It's LEAP YEAR, and today's February 29th. The artists in my classes have 'leaped' at the chance to grow beyond their comfort zones by taking Myrna Wachnov's first artist challenge of the year.

On her blog in January, she suggested that we select a reference photo to be painted several times. We were to make each painting have dominance of one of the seven elements of design. Each of the seven paintings also had to have a different unifying color throughout every part of the painting, and each had to be created with its own specific compositional design, selected at random ahead of time.

These are my final three paintings of the seven. My other four challenge paintings plus the reference photo are posted at the end of this post, as well as in late January and early February posts on this blog.

The top painting, my Week 7 painting, was based on a SHAPE-IN-SHAPE composition with SHAPE as the dominant element of the painting. It was great that I drew those two together, because it made things a little simplier to figure out.

To make this a shape-in-shape, I liked the idea of taking the people off of the street they were on and placing them in the train station - or wherever you think this might be. The window happened by chance. I'd designed an open archway, but closed it up, making the shape-in-shape composition possibly stronger. This was done with transparent watercolor on YUPO and is about 11 x 15". (Quinacridone Burnt Orange was the unifying color, but I forgot to put it in the clothes on the people :-(

For Week 6, the element I drew to be dominant was DIRECTION, and the composition I had to use was HORIZONTAL. These two also went together nicely, but the problem I faced was how to make vertical people shapes have a horizontal dominance.

Remember those paper dolls some of us cut out when we were kids? That gave me the idea to 'stretch' out the line of people so they looked like there were lots of them. I still used my photo reference, but I duplicated the people, reversing them, too.

I miskited the figures to keep them white. Applying the strokes of fluid acrylics horizontally and letting it flow by tipping the paper sideways helped create a stronger directional dominance. Adding the small, thin lines increased the dominance, too. I really liked the little figures that showed up in the negative spaces between the people shapes.

After removing the miskit, I flowed more color horizontally across the people shapes, then added a few details to specific areas on their bodies and around their feet. This was done on Arches 140# CP with Fluid Acrylics and some Transparent Watercolor and is also 11 x 15." (Unifying color was Quinacridone Coral.)

Week 5 was a CHALLENGE for sure. The element to make dominant was COLOR, so ... "piece of cake," I thought. And then I drew STAGGERED for the composition. Ugh. I cut up all the people and staggered them into a design that I thought would work and began painting, thinking 'color, color, color!'

I used color - everywhere - and in pure doses except for the unifying color I'd added in, which was Hansa Yellow. I ended up with a "It'll hurt your eyes" ugly painting. Too much garish yellow and oranges, too many colors everywhere. So I started knocking them down, neutralizing them, graying the intensity of most areas.

After lots of critique considerations and many corrections, this is the result. I'm not sure it comes off as staggered, but I do think that COLOR gets attention in those pure spots that are left. It's growing on me, I guess. Let me know what you think. It was my worst one but may end up being my favorite one. Weird.

This is done on Arches 140#CP with Fluid Arylics, Transparent Watercolor, Caran D'Ache Crayons, and Conte Crayons and is smaller since I cropped a lot of it off... probably about 9 x 12."

Samples of my previous challenge paintings are below - - - - -

Week One - VALUE and VERTICAL composition (Raw Sienna to unify) --- Week 2 - LINE dominance and CHECKERBOARD composition (Transparent Pyrrol Orange to unify) --- Week 3 - TEXTURE dominance and CRUCIFORM composition (Burnt Tiger's Eye to unify) SOLD --- Week 4 - SIZE dominance and ASYMMETRICAL composition (Quinacridone Violet to unify)

- My photo reference for the challenge paintings, taken in London, England in '06.

Painting from the same photo seven times and being challenged to make each painting specifically different was invigorating. I learned a lot and stretched beyond my normal painting habits.

Most of my students are also working on their own seven challenge paintings, and you can see a couple of them by checking their blogs - Chris Campbell's floral paintings and Rhonda Carpenters' challenge paintings of two different themes, the most recent some old time pottery. See the side bars on the right hand side of my blog to go to their sites.

Some of the works I've seen in class simply astound me. Artists are SO creative! And we can thank Myrna for the challenge she gave us ... or maybe some would blame her for the misery it is to push beyond our comfort zones. Surely not.

Happy Birthday to David! February 29th! ...... the only person I've ever met with this birthday.



I wonder what Polly is looking at. She's so intent on whatever is over there to the right.

Actually, she was a bird in Venice, Florida that used to squawk "Marco," then the kids would yell "Polo!" She loved it and would bob up and down excitedly. My dad liked to feed her bits of crackers.

To get the jungle look behind her, I slapped some random gesso marks over the paper before I began the painting and let them dry. Later as I painted, the gessoed areas accepted the paint quite differently than the regular paper surface, creating a tension and texture that I liked a lot.

The great thing about painting watercolor on gessoed paper is that the paint can be lifted off easily with a damp brush, usually leaving only a slight ghost image on the gesso. Makes corrections easier for sure. Painting on gesso always makes me think I'm painting an oil slick, because of the way the paint settles in funny patterns on the gesso.

"PROUD POLLY" Transparent Watercolor and Gesso on 140# CP Arches 14 x 22" SOLD



We have a wildlife area near us that's full of many native creatures. One of the men who enjoys that area, called Oxbow, also has a Red Tail Hawk that he rescued long ago and cares for now. His educational talk one Saturday was exceptional, and I was really thankful to be able to take pictures of this beautiful bird on his arm.

I find that painting wildlife brings me a lot of satisfaction. I am lucky to have had parents who took us outside through many state and national parks for vacations or long weekends. Hiking and discovering all kinds of wildlife was a 'normal' adventure during my childhood.

The beauty of wild animals just astounds me. They are so complex and wonderfully made. Glorious creatures!

And so much fun to try to paint, especially with watercolor.

"SHAKE A TAIL FEATHER!" Transparent Watercolor on 140# CP Fabriano Artistico Collected



The bright red of these geraniums seemed to be dancing in this old window, especially with the sun light backlighting them. The pots and geraniums were painted nearly life size on a 40" long sheet of heavy weight YUPO. I really like working on the heavy weight YUPO because I can move it and tilt it easily. The light weight is so flimsy that I don't work on it at all, and the medium weight only comes in a 20x26" size.

You can really see where the 'pushy' colors moved paint out of their way, leaving some unusual patterns in the dark shapes and especially on the pots. No matter how many times I paint on YUPO, I am always fascinated with the way the paint behaves. Or doesn't behave.

Soon after I painted this, it sold in a juried show in Hamilton, Ohio. It's great to make a sale, to be appreciated, to have others like what you express with paint. But most satisfying is being able to paint. I love it!

"YEARNING" Transparent Watercolor on YUPO 23 x 39" SOLD



This was painted several years ago on YUPO before I learned from a George James video how to use a roller and squeegee to control the paint flow. The 'drip' for his jaw line shows how the paint dried with an edge that I did not plan or want. Smoothing it out with a brush after it was dry would have only left a murky, unblended mess. I liked the rest of the picture, so I left that as a ''''painterly'''' mark. HA!

To paint a smooth, uninterrupted space on YUPO is pretty much pure luck, not skill. Gravity helps a little, I think.

Getting a smooth, graded wash like the check and jaw area here is also a big challenge on YUPO. The paint tends to dry from the outside in, but unpredictable edges often occur sometimes where the paint's thinned in the middle of a wash, just like this jaw line did.

Like Nick Simmons says, "You've got to have a Plan B." Mistakes will always change our plans. Sure teaches us to be flexible. No pushy colors were used on the face, which helped make the drying a little more even. Pushy colors (see previous posts) usually dry faster, allowing for uneven areas to develop, not so good in skin or smooth areas like sky or calm water.

Myrna Wacknov just finished a week long workshop with George James. Check out her workshop masterpiece full of colorful figures on her blog (see side bar.) It's an exciting piece. Five weeks from today I'll be at a George James workshop in North Carolina with my friend, Monique! YEAH!!! And it'll be spring there with the big Weeping Cherry Tree in full bloom, I bet.

Looking at this painting today, I think the hat really needs more value and definition. What do you think?

"FRIENDSHIPS" Transparent Watercolor on YUPO, 14 x 12"



I love the catkins on pussywillows. They are so furry and soft, and a great sign that spring will indeed get here. I guess I'm more impatient this year for winter to go away than I've ever been. I love the snow when it falls; I like the ice on the trees if I'm inside; I like a good book and a bowl of soup on a cold winter day. I like winter. But this year's winter has been longer and snowier and colder than usual. GO AWAY!

This is a small painting done with the same technique as the tulips from yesterday's post were done. First I saturated the wet paper with lots of strong, dark colors. Next I lifted out the shapes that were to be lighter. Thank you, Cheng Khee Chee, for sharing this technique of painting with us. It's just amazing that it works as well as it does.

The great thing about this method is that the background and foreground areas are both painted at the same time, while the paper's wet. There's no need to struggle with a background because it's the first thing finished in the painting. After the lifting was done, I added some detail in the twigs and catkins to finish the painting. I used a Q-Tip, or cotton swab on a stick, along with a sable brush, to lift out the catkins, too.

"WINTER'S OVER" Transparent Watercolor on 140#CP Arches, 5 x 8"