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.

Bloodroot

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 help 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 last steps for fine-tuning:
  • Scrub 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;
  • Add more color to the grass strands in corner, since the light-on-light effect was getting lost;
  • Scrub 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!


Keep Out

I passed this bizarre decaying building on a little-travelled rural backroad and was happy to have my camera. It was a sunny morning and the front of the building was bathed in light. If only this place could tell me its story, sitting close to the road in the middle of nowhere, with bars over the windows. Had it served as a small community jail? I loved its quirks - the weathered siding, the red stains at the top of the door, the rusty metal, and the panes of glass slipped out of the window frame. I yearned to do a painting, but struggled with how to make it interesting.

I remembered an old "Keep Out" sign in my photo reference files, which appealed to me because the black letters had worn away but the sign was still readable. This sign could add a humorous irony to the building, I thought, so I decided to incorporate it into my design. I chose a front-on view, primarily featuring the old window, and placed the sign in the upper third, off center.

I used masking fluid to preserve the sign shape and a few highlights on the broken glass, which show up as grey areas in the photo below of the early painting steps. In keeping with my technique of painting watercolors with just 3 primary colors, I set out to create a colorful underpainting. I spattered the paints onto the 300lb Arches CP paper, directing warmer red-yellow mixtures on the door and blue-red at the top. Clean water was sprayed over the colors, and I blended the wet surface with my fingers to cover most of the paper. The rest of the painting was done with the same 3 primary colors, but mixed together in my palette for grey tones. The greys were applied as glazes, so the bright colors of the underpainting could still show through. The rich black in the empty window panes and shadow areas was also created by mixing all three colors, keeping them very saturated with minimal water to dilute them.

I'm doing a lot of painting lately, and this was one of my resolutions for New Year's - the other is to get rid of accumulated junk, but that's not as fun! I won't continue at this pace, however… my 'discretionary' time is more available currently, since I'm not gardening at this time of year, I've put my fiddle playing on hold, my husband Rick is busy in a training program to join the sheriff's auxiliary, and we are both working on firming up our bodies so I'm not cooking so much. Voila, time for painting!! My other motivation is a looming deadline for entries into the 2018 TN Watercolor Society Exhibition on February 10th, so I'm scrambling to create two show-quality watercolor paintings to enter. Wish me luck!

Good Thing She's Cute

All my paintings in the past year were done in acrylics, and now I'm trying to ease back into watercolors. Over the years I've done many watercolor paintings using a limited palette - basically just red, yellow and blue - such as Jerry Van Music Man and Grandpa's Fiddle Break. In those cases, I mixed the pigments on the palette to create new colors, then brushed the mixed colors on the paper. Now I'm trying another method: letting the 3 colors mix directly on the watercolor paper. It's a technique used by many watercolor artists but one I've never attempted. I was motivated to give it a try after viewing the paintings of eminent watercolor artist Lian Zhen, which blew me away. I was investigating his work online since he will be the juror for the 2018 Tennesse Watercolor Society Exhibition (which I intend to enter). He uses several different palettes of 3 watercolor primaries, but I selected three I've used before with good mixing results: Holbein Royal Blue, American Journey Coral Red, and American Journey Carr Yellow. The choice of colors is important; each needs to be a pure tone so when mixed they won't create shades of brown or grey. For example, a greenish-blue like Phthalo Blue Green Shade when mixed with Coral Red as I used would not create a clean, pure purple. There are many good choices for painting from a limited palette, from all the professional watercolor manufacturers.

As you can see, the colors end up very bright and not realistic in this method. The success of the painting depends strongly on values, which I wrote about in a blog post recently. The more the color is diluted, the lighter the value. Some places the colors blend with soft edges, other places have sharp divisions between colors... which creates more interest. Leaving random whites from unpainted paper adds a bit of sparkle. I also went back into the dried painting with my X-acto knife and scratched pigment off to reveal the white paper below, such as in the eye highlights and whiskers. This is possible because I've used a very thick watercolor paper, Arches 300lb. I love that particular paper since it doesn't buckle when wet and the cold-press version had a nice texture. In the end, I also painted some strokes of the same colors to indicate the fur and freckles and to intensify some of the darkest areas.

The subject of this painting is my four-year old dog Maggie Mae. She was truly the 'puppy from hell' but after age 2 became much more sweet, relaxed, loving, and under control. On her worst days we coined the phrase "'...good thing she's cute" - her expressions made it hard to be angry for long. We rescued her, so her heritage is unknown but best guess is coon hound mixed with beagle. Her big eyes are captivating and she is very photogenic.

I like this painting process, and it stretches me to try something different. I need more practice at it however; when working in the wet-on-wet foundation stages you have to keep moving and complete a lot in one session. I'm more accustomed to painting for an hour one day, two hours another day, etc. Also, this painting is small, about 10" x 8", and I want to use the painting method on much bigger paintings.

You'll probably be seeing more watercolors done similarly by me in the near future. Try this yourself!