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.

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!

Day 9 of 30 in 30 — Pale Pomegranates

pencil sketch with watercolor wash

study done from life of an unusual colored cut pomegranate on a plate

This morning we had painting class.  We were on our own to finish up or paint a new painting, and I was struck by a cut pomegranate on a plate in the kitchen with a cloudy day outside lighting it in neat ways and shadows.  I kept looking at the plate, snapping pictures, and then walking away, but I was drawn back. pale_pomegranates_sketch_rachel_murphree

So I did a sketch in my book, tried out colors and jotted them down, and then did a sketch and wash on watercolor paper.  It won’t be a finished painting, but it helped solidify the experience in my mind, and will give me information when I go to do a painting from the photograph.

By the way, the pomegranates are different from this tree this year.  In the past they’ve been red ones, but this year, they only turned yellow and the fruit is pale yellow/peach but very sweet.  Wild! Have you ever seen one like this?

pale pomegranates_photo

photo of pale pomegranates…look at the cool shapes of the reflections/shadows

Day 3 of the 30/30 challenge — Sun on Cypress plein air process

Painting by Rachel Murphree

Sun on cypress watercolor, based on plein air sketches and studies. 8″ square. $45

Here’s Day 3 of the 30 paintings in 30 days challenge. I’m calling it “Sun on Cypress” and it is a result of plein air painting in my back yard.

I listen to a wonderful podcast called Artists Helping Artists and a recent interview was with Anne Blair Brown who is a huge proponent of painting outside (plein air) or at the very least from life in a still life, rather than from photographs. The few times I’ve been outside painting, I have thoroughly enjoyed it, so I gave it a try in my back yard.

see the white strip of tape I've put on. It says 5 x 7" to the right, 8 x 10 to the left

see the white strip of tape I’ve put on. It says 5 x 7″ to the right, 8 x 10 to the left

I went out and sat comfortably in the shade (very importantin our 90+ weather) and used my view finder to view what was around me DIFFERENTLY.  A viewfinder can come in many forms, from a square or rectangle cut into a piece of paper, to a plastic square with a window that opens to varying degrees from rectangle to square, to just cupping your hands in a squarish shape and looking through.  It really helps me isolate what might be interesting to paint and attempt to keep it simple.  When you are outside there are so many details that you have to filter out.  The photo on the right shows a viewfinder, and I’ve done the math to figure out where to open the window so that the inside will scale up to 5 x 7 (at the right hand side of my tape) and 8 x 10 (on the left side);

rough sketches

thumbnail sketches to get lights and darks

So here are some brief steps in the process.  I made rudimentary sketches with a black pen in my sketchbook trying to get the darks and light values that intrigued me.  The diagonal dark through the picture and the shape of it on the right.  the repetition of the tall cone shapes of the italian cypress and the varying light on them from the sun.

Rough study painting

Plein air study 1 of sun on cypress

Then I painted two rather quick sketches (on lesser quality paper that I happened to grab, won’t do that again) to try and work out the order and process of painting the various shapes.

After reflecting on it, I tried it again with arches paper inside, and ended up with the finished one above that I’m happy with.

Thanks for dropping by, and if you’d like to leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

2nd rough painting study

Plein air study 2 of sun on cypress

Cloud Shadows and 30 in 30 day challenge announcement

watercolor of clouds and their shadows on mountains. done in a class with Marie Siegrist

watercolor of clouds and their shadows on mountains. done in a class with Marie Siegrist

Classes started up for another session with Marie Siegrist, a signature member of the New Mexico Watercolor Society and teacher in Las Cruces, NM. I’m enjoying taking classes with her weekly, and learning a lot. The very idea of having a class forces one (ME!) to get assignments done.

We started working on clouds the week before and my first two attempts were horrible. seriously. but the night before the next class, I thought...just get in on the paper, Rachel! and it turned out fairly ok. One neat technique she taught us was gently scrubbing out cloud areas (after it has all dried) with a clean toothbrush to get rid of hard edges, if not wanted, and help shape the clouds. So I’m fairly happy with this one, and am looking forward to lots more practice with clouds and water.

Speaking of that, I’m doing the 30 paintings in 30 days challenge starting September 1st. I did this in January, and learned a great deal from the daily practice. Not all paintings have to be (or can be) gallery material, but it’s an exercise to get me into the studio daily. I’ve decided my theme will be “Sea and Sky” so expect to see postings of water, clouds, sky, shells, and more in September.

And of course, the big deal for me is my art show tomorrow evening.  If you’re in town and can stop by, please do so.  I’ll have originals, framed prints and cards for sale.  See the events calendar on the right side column for more information.

Agave Shadows #1 and #2

Agave Shadows #1 Watercolor painting by Rachel Murphree

Agave Shadows #1, done mostly dry on wet. framed to 12″ x 16″.  Watercolor.$125.  Click on image to view larger.

These plants and their early morning shadows captivated me on my walk and I have tried several times to capture the moment.  Here are the latest attempts, #1 that was done painting the spears of the plants as positive images and then doing shadows and background.

Agave Shadows #2 Watercolor painting by Rachel Murphree

Agave Shadows #2, done first wet on wet. 11″ x 15″ Watercolor. SOLD.

#2 is done largely wet in wet with light colors of warm yellow and blue green and then when totally dry, I went in with the darks and negatively painted the shades around the spears, almost “carving” them out of the background.

In progress painting of agave shadows

Agave shadows in progress. Note wet in wet side that doesn’t have the darks to form the shapes.

To show you what I mean, here is a picture of it in progress. On the right is what the whole paper looked like initially, soft spongy lines of color and white on the bottom. On the left is the agave being discovered or carved out of the background. It’s a confusing process to get my head around, so sometimes I resort to turning it upside down which makes it easier to draw because you are just drawing shapes, and not thinking about drawing a spear, or anything else for that matter. So I’ll show you that here.


upside down orientation

Upside down in progress painting of agave shadows

This is an exercise you can use to perfect your drawing skills too. I’ve seen it in various places. Take a photograph of someone, turn it upside down and attempt to draw it that way. when drawing the nose, for example, you won’t be thinking “nose” you will be thinking only of the geometric shapes to form the nose when the drawing is right side up.

Thanks for stopping by and checking in with me. I’d love to hear if you prefer #1 or #2 and why. After I’ll tell you which I prefer!

Wow, you’ve changed!!

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Step 1 of the painting of Agave shadows. A work in progress….

Well, *I haven’t changed, but the look of my blog has!

I realized the other day that the “theme” for my blog, one of many provided by wordpress, doesn’t show up well on mobile devices, such as tablets or smart phones.  I had a choice of changing text and doing other stuff, and I thought…no, let’s go for another theme, one that shows off the artwork and is more simple in its approach.  I stumbled on this one, named Spun, and really liked it.

I like the circles highlighting each post on the home page, and also the ability to easily display paintings in various categories (at the top right) such as flowers, landscapes, etc.

This blog, as my painting, is a work in progress.  As is the photo here on this post.  This is the first stage of a piece I’m working on now, and I’m hoping to show you more in progress shots and the finished piece within the next day or so.

So do you like the changes?

update to this: I changed the blog away from spun for several reasons and am still playing around with getting the one I’d like that also works well on mobile devices.

Datura Shadows

Datura Shadows watercolor painting

watercolor, 11″ X 15″. 1/4 sheet 140# Fabriano Artistico paper

My project these last several days has been the Datura plant, a poisonous plant with an aptly named nickname of  Devil’s Trumpet.  It has very cool seed pods, spiral opening buds,  and a gorgeous huge white bell of a blossom. I’ve seen these on my walks recently and fortunately snapped a picture when the sun created lovely shadows. With our 108 degree temps this week, my dog walks now occur before the sun comes over the Franklin Mts onto our side of the city. I still am mindful on my walk and snapping photos of interests, but it’s not the same without LIGHT to add that magic!

This was such a learning process for me.  I sketched it first, got the values, tested out colors and mixtures, did some studies and then taking a big breath (smile), started on the painting.  I used frisket paper and masking fluid to mask out the flower to do the background, and some of the earth color got onto the blossom.  Got a couple of watercolor blooms on the blossom which I didn’t want…still putting extra brush strokes and inadvertently adding water with it which creates the blooms, and I’m not sure the leaves are done.  I used the same mixture for all the shadows (indigo and carbazole violet) not sure they’re deep enough, and I think it’s normal to have the shadow look different depending on what color it lands on, but not sure if I should leave it or do more on them.  Any thoughts?   I’d love to hear from you.

Here are some photos of the plant and its beauty, including the one I used to paint the picture

.Datura blossom

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Rich and glowing

Cut glass reflections

Taken on the patio

My older daughter called me out to see this beautiful shadow on the patio.  I’ve taken to letting them drink out of “fancy glasses” like this and this caught her eye.  She has an artistic vision.  She’s less into crafts than her younger sister, but when she does art, she is passionate about it.