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


Oops! No workshop painting to show…

another cosmos study

another white cosmos study in watercolor.  5″ square.

Well, I have to admit I’m a bit bummed.  On opening my suitcase at home, I realized I’d left my painting AND my block of arches paper in the room where the workshop was.  Hopefully it’ll be safe there, but I didn’t take a picture of it to be able to show you.  Tomorrow I will post on my phone (new experience for me), fingers crossed the painting and paper are there!

However, I’ll post another of the “white” cosmos paintings that I did last week. This one is about 5″ square.  I love how the quin burnt scarlet moved and flowed by touching the edge of the damp center to get it o flow into the petals.

Anyway, back to the workshop with Michael Riordan.  It was again another great demo, this time of rocks, and putting in shadows first and then when almost dry, covering the rock area with the local color (or the color of the rocks that you see) another part of the lesson was connecting the shadows to each other.

gila steps reference photo

gila steps reference photo

We were encouraged to do a painting with rocks to tryout some of the techniques, so here’s a sneak peak of the reference photo I used to paint from today.  It is one of my daughters many years ago at the steps coming down from the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

File Oct 28, 6 43 05 PMFile Oct 28, 6 42 06 PM
The part I find really helpful is the show and tell/critique session at the end.  On day one, when we heard we would each put up our in progress or completed paintings along with their value sketch for all to see, I have to admit there was some muttering about having to leave early for a (forgotten) doctor appointment or some such thing!  but we all stuck it out, and here’s an overall picture of the show and tell from each day.