Dog Days of Summer


Hello Folks, This is Charley!  He’s my first watercolor commission and I’ve written about making the first study at painting him earlier this summer.  It’s been quite the dog days for me, we’re in triple digits here since what seems like forever.  I’ve had to work on plenty of other obligations and haven’t had much time to paint.  As I was working on painting this sweet dog in the quiet of my house this morning, I realized just how much I’d missed painting (and perhaps that’s why I’ve been a bit crabby lately….I’m just sayin!)

Since the first study, I’ve met Charley and the other pets in his house, I’ve been painting eyes and noses, and then working on several other studies. charley_photo_refHis human sent me some other photos, here’s one which show his colors more clearly than the brightly lit one I was working from. So my sketch was from the earlier photo, but I used the colors from this.   Don’t you just love the eyes of the older sweetie behind him?  I kept getting drawn into the sweet elderly face!

I thought it might be helpful to show you the steps that led up to the current painting.  I’m not sure it’s the final one…we’ll have to see what his humans say, but I can always learn more by painting another one!  To begin with I did some sketching:

and then did studies of eyes and noses:

Don’t the noses look like flying aliens??  they crack me up.

charley_dog_boosted pencil sketch_rachel_murphree

Then I took the image and put it through the “pencil sketch” effect in picasa web and boosted the contrast to get nice dark lines.

I put it on my light table with a piece of 140 lb Arches paper on topcharley dog on lightbox_rachel_murphree and the dark lines showed through.

You can see it here but the lines weren’t quite that dark, I enhanced the charley after light table_rachel_murphreecontrast so you could see them.  It turns out that i didn’t need all those extra lines of the hair, because that’s more naturally done by just playing with the paint.  in future tracings I only did the nose eyes and mouth.

In researching how to do the painting,  I watched two watercolor technique videos which were very helpful:  Watercolor Secrets: Realistic Pets with Carrie Stuart Parks and Jake Winkle’s Going Wild in Watercolor.  Of the two, I find Jake’s style bold and invigorating and that showed in the first study, but I like the more realistic view with techniques taught by Carrie.

charley_in process_rachel_murphree_watercolorsSo here’s an in process stage where I had wet the right side cautiously over top of the underpainting soft colors with no hard edges,  and added extra color and fur brush strokes.  After this I did the same on the left side and then started adjusting details and adding whiskers.

So that’s what I’ve been doing in the dog days of summer.  How about you?  What have you been up to?  Have you painted dogs? if so, what tips can you share?

Thanks for stopping by.  I’ll let you know what Charley’s humans have to say…


More from the Gallery


Along the Rio. 16 x 20 framed. $225


Agave Shadows #1 11 x 14 framed. $125


Contemplation. 16″ x 20″ framed. $225.

These pieces and more are available at the Sunland Art Gallery, at least through the end of July.  After then, I’ll have to reduce the inventory of what’s there.    If you don’t know the gallery, it’s in the Placita Santa Fe, a destination shopping experience of  boutiques: antiques, yarn shops, jewelry and more, with a fabulous restaurant and tea shop, all in vintage adobe buildings on what used to be the highway to California before the freeway system was built.   It is a charming place to spend an afternoon browsing.  The gallery is open Tues-Saturday 10-5, and is at Doniphan @ Mesa in West El Paso (5034D Doniphan next to Tippi Teas).

Sunland Art Gallery

My first month at the Sunland Art Gallery has been fun.  I’ve enjoyed meeting people and enjoying the art in cool beautiful surroundings.  Here are some original pieces that I have at the Gallery right now.  I hope you get a chance to stop by and check out the artwork, prints and cards that are there!  When July ends I’ll have to take pieces home, so head over there soon! And thank you!


This Little Light of Mine.  16" x 20"Framed.    $225

This Little Light of Mine. 16″ x 20″Framed. $225

Walk with me.  16 x 20 Framed.    $225.

Walk with me. 16 x 20 Framed. $225.

The Distance. 11 x 14 framed.  $125.

The Distance. 11 x 14 framed. $125.


Vitex trees, one of my favorites

Plein air Vitex tree

Plein air Vitex tree, 9″ x 12″ watercolor.  Unframed $65

I don’t know if you have vitex trees where you live, but I find them one of the more beautiful trees we have here.  It’s a tree from the Mediterranean the it grows well in our temperate hot climate. The leaves bud in May and the beautiful purple or white blooms come in June.  Stunning.  And the older the tree gets, the more gnarled its trunk’s character.  When they are small, they often look like shrubs but are multi trunked trees.

We went out plein air painting at Sunset Gardens landscaping store/restaurant  in May and I stumbled upon this little gully and tree along the back of the open area, and my painting spot would be in the shade (A big plus!)

plein air vitex photos (1)

Plein air set up looking at the young tree

plein air vitex photos (2)

On the easel on the day.

After all the bustle of the past several weeks of the show, getting my inventory ready for the gallery, and then gallery sitting, in addition to health issues of the folks and my daughters’ activities, I hadn’t had time to paint.  And, of course, I had a crisis of confidence that I couldn’t paint anymore.  and of course, I procrastinated!  does that sound familiar to anyone?

If you’re in that situation, I can suggest that you pick up in progress pieces and squint…see that you don’t have enough of a range of values, in my case, not enough darks to spike it up, and then work on those.  That’s what I did this for this week’s painting group, rather than the angst of starting something new, or just playing (which is fine in itself), I took several in process pieces and worked on finishing them.

What I did for this one was add darks in the shrubbery and branches keeping in mind where the sun is, and I added more colors in the sky to make the white/light spots of the flower bunches near the top of the tree. Then I reinforced the shadows under the tree.

I will post more finished pieces later this week.  What do you do when you have a crisis of confidence?  I’d love to get some more tips…



What’s the best part about being an artist?

Garden_visitor_sold_rachel_murphree_watercolorsI love to paint in watercolor, I’m content to frame my own work and enter shows and now have my work in the Sunland Art Gallery, but one of the very best parts is interacting with the people that purchase my art.  I’ve heard that art is a conversation between the artist and the viewer, and this takes it to the next level.

Yesterday I got a chance to do just that with this lovely lady who purchased Garden Visitor.  She graciously posed in front of the gallery with her new painting and was excited to go and test it out in its new home.

Sometimes it takes awhile to put into words what we are looking for.   We pulled out prints and originals from several different artists in the gallery and auditioned them and talked about how they would fit in the space. As we worked I thought I had a better idea what she was looking for. On a whim I showed her this piece, not sure it would work, but it fit the requirements of vertical orientation and outdoor scene and the right size,  and it spoke to her.  The decision was that quick. What a fun experience!

Having this happen on top of selling Red Hot and Yucca Bloom at the Woman’s Club of El Paso show a week ago, is beyond what I ever thought!  If I believed in lucky numbers, three would be it.   There again I got such a thrill meeting the new owners, hearing where they would put the paintings or who they were giving the painting to and why.

I have these three paintings in cards and will get them in matted prints soon to sell at the gallery and online.  Summer is a busy time because my schedule isn’t my own with busy teenagers, but it’s in the plans…  stay tuned.  Having my work available steadily at the Sunland Art Gallery takes a bit of that pressure off of me.

When I buy art or prints, I just love to meet the artist and if i have a connection with them it makes me enjoy my purchase so much more.  Have you had any experiences like that?  either as an artist or as a buyer?  As an artist what is your favorite part of the process?  I’d love to hear about it!

Sunland Art Gallery featured artist

sunland entrance photoI’ve been asked to be a member of the Sunland Art Gallery @ the Placita Santa Fe, Crossroads and Mesa in West El Paso.  (like us on Facebook: ) This means that I will have a  fixed public place to display and sell my original work, as well as prints and cards.  If you don’t know the gallery, it’s in a destination shopping experience of  boutiques: antiques, yarn, jewelry and more, with a fabulous restaurant and tea shop, all in vintage adobe buildings on what used to be the highway to California, before the freeway.  Really a charming place to spend an afternoon browsing and gnoshing.

I will be the Featured Artist for July there which means double the amount of work to show, so I’ve been busy getting it all ready to set up by this week. (look for the gallery ad in the El Paso Scene!)    I will be gallery sitting Friday mornings the 1st and 8th, and Wed afternoon July 6th.   I enjoying meeting people and talking about my work, and also helping promote the other artists’ work there as well.  And in the quiet times I’ll be painting.  Please stop by if you can!  The gallery hours are 10-5 Tuesday – Saturday.  

Here are some pictures of new prints of some popular work that  I will have available.  They are mounted on a black wood block and can be set up on a table or hung on a wall.  I will also have traditional framed prints and cards in two sizes.    The paintbrush in each photo is to give you an idea of the 5″ x 7″ size.  A nice art print to brighten up part of your home! 

Stay tuned for more info and images of paintings and prints that will be for sale. and thanks for stopping by!

Woman’s Club of EP Show


Red Hot!! 16 x 20 framed. $195.


Yucca Bloom. 16″ x 20″Framed. $195.


Harvest Song. 16 x 20 framed. $195.

I’ve had  these three paintings accepted into the Woman’s Club‘s Centennial show that opens this Sunday, June 26th and runs until July 20th.  I hope that you’ll have a chance to stop in and see the show and also this beautiful building on the National Historic Register.  The Woman’s Club was pivotal in creating a modern city from the wild west outlaw place that El Paso was at the turn of the last century.  There’s a lot of history in that place! A portion of the sales proceeds will go toward the Club’s Centennial fund.


Along the Rio, step by step


Today’s post is the final version of a plein air painting I started along the Rio Grande when our group went out in the early spring. It will be available to view or purchase at the Sunland Art Gallery starting in July.  More on that announcement in another post!

It is enhanced by the shadows and darks that I put in which help move your eye through the painting.  I believe it’s ready to frame, but as usual, posting the photos helps me see areas that could be addressed.

Here’s the view where I was sitting…yes, sitting!  but more on that later.  For those of you not familiar with the Rio Grande and who are surprised that it looks like a small amount of water (for an international boundary line especially), it has been dammed up since the early 1900s and intermittently has water allowed into it, and not in other seasons.  In the spring time there are small areas of water in the bed with lots of sandbars.


Because the area was uneven and I wanted to stay in the shade, I ended up using the versatility of the tripod legs to make the easel shorter and level by making the legs various heights.  So here’s how I was positioned.

along the rio_seated_setup

I was seated on the rock with the watercolor bock on the ledge in front of the paper towels.  i was experimenting using that to get excess moisture out of my brush before putting paint to paper.

Here’s what the painting looked when I left the river.


You can see I laid a real piece of the reeds onto the painting just for a memory.

And here’s the final product again:


Thanks for stopping by. Please let me know what you think about Along The Rio in watercolor.

Dog portrait commision “Take One”

I recently got my first commission to paint a pet portrait, and for some reason it intimidated me a bit, to portray the character and soul of the pet in watercolor, especially when I don’t know the pupper.  I did a portrait of our Tulie dog, but this was different.

I found LOADS of other things to do of course, I can rule at procrastination without trying too hard!  but I finally determined to start and document my progress.  This is the first study.

SM_dog_commission_rachel_murphree_watercolors (2)

In preparation for the eyes, I watched two videos, one by Jake Winkle  and the other by Jean Haines .  Jake talks about making glow in the eyes (and other places) but mingling cools and warms and starting with the blue highlight of the eye (reflecting the sky) with cerulean.  Jean talks about making sure to soften the edges of the eyes, and nose for that matter, by blending out the edges with a damp brush, at least here and there, so the elements don’t look glued on top of the face.

The colors I planed to use were Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Quinacridone Burt Scarlet, Carmine, Cobalt and Indanthrone blue.  Not sure if I added others in there, but those are the mingling splotches to the right of the portrait.

SM_dog_commission_rachel_murphree_watercolors (4)

So here are the stages of progression of the portrait.  I figured I would do several studies and perhaps one would be the one the owner picks, or I may need to do more.  We’ll see how it goes.

SM_dog_commission_rachel_murphree_watercolors (5)

I don’t like the right eye, as we’re looking at it, it’s too large and doesn’t have the glow.  The other eye may be better but I’m curious to know what color the dog’s eyes are in real life, because in the photo they are blue and I’m not sure if that’s accurate.

I think as a further exercise before doing another study, I will do studies of eyes and noses randomly on a page and get the hang of the mingle of colors and the form.

SM_dog_commission_rachel_murphree_watercolors (1)

So that’s it for today’s posting.  What are you up to?  What suggestions or criticisms of the work do you have for me?  Thanks for stopping by…

Another tree sketch and wash

mesquite tree sketch and wash

mesquite tree sketch and wash

Still thinking of trees and experimenting with painting them.  Here’s an ink sketch done while waiting for one of the kids.  I was working on getting the colors and the light and only suggesting foliage, not defining every leaf.  It’s in a sketchbook so the paint reacts differently than on watercolor paper which is thicker and sized to accept the wet media.  Even so, it’s fun to put washes over sketches in the sketchbook.

You can see other tree paintings in previous posts: tree studies, winter trees, and trees and trunks.

Thanks for stopping by!