Kaiser Hospital Tulip painting study, watercolor, 4.5" x 6.5"

Kaiser Hospital Tulip painting study, watercolor, 4.5" x 6.5"

I accidentally arrived an hour early for a doctor’s appointment at one of Kaiser Oakland’s medical offices that has an amazing hidden garden. The building is an architectural treasure, built around a courtyard in 1912 by Julia Morgan as a hospital and home for unwed mothers (or so I’ve been told). Instead of reading old, germy magazines, I spent the hour in the courtyard sketching, wandering and taking photos.

After working out the composition and colors, I’ve got two paintings ready to start: a full-size watercolor sheet of the above image and a slightly smaller canvas of another garden scene.

Before starting a large painting I like to do a study first, getting to know the image more intimately, and experimenting with pigments and techniques so when I start the real painting I have a plan of action or at least a sense of direction.

Tulip study and notes for painting, journal spread

Tulip study and notes for painting, journal spread

Since I only recently began experimenting with opaque watercolor pigments after years of using only transparents, I made some discoveries with this study and took notes as I worked. Here are a couple that might be of interest:

  • Opaque pigments (Cadmiums, Cerulean, Yellow Ochre) are great when putting down an area of strong color and leaving it (such as when painting in my journal). But they lift too easily when adding layers over them, and become thick and unattractive when trying to mix darks. As I learned in oil painting, darks/shadows are best when thin so they don’t draw attention to themselves with texture.  Seems to be the case in watercolor as well: better to use staining, transparent darks that won’t lift or get thick. For the dark green areas in the painting I’ll use Sap Green with Sepia and vary with a bit of Indigo, Winsor Violet and/or Alizarin.
  • The Legion/Utrecht 100% rag watercolor paper I’m using in my journal lifts incredibly easily. This is great when you actually want to lift paint but not so good when you just want to soften an edge and a bunch of paint lifts off instead!

Here are the original reference photo and the Photoshopped version. As you can see I got rid of some distractions and changed the proportions a bit.

Original reference photo of tulip in garden

Original reference photo of tulip in garden

Photoshopped tulip reference photo

Photoshopped tulip reference photo

Photoshop CS5 has some great new composition tools, such as “Content-Aware Fill” which I used to fill in the windows, white at top right corner and a tulip on the right margin. You just select and delete sections you want to replace and PS fills them with information from the surrounding area. I also narrowed the image to fit the proportions of the 22×30 watercolor paper using Content-Aware Scaling which preserves the proportions of the important stuff while squeezing in (or stretching) the other stuff.

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Category:
Art theory, Flower Art, Landscape, Painting, Photos, photoshop, Places, Sketchbook Pages, Watercolor
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Join the conversation! 19 Comments

  1. That’s beautiful, Jana!

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  2. Thanks for sharing about the techniques. I plan to do some finished paintings based on sketches this summer, so I will keep these in mind.

    It’s a fabulous sketch, and I look forward to seeing the final painting.

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  3. Wonderful discussion and lovely sketch. Good luck with the painting. I’m glad you left the germy magazines in the rack!

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  4. That is kind of an interesting observation. I wonder if you have had a similar experience with acrylics? Laying some more transparent colors down for shadows or darker values?

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    • I think in acrylics the important thing, just like with oils, is that the darks are thin and not textured, because light bounces off textured areas, making the darks look lighter because of those reflections and highlights on the ridges. I don’t think opaque vs transparent is as important with acrylics. With watercolor it’s not the opacity itself that creates the problem with darks, but that the more opaque colors (at least the ones on my palette) just aren’t that dark to begin with and only get kind of chalky/muddy when mixed with darker colors. Jana

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  5. That tulip is breathtaking! Thanks for the tips that you learned. I agree that it is much better to sketch than to read “germy magazines”!

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  6. What a happy accident, a surprise garden and time to spend in it! This looks like it’s going to be a beautiful painting…..22×30, huh? Do you have trouble making the transition from journal size to full sheet size? I have trouble making the transition from journal size to anything bigger!

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    • As long as I remember to increase my brush size, and mix up bigger pools of paint, and break the image down into smaller sections, it’s not too hard a transition. I’ve got the painting underway now, and the biggest challenge as been the size of the board, trying to fit it onto my worktable when I turn it from one direction to another. Some sections I paint upside down or sideways, which means the board it’s on needs lots of room to be turning around on the table. The table is big enough but I’ve got a lot of other stuff on it. I may move to another table to have more freedom of movement. Jana

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  7. Love your header Jana and a beatiful study..
    ronell

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  8. Such a lovely Tulip Jana. The colours are stunning and so vibrant.

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  9. I can see I have to upgrade my Photoshop Elements. I love working with it though and have not exploited all its possibilities yet. But so much going on with later versions. Thanks for this detailed post. Happy painting!

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  10. Lovely painting and I enjoyed reading the link about the building.

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  11. That’s a wonderful photo, I’m sure you’ll make a beautiful painting from it.

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  12. Oh Jana…I have not been on your blog for a “coon’s age”.
    And now I am REALLY wondering what is digging that hole.
    Dusting with baby powder for footprints? HOW cool is that?
    I winter in FL and we DO have a lot of armadillos which “snuffle” around in our landscape garden almost every night. But that is another story.

    I am again blown away by your journals. They are so inspiring and beautiful and I love that you are working on an “old” tulip. One that is just beautiful in it’s old age. No one ever does that! It really says something philosophical, don’t you think?

    I enjoy all your comments about the paints, about the places you go to paint, and information about how to take photos and etc. You have a GREAT blog and the day I have 17 comments on a blog post I’ll be going out to a bottle of wine!!! I did post my sketchbook from traveling May 17-23 if you have time to look some day. But what I am interested in is your plein air group as I have just joined one and we paint every Thursday morning. (see my latest blog post on this). But we do not do a critique and I want to know more about it. You mention “finishing just in time for the 1:00 critique.” We also have been quitting at noon and going for lunch. This gives many of us only two hours or so to paint. I am thinking we should do as you do and push it later. But tell me more about how you critique. We have a lot to learn. I am in the north woods of WI for the summer months.

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    • Hi Ginny, Thanks for the great message! I hadn’t thought about the tulip being old, I just liked it’s shape, but it could be a subconscious philosophical affinity. Re those 17 comments–some of them are usually mine, replies to people who’ve left comments for me. I try to answer as many as I can. You have armadillos snuffling around? Are they sweet creatures? I’d love to see one in person.

      About our plein air critiques, they are really helpful and interesting. The way they work is this: We paint from 10-1 (although some people arrive earlier or later). At 1:00 we line all the paintings up along a wall or some other structure and then gather around. Everyone brings their own lunches; some stop to eat when they get hungry and the rest eat during the critique.

      A different member is the designated coordinator for each session (arranged at our pre-season meeting when we vote on all the sites, and set up calendar for our spring-fall season. That member gets the critique going by asking the creator of the painting at one end to say something about their piece. The artist usually says what they were going for, or how they feel about it,the challenges they had, or ask for guidance. The group gives respectful, positive feedback and sometimes suggestions for improvement. It’s always helpful and supportive. When we’ve considered each painting we say goodbye and head out.

      In my main group described above, the 40 or so members are all at different levels of ability, from pros to beginners and work in all media but nobody takes the role of “expert” leader. We’re all in it together.

      My other group is led by an old-time plein air pro who is considered to be the expert and while that group doesn’t always have critiques, it’s usually that founding member who leads the critique.

      From Florida to the North Woods — that sounds like quite a switch, and both seem like exotic locales to me. It must be nice to get away from the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter. That’s the nice thing about living in the SF Bay Area though, the weather is much less extreme and usually pleasant. Jana

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  13. Thanks for sharing your process!

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  14. Very interesting watercolor! Thanks for sharing and keep up the great art!

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