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.

What color is white?

White Geranium. Plein air watercolor, framed to 8 x 10. $95

White Geranium. Plein air watercolor, framed to 8 x 10. $95

The opening of the Plein Air show at Sunland Art Gallery was fun last Saturday night. The show runs until the end of June, if you’d like to stop by and see it.  The hours are Tues-Sat 10-5 and the gallery is next to Tippi Teas in the Placita Santa Fe, at Doniphan/Mesa.

I wanted to talk a bit about this little painting that is one of the four I have in the show.

 The question is, how white is white? What color is it really?  If you look carefully at a white flower, or building, or any object, the sun hits it in different ways bringing out colors in the shadows that reflect other colors that surround it.  I took creative license and had fun charging in wet colors into other wet colors to create the shadows that form the flower and the foliage around it.  It is a challenge and a lot of fun to show that white isn’t really white!

Oh and before I forget, the print of Afternoon Farm by Tony Conner (which I blogged about recently) arrived today and it is even MORE beautiful in person than it is on the screen.  I am a very lucky person!

Local Arts scene: Jacques Barriac and Plein Air Painters

jacque_barriac_lotus_bird_butterfly_s 2ndplace_watercolor

The Lotus, The Bird and the Butterfly” watercolor by Jacques Barriac.

I will start by honoring my friend Jacques Barriac who painted this award winning painting:  “The Lotus, the Bird and the Butterfly” in watercolor.  It won 2nd place at the Art of Flowers show going on through May at the El Paso International Museum of Art.  If you get the El Paso Times, look in yesterday’s art section or see here.

Also, the first page of that section is all about the Plein Air Painters show opening this coming Saturday, May 14th from 5-7 at the Sunland Art Gallery at the Placita Fe shops on Doniphan. The full page spread in the newspaper included paintings by Candy Mayer, Dorian Clouser, Krystyna Robbins and Judy Crumley.

I will have four paintings in that show, all painted outdoors, or in plein air.  Those of you that follow my blog will see that I made some changes to the last one with the mountain view.   If you click on the photo you will see a larger view of the painting.

From left to right they are:  Walk with Me, White Geranium, Spring Morning, and Balcony View.

I hope you can stop by and see the show and enjoy some wine and cheese with us this Saturday night.  Thanks for stopping by.  I enjoy hearing from you!

Plein air perseverance

Morning dog walk.  watercolor by Rachel Murphree

Morning dog walk. watercolor by Rachel Murphree

Hi all.  Today’s post is on the value of perseverance with plein air watercolor.  Last Friday morning the group went out to a part of the trail along the Rio Grande in the upper valley, and it was beautiful….that is until the wind kicked up!  I’m not as excited about landscapes as I am detail work of flowers, seedpods, etc. so I almost thought…oh I won’t paint here today.  There’s nothing that interests me.  But I thought to myself, you should be able to find something to paint anywhere, just settle down Rachel!

ref photo rio grande plein air

Ref photo for Rio Grande trail

I thought the path had neat shapes and would draw you into the painting, and I liked the morning shadows, so I set up on the path, and had an idea on how neat I hoped the front salt cedar bush would be wet in wet.  Well, the wind had other ideas.  As I got some of the darks in wet and was trying to charge in other colors the wind grew fierce and it all dried much too quickly.  But I kept working and liked the rest of it.

set up rio grande plein air

Painting in progress along the Rio Grande trail

I let it sit for several days contemplating how/if I could fix it and would it be worth it.  I didn’t wan to overwork it, but decided it was worth the effort to learn how.  I moistened the bush and charged in other darks, letting colors mingle on the paper and strengthened the shadows across the path and lifted out some for texture.  After another day I thought I’d add the figure walking the dog since there were bikers and dog walkers up and down that day.  It was delightful to speak to them while painting and hear their reactions to the piece.

So that’s my story for today.  What I’ve learned from this and from working on other plein air paintings to finish is, whether or not the finished painting has merit, there’s always something to learn and to hopefully to better on the first go, the next time!

Ardovino’s take two

Ardovino's water tower #2

Ardovino’s water tower #2

I went out to Ardovino’s Desert Crossing on Monday morning to paint again, this time with a value sketch. Usually a value sketch makes the painting better for me, in my rather limited experience. I’m not sure if that was true this week.

I was joined by a painting “buddy”…  the dogs were let out and were busy tracking scents and saying hello to others.  All of a sudden I felt a little pressure on my shoe.  I looked down to find a dirty chewed wine cork on top of my shoe, and the sweetest little black/brown dog panting and looking at me…hey lady, do you want to play?

ardovinos 2 photo ref (1)

Ardovino’s on site.

That’s all it took…I spent the next forty five minutes painting and throwing that wine cork all over creation for him to chase and bring back.  When I would ignore him, intent on a particular stroke, all of a sudden I’d feel the cork near my foot and the game would begin again!

Here’s a view of the painting on site.  Such a lovely place!

There are parts of the second painting that I like, and parts that I think are better in the first one.  over all,  I think I like view one better, below, which I’m calling Sunday Morning.  What do you think?  I’d love to hear your views.

Sunday morning at Ardovino's

Sunday morning at Ardovino’s


Balcony View (plein air)


Balcony View of Franklin Mountains

This week I’ve been busy either painting plein air or finishing paintings that were started outside in preparation for an upcoming show.  The Plein Air Painters of El Paso group that I joined in spring has a show next month, and the stipulation is that the paintings have to be started plein air.  Well, let me tell you, this is a great incentive to finish paintings that I started on site and didn’t know either where to go with them, or thought they didn’t turn out well (so frankly there’s no harm in trying to fix them!)

Either way, the process of committing to taking a painting from “what could be” to a finished product, whether good or bad, is all LEARNING….so it’s all good.


Coming home stage after painting outdoors

This is a painting that I was kind of happy with when I came home, but didn’t know where to take it.  I talked it over with my teacher, Oween, and we discussed perhaps a unifying shadow along the bottom left that would balance out the bottom right shapes.  What bothered me was the diagonal lines that seemed to all point to the left corner.  I thought softening some lower points or edges might help along with the shadow.

She also suggested softening some edges, that not all had to be hard lines, and a new friend at the New Mexico Watercolor Society tea suggested ranges behind in the distance which were kind of suggested already.  Both of the ideas were good ones — it’s great to take works in progress and consider suggestions from other painters — I highly recommend it.

When I got into adjusting the painting I found that I enjoyed putting in other plant growth, suggesting other sharp rock edges, putting in the far mountains, and generally I think the changes helped keep your eye inside the painting. I lightened up some edges to suggest sun hitting the mountains in various places.

What do you think?  Click on the photo to see it larger and let me know what you like or what bothers you.

I’m calling it Balcony View because it was painted from a fifth floor balcony of the Fairmont Building near downtown.   The balcony wrapped around the building so some of the painters were doing a downtown view, and others were on the mountain side with me. If you can come to the show, you may see other views.

The show is called “Out and About in El Paso” and runs from May 4-June 29 at the Sunland Art Gallery, Placita Santa Fe on Doniphan St, El Paso.  To learn more about the show, check out the Plein Air Painters website.  I will have four pieces in the show and will blog about them in future posts.  Stay tuned!


Garden wall shadow

Garden Wall Shadow Rachel Murphree watercolor (1)

Garden Wall Shadow, watercolor  in progress




I haven’t written a newsy post on the process of painting in such a long time.  I’ve thought the posts in my head, but haven’t gotten to the keyboard to upload photos etc.  So here’s an overdue post on today’s plein air excursion.

I went to the Chihuahuan Desert Garden at UT El Paso, a fabulous jewel of a place, to paint. I was captivated by the shadow of a penstemon stalk against the garden wall.  Here are a Penstemon_shadow_rachel_murphree_photo_ref (2)few of my reference photos.

Penstemon_shadow_rachel_murphree_photo_ref (1)

I did some color studies to see if the permanent rose as a base for the penstemon blooms would cover the pale yellow/orange and it did.  If not, I would have had to consider masking out the pink blooms and waiting for that to dry before beginning.  Meanwhile the light and shadow would be constantly changing, and besides I didn’t have an older brush that I could use to form the bloom shapes accurately.

UTEP plein air setup (2)UTEP plein air setup (1)

Here’s my set up and palette when I finished.  I love the deep shimmer of the purples.



And now the in process shots as this study progressed:

I really like the blending of the deep rich colors of the shadow, and the liveliness of the lines and shapes.  in squinting at the values in real life, the shadows were almost that dark compared to the sun struck blooms but I didn’t quite capture the blooms as well as I wanted.  I predict more sketching time is necessary!

I think it has potential to keep working on, perhaps glazing over the background and the shadow with a light wash of the yellow/orange to integrate the shadow more into the background, OR put a cooler blue glaze over the same area to set it back.

I will have to think on this more, but all in all, it was a good morning because I learned and enjoyed…and made myself a large note to bring my binoculars next time!  with beautiful native plants and water features, the bird activity was great but I couldn’t do more than catch glimpses of the warbler singing beside me.

And now I’m off to the Branigan Center in Cruces to see the Spring show of the NM watercolor society chapter…my painting Contemplationand it will be fun to see it displayed with the other watercolors.

Plein Air Franklin Mountains


Last Friday I went out with PAPS, our plein air painting group, and we painted from a 5th floor wrap around balcony with lovely views of the downtown and the mountains.  The mountains view is more my “thing”, although I don’t think I really enjoy landscapes all that much, and the thing that clinched it for me was that it was in the SHADE.  Differently than the Friday before where we froze, this last week was mild spring temps with a hot desert sun.

The challenge, or one of many challenges, of plein air is looking at the entire vista around you, and then narrowing in on one aspect of small quadrant of all that’s there.  The mountains here are quite high with a group of houses half way up known as “crazy cat” and then below the town with trees, etc.

I decided to focus on two ridges that appealed to me, and with artistic license moved up the italian cypresses and other shrubs that were much further down so that they would provide a balance for the bottom right corner.  I was also cognizant of points I learned in my first private watercolor lesson earlier that week to vary the shapes, and make them interesting.

These ridges tended to be quite rectangular so I varied their edges and really had fun playing with going in early with dark shadows. Perhaps I could have done more interesting edges. A point that bothers me also is how the diagonal lines seem to all look to merge in one spot.  but in the moment of painting, I didn’t see that potential problem.  What I do like is the color harmony, created because I stuck with 3-4 colors throughout.  Quin gold, quin bt orange, quin bt scarlet, and cerulean for the granulating effect. there may be some ultramarine in there too.

And this Friday is another plein air morning…this time painting IN the rio grande river, which is dry at this time of the year.  Fun!

Thanks for stopping by…

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!


4–>40 Tree Studies


plein air set up painting the tree on the 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 plein air study

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 plein air study of pine

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.