16 December 2014

Watercolor West 2014

I made it to the Watercolor West exhibit at the City of Brea Art Gallery in the nick of time--it went up October 11, and came down December 14, and I saw it on the very last day!

The exhibit included entries from all over the world, and was juried by Judy Morris AWS NWS (with whom I took a workshop this summer!). She commented that what she looked for was paintings that "make me say to myself, 'I wish I had painted that one!'" I certainly identified with THAT statement! What a lot of talent there was in this room of 100 artists!

There were awards from First Place ($2,000) to individual bequest awards ($150), as well as a lot of "merchandise awards" from various organizations. As usual, I agreed with some of the choices and found other paintings with no award among the most appealing in the show. I'll share a few of both here.

Please note that I am putting in attributions to the artists, and I hope that none of the readers of this blog will abuse these artists' trust by using their art in any way. Featuring them here is purely an additional homage, and for the benefit of those who don't live in California, because they're just too good to miss.

I also apologize for the quality and cropping of some of the photos, as well as some unfortunate reflections of the room behind me in their glass. That's the one downside to watercolor--you have to protect its surface!

Here is first place, by Robin St. Louis, and it's characterized by her interesting technique of putting an edging of light around each of her figures to halo them and make them pop from the background. I'm not sure it's my favorite, but it's definitely a beautiful work of saturated color, texture, and light.

"Marketing Majors "(26x38), Robin St. Louis

Here are two that I loved: One received an award, the other didn't, but the subject matter and the rendering of both is wonderful. 

"Still Waiting Too" (20x24), Cristine Weatherby
"Stephan" (18x12), Tatsiana Harbacheuskaya

This one should be on the cover of a Dick Francis novel! Love the motion, the immediacy, the simple background that lets the subject matter shine.

"Home Stretch" (12x15.75), Deborah Friedman

I was bowled over by the light and shadow, the dry brush technique, and the placement of the red accents in this painting:

"Commuters in Detroit" (18x25), Yuki Hall

These two, although by different artists, shared to an extraordinary degree the look and feel of a color woodcut by Gustave Baumann. I'd love to have a discussion with them about their technique--the flat colors and the palette were so distinctive.

"Nine Bicycles" (19x29), Kris Parins

"The Blacksmith" (22x15), Mark McDermott

And speaking of a gorgeous palette, the warmth of the sun, the background, and the fruits in this were stunning--you could almost warm your hands at this painting!

"Persimmons at Sunrise #2" (16x22), Linda Erfle

As I have said before, I'm not usually a fan of uber-realism, but I have to share two paintings here that were stunning in their  technical proficiency (and also pleasing to the eye!):

"Pitcher and Persimmons (30x22), Chris Krupinski

"Nutcracker Sweet" (22x30), Cindy Brabec-King

I couldn't pick a favorite from among the paintings in this show to save my life...but here are a couple of final paintings that embody what watercolor is all about--light. Direct light, reflected light, the contrast of light and shadow, but always, mostly, light!

"The Church of San Pietro" (22x30), Dan Burt

"Oporto Fishermen" (29.5x21.5), Stephen E. Walters

I hope you have enjoyed this little 12-painting retrospective. There were many more incredibly special pieces in this show, but these were the ones that caught my eye (and made it onto my phone camera). If you'd like to see the entire show, you can mail $20 to Jim Salchak, 18220 S. Hoffman Ave., Cerritos, CA 90703-2612 and obtain a copy of the catalog!

15 December 2014

Eileen McCullough Demo

I almost missed Watercolor West! I signed up for two demo sessions this year at the City of Brea art gallery, and didn't go to the first one because I wasn't feeling well; and then I forgot all about it. Luckily, I got a reminder email earlier this week that I was signed up for today's demo session, because today was the last day the show was up! So I bailed on the two Christmas parties to which I had been invited (sorry for being antisocial), and opted for a day out with art instead.

I didn't get to spend a lot of time in the gallery, because the demo was four hours, from 1-5, and the gallery was only open for five today, but I did manage two half-hour sessions in the gallery, partly on our break and partly afterwards, and snapped some photos. But first…the demo.

I went to see Eileen McCullough, a plein air watercolor artist who paints scenes of the coast from Long Beach to Laguna. I went because of this painting below that she entered in last year's Watercolor West--it reminded me so much of the painting style of the California School of watercolorists from the 1920s to '50s such as Rex Brandt, Emil Kosa, Millard Sheets, etc. (There is an excellent website that gives full biographies and examples of the work of the California School here.) It's so beautifully loose but with a definite plan of execution and a gorgeously rich color palette. I'm so glad I attended this--I learned a lot, and was amazed by her technique.

She started out as a commercial artist, designing a variety of things from a boys' t-shirt line to Christmas displays and banners for malls, all while working three days a week as a waitress to give her a baseline income. Just six years ago, with her husband's encouragement, she finally decided to make art full-time, and began selling her paintings.

She sketches and does preliminary paintings plein air, and then does the finished paintings from the spare bedroom of her house, painting the same image over and over again, from different angles, with different color schemes, until she gets a painting she likes. She works very fast--she says she paints daily from about 11 a.m. to about 5 p.m., and typically completes two full-sheet paintings each day. She is "not a sketchbook person," but makes vague sketches with markers, pencil, and monochrome paint to size/scale on location, then takes reference photos to help her complete the painting at home. She will make multiple sketches on tracing paper until she refines it to something she likes, taping it over the on-location sketch and using graphite paper to transfer it later; although she says she does less of this as she has become a more confident draw-er.

One of the paintings she brought with her...
Her approach to materials is refreshing after all the esoteric formulas, brands, and techniques I have seen from others. She uses #2 HB pencils that she buys a box at a time from Staples, rather than fancy pencils from the art store. She buys Scotch brand masking tape in 2-inch rolls in bulk from Home Depot. She uses Arches 140-lb. cold press paper, because although she has tried other kinds and weights, she prefers the familiarity. She uses Graham paints, all transparents, because she likes their consistency. She paints on both sides of her paper (a habit from when she was broke and couldn't afford much), so if you buy a painting from her, chances are you will receive two! She uses brushes she buys at Michael's, and buys them for how they feel in her hand and lay down paint, not for their content, composition, or water-loading capacity.

She sketches and practices her line work a lot before painting. She draws quickly, almost a gesture drawing, and breaks up her lines. She doesn't like frisket or resist--she prefers to cut masking tape with an exacto to the size and shape she needs.

The demo painting she completed while we watched...
The most radical departure from other watercolorists is that she almost exclusively uses a flat brush! She lays in large areas with a big flat flexible 1.5-inch sable brush, and uses smaller flat brushes as well, both on the flat and on the edge. I was amazed to see what effects she produced with the flat brush, and can't wait to try it. I used flat brushes when I painted in acrylic, but the general wisdom with watercolor is a round brush that holds a lot of water, so I never use flat ones now. But she uses intense color without a huge amount of water, and purposely works on a slant so that she knows when she is getting too wet with her paints, because they run down the page! She also works mostly standing up, at a high desk, with a stool behind her to lean against if she gets tired, saying she likes the freedom that standing gives her arm.

The demo painting she didn't complete…which shows some of her underlying scheme.
Her palette is pretty simple--she mixes two or three colors, and goes into her drawing almost randomly with color, painting areas and patterns rather than things, and jumping around the page as impulse takes her and as she spots something she wants to do. She seems fearless about grabbing paint and slapping it in with a turn of the wrist. (She also flicks color on with her brush or a toothbrush as she goes, rather than using that as a final effect.) She does paintings in two or three layers, but doesn't go from light to dark--she works it all simultaneously, going in with full color in mid tones to darks, while saving her whites for sparkle and light. After the first layer of laying in shapes, she may go back with her pencil after it dries, to further define or refine her drawing to give her guidance for the next layer.

She believes that all the drawing over and over gives you an advantage, because at a certain point you know the image and can stop looking at your reference photo or even at your preliminary sketch and just paint the painting. She believes this process is what has made her progress from copying a realistic scene to making a painting.

There was a lot more about specific colors she likes, mixing, layering of washes, and so on, but I won't detail all that here. Let me just say it was a great experience to watch her work, and opened my eyes to some new possibilities!

Here is the painting she entered in this year's show.

Tomorrow…my faves from the show!

02 November 2014


I was too lazy and disorganized today to work on my big painting--I'm putting it down to discombobulation at the time change! (I don't know why one hour makes such a difference, but it does!) But along about 4:00, I wearied of reading and decided to paint for a while. I had done the under wash for this painting months ago and had never gone back to it, so I decided to try to be fast and loose and knock it out in one hour.

This is a dovecote from a photo I took last year in St. Loup Lamaire (France), and I had watched Jane Minter, our teacher at Bandouille, do a demo painting of this from a photo of hers. While I didn't want to copy her, I must confess that I did look back at hers to see how she interpreted it. Mine turned out more realistic but less skillful.

Parts I like (the light and shadows on the dovecote); parts (the foliage) are a muddy mess. There were areas about which I was indecisive about how I wanted to proceed, and those poor decisions made this a less pleasing painting. But I like this process of under wash that still gives the lightest lights a slight tint. I will try more like this, on a day when I can plan better and take more time.

31 October 2014

Contour studies

I am gearing up for a large painting, and woke up this morning with the desire to do some contour drawings of some of the disparate elements. I think what Daryl, my friend who requested a painting, had in mind was a simple contour with some watercolor highlights (like I have done for a few of our friends at the library), but once I got into researching the project (a Steampunk still life), I became excited by the various challenges presented and decided to do a large, full-on "real" painting. After painting a lot of small things that I could complete in an afternoon or even a couple of hours, I am wanting to get back to some bigger, more detailed work that takes time, planning, focus. We'll see how it goes! For now, here are some contours from my sketchbook:

More on this project as it unfolds. Since I go back to work on Monday, it may take a while! Happy Hallowe'en, everyone! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.

29 October 2014


I am not a great photographer--in fact, lack of photographic documentation (or ability) is a trait that apparently runs in my family, because photos of any of us are few and far between, and most of the vacation photos my parents took to memorialize their many trips were fuzzy interchangeable vistas. Previous to the advent of cell phones with photo capability, it rarely occurred to me to bring along a camera, and when I did, I forgot to use it!

Now I am making up for lost opportunities, but as I said, not great at it. So I often go online and root about in others' photos. I seldom work straight from one photograph (since I agree with Judy Morris that it's both risky and not particularly ethical), but I often take disparate elements and combine them, as I did in this painting I made about 10 years back in watercolor class at L.A. Valley College. I took out a book from the library with pictures of trees in it. I took out another with rodents in various poses. The cat I drew from life, having examples available around the house. The glass slipper was somewhat humiliating--I put this painting on display once, and someone said to me "I love that you made the slipper peau de soie instead of glass." Not intention, m'dear, just lack of skill! The coach is a hybrid of my own blue teapot with the wheels, door and perch of the Disney Cinderella coach.

There is another reason why I don't often copy faithfully from one photo--the fact that I am almost always dissatisfied with the rendering. As much as I want to paint freely and loosely, copying from a photo seems to send me straight back to that painstaking person who has to (try to) capture each minute detail, and not only is my skill set usually inadequate, but I get halfway through and think, THIS is not the painting I wanted to make at all!

I decided, however, to give it a shot again this week, because I saw a photograph I wanted to capture, for a couple of reasons. One was, of course, that the composition, colors, and subject matter appealed to me; and the other was that I wanted to make the painting as a gift.

I am a fan of the author Deb Caletti. She writes both young adult and adult fiction, and I have liked all of her books, some of them a lot. I also feel guilty about Deb, because I once invited her to be a guest speaker at my library and then had to uninvite her. I had sent out emails to a variety of YA authors who would be in Los Angeles for the L.A. Times Festival of Books, hoping to snag one for an author appearance while they were in town. Deb (who lives in Seattle) was one, and Maggie Stiefvater (Virginia) was another. Maggie's agent replied and said Hey, Maggie is just starting her Printz tour (her book The Scorpio Races was a Printz Honor book) with John Corey Whaley (who won the Printz for Where Things Come Back), so how would you like a twofer--Maggie and Corey? I was ecstatic, accepted, and booked the auditorium. Two days later, I heard back from Deb personally, and she said she would be delighted to appear at our library. Ordinarily I would have just said Author panel! and booked her too, but since Maggie and Corey were part of a tour, I couldn't do that. So I had to say Gee, Deb, I'm so sorry but you can't come after all. She was graciousness itself, but I always felt badly.

Long story to get to: I follow Deb Caletti on Facebook, where she occasionally posts photos of weekend activities amongst the news about book tours. She posted a photo from a day when she was at Lake Union, with a caption that said "I finally found my boat!" The photo was an unusual composition, with color challenges, an interesting perspective, and water (of which I haven't painted much), and I immediately resolved to try making a painting of it. I also decided that if I did and it turned out okay, I would send it as a gift to Deb Caletti to say, Sorry again for reneging on the author appearance, and please come by the next time you're in Los Angeles! Here is the painting:

As I said above, not really the one I wanted to make. How I'd love to paint is something like Thomas Schaller, who creates the ocean with a quick wash, flicks his wrist to make waves before the paint is dry, and sketches in a pier or a boat freehand in a beautiful ultramarine/burnt sienna mix while simply eyeballing his photo. But that's not me. So I spent about nine hours on this, hoping as I went along that it wouldn't turn out looking like a paint by numbers affair. There are many areas with which I am less than satisfied, a few that make me happy, but over all, I think I will call it good and send it to Deb Caletti. Hopefully she won't be as critical as I am and will simply be reminded of a delightful day out, and of a librarian who wishes her well.

12 October 2014

Negative painting

That heading is a double entendre, because this is my attempt at what's called a "negative" painting, and I feel negatively about it!

This was from a close-up of the asters that bloom every October in my garden. The bees love them, and I caught this one collecting his pollen. I decided I'd take this close-up and make a painting from it, using a technique I have seen others--notably Brenda Swenson and Joe Cibere--use. (I have never taken their workshops teaching negative painting, and this is my first unschooled attempt.)

Basically, you do the drawing lightly, and then you do an under-wash of your lightest color or colors, in this case a graduated pale lavender to pale green. So far, so good:

Then you paint in layers. You leave your lightest colors (the petals on the asters, in this case) the original under-wash color, and you paint around them with the next darkest color, and then put in the next darkest, and the next darkest, each time defining the lighter parts of the painting by painting around them with darker areas to define them.

It sounds easy in theory. In practice, I found it both difficult and boring. You have to really focus on how you are going to make your lights stand out, and you also have to do a lot of waiting in between coats of paint before you can go on to the next one. Also, you have to have a good sense of the negative spaces in your painting, which I did not (the photograph being a bit indistinct in certain areas and I too inexperienced at this to know what to do with them), and you have to know how to deal with both positives and negatives as you move towards the finishing touches, which I found confusing.

In short, I got frustrated and bored, and I finally just stopped. In some areas of the painting, I stopped too soon, while in other areas, I stopped too late, leaving some parts unfinished looking while others are overworked! I felt like I was doing a paint-by-numbers project!

So this was a good exercise to teach me one of two things: Either I shouldn't attempt stuff without watching a pro do it and getting advice; or I should be more patient and committed to the process and be willing to practice more than once before giving up on it. But honestly, I just don't think it's my kind of technique. Anyway, for what it's worth, here it is. Maybe I'll try another someday.

05 October 2014

Sunday morning lakeside

I woke up at 6:30 this morning, and since it's been pretty hot, I decided I'd forego another hour or two of sleep and head out to Lake Balboa, which is a manmade lake and recreation area about a mile and a half from my house, for some painting. I packed up my watercolor tote, and threw in my recyclable bag too, so I could make some art and then hit Trader Joe's before the morning rush.

I didn't get up quite early enough to get sunrise over the lake, but I did get some nice photos from my back yard before I left:

I'm not much of a plein air painter, which is to say I haven't done it much, am not particularly comfortable with it (especially fending off or ignoring all the people who stop and want to watch or comment--I overheard a "beautiful!" and an "oh, she's just messing about" this morning, for instance), and don't do a great job. So I decided this morning, so as not to put pressure on myself, that I would just do some pen gesture drawings of the birds at the lake and maybe one painting, which I would also draw with pen, taking away some of the expectation of capturing the scene realistically. Here are the gesture drawings of all the plenitude of water birds that hang out there--egrets, geese, coots, herons…

And here are a couple more, along with a fast gesture drawing of a little boy who went by. Most of the adults were either jogging or walking so quickly that I couldn't catch a likeness before they were gone, but this little boy was walking slowly enough that I could get a tiny bit of detail:

And here, finally, is my little painting. I quite like parts, although I overworked the focal point fall tree in the foreground, trying to capture the colors. I caught a jogger stretching against the picnic table and decided she'd make a nice addition to a scene of nature.

Here's a photo of the same scene (although I condensed and simplified a bit, and changed the planes):

So--it's 10:00 a.m., and I have driven, drawn, painted, shopped, scanned, Dropboxed, Photoshopped, and posted! Time for breakfast. And a nap.