4–>Fall Fig step by step


Detailed value sketch

Here are some of my preliminary sketches, more detailed than I expect a lot of more experienced painters would do, but it helped me to fully understand what I was seeing, how the leaves and the shadows looked.


It was interesting to see that the larger sketch reinforced the thumbnail value sketch I made previously.  It helped me to do a line sketch another day.


Other sketches



So I felt that I “knew” the fig leaves and light and I had the painted value sketch hanging around on the easel over several days and I was still excited about translating it into a real painting.

Step one was to put a light under-painting to define and isolate the whites and put down warms and cools in a very pale wash. As usual in this stage, I lost my place and left whites on different leaves than my original plan, sigh!, so I just adjusted my thoughts and went with the whites I was “given”.


Stage one of Fall Fig

Once that wash dried, I put in the darks of the Italian cypress behind it because I knew that the effect of sunlight making jewels of select yellowing leaves relied on the dark values around them.

Then I started putting in the next layer, trying to mix pigments on the paper rather than in the palette, keeping in mind that cooler colors receded so I used them in the leaves in the back and keeping focal leaves pale and warm.  I also warmed up the leaves in bottom front.

Fig Stage Two

Fig Stage Two



I deliberately left the foreground suggestive rather than detailed. But I am open to suggestions that it might need a bit more definition, or warmth?  I really like it now because as I was bringing color down into the bottom and then just brushed it aside with a sweeping motion mixing colors at the same time, as I often see in professional painting videos.

I thought I was finished before I really was, at the stage three photo, but my daughter suggested (and I saw it when she mentioned it) that she knew I was trying to have the yellows pop, but the values behind them weren’t dark enough…and sure enough, it didn’t match my value sketch.  Once she’s left the house for college, I will have to figure these things out on my own!   I’m sure with fresh eyes on another day, I would have seen it.  If you squint at this stage three, you see that the a lot of the leaves all have the same value of darkness.

Stage three of fig

Stage three of fig

I wasn’t crazy about adding more layers to those leaves because I would be losing some of the transparency, so in the future I have to practice, practice to get the values spot on the first time.  It’s hard to do because paint dries lighter than when it’s wet, so it’s a matter of more painting and paying attention to that.

So when I was deciding what dark value blue to use, I tried out indigo and indanthrone  blue on a separate piece of paper, and noticed that indanthrone was warmer, so I chose that one to let the cooler cerulean chromium layered leaves at the very back look further away.


Fall Fig in its final stage

So I would love to hear your comments and suggestions.  Do you think the foreground, left corner, needs more?  is there anything confusing that bothers you?  I really appreciate your comments and suggestions and hearing from you!






Post #3 on Lantana WIP

in progress watercolor

Lantana in progress with negative painting of stems and leaves

I put soft graphite with the edge of a 4B pencil on the back of the tracing paper but then realized I couldn’t see the sketching I’d done on the front! so I softened the back graphite with a tissue to not have scratch marks that would interfere with the drawn stem outlines, and I was able to quasi see what I wanted to transfer. I used a mix of sketching directly on the wc paper and doing the tracing transfer technique. then I mixed up

in progress watercolor

Lantana in progress with separating some of the clusters with background colors

and blues using cobalt and ultramarine with new gamboge and aureolin yellow. I put some water in areas and painted up to those letting the color blend into the water. You can see that to the right of the largest cluster there’s a water blossom run that I’m happy I didn’t try to fix while wet….I’m finally realizing that doesn’t work! as it is, it looks like it can suggest leaf edges for the background.

In the next image on the right you can see I’m painting over the light rose tones to separate the clusters from each other and put in the first background leaf. I’m leaving the primary leaves and stems in the light color for awhile and see what I like.

I’m enjoying taking my time with this painting, as opposed to doing smaller pieces daily…they both have their merit, but I’m going to enjoy the change. I do intend on sketching daily and posting. I had a drawing breakthrough in our painting group today, can’t wait to share that with you tomorrow!

Day 19 Autumn (in progress)

day19_autumn_saran (5)

Autumn tree in progress. done with watercolor. 9″ x 12″

I’m at the stage in this one where I’m not sure what to do with the cool textures behind the tree to the right. What do you see in them?  what would you do next?

day 19 colors down saran

wet paint with plastic wrap layers on top creating lighter areas of texture and movement.

I’ve been experimenting again with saran wrap, putting down rich colors on a spritzed with water paper covering with cling wrap crinkled in various shapes and then allowing to dry.  This time I forgot to put a heavy book on top and it still worked.  So I thought I’d show you where it is now, where it started, and ideas I had on how to work it that I tried out using the acetate sheet.

day19_autumn_saran (1)

after the paint has dried and plastic wrap removed. what fun to look at the designs inside! what do you see?

So here’s what it looked like wet covered with three different sheets of plastic wrap laid in various angles and here is how it dried.  you can see that the rich colors it had originally dried lighter, which is common with watercolor.  I laid down the colors thinking fall landscape with pines on the right and a foreground of fall colors.  that’s as far as I got so that influenced what I saw looking at the dried piece.  What do you see in the dried piece?  it has interesting potential doesn’t it?  and perhaps I painted too much over it….  it’s a continual learning process.

My next step was to lay acetate on top (I’ve talked about this in another post) and try out ideas.  The key to this is to use thicker pigment puddle,  and I find a flat brush helps lay down a good design to try.   I know there is glare on this from the acetate but I wanted to show you the three different ideas.  The first was a tree with some leaves, the next was a bare tree and working up the pines on the left.  The third was the one I settled on:  putting in the trunk and then building up leaves with branches poking through and see what happened.

day19_autumn_saran (3)

acetate with painted design ideas on top

day19_autumn_saran (4)

acetate with painted design ideas on top

day19_autumn_saran (2)

acetate with painted design ideas on top

Which leaves me where I am now. Playing in the leaves….ha ha!

So what do you see in the designs?  What would you suggest for the area behind the tree?  and any ideas for a title?  I’m at a loss for that…

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday Tips #6 Acetate and our dog Tulie

Tulie. 11 x 15 watercolor of our schnauzer mix dog that thinks she rules the world!

Tulie. 11 x 15 watercolor of our schnauzer mix dog who thinks she rules the world!

Before I get to the tips, here is the finished version of Tulie, our schnauzer mix who has captivated our hearts. After having medium to large dogs, this little 12 pound dog has made me love lap dogs.  She has such personality and quirks, and she is so cuddly.  You can see the before version (and some in process photos from sketch to painting) at this post. Now she has a background and the right side of the portrait has darker tones showing the light coming in from the left.

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corner of clear acetate sheet with its paper wrapper

I used a clear sheet of acetate to figure out what colors I wanted in the background.  I tried out the dark blues and the siennas, and then decided to mix them in a wet in wet flow of colors.

Acetate is a really cool tool.  I read about it in The Watercolor Fix-It Book (vanHasselt and Wagner) a book I’ve mentioned before.  I got it at an art supply place for under $4, and found out that there are several types, so you want to ask for “acetate for wet media”.  It came in a 20″ x 25″ sheet with a white protective tissue wrapper and it can be used over and over.

Purple pigment on acetate over blossom

Purple pigment on acetate over blossom

I’ve included two examples here as a demonstration. The one on the left shows a rather garish purple (for this color scheme) that I tried over the top of a blossom to see how it would look to darken shadows, and then a more appropriate perylene maroon.  The pigments should be more of a cream consistency to stay in place on the acetate, but it all wipes off very easily with a wet paper towel.  I can see this coming in handy in lots of different ways.

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Perylene maroon as a darkening color for the center of this mexican red bird of paradise blossom

Contemplating one more time (and Tuesday tips)


“Contemplation 2”. 11″ x 15″ watercolor in progress. More wet in wet, less layers of pigment.

I’ve started another painting from the same photograph, and am trying a different approach with it. Here it is in progress, waiting for me to get back to it, and hopefully keep the same light loose feel to it.

I wet both sides of the paper (this time it was 140 lb, the first completed one was on the thicker 300 lb paper) and I started painting on it wet in wet, meaning flowing pigment onto the already wet paper, and then as the paper slowly dried, I kept using thicker pigment but still in lighter values to start to define the circles and ripples. I think it has a lighter feel than the first one had at this stage. I’m hoping to continue in the same mode and have a more transparent watery surface. It’ll be interesting to hear, when this is done, which one you like better.

So this is my usual Tuesday Tips day, and I don’t have anything formally prepared other than to work in series.  I felt so much more comfortable starting this one after completing the first.  I only drew small circles and the edges of where the dark and light would meet, and I found more circles in the painting than I had seen previously.

My second tip is to paint with other supportive people and give each other advice.  My friend Karen suggested on looking at this that I could suggest the circles, not necessarily complete all of them, to avoid the ‘bulls eye” look, and she was so right!  I lifted areas of paint in several places that left part of the circles “not closed” and I like the look better.

One of these days I will post paintings on this blog of my watercolor friends, so you can see their work too.

I enjoy hearing from you…and thanks for stopping by.

Contemplation: The surface and below…


“Contemplation” 11″ x 15″ watercolor inspired by the Contemplative Garden fountain at UTEP. Click on image to view larger. $99 unframed.

For today’s post I thought I’d give you a finished piece and its accompanying inspiration photo, and then a bunch of in process photos for you to see how this piece came together.

Photo of fountain's surface

Photo of fountain’s surface

I took the photo at UTEP’s Contemplative Garden and it’s the surface of a fountain created by dripping water off of bells above the surface.  You can see the fountain itself at the link for the garden.

contemplation 2 transfering

image printed close to full size on two pieces of paper to transfer.

contemplation 1 drawing

Initial drawing on paper, darkened so you can see the lines.

Because the photo was so dark, and I was using 300 lb paper (quite heavy), my lightbox wouldn’t work to transfer as I usually like to do, when I’m not freehand drawing on the paper.  So I printed out the photo on white paper in a size big enough for the paper, taped the edges together and used Saral transfer graphite paper to transfer the lines.

I was inspired to do this because the painting group I’m in was watching a Soon Warren video on painting koi ponds and I wanted to paint from my own photo.  So I followed her steps working with light washes put on with big brushes, drying it a bit with a hake brush, and then working on areas keeping some edges soft, some hard.

contemplation 3

First light washes of color. Darker dots are masking fluid, a rubbery liquid that dries hard and protects the paper underneath. Later that will be removed.

contemplation 4

after more washes keeping values in mind. darker at the top, in the shade.

contemplation 5

Further on in the process, putting in the dark areas in the bottom right.

So you can see the piece take shape.  Sometimes I lifted and softened edges, sometimes scrubbed out to get the texture of soft that the light on the water (front left) required.

I used many layers on this and lost some of the freshness that I want to get from watercolor, so I painted another in this, starting a series, with less layers, more wet in wet painting and I”ll show you that soon.

I didn’t use masking fluid for the highlights, because the edges dry so hard when you remove the masking.  and it looks artificial unless you soften the edges  a lot.  It’s easier to just lift small reflections from the paint and/or scratch highlights at the end with a calligraphy nib or little razor.

I also didn’t draw all the detail on the paper, because I feel a lot more familiar with the subject.  I got my circles placed and vague lines where I want the dark and light to meet.  More on that in the next post!


contemplation 6

Darker still but I don’t like the front left corner. edges are too hard.

contemplation 7

After a lot of scrubbing on the left corner to lighten and soften the edges, and putting in the brighter blue hues in the bottom right.

contemplation 8

Far along in the process, enough to remove the masking for the highlights of the water. the little white dots.  Note the flower is still masked.

I enjoy hearing from you.  Please let me know what you think, or ask any questions.  I’m in a hurry to get this post finished, and get back to painting, so I may not have been as clear as I wanted to be.  


Tuesday Tips #2

watercolor of sprouting onion, shell and marble

Sprouting Onion still life

This is another watercolor that will be framed and available for sale at the El Paso Art Association show on Friday August 28, 2015 at 509 W. Paisano.

And now for more tips…

Draw often. I mean  often! I heard an interview with portait artist Laurel Boeck who worked with a master painter after art school, when she realized she hadn’t learned the nuts and bolts of the art practice, and for the first year with him she drew —  she never picked up a brush!  Can you imagine?  The interview is part of the Artists Helping Artists podcast which I highly recommend.

Do value sketches with paint in three values with one color.  Take a color such as the traditional ones of sepia or ultramarine or be sure to use a pigment that will paint light, medium, and very dark. Those are the three values you need as a base to make a successful painting.    Some pigments such as yellows won’t go dark enough.  

Squint at what you are painting and just how in low light such as dusk, you see some lights and some darks and a lot of medium values that all look similar, the same occurs when squinting.  The different medium values all look the same and that makes painting simpler if you can merge all those medium valued shapes into connecting shapes.  The lights and darks correctly placed will render the object or scene believable so you can see if the painting composition will work.  

These tips serve as reminders to me to do them more and often.  I hope they help you too!

Painting tip using dried up tubes

I’m not sure where to put this so I remember it, so I’m blogging about it.  this is an interesting post on the cheap joe’s blog about reusing stuff for art supplies, etc.  in the comments near the bottom is a great solution for dried up tubes using hot water and matches…  http://sketchbook.cheapjoes.com/2013/08/one-mans-trash-is-another-artists-treasure/