Author: -N-

Morning Sketch 4 – Negative Painting & Flowers

Negative painting is painting around an object, usually using darker paint around a more lightly painted object. Anyone who paints finds this quite often to be a bit of a mind tweak, so it is always worthwhile practicing. For me, negative painting is best done with the subject matter, if a photograph, done upside down. Then it – and everything else – just becomes a shape. Shapes are easy to relate to, more so than a flower or a whatever.

I really cannot paint flowers easily. I don’t want to create realistic paintings of flowers, but impressions of flowers. Being able to express a flower and to know what it is appeals to me far more to me than a scientific flower illustration. Don’t get me wrong – botanical illustration is stunning and something I love to see and admire them – but I want a looser style.

One way to express a flower is to create it in its environment. A field of flowers can dance in the wind. A bouquet of either one type of flower or many has its own beauty – the shape of petals and leaves and stems creating their own designs. Stems and leaves seen through clear glass are distorted fascinating to see.

For now, though, I just wanted to practice negative painting. I drew my flowers, and went to work, laying down basic colors and then coming in with darker colors to create shapes, such as leaves and stems. I did the daisies first, and they are rather crude. The poppies were next, and while the colors are muddy in places, it was more successful as far as what I was trying to accomplish.

Morning Sketch 3 – Winter sun

Nothing great . . . 6×9 on Strathmore Vision 140# paper.

What is the purpose of this sketch? First, trying to lead the eye to the two trees on the opposite river bank. Second, trying to reflect warm and cool light on the snow and ice of the river.

Problems? Paper is not great, but good for these kind of studies. Also using different paints – Schmincke pan paints, which are more saturated than the travel paints I used the past two days. And, as always, my sense of perspective is off. I am not quite sure why and it really bugs me!! Oh, well, perhaps one day I will find the answer to that problem.

Thinking about the atmospheric perspective, it seemed I needed softer edges in the distance. So, I wet the paper, blurred it a bit, and smeared a light mess of a blue-grey to give some distance. Then I took the painting into LR and decided to adjust the vertical perspective a bit, tilting the picture back a bit, and then doing a “smart fill” in the areas left white by that adjustment.

Don’t know if it improved the picture, but I think it might have as I often feel as if I am falling into my painting from above – sort of like a bad dream.

Morning Sketch 2 – Crocus

Another sketch, and I found that my little travel palette needs some alizarin and perhaps a violet to work to my advantage. Cad red and ultramarine are rather limited when it comes to violets and lavenders, which are colors I really needed here. So, besides practicing painting, I am finding colors I need to add. Granted my travel palette is one I tucked away and resurrected, and I think I know what most of the colors are, but it is a bit of an insight, too.

Crocus flowers come in all shapes, from pointy to gently curved. These are sort of pointy petaled. Because they are so low to the ground, one usually sees them painted from a higher vantage point, but in profile I personally like them even more, especially as light is filtered through their petals and leaves and surrounding vegetation.

A goal here was to focus on light – coming from upper right – and then some negative painting.

Morning Sketch 1 – Pumpkins

I have been waging a bit of a mental war with myself, and the monkey mind is everywhere and nowhere. Now, though, after devoting myself to several days of following exercises on painting rocks and rugged coastlines with a Shari Blaukopf class, I have at last decided to make watercolor my main medium. Acrylics just do nothing for me, but there is a small love affair beginning with oils. I take an oil painting / acrylic painting class on Tuesday afternoons, and that is where I will continue oils while pursuing watercolors with more focus and less of a scattered approach.

Watercolors have always held sway as a “first love” – partly because they are easy to clean up, partly because they are devilish hard to master. So, with the decision I made this morning, I have decided to try to do a watercolor every day, even if just a small sketch before I begin my day. Today, pumpkins.

I just put some water in a cup, took out a small travel palette with a few colors, grabbed a brush, and started to paint on some student grade paper. Nothing serious! But, at the same time, some thoughts in mind: contrast, hard edges, lost edges, verticals and horizontals, light and shadow, focal point.

Not a great beginning, but fun. Maybe I will paint it again tomorrow . . .

Things of Value

I am kind of a cheapskate at times, especially when it comes to paying for educational experiences. Too many times I have been disappointed by the experience, especially when it comes to art classes. Cost vs. course value and content are a big issue for me, and more often than not I am very disappointed.

One person, though, from whom I have taken online courses, and who has never disappointed me, is Shari Blaukopf. She is a Canadian watercolorist with quite a following – her workshops are always sold out – who provides economical and informative online classes in various subjects. Subjects have included snowy urban scenes, wintery scenes, flowers. Her courses last from an hour or so to more, depending on how you do them, for very good prices of about $30 US. I ain’t complaining!

Let’s begin with her most recent course on trees throughout the seasons. I think this is one of my favorites. What did I learn? As a dabber – tiny brush strokes – this class was perfect for me. I got a better grip on painting foliage, not a leaf at a time, but as color masses. Most instructors will tell you “paint foliage as a mass of color.” Okay, clear enough, except it doesn’t really sink in well for me. Shari’s method of drawing an outline of the areas in question is brilliant, and a lightbulb-going-off-in-the-head experience for me. My samples from this enlightening experience gave me quite a bit of pleasure.

While she is painting her tree she says that midway through, when the tree is just a bunch of colors, she begins to wonder if it is going to get any better – and it does. My own thoughts were the same, but continuing on, the results were pleasing.

These southern live oaks (above) were also done with masses of color, but a bit more detail. The maple tree was a great segue into the oak trees.

The standard or classical “way” to do watercolor is light to dark. I have followed this “rule” with mixed success, and as a little automaton, I do what is “expected” far too often. However, Shari often does the sky, then darker areas, or outlining certain areas with color.

Above was the very first tree study – a vast area of pine forest against a mountain and sky. Sky and mountain were both worked around a lot of the treetops. From there, the very dark pines were painted with the lower edge of lighter vegetation done last.

What?! That is the “wrong” sequence!

Working around the trees leaves areas of white paper, and this this gives a sparkle to the end painting as well as keeping colors more pure and fresh. Painting around the bright green tree was also a challenge – and to remember it was there. Shari had to remind herself, and did so as we moved along. I didn’t quite succeed, but caught myself in time.

This snow-laden maple – the brightly colored one from earlier, now in winter – was the last study. No frisket was involved to leave the snow fresh on the tree. Instead, hints on how to leave snow areas apparent in the drawing – put a dot on the snowy areas to remind you – worked very well. I’ve done such things myself, but it is a good reminder of little tricks.

In many ways, this winter tree was perhaps the most challenging of the studies because so much advanced thinking was involved in the journey to the final result. Snow on so many tree branches was sort of a logistical nightmare, but oddly enough easier for me than masses of colored leaves. Titanium white covers up a few mistakes, too, where the snow was painted over. Blue, too, was added very lightly to make shadows on the snowy branches, giving more dimensionality than without that subtle touch.

Shari even returns to her trees to add a bit more here and there to improve them. I like these little forays into imperfection or dissatisfaction – so many workshops don’t show these little bits of humanity.

If you like watercolor, need some good instruction, and are on a budget, Shari’s classes might be the answer. She doesn’t teach you the basics but assumes you know how to do washes and use colors and what a paint brush is. Her classes range from pretty straightforward to more sophisticated and complex subjects. No matter what, she leads you through the process quite nicely. For example – buildings terrify me. Perspective is not my forte and suburbia throws it at you from all directions. But, I did this, and learned that even I, who has no depth perception to speak of, can actually produce a painting with buildings!

I managed to produce the above – albeit with some glitches – by following her along with her “Urban Winter” class – which you can find here. Check out her work and courses – I don’t think you can find better value and better education almost anywhere. And as a final plug, here is my painting from her course “Winter Woods and Stream”.

And, for my own frugal heart, Shari offers course bundles that discount her already fabulous prices a bit more. Check her courses out and sign up if you are interested. Some courses allow you to upload your work – the later ones in particular. She always leaves feedback, too, even a bit late as she travels a lot. The personal touch is so nice, and being able to see what other students produce is good, too.

Thanks, Shari!


Today I decided to just paint and take it from there. No prelim sketch, some reference to this or that, but the point was to just paint and see what happens. It is really practice, and here I used oils. I just need to get comfortable with them and how they handle. That was the whole point of today’s painting. I think I will do more of these, just for practice. The masterpieces can wait.

Oil, 12×12, cotton canvas panel.

A View of Zion National Park and the Virgin River

Pixabay is home to a lot of great pictures! I used one of them – as you can see below – to create this watercolor. Unfortunately, the scan doesn’t show the real warmth of the rocks as painted very accurately as it could, but c’est la vie.

I chose this subject because the warm rocks on the left and right of the photo move into cooler ones as atmospheric conditions work their magic. The foreground of the photo is very dark and trying to catch the details and put them all in shadows was also a challenge. I also tried to create a focal point for the watercolor, namely the point at which the Virgin River, in the lower middle center of the painting and photo, turns. At this apex I also tried to create some visible interest to lead the eye into the canyon beyond. Of course, the big rock structures also add to this sense of depth.

Painted in watercolor on Kilimanjaro 140# CP paper.

High Desert Creek

More gouache, which I really get a lot of satisfaction in using. Here in the west, there are dry bed creeks which fill with water when it rains, creating a potentially dangerous situation with flash floods and scary fast waters. This is a bit of a calmer situation, but with the monsoon season, the potential threat is there.

Gouache, 8×10.

Portrait of a Little Girl

Over the last year or two I have been doing pencil drawing with an amazing instructor, Steve Tanaka. He used to teach at our local adult school, but with the pandemic and virtual classes, he decided to try out meeting in the park behind our local library. A small group of us meet at a moment’s notice – well, a week or two’s notice! – on Wednesday morning, weather permitting. The primary purpose of the class is portraiture in pencil, but I have wandered at times to cat faces and trees, others have done horses or owls, but we draw. The doing is the point, and Steve’s tutelage is subtle, available, encouraging. He has a sharp eye and a lot of experience. He is a fine teacher.

This is a drawing of a portrait of a poor girl in India by a talented Pixabay photographer Aamir Mohd Khan. His portraits have a drama of a place I have never seen and are both fascinating and touching. His portrait is below.

I cropped the portrait to focus on the little girl whose face is so haunting. I wonder what her life is now – I don’t think it is easy at all.

My own drawing is done with pencil – graphite – using HB, 2H, 2B and 4B pencils on bristol paper, 9×12. There is still some work to be done, but I felt a need to post it. I have spent about 5 hours on it altogether.

Somewhere in the Mountains

I went to Pixabay looking for snow and shadows and cold weather. The painting is of the photo below, done in gouache, 7×10.

The challenge here is depth of field – details – not too many details – simplification – and most fun of all, the shadows on the snow. I really enjoyed looking at the photo, imagining myself in it, and wondering where it is I am. In the photo, the white snow on the bare tree branches is really easy to see, but with gouache I always find my whites are never bright enough. Always interesting to compare a photo to a painting!