Working in graphite

Years ago, long before watercolor came into my life, most of my work was done in graphite, ink or scratchboard. While learning watercolor, I came across the work of Georges Seurat. His drawings in particular are very inspiring – the soft edges, the richness of values and the depth of expression are all masterful, and something to aspire to. This is the first graphite piece I’ve done in a while, and I kept Seurat’s drawings in mind the entire time I worked on it.

Bringing someone to tears

The phrase “the eyes are the window to the soul” always comes to mind when I paint a portrait. In fact, whether the subject is a person or a pet, every painting starts with the eyes. When working on a commissioned portrait, the pressure to “get it right” is pretty intense. With “Christine,” I was able to show the work-in-progress to this little cutie’s mom. When she started crying at the sight of a cell phone photo of the painting, I knew it was on track. The first thing she said was “those are my baby’s eyes!”

An anniversary gift…

When my husband and I celebrated our 10th anniversary, we took a road trip to Jackson, WY. Between the snowmobiling, the wildlife and the amazing art, it was a fantastic trip, and we brought home a very nice bronze. Since then, we have continued to purchase art on our trips, and love to visit galleries wherever we go.

While working a recent shift at Parklane Gallery, I was blessed to have the experience of selling a pair of my paintings to a couple that were celebrating their own 10th anniversary. A few days later, they sent me a photo of the paintings in their entryway, with the following comment:

I don’t think the photo really does them justice, they’re actually the prominent feature coming in the front door, and make the house quite welcoming, especially on these dark winter days.

They’re really quite wonderful, and do a lovely job capturing what is so special about the region we live in. It is a pleasure having them in our home.


Brett and Margaret

Never stop looking…

Inspiring sights are all around us! I spend a lot of time looking out the window while my husband is driving, plotting the colors I would use to paint the sky or landscape. Sometimes he hears an urgent “STOP” so I can take a photo.

This one came to us…sitting in the car wash, watching the neon lights play across the suds as they made patterns on the windshield. Will I paint it? Probably not, but cobalt teal, imperial purple, perylene green and French ultramarine would have a starring role…

Watercolor in floating frames

Just picked these up from Tsuga Fine Art & Framing in Bothell. They’ll be on the wall at Parklane Gallery in a couple of days! Whew, things move fast sometimes…

Reflections of Lopez and At the Turn of the Trail are 11″ x 30″ watercolors that have been varnished and mounted to board. That allows for a presentation without glass. Really loving this look, and am starting to do more and more paintings this way.

One downside is that paintings shown this way cannot be entered into most juried watercolor shows. Most still require the painting to be surrounded by a white or off-white mat and framed behind glass or plexiglass. Galleries seem to like this method, however, as many customers say they love a painting but can’t stand the glass. Will be interesting to see what the reception is as I put more of these “out there”…

Eye of the…hook?

Fort Casey, on Whidbey Island in Washington State, is full of interesting sights. Built in the late 1890s, the fort is located on a strategic point at the entrance to Puget Sound. On late Saturday afternoons during summer, it’s common to see a convoy of cruise ships leaving Seattle for Alaskan waters.

While preserved as a state park and National Historic Monument, age is catching up with the concrete and metal. Lime leaching out of the walls and rust eating away at metal make the fort a favorite place to photograph texture and color. My painting “Flight” was inspired by a stairway there.

On a recent visit, this rusted…something…caught my attention. I love how the jagged shape of it reaches into the sky, with the “eye of the needle” barely hanging on. The dilemma will be, what format to paint it in? Tall & narrow, conventional rectangle, or square? Decisions, decisions…

Working tall

For the first nine years of my painting journey, I worked almost exclusively in a 10.5″ x 14.5″ rectangle. This size is known as “quarter sheet,” since a full sheet of watercolor paper is 22″ x 30″.

A couple of years ago, an early buyer of my work mentioned seeing paintings that were wide and short – perfect sofa paintings. The idea stuck in my head, but I started playing with tall and narrow so I could focus on skies.

This is my current sky painting, depicting an early summer sunrise in the San Juan Islands. Others are in the works, so stay tuned for updates!

Some Cool Green Memory

Artists find inspiration from many different sources. Visuals of course fire our imagination, as does scent, memory, music, a place, or a snippet of conversation. A contrast of textures can get us thinking about technique, as can a new brush or a handmade paper.

Sometimes inspiration is sneaky, and catches us by surprise. I recently rediscovered a favorite poem, and realized how perfectly it captures the way I feel about painting, especially landscapes:

I shall keep some cool green memory in my heart
To draw upon should days be bleak and cold.
I shall hold it like a cherished thing apart
To turn to now or when I shall be old.
Perhaps a sweeping meadow, brightly green,
Where grasses bend and the winds of heaven blow
Straight from the hand of God, as cool and clean
As anything the heart of man can know.

Or it may be this green remembered tree
That I shall turn to if the nights be long,
High on a hill, its cool boughs lifting free,
And from its tip, a wild bird’s joyous song.
A weary city dweller to survive
Must keep some cool green memory alive.

Grace Noll Crowell – Keep Some Green Memory Alive

Even in the portraits I paint, whether they be people, animals or objects, I realized that I look for that breathing room that nature offers us. A sense of stillness, a moment of calm, a feeling of rest-that’s what you’ll find in most of my paintings. In a juried show filled with vibrant color and intense energy, they often get overlooked, waiting for the second pass to catch a viewer’s eye. That’s OK-it’s easier to live with a whisper of a breeze than a gale-force wind…

The joy of the art retreat

Whether you call it art camp, paint-out or a retreat, there is nothing better for an artist’s soul than uninterrupted time to paint. I just returned from three days at the Samish Island Paint-out (offered through NWWS) and am amazed at what I was able to accomplish!

In addition to having time to work on your own paintings, it is invaluable to see what other artists are working on. At the beginning of Paint-out, it is a race to see who can get the first painting “on the wall.” Throughout the weekend, a gallery grows as we all put up our efforts.

Art retreats get a little competitive over who can put the most paintings up!

The other advantage of a group retreat is being able to walk around and see how others “do what they do.” While it’s important to respect artists who are in the zone, most are willing to chat about their approach, demo a technique, or even share a dollop of a favorite color.

With lots of time and plenty of space, a retreat is a great opportunity to work on larger paintings. This one I started is 11″ x 30″.

When selecting a retreat, ask artist friends for recommendations. Check out the facility’s website, and find out what comfort level the accomodations are. Lodging can range from spartan to spa-like.

Lodging can be pretty spartan, but a few comforts of home can make a space cozy!

Ask past attendees about the food, too! At the Samish Paint-out, a wonderful crew comes in and cooks for us. The food is delicious, and they’re always happy to provide alternate ingredients. Some retreats will be DIY, with attendees taking turns preparing meals.

Oh – bring plenty of art supplies! Many retreat venues are from shopping centers (that’s what makes them perfect). Now over to you: what words of wisdom (or happy stories) do you have about retreats?