Oh Lonesome Me

I've just completed one of two commissioned pet portraits I've been creating simultaneously. This one is of my 'god-dog' who is named Lonesome. He is the most timid dog I've ever met, always slipping off to the security of his dog bed when guests are at his house. My husband Rick took it as a personal challenge to convince Lonesome that it was safe to let Rick get close. It took a little while, but they eventually bonded. Our eldest doggie Ellie Mae truly broke the ice, and Lonesome acts playful and happy when they are together. After a few introductory visits, Lonesome now enjoys staying at our house when his folks are away, and we love having him here. And he always seems very relaxed in the presence of our three fur babies.

I struggled to get some good reference photos for the portrait which Kathy and Jim requested, and Kathy provided me with some she had captured of him. We finally narrowed it down to one with Lonesome looking straight at the camera. Before I got started on the painting, we were at a friend's gathering and I took more photos of Lonesome. I finally got what I considered an ideal shot, with Lonesome's beautiful brown eyes intensely observing the happenings, in an apprehensive and interesting pose. With the background eliminated, I knew I could capture his personality from this photo.

After sketching on my canvas in pencil, I selected a blend of peach, blue and grey tones for the background, accenting the colors I'd use to paint Lonesome. I like to paint eyes early in my pet portraits, since it makes my subject come to life. Lonesome's fur was a particular challenge; his gorgeous brindle coat is a mixture of many colors of hair. You can see how my initial hues on his face include lots of blues and tans, with touches of pink. With acrylic paints, unlike transparent watercolors, I can apply light over dark or dark over light… and I did both to get the effects I wanted. I enjoyed creating the leather collar and shiny hardware, along with the dangling red tag.

I have a few old bristle paint brushes which I've chopped away at to make them irregular, as the photo shows. These help me apply paint strokes which simulate the texture of hair. Also, to paint fine lines of fur and whiskers, I sometimes switch from a paintbrush to an old Speedball nib pen with diluted color, as shown below. I used this technique with strokes of white gesso, also with black acrylic paint in Lonesome's fur. I use glazing liquid mixed with my acrylic paints to make them transparent, then I can layer dark tones over light. For example, after completing the painting to the stage shown in #3 above, I decided the white fur along the top of Lonesome's mouth opening was too stark. So I mixed a tiny bit of Carbon Black paint with glazing liquid and painted over the pure white line of hair. This resulted in the mouth still being defined by a light area, but the transition was softener when the white became a pale grey. Gradually I was able to build up Lonesome's coat to capture the coloring and the softness of his coat.

Whenever I do a commissioned painting, I complete it to the point where I feel it is finished, then I let my patrons take a look. With acrylics I can alter the artwork if requested. Once I have final approval, I sign the art - in this case I did it with white gesso on that Speedball pen nib, then with glazing liquid mixed into Paynes Grey (a dark blue) after the gesso had dried.

If I've painted on a "gallery-wrapped" canvas - one which has the canvas fabric stapled on the back of the wood stretchers vs. on the sides - I apply an opaque coating of black or another dark color on the sides. This way the painting can be hung without framing, if desired.

Acrylic paintings have a microscopic porous surface, which can pick up dirt and dust over time. I routinely seal my acrylic painting. At least 24 hours after my last application of paint, I coat the surface with 3 clear layers. The first is an isolation coat, which is a clear coating between the paint surface and the top varnish. The isolation coat seals the absorbent areas of the acrylic to create an even surface for the next step, the varnish. I mix my isolation coat using Golden Artist Colors brand Soft Gel diluted with water in a 2:1 mix. I paint the isolation coat on the acrylic surface with a wide brush, evenly moving the brush across the painting horizontally, then vertically, being careful to avoid leaving brush strokes. I can check for streaks or uncoated surface areas by looking at the painting at an angle. When the isolation coat has dried for several hours, I similarly brush on a coat of varnish, fixing Golden Satin Varnish in a proportion of 40% water to 60% varnish. After this dries, I apply a second coat of the same mixture. Varnish makes the surface dust-resistant and it is removable with ammonia, when and if necessary in the future. The isolation coat helps the varnish from being absorbed within the acrylic painted surface, protecting the painting if the varnish is ever removed. Some of the acrylic paints I use go on a bit more glossy, which I notice with Carbon Black. These finish coats create an even sheen to the whole painting surface.

Every so often I'm asked what is my favorite subject to paint. I love painting a wide variety, but if I was restricted to only one I'd choose dog portraits. Each one is as unique as the lovable creature it portrays, and I know I am bringing joy to the owners with my work.

Making Ordinary into Beauty

"Best In Show" is an award I never expected to attain from the preeminent Tennessee Watercolor Society, but it all happened last week. At the opening of the 2018 Biennial Juried Exhibition, my painting "Eat Chicken"  came in first place! I was already honored to have only one of sixty paintings chosen for the show (173 were submitted by 101 watercolor artists from the 250+ membership and non-members.) These exhibitions illustrate the finest watercolors in the state of Tennessee, so I am totally bowled over by my award.
The juror was renowned international watercolor artist and author Lian Quan Zhen. I contacted him a few days ago to ask for his feedback on selecting my painting  – I've learned not to be shy when it comes to life's big events. I was delighted when he kindly replied to my query, saying "Your painting is the Best of the Show because you are not only mastering the techniques, but also making ordinary into beauty, as well as a unique personal style." A fellow member of the Watercolor Society who was on the committee to assist while Mr. Zhen judged the artwork prior to the show opening told me that it was obvious to her that he quickly earmarked mine as the top prize winner in his process. In assigning prizes, he mentioned he was looking for those which illustrated 'strong personality.' I heard he also said that the caliber of the Exhibition is that of a national competition, which is a fine compliment for all of us Tennessee watercolor artists. He messaged me to "Keep up with your good work and you should enter paintings like this to national and international shows."

The 36th-Year Biennial Exhibition is displayed prominently and beautifully in the galleries of the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center in Clarksville, Tennessee. The show continues there through July 27, 2018. Following the Main 2018 Exhibition, thirty juror-selected paintings (including mine) will travel across Tennessee to three gallery venues: August: West Tennessee Regional Art Center (WTRAC) in Humboldt TN, September: Sycamore Shoals Visitor Center Gallery in Elizabethton TN, and October: Association of Visual Arts (AVA) in Chattanooga TN.

You can read more about my inspiration and techniques in creating "Eat Chicken" in this blog. If you have a chance to see the Tennessee Watercolor Exhibition in person, I highly recommend it. View all the award paintings from the Exhibition online, all the exhibited paintings alphabetically by artist, and photos from the exhibition opening weekend events.

Read below for more information about the juror, the Exhibition, and the Tennessee Watercolor Society. The award catalog can be ordered for $20 by contacting Pat Patrick, 245 Audobon Woods Rd, Clarksville TN 37043. My painting is on the cover!

But Wait, There's More…

On the same weekend as the Exhibition opening, I had six original paintings exhibited in the Spring Show of the Art Guild of Tellico Village TN. The show included paintings, fiber art, wood carving, pottery, jewelry, mixed media, and other types of work, with 49 artists participating. It is the first time I participated, and I was enormously impressed by the professional presentation by this active art group. The Friday opening was a fun "Meet the Artists" event and I thank my friends for coming and supporting me. Over 900 people viewed the 3-day show. One of my paintings "Red Bug" sold at the show, which is always fantastic and helps support my habit. Another, "Grandpa's Fiddle Break," won the People's Choice Award for Best Watercolor. Then I sold two of the paintings which had been in the show during the next week. Yahoo… I need more weeks like this!

About the Exhibition Juror:
Lian Quan Zhen is a sought-after Chinese watercolor and painting artist and teacher in the US and abroad. He is an international published artist and one of the most popular authors of North Light Books. He started sketching and painting in his childhood and continued while practicing medicine as a family physician in Canton Provence, China. After immigrating to the US in 1985, he got a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and Master of Architecture Degree from MIT. Zhen’s art teaching credentials include Berkeley where he taught watercolor outdoor sketching for eight years; watercolor and Chinese painting workshops nationwide in the US, Europe, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas,China, South Africa and Australia.

About the Exhibition:
The Biennial Exhibition is held on even years, and its opening venue rotates to different areas of the state. Members of the Tennessee Watercolor Society (which number over 250 currently) and non-member artists who reside in Tennessee are able to submit one or two paintings, adhering to the artists' and paintings' eligibility requirements - such as the specific media, painting surface, max and min dimensions, and other specifications. Any reference photos used for the painting must have been taken by the artist, no part of the painting can be done in an instructional workshop, the painting must have been done no more than 3 years earlier, and other requirements.
   The initial entries are submitted digitally as high resolution jpg files. A renowned watercolor master is chosen - usually years in advance - to select the exhibition paintings from these digital files, most often numbering 50 or 60, depending on how many the host location can display in their gallery space. Artists are notified by email about being accepted or decline; no more than one painting per artist can be included. Until the 2014 Exhibition, an artist could have two accepted into a show, as mine were in 2010 and 2012. Bylaws changed this rule, which allowed more artists a chance to be included.
    Accepted artists receive specific instructions about the matting, framing, and instructions for shipping or hand-delivering the accepted painting during the week prior to the show's opening. Once the paintings have arrived been checked for adherence to all the Exhibition requirements, they are assembled at the show venue. The juror arrives to judge for awards, seeing the paintings in person for the first time. Most often the Watercolor Society has arranged for the juror to stay and present a watercolor workshop for the next 3 or 5 days, with members and non-members signing up for about two dozen sought-after slots to learn from the master.
   On the Exhibition weekend, the Watercolor Society presents a slate of art-related activities, including vendor demos, silent auction, reserved dinners/luncheon, and other festivities. Award winners are finally announced at the Exhibition's opening ceremonies and public reception, which is always an exciting time. Volunteers member of the Tennessee Watercolor Society from the hosting region put in tremendous effort with all aspects of the show .They are also the primary ones responsible for coordinating the prizes, soliciting the cash and merchandise from businesses and individuals. In 2018, twenty awards were presented from among the 60 accepted works of art, and the awards ranged from $250 to $2500 and totaled near $20,000. Among the awards are often "purchase prizes," which means the donating party provides a cash prize (around $1200 in recent years) for which it receives ownership of the painting chosen to receive that award. In order to give exposure to the Exhibition throughout the state of Tennessee, the juror also selects about 30 paintings from those in the original show which travel to 3 or 4 other venues in other regions of the state in the months following the closing of the main show. It's all very exciting, and the Biennial Exhibition presents a spectacular look at the amazing artistic watercolor talent in Tennessee.

About the Tennessee Watercolor Society
Tennessee Watercolor Society was formally organized in 1971, with the purpose of elevating the stature of watercolor and educating the public about watercolor's significance as a creative permanent painting medium. Its purpose was further defined as encouraging the interest of painters in all water media by programs, competitive exhibitions and workshops.

TnWS is a statewide organizations, currently with over 250 members. The biennial juried exhibitions rotate around the state through 5 defined regions, and about half of the exhibition is juror-selected to hang in several locations around the state during the months after the hosting venue ends its showing. In alternate years, a juried online exhibition is held.


A Special Invitation

For those of you who live near me in East Tennessee, mark your calendar for a special art event. Please join me at the Art Guild of Tellico Village's 20th Annual Spring Art Show. Six of my original paintings will be included in the show, along over 200 two- and three-dimensional fine art pieces by members of the Art Guild. Paintings, photography, pottery, fiber arts, fused glass and other works will be exhibited - for show and sale. This popular Mother's Day weekend event attracted nearly 1000 people last year.

The "Meet the Artists" Opening Reception is on Friday, May 11, from 5 to 8 pm, with music and free refreshments. Attendees will be given the chance to select and vote for their 3 favorite artworks for the Peoples Choice Prize, to be awarded on Sunday. The exhibition is also open Saturday, May 12, from 10-4, and Sunday, May 13th, from 8-2.

This show is at Tellico Village Community Church's Christian Life Center (see directions below). For this special event, the Art Guild transforms the Center into a large gallery space, with the artwork beautifully lit and professionally displayed.

There are several terrific restaurants in the area, if you want to make a night of it on Friday or combine your art viewing with Mother's Day lunch on Sunday. Where you turn onto Ritchey Road, continue straight ahead; on the right is Thai Bistro, then Lorenzo's Mexican Grille (I've heard good reviews of both). If you prefer to continue further west on Hwy. 444, try the Tellico Yacht Club's Blue Heron Restaurant, or - one of our favorites - Tanasi Grille. Further down Hwy 444 to Hwy 321 is Calhoun's Restaurant. Too many good choices.

I hope I'll see you there on Friday evening!

DIRECTIONS: From Hwy 411 in Vonore, TN, take Hwy 72 W to Hwy 444 (the entrance to Tellico Village communities). Follow Hwy 444 for 2.2 miles, then turn onto Ritchey Road, on the left (at the signs for the Community Church, Playhouse and Library). Take the immediate 1st right onto Irene Lane, and follow it to where you see the big Christian Life Center building on the right. There's lots of parking on the left and beyond.


I have many passions; my newest painting combines two: watercolor and wildflowers. It's of one of my favorite springtime woodland flowers, Bloodroot. The  3" flowers are among the earliest bloomers in March in my Tennessee woods, unfurling their pure white petals in striking contrast with the dark, wintry forest floor. Bloodroot was traditionally used as a medicinal plant by Native Americans, as well as a natural dye. The red roots and the stems release a blood-color sap when cut, thus the common name. The plant's big leaves are beautifully lobed and very distinctive among the enormous variety of growth in my forest, and I can easily spot them even before the flowers open.

My goal in this painting was to use the very colorful watercolor style I've been experimenting with lately, but to make the white flowers pop out from the background. I had done another wildflower painting a few years ago, "Three Sisters,"  painted with more realistic colors but using the same concept of dulling out the background with layers of watercolor washes. I also painted a single bloodroot blossom last summer, as a small study with acrylics.

In creating my design, I chose to include three blossoms. When illustrating multiples of the same object, an odd number is more visually interesting than an even number. Also, I positioned the closest and brightest bloom (my focal point) in the lower right quadrant; according to the "golden mean," the best position for your major element is roughly at any intersection of a grid dividing your paper into thirds vertically and horizontally. The lower right felt a bit unusual for a focal point, but it seemed right for this composition. You can give a painting more interest if one of the elements jumps off the edge of the paper, as I've done with the blossom at the top. In my reference photos, I loved the curlicue stem to the left of my main flower, since it looks something like the way I make the "L" in my signature, so that's been included subtly in my painting.

This painting is on a full sheet of watercolor paper, 22" x 30," stapled to 1/2" thick gator foam board to help prevent buckling when wet. Gator foam is sort of a sandwich with styrofoam-type material covered on both sides by a stiff smooth white moisture-resistant surface (similar to a Formica countertop). It accepts regular paper staplers vs. heavy ones from a staple gun, so it's easy to secure the paper in place. 

After sketching in pencil, I did an extensive amount of "masking" to protect the bright white paper from pigment on the flower petals, along with all the other lightest values in my composition. I used Pebeo drawing fluid since it goes on and comes off easily. I applied the rubbery mask with old paint brushes (using both ends) since it will ruin a good brush, particularly one with natural bristles. The mask dries adhered to the paper, sealing it off from paint. The masking fluid appears grey in my photo, and you can see I covered a lot of areas.

In my recent colorful watercolors, I've started the paintings with big drops of the three primary colors, spattered from fat brushes dipped into cups of diluted paint. For this painting, I wanted to apply the three colors more quickly and in a way that I could better control the mixing of the colors. I decided to use plastic squeeze bottles with pointed tips, diluting the colors slightly with water and filling each bottle with about 2" of fluid. I wanted rich middle values, so I knew I'd be applying a lot of color. Also, the dried masking pushes the wet color off as it repels it, so there's a lot of fluid movement. For this reason, I worked in our basement - I would have worked outdoors, but the weather wasn't cooperating. I laid a large dropcloth over the concrete floor, set a folding tv table in the center, and placed my painting board on the little table. This way the diluted paint that puddled and/or flowed toward the edges could be sopped up with a paper towel, and if some dripped I wouldn't be making a big mess. It gave me more freedom to concentrate on the directing and mixing of colors. I wanted some bright orange shades, since the Bloodroot sap and cut roots stain in that color; I also wanted the darkest colors to be around the main bloom, so I guided the red and blue there. I painted the big leaf above the main bloom with blue and bright yellow and shades of green. Using the plastic bottles worked out well, allowing me to get the paper covered with color and mixed with my fingers before the paint started to dry.

When the painted paper was totally dry, not even cold to the touch, I removed the masking. I loved how the bright whites looked against the vivid colors! Even though I preserved whites among the background leaves, those areas would be glazed over with light shades of color, so not to compete with the brightest whites in the flowers. I figured the flowers themselves were the best place to start brushing on paint; lighting from behind created many shadows which defined the petals and how they overlapped. Getting those shadow tones started would help me determine how dark the background should be in contrast. I also painted the colorful yellow/red centers of the flowers, then I moved around the background one area at a time, adding color in medium to dark values in order to define shapes of leaves, stems, and little foliage plants. In each area, I used values of the same hue that came from the initial underpainting - for example, under the main bloom I painted the leaf and stem shapes with yellow and blue, allowing mixed greens. The masking creates sharp edges and often dark outlines of color around the light areas, so I used paint and water to soften many areas. It was a slow, detailed process, but I could see the effect I wanted beginning to come together and I enjoyed creating it.

In my final painting steps, I did additional glazes of very dilute blues and purples on the petal shadows to unify them, and I added some of dark values throughout the painting to add depth and dimensionality. I still felt the background was stealing attention from the blossoms, so I filled a spray bottle with some diluted blue paint  and lightly applied a mist of blue over some of the background, laying paper over the flowers to keep the spray from landing on them. This helped to push those areas back visually. Finally I had achieved the effect I was aiming for! I declared "Bloodroot" finished and, happily, sent a digital image of it as an entry into an upcoming watercolor exhibition (along with "Eat Chicken"), barely ahead of the deadline. I'll hear in early April whether either is accepted - while the bloodroot are blooming in my forest!

Eat Chicken

Searching through my big file of reference photos, I came upon shots I took a few years ago when we brought our Florida visitors Dee and Len to experience some of our friends' farms. These cows were some I photographed at Susan and Dave's, where they raise males, born on a dairy farm so of little use for the milking operation. Susan bottle feeds the newest arrivals, then raises them in a lovely open pasture, with her chickens ranging freely among the cows… technically these are "steers" or "bovines" but I'll use the more generic "cows" here. Eventually these guys end up at the butcher shop, cut into beef - thus my title "Eat Chicken." Animals are one of my favorite painting subjects, and I've never tried close-ups of farm critters, so this seemed a good choice as a new painting challenge.
In the reference photo I selected, I liked the way the farm gate framed the face of the left cow, and I thought the separations it created might make it easier for me to work on sections at a time. My painting time is usually very random, not always for long sittings, so the natural divisions would help me make a cohesive overall appearance. Once again I decided to paint in watercolors on my favorite heavy (300lb) textured (cold press) paper. This time, my palette of primary colors included Winsor & Newton paints: Antwerp Blue, Winsor Red, and Winsor Yellow. My goal was to make the painting very colorful, allowing the colors  to mix on the paper. Since the subject was basically black and white, the values I painted would define the images. I used just a little bit of masking fluid, applying strokes of grasses in the bottom right corner with a brand of masking fluid I find works well, Pebeo Drawing Gum. Masking fluid can ruin a paint brush, and I found it easy to guide the fluid in these long narrow strands by dipping the angled back end of a paint brush handle into the mask and dragging that onto the paper.

Even though my paper is heavy weight, when applying a wet first coat of paint I find it helpful to fasten the sheet to a stable board, in this case a 1/2" thick piece of gator foam. This helps to keep the paper from buckling unevenly and it keeps paint from seeping underneath the paper if it runs off the edges. I put masking tape on the edges, pressing down to keep the paint from seeping beneath. My first application of the paints was done by dribbling each of the 3 primaries on the paper, squirting on some clear water, and directing the paints with my fingers to mix them. If the paint puddles up or flows into pools on the edges, I carefully let a bit of paper towel sop it up; puddles which dry slowly tend to flow back into drier areas, potentially creating unwanted "blooms". The masking tape on the edges helps avoid these effects. After the underpainting dried, I removed the paper from the support board, which left a narrow unpainted white border around the image, as you can see in the photo.

This method of applying the initial paint is a technique I am enjoying. Years ago, I did a lot of watercolor "pouring" - a process which also uses just primary colors and createsunique effects from the random mingling of the pigments. In this techique I'm using of spattering blobs of each color and guiding the mixing with my fingers, I find gives me a bit more control; I can drop more yellow and red paints where I want bright, warm areas, and direct more red-blue mixtures places I want cooler, darker tones. The pouring method I previously used also required continuous steps of masking, pouring, drying, masking, pouring, drying. I prefer this alternate way of getting a colorful underpainting, followed with directly brush painting the rest of the painting.

I didn't want the primary colors to blend too much, since that might make them less vivid. Also, I referred to my photo and tried to keep the white cow fur either clear of color or painted only with light values… sometimes blotting off the paint a bit with a paper towel. As I directed the colors, I tried to keep in mind that the cow on the left was my focal point, so the brightest colors and the most contrast between darks and lights would help define him as such.
The photos of my progress show how I moved from one section to another. I really liked the way the cow on the right came out; his face was primarily in blue values and the eye blended in subtly. I also liked the randomness of the colors on the steel tubes of the farm gate, requiring minimal additional color to define shadows and texture. I didn't like the drips of colored paint I had created in the top right to look like trees, so I glazed over with layers of tall tree trunks over that area, in colors matching the initial drips. Once that was dry, I painted that whole area with clear water and encouraged blending and fading, to make it look blurry and draw less attention. I also removed the masking from the grassy strokes and painted some with lighter values of the colors they overlapped. In a few places I wanted to define the steel bars better, separating them from surrounding color. I found that by using my steel ruler, held flush against the painting, I could scrub away paint on the lighter edges and brush in paint in a straight line in the darker areas. I'm perhaps too precise sometimes, but that's what appeals to me. I tried hard to retain some areas of "soft edges," where the colors run from one section into another with little defined separation. A good painting is supposed to have hard edges and soft edges!

I tackled the main cow's face last, concentrating on making his dark eyes show up well in the dark fur, putting light values in the white fur area of his face, and painting the edges of color areas with strokes which resembled fur. Where the fur was thick on his forehead, I had created a bit of a burst of color by blowing the initial light values in every direction. This gave me a foundation for the tufts of hair, and I added brush strokes to emphasize them more. It was fun to paint the spots which defined his snout. As a final step on his face, I used a sharp X-acto knife blade to scratch through the paint and create white whiskers, also scratching strokes in those tufts of fur on the forehead. The focal point can (and should) be the most detailed part of a painting, helping to call attention there.

When is a painting done? That's sometimes a puzzling question. One "test" I employ is to hold my painting in front of a mirror and study it in reverse. This process seems to make visual judgments a bit more objective. It's a good way to see if your design is out of balance, or if something stands out too little or too much. In this painting, viewing in reverse (as I've shown in the photo here) made me decide on a few minor steps for fine-tuning:
  • Scrubbed away the little swatch of blue-grey in the white fur on the top of the minor cow's face, to better separate it from the dark fur;
  • Added more color to the grass strands in corner, since the light-on-light effect was getting lost;
  • Scrubbed out a bit of pigment where the top bar of the gate has come apart from the vertical bar - I liked that detail and I wanted it to read better as a void area, with just distant background showing through
With those final touches, I declared "Eat Chicken" done! 

P.S. Entry added 5/14/18: I'm walking on air... "Eat Chicken" was awarded BEST IN SHOW at the 36th Year Juried Biennial Exhibition of the Tennessee Watercolor Society this past Saturday. I am so proud simply to be one of the 60 paintings in the Exhibition, juried by Lian Quan Zhen, and bowled over by my award. Yahoo!!