End of Winter day 30

I made it!  30 paintings in 30 days, and it was fun! Hope you had fun too following along.  This is also done on yupo. 

Winter tree day 5

Today’s contribution to the 30 in 30 challenge. I am having fun playing!!  

Thinking of trees

Winter branches Faywood

Winter branches Faywood

On my dog walks through the neighborhoods, I often think about trees…well really, I think about how to paint them.  They fascinate me with their different foliage, shapes, sizes, colors of green.  As the leaves have come in this spring, I’ve realized I didn’t get out quite enough during the winter when the leaves are gone, making painting trees easier and more fun.  The sketch and wash above was done at Faywood Hotsprings outside Deming, NM.

It’s really a form of mindfulness, to focus on an aspect of nature around you and really truly look at it.  When my kids were toddlers and life was way too hectic and harried to paint, I would practice mindfulness by finding something cool or interesting in every front yard or house on my route.  It’s amazing what you can find to revel in:  a cool shadow of a weed, the shape of a rock, a beautiful bloom (but that’s the easy part)…you get the idea.

different evergreens        nectarine tree      fuzzy tree

So anyway, back to trees, I decided to snap photos of trees that I see and really look at how I would show them in paint.  Trees are defined by their shape and their color, and important things to consider are the eye holes or the gaps where there isn’t foliage.  the “windows” of the tree.

You can see the left evergreen has more windows of sky that sweep in almost to the trunk and some of the branches are more lacy than others.  The evergreen further down the street has is chunkier, with different size windows.And not all the windows show sky of course, some show houses or dirt behind the tree.   And you would want to vary the shape and sizes of the different boughs, and windows, so that it doesn’t look uniform, even if in life it is uniform.

The middle photo is a nectarine tree and you can see how scraggly shaped it is and if you were painting it the trunk wouldn’t be brown but probably a darker form of green brown.

The fuzzy tree is there to show how it doesn’t have to be crisp and clear to paint from it, and perhaps it’s better because then you aren’t tempted to get bogged down in leaf detail which is really unnecessary and looks less professional to include.  See how those sky holes are very different with this tree.  Note how little of the branches you see before the foliage starts.  In some trees that is way more pronounced than in others. Take for example this palo verde tree in glorious spring bloom.

Palo verde in bloom      palo verde closeup

I’m intrigued lately with how to paint a palo verde against the deep blue cloudless skies we’ve had lately, and I’ve worked out a strategy, so stay tuned…on the right is a closeup of the flowers and rather insignificant greenery of the tree.  It’s name means green stick, and its trunk and branches are absolutely green.

So those are my tree thoughts for the day….what do you focus on when you walk?

Thanks for stopping by…

Second try Mesquite Shade Day 26


Here’s the second try on this painting.  I like it better, but am still not totally happy with it.  It’s in progress and I’m setting it aside to consider it another day.  You can compare it with the earlier version .  I’m very thankful for constructive criticism and comments that you all have taken the time to write, and would love to hear your comments on this one.

One thing that has to be fixed in the next version is the branch going out the corner of the piece!  I certainly know that but had a brain hiccup there.  I’m thinking the white top in the far left rock is too deep.  I’m sure I’ll come up with other issues as I look at it more.

I’m happy with the mixing of the foliage colors on the paper.  I think that’s fresh.  I like the sun hitting the branches and that they are largely better shaped (wide near the trunk and getting more slender.)

I’ve “fallen off the wagon” in the 30 in 30 challenge, at least in posting on my blog.  Life with teens is getting in the way!  those of you who are parents can probably relate.  But that’s ok, painting can wait.

Thanks for stopping by…

Mesquite Shade — Day 20


Over the past couple of days I’ve worked on a larger more detailed version of the mesquite shade value sketch that I blogged about earlier.  There are parts of it I’m happy with, and some I am not.  I need more practice on foliage for one.  The other is that it looks like the rock wall/bench is higher and slopes down toward the foreground, and I’m puzzling over how to make it look flat.  Any suggestions?

Here’s the photo reference again:

Mesquite Shade_pencil_value_sketch _rachel_murphree_watercolor (3)

photo and pencil value sketch possibilities


And here are various stages in the process:

For the underpainting I used cobalt and pyroll orange.  It has a pinkier look to it, a variation from the underpainting colors of cadmium orange and cobalt that I learned in the Michael Riordan workshop last fall.  I painted around the lightest lights and put the orange into the areas that would be warmer.

For the greens, I consulted some color charts I’d done earlier in larger blocks on my paper (as opposed to the teeny tiny squares I did when I was a novice and didn’t “get” the value of color charts) The top row is hansa as the first layer, the second as new gamboge, the third has lemon yellow laid down first.  I decided the mid summer warmth of the foliage would be best made with new gamboge.


And here’s the last in process photo.  You can see that I took the foliage area and at times went over the edges iof the branches of the trunk, but I knew that the browns would be able to cover those edges and make them thicker.

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Stage 3 of mesquite shade

As always, I welcome comments and constructive criticism, and thank again for stopping by!

Mesquite Shade Day 10

Mesquite Shade_pencil_value_sketch _rachel_murphree_watercolor (3).jpgAnother value study for today’s studio productivity report!  On the left is the reference photo I took at the (beautiful) Keystone Heritage Botanical gardens, and I experimented with only using a point within the photo for the second value sketch, adding a tall dark shape on the right.  I liked the one that more closely matches the photo.

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Painted value sketch

So I was able to get in pencil sketches and a painted value sketch this morning, in preparation for a busy day.  On deck for the day was laundry, shopping, a fun day out with the DH in a nearby town and a watercolor demo by Laurel Weathersbee at the Southern Chapter meeting of the New Mexico Watercolor Society.  You can see her loose and lovely work at her blog.  It is always SUCH fun to watch a watercolor demo, and this one was fabulous.

Mesquite Shade_BW ref photo_rachel_murphree_watercolor (1)

Now that I’m back home I see that I didn’t get the values quite right.  Do you see what’s not the right value in the painted sketch at left?I converted the photo ref  into black and white to make the difference more apparent.

I’m too tired to address it tonight, although it wouldn’t take long, but other duties call.  Tomorrow I’ll post the amended value sketch.

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!






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.

File Nov 08, 5 46 14 PM

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 20 Forest’s Edge

Forest's Edge.  11" x 15" watercolor. $25

Day 20.  Forest’s Edge. 11″ x 15″ watercolor. $25

Yesterday I finished the painting of the tree, not to my satisfaction, but anyway, it’s done!  Without a plan I was just messing around, putting in, lifting colors, scrubbing out.  anyway…dusted and done and ready for the bin!  Or at least that’s how I feel today….  smile.

Ten more days to go on this 30 paintings in 30 days challenge.  In a way I can’t wait!  It has at times been grueling, some times really fun.  I certainly don’t regret doing it…and I plan on doing ten more paintings…

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.

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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.

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acetate with painted design ideas on top

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acetate with painted design ideas on top

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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!