Plants provide limitless possibilities for variations of shapes and textures.

Ivy Vines

Reality inspires the shapes, imagination provides the colors.  What a great team!

For more variety, I allowed the pigments to mix on the paper, wet in wet within the boundaries of each leaf shape.

Sketchbook drawing: drawn first with fountain pen filled with Noodler’s Black Ink, followed by watercolor.

Color Scheme: Extended Analogous.

After two days of struggling to break through a few plein air landscape barriers, it’s a relief to return to familiar territory, ink and watercolor botanical drawing.

Buddleia – Butterfly Bush

I love painting on the Rives BFK paper in my sketchbook.  I’ve ordered fifty 22″ x 30″ sheets to experiment painting large, en plein air, on a steep slant.  I don’t know how it will drip, but looking forward to finding out.

Color Palette: Analogous with near complement, Yellow/Green, Green, Blue/Green with Red/Violet.

Regardless of media or subject, it all boils down to the values of the shapes working well together …. or not.  I can accept less than gorgeous colors in a painting of resolved values and shapes more than I can accept gorgeous colors in a painting that is visually abrasive because of it’s unresolved interplay of shapes.

Black and White Comparisons at various stages

I painted an 18″ x 24″ en plein air watercolor, thrilled with working larger.  It’s difficult to swing my arm, use larger brushes and splatter color here and there when I am working small.  Wanting to stay loose, I began without any drawing to guide me.  It would have been fine if I hadn’t included the wooden structure…. but then it wouldn’t have been a painting of the gateway to our Secret Garden.  The splattering began as a way to camouflage the errors in the structure.  The next problem was the composition of light and dark shapes.  I wanted the light to show through the structure, connecting the sky with the foreground.  I also loved the light shape of the tree against the dark shape of the tree just to the right of the structure.  Unfortunately, those two shapes were too close in size and shape.  One of them had to go, for the sake of the painting.

Final resolution

I am pleased with the results.  This is a great size for me. Next time I’ll try to resolve the value shapes before I start playing with paint.  Then I’ll be free to dive into gorgeous color interactions.  In this painting, the neutralized reds added life to the green masses.

Detail of Secret Garden

Cutting or carrying armloads of gladioli from acres of newly bloomed, spiked flowers was part of my job as a young teen working on a local farm. Though I love flowers, gladioli were never among my favorites. I thought of them only as funeral flowers.

Gladiolus plant, ink and watercolor sketch

My attitude changed a couple of days ago when the gladioli were the only flowers not yet suffering from the drought. It was my first ever attempt to draw or paint a gladiolus plant. I had not realized it is a genus of the iris family, iridacae. It wasn’t until I had completed my first drawing (see today’s post on my other blog) that I made the connection. Drawing opens my eyes to the obvious I often miss even when I am standing in the middle of it.

Watercolor sketch:  drawn first with fountain pen filled with blue ink, followed by watercolor.

Color Palette:  I used a limited palette of phthalo blue (Joe’s Blue), alizarin crimson and gamboge.

Ahhhh ….. I took a break from studying the form of facial planes to enjoy painting the blossoming hollyhocks again before they shrivel from the lack of rain.

Hollyhock Inspirations

Until a week ago, my sole inspiration for painting hollyhocks, aside from the gorgeous plants themselves, has been Jane Dyer’s illustrations for Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

A garden of Hollyhocks

Susan Abbott is teaching a plein air workshop in Provence and has been posting her paintings on her blog.  Susan’s hollyhocks along a narrow street in Viens has become inspiration number two!

Mine along with Jane’s and Susan’s

Hollyhock to hollyhock

A few adjustments to the painting

After brewing a cup of fresh Rose Geranium Tea, I saw that the green shape adjacent to the center blossom was too similar in value, shape and size.  I broke up the shape and softened some edges.

the source of my fresh brewed tea!

Paintings:  watercolors.  Color palette is Alizarin crimson, Gamboge, Jerry’s Blue and a tiny touch of cadmium red.


The ink bleed is beginning to be a nuisance.

Trumpet Parts No. 90 and Rosemary Plant

I would have like this better if I hadn’t added the red/orange background.  The fine lines of the rosemary plant leaves bled into the watercolor, filling in the small negative shapes between the leaves.  The contrast was lost because the blue/green of the leaves is too close to the background value.  I went back with my fountain pen to redefine the blurred edges of the leaves.  The paper absorbed more ink and the delicate lines became clunky.

My color scheme is analogous with one complement, Red/Orange being the dominant color and blue/green being the complement accent.  I should have abandoned The Color Scheme Game directive and left the background white.  My curiosity got the better of me and I painted the background.

Sketchbook drawing: drawn first with fountain pen, followed by watercolor, followed by fountain pen.

Last week’s storm blew all the oak leaves back onto the gardens where the spring peas were planted.

Pea Seedlings Watercolor Sketches

The seedlings had survived the storm, poking through the dry leaves that perhaps had protected them from the severe winds and freezing temperatures.  The watercolor sketch appeared a bit too vague to me at first.  I tried to strengthen it by adding contrast first with a soft pencil, a bit too harshly, then with darker value watercolor.  I overdid it and attempted to save it with a few splatters.  I like the first version better.  Less is more.

First impressions

The puddle mixes of indian red and ultramarine blue give nice variations to the suggestion of earth and dry leaves.  Though you have to search for the yellow/green pea seedlings, they are there.

Sketchbook painting of pea seedlings: sketches briefly with soft pencil, followed by strokes of watercolor.

I was happier with this drawing when it was simply a contour hatched ink drawing, but I couldn’t resist the urge to meet the challenge of red roses against a dark green background of wild bushes against the fence.

Roses Outside the Bedroom Window

I thought that by darkening the background the roses would be more visible.  Leaving the highlights on the roses as light as the sunlit leaves only left confusing little shapes that kept the leaves from their own movement within the drawing.  I was already a bit too dark with my values of the rose petals and background.  With nothing to lose, I darkened the highlights of the rose petals so that they didn’t appear as pasted on little shapes.  I think it works better.  As always, red and green are a challenge.  Their local value is just too close for comfort.

Drawn first with Flex roller pen filled with Noodler’s Heart of Darkness Ink.  Followed by washes of watercolor

This evening’s flat, overcast light conditions inspired me to be inventive with greens while maintaining similar values. The play between positive and negative shapes caught my attention.  I wanted to create spacial layering without calling attention to the shape of individual leaves.

Hollyhocks with warm and cool green leaves

I began with a contour drawing using two fountain pens, one filled with Noodler’s Midnight Blue ink and the other with Noodler’s Green Marine ink. Using a pen brush filled with only water, I brushed the leaves to cause only a slight bleed of the ink.  I left it at that for about fifteen minutes until I found I needed a bit more substance to the drawing.  First I applied values with Ciao Copic Markers.  Still I needed more.  I wanted a limited range of colors to reflect the flat lighting.  Out came the watercolors.  Using a limited palette of peacock blue, lemon yellow and aurolean yellow I mixed the greens ranging from warm to cool, maintaining similar values and not crossing the boundaries of green (not extending into yellows or blues). Movement between shapes is created by the temperature change of the colors more than the value change, allowing the emphasis to remain on the interactions between the positive and negative shapes.

Last stage of needlepoint jacket.  Maria’s father purchased three blues for the sky giving him the range of light, medium and medium/dark values to work with.  I had not broken the sky down into specific shapes for him as I did the butterflies and coneflowers.

All but the sky

One of the consideration in designing this pattern is the fact that Maria’s dad is color blind.  I am curious to know if that also limits his ability to discern values.  Does anyone know?

I agreed to redesign the sky, breaking it down into specific shapes for each of his three blues. Fortunately, he sent me a photo of his threads.

Medium dark, medium and light value blue thread

I created a color comp for him with the new sky design, then realized that it might not be that helpful to him if he can’t discern the differences in the colors and/or values.  To make it a bit easier, I redrew the design using vertical and horizontal lines to differentiate between the value shapes.

Value shape design for blue sky with clouds

I hope it works out.