Orchid painting in watercolor, 8.5" x 11.5"

Orchid painting in watercolor, 8.5" x 11.5"

So here’s the frustrating thing: I learned that the publisher wants me to write the text accompanying the step by step photos as instructions (first do this, now do that) rather than a description of what I’ve done. Sometimes watercolors go as planned and that would be simple to do, because what I did is how I would tell someone else to do it.  But with this painting there was just as much taking off of paint as there was putting it on. Some of that was about softening edges with a damp brush and then blotting, but some of it was just removing paint that wasn’t working. I’ve never seen a “how to” book that says paint on a nice wash. Now wipe it off.

My biggest problem with this painting was the photo I had to work from. Like many artistic photos of flowers, it was shot without shadows or directional light and therefore everything was very flat with little dimensionality. Even more difficult, everything except the front center flower was intentionally out of focus. That makes for a lovely photo but not an easy watercolor painting project. And there is no variation in color: they’re all just cotton candy pink with dark magenta veins. And I picked the stupid photo and thought it would be easy. But for me, what is easy is lots of detail and variations in color, shape and value.

I started over four times, each time getting a little further and then abandoning ship. If I was just painting for myself any of those starts would have been fine and enjoyable to paint but I was finding myself exaggerating shapes and colors and losing fidelity with the photo.

Now I’m not sure what to do: Paint this again in order to be able to do write a logical “how to” that doesn’t include undoing previous steps? Write a “how to” and leave out the do-overs? Enjoy my vacation this week and forget about the whole project? (the latter sounds most appealing)

I think I’ll send a photo of the painting to my editor and see if she even likes the painting. My persistent (compulsive?) side really wants to paint the painting again, trying to do it more simply and cleanly. But my (sane?) side says “Go have a bowl of ice cream and watch a movie.” I wonder which side will win and how late the ice cream shop is open?

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Category:
Art theory, Flower Art, Painting, Still Life, Watercolor
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Join the conversation! 29 Comments

  1. beautiful painting!

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  2. I am in awe of the result… your painting …cannot believe the subtle depth you gave to the shapes of the three back flowers…

    I wonder whether the readers of the book might really benefit if you went the other direction with your painting: less fidelity to the photograph and more interpretation of the orchid and the medium of watercolor…

    At first I wanted to be able to paint so realistically that my painting would be like a photograph (yeah, right). But painting has the extra benefit that you can alter your representation of your subject. You can improve composition, express your emotional reaction to the subject, let the watercolors do their own magic, and probably a few other things as well.

    Good luck deciding what you want to do with the painting, if anything.

    I hope you went for the ice cream and movie tonight!

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    • Thanks Gwendolyn. Well, I didn’t go out for ice cream, I started over. But I was too tired and didn’t get anywhere. This morning I gave it some more thought, looked through some of my watercolor books and figured out an approach I could take that would allow me to make a sensible step-by-step. But honestly, I totally agree with you– I’d much rather work in a more imaginative and responsive way to a subject than a simple reproduction. Jana

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  3. I understand your frustration and sympathize! Whatever you will decide to do about the painting, after you had your ice cream and a movie, will be useful and beneficial for your readers, I am sure of that.

    I also wanted to mention that there is a book that talks about putting in a nice wash and then wiping it off. That’s Nita Engle’s “How to make watercolor paint itself.” There is a whole chapter where she talks about making mistakes and correcting them, changing her mind about large portions of her paintings, and about altering the design because it didn’t satisfy. The reality of watercolor is that it can be unpredictable, and that artists do alter it. I think if you use the existing painting and tell the real story how it was created, many of us, readers, will be grateful because this what we all have to do.

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    • Hi Alex. Thanks for your sympathizing and encouragement (towards the ice cream too!). As it turned out I skipped the ice cream and tried again (another loser) but this morning figured out a way to start over that I think will work for this purpose. I too appreciate seeing artists explain how to resolve problems but I think for this book, which unfortunately is one of those “here’s how to paint this picture” types of books, where I only have 6 steps to tell “how to” I don’t think it would work to have 16 steps, with 10 of them being “now try to wipe remove what you just painted!” But I did learn some interesting stuff about how far you can go with washing off, wiping off, scrubbing off and using Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. Now what to do with the half-dozen sheets of partially pink watercolor paper? Jana

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  4. Actually Jana, I think I HAVE seen videos or at least mentions in books where people put in some color then blot it up or out for some reason. I suppose, in terms of the step-by-step how-to, you might say something along the way that occasionally–with watercolor especially–this is necessary, and sometimes even a desirable way to achieve the end.

    I think this is a good painting, and I like that you did what you said the photo did: forward flower in focus, others less so.

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    • Thanks Rita. Yes, I’ve seen those helpful tips too and have always appreciated them. But in this project, where I only have 6 steps to explain how I painted the picture (or in this case “how to paint the picture” I don’t think there’s room for the 10 “now try to remove the last step” steps! I’ve started over again today with a whole new approach. Fingers crossed… Jana

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  5. What a gorgeous painting!!! I’m sorry to hear it may not work for what the editor wants…..but you should have no trouble selling it if you decide to go that route. It is truly beautiful!

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  6. Oh dear, I think your editor is going to love this painting, Jana there will be no escaping the written description. If I were buying the book, I’d probably really appreciate knowing such beauty can come out of scrubbing out 🙂

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    • Thanks Robin. I am trying over yet one more time to produce a painting that will make it easier for me to honestly tell how it was done. I’m afraid the 6 steps I’m given to tell “how to” wouldn’t be enough for all the false starts that went into this. And it goes against my integrity to fake it and pretend I did it differently since there might be some poor soul out there reading the book who wanted to try to do what I did by following my directions. Even though it’s a little frustrating to spend so much time on this painting, it’s also forcing me to step outside my usual ways of working with the new approach I’m trying and so I’m learning too. Jana

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  7. I agree with the rest, Jana, this is stunning and I also agree that your editor will love it. As Alex says, if you “tell the real story how it was created” we as students and readers “will be grateful because this is what we will have to do.”
    annie

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  8. Ice cream, skip the movie and remember to get the hot fudge.

    From my own early experiments with watercolor, the ‘fixing’ is a big part of painting. That has been the biggest opportunity for learning when I’ve taken classes. (Did you take many intermediate photos? That would be great.) Painting the same image varying the composition and palette has also been helpful. What my head thinks, what my hand does, and what my eye sees don’t ever seem to coordinate unless I’ve analysed my work and given it another shot.

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    • Hi Gwen. I never did get that ice cream and it’s sounding awfully good right now! I agree with what you said about fixing, and that’s part of what made this process frustrating for me. Doing it in six steps doesn’t really allow for much fixing since there’s so much doing to show. But when I redid it in six steps I did include some lifting off/blotting with a tissue. I like your idea of painting the same image with different palette and composition too. I haven’t tried that before, but it definitely appeals to me. But not that orchid! I painted it way too many times to be interested in one more version! Jana

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  9. Lovely painting so don’t worry. Oh you do have lots of advisers don’t you in the comments! KISS – ‘Keep it simple stupid’ is what they say. Make the steps simple but add a proviso – hey, I did have to blot it a bit at one stage, and, wanted to go out for an icecream in frustration! Make the text humorous at time! No-one has to paint step by step really – allow for quirks and accidental blobs and tell the readers they do not have to copy exactly. Your recent flower pics are so joyiful. Darwin would be amused too perhaps.
    Wendy

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  10. Working from photos is really a pain, but you’ve captured this beautifully.

    Go for the ice cream. I would!

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    • Thanks Ed. Working from one’s own photos when you’ve seen the thing in person is hard enough, but working from a photo designed to be a good photo but a lousy reference for painting is even worse! For my next paintings for the book I know what to look for now when selecting the photos from the ones I’m offered. (If I decide to put myself through this again!). They want me to do several more. Jana

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  11. It’s really beautiful, but I think you did the right thing to start another one for the purposes of this book. If there had been a fairly clear stage in the process where a wash was too heavy and you lightened it, it would have been possible to include a step that said “at this point, if your wash is too heavy, lighten it like this” but it sounds like your process was too complex to document on this painting. The other thing is, for the readers of this book, their result isn’t going to look anything like yours, because this is just too good–if you know what I mean! 🙂 So if you re-do it and it looks a bit simpler, that will end up being better for the book, I would think. This is a stunning painting, though, it’s really breathtaking.

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    • Thanks so much for your honesty and kind words about the painting. I really appreciated the reality check that reassured me I’d made the right decision to try again (and again and again…). Jana

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  12. This is stunning Jana!
    My humble opinion is that I find it is mostly artists/readers new to the medium who follows a step by step, which makes me agrtee with what Kathryn said: Your painting is absolutely too beautiful and complex to put into a few steps. Your readers will be heavily disappointed when they can’t get the same result. So I also agrree on simpler. Only Jana can do this one!!
    ronelle

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    • I felt pretty let down when I realized that I was supposed to paint it simple instead of the way I normally would, but I think in the end, I’m learning some really good stuff from having to keep it simple and break it down in a way that someone else could follow. And I did do it again more simply and was happy with how it turned out. Jana

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  13. Beautiful painting! I agree with what everyone else here is saying, although I personally find it fascinating to hear about all the steps – and occasional mis-steps – that an artist has to go through to get to the final result. Or you could always resort to that famous MAD magazine fake ad, “How to draw a face in three steps”: step 1 – draw a circle, step 2 – draw a cross shape in the middle, step 3 – imagine a perfectly rendered Mort Drucker illustration of a face – done! But seriously, you have a beautiful painting here, no matter what you end up doing with it.

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    • Thanks Anthony, for the encouragement and the funny reminder about Mad magazine. I used to love reading it when I was a kid. (and always wanted to respond to the real ads for the mail order art school). Jana

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  14. So many comments and such good information that I feel like I would just be repeating what has been said. I love the painting. It’s beautiful and masterfully done. I agree with, doing it over, more simply (a 6 step simple) and/or including a mistake and make over tips section.

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  15. Gasp! That is gorgeous, Jana!

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  16. Dear Jana I will spend this week end rejoycing over your superb paintings.You bring joy to my heart,and encourage me to follow humbly on your steps Thank you dear Jana!

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  17. I love your pink orchids, I to am an Artist living just outside London, UK, and I have just set up a website of my own, please have a look, and give me some feedback. I really need to know how to direct people to my site and apart from facebook I don’t know what to do, so if you have any advice it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you Maralin (www.maralincottenham.co.uk) x

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  18. Jana, I think you did a very good rendition of the Phaelaenopsis. These orchids are my new hobby and I currently have 11 of them in various colors. I really like yours. I am a firm believer in “do what it takes to get to the end result.” I found this neat saying in one of my watercolor mags: “Go ahead, Draw, scratch, paint, erase, wash, rub, ink, and sand your heart out.” Who says we all have to be purists. That’s what makes the world, and art, so interesting. I am about to start on an orchid painting. My specialty is sunflowers so this will be quite different for me. Don’t put yourself down. I love your orchids. Sharon at abqwhites@aol.com.

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