Archive for the ‘Techniques’ Category

Stained Glass on Paper

Monday, January 4th, 2010


When I visited my mother in Albuquerque, NM recently, I was delighted to discover that she still had this piece I’d made when I was a freshman in high school.  I don’t recall what stained glass this replica was based on – some medieval cathedral in Europe – but I had a lot of fun making it.

First, I sketched the piece on a sturdy piece of paper parchment.   To create an “aged” look to the piece, I used a method my freshman high school art teacher taught us:  Using a very hot iron, I “ironed” the piece until the parchment paper began looking slightly browned.  I then painted my sketch with some student-grade watercolors (many of the colors are not as vivid as they once were originally).  Obviously, this technique would not be advisable on anything you want to keep for posterity – though I have to say, despite all odds, this piece has survived pretty well for over 40 years!

The piece is somewhat dull until you hold it up to the light.  Then, like light showing through real stained glass, the image becomes vivid and pops out of the darkness.

Here is a detail of the kings’ heads:


More Egg Art

Sunday, December 13th, 2009
Back of decorated egg

Back of decorated egg

When I recently visited my mother, she gave me some painted eggs I had made when I was younger. I’ve written about eggshell art previously.   This particular egg has always been one of my favorites.  I painted with what I had at hand at the time:  watercolor for purple background; India ink for black to outline the three kings while reserving the white of the natural egg, and nail polish to add the “lacquer” at the end, and to strengthen the egg shell.

For the inside, I pasted a Christ Child in the background and stuffed the foreground with dried flowers.  It’s taken a beating:  parts of the shell have broken away, and there’s a significant crack.  But it was fun to see it again.


Painting in Gouache, Part 2

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

I was showing the progression of my last painting “The Meeting of Curious Minds” in  my last post, in an attempt to show how gouache can be used.

I finished adding a darker undercoat of brown to the trunk of the madrone tree.  I also finished the hummingbird.  I did not want to delay doing so, because I needed to see how the small bird fit in with the trunk and foliage before continuing further.  As for the leaves, I did reserve the lighter color of the paper underneath, as in this case it would have been a lot of work and a waste of paint to have to paint over the darker area.

owl more trunk

Here is a close-up of the juvenile ruby-throated hummingbird:


The next step was to work on the leaves of the poison oak.  Then the fun part began when I smeared big blobs of white paint with a stiff bristled flat brush onto the trunk to provide the undercoat of the bark that covers the lower regions of the madrone tree.  Some daubs were thicker or thinner, to simulate the variety of shades one encounters normally in nature.

owl white daubs

The rest was then take up with further refining the look of the bark, to make it more realistic, using shades of black to gray and some browns.  I spent quite a lot of time working and reworking the leaves, to get a balance between recognizable and super realistic.  To have done too much would have detracted from the rest of the painting.

And then the final.  I really enjoyed working on this piece, and I really love how gouache enables me to do many things that would take much longer in pure watercolor, and/or be extremely difficult to do.

owl finished

Painting in Gouache, Part 1

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009
Finished painting

Finished painting

Gouache is not as common a medium for fine art now as it should be, in my opinion!  Gouache is mostly used in the present time by illustrators  and designers because the colors are brilliant, they dry fast, and they are opaque like oils.  Unlike watercolors which require working from light to dark and reserving the white of the paper for lighter areas, you can work from dark to light with gouache.

It is an old medium.  It was used in the 14th century (and probably earlier) and known also as “bodycolor.”  Wikipedia states:  “Gouache differs from watercolor in that the particles are larger, the ratio of pigment to water is much higher, and an additional, inert, white pigment such as chalk is also present. Like all watermedia, it is diluted with water. (Gum Arabic is also present as a binding agent, just as in watercolor.) This makes gouache heavier and more opaque, with greater reflective qualities.”

Some artists of note who have used it often:  Albrecht Durer, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, Nicolas Poussin, Edgar Degas, and others.   I’d say that was good company!

As a matter of interest, I thought I’d include some photos of the progression of my last painting “Meeting of Curious Minds,” which is mostly gouache, with some watercolor.

I used a multiple-ply acid-free cotton rag illustration board for the paper support.  While you could use watercolor paper with gouache if you used thin washes, most of the time you must use a stiff inflexible support for gouache, as the thicker parts of gouache painting will crack if the support is bent.

After sketching the basic lines of the piece, I painted an undercoat for the tree, the hollow,  and the owl to give me some basic tonal values to work with.  It all looks rather ghostly so far.


I next worked further on the owl, adding more darker areas over which I would use white gouache later on.  The beauty of gouache is that you can paint dark colors as an undercoat and, depending on how transparent you make your gouache strokes, you can allow that undercoat of fur or feathers to show, as they often do in nature.  I figure that if I mess up here, it’s not worth continuing.  So I always tend to do the hardest parts first so that if I do make irreversible mistakes, I don’t waste too much time!


In the photo below, I’ve finished the owl, adding pure white feathery strokes of a fairly well-loaded brush.  I’ve worked on the aged, non-growing wood of the madrone nesting hole, and also darkened the interior of the hole so that the owl is seen in better contrast.  Now I must work on the rest of the trunk.


I see that in order to bring out the contrast between the rich hues of the tree trunk and the craggier, lighter bark that lives on top of the smoother trunk underneath, I have to make the background much darker than I have so far.  So out comes a darker brown, as well as the first greens of the poison oak that has insinuated itself onto the tree.  The hummingbird also begins to appear.


To be continued…

The Meeting of Curious Minds

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Meeting of Curious Minds-websiteI finally finished this painting – whew!  The tree is one of my favorites:  a Pacific Madrone with a hollow.

And the owl is a Barn Owl.  Have you noticed that I like Barn Owls?  I think they are my favorite owl.  That’s a juvenile ruby-throated humminbird who is checking out the owl.

What I used:  watercolor and gouache.  The gouache was especially helpful in enabling me to create the tree bark and add essential highights to the owl’s wispy facial features.

That green stuff, by the way, is poison oak!  It often climbs up madrone bark.


Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

VulnerableThis is my latest painting, finished this weekend.  This is a little Pine Siskin I found, seeking warmth from the late winter sun on a very cold afternoon.  He had found a warm spot on the concrete between my house and an herb planter.

He was all puffed up to conserve heat.  He looked so vulnerable.  That’s what I called the painting.

For anyone interested in knowing the techniques involved:

1.  First stage was laying in a couple of washes of yellow, then a brown (now I forget which one)

2.  Then I used a fairly dry brush to lay in the lines of the concrete.

3.  I splattered, using a very stiff bristle brush, spots and “dirt” that one normally finds on concrete outside; then I smudged various colors to imitate more concrete untidiness.

4.  The bird is a combination of washes and dry brush.  The crack in the concrete is mainly dry brush on the dry background.

5.  The shadow is a wet application of a layer of pthalo blue and a brown

Here is a detail of the Pine Siskin.


How to Paint with Watercolor – Paints.2

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

paint-boxBefore launching into actual painting, there are a few other aspects to watercolor paints you might like to know.  While these facts may not have much bearing when you first start painting, in time they will become more important.

Tubes vs. Pans

When we were children, most of us were given watercolor sets in little tins that contained a number of dry pans of pigment.  These are student-grade paints that usually are extended with chalky fillers to keep costs down.  These chalky fillers also prevent the full luminosity of watercolor pigments to show on the paper.  Another good reason not to skimp on paint quality.

There are of course artists’ quality hard pans too, and these are very good paints, but they are suspended in more glycerin than tube paints – to keep them from cracking.  It takes a lot of wear on brushes to wet the pigments sufficiently to provide a good loaded brush of pigment.  (And it’s very hard to keep each pan clean of other pigments that will mess up the true color of the pan.)  Most artists use tubes of the thick, creamy wet pigment.  It’s wonderful to feel on the brush.  I feel one has more control, and it saves one’s brushes – which are not cheap to replace, if they’re decent quality.  Overall, I think using tube paints is superior from most standpoints.  I do have a set of hard pans – but just for traveling purposes.

Palette surface

You can buy a watercolor palette cheaply at most art stores, or even a supermarket.  Plastic ones are very cheap, but I prefer enamel or porcelain.  The paint handles better, doesn’t bead like it does on plastic.  Plastic gets stained and feels cheap somehow.  But if you are short on money, plastic works.

Lightfast qualities

Artist quality paints are manufactured as much as possible to be as lightfast – or permanent –  as possible.   You want your paints to be lightfast – pigments that have been proven not to fade or change color when exposed to reasonable light.  Winsor & Newton publishes a comprehensive brochure that lists every pigment’s lightfast quality, as well as its main ingredients, toxicity, characteristics, etc.  Here is a link that shows such information for Aureolin .

I’ll cover some other aspects of watercolor pigments in the next post.

Meanwhile, time to experiment:

1.  Set your pad of watercolor paper flat on your desk

2.  Get a jar of water and a large flat brush

3.  Place a dot of pigment on your palette (it doesn’t have to be a lot)

3.  Load the brush with water, and cover a section of your paper with water to prepare the paper to receive the pigment.

4.  While the paper is still very wet, brush on some pigment and tilt the paper toward you slightly.

The result should look something like this:

Pigment on wet paper

Pigment on wet paper

It really is lovely to see how the pigment seeks the water and runs with the downward angle.

You can also use the pigment on dry paper, and these would be such results (same loaded brush):

Pigment on dry paper

Pigment on dry paper

As you can see, the top half shows the loaded still-wet brush.  The strokes in the bottom half show how the pigment appears as the brush gets nearly dry.  The paper has absorbed most of the wetness of the brush.

All three effects are used in watercolor painting.

Here’s another wet brush into wet paper (“wet on wet”):

Pigment on wet paper

Pigment on wet paper

And now here’s the same image where I’ve allowed the original sample to dry, and I’ve used a semi-dry brush to make the red lines more defined:

Pigment on dry paper

Pigment on dry paper

Experiment and have fun with these techniques.

How to Paint with Watercolor – Paints.1

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

paletteCommenting on a previous post about “Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered,” Mandy asked what supplies would be useful for beginning to paint with watercolor.

First, let me preface this post with a very important point:  ART HAS TO BE FUN.  If you are going into art – in any media – with a sense of duty or obligation or if you think you can do something better than someone else to prove your talents, forget it!  It will become a chore and a yoke around your neck.  Creativity can’t happen under this heavy burden.  While art is a lot of things, the one thing that touches people most when they view art  is sensing a joy or passion from the creation.

So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can get down to practicalities.

You need some basic supplies:

1.  Watercolor paper (often called a “support”).  I’ve written extensively about what to use in some previous posts here and here.

2.  Watercolor brushes, which I’ve also written about previously in this post.

3.  Lastly, you need watercolor paints.

Since I haven’t written much about the watercolor paints I use, this post will cover paints.

Paints – What brands?

You can use whatever brands you like, but I recommend you don’t start with student grade paints.

When I began painting watercolors in earnest, I gravitated toward the tried and true standards of Winsor & Newton.  Winsor & Newton  is based in England and has been making pigments since 1832.  They now provide watercolor, gouache,  oils, and acrylics.  They are great paints, most of them tested for lightfastness and reliability in performance.  They also provide a brochure that shows each shade they offer, its properties (transparent, opaque, granulating, etc.) , lightfastness, toxicity, etc. Any reputable art supply store will carry this brand, as well as the mega art supply store online:  I get most of my supplies from Dick Blick as it often happens that the paints I get from my local store are not fresh.  Dick Blick has a fast turnover of paints so they’re always of good quality.

Please note, however, that Winsor & Newton produces two grades:  Cotman and Artist’s.  Cotman is the student version; Artist’s grade is what you should use, whether you are a student or a professional.  I know, the Artist’s grade is pricey!  But in the long run, you’ll be so much happier with results if you pay a little more now.  Besides, you don’t need a huge palette of colors to begin with.  You can start out with a basic dozen and then add more as you have money to spend.

Note:  W &N carries at least 2 sizes of paint tubes (5 ml and 14 ml) , so you can buy small tubes to begin with, which will be more manageable financially.  Unless you are painting very large works, these small tubes will last a long time.

Other brands I use are Holbein, which is made in Japan.  I find this brand very consistent.  Sometimes I find shades that are more intense and slightly different than Winsor & Newton, so I add a tube to my box now and then.

The only other brand I’ve tried is a relatively new one (since 1976) :  Daniel Smith, based in Seattle, Washington.  Not all the colors are lightfast.  You have to study them online ( or request a catalog and read carefully.  But I love their quinacridone series for unique shades and intense colors!  I have about a dozen of their tubes.

The key here is experimentation.  You may find you like a range of colors produced by one brand and another range that suits you in another brand.

What colors to start with and how many?

If you are seriously penny-pinching, you can start with just 6 colors that contain the basics.   These are the colors I began with (all Winsor & Newton), which you can pick and choose from.  I’ve included a sample, but each computer monitor will translate them differently, so nothing will be entirely true – just to give you an orientation :



New Gamboge

New Gamboge

Winsor Yellow

Winsor Yellow



Raw Umber

Raw Umber

Burnt Sienna

Burnt Sienna



Pthalo Blue

Pthalo Blue

Mineral Violet

Mineral Violet

Hooker's Green

Hooker's Green

Sap Green

Sap Green

In the next post, I’ll talk about some interesting characteristics of certain paints and how to start using them.  Don’t worry, it’s a lot of fun and can be quite exciting!

“Drawing for the Artistically Undiscovered”

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

klutz1My friend Dweezeljazz introduced me to this really fun book by illustrator Quentin Blake.  Blake does some really great illustrations.  If you’ve read any of Roald Dahl’s books, you will be familiar with his style – loose, easy, and extremely expressive and full of character.


You can see more of his stuff at his website here.

What I love most about it is that it is a book for ANYONE of any talent – dubious or otherwise.

In fact, here is one bit of advice given right at the beginning, which sets the tone of the entire book

klutz3So you see, it is for anyone, and very encouraging and affirming.

For someone like me, who tends to draw and paint realistically and very carefully, it is helping me enormously to break out of my detail-style drawing to be more flowing and spontaneous.  There are no wrong strokes here, and the narrative of the book is encouraging, anything-goes, and very fun.

You never know what’s going to come out of your pen, or pencil.  By the way, this “100% KLutz certified” book comes with two watercolor pencils – black and red.  And a fine point felt pen.

Here’s a sample page.  Quentin Blake has drawn the hot-air balloon and the fellow quaking below it.  I filled in the rest.  You can see how fun this can be.  It’s great for loosening up and getting over any artistic blocks and fears you might have now and then.

And by the way, the book is for ages 8 and up, so more than likely, you’re safe.


Tools of the Trade – Watercolor Paper, Part 2

Monday, April 6th, 2009

paper1I mentioned in my last post that I started out using Arches watercolor paper but changed brands.  Why?  Especially when the paper was so good to start with?

Simple:  Fungicide.

I am very sensitive to chemicals and the smells that out gas  (this senstivity began in earnest after completing chemotherapy for breast cancer many years ago).  I noticed early on when using Arches that whenever I laid on a lot of water to the surface, a strange smell would rise from the paper.  At first it was simply odd, but then I began getting headachey from the fumes.

No one could tell me why or what this smell was.  Finally, I found a book called Watercolor Paper Handbook, which was a life-saver.  The book is out of print, but used copies are readily available on

Madrone Gifts 2

What I found out was that Arches adds a fungicide to the paper during the manufacturing process.  Mystery solved.  I don’t know of any other watercolor paper manufacturer that does this, but my nose sure told me so!  And why a fungicide is needed beats me.  Watercolor paper is made for taking on water, which is then thoroughly dried before storing.  If you keep your finished paintings in reasonable storage conditions, fungicides are not necessary.  Perhaps it’s mainly useful for people painting below the equator in tropical climates?  My conclusion is that people rush to use chemicals all too quickly when they are not needed.  And probably are dangerous on some level.

After some sleuthing and further research and experimentation, I ended up using Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper in blocks of various sizes.   This is an Italian-made paper, 100% cotton, acid-free, and offered in the 3 types of paper mentioned previous (rough, cold-pressed, hot-pressed) and in traditional white and extra white.

Fabriano Artistico Hot-Pressed Bright White block

Fabriano Artistico Hot-Pressed Bright White block

I usually buy my supplies from Dick Blick Art Supplies, and if you click on the link here, you will see the Fabriano Extra White line, which I tend to use exclusively. The traditional white is slightly cream-colored.  The Bright White is very white, and provides more contrast and crispness of image, which I prefer.

Blocks of paper, rather than loose sheets or spiral pads, are my choice.  Blocks of paper are glued together at the very edges, with one edge left unglued.  You stick a knife in that unglued edge to release the paper once it has been painted.  Why do I prefer blocks?  Because I’m lazy!  I do not want to have to  staple my paper to boards  and stretch the paper  like many artists do.  Since I have a full time job, when I make time to paint, I need to get right to it.

The blocks range in sizes from 5×7 to 14×20, which is usually as large as I work anyway.  So the blocks suit me fine.

There is one more thing about watercolor paper:  weight.  Some papers are lighter or heavier than others.  The heavier the paper, the thicker and more robust it is and the less  it will buckle and warp from the water used.  If it is very thick, stretching may not even be necessary. And if you use multiple very wet glazes, thicker is better.  In the painting at the beginning of the post, I used about a dozen separate glazes on the Madrone bark to depict the hues and transparency of the sunlight filtering through it.  Cold-pressed paper is indispensable for multiple glazes!

The blocks I use are mid-weight, at 140 lb per ream (or 300 gsm-grams per square meter).  Since the block configuration provides an inherent “stretching,” my preparatory work is already done.  I’ve never encountered warping or buckling.  I’m very happy with it.