Granted, there is only one tiny piece of paper glued onto the watercolor paper, but….. that still makes it a collage.

Orbs No. 22, Watercolor & paper, 22" x 30"

Orbs No. 22, Watercolor and tiny piece of handmade red paper, 22″ x 30″

I’m not a purest when it comes to painting.  When the painting begins to take on a personality, I nurture that personality, mood, story, whatever it might be evolving into, with anything and everything I can to make it the most that it can be.  In this case, the painting needed a tiny rectangle of red paper (1″ x 1.5″).  The final touch was the dark orb next to the piece of red paper.  Before adding those two elements, the depth of the painting was remarkably shallow.  Those two elements, one because of the color contrast and the other because of the value contrast, created the illusion of extreme, infinite space.  It helped to view a black and white version of the painting as it neared completion.  I make a habit of viewing my paintings in black and white to avoid guessing at design problems that might be resolved with only one or two strokes.

I used a combination of brush, splatter, junk templates, mouth atomizer, saran wrap, collage, scrape and comb.

Orbs. No. 22 – Watercolor and paper, 22″ x 30″, to be included in the Healing Arts exhibit at Overlook Hospital in November.

When teaching workshops focused on a variety of watercolor techniques, I present the students with a project that allows for experimentation and encourages a playful, curious attitude.

Abstraction From Traced Objects

Abstraction From Traced Objects

Why don’t I set up a lovely still life for the students to work from?  Because a still life requires drawing skills that many students have not yet acquired.  By the time the students are ready to add paint to their drawings, half the class is over and the students are already discouraged.  The poor results are blamed on watercolor being a difficult medium.

One cannot be either good nor bad at tracing objects.  By placing and tracing objects in a variety of positions on the paper, numerous overlapping shapes are created from which the students can easily extract an abstract design.  Within half an hour the students are still excited about painting and are ready to begin the adventure of playing with watercolor.

On January 14th I will present this exercise on the “Tools and Techniques” blog of my website.  This is just a sneak preview.

Sketchbook Image:  Watercolor  illustrating various watercolor techniques – Wash, glaze, splatter, adding salt, lifting, and wet in wet.

Color Scheme:  Extended Analogous with one complement

I finally got around to making myself mini cards for The Color Scheme Game.

Front and Back of Mini Guide Cards

These are the first edition cards.  I’m sure I’ll change them at some point, inserting different images just for fun.  The larger card measures 4.25″ x 5.5″  the small card measures 4.25″ x 3″.  Printed on cardstock.  They can easily be laminated using clear contact paper.

I’ve made them available on my Etsy Store.  As I continue to create easy guides for the Color Scheme Game, the Extended Color Scheme Game as well as templates for the color wheels, I’ll make the new items available.

Using a pair of near complements works well for a quick sketchbook drawing.

View of Blast Furnaces through the windows.

The blast furnaces as seen through the windows of the SteelStacks cabaret are far more impressive than I’ve shown in this sketch.  One of these days I’ll focus my attention just on these metal giants that look like an ocean liner docked on the outskirts of Bethlehem, PA.

I started with a simple line drawing using a dip pen in Noodler’s Black Swan in English Roses ink.  I added a wash of slightly toned down cadmium orange on the blast furnaces, allowing the ink to bleed into the wash.  The final touch was a pale wash of dioxazine Purple, again allowing the ink to bleed.

Because the ink has such a red tone to it, the resulting colors appear to be more an extended analogous color scheme than near complements.  The only watercolor hues I used were Cadmium Orange and Dioxazine Purple.  The purple was my cool color that was warmed by the ink bleed.


Dominant complements of red and green are tied together with high key (light value) complements of yellow and purple.

Lisa Parry at the Blues Jam

Using watercolor and ink together allows for things to happen on their own.  Colors can bleed into one another, blurring edges beautifully and mixing to just the right color to allow a sketch to come to life.  The red watercolor mixed with the Blue Nose Bear ink to produce a wonderful, subtle (and pale) purple suggesting a slightly shadowed lower face and neck.  It did not bleed enough to reach the cheek and side of the forehead, nor the tip of the ear.  Here, the yellow suggests a bit of light hitting the face.

Sketch: Drawn first with dip pen using Noodler’s Blue Nose Bear ink, followed by watercolor squeezed from a tube.

The first part of Lesson one was to create a color wheel showing full intensity of primary colors (yellow, red and blue) and secondary colors (orange, purple and green).  See previous post: Color as Value Lesson One.

The second part of lesson one is to make a value scale overlay that will be used for the color wheel in Lesson One as well as the color wheel you will create for Lesson Two.

Using a compass, draw a circle one inch larger in diameter than the circle you made for your first color chart.  My color chart is 7″ in diameter.  My value scale overlay is 8″ in diameter.  Within that circle, draw another circle the same diameter as your color wheel (7″).  Draw an inner circle 1/2″ in diameter.  Divide the section between the inner circle and the 7″ circle into eight equal bands of circles.  Paint the first band black and leave the outer band white.  Paint each of the inner six bands a progression of gray value.

Grayscale overlay for Color Wheel

With a protractor, Mark off the circle to form pie shapes alternating 25 degrees and 35 degrees. Using a razor or #1 knife, cut out the 35 degree sections leaving the outermost circle intact.  Place the grayscale overlay on top of your color wheel.

First Color Wheel with grayscale overlay

Squint at the color wheel with overlay to determine the intrinsic value of each primary and secondary hue.  If you have access to a scanner, scan the wheel with overlay (or photograph it) and change the mode to grayscale in your computer.

Grayscale mode

Compare what you thought the value of the hue is to what the grayscale mode shows as its value.

Practice Exercises:

There is little point to spending so much time making color wheels unless you put them to good use.  With your focus on value, not hue, take one or two objects and paint them using only the six pigments, full strength, that you used to paint the color wheel.  I have posted a few examples and will add more as time goes by.  Feel free to send me your images if you wish them to be considered for posting on the page of examples for Lesson One.

There is no time to plan ahead when painting musicians jamming in a bar.  I dip into the paint based on the local color value rather than the hue since I can’t really see it in the dark anyway.  Fresher and more inventive color schemes are the result of such blind choices.

Arthur Nielson, The Grisly Bear, NYC

The next morning, in the light of day, the color scheme of a painting can sometimes be labeled.  I end up analyzing the effects of color combinations that please or intrigue me so that I might use them with intention in plein air or studio work.

Paintings that transition along the color spectrum from yellow to purple delight me.  On occasion I have forced this color scheme into a painting and failed miserably.  Yesterday morning when I spread out the paintings I had done the night before at Big Ed Sullivans Blues Jam at The Grisly Pear I smiled seeing this painting of Arthur.  The transitions work effortlessly.

Sometimes it can be an extremely small area of a painting that makes the difference.  In this case, I believe it is the tiny spot on Arthur’s shirt where the red of the guitar bleeds into the green of the shirt. It ties the softer, analagous colors of the top half of the painting to the bolder, sharp-edged shapes of the bottom of the painting where the colors at the other end of the spectrum reside.

The only color missing is blue, though it is represented in the green and in the purple.  Full spectrum paintings are more pleasing to me when one of the six primary and secondary colors is omitted in its pure form.

Painting: drawn first in black ink with dip pen followed by washes of watercolor

Skipped a few days of posting to take care of family matters, cleaning out the attic of the house my parents built in 1952.

Corduroy Elephant ant Totems

One of the treasures found in the attic is the corduroy elephant from my childhood.  Sketchbooks are a wonderful alternative to cluttering my studio and home with memorabilia.  I find that I hold onto things because of the stories and memories that they trigger.  By drawing the things in my sketchbook, a flat piece of paper serves the same purpose and takes up a lot less room.  After a drawing or two, the will, almost painlessly, get rid of the object in one way or another.

I wanted to hold true to the colors of the elephant.  They are, obviously, complementary colors (red and green).  I decided to play with the background and table surface by introducing another set of complementary colors (purple and yellow).

The elephant can no longer stand up without the support of a small coffee mug under its belly.  I opted to leave that out of the drawing.  Even with support, the elephant tries very hard to lie down again.

Ink drawing using a Parker 51 Fountain Pen filled with black ink, followed by watercolor washes.

Another overcast morning without sunshine through the window to illuminate the dishes drying on the towel beside the sink.

The ups and downs of coffee and wine

I started with a simple line drawing in ink using my Parker 51 fountain pen.  I didn’t worry about the inconsistent perspective or the reality of the towel folds.

Fountain Pen Line Drawing

The paper in the sketchbook is extremely thin and not friendly to laying down a wash.  Fortunately, I only have a few more pages to complete this book.  My dilemma this morning is that I can’t fit this color scheme into any of the standard schemes, yet it appears at first glance to be some sort of analogous color scheme with a complement.  Anybody out there have a pigeon hole for this one?

Morning Sketch:  line drawing with neutralized watercolor washes

Allowing colors to mix wet in wet on the paper produces wonderful transitions in color that cannot easily be achieved by mixing pigments on a palette.

Scott Young playing at the Blues Jam

My palette consisted only of yellow, red and blue.  The variations of purples and greens came from the pigments mixing on the paper with each other as well as with the black ink that I used for the initial drawing.  I find when I use only enough water to allow a slow, creeping flow, the colors still stay pure in large areas.

Sketch drawn first with black ink using dip pen, followed by wet-in-wet watercolor.