20 November 2021

A new substrate

I did an interesting lesson with Deanna Strachan-Wilson of LFI2022 (a preview bonus session) today. I thought I knew most of the permutations of working with watercolor, but Deanna introduced me to a new idea—using some form of partial "resist" to slow down and loosen up the application.

We used toned mixed-media paper, and put a thinned-out coat of gesso on it. Yes, gesso, as the base for a watercolor. Considering the frustrations I have had with gesso as an undercoating for acrylic inks, I would have said no thanks, but her watercolors are soft and hazy, a little smeary, and completely appealing, and I wanted to learn, so I went along.

This is an example of Deanna's.
(She's also doing some kind of
thing with masking tape, but
we didn't do that part.)
The effect of the gesso is to make the watercolor at least partially bead up on the surface and be slow to dry. So you can blob it on all over the place, and still go back with a damp, clean brush to push it around, remove some, smooth it out into the creases of the gesso, and finally let it dry while sitting on the surface, and thus get all kinds of soft, fun effects.

You do have to have patience to let each layer dry, once you get it where you want it, before trying to apply the next; with normal watercolor paper, the color is going to sink in and be immovable pretty quickly, but with the gesso running interference, it's a gradual and kind of random process. But once you start layering it up, you get some beautiful soft shadows using just a few colors; Deanna encouraged us to also be vague about such outlines and structures as hair and clothing, and indicate rather than define.

The other thing that makes her faces pop is going back in with the gesso after to brighten up all the whites, which stand out beautifully on the toned paper and vague background. And you can sort of push the gesso into the color and blend them.

I don't think I would choose this as my preferred method; I enjoy too many other techniques to be exclusive. But I will certain try this again and see what I can do with it!

I picked my own reference photo from which to work, so it wouldn't be a duplicate of everyone else's. This is...

"Dani"—gesso, pencil, and watercolor on Strathmore toned gray 184-lb. mixed media paper, 9x12 inches.


I finally got up my nerve to start a canvas this week; up to now, I've been painting all these acrylics on watercolor paper. But this one is a sort of commission; I was intrigued by the project and told the person whose reference photo it is that I would attempt to do it in the style we both admired and, if she likes it, she can buy it from me. If not, hopefully someone else will want it. Or, it will have simply been a good experiment.

The subjects are 3/4 figures of a man and woman standing outdoors in front of foliage. But the objective is not a realistic portrait—the photo is black and white and the contrasts (light and shadow) in it are extreme. We agreed that I would try to paint it sort of in the style of artist Michael Carson. This means the background will be color blocks that suggest rather than specifically convey the atmosphere, and a figure (or two in this case) made up of contrasts, with likeness not being as important as mood.

I got a bit literal with my color blocks on this, since I wanted to have both a light and a dark green and a khaki color for the foliage, some blue for the sky, some orange/yellow for sunlight, etc., and they are way too discrete and solid. But I have taken the initial step of going over them with a thinned-out mix of Naples yellow/green (a sort of green-tinted pale cream color) mixed with a little Cobalt blue and thinned out with Acrylic medium. I did one coat and let it dry, and will probably go back in with more, and then add some dry-brush paint for a "scumbled" effect in certain areas.

Also, once the two figures are in, they will cover up about 85 percent of the background, and then I can play around with whatever remains around the edges, until it is "edgier," ha ha.

Anyway, here are a couple of shots of my prep work so far:

The raw background squares...

The glaze...

And with the first layer of the "knock-back" color applied...

More to come as this progresses...

18 November 2021


The thing I enjoy most is finding a reference photo that challenges me—an odd perspective or angle, extremes in light and shadow, quirky expression, or whatever. I picked this one because of the hands, the mouth, and the task of making it look like somebody was home behind those sunglasses. I've been contemplating it for a couple of days, and finally decided to jump in.

I can't say I'm completely satisfied—the hands were difficult, the way they are bunched up, and look distorted to my eyes. They are especially interesting because on one hand she is sticking out her pinky finger like she's holding a cup of tea, while on the other she is sticking out her index finger instead, so they are opposite but it was hard to make them look that way. I think I got the pinky too large/long and the index finger too short/small, and it doesn't help that I started drawing about two inches farther to the left than I should have if I were going to include that entire right hand, so there's that. I'm still not the best at placement!

I feel I did better on both the eyes and the mouth; but what I'm really happy with on this is the use of the background colors to determine a lot of the foreground colors, without having them blend into one another too much. I introduced a few random colors that didn't appear in the background, such as a light olive green in some of her skintones and the pale raw sienna that I combined with other colors for some shadows; it got a little muddy, but mostly I think it worked. I'm also happy with the hair color—I love a redhead!

I introduced some outlining with a black Stabilo All to selected areas, not outlining everything but using it to emphasize certain things; and then I went back in with a damp brush and activated some of it so that it would make parts (like the sunglasses) pop.

Despite the placement error that put the hand partly out of frame, I do enjoy painting portraits in which the person seems to be looking in from another room, rather than being the central focus.

"Glamour Glasses"—pencil, acrylic paints, and Stabilo All on Fluid 140-lb. coldpress watercolor paper, 16x12 inches.

12 November 2021

The Mighty Quinn

No, this isn't Quinn the Eskimo, although her fur wrap might lead you to think so. This is Quinn the Cleveland bookseller. I previously "immortalized" her by painting a sweet moment between her and her dog, Cha Cha, but over the course of time I have discovered that Quinn is a mighty advocate for the downtrodden, in addition to being a poet, a storyteller, a deep thinker about ethics and equity, and a lover of costumery, for both her and her "supervisor," who owns more tutus than any little canine could wear in one lifetime. And despite some health and immune system issues, she has ridden out the pandemic by using grant money to employ a crew of 15 remote workers, taking them off the jobless roles and teaching them to catalog books. In short, Quinn is a badass.

At some point someone sufficiently recognized that as to do a photo shoot of an intense and somewhat barbaric-looking Quinn dressed in furs and staring out from the depths of the forest; I decided today to try taking that image into watercolor with the looser method I have lately cultivated, and here is the result. My only regret is that she had a cool nature-themed "fascinator" on her head, but I drew her too large on the page to have room to fit it in. I have to remember to use bigger paper than I think I will need!

"Mighty Quinn"—pencil and Paul Jackson watercolors on 140-lb. Strathmore coldpress watercolor paper, 9x12 inches.

06 November 2021


This is not the painting I was planning for today! I had a particular vision and, after prepping a piece of paper with a rough coat of white gesso, I opened up my reference folder on my desktop and started clicking through photos, looking for the perfect face to work with my plan, which entailed inclusion of a chrysanthemum and some collage.

Then I came across this model, who I painted a year or so ago, and I thought to myself, Hm, she would be cool in acrylic, especially because she has some intriguing shadows and colors in her face, and suddenly there was a whole new plan.

Here is the old painting, in watercolor (or maybe it was acrylic inks?). I painted her "straight," and then decided to futz around with Stabilo to make a "halo" around her, and with an Elegant Writer for the background. I may have thrown some salt in there, too?

So far all my acrylic paintings have followed the formula I learned from Emma Pettit, which is to create a colorful background first and then paint over it, so that I start with whites and move through to darks; but with this one, I started with a white background, which involved some reverse thinking. When I finally got done with the figure, I decided that I did need a color in the background, and chose the lavender to make both the shadows and the contrasting colors pop. I was intentional about the direction of the paint, which all radiates out from her head and allowed me to use my flat brush to give a soft edge to the peach fuzz hair she has on her head; I'm not sure whether I should give it another coat, since it's kinda sketchy looking. I'll think about it and come back later.

I did a better job last time of capturing the slightly exotic tilt of her eyes—they are a little too big and round this time—but otherwise I am happier with the likeness; the nose isn't too long as it was before, and the entire head and face are in better proportion. So I guess I have learned something about facial structure, at any rate!

Here is "Bald Girl #2"—white gesso underpainting, charcoal drawing, acrylic paints, and a little bit of Stabilo here and there. 9x12 on 140-lb. coldpress Strathmore paper.

05 November 2021

Fitting it in

Between doing annoying (but apparently necessary according to the Franchise Tax Board!) back taxes and coping with plumbing problems, I haven't been able to take the time to focus on making a painting these past few days. I split my time between searching for paperwork and plunging the kitchen sink, calling people for errant W4s, trying to understand the questions in TurboTax, boiling water to dump down the sink in the hopes it would loosen whatever was clogging things up...not conducive at all to creativity. But after yesterday's debacle with the initial plumber I contacted (he showed up three hours late and then didn't have a pipe wrench with him!), followed by seeking out a legitimate guy and getting him to come look at the problem and give me a quote, I also had to spend today waiting for him to arrive and then trying not to hover while he did the work.

I hesitated to start something at first, but then decided that I could at least lay down the base drawing and then maybe, once he arrived and started dismantling the pipes, I would have time to make the painting (also preventing me from hovering). This plan proved doable (although I did the second half of the painting after he left, he was so quick!).

I decided to go back to a "loose" watercolor style—the kind I refined through taking Fiona Di Pinto's mini lesson on Etchr—but this time with a reference photo chosen by me, and in richer tones and colors. Her pose turned out looking a bit awkward, since in the photo she is leaning forward with her forearms crossed on a table but in this format I only had room to show her shoulders and upper arms. I should have either drawn smaller or used larger paper! But I'm mostly happy with the bloominess around her features and the intensity of her gaze. Her hair was much darker than this, but I ran out of my dark sepia and had to mix ultramarine and burnt sienna to get this lighter shade of brown.

"Ella"—pencil and Paul Jackson watercolors on Strathmore 140-lb. coldpress watercolor paper, 9x12 inches.

30 October 2021

Wrapping up the prompts

Today's gardening prompt from they_draw.com was "zinnias," and I just happen to have a long border of zinnias up against one wall of my yard, beginning to fade a bit but still quite colorful and full.

That particular wall has been completely obscured by my neighbor's vine—it was planted to crawl up the wall on their side about 15 years ago, and has now grown up and over to carpet my side with dense leafiness, dark in the shadows and bright where the sun strikes it at the top. I'm thrilled—apart from the look of it, which I love, it's probably the only thing still holding up that section of wall, which was installed in 1948 and has become increasingly wobbly over the years as it has survived several large earthquakes. My dad had to shore up the portion of the wall on the other side of the yard with a couple of posts after the Northridge quake, but the vine on this side kept everything standing nicely.

I was going to just pick a handful of zinnias, stick them in an attractive vase, and paint a watercolor still life; but after my experience on Tuesday with the Van Gogh immersive experience, I had the impulse to try painting a landscape with acrylics, which I have yet to do since taking them up this year. So I taped off a piece of watercolor paper and gave it a shot.

I'm actually pretty happy with it—the hedge-covered wall has a nice solidity enlivened by its highlights, and the zinnias feel authentic. The tree in my neighbor's yard that peeks over the wall was initially too prominent as a mere background, so I washed over it with a blue-white glaze to back it down, and now it feels like about the right intensity. The brown at the bottom is the color of my lawn after a mostly rainless summer, but it provides a nice space to throw in a few shadows from the overhanging bits of zinnia border.

"Zinnia Border"—Vincent it's not, but I thank him for the inspiration to try, and it makes for a big finish for the month's prompts. Acrylics on Fluid 140-lb. coldpress watercolor paper, 16x12 inches.