Maggie Mae

It's OK now to post another one of my newest paintings, a portrait of our dog Maggie Mae. This was one of my Christmas surprise gifts for Rick. It was challenging to complete this painting without Rick's knowledge, since my painting area is part of our large office and we are together 24/7. A few times the canvas was quickly slipped into a large drawer, with the paint still wet!

For this painting, done in acrylic on canvas, I used reference photos from a hike we took in October to the top of Huckleberry Knob, one of our favorite easy local mountain trails. I chose a pose with Maggie's focus on something other than me - which is typical for this attention-deficit dog! She's been a handful since we adopted her from the local shelter as a tiny puppy in August 2013. Our frustrations with trying to capture her attention and train her have often been punctuated with the line "...good thing she's cute!" But as she matures, Maggie gets into less mischief, acts sweeter and has grown up to be a great companion for Ellie Mae.

Dog portraits are one of my favorite painting subjects, as you can easily see with a visit to my web gallery. I also enjoy commissions for family homesteads, special places, pet cats and horses. More details on my commissioned artwork - including sizes, pricing, and tips for providing reference photos - are here.


It's safe for me to reveal another of my newest paintings, which has now been opened as a Christmas surprise. This is a new dog portrait of a rescued puppy very dear to my heart, named Hunter.

Hunter & Ellie Mae soon after he was rescued.
The short version of Hunter's story is that our friend Kathy found him wandering in the woods over Labor Day weekend 2012, homeless and totally emaciated. Rick and I agreed to give him a home and try to get him healthy. The vet said his condition indicated that he had been living in the wild for months. When we finally got him to hold down food and had success curing his red mange and other afflictions, Hunter gained about 20 lbs in 8 weeks. He was smart, happy, active, alert, and grateful for being rescued - a good little brother for our Ellie Mae and a delight for us. However, his longtime dependence on wildlife for food had turned him into a danger to our 4 outdoor cats, and we knew we would need to find another forever home for him. Anyone who knows us and our pets knows how fussy we are, and Hunter was no exception. After fostering him for 11 months, we finally found a home for Hunter which far exceeded anything in our wildest dreams. A wonderful couple from Pennsylvania named Pat and Dave adopted Hunter and the happiness they have given to each other over the past year and a half could fill volumes!
So I created this portrait with love and gratitude for Hunter, Pat, and Dave. I used reference photos which I had taken on my porch last May when they all came to Tennessee for a fun visit. Hunter is a dog who looks you right in the eye when you communicate, so I wanted a front-on pose to capture his intensity. I liked the backlighting of this shot and his relaxed demeanor. My porch floor is not really reflective, but I added that effect just because I think it's cool. Reports indicate that Hunter thinks I captured him handsomely!

This is painted in acrylics on stretched canvas. For the framing, I used a custom dark wood frame with an inner linen liner in off-white; this combination accents the lights and darks in the painting. A linen liner works sort of like the mat on a framed painting on paper. Merry Christmas Pat, Dave, and Hunter!


Yesterday, the last day of November, was sunny and warm here, but many days this past month have been dreary, misty and grey, like my newest painting "November." Even on such moody days, the tall dried grasses in the pastures and meadows here in Tennessee are striking tones of gold and rust, with undertones of green from the low fresh growth. The scent of the air says "autumn" in the country, perhaps from the damp leaves on the ground. My senses are aroused by the variations of Mother Nature in every season.

In this barn scene, I wanted to capture the three-dimensionality of the landscape. Distant hills, thickly covered with trees, are subdued by the moisture in the air, so I've painted them in greyed colors not much different from the sky. The middle ground of old farm buildings and their surroundings appear a bit more in focus, but the colors are still dulled. A close cedar tree on the left forms another plane, as we move forward in the scene. The foreground is dominated by the bare tree branches, warm tones in the grasses, and old barbed wire fencing. Close objects visually come forward when painted with bolder hues, more contrasts, and finer details than those of the distant objects.

Chalk up another painting with barbed wire for me! I guess it finds its way into so many of my paintings because old wire fencing is such a part of my environment. If I painted rural country landscapes from where I grew up in New England, lovely old fieldstone walls would grace the scenes.

Incidentally, I've completed a few other paintings recently, but they are destined as holiday gifts. I'll share them with you here after Christmas so I won't ruin any surprises. You get to be surprised too!

Coming to Knoxville...

My watercolor painting "Elles Tobacco Planter" will be on exhibit in Knoxville during the month of October. The Tennessee Watercolor Society's 2014 Traveling Exhibit, with 30 paintings selected by the show juror, will hang at the Emporium, 100 S Gay Street, Knoxville, TN.

This show opens on Friday, October 3rd, as part of the city-wide First Friday monthly art celebration, and continues through October 31st. Galleries, restaurants, and other downtown shops - many within walking distance of the Emporium - will be open and featuring artwork and photography. The Emporium will be open until 9pm on the opening evening, and their hours vary other days so check their website.

The traveling show will then go to Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton, TN, during November, and its final stop will be Dec. 2, 2014 - Jan. 6, 2015 in Chattanooga at the InCubator in the Hamilton County Business Center.

The show juror, nationally renowned watercolor artist Pat Dews, made this statement about her selections: "I look for strong design, color, and content. I look for technical skill. I look to see if a painting captures the essence of the subject. I look for work I would like to have painted."

Put this show in your plans!

I've Been Accepted - Hoorah!

I am proud and excited to announce that I just got an acceptance letter for my watercolor painting "Elles Tobacco Planter." It is one of 50 paintings from talented watercolor artists throughout the state, chosen for the 2014 Juried Exhibition of the Tennessee Watercolor Society!

Juror Pat Dews, an internationally regarded watercolor artist, had two of my paintings to choose from, but was limited to chosing one or none from each entrant artist. In my facebook page survey, the votes favored "Grandpa's Fiddle Break," but the judge's taste matched the minority opinions! I had purposely created two very different paintings, hoping it would increase my chances of being accepted.

This exhibition is held in a different major metro area of Tennessee every two years, since members come from across the state. This year's show will be just 14 miles south of Nashville, in historic Franklin TN.

SHOW DATES: Saturday, May 17 - June 13, 2014
LOCATION:  Pavilion Building of O'More College of Design, 423 South Margin St, Franklin TN
Opening Reception: Begins 3-5pm, Saturday, May 17, 2014
Awards Ceremony: 3:30 pm, Saturday, May 17, 2014

Following the closing of the Exhibition in Franklin, a juror-selected collection of some of the show paintings will continue to exhibit across the state, to expose the exhibit to a bigger audience. Locations will include:
Humbolt - The West Tennessee Art Center
Cookeville - The Cumberland Art Society
Knoxville - The Emporium
Tri-Cities - Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area Visitor Center
Chattanooga - Hamilton County Business Development Center
...through January 2015. I'll post the dates when I know more.

As is typical, the judge does not decide on which paintings get awards until she sees them in person. So now I need to get my painting matted and framed and off to Franklin (entries were sent digitally for the initial selection into the show). Wish me more luck!

Elles Tobacco Planter

Some of my reference photos

Painting "Elles Tobacco Planter" has been on my mind for a long time. I have taken oodles of reference photos of this quirky piece of farm equipment, from various angles, in different seasons, close up and distant. The planter sits on the edge of the drive into the farm of my friends Carolyn and Mitch. This is an old 2-man tobacco planter which Mitch used long ago. (Read below how it is used). There are actually two tractor seats, although one is a bit hidden in the angle I've chosen. I love the rusted metal, peeling paint, and the faded lettering "Elles" on the boxes which held the tobacco plants.

I struggled with how to compose this painting, and that's what kept me from getting started for a long time. The actual setting, as you can see from my reference photos, is very busy visually - piles of leaves and lots of trees. I wanted the machinery to be the focal point, not to be lost in the woods. Finally it occurred to me that by creating a winter scene, with a bit of snow on the ground, I could use the white areas to contrast with my main character. Also, by inventing a landscape with a distant mountain view and just a few trees, I could create more of a story. You'll notice from my main reference photo that I also took the liberty of relocating the big tree, moving it a few feet away from the planter, which isolates it and gives it even more prominence. As a painter, you can move mountains! This is actually the first painting I have done with a distant mountain view. It's very much like the beautiful view of the Smoky Mountains from my own front porch.

As with many landscapes, I worked this painting from the most distant elements to the front. My photos of the work in progress shows how each section was layered over the previous one. This is a bit tricky when working with watercolors, since their transparency prohibits a light area from covering over a dark area. This is one of the challenges I love in painting with watercolors. Conversely, when I painted "Let It Snow," I worked with opaque acrylics, so I could paint one color over another. For Elles Tobacco Planter I had sketched the major elements in my painting first, and you can see how I "painted around" the big tree and the tank. Remember, in a traditional transparent watercolor painting, the white areas are unpainted paper.

One way to make items appear as if they are far away is to make them lighter, less contrasty, and more subdued in color than things closer… as our brains would process into the spacial relationship if we were viewing such a scene. I was taught to call this atmospheric perspective. "Aerial perspective equals atmosphere…. Light, color, detail, edges and contrast weaken as they flow into the distance. All living creatures subliminally understand this." - artist Harley Brown. I like to use a really heavyweight watercolor paper, so I can wet it and rub away some of the pigment if I get too bold with my colors, as I tend to do! Or when I decide to add things I hadn't planned, like add the smaller tree and the fence post to the left. Thick D'Arches 300 lb. watercolor paper is my preference, with a rough surface (cold press), and it holds up well to my abuse. I can even use an x-acto knife to scratch away the top layer, if I get a spot on a white area that shouldn't be there, for example.

For this painting, I wanted to do a lot of blending of colors, much of it right on the paper, and I chose a rainbow palette of eight watercolor paints: Winsor Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Vermillion, Permanent Red, Burnt Sienna, Cerulean, and Indigo. These hues tend to be grainy pigments, as opposed to fine dye-type stains. Such paint particles sometimes separate a bit from each other when mixed, so they create interesting effects on the paper. There were no green paints in my chosen palette, even though the main character, the tobacco planter, is green. I wanted to mix all my greens, and create variety and interest this way. My quick little color mixing swatch convinced me that my chosen colors give me the look I had in my brain.

To add some additional horizontal elements to balance with the stark verticals of the trees, I decided to add some fencing in the near background. Many years ago I formed an intimate relationship with barbed wire when we purchased the land we now live on, which was surrounded by an old barbed wire fence in much need of repair. Back where I grew up in New England, the field stones dug out of the cleared land were stacked to make stone walls along the borders. Here in Tennessee, old property borders and pasture enclosures were defined with slow-to-rot cedar logs as posts, usually with 4 strands of barbed wire run between each. If a tree grew along the border line, the barbed wire would be attached to it. Over the years, as the tree grew, the barbed wire would be engulfed in the bark. Very old barbed wire rusts, and newer strands stay blue-gray for many years. For those who enjoy the details, I made my top strand in the painting look like a more recent replacement, even where it got attached to the big tree.

Technically, I drew in my fine lines of the barbed wire and its barbs with an old lettering dip pen. For the rusty lines, I mixed some burnt sienna watercolor pigment with 1/4 inch of water in a tiny dixie cup, to use like ink. I wet a round tip paint brush with the diluted paint, then released a big drop into the hollow side of the pen nib. I let the excess liquid drip off, then drew a test line on scrap paper (this helps avoid a big blob on the painting). Once the pen is releasing an even stream, I draw the fine lines on my painting.

Along with "Grandpa's Fiddle Break," I've entered this painting into the Tennessee Watercolor Society biennial exhibition. Unlike previous shows, now there is a rule that no more than one from any artist can be accepted. Even though I have had both of my entries accepted into past shows (and have even received two awards each year) I voted for this change, since it will allow more artists to be included. I'll let you know if I get into the show - we are supposed to be notified by April 25, 2014. The exhibit will be in Franklin, TN, this year, opening on May 17th. Wish me luck!


P.S. If you are interested in the Tobacco Planter farm equipment, as I was, here is a photo I found online of a similar one, in use. The planter is attached to the back of a tractor and pulled through the field. My painting is a view of the back end, and the two planting people face backward as it moves. Each of the boxes which are labelled "Elles" on my painting would be filled with the seedling plants, and the workers feed them one by one into the machinery, which plants them in the ground with even spacing. The big water tank gives each new plant a drink, evidentally. I couldn't find any online references to "Elles" farm equipment. The name appears to have been stencilled onto the boxes, so the planter might have been manufactured locally. Pretty cool!

Grandpa's Fiddle Break

I'm a bit of a nostalgia buff, with antiques around the house, framed old family photos, and a collection of handmade laces. So this newest painting began with my desire to create and preserve a moment in time, from days past.

The central character of my story is missing - the imaginary "grandfather." I wanted the scene to suggest that he just got up from his favorite chair, nestled by the cozy old quilt, and is taking a break from one of his favorite relaxing activities, fiddle playing. He is indulging in his pleasures, with little regard for what time it is, and enjoying a sip of moonshine from the old mason jar.

I gathered items for this still life from various sources: Rick bought me the old fiddle and its worn case from our friend Charles years ago to encourage my desire to learn to play; the quilt is a family heirloom of my friend Sandy; the pocket watch with a braided leather strap was given to us by a hardworking old man named Floyd who helped us clear away trees from our home site and taught me how to identify many of the hardwoods in our forest. Floyd became our friend and said the watch had belonged to his dad. The Ball canning jar is my antique find that was used to hold a bunch of flowers in my last painting "Barnyard Bouquet," this time shown with a tin lid, and looking like the traditional jar of 'shine. I set everything up on my porch, with the old handmade chest we use as a coffee table and one of our many porch rockers. The sun was bright and I took photos from different angles before settling on my favorite. I liked a view of the scene with the eye-level low, as if seen by a young grandchild.

I'm motivated to paint with watercolors again now because another Tennessee Watercolor Society biennial exhibition is coming up. Two entries are allowed, and the entry data is due in early April, so this is one of two I plan to enter. I love working with watercolors, but the matting and framing under glass required for artwork on paper is extra work and expense, so I primarily paint with acrylics these days.

As I've done with past watercolors, like "Jerry Van, Music Man", and "Jesus Saves", I painted this with a limited palette. This is based on the color theory that the three "primary" colors - red, blue, and yellow - can be mixed to make all other colors. The theory is valid, however, since paint pigments are not "pure" colors, you cannot really mix all other colors. Some reds lean toward orange, some toward purple, and likewise with the other primaries. A bluish red mixed with a greenish blue won't make a nice pure purple - in fact, the resulting color would likely be a brown or grey. Also, in the color theory, black and white need to be added to make dark and light shades (although there is no white paint in traditional transparent watercolor - the white is your unpainted paper). But if you choose the colors of your limited palette carefully, some great results can occur.

It's challenging to mix all the colors in a painting from just a few, but it's a technique which helps to unify the overall appearance of a painting. When I notified my art supplier, Cheap Joe's Art Stuff, about my use of a limited palette of their paints for my painting Jerry Van, Music Man, they shipped me three different primary colors of their house-brand American Journey Watercolors: Prussian Blue, Coral Red, and Carr Yellow, and challenged me to try them. I had never used the latter two colors before, but I was intrigued with the possibility of doing a painting with just these colors. I was a little concerned about Prussian Blue being a little light and greenish, knowing the still life would need some rich dark tones, so I added a 4th color to my palette, Holbein Royal Blue. Before beginning the painting, I made myself a color chart, seeing how these 4 colors would mix to form the secondary colors of orange, green, and purple. I knew I'd be needing many shades of brown and some rich deep black tones, so I tested to be sure I'd be able to mix these also. It seemed these colors would work, so I decided to use them. My final concern was that these were very tiny tubes of paint, and I hoped I wouldn't run out of any one of them before the painting was finished!

There are often unexpected results in a watercolor painting, even with a control-freak like me, and I find it challenging to process them. I painted the various fabric squares of the quilt first - and had great fun with all the patterns and colors. But, oops... I stepped back when I had completed this part of the painting and the quilt was screaming at me - too bold, too sharp and too bright. I had wanted it to be a soft, subtle background, but, left as it was, I thought it would compete for attention with the items I wanted to have more visual importance. So I filled my bucket with clean water, got out the 2" wide brush and some paper towel, and did wet-blot-wet-blot to remove lots of the pigment. Watercolors vary in their tendency to just sit as a sediment on the surface of the paper or to be absorbed into the fibers. Those which are sedimentary wash away very easily. Fortunately, the paints I had used had good staining ability, so I could somewhat control how much color got removed. Viola! A soft, faded and muted background, much like the quilt would look after years of use and washings, appeared. The slightly bumpy texture of my "cold press" heavy 300 lb. watercolor paper also added to the textured look of quilted fabric. Looked like this would work.

This was a fairly complex painting and I only paint for a few hours at a time, then I might not get back to it for a week or more. So I tackled one element in each sitting - working on the coffee table one time, the mason jar in another painting session. The limited palette helps when working this way; if I used a color that hasn't been used elsewhere in one section of the painting, it could look out of place and disconnected.

This painting's title is a play on words. A "fiddle break" among bluegrass musicians is when the fiddle is featured taking the lead, usually playing the melody while the other instruments accent it. In my painting, I imagine that grandpa is taking a " fiddle break" for a sip of his home brew.

Picasso's "Blue Period" lasted four years, but my "mason jar period" of my recent two paintings is going to be over faster than that! I'm not sure what topic to choose for my next watercolor, but it will not have the blue jar, I guarantee.

Barnyard Bouquet

Many fine art masters have done still life paintings, and the genre typically includes arrangements of fruit, flowers, vases or bowls, and draped fabric. I consider my newest painting to be a "still life," although the elements I have arranged don't quite fit the mold. Rather, they reflect my life in a lovely rural area, where winding country backroads are lined with wildflowers, and pastures are fenced with old cedar posts and barbed wire. I'm never at a loss for inspiration, right outside my door.

I found the vintage aqua Ball canning jar, complete with a rustic wire carrier, at an antique store. It struck me as the perfect vessel for flower bouquets, which I love to arrange. The idea for a painting came to me last summer, as I filled the jar with wild daisies and black-eyed susans from my yard. I didn't have to travel far from home to find an old fence post on which to hang the jar of flowers, just about a mile down my road - viola, my still life! The weathered post and old twisted barbed wire said "rural countryside" to me, and provided an ideal backdrop for my casual old-timey bouquet. As usual, I took lots of photos to help me later refer to while painting. I'm not a big fan of winter, so working on this art during this damp, chilly January reminded me of warmer weather to come. "Barnyard Bouquet" seems an appropriate title, but I'm still open to suggestions, so let me know your ideas.

As I've mentioned before, I love painting the varied texture of old wood, like this very old weathered post. I used acrylics on canvas here, and this painting had some particular challenges: capturing the transparency and reflectiveness of the glass jar, getting the old strands of barbed wire looking right, and depicting the strong light of a sunny midsummer day. Those are the parts that make it fun for me!

My new year's resolution is to get painting again, after a very sparse year in 2013. My painting time has been losing out to my long list of other interests, like learning to play the fiddle, gardening, cooking, blogging, playing banjo, social life, and - oh yeah - working for a living! Hopefully I'm off to a good start, and I can keep transferring some of the many images rolling around in my head info some fine art.