14 Great Things I've Learned While Painting

I started doing art as a kid and never stopped! As a fine art painter, my learning curve has often been accelerated by tips and hints I've learned from other artists. Sometimes ideas come from workshops or demos, not only from the instructor but from other attendees. Other times they come from creative friends in art groups or other gallery exhibitors. Blogs, newsletters, social media groups and old-fashioned magazines are loaded with good art info. Often a fellow artist simply mentions something they're doing and I add it to my bag of tricks!

Here are a few art tips, techniques, materials, and ideas I've adopted, which I hope you might find helpful in your work:

REFERENCE PHOTOS
- I paint from reference photos and 95% of my paintings have been from my own photos. Exceptions for me have primarily been in commissioned paintings, where my customer provides their photos. In recent times, it's become so easy to pull images from the internet that many art competitions now require any reference for your paintings can only come from your own photos. This avoids copyright infringements too, and it's a wise practice in general.
     If show rules are not an issue for you, and if you paint animals or birds, sometimes it's just not possible for you to take your own good reference photos. Those squirrels in my woods just don't stay still for me, and the cardinals fly off too fast. For fabulous reference photos of nature, I have found a great source specifically for artists' use. The photos are of exceptional quality, there are hundreds to choose from, and it is very inexpensive. Usage is royalty-free, which means once you purchase a digital photo you can use it as an art reference as many times as you like without any additional fee. "Wildlife Reference Photos For Artists" has photos of wildlife, domestic animals, flowers, land and seascapes, skies, butterflies, aquatic life and still life. If your use fits their "terms of use," (which seem very straightforward) you pay $10 to download 5 high resolution photos during a 31 day period. NOTE: Paypal is the only payment accepted. The family-based company is located in the UK, with photographers contributing from all over the world.

FRAME PROTECTION
- To keep my frames from getting damaged when moving, storing, or shipping, I find the cardboard and bubble-wrap corners don't always fit and usually fall off. Instead, I use foam pipe insulators to slide over the sides of the frame for protection. They are inexpensive, readily available wherever plumbing supplies are sold, fit a variety of frame shapes, stay put, and are easy to use. For big frame profiles, pool noodles give similar protection (split lengthwise with scissors).
PALETTE FOR ACRYLICS
- A porcelain "butcher's tray" is my favorite palette when I'm mixing Golden Fluid Acrylics. This type of acrylic paints are very pigment-rich, so I only need to use a small amount at a time. When I'm switching colors or done a session of painting, the paints wipe off easily from the glossy hard surface of the tray. If paints have dried before clean-up time, I just set the tray in the sink and fill with water. After it soaks for a while I can easily wipe away all the paint residue.

LIFT WATERCOLOR
- A Mr. Clean "Magic Eraser" (the ones with no added solvents or cleaners) can lift watercolor off paper easily, to make corrections or lighten painted areas. I cut the sponge into smaller pieces for good control on small areas. If you used lots of these sponges (for both art and cleaning), you might want to buy generic melamine sponges online. You can buy 20 generics for about the cost of 3 Magic Erasers; they might be a different size but they work comparably.

PRESERVE GOOD BRUSHES - At the end of a painting session, after cleaning paints from my brushes, I use "The Masters" Brush Cleaner, which cleans, conditions and restores the fibers.  Swirl brushes in the cleaner, rinse and repeat until the lather stays white. After the final rinse, smooth the fibers back into their original shape. Alternately, you can leave the Brush Cleaner lather on the shaped fibers to dry, then shake it off as a powder when you next use the brush. This brush cleaner is also good for cleaning make-up brushes!

CREATING FINE LINES
- I use a Speedball standard pen nib (in a pen holder) when I want to make fine lines, giving me better control than with a brush. Dilute the paint and drop some onto the curved back of the pen nib. Test on a scrap of paper or canvas (whatever your painting surface is) to check the flow and get adjusted to using it without any blobs. I find this is my best tool for making narrow lines with a consistent width. I've used a pen nib for white whiskers, fur textures, and rusty barbed wire. I sometimes use it also for signing my paintings. Used with diluted gesso, you can glaze over the dry white lines repeatedly and build up wonderful textures for hair, fur, tall grasses and more.

ACRYLIC WHITES
- When using white acrylic paints, there are various whites to select from. Zinc white is somewhat transparent; titanium white has good opacity and tints colors well. Most often I don't use either... I use white gesso to give the most opaque coverage and great tints.

ROUGH TEXTURES
- To paint grassy areas or long fur, I sometimes use old bristle brushes (the type sold in hardware stores) and worn-out artist brushes, which I've cut into with scissors to create jagged irregular edges. These help create textures which are random and uneven.

PRESERVING WHITE PAPER
- In traditional watercolor technique, the whites of the paper are the whites of the painting (no white paint applied). Sometimes I want to apply a dark background and go back later to paint lighter values. So when I want to preserve the white paper from other colors, I apply "liquid frisket" to mask the area. Frisket is a latex art product, liquid out of the bottle but solid when dry. When you use it, don't leave the cap off the bottle or the air will reduce its shelf-life. I pour out a small amount into a cup. My preferred brand is Pebeo Drawing Gum - it goes on smoothly and easily, doesn't seem to discolor with age, and it's grey so I can tell where I've applied it.
     Never use a good brush to paint masking frisket, or it can be ruined. Use an old brush and coat it with liquid soap before dipping into the frisket to make clean-up easier. You can also apply frisket with the opposite end of your brush handle, or use a twig, a wood skewer, or other disposable. You can spatter it on with an old toothbrush too. Some frisket makers also sell squeeze bottles with needle-tip applicators. Easily remove frisket from your painting surface by rubbing an edge and pulling or by catching it with a piece of masking tape. It comes off the paper like an elastic band, leaving no residue. Voila, your white paper has been protected from the paint!

CHECK COMPOSITION OBJECTIVELY
- Sometimes it's difficult to objectively analyze your own paintings while in process. Take a break and set you painting in a place away from your painting area. Let it catch your attention randomly as you are doing other tasks, and you'll notice things you didn't previously. It also helps to hold your artwork in front of a mirror or look at it upside down to help see problems with composition such as balance or values. You are less attached to the subject matter and more objective to the technical elements this way.

TAKE A TURN
- Create a distinctive piece of art by starting with a square format, then rotating it 45° to hang as a diamond. Not every subject works out this way, but I've done it several times with florals for a great effect. Sometimes when I see a nice ready-made frame for sale, I can't resist buying it and then creating a painting to fit, as I did with these sunflowers.

PAINT WITHOUT BRUSHES
- When I want to begin a limited-palette watermedia painting with random mixes of primary colors, I don't brush on the paints. I apply my diluted paints by (1) dribbling from loaded brushes, (2) squeezing from plastic bottles with pointed ends, (3) pouring from small cups, or, (4) for small areas, dripping from eye-droppers. Applied this way, the colors blend beautifully in uncontrolled ways you couldn't possibly duplicate by brushing them on. You can move paint around with your fingers too! See my painting Bloodroot as an example.


CARBON COPIES
- Millenials don't really know the meaning of "cc:" as those of us who used carbon for multiple copies on typed pages and forms. For artists, carbon paper comes in 'graphite' (easy to erase) rolls or sheets, in black, white, and a few colors. I often use the black graphite to transfer my drawings to watercolor paper or canvas, and the white graphite on black scratchboard surfaces. The photo shows white carbon paper and the black Scratchbord® I transferred my drawing onto in my recent painting of a red-tailed hawk, Scarlett.

MISTY
- Diluted paint in spray bottles has come to the rescue for me at times. For example, see my award-winning painting In The Spotlight. I used a light mist of transparent cool blue watercolor over a portion of a painting in order to make that section less prominent and move it visually to the background. I must admit, I held my breath in the process, hoping I wouldn't ruin my painting. It worked just as I wanted… phew!



I hope you'll find an idea here which helps you with your creative endeavors, even if you don't paint or if your painting style is totally different from mine. Let me know your favorite hints and we'll both continue to grow.

Scarlett


 Art is a constant learning process for me. I painted "Scarlett - Red-Tailed Hawk" in a similar manner as I painted "Hair of the Dog," using transparent fluid acrylic paints on a small 6"x6" black scratchboard panel, but this time depicting feathers vs. fur. The photos of my work in process highlight some of the steps in capturing this majestic bird. The technical info in the second half of this post may be of particular interest to other artists who use Scratchbord® and want to benefit from my mistakes!

Photo of Scarlett - great feet!
Scarlett is a magnificent bird and I was grateful for the opportunity to photograph her closely. Her misfortune was my good luck; Scarlett was injured while in the wild and ended up in a captive raptor program with Tennessee State Parks. Scarlett now has a fine home at Harrison Bay State Park and joins rangers for demonstrations and other educational programs. Scarlett was starring in a birds of prey demo at an outdoor fall fair where I met her and her handler and took fabulous reference photos.

This is my second painting on Ampersand Scratchbord® and I encountered some new challenges this time. Fortunately, I was able to overcome the surprises and finish the painting as I had envisioned it. Some of my techniques may be unconventional; I haven't been part of the scratchboard community long enough to know if there are "purists" as with watercolors. The suggestions I've listed below might be second-nature to an experienced scratchboard artist, but I thought they might be helpful for newbies like me. (NOTE: Click on any images in this blog to enlarge them.)

SCRATCHBORD® TIPS & TECHNIQUES:
1) Don't scratch to uncover big areas (like over 1/8") which you want to stay pure white until you are finished scratching black away elsewhere. The scratches in such areas can collect fine black dust and this can be tough to remove. In my anxious attempt to depict the highlight on the yellow part of Scarlett's beak at the start of my painting, I faced this problem. After the scratches filled with black, I tried to scratch deeper to get back to pure white and was unsuccessful. I was afraid to scratch any deeper. I tried wiping away the black residue with isopropyl alcohol, but that didn't work. Ultimately, I painted the small area over with gesso as one of my final steps to resolve this problem to recreate a pure white area.

2) It is possible to remove the black finish from an area on Scratchbord® without scratching or other abrasive methods… you can dissolve and wipe it off using isopropyl rubbing alcohol, as I did on Scarlett's eyes and places  I intended to paint bright yellow. Start by setting your panel on a flat surface, so the alcohol won't drip out of your targeted white area as it could if on a slant. The black india ink surface needs a little massaging with the alcohol to soften it. Since alcohol evaporates quickly, it is best to keep blotting off the blackened liquid as you work, with tissues or Q-tips, working small areas at a time. Dissolve, blot, dissolve, blot.
     I've used various ways to remove the black surface, working from a little cup of rubbing alcohol and rinsing off my tools frequently to wash away the black residue:
(A) The alcohol can be painted on carefully with a stiff brush. I use old brushes or a small "Fritch Scrubber", used by watercolor artists (available in different sizes). Small circular motions, using a soft touch to avoid disturbing the white clay surface, dissolve the alcohol fast.
(B) For a large area, individually foil-packaged pads of isopropyl alcohol are handy. Some are more saturated and thicker than others; I like the "Dukal" brand since it is a small thin pad and just slightly damp. As an alternative, fold a little square of tissue and dab it in alcohol to wipe with.
(C) You can mask off the area you want to be white. On a new scratchboard painting currently in the works, I used blue painter's masking tape on each side of a flower stem, pressed the edges down well, and uncovered the white layer quickly.

3) After doing a lot of scratching and abrasion of the black surface, fine particles of black can remain on your Scratchbord panel. After Step 6 as shown in my work-in-process photos above, I planned to start painting with transparent acrylics, so I wanted to be sure the surface had no fine black residue first. (BEWARE: don't do this if you have painted any areas with watercolors, since it re-wetting will disturb them.) I began wiping my Scratchbord surface with a dampened soft cloth (a sponge works too) and was surprised at all the black dust it picked up. I repeated the process several times, rinsing the cloth between. Black kept showing as I wiped, even though my work was a small 6" square panel. I finally decided to hold the board under the faucet and gently flow water across the face. One final wipe showed no more residue, and I placed the panel horizontally on a baking rack so all sides could dry thoroughly.

4) Small areas you wish were still black can be retouched, either with permanent black pens (I use Pigma Micron pens) or permanent black india ink brushed on.

5) When you are ready to sign your work, don't sign it where you've done lots of scratching… whether you scratch or use paint or a pen, your signature can become distorted on the irregular surface.

6) If you are sealing your work with a clear spray, be very sure to clean the surface of any residue, lint, or dust, particularly if big areas of solid black remain. I used a cloth made for cleaning eye glasses and hold the panel at different angles in front of a light source for final inspection. Also be sure that you do your spraying in a dust-free zone!

7) When using a protective spray coating, hold the can at a very slight angle, not directly over your work. This way, if a drip comes out along with the fine spray (which happened to me several times) there's less chance that the drip will fall on your artwork.

8) If you didn't do number 7 above and you get a big drip on the otherwise lovely surface, don't fret! I got a big fat drip in the bottom left corner of Scarlett, and thought I had ruined my work. I had used Krylon "Gallery Series" UV Archival Varnish aerosol spray in a satin finish. I knew that as an archival finish, the coating should be removable without harming the art. Info online said it could be removed with mineral spirits. WARNING: I also saw a comment by someone who removed it successfully with rubbing alcohol; the india ink surface on Scratchbord® will dissolve with rubbing alcohol (see #2 above), so that would be disastrous! I let my panel dry for 24 hours after I had sprayed on the Krylon finish, then used mineral spirits on a clean cotton rag and started to rub gently on the blob on my artwork. It slowly began to dissolve and I felt confident this was going to fix my problem spot. I had intended to just eliminate the lump and ignore the rest of the surface, but I goofed and got some little drops of mineral spirits on my black background. They might have dried and disappeared, but I ended up carefully rubbing off the clear coating from my entire panel. Now I can confirm to everyone that this Krylon UV spray is removable! Once my panel was thoroughly dry and clean, I very carefully resealed the surface with two fine coats. As described in #7 above, another big drip came out while I was doing the final coat, but it landed on the big piece of cardboard I had my panel resting on, so I was safe!

I hope these hints help my fellow Scratchbord artists.

I've Got Sunshine... and New Watercolors!

Continuing my current MO of experimenting with new art materials and methods in my paintings, I've completed another scratchboard, this time with a new set of watercolors. I've Got Sunshine is my first painting with QoR® (pronounced 'core') watercolors from Golden Artist Colors (read more about the paints at the end of this post). As with my painting "Jasper," I've painted this on Aquabord®, a white-surfaced scratchboard panel.
 
When seed drops from our bird feeders into the gravel below the porch, I allow the germinated sunflowers to grow. The lovely blossom in this painting was inspired by my own photo, taken with side-lighting from the morning sun. The close detail in my photo revealed the fine hairs on the stem and leaves, which I had never noticed before. I decided scratchboard would be the perfect surface for me to create these thin white lines. My goal with the watercolor paints was to keep the petals and leaves very transparent and luminous, while creating a dark mottled background for dramatic contrast. It would be a good test of the new watercolors.

After sketching the flower in pencil on a small 7"x5" panel of Aquabord, I dove right into painting. It was fun to depict the variety of shapes in the delicate yellow petals and the greenery on the underside of the flower. Sunflower petals are basically yellow, but you can see all the orange and green tones I used to make these look three dimensional. The leaf on the right was pale green from the sunlight, while the lower leaf was deeply hued with its veins backlit to appear yellow from the glow. The only tube of "green" in my QoR watercolor set was Viridian Green which is too blue to use as a leaf color, so I mixed my greens with Hansa Yellow and Ultramarine. You can see my test swatches below, showing the difference in greens blended from the two different shades of blue in my box, shown in the bottom row of swatches. Ultramarine combines with Hansa Yellow to create a natural green, where the Phthalo Blue mixed a green I can best describe as "high value" - too intense for this flower. Adding a bit of Alizarin Crimson to either green tones down the vibrance, since this red hue is the complement to green (opposites on a color wheel). The tiny swatches above the greens show this effect. Around the background, I dabbed random spots of mixed greens and Phthalo Blue, planning to create the appearance of distant shadows, with greenery and blue sky poking through the darkness.

The dark background color was created by mixing Alizarin Crimson, Viridian Green, and Payne's Gray - red and green, being complements, mix to create gray, and the Payne's Gray made the intensity deeper while adding a slight blue tone. Aquabord has a smooth surface which can make for hard edges when color is applied. I used a pointed small brush to carefully paint the dark background colors around the flower, leaves and stem. Working in one small section at a time so the painted dark outlines were still wet, I used a blotting motion to apply the background colors on the open areas, blending with a dry soft brush. You can see how a dark background makes the blossom appear more vibrant than a white background when you compare photo 1 with photo 3.

The final step, after the watercolors were thoroughly dry, was to use an x-acto knife and scratch through the thin layers of paint to create the downy fibers on the greenery. It was fun to see how alive such a tiny addition made the sunflower look!

I enjoyed working with the new QoR watercolors. Like Golden acrylic colors, these are pigment-rich, meaning I don't have to use much paint mixed with water to get rich colors. They painted on nicely and stayed transparent where I wanted that effect. On Aquabord, re-wetting watercolors lifts them easily off the surface, which is not always so easy when using watercolor paper, but with my own test on watercolor paper I found the colors lifted easily, which is a good characteristic since watercolor can be unforgiving sometimes! Because Golden's watercolors differ chemically from those of other manufacturers, I'm not sure about mixing them with other brands. I look forward to using QoR watercolors again.

MORE ABOUT MY WATERCOLORS
Typically I use professional (artist) grade - vs. beginner or student grade - watercolors from companies such as Winsor & Newton, Holbein, Da Vinci, and American Journey. For years, my preference when painting with acrylic paints has been Fluid Acrylics made by Golden Artist Colors. Founder Sam Golden is credited with developing the first artist acrylic paint and many other art products. Not only are Golden products of superb quality, but this employee-owned US company is committed to excellence, innovative, supportive of artists, and socially responsible. Golden introduced their line of "QoR® Modern Watercolors" in 2014, but I only recently became aware of QoR. I assumed Golden's watercolors would give me the same fine qualities as I have enjoyed with their acrylics, so I decided to give them a try.

My left brain kicks in with a love of the technical aspects of artist paints. In researching QoR® I learned that Golden had developed them with their own patented binder (the foundation of the paint in which the colored pigment is carried) instead of using traditional gum arabic. While retaining the qualities of traditional watercolor, Golden describes QoR colors as more vibrant, luminous and lively, with more density than traditional watercolors. Their composition allows QoR watercolors to be rewet easily, even after a year dried on a palette… good for me since I often ignore my watercolor paints for long periods while I concentrate on painting with acrylics. The colors are described as staying brilliant even when they dry, where most watercolors fade a bit when going from wet to dry.

Golden created 83 QoR colors, including three iridescent colors. The QoR colors can be purchased in various sets (of 6, 12 or 24, in 5ml tubes) or in individual tubes. I decided to buy the QoR Introductory 12 Set, which included the colors shown in the top two rows on my swatch chart. It gave me a good basic color selection, to use the paints right out of the tube or for my own blends. Golden also offer sets of Earth Colors and High Chroma Colors. Bottom line - I like working with QoR watercolors.

It's Calendar Time Again


My new 2019 calendar is printed and here's a sneak preview. With one exception, the paintings I've chosen were created within the past year (not counting an inset of artwork I did at age 7). That's more painting than I've done in recent history, hoorah! Most of my newest paintings have been horizontal so they fit my calendar format perfectly. For the past few years  my calendars have found a great following, so now I have a challenge to fill twelve months with new artwork each year. It's a tough job, but I love it!

This calendar illustrates a variety of artwork, including watercolors, acrylics, and scratchboard paintings. Some are very realistic, others are representational but with vibrant colors. I even managed to get my newest cow painting into the layout just before sending it off for printing. Off course, my "star" painting this year - Eat Chicken - graces the cover. My calendars make great gifts - treat yourself, family and friends.



Each calendar retails for $15. I can ship orders in a rip-proof tyvec envelope via first class USPS, with $4 added for shipping one or two calendars, and $5.50 to ship three. Sorry, I am not set up to take credit cards, just cash or checks.

Painting has always been my "moonlighting" job, and this year I've managed to free up more time to devote to this passion. I've abandoned several other interests that normally occupy my discretionary non-work hours - at least temporarily. I didn't plant a vegetable garden this year, although I still get my hands dirty with my many gardens of perennial flowers and veggies (like asparagus), herbs, berries, and wildflowers. The Farm Stand at our nearby Mennonite Community sells a huge variety of gorgeous produce and they are just 5 miles from me, so that's satisfying my fresh veggie needs very well. I've ignored my fiddle and banjo, with no local fund-raiser performances, no jamming, and not even any practice time. My food blog has been put on the back burner (sorry followers), although I'm constantly cooking, baking, and developing my own recipes. Last but not least, my husband Rick has been doing his own extra-curricular activities, devoting time to our local Sheriff's Office. So more painting time for me.

I'll start working on the 2020 calendar now!

My Sunny Side

My art has been chosen for the juried Oak Ridge* Art Center 5th Annual Open Show 2018. "Sunny Side Up" was selected for this exhibition of all types of art media, with no geographical limitations for artists submitting entries. Juror Richard Mills, an accomplished artist and Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at Auburn University in Alabama, was asked to select 90 works for the show. He found incredibly high quality submitted this year, and when he had narrowed the choices down to 105 he said he didn't want to eliminate any more!

The juror made this wonderful critique of my painting: "While I removed many florals from the exhibition because they are so familiar, this one is very refreshing with an unusual point of view looking up at or through the flower and leaves. This artist is painting at a very high level, displaying excellent skill level and sense of light and shadow. Really well done."

The show runs through November 24, 2018 at Oak Ridge Art Center, 201 Badger Avenue, Oak Ridge, TN 37830. For more info, visit the Art Center's website or phone 865-482-1441. This is the first time I have entered, and I am proud have my painting among some fabulous artwork.

Oak Ridge Billboard in 1940s
* For those not familiar with Oak Ridge, it is a city about 25 miles west of Knoxville TN. It has an interesting history: the site was selected in 1942 for a pilot plutonium plant and uranium enrichment plant, part of the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb. In a race against time, a city emerged in the rural area virtually from scratch, with laboratories, complex plants, transportation, utilities, services and housing for employees and residents for the project - who numbered 75,000 in just 3 years. The area was quarantined, with guard towers and a giant perimeter fence, and the actual project was a mystery to most who were there. The site was dubbed "The Secret City." By the end of WWII, Oak Ridge was the 5th largest city in Tennessee. Two years later, Oak Ridge was relinquished to civilians. Scientific development is still a vital part of the city. Check online for museums and tours in Oak Ridge if you plan to visit.

Mor' Moo

Cows have been very very good to me - the ones I've painted anyway. When I initially got notice of my painting Eat Chicken being considered to hang in a children's hospital, it was the first time I ever thought about kids as an audience for my art. I had been toying with the idea of doing another cow painting, and the old nursery rhyme "Little Boy Blue" inspired the idea for my newest work, "Cow's In The Corn."

So I became more observant of cows while out riding around the rural area where I live. Always armed with my little point-and-shoot Sony Cybershot camera, I got some good photos of cow faces when my subjects were curious and came close to the fence between us. But I just wasn't getting a winning pose. So I went back through my digital cow reference shots, and ended up, once again, with those I had taken on my "farm day" visit to my friends Susan and Dave years ago. There was the perfect face - a photo I had emailed to Susan just after my visit, since it was such a happy-looking cow... and Susan's grandchildren had named her 'Happy' years earlier! Technically, this is not a female 'cow' since Susan and Dave raise males adopted from a dairy farm, but I'll use that term generically. I loved his thrown-back head, the prominent mouth, the textured muzzle, the bulging eye, the little horns behind the ears, and the areas of black and white fur.

I had noticed corn was ripening in the fields around town, and made a tour in the car one sunny day to photograph thick rows of corn in different lighting. Then I bought some corn on the cob and pulled off some leaves (carefully) so I could study them and incorporate one into my composition, to hang out of the cow's mouth. Voila, I was ready to get to work!

I wanted this new painting to be a companion to Eat Chicken, so I used the same primary colors of watercolor, the same size and weight of watercolor paper, and the same technique of pouring the colors and letting them blend randomly over my pencil sketch. You can see some of my pencil sketch through the paint in the top photo of my collage. I guided the wet paint away from some areas, or sprayed it with clear water to thin it, keeping pale or no color in some areas. I love the bright, clean color mixtures that this method creates, and aimed to preserve the luminescence as I painted. I also allowed little sparkles of white paper to remain in the top half of the paper, some of which became faint sunny twinkles in the final painting.

As usual with my animal paintings, I started with the eyes. This cow's right eye popped out as he rolled his head back, with the other only barely visible. I wanted to keep the black-white contrast there, which would emphasize his eye as the focal point. My reference photo included only the cow's head, so I added my own version of his body in profile, keeping it mostly as white fur to add more contrast with his face.

As I began to paint the corn in the top left, I decided I'd have to darken the cow's ears and lighten the white fur at the top of his head in order to distinguish him from the busy colorful background. All three primary colors mixed together can create a nearly black hue. I hoped to maintain some of the glowing color I had already painting on the ears, but much of that was lost when I darkened the fur, unfortunately. Oh well, you can't always get it right. You can see the difference from the 2nd photo to the 3rd in my collage. At least I fulfilled my goal of making him in better contrast with the corn stalks.

My watercolor paper is 300lb which is a thick heavy weight. This allows me to do some scrubbing and scraping without tearing the paper. In places like the top of the cow's head, I re-wet the area with clean warm water, rubbed it with a stiff brush, and blotted off the dried pigment with clean dry paper towel to reveal the white of the watercolor paper better. There was one corn leaf in the top left which kept distracting me, the one falling horizontally; its color varied too much from the colors around it. So I similarly removed some of the yellow/orange color, let it dry, then repainted it with blue-green tones so it would be more harmonious. The bright red spot left of the tail bothered me too, so I blotted away some of the color to make it more subtle.

As a final step I took my x-acto knife and scratched through the paint to create stiff whiskers on the cow's face, fluffy white hairs on the top of the head, bright whites in the eye and highlights on the nostrils and horns. I declared my happy cow painting finished, and emailed the image to Susan and Dave as the first to see it. They approved!

Eat Chicken has sold but I've reproduced it as giclee prints. I'm not so anxious to sell the original Cow's In The Corn, so I'll make giclee prints for sale also. I think the two images will make a fun grouping, hanging side-by-side.





Twice Honored

I am pleased and proud to announce that my award-winning watercolor "Eat Chicken" is being purchased for Chattanooga's Erlanger Children's Hospital Outpatient Center. It will be part of the hospital's award-winning permanent art display, with other fine paintings. The Arts at Erlanger program has received national recognition, and is an important component of the new Children's Hospital's innovative family-friendly environment, designed to engage children, distract them from their illnesses and meet the complex needs of families and physicians. I can't think of a nicer venue for my colorful and somewhat whimsical painting, where it can bring a few moments of joy to those who need cheering up, young and old.

Artist's Concept of new Chattanooga Children's Hospital
The purchase is made through a generous grant from the Lyndhurst Foundation in memory of the late Martha Joan Clark of Chattanooga. Kevin M. Spiegel, president and CEO of the Erlanger Health System, said, “We are building a Children’s Hospital uniquely designed for the community we serve. This memorial gift, which reflects the many artistic and cultural contributions of Martha Joan Clark, will be part of our new hospital for generations to come.” The 90,000 sq.ft. Children’s Hospital Outpatient Center is scheduled to open at the end of 2018. It is Phase I of a new Children's Hospital and will be its entrance and main lobby.

"War Path", an award-winning watercolor by Joan Clark

Now I have been twice honored in the memory of artist Joan Clark, who died in the spring of 2017. My Best Of Show award for "Eat Chicken" was The Joan Clark Memorial Award, created when the family requested donations to the Tennessee Watercolor Society as remembrance in lieu of flowers. I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but my research reveals that Joan Clark was a beautiful and caring person, a talented award-winning artist, and a gifted woman in many other pursuits.



Scratching Again


I feel like I've been a bit spastic with my art recently - jumping from watercolor to acrylics, working on paper, canvas, and panels. Whatever I am working on at the time is my favorite. There are so many different art materials and methods I want to try, and it's a continuous learning process. Perhaps someday I'll settle down and concentrate on one medium and one surface; I'm still figuring out what kind of artist I want to be when I grow up!

"Hair of the Dog" is done on a different type of clay panel from my recent painting "Just Jasper." The latter was done on Aquabord®, a panel with a layer of white clay with a slight texture. This time I've used a product from the same manufacturer - Ampersand Art - called Scratchbord®. It is a panel of hardboard coated with very smooth white kaolin clay then sprayed with a thin layer of black india ink. India ink can be thinned with water when wet, but is not water-soluble when dry, so this panel's surface can be painted over with water media. The black surface is etched into with a blade or other abrasive tool to reveal the white clay layer. The panel can be painted also and any area of white will accept the color. Scratching through the painted area will reveal the white again, so different values can be created this way. The board can be re-inked, re-painted, and re-scratched multiple times to build texture, value, and details. The black surface left as the background creates a very dramatic image, since it is so bold and stark. Furry and feathered critters are a natural for this surface, but any subject can be rendered.
Of course, starting with a solid black surface requires a bit of reverse thinking - negative thinking actually. It's a subtractive process, where different etching and abrasive materials will reveal the white surface. In traditional watercolor, the paper is left unpainted for the whites in the painting. The transparency of the watercolors  also allow the bright white paper to show through and add luminosity to the painted areas. I've tried to capture luminosity on white canvas by using acrylic paints transparently also, as with my recent painting "Sunny Side Up." Using Scratchbord, the black is the undisturbed area and the whites can be revealed at any stage. It's a whole new ballgame.

I watched videos, read tips and tricks, and reviewed beautiful artwork for my first attempt on this surface. Some scratchboard artists create finished art in black, white and grey tones… doing fine textures like crosshatching and stippling to make a wide range of grey values. Others use paints or colored inks, letting them dry then scratching through the colors to build up textures, tones and contrasts.

For my subject, I selected with a close-up side-view reference photograph of my dog Maggie Mae's face. She has beautiful large, captivating eyes. The fur around it goes in different directions and has different hues. I had read that the india ink coating could be removed with rubbing alcohol, and decided this would be ideal for the area of her eyeball, rather than trying to rub off the black layer with steel wool or sandpaper or scratching tools. I also heard one artist used her saliva rubbed into the india ink to create grey tones!

My Scratchbord was a small square, just 6" x 6". Making Maggie's face larger than life, I wanted her eye to be the center of attention To transfer my image to the Scratchbord, I used Saral white carbon transfer paper, to make white marks on the black surface. Then I lightly scratched the transferred white lines with an x-acto #11 blade since the transferred white can wipe off. The x-acto knife is the tool I used most on this painting, along with a wire brush tool sold by Ampersand which has numerous wires in one holder, and a fiberglass brush which creates soft white areas. I also carefully removed the india ink layer from the eye with a small paintbrush dipped in rubbing alcohol, blotting away the black ink carefully as it dissolved. Image #2 shows the first round of scratching, as I tried to mimic the direction of the fur and vary the length, depth, and closeness of my strokes. You might also notice that I accidentally made a light scratch in the top left, the area I wanted to remain solid black - I'd need to figure how to conceal that mistake. After scratching, I wiped the surface with a lint-free dampened soft cloth, to remove any bit of residue from scratching.

After doing my first round of scratching, I decided to use acrylic paints to add color. Once dry, acrylic paints do not dissolve with water, and I knew I'd want to do more than one layer of color. With watercolor pigments on a scratchboard, painting over the surface can re-dissolve the colors previously painted, and I didn't want this to happen. Sometimes this property of watercolors can be advantageous; areas already painted can be re-wet and removed.

I selected acrylic pigments which are naturally very transparent, like Quinacridone Gold and Nickel Azo Yellow. I thinned my Golden Fluid Acrylics with Golden Glazing Liquid and water to create even more transparency and keep their application thin. By nature, acrylic paints dry as a polymer film. Applied too heavily, they can be difficult (if not impossible) to scratch through. Also, I wanted enough transparency so the under-layers of black and white to show through the colors. I applied more paint than needed so I would be able to scratch away to create fur textures. As always, I was anxious to paint Maggie's eye, since that always makes an animal portrait come alive. The blue areas around her eye are done with Payne's Grey, a lovely cool dark blue.

After the first painting stage I wait until the paint is totally dry, since the clay layer softens with the moisture. Once again following the contours of the fur, I scratched through the colored layers. Once again, I followed with paint application. I few last details and Maggie was done. To fix that mark in the black top right corner, I used a rough sponge with black india ink and dabbed the whole black area. My mistake was covered and the black-on-black texture was only slightly noticeable.

After 24 hours of final drying, I sprayed the Scratchbord with Krylon UV clear matte finish, doing 3 separate coats. This protects the surface and allows the artwork to be framed with no protective glass. I was delighted to see that the spray also made my repair job on the black corner even less noticeable.

My first attempt at scratchboard came out as I hoped, but I realize I am still at "scratchboard 101" level. I'm blown away by scratchboard art I've seen on Pinterest and YouTube, with extreme fine detail and realism. I'll develop my own scratchboard style, striving to improve with each painting. I'd like to try other subjects besides animals, even though that's one of my favorites. You can click on the photo of my painting to enlarge it, but the photo of the finished art with the dollar bill shows you the actual size of "Hair of the Dog."

I've just purchased a few more Aquabords and Scratchbords, so you'll be seeing my future attempts. There's a terrific sale on Ampersand products through the end of this month (Sept '18) so if you are motivated to try scratchboard check Jerry's Artarama in Knoxville. I look forward to seeing other new scratchboard art among my readers!

Capturing Light

For my newest painting I had two goals in mind: (1) to use acrylic paints in a highly transparent way, and (2) to use an odd shaped canvas I've had among my art supplies for too long. The canvas is three feet wide and a little over a foot tall, so I decided to use it horizontally and create a painting of a big backlit red poppy from my garden.

To begin, I reviewed many poppy reference photos in my file and chose a single flower with its delicate frilly petals outstretched in the sunlight. The image included a lovely blend from reds to purples that make this poppy variety so striking, as well as a tiny peek at the central yellow stamens and their shadows at the base of the flower.

For my composition, I positioned the flower off-center, and added poppy leaves from other photos with similar lighting. The bigger group of leaf shapes on the left provide balance, and work with leaves on the right to frame and point toward the poppy flower, my obvious focal point. The background would be mostly black, but with out-of-focus areas of distant greenery and blue sky, mostly around the flower for additional emphasis.


After drawing my design in pencil on the white canvas I could tell my pencil lines were too dark, knowing I wanted to apply the acrylic paints very transparently. So I painted the entire canvas with a thin layer of gesso, enough to better conceal but not hide my guidelines.

Just as with watercolor pigments, there are different levels of opacity with acrylic paints. I use Golden Fluid Acrylics and routinely mix them with Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid in addition to thinning with water. This probably stems from my love of watercolor painting and my preference for working with thin layers of color and glazing one color over another. But this time I really wanted to push the transparency of the medium.

This painting progressed from the left side to the right, and I honestly can't explain why! Once the left leaves were painted I was anxious to see if my plan for dramatic backlighting was going to work, so I painted opaque black around the leaves. Viola, seemed it was going in the right direction! In the photo collage you can also see how I blocked in areas of Cerulean Blue Chromium lightened with white gesso above the flower, then later softened these blue and leafy green areas into small out-of-focus splotches within the black background. I often use small stencil brushes to create the soft edges, pouncing them on the canvas.

The flower itself was a joy to paint. Even though this is a bold red poppy, the sunlight through the petals greatly lightened their hues. The main red paint used was Napthol Red Light, which tends to be opaque. I thinned it with just a little water for the darkest red areas. In the lighter parts of the petals I mixed the red with some Quinacridone Red (leans toward cool pink) and Nickel Azo Yellow which are naturally very transparent, and used the glazing liquid too. The purple on the lower part of the flower is Permanent Violet Dark, applied very thinly. Pure white on the tips of the petals, which are unpainted areas of the white canvas, intensify the effect of the midday sun.

Once I had reached the right edge of the painting I felt that the leaves were in too much competition for attention with the flower. I liked the leaf highlights, but I thought I needed to make the leaves less contrasty. So I used my transparent greens over the leaf shapes, preserving just a few little white highlights. I glazed the sky blue over some parts of the leaves also, since a cool blue pushes an object back visually. I also used less diluted sap green with black to make some of the leaf edges disappear into the background (creating "lost edges" as they are called in art circles). Oops, along the way I made the stem of the poppy too dark, so I lightened it up again to anchor the flower down. I toyed with fiddling around more, perhaps darkening the leaves, but decided to declare "Sunny Side Up" finished.

One of the most-asked questions I get about my art is "How long did it take you to do that painting?" Since painting is my pleasure time, I don't want to punch a time clock and track my hours - I'd be scared to, since the price on an original painting would calculate to a pitiful hourly wage! For this painting, however, I can give a rough idea of the elapsed time. Not counting the time I spent creating the composition and transfering the drawing to the canvas, I worked on the painting over the course of 9 days. Some days I didn't go near it, and other days I'd spend between 2 and 6 hours. So that's the best answer I can give!

An Old Friend Revisited


When I opened a new package of three little Aquabord™ panels, I thought I was trying a new painting surface… a thin layer of fine white kaolin clay on a hardboard with a pebbly texture, heralded as ideal for use with watercolors. The surface absorbs watercolor pigment similarly to cold-pressed (textured) watercolor paper, but the paint can be easily removed. It's sometimes known as scratchboard, and when I was a kid we created our own by covering heavy paper with strokes of colored crayons, topping with a solid layer of black crayon, then creating colorful art by scratching through the black layer. With the more sophisticated Aquabord, the surface be scratched with a sharp instrument like an xacto blade or rubbed off with an abrasive like fine sand paper. In addition, simple re-wetting will lift the paint off to a nearly white surface. You can even wipe out a whole watercolor painting by rinsing the board off! When finished, an Aquabord panel can be sealed and then framed without matting or glass - which was really appealing to me, since I do all my own framing.

Sleeping Ginger    © Judy Lavoie 1997
I generally create my watercolor paintings on heavyweight (300lb.) watercolor paper, often using a knife blade and other abrasives to reveal some white paper below, so Aquabord seemed a natural for me. But before I started a new painting on Aquabord, I was looking for tips on the website of the manufacturer, Ampersand. To my surprise I discovered that "Aquabord" was formerly called "Claybord™ Textured" - an art surface I had used over 20 years ago! My first use of Clayboard was "Sleeping Ginger," a portrait of my beloved English Springer Spaniel painted in 1997 with black ink. I loved how I was able to scratch down to white for details like the whiskers and wet nose, rub away with steel wool for a soft edge as on Ginger's white fur and reflection, and etch off some ink then glaze to create the textures of fur. 

Her Highness     © Judy Lavoie 1998
The following year, I used watercolors on Claybord Smooth to create "Her Highness." The unique properties of Claybord allowed me to wipe away pigment to create light blades of grass overlapping the lioness, and scratch out fine fur, whiskers, and white highlights on her eyes. I did a few more scratchboard paintings, including some using acrylic paints, before I moved on. I'm not really sure why I abandoned it!?!?

I looked through my reference photos to determine what might be some fun new paintings to try on the 7"x5" Aquabord panels. Since I've been painting all my recent watercolors with limited color palettes, I challenged myself to create two new paintings of very different subjects using just 3 primary colors. In this case, I used American Journey Sour Lemon (Hansa), Rambling Rose, and Joe's Blue (Phthalo), the house-brand from Cheap Joe's Art Stuff. I used a small round mixing palette set up like a color wheel, with the center for mixing all three colors. I had previously done a mixing study with these pigments, so I knew I could get clean, non-muddy mixes and a good range of hues. I also pulled out my box of scratching and etching tools, which had been gathering dust among my art supplies.

I decided to paint a little landscape of the upper Tellico River as it tumbles over rocks in the Cherokee National Forest, here in SE Tennessee. I liked the way the bright sunlight highlighted tree branches and how the moving water sparkled - ideal for revealing the white clay below my paints. The collage below shows the Aquabord panel with the painted image on the left, and the panel after I revealed some of the white clay in the center. In some places, like in the grass in the foreground, I did a transparent glaze of paint over the scratched-out blades of grass to make them light green. "Up The Tellico" is a much smaller painting than I usually do, and it was fun and quick to create. I was ready for more.
Up The Tellico      © Judy Lavoie 2018


For Aquabord painting #2, I reverted back to an animal portrait (one of my favorite subjects), using a casual photo of my cat Jasper while he lounged in the rocks near a bed of irises. Cats are a fun subject to paint; their faces are cute and interesting, they strike great poses, their eyes are hypnotic, and their fur provides lots of textural interest. "Just Jasper" was painted with the same 3 primary watercolors as "Up The Tellico," with lots more hues and values mixed on the palette. Once painted, the surface took lots of scratching. I used a few different pointed tools and small strips of 150 grit sandpaper to create the fine fur. To soften the edges of Jasper's coat and make the fur look fuzzy I used a small fiberglass brush, a tool sold by Ampersand. A key to making captivating eyes is to add the white highlights, and that's a breeze with this clay panel. I'm still trying out different abrasive tools, and I've ordered a few more for future use.

Once completed, a watercolor painting on Aquabord can be sprayed with a clear acrylic. Krylon UV archival spray was recommended and worked well on these. With the paints sealed they are waterproof and the surface of the panel can be safely cleaned with a damp rag. No matting, no glass - yeah!

I'm anxious to continue my Aquabord experiments, so you'll be seeing more soon. I have a small Claybord Black panel begging to be used!

My Five Minutes of Fame Is Extended!

A fabulous story about the 2018 Tennessee Watercolor Society Exhibition has just been published in Nashville Arts Magazine. The author quoted curator Terri Jordan of The Customs House Museum in Clarksville TN (about an hour from Nashville), the host site for the Exhibition. Her words about my painting Eat Chicken are so complimentary! Also in the article are lots of comments – specifically about my painting – from the show juror Lian Quan Zhen. I'm so delighted with what was written that I've extracted text from the story (below) to share my happiness with all. Click this link for the entire online story.
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….Painter Judy Lavoie won Best in Show for her 22″ x 30″ painting Eat Chicken, which possesses an incredible luminescence created by colors that gleam like opals. "Clearly, it is just a magnificent piece," says Terri Jordan [Curator of Exhibits at Customs House Museum and Cultural Center], of Eat Chicken. "It’s just such a familiar scene that it’s a pleasing piece, but then you get up close and start looking at how talented Judy is with her use of the medium, the flow of color to color. She’s a very confident painter, and I think that comes out in her use of color. It’s just beautifully done."

Lavoie painted the piece by using only three primary colors—Winsor & Newton’s Antwerp Blue, Winsor Red, and Winsor Yellow—which she chose because they blend well into bright secondary colors rather than into muddier browns or grays. To achieve her desired aesthetic, Lavoie employed a variety of techniques, including masking, pouring, drying, and finally, direct brush painting. It was her first time to paint what she calls “farm critters” up close and, obviously, she chose wisely.

The exhibition’s juror was Lian Quan Zhen, an international watercolor artist and instructor whose own paintings are Impressionistic in style…. He says, "If they paint what they see, it’s just like a photo; it’s what they see. But if they paint what they want to see, they put a personal touch on the painting."

Zhen is also attracted to paintings, such as Eat Chicken, that use color in a creative fashion. "Sometimes color is boring, as with cows," he says. "With Eat Chicken, you never see cows in real life with that much color, in general. You almost have to be drunk to see those things! It’s a creation; this is not just a simple copy."

Every juried piece in the show is by an artist who has mastered the medium and watercolor techniques. But that alone isn’t enough to take the top prize. Zhen was also looking at composition, as with Eat Chicken, which maintains a strong design through the use of the farm gates for framing and the slightly off-center cow as the subject that grasps the viewer’s gaze. Then, of course, a painter must imbue his or her painting with life.

"They must capture the essence of the subject," Zhen says. "Like the cows: You can almost talk to them and they want to talk to you. There’s life in them. This is a higher level. This means you captured the spirit or the essence of the subjects."

Most important of all? Zhen says that any painting that wins Best in Show must have a specific style that is distinct to the painter. "The Best of the Show is personality," he says. "When people look at paintings from the masters, they don’t even need to be told, ‘This is da Vinci’ or ‘This is Renoir.’ They recognize the personality. So, above all, is personality. Sometimes painters can be very high level, but they lack personality...."



Bree in Heaven


This dog portrait is unlike my usual "head-shot." My friend Jenny messaged me with a photo, sadly saying her daughter-in-law Lindsey's dog Bree had just died at age 15. She asked if I could do a painting from the photo, as a surprise for Lindsey. I was grateful for the opportunity and eager to tackle the interesting pose.

Unfortunately, the backlighting which helped to capture a dramatic pose simultaneously knocked out the details in the shadows. The photo was small and low resolution, adding another challenge to working from it. I was especially concerned depicting Bree's eyes, since they were nearly indistinguishable in the photo; I saw from another photo Jenny supplied that Bree's eyes were big, brown and soulful… and an important component in bringing life to my painting.

In the reference photo, I also liked the contrast between the soft out-of-focus background and detailed foreground. The asymmetric arrangement with the dog off to the right made for a pleasant and unusual composition. So I decided to stay true to the reference photo in my portrait, and we selected a 16" x 12" canvas.

The work in process shows how I started with the background shapes and colors, blending them softly to look out of focus. I do this by dabbing Golden acrylic glazing liquid on the still-wet fluid acrylics painted on the canvas, using a stencil brush. As usual, I painted Bree's eyes early on, interpreting from the second photo. I applied foundation colors for her black and white coat, using a lot of blue tones in the shadows, with some purple, magenta, grey and light brown tones also. By studying the reference photo in Photoshop, I was able to pull out more details, and thus added lots of texture in areas of curly and straight fur. I sent Jenny a copy of the work in progress and she said it was so beautiful it made her cry. "She will love it," she said, "It definitely captures Bree's essence." Yahoo, I was on the right track!

The soft areas of green and yellow gave nice contrast to the colors elsewhere. Plants in the left foreground were important to balance Bree on the right, but I didn't want the growth to steal attention from the dog. I kept the colors neutral, with bits of white highlights, and kept details to a minimum. In the end, I spattered some of the same colors over the bottom left quadrant of the painting.

When Jenny reviewed the painting in its final stage, she said "So perfect!  I love it because she looks like she’s in heaven. She will treasure it, Judy." Jenny couldn't have made me happier, and her words helped me with a perfect painting title, "Bree In Heaven." My portraits of my own dogs who have died, as well as those I have done for others, bring happiness and wonderful memories of their unconditional love. I hope this painting of her beloved Bree will help Lindsey fill some of the void in her heart.


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.