This is a project I started years ago and finally picked up again. As I mention often, I am trying to loosen up with my painting and Yupo paper is the perfect thing to do that with. Since it’s technically not paper, but rather a sheet of plastic, it’s impossible to get the paint to stay where you want it. Or to even stick at times. It definitely requires a lot patience for it to dry between sessions but oh so worth it. I love the results and hope to play around more with it.
I recently spent three weeks in Seattle dog-sitting for my son. I wisely brought my watercolors with me. One of the highlights of my occasional trips to Seattle is a visit to Pike Place Market. It’ such a feast for the eyes (but hard on the nose.) This time I was able to wander at will, without certain male family members whining about the shops I wanted to visit. I also treated myself to an inexpensive bouquet of flowers.
Here it is. Ten bucks! It made an inspiring subject, except it took me a few days to get to it, and it wilted some. No worries. I did my sketch in brown colored pencil which helped cut back on pencil smear. And because it’s brown it melds into the background so a win/win as far as I’m concerned.
This is a photo of Mt. Rainier I took last November while visiting my oldest son in Seattle. Having driven up Mt. Washington before, it took a little convincing from my sister-in-law before I would attempt such foolishness again. The roads up Mt. Washington are steep and narrow with no guard rails. When you reach the summit, you’re faced with a placard of how many deaths have occurred on the mountain, many by cars going off the road. So yeah, not a fan of the idea. But the roads up Mt. Rainier were less stressful, and we had a wonderful day.
Here’s what I did in watercolor class with this image. Still working on trying to keep things fresh and not overdone.
My youngest son is an up-and-coming photographer and will be attending photography school in the fall. You can see more of his work here.
In his quest to fill his portfolio, we’ve been going on day trips to beautiful locations across New England. One day found us scouring the Maine coastline for lighthouses. I can’t remember the name for this one but I’m sure my Maine friends will enlighten me. This is my photo, not his, and it seemed like a natural for watercolor class.
Here are my results. Again I struggled with being a control freak. It took all my powers of self-persuasion to not go back in and overwork the sky and water. Those were done in one shot. Not so with the rest, but I at least think I captured a good sense of light.
We were back in Meredith, NH this week, at the tippity-top of some mountain. With nearly a 360 degree view it was hard to choose. The panorama view above was close to 180 degrees (the woman to the left was actually sitting behind me.) You can see Lake Winnipesaukee in the distance. Views of Lake Waukewan and Squam Lake were behind us.
This week I brought colored pencils and promised myself I wouldn’t get all caught up in the details. I cracked open yet another new sketchbook, a Strathmore Tan-Toned, leather-bound book with some good paper for sketching. I quickly sketched what I wanted, then moved to the shade before I fried my brain. I have to say, I was digging the colored pencils. I tried to stay loose and just keep it about the marks. The fun part was that the pencils were quite soft, almost melting in the sun which helped to lay down the color quickly. It also meant they wore down quicker. I worked as fast as I could but people kept packing up early. There was a lovely breeze but perhaps the bugs were being a little pesty. The woman behind me and myself were the only ones that stuck it out. And this is what I got done.
I brought it home and worked some more. I added some water-soluble pencils (without water.) That set had better colors for getting those grays in the background. In the end, I was pretty happy with the paper and media. The paper, though smooth, held quite a few layers of wax though perhaps the sun helped with that!
Finally, I wasn’t sure what to do for the last class of the season. I dug around the supply closet and found these maroon boots. When I was a girl and had to shine my shoes of the same color, the shoe polish was called ‘Oxblood’. I was so pleased with how the limited color palette came out on my last still life that I decided to do a monochrome.
I knew just the color, too. (WARNING: more gushing about Daniel Smith Watercolors ahead) I had recently picked up a tube of Piemontite Genuine from DS, a granulating yummy color with tones of umber, alizarin crimson and carmine. I happened to bring a pad of Strathmore w/c toned paper (called Neptune maybe?). There was a lovely pink sheet that I knew would be perfect with the Piemontite. So voila! A study in Pink and Oxblood!
This past week we went to a beautiful private home on Lake Winnispesaukee. We have had gorgeous weather every Monday morning, and today was no exception. Like last week, we had an abundance of lake views and flowers. I chose both.
I’ve had some oil pastels sitting in a drawer that haven’t seen much use. Some are cheap Craypas but some are lovely buttery Holbein sticks. Wish I had more of those. I brought a heather grey Canson paper to work on.
I also have a set from my childhood that are over forty years old!!! (You notice they weren’t used much.) They still work fine though they are harder than the newer ones, probably drying up with age, but I’m sure they were also cheap to begin with. I brought them along because, like regular pastels or colored pencils, it’s easier to layer buttery sticks over the harder ones. Check out those colors! I was happy to have all those greens. But really? Only four blues? One orange? No purples? And WHAT is with all those yellows? Regardless, it’s still fun to have an old supply that I obviously treasured as a child.
A few years back I took an oil pastel class with Cam Sinclair at Artistic Roots. Cam does amazing stuff with oil pastels. His oil pastel paintings are not dissimilar to an impressionist painting. You have to constantly have a sharp edge when working his way.
This is a small painting I did in his class of a photo I took in Greece.
Back to Lake Winnipesaukee. I did not finish my painting on site but I blocked it in with enough information to finish at home. I have to say the scan looks better than the original. While working with the pastels, it felt like coloring with crayons. Ugh.
I lived with it at home for a few days before attempting to finish it. The tooth of the paper was nearly filled when I resumed working, so I tried a trick that I used on the painting above (I did not learn this from Cam. I suspect he doesn’t need this trick. It’s something I found on the internet.)
I gave it a coat of Matte Medium. Yup! You can do that with oil pastel provided they are not the water-soluble variety. Here you can see the shine while it is still wet, which dries matte. It buckled slightly but smoothed out when dry. After that you can go back and add more layers without worrying about mixing with the layers beneath.
Before I put on the medium, I cleared the painting of the crayon crumbs. Using a painting knife, gently (don’t scrape) lift the crumbs off. Try not to drag them into another color. If you have any mishaps, you can usually scrape them off and touch up.
And here it is finished. This is a great technique for filling in the spots of paper left showing without pressing too hard on the paper.
Tired of trying to find something portable enough to bring into class, yet interesting enough to bother painting, I set up a still life at home that I could never set up in class and replicate the lighting week after week. So I set it up and sketched it at home. I took this photo reference to work from in class.
These are all items from my studio that have meaning to me. There’s a small tabletop easel, my Graphic Chemical apron from college that I used for printmaking (the first time. GCC in Greenfield, MA. Woot!), Indian spirit stones bought at Pike’s Market place in Seattle while visiting my son, a hand manikin, and a shoe last that I think came from my mother (my grandfather owned a hosiery mill.) There are also two subtle connections to the historical fiction novel I’m working on—the stone held by the manikin has a turtle drawn on it (my main character’s Abenaki name is Tolba which means turtle) and shoes were the main industry in Haverhill, MA where part of my story takes place.
I am a lover of color. It is my raison d’etre. But I still wanted to honor the neutral tones in the still life so I chose two pumped up neutrals that were compliments—Raw Sienna and Moonglow. (Warning! The following is another gushing endorsement of Daniel Smith Watercolors, and no, I am in no way profiting from my endorsement.) Moonglow is another staining and granulating color from Daniel Smith, comprised of three pigments—Anthraquinoid Red, Ultramarine Blue and Viridian. It’s great for shadows sometimes leaving a pinkish washy edge. It’s so yummy! I liked the challenge of working in only two colors and was surprised by how it looked like more.
Here’s the result. I definitely took more than 15 minutes to paint it, but didn’t labor over it like I did the frame or doll piece. The drawing, particularly the lettering, fed the side of my brain craving organization, and I tried to let the watercolors do their thing without too much meddling. It’s hard to find that balance. Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way.
This week we were at Church Landing at Mills Falls overlooking beautiful Meredith Bay. For longtime blog readers, you will remember that Meredith Bay is one of our favorite places to swim in the Amphicar, always inciting lots of interest, and at times, applause. (We have interrupted or disturbed outdoor weddings held at Church Landing as we floated by. My apologies to any brides that felt upstaged. It was unintentional.)
This week I brought a new Strathmore sketchbook filled with watercolor paper. It’s quite nice and comes with brown leather covers. (I am a self-confessed art supply junkie.) I couldn’t wait to try it out.
After scoping out the grounds, I chose a lake view with two quaint Adirondack chairs. I wisely left them out realizing I would be there all morning drawing the chairs to perfection. After working on the first sketch for an hour, and layering one layer over the other to get the right intensity, I moved on. Chatting with one of the other artists, she said, “You know you’re in trouble when you find yourself painting each leaf.” How true.
I turned my chair ninety degrees to the charming fence. I tried hard to get the color right the first try so it wouldn’t have that overworked look. And I was impressed with the paper in that sketchbook. It’s 140 lb. and hardly had a waver to it at all. The texture was not bad yet not as yummy as an Arches cold pressed. Although the arbor over the gate is wonky, and the fencing is not perfect, it has that sketchy feel to it. More of this please. Are you listening Art Fairies?
Again, I had nothing good to paint so our instructor set up these boots that were lying around the classroom. And YES! She also found a spotlight! So I took the full class to draw these crazy boots and paint them. Good practice? Yes. Going in my portfolio? Not a chance.
And then that instructor did something sneaky the next week. She had the same pair of boots set up. Hmmm. What’s with that? Then she says to me, “Denise. YOU can take all the time you want to draw the boots, but I don’t want you to spend more than 15 minutes painting them.” What? No one else had that limit. Just me.
She laid down the challenge. And I am one of those stubborn people that will take up most challenges, provided they don’t require physical strength or agility. So as I drew those boots, I formulated my plan. I painted in 5 minutes intervals, leaving it to dry between. And for my colors, I had to go for the jugular, use the big guns, those one-shot colors that gave me the value I needed so I didn’t have to keep layering. Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Quinacridone Gold, Moonglow, Sepia and . . . Prussian Blue! Laying it down gave me the shivers. THIS is what my frame painting, and other paintings were missing. The spontaneity. It’s sloppy and messy and scary but oh so beautiful to experience. My brain may crave precise detail, but my heart, my soul, delights in the visceral, unexpected happenstance when the control freak lets go!
Okay. I’m done patting myself on the back. It was an epiphany I had that I wanted to share. Now how to bring that into the rest of my artwork. That’s the question. And for the record, I’ve had a few other teachers challenge me before. And in the moment, I am never appreciative. But it truly is the mark of a good teacher, knowing when you can push someone to overcome their ownselves, to help them get out of their own way. Thank you to you all.