I wish that I could grow flowers that would spill out of a window box like this! But, alas, I do not have a green thumb and the only way I can grow them is on paper. (Did you see the Gerber Daisy I painted recently? I watered it one day – and it died!)

No Title Yet, watercolor, 10" x 8"

No Title Yet, watercolor, 10″ x 8″

I also need some help, because I find that I am giving my paintings mundane names, usually based on the subject matter. Since my reference photo was of a Window in Assisi, that’s what I named the picture the first time I painted it. In this version, I have emphasized the flowers and downplayed the old stone walls.

Please tell me what you thought about when you first saw the picture and what kind of a title would help convey that message!

Fanciful Flower, watercolor, 7

Fanciful Flower, watercolor, 7″ x 5″

In her wonderful book Watercolor: Painting Outside the Lines, Linda Kemp has an exercise in negative painting that produces a fanciful flower.

After laying in an initial wash of my three colors, I traced around a stencil with six petals for the flower head.  I painted around that layer, using the colors that were already on the paper as a guide for the next layer.  Trace, paint, trace, paint, and then imagine some leaves and a stem and another flower further back in the picture plane.

This was a fun painting to do on a rainy day when I couldn’t be outside painting the flowers that are starting to bloom in my garden!

What do you do on rainy days?

A Sprig of Ivy, watercolor, 5" x 7"

A Sprig of Ivy, watercolor, 5″ x 7″

This watercolor painting of ivy was done by wetting the entire sheet of paper and then dropping in yellow.  While the yellow was still wet, I dropped in some greens, thinking about the shapes of leaves, but not painting them directly.  When the paper was completely dry, I went back into the soft shapes and “found” the leaves that had been suggested by the paint.  Weaving the branch and stems through the leaves was the last step in making “A Sprig of Ivy.”

And now that I have finished painting it, my husband can fulfill his original plan and put this ivy in the ground!

"When George Washington was your age...", watercolor, 14" x 10"

“When George Washington was your age…”, watercolor, 14″ x 10″

While crocus and daffodils are early blooming flowers, I have seen them covered with snow, making them unreliable harbingers of spring.  But cherry blossoms come a little later and usually wait for reliably warmer weather!

The cherry trees around the tidal basin in Washington, D.C., reached peak bloom last Friday.  I had visited the area on Monday, when most of the trees were still sporting buds.  I stopped and sketched a tree, and while I was sketching a family walked by. The knots, lumps, deep crevice, and pronounced slant all made this an ideal climbing tree, and up scampered the little boy.

I came home and imagined what it would have looked like had the tree been in bloom.

What event signals the beginning of spring to you?

We took a trip to the garden store and bought some flowering plants.  I chose ones that I thought would be good subjects for my students to paint.  In class I demonstrated how I would paint a composite flower like this Gerbera daisy.

Seeing Red Makes Me Happy, watercolor, 7" x 5"

Seeing Red Makes Me Happy, watercolor, 7″ x 5″

My first decision was where to place the flowers on the page, and how many of the flowers to include.  Noting that the centers were lighter than the petals, I painted the entire petal structure of both flowers as a single shape, using a variety of reds to create some areas that were darker and cooler than other warmer, more orange-y areas.  After this dried, I painted the centers yellow and splattered some red and green into them.  More splatters on the dried centers added texture.

The leaves were put down as a single wash of yellows and blues, allowing them to mingle on the paper to make a variety of greens.  When this dried, I used the shapes in the wash to decide where the leaves would be, and painted around the edges of some leaves (negative painting) while painting other leaves directly.

I’m looking forward to seeing this plant bloom in our garden this summer, and for now, I’m happy to see it blooming on my paper!

Mercato Publico (Rota, Spain), watercolor, 10" x 8"

Mercato Publico (Rota, Spain), watercolor, 10″ x 8″

The tiled dome of this tower made me expect a church, and the inside of the building next to it looks like a cloister, but the sign over the door is “Mercato Publico.”  Inside is a market: stalls for butchers, artisan breads, fish, and other foods.  I chose a vantage point from which I could see the bell tower and sit in the little shade provided by a wall in the courtyard.  My husband went inside and found a seat, a cup of coffee, and an internet connection in a cafe while he waited for me.

Rota, Spain has beautiful promenades along the beachfront.  All during the day, but especially in the evening, people walk, run, and bike along wide, clean, beautifully paved and landscaped paths that stretch for about a mile in either direction from the center of town.

The Beach at Rota, watercolor, 5" x 13"

The Beach at Rota, watercolor, 5″ x 13″

We were there in the beginning of spring, enjoying the warm weather and clear blue skies.  I told my husband on our next-to-last evening there that I wanted the next day to take off my shoes and socks and stick my toes in the eastern shore of the Atlantic Ocean.  However, our last day dawned cool and overcast, and as the morning progressed, a fog rolled in.  I decided to keep on my shoes and socks and dabble my toes in the water the next time we go to Rota.

My husband and I have returned from a trip to Spain and Gibraltar.  On the 94th day of February, when winter seemed like it would never end, we escaped to a warm climate: clear, sunny skies, and temperatures in the teens (Celsius).  My husband sent  pictures back to our children with the label:  famous artist sighting.

Ruth sketching, Rota, Spain

Ruth sketching, Rota, Spain

I was sitting on the wall between the promenade and the beach.  Despite having walked down this little street several times, it wasn’t until late in the trip that I realized the wonderful view of the church through the archway.

Callejón San Vicente de Paul (Rota, Spain), watercolor, 7" x 5"

Callejón San Vicente de Paul (Rota, Spain), watercolor, 7″ x  5″

Looking up the alley at the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la O

Looking up the alley at the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la O







My niece got married in December – in Oklahoma – in a barn.

The McGranahan family settled in Oklahoma in the late 19th century, and the original house is still standing (although looking at it makes me wonder if it can stand much longer).  The barn, however, has been rebuilt and is the site where my niece got married.  You can read the story about the McGranahans and their barn here.

Value Sketch and Reference Photos

Value Sketch and Reference Photos

Unless I am doing a one-hour study, my watercolor pictures start with a value sketch – to plan an effective composition and work out errors before I start painting.  Here you can see my value sketch and some photos that I am using for reference, all of which are posted on the wall above my painting area.

After painting in the sky, I added a wash of colors to indicate the ground, painting around what would be the barn and the house.

McGranahan's Barn #1

I then painted in the house and the barn, staging the bride and groom in front of the barn (without the photographer and her crew).McGranahan's Barn #2

A flock of geese flying in formation help to link the two sides of the picture. Adding some foreground shapes helped to suggest grasses on this piece of prairie.

Faith, Hope, and Love, watercolor, 8.5" x 30"

Faith, Hope, and Love, watercolor, 8.5″ x 30″

Congratulations, Hope and Taylor!

I love the look of freshly fallen snow, especially before anyone has walked on it.

Painting snow scenes in watercolor presents it’s own challenge, since snow is white.  But the snow is actually different subtle colors in the sun and shadows, and making that believable takes planning.

Last Night's Snow - value sketch, pencil

Last Night’s Snow – value sketch, pencil

This picture started with a pencil sketch to determine where I wanted to place objects.  I kept in mind that if I wanted snow on the top of the fence to stand out, there needed to be something darker behind it – maybe a tree off the picture plane casting a shadow.  The sky and mountains behind the barn would show off the layer of snow on the roof. The snow on the ground behind the evergreen on the left had to be slightly darker so the snow on the branches would show up.

Last Night's Snow #1

Last Night’s Snow #1

I made a sketch on my watercolor paper and then applied masking fluid to save the white of the paper for snow on the trees and the fence posts.  The barn’s roof and the field were big enough that I would be able to paint around those spots.  I painted in a sky and lifted out some wispy clouds.  I painted in some snow-capped mountains and the shadowed side of the evergreen trees.  To get an idea of how the darks would look, I painted in the shadowed side of the barn.

Painting evergreen trees with snow on them is backwards from the way I want to paint them.  I want to paint the trunk, then the branches, and then put snow on them.  Instead, I have to save the white of the snowy areas, paint in some shadows, then the branches, and then the darken some areas to create deeper spots in the tree.  After taking the masking fluid off, I can correct the shapes and add shadows to the snow.  Softening some edges also helps make the shapes look like they all belong to the same tree.

Last Night's Snow, watercolor, 10" x 14"

Last Night’s Snow, watercolor, 10″ x 14″

Adding shadows to the snow field gives it some slight hills. And although my value study called for a drive going to the barn, I liked the unbroken snow so much that I changed my mind and left it out. The sun shining on the side of the barn, the weeds, and the fence in the foreground adds some warmth to this snowy winter picture.

Today we have sleet and freezing rain coming down and this artist is ready for winter to end!


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