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Day 24: 30 Watercolors in 30 Days - Page Turner

Paper: Moleskin Art Journal

Paint: Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna


After my dish of humble pie yesterday I decided to change tactics and move into some larger slower paintings.  I prepared 3 of them today by stretching paper and doing the drawings.  I was completely intimidated by the paper stretching process.  Years ago I used the gummed tape that you wet with water and ended up with tape stuck to tape, tape stuck to me, and buckled paper.  This time I simply stapled a wet piece of paper to gatorboard and voila, the paper dried tight as a drum.  I thought that I should do some studies of the larger piece, so I brought out my trusty Moleskin journal then decided to simplify the whole thing by using two colors, ultramarine blue and burnt sienna.  Tomorrow I will do a full color study but I decided to see what would happen with the two colors and was pleasantly surprised.  I got a color range from saturated orange ( burnt sienna) to brilliant blue ( ultramarine blue) and then different degrees of orange - ish colors and blue-ish colors as I mixed them.  The most neutral gray mixture took on a greenish cast.  I think I will play more with this in the future.  If anyone wants to suggest other two color combos to try I would love to hear from you.


What I learned:

Stretching paper is not so scary if you use a staple gun.

A two color palette can be a beautiful thing!

Since I was more relaxed today I just focused on shapes and temperature and the painting appeared.

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Day 23: 30 Watercolors in 30 Days - Humble Pie

Paper: 300 lb cold press, Arches

Paints: Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Raw Sienna, Quinacridone Red, Hookers Green.


Today's painting is brought to you with a big slice of humble pie. I went to a friend's studio to paint from the model.  He was dressed as a construction worker along with a big shovel for a prop.  We started with a series of short poses. I used my Moleskin book and the half pan box for some of them and got some decent sketches.  Then we went for the long pose which was 90 minutes plus breaks. I decided to do the entire figure on a 12x16 paper.  This is something I can easily take on in pastel or oil but I forgot about the most important aspect of watercolor; timing.

I had an idea in my head how I wanted it to look but did not fully plan it out on the paper.  The pencil line was light and on the first break when I put in the dark background wash I completely covered the entire background which I did not mean to do by now the wash around the figure was dry adjusting it made it splotchy  The paint derailed from there with the drawing not fully in the figure became disproportionate I realized quickly on that I was in trouble but not soon enough to start again so I attempted to go into salvage mode, which means trying out everything and anything on the painting to see what happens.  Quite frankly the painting was too complicated and too large for my ability in that short amount of time. What I would like to do is to tackle a larger figurative work for this final week of the challenge but take my time and post the process.  I know I called my challenge 30 watercolors in 30 days but I will learn more by slowing down now and working some larger pieces including (gulp) stretching a big sheet of paper.


What I learned:

REALLY PLAN where you want the darks and lights before you start.

Do not take on too much in too short of time.

Really beautiful darks come from ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. 

Make the wash puddle twice as large as you think you need.



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Day 22: 30 Watercolors in 30 Days - Edgewise

Paper: 300lb cold press, Arches

Paints.  Ultramarine Blue, Raw Sienna, Quinacridone Red


After several days of struggling, today I decided to  focus entirely on edge work.  This time I planned out  getting the major edges how I wanted them before moving on.  I laid in the back ground with a simple dirty green wash of raw sienna and ultramarine blue.  While that was drying I mixed my skin tone puddles sticking with the suggestion for skin tones in Mary Whytes book about portrait painting.  So on my palette made a puddle of raw sienna and quinacridone red then mixed the two in a middle puddle.  I repeated this with ultramarine blue and raw sienna as well as ultramarine blue and the red.  This is how I approach color mixing in oils and am very comfortable with working with a palette limited to the three primary colors.  I painted the lights of his face, hands and hair with an orange mixture, sometimes moving more towards red and sometimes more towards yellow.  then I quickly moved to the shadow which had blue added and painted along the damp edge which gave me a soft transition.  Only when the edge was painted did I move and fill in the shadow area.  This gave me better results then I have previously had in the past.  The shadow was less splotchy and not distracting.  I find it interesting that the luminosity of the colors allow me to keep the value range in a higher key.  Typically in oil or pastel I would have gone much darker on the shadow area than I did here.  As I moved to smaller areas I kept focused on edges and learned how to make soft transitions by painting in a middle tone along a shadow then coming back to the edge of the middle tone where it was turning into the light and using a clean damp brush to wiggle in these areas to soften the transition without it looking over worked.  Hooray, I think I am finally learning something!


I painted this next to my last portrait as a reminder to watch the edges.  Also because I am cheap and did not want to use a full sheet for either painting



What I learned:

Plan the edges out and put your effort into getting them how you want them right away. 

Paint damp into damp for a soft edge

You can paint a band of color along the shadow then soften the side turning towards the light using clean water and damp brush.

A three primary pallet of raw sienna, quinacridone red, and ultramarine blue is a very useful palette for portraiture.

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Day 21: 30 Watercolors in 30 Days - Marsh View

Paper: Moleskin Watercolor Journal

Paint: Windsor Newton 12 piece half pan set


Busy day today so back to the little sky studies.  There is something so relaxing about these.  I find if I am in a hurry it is a great way to take a break and visit a landscape.  I also find that if I am in a hurry I tend to put the paint down and leave it alone which usually results in a better painting.


What I learned:

Leave the paint alone and let the water do it's work, this is becoming my new mantra. 


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Day 20: 30 Watercolors in 30 Days - Turn To The Sun

Day 20

Paper: 300 lb cold press, Arches

Paints: Raw Sienna, Quinacradone Red, Ultramarine Blue. Cadmium Yellow, Cerulean Blue, Opera


Took a break from the skies to paint my other favorite subject matter, portrait.  This is from a photograph of my daughter taken several years ago on a sunny fall day.  I wanted to see if I could get the luminous shadow tones of her skin and get the feeling of glowing light.  It started well.  I am learning how to make large puddles for my washes ahead of time so I do not have to mix anything during the critical drying time.  I had painted the background a couple of days ago using  using cad yellow and cerulean blue.  I let them blend and mix on the paper to give the feeling of sunshine.  Then I mixed large puddles of quinacridone red and raw sienna for the skin tones in the light.  I went lightly over any area that was in the light but reserved the white of the paper on the upper plane of the nose, the forehead and the triangle of light on the cheek.  Working quickly I dipped into my other puddle of quiacridone red and ultramarine blue to lay in the shadow tones.  While that was drying I attempted to work the edges where light meets shadow and dropped a bolder warm mix there to enhance the feeling of light.  I struggle with timing in watercolor and that affects the soft edges.  I wanted a softer blend of color on the cheek shadow as it move towards the light, but the initial wash was too dry already and I got a harder line than I wanted.  I was able to drop opera into the reflected light under the chin and get the effect I wanted.  I may have to work smaller areas than I am used to then move to the next area to really get the edge control I want.  I darkened the background wash with ultramarine blue and raw sienna to make her face pop more.  Little touches of cadmium yellow along the edge of the nose and forehead enhanced the illusion of sunlight.


What I learned:

Maybe I will be better off thinking broadly but working smaller areas to get the edge control I want.  When I work in oil and pastel I tend to paint in all the light and shadow in big tones and then make the color changes within the values.  I am not as concerned about getting the edges I want immediately so I am not used to attacking edges first.  I am rethinking my approach and have another portrait sketched in a ready to paint.


I am giving myself credit for logging in time and experience with this new medium and should not expect the same results that I get from oil and pastel.



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Day 19: 30 Watercolors in 30 Days - Last Rays

Day 19

Paper: 300 lb cold press, Arches

Paint: Cerulean Blue, Opera, New Gamboge, Cobalt Blue


What a difference paper makes!  I wanted to try out painting skies on better paper than the Moleskin Watercolor Journal.  I wanted to play with washes without the paper buckling and pooling the pigment.  For subject matter I chose to work from one of my plein air oils of a sunset in the Adirondacks.  I penciled in the placement of the mountains and the shoreline but the sky I painted free form.  I began with very thin washes of yellow then left those alone and washed in the cerulean blue wash for the sky.  The dark of the clouds were cerulean and opera washed in and left to blend in with some of the blue sky that was still damp.  The paper did not buckle at all and it was fun to let the colors mix.  I painted the sky washes into the lake to mirror the sky. 

I also found the paper was quite forgiving when I decided to change the tree line in the distance.  It was the same height as the trees in the foreground and flattened the illusion of depth.  I waited until it was completely dry then took a clean wet brush to the mountains and the trees removed most of the paint.  I shortened the tree line in the back, it is softer than I would like but I am just happy I did not have to trash the whole painting. 


What I learned:

300 lb is a forgiving grade of paper to work on.

Even though you can erase, it is still better to plan ahead.

YouTube is a great learning tool.  I have spent hours watching different artists paint in watercolor, thank you internet!


Last Ray 5x7 Watercolor is for sale for 75.00, to purchase click here.


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Day 18: 30 Watercolors in 30 Days - Bright Spot

Bright Spot 2x2 Watercolor

Day 18

Paper: Moleskin Watercolor Journal

Paints: Windsor Newton 12 piece half pans + half pan of cobalt blue.

Today’s lesson was to get in and get out.  I have been fussing and retouching parts of my watercolors and making a mucky mess so today I made myself lay down the paint then leave it alone.  This allows the paint to do the work and when it is working it is pure magic. I sectioned off six little squares, and you can see how little by the photo below which shows the size of these studies compared to a quarter.   I love doing these little studies, but they are not for the weak of ego.  For every page of six that I do maybe two come out decently, that said there is a whole lot of learning going on.

This was painted from memory.  I was thinking of the unusual light effect that happens when a storm is brewing in the distance but the foreground is still in sunlight.  I made a big puddle of cobalt blue and a big puddle of cobalt and cadmium red.  Since cadmium red leans towards yellow, all three primaries are present in the mixture and I get nice purple-ish.  I painted the initial wash of pure cobalt then came back with a clean wet (but not too wet) brush and painted the tops of the clouds.  While the whole thing was starting to dry I brushed the underside of the clouds and left them alone.  As it dried all these nuances of value and saturation occurred that enhanced the feeling of the storm.  I painted the foreground as if it were in sunlight using lots of yellows in my mixtures.  Overall I am pretty happy with this.  These little studies do not photograph well; the camera does not seem to pick up the subtleties of tone and saturation that I am so excited about.  Once I am working larger hopefully that will not be a problem.

What I learned:

Get in and get out! Mix your large puddles ahead of time, test them on a scrap of paper to see that they will do what you want and then trust those decisions.

To mix a large puddle of color start with clean water in an area sectioned off for a wash.  Keep adding pigment until the mixture is about 50% darker than what you think you need.  Watercolors lighten as they dry.

Use clean water to paint a bloom of lighter color into a damp wash.  This is a snazzy way to get a feeling of clouds. 

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Day 17: 30 Watercolors in 30 Days - Summer Skies

Day 17

Paper: Moleskin Watercolor Journal

Paints: Windsor Newton 12 piece half pan.

For the next few days I am going to post a series of paintings I call “ ‘scuse me while I paint these skies,” and yes, you can sing that phrase to the Hendrix song.

Painting skies and clouds come easily to me in pastel and oil.  In watercolor I have been having trouble with the edge work and with getting the graduation in color that is so important in creating the illusion of the dome of the sky.  Why get frustrated with larger work when I can figure out some of my issues by doing lots of tiny studies.  So I am painting a series of very small skies from my memory and based on some of my other paintings.  With these studies I also hope to become more familiar with the tinting strength of my half pan set and with the paper in the Moleskin watercolor book.  Once I become more confident with the paints, paper, and brushwork I can apply the lessons to larger work.

The first one is a blue sky day with fluffy blue.  I covered the sky with clear water reserving the white of the paper for the tops of the clouds.  I washed in cobalt at the top then gradually added cerulean as I went downward towards the ground with a final thin wash of lemon yellow right at the horizon.  I went back to the bottom of the clouds with a mixture of cadmium red and cerulean blue which made a lovely purple-ish neutral.  The final light was added by adding a very light wash of lemon yellow into the white of the clouds along the edge of the neutral tone.  The ground was washed in with ultramarine blue and yellow ocher.  A final wash of cadmium yellow was laid on top of the foreground to give a feeling of sunlight.

What I learned:

Cobalt is a wonderful color for the top of a sky.

Cerulean is a great color for the sky as it heads towards the horizon.

When you paint from your memory there is no pressure to make the painting look like “something.”  I spent the time thinking of a lovely summer’s day and kept manipulating the washes and shapes until it looked how I wanted it to.  Not a bad way to spend a winter’s morning in Michigan.

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Day 16:30 Watercolors in 30 Days - Newbie

Paper: Canson 140lb, cold press

Pigments: Ultramarine Blue, Raw Sienna, Quinacridone Red, Cadmium Yellow, Burt Sienna.


I went to a friends studio to work from a model.  I decided to focus on the portrait and see how I could handle the skin tones.  I took the first block of time to do the pencil drawing and mark the major plane changes.  I laid in the background wash right before the break and it was nice and dry when I went back in.  This time  I used a limited palette of quinacridone red, raw sienna, and ultramarine blue to paint all of the skin tones.  I washed the entire face with the sienna, quiacridone mixture and varied the amount of red or yellow on the light side of the face.  Once that was mostly dry I covered the shadows with ultramarine blue and then charged the wash with red and yellow.  The charging was splotchy in places and I had to work over those later with clean water to smooth the edges.  Once the large value masses were in I glazed spots of color that I thought would enhance the form.  This was tough and I probably overworked it but by pushing the medium beyond its boundaries I can see (hopefully) where to cut off in the future.  What I do not want to do is approach this timidly, because then I will never realize the potential of watercolor.  All and all this was a good learning day.


What I learned,

The limited palette of quinacridone red, raw sienna, and ultramarine blue is a great combination for various skin tones.  I read about this in Mary Whytes book, Painting Portraits and Figures in Watercolor.  If you are not familiar with her work, she is an amazing watercolor artist.  Here is her website. Mary Whyte

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Day 15: 30 Watercolors in 30 Days - Hill Top

Day 15 - Halfway  Through!

Paper: Moleskin Watercolor Journal, Cold Press

Pigments: Windsor Newton 12 piece half pan set.


One of the reasons I wanted to do this challenge of painting a watercolor a day was to influence my other work.  I was in a rut and knew that learning a new medium would open up new possibilities in my approach to painting.  Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to see how watercolor has influenced my oils.


I was scheduled to paint an oil landscape from a photograph for the Shelby Fine Art Society.  The focus was on how to interpret a photograph to give it a fresh painterly feel.  I decided to do a watercolor sketch in the Moleskin Watercolor Journal as preparation for my demo.  It was a beautiful blue sky sunny winter day so I parked myself in front of a large window and happily painted this scene of a white farm house.  I changed the sky to blue with big fluffy clouds and tried to get the feeling of a cold day with a light snow cover on the ground. 


I was excited to paint in oils, since it was a few weeks since I had picked up my brushes.  I mixed my palette ahead of time.  I wanted the same bright lights and luminous shadows that I am getting in watercolor. I made the sunlit sides of the house the lightest value, then mixed my blue sky and shadows the same value but with different color ranges.   I also mixed a pile of orange and yellow the same value so I could "charge" the shadows with reflected light.  Charging is when you drop a different color into a wash and let them mix.  The hard part is to trust it and leave it alone before it dries.  I did the same in oil; I laid in the shadow color and when I added the warm tones I brushed them on top and did not go back and fool with them.  I like the freshness of the paint application.  I did not get a chance to finish during the demo but will work on it this weekend.  Here is the demo. 


What I learned.

Either the lights or the shadows should be strong in color. 

Choosing to make the shadows more colorful makes the painting a higher key

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