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.

….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.

Making Ordinary into Beauty

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

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

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

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

But Wait, There's More…

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

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

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

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

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


A Special Invitation

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eat Chicken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Out

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

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

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

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

Good Thing She's Cute

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

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

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

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

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