I am participating in an art show with the Muddy Creek Artists Guild this weekend at Greenstreet Gardens, a local nursery.  One of their display props is an old truck, which was used last fall as a platform for a giant pumpkin and then a decorated Christmas tree.  I have been intrigued now for almost a year by this derelict that has so much character.  Today I took an hour and painted this truck in its current setting, covered with sweet potato vines and other plants.

Love Me or Leave (Leaf) Me, watercolor, 5" x 7"

Love Me or Leave (Leaf) Me, watercolor, 5″ x 7″

When I was taking watercolor classes from Gwen Bragg I would often hear her say, “Value does all the work, but color gets all the credit.”  Value, or how light or dark a color is, allows us to distinguish between shapes.  Changes in value show us form within shapes.  Think of looking at a black and white photo.  Does your brain know which colors would be there?

Broken color is a technique Gwen taught us to illustrate this principle.  Mixing up each color in puddles of different values and then dropping the colors randomly into the shapes while maintaining the correct value gives a painting with lots of color – not the “correct” color for each shape, but the shapes are still recognizable.

Barns in Broken Color, watercolor, 5" x 7"

Barns in Broken Color, watercolor, 5″ x 7″

This is a one-hour study that I did recently while sitting in my booth at an outdoor art festival.  I had a drawing of these barns in one of my sketchbooks, and was able to stop between painting the different sections in order to answer questions or talk to patrons about the art in the booth.

We had tree surgeons from Expert Tree Removal here this past week.  They were cleaning up the “widow makers” or “hangers” as they called the large limbs of trees that had broken off but not fallen due to a storm earlier in the summer.  I took time out to watch them and drew this picture.

Tree Limb Removal, pen and ink with watercolor, 9" x 12"

Tree Limb Removal, pen and ink with watercolor wash, 9″ x 12″

I don’t remember being fascinated with machinery as a child.  I think my interest started when my sons were young and they liked to look at all the trucks and machines that we passed while driving.  Now, in addition to being distracted by the noise of the chipper and the chain saws, I felt compelled to watch as they lopped off branches and large sections of the trunk, calculating and making them fall between pilings, without hitting the electric light fixtures that were there.

The men liked this drawing and insisted that I show it to their boss when he returned later in the day.

My friend who commissioned this painting suggested that the sister wear a hat, so here are a couple of hats for her to wear.  Which one do you think she would wear to a patio get-together with family?

The third model doesn’t look like the sister, but it is late and I’m not going to fight with it tonight!

One of my challenges with this grouping is what to do about the men’s feet.  They were not included in the photo and, like hands, are so different from person to person.  I think that since these four are going to be sitting on the patio that flowers in front will mask where the feet are missing.

I also decided that the father should be smiling a little and looking like he is glad to be there!

My friend says this family is tall and slender, so I have had to adjust all of the drawings.  Today I tried a watercolor of the mother.  I don’t know if the indistinct picture will make painting her the easiest or the hardest!

My friend has presented me with a challenging commission.  She gave me several pictures of some friends of hers, parents and two siblings, who are close, but now sundered by distance and death.  Could I put them all together in one picture?

After studying the photos and tentatively deciding on a composition, I started drawing.  This is the hardest part for me because it is the most crucial.  If the drawing is right, the picture will usually turn out well.  If the drawing is wrong, no amount of finessing with the paint will make it right.

I started drawing the figures on one sheet of paper, but I have had to correct so many times that the old lines are starting to confuse the images.  The spacing is also wrong, so I decided to “divide and conquer” by putting the individual people on tracing paper so that I can move them around before setting them into the composition.

I have several pictures of the brother, but wanted to have his legs crossed the other way, so that it appears he is interacting with the others more.  I can tell that I don’t have the arms of the chair right and the left leg is not convincing. The cropping of the photo doesn’t show his feet, nor the father’s.  I haven’t decided how to handle that yet!

The sister is the only one standing, so I want to place her a little behind the others, as if she has walked up and joined the discussion.  (My apologies for the crooked drawing; it is too tall for my scanner except on the diagonal and won’t straighten any more than this without loosing part of the drawing.)

I’m having some trouble with the father, because I want him to be smiling (at least a little) and enjoying time with his family!

The picture of the mother is the least distinct photo, being a photo of a photo in a glass frame.  I’ve taken her out of the car and had her join the group on the patio.  Adding the dog she is holding actually makes the drawing easier since he is just a white fluffy area with a few shadows.

Now to put them together on one piece of paper!  Drawing the people again (and again) will give me more practice until they look like who they are supposed to be.

Sometimes people ask me, “Do you feel like you are selling your children when you sell your art?” And I smile and reply that its more like having one of my children get married. I am thrilled that someone else likes them enough to have them in their home!

Three weeks ago I was out painting in the garden of a marina and as I finished, a group was going by on their way to a boat. They stopped and complimented me on the painting and enquired about my web site. I gave them a business card, picked up my gear, and went home for lunch. A couple of days later, I received an email asking if the picture was for sale. This resulted in a studio tour and the purchase of several of my pieces. This was so encouraging that I felt a hand-painted card was in order for a thank you note.

Yellow Rose Card, watercolor, 4.5 x 6

Yellow Rose Card, watercolor, 4.5 x 6

These paintings are watercolor on canvas.  I paint the primed canvas (linen or cotton coated with an acrylic gesso, ready for oil or acrylic paint) with an absorbent ground.  The ground looks like thick, chalky, white paint, but allows the surface to accept the watercolor pigment.

Beach Mini, watercolor on canvas, 4" x 4"

Beach Mini, watercolor on canvas, 4″ x 4″

I painted three birds into the picture.  I think the top most “bird” is actually a spot of dirt on the scanner glass.  I looked for him after I saw the scanned picture, but he had already flown away!

Pink Roses Mini, watercolor on canvas, 4" x 4"

Pink Roses Mini, watercolor on canvas, 4″ x 4″

After I am finished, I let the watercolor dry and then spray the canvas with a clear acrylic finish.  These are just the front panels.  The canvas wraps around the stretcher bars, so the sides are painted, too.  On my computer screen these are larger than life-size!

I like that magnolia trees bloom for such an extender period of time.  Painting things several times is good practice and I notice things that I miss the first time or two out.

Another Magnolia, watercolor, 7.5" x 10"

Another Magnolia, watercolor, 7.5″ x 10″

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