Lunar Blue

I absolutely love this color from Daniel Smith. A mix of Mars Black and Phthalo Blue, it doesn’t granulate so much as it separates. The small bits of black fall away from the blue gradually, as a wash dries.

Tonight in the studio, I did something I rarely do – planned. Deciding to work with a very limited palette, I chose four colors: Van Dyke Brown, Cadmium Orange, Verditer Blue and Lunar Blue.

Fall scene color studies

Why these selections? Wanting to paint a moody fall sky, I needed a warm and a cool grey mix – but I also needed warm earth tones for the foliage and foreground.

Fall scene in four colors

For the sky, I mixed two puddles of V.D. Brown – one with Lunar Blue and another with Verditer. The trees are blends of all four colors. For the foreground, I wet the entire area, then brushed in straight Cadmium Orange. A bit of Verditer across the treeline and some Lunar Blue on the bottom finished off the scene. Now it just needs a title…

Fall scene detail


One of my favorite things to photograph is rust. Rusty locks, rusty tractors, gates, trucks, chains, railroad lanterns…if I can find it, I’m probably going to take a picture of it. And when I take those photos, I’m always composing them with a future painting in mind.

That was the case with this gate and lock. Besides the rust, wear and general patina, I was captivated by the bright colors. Not wanting to create drab, brown, dirty rust paintings, this felt like a great candidate for a vibrant image.

Normally I would wet the entire paper, staple it to a board and tape the edges. This helps keep the paper from buckling while you work. Having just attended Carol Carter’s demo, where she said she likes to leave the paper loose to expand & contract naturally with the water, I decided to give that approach a try.

first washes in

At this stage, each surface of the gate had been wet with clear water, and the color dropped in to merge and mingle. As washes began to dry, more concentrated pigment was placed to create some of the “dirt.” I knew I wanted the lock to be brighter and look shinier, so I wanted to establish the background elements first.

starting lock

With the gate pretty well finished, it was time to start on the lock. This gives a really good idea of the section-by-section approach. The vertical portion of the lock was first, and then the blue base. By the time the base was finished, the vertical section had dried enough to start the flat top.

just needs details

The very bottom of the painting was a bit of a challenge. The reference photo had a board that featured peeling paint and lots of distressing. Beautiful, but too busy and distracted from the lock. Wanting some depth and color, I put in a wash of cadmium orange, french ultramarine and shadow violet. Now to let it all dry so details could be added…

curve detail

The focal point of the painting, and the title, is the stamped-in “HARDENED.” I love how the rust had started creeping into the letters, partially obscuring the shape of each, and nearly making the word unreadable.


Finished – 15″ x 22″. The board at the bottom of the gate has been simplified to look like unfinished wood that has weathered. The goal throughout the process was to create a vibrant, interesting portrait of something most would find mundane, if it was noticed at all…

Igniting the spark

The artistic fire is a strange beast. In some, it burns hot, demanding that the artist creates every day. In  others, it flares once, brilliantly, then burns itself out.

My fire is an inconsistent creature. The embers are always smoldering, so I’ll find myself considering the color palettes of scenes flashing by the car window, or rolling painting ideas around in my head. I’ve spent the last two months at smolder, with no flame creating the urge to paint.

Sketches from the fair

In the last two weeks, that all changed. So what sparked the flame? Color. I’ve been sketching in pencil all summer, and was ready to move past that. So on a hot day at the state fair, I pulled out the watercolor pencils and brought a couple of 20 minute sketches to life.

Horse portrait in sketchbook

That lead to a studio session where I could explore the pencils some more – I’ll probably do an entire blog post on that! It was interesting to see how the layered drawing of the horse, left, came to life with the addition of water, right.

Renee and Carol

Then I went to Carol Carter’s demo at the Daniel Smith store. I’ve long been a fan of her non-traditional use of color and the way she uses “blooms” to her advantage. Watching the way she handled water and pigment, the urge to head for the studio began to grow.


The next day, out & about with my husband, I started noticing the way manmade objects interacted with the sky, and my mind started racing with ideas and approaches. Within 15 miles, I had an entire series of paintings mapped out. Spark lit.

Study in blue

Of course time and daily life dictates studio access, so my brain ping-ponged around creative ideas and settled back on color (for now). This little study is just 2.5″ x 3.5″ and was done entirely with blue and purple paints (and a touch of white pen).

Detail of horse portrait in progress

By Friday night, the creative fire was burning brightly, and I couldn’t wait to get into the studio and play with color and technique! While painting two very different subjects – a cranky horse and a rusty lock – the focus is on color, and allowing pigments to mix and mingle with limited interference…

Four feet

Mingling colors

Letting go…

We artists love to share finished paintings, sculptures, drawings and other work. I think it’s just as important to share the pieces that end up on the scrap pile – it’s a good way to show some of the work and process that goes into a success.

In this case, my first go at “Getting Acquainted” just came off the board. It’s pictured with another work in progress that is coming along well. Can you see how crisp and lively the colors are on the left, and how dull and muted the painting on the right is? Would you believe both horses are painted with the exact same colors?

The difference is in how and when those colors were mixed. At left, colors are being dropped onto wet paper and allowed to mingle as they will. At right, most of the colors were mixed on the palette, then brought to the paper.

While I could layer paint over this and make some of the colors more vivid, I’ll never regain the freshness that the first meeting of a little girl and a big horse should have. So I’ll rework the composition a bit to give her some breathing room, and give it another go…

Painting a dappled horse


Just starting a watercolor of a gorgeous Quarter Horse in the show ring. One of the reasons I wanted to paint this is the light dappling in the horse’s coat.

There are a couple of ways to create the effect of a dappled hide. One is to lay down a fairly strong wash of color, wait until the wash is just losing the shine from the water, and sprinkle the area with salt. As the salt dries, it pulls water from the paper-and pulls color with it to create spots. Very effective, but it takes a long time to dry, and is messy.

For the impatient among us, there is the technique I used. After laying down a strong wash of color and waiting a few moments for the shine to fade, I grabbed a spray bottle of water. Holding it about 18″ from the paper, I barely squezzed the handle, causing the nozzle to “spit” random-sized drops of water onto the paper. The water repels the pigment, creating a similar effect to salt.


Above, the first background wash has been dropped in, and the details of the face begun. The eyes, muzzle and ears are always the first place I go on an animal portrait. This is off to a good start, but if something doesn’t develop well, I’ll abandon the painting and start over…

Detail of the face. I'll work out from the areas that are started, creating and connecting the structure.
Detail of the face. I’ll work out from the areas that are started, creating and connecting the structure.

After about 2 hours of continuing to detail the head and body, the form is developing. I’ll work on the rider and tack now – need to see the relationship before I go any further with shadows.

The horse is rounding out; now it's time to add the rider. That will show me how dark to build shadow values on the horse.
The horse is rounding out; now it’s time to add the rider. That will show me how dark to build shadow values on the horse.

Now that the rider has been roughed in, all of the light values (and many of the mid values) have been established. The final steps will be to give the rider and tack a bit more detail, and to add some dark values to “pop” the horse.

The rider will get some form, but not too much detail - just enough to give context to the scene.
The rider will get some form, but not too much detail – just enough to give context to the scene.

One problem I’ll need to resolve is the background: the arena and stands cut the painting nearly in half. The transition will need to be lowered a bit for a better visual…