Jerry Van, Music Man


My new watercolor painting, of local musician and friend Jerry, is one I painted in my brain long before it landed on paper! I took reference photos nearly 2 years ago, when Rick and I happened upon Jerry and his friend Mike, playing music on a sunny afternoon in front of his wife Dona's pottery studio and shop, The Castle. Once I viewed my photos, I was inspired to capture what I saw in a painting - visually, capturing Jerry's fuzzy beard against a dark background, and, emotionally, depicting the character of a very special person, so much admired for his kind and gentle nature,  compassion, extensive musical talents, and dry humor. I apologized to Mike for eliminating him from my scene (artistic license)! You can view the video which Rick shot that day, embedded below.

From a technical point of view, this "character study" was somewhat like my painting When She Was Three. I have learned, even in my paintings of animals with light fur, that hair is not one solid color. Light hair is full of pastel hues which play against the very whitest strands to make it look realistic in a painting. But this time I was throwing one other twist into my challenge to paint Jerry: painting in watercolor vs. acrylics. In the painting of the little girl, I used acrylics, so I could paint on the fine platinum strands of her hair with a fine brush and white paint. In traditional watercolor, no white paint is used; the whites are unpainted areas of the watercolor paper. For a painting such as the one I was embarking upon, being representational, this meant I'd have to pre-plan where my "whites" would be. Since the painting was already done in my head, this wasn't a problem.
Masking fluid protecting the lightest beard areas

Of course, artists have tools, as with any other profession. One way to preserve the white paper is by masking the unpainted paper a liquid latex, which solidifies with exposure to air. Once the artist has painted over the protected areas, the latex can be pulled off the watercolor paper… it comes off like an elastic band, revealing fresh, white, untouched paper. These areas can be left pure white, as I do in places, or they can be "glazed" over with paint, keeping them as luminous lighter shades, as you can see on the mandolin strings in this painting.


To use the masking fluid, as it is called, I pour a small amount into a cup from the airtight container (don't work out of the jar or it will become gummy as it gets exposed to air). I coat my brush with liquid soap, which protects it from being ruined by the latex. I use other tools to apply the latex, like a little plastic bottle with a needle-nose, to flow the masking liquid in a very fine line. This was my primary tool for masking the beard, making random, short, swirling lines. I also masked the mandolin strings, the wide trim around the mandolin body, and the parts of  Jerry's "do- rag" which were white or yellow. I had actually contemplated making the fabric a solid color rather than tackle the plaid. Once Jerry saw the painting, he said this is his favorite do-rag, so I am glad I stayed with the pattern - it adds interest too.

To contrast with my main subject, Jerry, I balanced the painting with a relatively solid background of rich dark tones. Another fun watercolor "trick" I used is in the dark blue area of the top right. Here I lightly sprinkled salt (using Kosher salt because it's big chunks) on the painted area before it had completely dried. The crystals absorb the pigment from around them as the paint dries, creating an unpredictable starry effect. I did this to create some texture and interest in that corner, without being too distracting.


As with my earlier watercolor, Jesus Saves, I decided to use a limited palette to do this painting - just blue, red, and yellow. I choose 3 different primary hues than with that previous painting, and I found it a bit more difficult to mix reds, rich dark colors and shades of grey with these three colors. Always good to stretch yourself as an artist, huh? If you really study Jerry's painted beard, you will see lots of purple, rose, blue, and other colors among the flesh tones.

I have just submitted this painting, along with Jesus Saves, into a watercolor exhibition. I'll hear
later this month whether either has been juried into the show, which will be held in Memphis. I'll let you know!