Plein air painting and a birthday surprise!

Globe Mills plein air_rachel_murphree_watercolors

I recently joined an energetic vibrant group called the Plein Air Painters of El Paso, and we were painting last Friday at Globe Mills, a building that will be torn down in April to make a freeway exchange.  Such a shame.  The link on the name takes you to a page describing its role in history.

Most of the group was on one side of the building, and I was on the other side, getting a different look (and considering going home because I was freezing!) but I had my easel set up, completely blank, when the newspaper photographer came around the building.   He was happy someone was on my side of the building because of where the sun was in relation to the building and to the easel.  When I said, I don’t have anything painted yet, he said that it didn’t matter but what he was documenting was community involvement in the buildGlobe Mills plein air_newspaper_rachel_murphree_watercolorsing.

So I just started sketching loosely and then once I put on the first wash of blue for the sky, I was hooked!  It was such fun to watch the bead of pigment roll down exactly to where I wanted it, and then to pick up the quinacridone burnt scarlet and quin burnt orange and start to define the rest of the building.  And it didn’t matter that he was shooting photos. I was just having fun, and so was he because the light was working out.  We talked briefly about how much we love what we do and what a shame it was to have this cool building destroyed.  Later in the morning several of us went inside the building and took photos.

I learned several things from that day:  I can paint under pressure.  Paint dries slower in cool (humid) weather — remember I live in the sun and heat of El Paso.    It’s always better to try…not to give up and go home.  oh yes, and to bring along a ruler when painting  buildings!  Ha ha.
So whether the plein air paintings can stand on their own, or are studies for studio paintings, or just because I want to document the day (and remember the sounds, breezes, cold, hot, and conversations) of the time.  Life is good.

And then the next day I was surprised to see my photo in the paper, and so big on the page, and it was my birthday!  so what a cool thing to have happened.  There’s also an online gallery that shows other painters in the group and inside the buildings.  Take a look! File Feb 07, 4 12 29 PM

And here’s one of my photos from inside the building looking over the freeway to the UT El Paso campus.

Thanks for stopping by!


One Pigment work


In our painting group we had Fernando back to show us more on doing portraits.  After completing a sketch, with his help, I transferred it to illustration board and started the first wash of very pale ultramarine blue.  It was the first time I’d worked on this board and it reacts so differently than watercolor paper.  The wash was uneven and I lost my mind for a second and went back in to fix it, and ended up streaking it.  We decided it was good practice to follow through and work on it, streaked or not.  Some people in the group thought it was cool that she was coming out of the mist…I’m not convinced!

What was an eye opener to me was actually doing a painting with just one pigment because it forces you to only concentrate on the value, or relative lightness or darkness of the section.

In the interest of learning more about values, I decided to make tiny ATC size value sketches from paintings in a book by Ron Ransom, Perfecting Your Watercolors.

I can really see how doing these sketches would be extremely useful in planning a work of my own.

Second try Mesquite Shade Day 26


Here’s the second try on this painting.  I like it better, but am still not totally happy with it.  It’s in progress and I’m setting it aside to consider it another day.  You can compare it with the earlier version .  I’m very thankful for constructive criticism and comments that you all have taken the time to write, and would love to hear your comments on this one.

One thing that has to be fixed in the next version is the branch going out the corner of the piece!  I certainly know that but had a brain hiccup there.  I’m thinking the white top in the far left rock is too deep.  I’m sure I’ll come up with other issues as I look at it more.

I’m happy with the mixing of the foliage colors on the paper.  I think that’s fresh.  I like the sun hitting the branches and that they are largely better shaped (wide near the trunk and getting more slender.)

I’ve “fallen off the wagon” in the 30 in 30 challenge, at least in posting on my blog.  Life with teens is getting in the way!  those of you who are parents can probably relate.  But that’s ok, painting can wait.

Thanks for stopping by…

Spring Show entries

Thanks to you all for feedback in the poll, and blog or facebook comments.  I did a quick and dirty compiling, assuming people that wrote comments didn’t do the poll, and the paintings that were most popular are shown below.  I forgot to mention when first posting this that these are all the newest work, from late summer/fall 2015:

Painting of pinecones in watercolor by Rachel Murphree

Pinecone Parade.

You can read the blog post about my painting process for the parade.

Contemplation. Watercolor by Rachel Murphree

Contemplation. Watercolor.

You can read the blog post about my painting process for this painting.

Farmers' Market Scapes watercolor by Rachel Murphree

Farmers’ Market Scapes.

Mesquite Shade — Day 20


Over the past couple of days I’ve worked on a larger more detailed version of the mesquite shade value sketch that I blogged about earlier.  There are parts of it I’m happy with, and some I am not.  I need more practice on foliage for one.  The other is that it looks like the rock wall/bench is higher and slopes down toward the foreground, and I’m puzzling over how to make it look flat.  Any suggestions?

Here’s the photo reference again:

Mesquite Shade_pencil_value_sketch _rachel_murphree_watercolor (3)

photo and pencil value sketch possibilities


And here are various stages in the process:

For the underpainting I used cobalt and pyroll orange.  It has a pinkier look to it, a variation from the underpainting colors of cadmium orange and cobalt that I learned in the Michael Riordan workshop last fall.  I painted around the lightest lights and put the orange into the areas that would be warmer.

For the greens, I consulted some color charts I’d done earlier in larger blocks on my paper (as opposed to the teeny tiny squares I did when I was a novice and didn’t “get” the value of color charts) The top row is hansa as the first layer, the second as new gamboge, the third has lemon yellow laid down first.  I decided the mid summer warmth of the foliage would be best made with new gamboge.


And here’s the last in process photo.  You can see that I took the foliage area and at times went over the edges iof the branches of the trunk, but I knew that the browns would be able to cover those edges and make them thicker.

mesquite_shade_in_process (1)

Stage 3 of mesquite shade

As always, I welcome comments and constructive criticism, and thank again for stopping by!

Please help me choose!

I’m submitting three paintings to the Southern Chapter of the New Mexico Watercolor Society’s spring show in Las Cruces.  The deadline is fast approaching (Sunday) and I’m torn on which paintings to submit.  Even though most of these are already framed because they were in the members’ show in August in El Paso, I need to reframe them with plexiglass, and the frame width requirement and mat color is more stringent.  So it’s not an easy matter of saying, well, these are framed, I’ll submit them.  Any combination is possible. This is giving me a taste for the procedures and details for submitting artwork to different venues and organizations.  It’s good experience.

I set up a poll and am soliciting comments too to help me choose.   Please pick your favorites, and I will probably go with the top three winners.  I’ll let you know in either case which ones get accepted.  Thanks in advance!

More winter branches

snow branches_2_rachel_murphree_watercolor

Snow branches 3, small watercolor

I’ve been painting but not posting, so here’s a catch up post of two more paintings of snowy branches and a wintery sky.

snow branches_3_rachel_murphree_watercolor

Small branches 4, small watercolor

I’ve been having fun getting to know my dagger striper brush, a Silver Black Velvet brush.  I’ve been really happy with this brand of brush that combines the softness of squirrel hair with synthetic bristles.    I have no affiliation with the company, but heard of it from friends, watched videos of them, and read reviews.  It’s a versatile brush because you can press down as the larger part of the wedge is on the paper and then left off to aid the skinnier part of the wedge to make smaller branches.

At this halfway point of the month, I thought I’d point out the slideshow of paintings from this month, as well as linking to the 30 paintings in 30 days page where you can see my progress from last year to this.  As with golf, I feel sometimes like watercolor is two steps forward, one step back, but I like doing these challenges and documenting the paintings, because it lets me see the progress I’m making.

Today’s plan is to start a larger piece following the mesquite shade study I did earlier this week.  However there’s a big school project that I need to shepherd for my 8th grader, and we’re celebrating my mother in law’s birthday tonight…and there’s the playoff game this afternoon.  So we’ll see….

I enjoy hearing from you and appreciate you stopping by!

Field of Flowers Day 13

Field of Flowers Day 13 (6)_rachel_murphree_watercolorsExperimenting was really fun this morning!  I’m calling this Field of Flowers and I don’t think it’s quite done, it needs some more darks, perhaps in the middle, but I want to mull it over.  It’s easy to paint over the cool details that are already there.

I’ve tried this before, a la Jean Haines, last month when I talked about my inability to see pictures in the clouds, and I had trouble seeing exactly how to make something from the abstract shapes.  I’ve learned a bit more from doing it today and that is to make lighter valued changes, softening at least one side of the paint stroke.  So, for me, rather than seeing this 3″ section as “X”, I play with a small portion of it, see what happens and then keep playing.

Here are some in process photos:

Field of Flowers Day 13 (3)_rachel_murphree_watercolors

yellow and blues, salt, cling wrap, and some additional lifting and playing 

I wet the back and front of the paper and put it on acrylic sheet.  I used new gamboge yellow and three blues: cerulean chromium, cobalt and ultramarine.  focused the colors on blue at the top, yellows in the middle, greens at the bottom and then smooshed and pressed down in various places the cling wrap while it was nice and wet.  Then I played with salt in a few places and lifted and added a bit of paint before letting it all dry.

Field of Flowers Day 13 (4)_rachel_murphree_watercolors

once dry and cling wrap removed.  see the salt blooms? 

I like the merging of blues and yellow to make the foliage.  The salt blooms are cool.

Field of Flowers Day 13 (5)_rachel_murphree_watercolors

Here’s a midway shot.  You can see that I’m playing with the idea of buds or seed heads under the left black eyed susan and under the right one, I’ve used pale values to make larger a leaf shaped cluster.

Field of Flowers Day 13 (3)_rachel_murphree_watercolors1

Here’s the black and white version of where it is right now…and looking at it, I can see that more darks are needed, just a touch here and there.

Thanks for stopping by!


Fully in bloom — Day 12

Full bloom_rachel_murphree_watercolor_day 12

Morning Rose.  Day 12. Watercolor by Rachel Murphree

This was an experiment from a photo and I’m happy with how it turned out.  It was done in about 45 minutes from start to finish, which is all the time I have this morning!   I think there’s a value in timed work.  Maybe it takes the thinking brain/critic out of the equation at least temporarily.

The colors are permanent rose and pyroll orange for the bloom, and the stem and leaves are indanthrone blue, new gamboge and carmine. It’s on an 8″ square paper, but I have it cropped landscape.

I’m not sure what to call this.  Any suggestions?  I’m playing with full out bloom, fully in bloom, cabbage rose, handful of bloom.  I think I’m being too literal, so help!

Update:  Thanks to Charlie at for the name Morning Rose.  I like it!


Thanks for stopping by.

February Art Show!

The Distance, watercolor by Rachel Murphree

The Distance.  Watercolor by Rachel Murphree, framed to 11″ x 14″.  $125.

I am pleased to announce that I have two pieces juried into the “For the Love of Art” show in Las Cruces at MAS Art, 126 South Main Street, Las Cruces, NM 88001.  The show opening is February 5th from 5-7 pm.  If you are local, it would be great to see you there!

The Distance was actually done during the 30 paintings in 30 days challenge I did in September.  You can read about the process from my blog post at that time.

Agave Shadows #1 Watercolor painting by Rachel Murphree

Agave Shadows #1, done mostly dry on wet. Framed to 12″ x 16″  $125.

The other is Agave Shadows #1 which I did earlier last year.  You can read about the process at this post. 

File Jan 11, 6 30 30 PM

darker foreground shape

And here is the painted value sketch amended from yesterday.   I realized that I didn’t have the value of the foreground prickly pear dark enough, so I added another layer of color.

Mesquite Shade_painted_value_sketch _rachel_murphree_watercolor (2)

lighter foreground shape

You can’t always judge the value of items from a photograph, but I think in this case the dark value of the front is appropriate because it is in shade, and it reinforces the brightness of the sunlit area by the wall.

I think it works better.  What do you think?  I think tomorrow I will do a value sketch with using just one pigment to focus on values and not play with the color.