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!

This Bud's For Me

I don't often do a painting just for myself, other than my own dogs' portraits. This is a special one which I was determined to finish in 2017. It's part of a series, another atypical characteristic of my art. It's not a Monet-type of series, where he painted subjects such as haystacks, the Rouen Cathedral, and waterlilies over and over in different lighting and weather conditions. No, my series is very different - I have painted the same vase three times over the last 55 years!

This all began when I was a child. I was constantly drawing and even won an art contest in the first grade. For some reason, of all the artwork I generated when I was young, my mother saved just one. Perhaps it was because it was a drawing of a vase she owned… ? I rediscovered this little crayon drawing in the 1990s, when Mum was sorting through her memorabilia and doling out old treasures to each of her four children. She gave me a little piece of newsprint paper with a drawing in crayon of her vase with flowers, under a candelabra. On the back of the thin paper, in my mother's distinctive small handwriting, are the words "By Judy, age 7." That would date it to 1962.

I didn't remember actually creating the drawing, but I remembered the vase as soon as I saw it. I don't think Mum used the vase for floral arrangements, so I must have been inspired to add the flowers because of the tulips in relief on the piece itself. The hanging light was likely from my imagination too, since we didn't live in a house with any similar lighting. When I asked my mother if she still had the vase, she said my younger sister Jean had it (she sweetly relinquished it to me upon my request). As an adult I had become interested in antiques, and when I got the vase I noticed the marks on the bottom identified it as Hull pottery, made in one of many companies in Ohio in the early 1900s. My research revealed that Hull produced many pieces with the same pink-yellow-blue glaze pattern as well as a variety of shapes with a similar tulip design. Of course, my attachment to my mother's vase was purely sentimental.

In 1997, 35 years after I had created the first drawing, I decided it would be fun do a painting of the Hull vase, since I been a fine artist for many years. I bought some tulips and made an arrangement in the vase, adding an old photo of my mother as a child with her young sister Emma. I positioned the items on a crocheted lace doily and took reference photos for the still-life, just using lighting from a window in the entry hallway to my home in Florida. I created the new painting in watercolors, which was my media of choice at the time, and titled it "Now and Then." The original crayon drawing and the new watercolor were framed and have hung in my bedroom since then, with the Hull vase on my nightstand.

Fast forward to 2017. Usually a painting comes before the framing, but the opposite happened in this case. I had bought a lovely antique tiger oak frame which matched a lot of our furniture. I wanted to paint something to fit the frame and hang it in my house. With these thoughts circling around my brain, the idea for my new painting came together when I saw colorful tulips for sale last spring. It had been 20 years since I painted "Now and Then," and 55 years since the crayon drawing, so it would be interesting to do it again, in acrylics this time. So I bought a pot of yellow and a pot of pink tulips and gathered some props to set up a still-life. As the newest painting shows, I arranged the tulips and set the vase of flowers on top of an oak bookcase which has a decorative panel on the back. I laid one yellow tulip at the foot of the vase. A little oval frame in this grouping features a photo of me at age 7. I used an old brass table lamp to cast some sidelight and positioned everything on an antique cotton mantle cloth, one of many pieces of needlework with tatted lace in my collection - my grandmother taught me to tat long long ago. To make an interesting composition, I bunched up the fabric and let it fall unevenly over the end of the furniture, instead of laying it flat and straight.

I took over 50 digital photos of my arrangement, trying different lights and exposures with my little point-and-shoot camera. I've got decades of experience in Photoshop, so I did some combining and retouching on the shots I liked best, to create one reference photo.

Technically, I painted this on a masonite panel pre-coated with gesso, rather than on stretched canvas, since the frame has a very shallow depth. I had never used that type of board before. Bad choice - I struggled with the ultra-smooth non-absorbant surface, which was rather unforgiving. I usually don't like to make my brush strokes obvious, and it was difficult to control this effect. It actually took me many months to complete the painting, but, in the end, I am happy with the results. I will hang "Once Again" in my bedroom, making it the third in my little series.