For the past two weeks, my Wednesday evening class has been challenged to paint portraits in a less than photo realistic style. Painting loose and free looks so darn easy, but, at least for me, it's not.

I think the deception is that it just looks like the paint was slopped down on the paper with reckless abandon. And actually, it just about is like that. But there's LOTS of thought before the brush touches down - exactly where does that shape go? How light is that shape? Does the shape change in value and get darker or lighter? What kind of edge does the shape have, and how and where does that edge change? And of course, what COLOR is the shape?

The last question is actually the least critical of all of the questions, but it's the one we respond to the most. Just to get it out of the way, let me list the colors I used - Raw Sienna, Quinacridone Coral, Quinacridone Magenta, a little Cerulean, a little Quinacridone Burnt Orange for skin areas. For the hair, it was Cobalt Blue and Quinacridone Burnt Orange with a bit of Lunar Earth for texture. Seven colors, total - a warm yellow and red, a cool red, a cool and warm blue, and a two browns. Any other colors could be used, with each selection lending a different feeling to the painting.

Color gets our attention. How many times have you heard someone ask, "What colors did you use?" Color is magic. But the thing is, the painting usually succeeds, not because of the colors chosen, but because of the way the shapes, values, and edges are handled. Good composition and technical skills along with the ability of the artist to pour emotion into the painting are the final key factors for real success.

Applying the pale washes of color into each dry shape, spreading the very fluid paint into the area it belonged, then creating a soft or lost or hard edge helped form the structure of the face. Only pale values were used, no darks - pictures 1 & 2.

Notice the pure white areas left on parts of the face. The photograph we were working from had color in those white spots, but they were the lightest areas. Leaving those areas completely white gives so much more dimension to the painting and adds freshness and sparkle to the painting.

After the paper was bone dry, a darker wash was applied in the same way - very fluid, juicy paint. Edges were softened, etc. Notice that there's no hard edge or 'line' where the hair meets the forehead. Edges are SO IMPORTANT.

When I'd finished the hair, I thought it needed just one more stroke above the ear to break up a dark shape. I didn't check the paper to know that it had lost its shine, and when I put that brushstroke down, I got a really bad blossom there that looked like a caterpillar crawling through her hair. I grabbed the spray bottle and spritzed the area lightly, hoping it would help. Whew! Now it's my favorite part of the painting. Pure luck.

Small shadow areas and details were added - the blur of lashes and brows, the dark by the nose, suggestion of glass rims and temples. The whole lip area was painted with the paper upside down. It was an unusual shape that was really easiest to follow upside down.

The supporting parts of the painting - the clothing, book and background area - were done quickly, with not much detail so that the focus would remain on the face. Using mostly cool colors there helped emphasize the warmth of the face, too. The painting's captured the sense of someone really enjoying a good read but is not a photo copy of her face.

She never looked up when I was taking pictures. It must've been a good book!

"CAN"T PUT IT DOWN" Transparent Watercolor on 140#CP Fabriano Artistico 22 x 15"


Last week before the art show at Lynne's in Michigan, I shuffled through my flat files to collect work that needed to be matted. These iris were dug out of that stack.

The painting was a fullsheet - 22 x 30" - and although I enjoyed painting it at the time, I went on to something else before completing them. To make life easier, I cut the picture in half and completed this half before putting a mat on it. The other half may never get finished. We'll see.

I didn't have any Transparent Pyrrol Orange when I'd started this about six years ago, but I quickly swished some of it over the lower dark petals to give them a glow. Loved it. The painting looks more controlled than how I paint today, but it worked out ok.

Is anyone else notorious for leaving paintings behind, loosing interest in them? It's tough sometimes to gain back my excitement to complete the work.

"LOVELY LADIES" Transparent Watercolor on 300#CP Arches, 15 x 22"



Mollie is a Belgian Sheepdog and one of the most beautiful creatures I've ever seen. The painting was to be a surprise for Mollie's owner, and she was surprised when she saw this along with the portrait of Mollie's head.

It's so much fun to try to capture the personality of any animal, and especially one that's so animated and lively like Mollie. Since she's got a shiny black coat, I knew I'd be using lots of color to make that rich black be luminous. And, I also knew I would not use black paint.

To mix dark colors, check your palette wells. If the paint looks dark in the well, it'll work as one of the paints to mix for making black. I think the key is to let the paints 'mix themselves' on the paper, rather than mixing up a big puddle of darks in the palette.

Make separate puddles with lots of water, but add enough pigment to get each puddle really dark in value. Then add a brushful of color in part of the area to be black. Don't rinse your brush unless you remove the excess water in it. That extra water will dilute the next puddle, making it too light. Now add another color- get a juicy amount in your brush - and let the two colors charge together on their own. Touch in a third or fourth color but avoid stirring up the paint on the paper.

Keep your brush out of the way as much as possible and let the excess moisture of the paint do the mixing. Use your brush to control and create soft and hard edges as needed.

If the colors aren't mixing on their own, use more moisture from the puddles. Make it do what watercolor does so well - flow. Let the colors slowly move on their own with just a little help from your brush. Just a little. Sometimes artists stroke the brush over and over and over in an area, annihilating the fresh look of watercolor.

Mollie's coat had a lot of texture in some of the fur, and other parts of her coat were sleek. In the textured parts, I used granulating pigments like lunar earth or lunar blue to help suggest the texture of her coat. For the sleeker areas, I used phthalos and quinacridones, which have no granulation at all.

I do love painting animals and am so glad I got to paint Mollie.

"MICHIGAN MOLLIE" Transparent Watercolor on 140#CP Fabriano Artistico, 18 x 24" COLLECTED (Smaller portrait to the right is also on Fabriano.)


Art shows can be lots of fun, they can be fabulous, or occasionally, they can be very disappointing. This weekend's art show in Michigan was really fabulous, lots of fun, and went WAY, WAY, WAY beyond my expectations.

Lynne and Jamie opened their beautiful lakeside home to display as many of my paintings as I wanted to bring along, and both worked hard at making the event a special occasion for that Saturday. The whole day was a great success, with one of their daughters even making the trip over to help out. Melissa and I had some time to visit before the show, and I so enjoyed getting to know her better.

Lynne had invited friends over for the afternoon, and many of them now have new art hanging in their homes. THANK YOU to all who came and made the day wonderful. Lake living in Michigan is a special treat, particularly at this lake.

Gallery owner, Nancy Boyce, from the Golden Finch Gallery in Three Rivers, also stopped by. (She'd generously loaned us many easels to use for the show.) One of Lynne's daisy batik paintings that I'd done earlier was hanging on the wall, having been framed earlier this year by Nancy - who has such impeccable taste, her framing complimenting the painting so well. Actually, the framing Nancy selected made the painting look REALLY elegant. (This hummingbird was one of many who enjoyed the paintings while dining outside.)

Needless to say, I am still walking on clouds, so thankful for a wonderful weekend, thankful for good friends, for people who appreciate fine art, thankful for the gift of being able to create with a paint brush. It was a incredible experience.

I so appreciate Lynne's hospitality and generosity. She is truly amazing and creative. She golfs a good game, makes beautiful jewelry, is an ARTIST - a professional photographer - complete with her own dark room and studio, is an excellent chef, knows how to watercolor, and knows how to genuinely make a person feel right at home. PLUS- she puts on a mighty fine art show. Thank you so much, Lynne and Jamie, for this weekend, for your friendship. I treasure you both.

"LAKESIDE" Transparent Watercolor - 2 colors - Raw Sienna & French Ultramarine - on 140#CP Arches, 15 x 11" COLLECTED