step back frequently.

Remember if the foliage is further away in the landscape, don’t get caught up in the details. Get the shape and value of the foliage correct and play with colors within the shape.  Save detail work for around your focal point.

Stay tuned for further experiments in foliage.  I really appreciate hearing from you.  thank for stopping by!

4–>40 Backlit figures

Photo of Tulie chillaxing after the dog park

Photo of Tulie chillaxing after the dog park

The other morning at the dogpark around 10 I was looking at figures that were backlit by the sun.  Fascinating because I’d never thought to look at them in an artistic light.  Looking at them as a painter, the easier dogs to use for focal point ( lightest light against the darkest dark) are the shaggy dogs with the fan tails, like Tulie. You can clearly see the backlit whitish ridges on backs or tails against their darker bodies.   Those hit me over the head with their “Wow, look at me!” vibe

Secondly I looked at the people.  I don’t know if it was a coincidence, but it appeared to me that the people with the lighter hair also had more of their face lit, where the man with a shock of darker hair appeared to have a darker face from across the park. I squinted and it stayed the same.  I am assuming the lighter hair bounces around the face and lightens it up and you could see just the slightest suggestion of a nose or an eye, where as the dark haired man in  a painting would have a gray/blue face with no facial features.

Backlit mum blossoms

Backlit mum blossoms

The idea occurred to me that I should bring my paints and a scrap piece and practice figure painting while Tulie romps with the other dogs.  When my easel gets here, that’ll be a place to go.

Speaking of backlit, here’s a snippet of a plein air painting of mums in my backyard…

FOUR into Forty — the journey begins

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My neighbor’s pine. 8″ x 10″ plein air watercolor

Over the past several days I’ve been mulling over the workshop with Michael Riordan.  It was a great amount of information, and I want to get the most out of it, to really make it part of me, part of my artistic practice and skills.

So I decided to create a personal challenge that I’m calling Four into Forty or for short: 4 –>40.    I will spend the next forty days taking skills taught in the four day workshop and blogging about what I’ve discovered, show what I’ve painted, and talk about the process.  That will take me into mid-December and I’ll be “in shape” for January’s 30 paintings in 30 days challenge.  Wow, that time flew!

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The last two days I’ve been doing plein air painting in my back yard, and trying out various home made types of easels.  After extensive research, I put in an order for a travel easel, but I’ll tell you about that when it arrives later this week.

So here are photos of my two setups, one using an easel that would be used in a conference room with a big newsprint notepad and markers. The good thing about it is that the cross sections provide a place to put a piece of backing/plywood that I can use as a table.  The bad part is that I have to paint almost or completely vertical.  On top of it is the first green chart I’ve made using viridian and various yellows/oranges/reds.  More on that in another post.

2015-11-03 14.54.50The second is a heavyish and unwieldy music stand which has the great value of being to go from flat to almost vertical, but it has no accompanying table area.  So I dragged over the first easel and used that as a table.  All of this trying to stay in the shadow of a tree or pillar so the dogs across the street don’t constantly bark at me!  but I digress…The background is a bleached out sun view of the pines I used as a reference.

In both I’m using a neat travel palette with 18 wells and a thumb hole.  I’m really liking it and plan on  using it probably even with the coming easel.  but we shall see.

So I hope you’ll come along with me on this journey of discovery.  4–>40, day one completed!

My travel palette with thumbhole

My travel palette with thumbhole