I went through quite a process making little birthday paintings for my granddaughters whose birthdays are two years and one week apart. I think of Madeleine as a little butterfly, always happy and amused. Strong but delicate.
First I looked at reference photos of the different critters and flowers, then sketched them as if I was doing scientific illustration. I transferred my sketch to watercolor paper and painted it. Then I realized it was a terrible composition.
So I started over, deciding that they didn’t need to be scientifically correct. I let my whimsical side come out, recomposed and redrew and painted it again. This time I was happy. I hope she will like it!
My granddaughter Sadie can swim like a fish, so for her birthday I painted a little undersea scene for her. I’ve always been intrigued by seahorses so it was fun researching, drawing and then painting one.
Growing up in Southern California, I’ve always felt at home in the water, whether just spending the day in the sun and surf or scuba diving.
If I were ever to marry again (unlikely) I want a scuba wedding. I wonder if guests would be willing to come to a “destination” wedding when the destination was underwater.
I recently spent a couple weeks working through a Proportions and Rhythms of the Head portrait drawing class created by Bradwynn Jones. I watched him do the demo drawings (mostly while working out on my rower) and then sketched them myself. When I finished all the drawings I transferred them to watercolor paper and started painting them. This is the first one I painted.
I took an immediate dislike to this model. She was pretty but mean-girl looking to me. I decided to experiment with a triad of colors on her that turned out to be equally unpleasant.
Cobalt Violet has very low tinting strength and just sits on top of the paper, so it came right off if I tried to glaze over it. It is both opaque and granulating, causing an unpleasant texture for skin.
The QOR Nickle Azo Yellow also had low tinting strength and when mixed with the violet made a yucky brownish color for shadows. The QOR Paynes Grey combined with the yellow made a gross greenish-gold of her hair.
I didn’t really care because, like I said, take that, mean girl!
Also, Payne’s Grey; I’ve never understood why people use it. Most brands make it from black and ultramarine blue and sometimes a bit of violet. I guess it’s a convenience color, but one that would be so easy to make, though I prefer not to use black paint in watercolor.
Do you use Payne’s Grey? If you do please tell me why and which brand you like.
We sat around her on the funky carpet in the former chapel, and listened raptly as she read and spoke about her life’s journey so far. At that time she was the first ever African-American best-selling author and like me, was living in Berkeley.
I used the photo reference above from around that same time for my preparatory sketch below.
I painted her twice, using a limited three-color palette of DS Quinacridone Gold, WN Perylene Maroon, and DS Indanthrone Blue. Below is the first (failed) painting attempt.
In the painting (above, Yuck!) I made her skin too dark and too orange, plus when I added Rose of Ultramarine for her dress and Winsor Blue to a gold background, I made a green that clashed with the purple dress.
For some reason this snippet of her talk 50 years ago has always stayed with me. She said:
My grandmother always told me, “You don’t always get what you pay for, but you always pay for what you get.”
While I drew and painted her I thought of her as one of the Quilters of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, women who were direct descendants of the enslaved people who worked the cotton plantation there. I saw a traveling show of their quilts at a local museum years ago.
I painted this after watching master Korean watercolor artist J Hunsung paint her on YouTube here where you can also see his finished version. He doesn’t credit the photographer or model for this reference photo, which I also used for my painting.
It took three attempts to get the sketch right. I’m learning to take my time and get everything sketched in. And if things don’t quite fit together, fix it, don’t pretend it will be ok as is. Looking at my sketch compared to the reference photo below, I can see I still didn’t get it perfectly, but it felt close enough to go for it.
I was so pleased with these perfect flat washes in my initial block in that I had to share them. In watercolor, getting a flawless flat wash is not easy.
With each watercolor painting, I’m experimenting with a different limited palette and then adding strokes of the colors used at the bottom of the painting. For this one I used Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold, Winsor Newton Perylene Magenta, Daniel Smith Indanthrone Blue and a guest appearance in the jewelry only of Daniel Smith Perylene Scarlet. (I know it says DS Perylene on the painting but that’s a mistake.)
I’m enjoying using fresh from the tube paint in a little porcelain palette instead of the ancient dried up old palette I had been using.