Apache Plume Morning @ Dona Ana Arts Council show

Apache Plume Morning
This painting inspired by our hike on Lost Dog Trail in West El Paso was juried into the NM Watercolor Society’s annual Spring Show this year at the Dona Ana Arts Council’s Gallery, 1740 Calle De Mercado – Mesilla.  May 6-29, 2019

See it in person at our Artists’ Reception, Saturday, May 11th from 4-7 pm.  Meet the artists, enjoy the over 35 paintings, and enjoy light food and refreshments.  Regular gallery hours: M-F 9-5. 

Apache Plume Morning $325

Canyon Cliffs


This was another yupo piece I did at the demo and I like how this initial wash came out with the runs and color blending portraying jagged mountain edges and rocks and I’m calling it done!

The Summit — Day 14

This morning I sketched storm clouds over our mountains while waiting to pick up my daughter, and this afternoon I tried to express it in paint. The mts got away from me so I tried some palette knife texturing.  It is what it is…LOL

Rocky mountain plein air

In October our group went out to paint in the Franklin Mountains State Park which is a beautiful place to hike, camp and commune with the desert landscape. Here are steps in my process of expressing what I saw and felt that day.


Initial inspiration and shadows closeup

Broader initial view on that beautiful October morning

First wash of warm and cool shades

First wash dry and set up on the easel and even in the short time I needed to wait for it to dry, the shadows and consequently the lights changed.

Pretty close to stopping for the day, I liked putting the painting against the natural elements i am trying to portray.

Here it is on the easel. Look at the small shadow now because time had gone by, it was 11:30ish.

I try to paint in the shade, both for my comfort and for not having a glare on the paper.  I was painting in the picnic shelter of a campsite in this wild state park that is the only such Texas park with an urban area city limits. And only five miles from my house. I have to get out and paint here more!

More accurate view of color depth taken indoors during the days I spent thinking about what to do next the piece


Glossy areas are masking fluid shapes.

I added more details. The shiny gray areas are shapes covered with masking fluid to have lighter shrubs after darks are painted on top.

Then I got carried away and made the darks a big block of the bottom without a pathway through the painting.  I also didn’t like the curved yellowy sotol shapes in that area.

I thought the lit area and the rocks on the right had some merit, so I lifted up part of the foreground left area and made rock like shapes there.  And that is where it is right now.  I think I may crop it and frame, but not sure now. Any suggestions?

I will probably paint this again in the studio, and definitely go out exploring in this wild place to find more sites to paint. Stay tuned!

Don’t forget that you can purchase prints cards and ornaments of my work at my online store: https://squareup.com/store/rcmurphree_watercolors

Two for shows!


Balcony View 16 x 20 framed. $225

I found out recently that these two paintings were accepted to different local shows.

Balcony View was selected for Ardovino’s Desert Crossing’s 16th annual Celebration of our Mountains.  That opening is Thursday, September 22nd from 6-9 pm at the Sunset Hall at Ardovino’s.


Along the Rio. 16 x 20 framed. $225

Along the Rio has been juried into the Arts International show, opening October 8th from 6-8 at 500 W. Paisano’s Crossland Gallery.

I will be at both openings.  I hope to see you there!

St Francis on the Hill Day 9

Today’s painting of the day is a watercolor value sketch from a photograph of a nearby church, St. Francis on the Hill.  I see this in the distance on all of my dogwalks and it has a European feel to it, nestled in the foothills of El Paso mountains and looking into the mountains of Mexico.

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Photo and several pencil value sketches

First I started doing several pencil value sketches choosing a point or several on the photograph to audition.  One of my presents this year was Powerful Watercolor Landscapes: 37 tools for painting with impact by Catherine Gill so I followed examples in there on finding your “what” that grabs you.  For me it was the light on the distant mountains and the dark foreground with some of the church.

Isn’t it funny how simple things become clearer?  when she was writing on how to do value sketches quickly, she said make everything that’s NOT white a med shade and then add the darker values.  Simple, huh?  it works!

st_francis_on_the_hill_value_sketch (3)

Values not quite right!

Of my three sketches I liked the bottom right and did up a painted sketch to get the values right.  But it wasn’t quite right. My eyes were drawn to both the lighter church and the mountains, and there was no clear point of interest smacking you over the head.  Going back to the sketch, I saw that I had the church too light.

st_francis_on_the_hill_value_sketch (1)

Painted value sketch of St. Francis on the Hill

I think this final preliminary sketch works much better because the focal point is much more clearly defined.  It’s quite useful to do these exercises because when you read them in the books, they seem clear and easy, but it’s in the actual DOING of the work that you learn…or at least I do!

So that’s my offering for today’s challenge in the 30 in 30.  While not a finished painting, it’s working and keeping the brushes wet daily that’s the goal! 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…

Riordan workshop wrap up

Cloud_Shadows #2_rachel_murphree_watercolor

Cloud shadows #2

When I was unhappy with my clouds in “Storm Approaching” there was some extra time, so I figured I would try another clouds/mountains landscape. This one is it, and I’m happier with the clouds because they are expressed confidently and freshly. But the rest of it? hmmm….I think the mountains are a bit wonky as is the cloud shadow, but regardless.  it is what it is!!

Views earlier in the morning

white winged doves on a dead scrag with the beautiful Organ Mountains in the background socked in with clouds.

The last workshop day (Friday) was plein air and it was a chilly, windy, cloudy, spitting rain cold day for here.  We were huddled under a shade structure watching the demo and trying to scout out places to paint.  I wished I had brought a hat and gloves!  You can see the earlier cool of the day in the photo of birds in the desert brush. This might be an interesting photo to paint from some day.

Michael gave us a several good tips on finding a subject when painting plein air:  Look for the area of deepest contrast and work out your back, middle and foreground. Move around other components, like trees or bushes, from elsewhere in the landscape if they make the composition more effective.  Also if you’re doing architecture, roofs are lighter than you think because they reflect the sky.  I guess now is a great time to say that he has a new book coming out in February where all the stuff he drilled into us, and tons more I’m sure, will be in.  

Eventually the weather warmed up and the sun came out, followed by sprinkles, and it was a beautiful afternoon.  I think I was just tired from the whole four days and the driving and parenting stuff in the evenings, and didn’t want to do another landscape.  They’re not really what I’m passionate about.

So with his cautions I tackled a more difficult subject, santa rita prickly pear plants that were getting old and tough.  And because it was plein air, I sketched a value sketch but didn’t take a photo.  Silly me.  Those cactus pads are pink/purplish when fresh, and as they age, these ones got very cool gradations of peachs/lime greens/purples/browns, and they really drew my eye.  They were sprawled on the ground and a challenge to work out (invent) a foreground and background.

So in the end, it was an off day.  I didn’t come out with something I’m proud of, but I sure did have fun mixing deep colors wet in wet and playing on  how to pull out edges to make the stiff bristly bits on the edges of the pads.

plein air in Riordan workshop Oct 2015

playing wet in wet

plein air in Riordan workshop Oct 2015

santa rita prickly pear plein air in Riordan workshop Oct 2015

On the left is a play piece I made and then on the right, the not -so-fresh planned one heavily cropped!!  but still, it was fun, and I was proud of myself for persevering to get something halfway representative. And yes, on more than one bush, I’ve seen prickly pads that are distinct heart shapes, as the little one here in the center.

And I had my first sighting of the year of white crowned sparrows (winter visitors) squeaking to each other in the brush, and a I had to shade my eyes from the warm fall sun to get a gorgeous sighting of a hawk (either  sharp shinned hawk or coopers) flying low overhead.  WOW!  you can’t get better than that for a day that started out dismally!

Gila Discovery


Gila Discovery. 5.25″ x 10.25″ watercolor based on a photo of my daughter at a younger age investigating nature at the Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico

I fixed this up a bit, now that I have it home, and I wanted to talk about it a bit.

If you notice the photo this is based on, in an earlier post, you will see there is no distant mesa or mountains to the left, and that in reality, there was a tree there.  I took out the tree because it didn’t help the story I was telling, and Michael suggested the distant area to give a background and it works well.  The middle ground is the rock/mountain and figure, the foreground the steps.

One key that he emphasized in his style of painting was to mingle paint on the paper and get in, do what you need when it’s wet and then don’t go back in.  When the bead of paint is still on the paper, the paint is wet enough to keep putting in thicker mixtures of pigments, and this makes them come alive.  Doing this keeps the luminosity of the paper and isn’t deadened with thicker layers of darks on top of other layers. It’s hard to see on the monitor, but the darkest area behind the girl kind of glows. It’s done with indanthrone blue, quin burn scarlet, ultramarine and quin burnt orange. I put the thickest amount of pigment in the middle bottom with less on the side where the light would illuminate into the interior more.

Painting the figure was a lot easier than I thought it would be. That gives me confidence to add figures to other landscapes, when I do them which isn’t often so far, but the figures help show the scale of mountains or rocks.

We talked a bunch, in our critiques, about cropping to make a painting or a sketch better before painting. When I sketched this one, I had it on a paper that was closer to  8″ x 10″ and the focal point (white against darkest dark) was almost smack in the middle of the page. Wow! big faux pas of course because it makes a static composition, not interesting… but then it makes the painting not a standard size…it ended up 5.25″ x 10.25″.

SOOO….I’m seeing a mat cutter on my Christmas list! Big Smile!

All is well! 

The painting and block were here when i arrived. Clouds are the topic of the day, so while i wait for my underpainting to dry, here is Gila Discovery.  More info on it and the process once i am not on my phone!


Gila Discovery. 5.25″ x 10.25″ watercolor based on a photo of my daughter at a younger age investigating nature at the Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico