Category Archives: art

The Demise of Art Supply Stores and Bookstores

Just a small part of my secret addiction.

Two of my favorite hangouts when I go shopping are bookstores and art supply stores.  For some reason, these marvelous emporiums of possibilities grab me and hold on until I manage to escape some hours later.  Usually lighter of wallet, too.

Last week I made a foray to the “city” of Evansville and, as usual, stopped by Dick Blick’s art supply store.  I had my list in hand, had checked out online prices, and was prepared to spend some money.  I milled around a bit, filling my basket with some “necessary” studio items, and proceeded to the checkout.  The clerk couldn’t tell me if the in-store prices matched the online ones or not. What the heck.  I was there already so I checked out anyway.  It seemed like a lot but when I got home and checked the online prices, they were the same.  That’s good for my budget.

And I’m afraid that I do the same thing at bookstores.  Spend hours perusing my favorite sections, surreptitiously check prices with Amazon and Bookfinder, and see if the book I desire is the latest edition.  It’s just so easy so shop from home and have my heart’s desire delivered to my doorstep.

But the past several years, I’ve made a concerted effort to actually buy something in these stores, even if the price is a little more.  I think we need to support our local merchants for more than just a cappuccino and to read magazines for free.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be enough.

Yesterday I received an e-mail notification that Dick Blick’s in Evansville will be closing later this month.  I am so sad.  This was one of my favorite stops every time I went down there.  Shopping online just doesn’t supply the same adrenaline rush of actually fondling new pens and paints, checking out new authors, just looking around to see what is available.

Over the past several years I’ve seen Border’s flagship bookstore in Ann Arbor bite the dust.  As well as Hawley-Cooke in Louisville.  These stores had knowledgeable staff, enormous selections, and were just comforting places to hang out.

Lee’s Art Shop in New York closed its door last year.  Dang, that is where I bought my Lamy fountain pen (in dayglow green).  And the awesome Rizolli’s Bookstore in upper Midtown was a store right out of casting central – beautiful carved stone exterior, well-worn wood inside, nooks and crannies to find some amazing tome.

Sigh.  I know.  Things change. And we’re all guilty of bottom price shopping.  But where are people going to shop, to hang out, to fondle the plants at the nursery or the special pens and crayons at the art store? To find out what is new and amazing?  Are we all going to sit in our isolated armchairs and just punch buttons to order things?  It is fantastic to be able to find that something special online but it doesn’t quite replace the in-person experience of ogling something new in person. It’s so sad but I await to see what’s next.

What are your thoughts?  Have any of your favorite stores closed?


When is a painting finished?

Grand Canyon from the South Rim. Cloud shadows on the rocks. Painted in impressionistic style in acrylic, 20 x 20. Kit Miracle

Sometimes when I’m working on a painting, it just seems to paint itself.  I have a clear vision of what I want and it all comes together.

Other times, not.  I may think I’m finished, then when I go back into the studio, I see a glaring mistake.  Or something I was attempting didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted.

This is a painting of the Grand Canyon from the South Rim.  I was particularly attracted to the play of the cloud shadows across the scene.  The Canyon has such beautiful colors which change constantly throughout the day and the seasons, that it’s difficult to catch just the right time and color.  Sometimes I get some part of the painting which becomes “too precious”, meaning that I like it and tend to paint around it, but it throws off the rest of the composition.

This particular painting was created with the limited palette that I mentioned in my last post but took me far longer than some of my other recent paintings.  In fact, I painted some other paintings and then came back to this one.  Still not sure it’s finished.  What are your thoughts?

Painting with A Limited Palette

Abiquiqui, Georgia O’Keeffe’s home, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, acrylic on canvas panel, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

How many colors do you actually need on your palette to create a painting?

In truth, you probably need far less than you think. Some time ago, I marveled at a young artist who bragged about using 37 different colors.  My first thought then, and still, is, “Don’t you know how to mix colors?”  Maybe he does now.

My current color palette consists of six colors plus white.  This isn’t a hard and fast rule because I’m a sucker for a new color just like anyone else.  But this seems to work for me.

Acrylic palette currently in use

The hues that I currently use are:

  • Titanium White
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Prism Violet
  • Quinacridone Magenta
  • Cadmium Red Medium
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium

I seemed to have weaned myself off of Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber and Sap Green.  But really, this is enough.

I like bright colors and can mix pretty much anything from this small group.  It also makes it very easy to transport for plein air painting rather than dragging along a whole sackful of paint tubes.

The paints displayed are all acrylics.  I’m leaning toward heavy body (thicker paint) and plan to replace the next selections with them.  When I initially tried acrylics, I wasn’t too pleased with the quick drying properties and the fact that I couldn’t “sculpt” the paintings.  However, I have adjusted my working procedures.  Textures are easily obtained if one can wait just a little while before applying new layers.

Acrylic palette in use. Disposable plate.

As you can see, I’m using disposable plates for my palette.  (I hate to clean palettes!)  I can spritz them with water and cover them up for the night.  It works for me.

And cleaning brushes used for acrylics is a must.  Immediately.  They do dry quickly and you don’t want crusty brushes the next day.

So, this is the color palette that I’m using these days.  This may change.  What do you use?

Abiquiqui – Framed, Georgia O’Keeffe’s home, New Mexico, 12 x 16, acrylic on canvas panel, Kit Miracle

By the way, one is not allowed to take photos inside Georgia O’Keeffe’s house and studio.  After touring the home, I had to drive back just to take these photos from the outside.  Love the adobe buildings and brilliant blue sky.


Watercolor with Pen and Ink – Part 2

Sunset in watercolor with pen and ink. This is a quarter sheet of Arches 140 pound cold press paper, I juiced up the colors a bit. Click on the painting to see more detail.

Last week I discussed some of the intricacies of creating paintings with watercolor and pen and ink.  This week I will go into more detail.


I always use top quality watercolor paper. This is at least 140 pound pure rag paper.  I like Cold Press which has a little tooth.  Some people like the Hot Press which is very smooth.  Rough has a very rough texture and is a little difficult to draw on with a pen.  Of course, heavier paper is fine.  Lighter weight paper tends to buckle and is not so good for water media.

The paper is usually divided into quarter sheets (a full sheet is 20 x 30 inches) and is taped to a board.  You can use a drawing board, heavy plywood, or some other heavy support.  If I use a full sheet of paper, I “stretch” the paper and staple it to the board.  It actually bends the ½ inch finish grade plywood that I use!

This is a demonstration of the steps I take for creating a small watercolor with pen and ink. I use this method for most of the fruits and vegetables which appear on my Etsy shop, my90acres. I divide this quarter sheet of watercolor paper into four rectangles of a little more than 4 x 6 inches with some space left between the squares.


I start out with a rough pencil sketch done with a #2 pencil.  In the case of architectural elements, you may wish to add more detail but generally keep the sketch loose.  You don’t want to get to the point of coloring in the sketch.  Also, beware of erasing too much or of bruising your paper.  This will mark you paper so that when you apply the watercolor, it will soak into the paper, leaving dark marks.

This is the painting of the Falls in plain watercolor before the pen and ink is applied. As you can see, it is a very nice painting and stands on its own merits. Reminds me somewhat of Winslow Homer.

Painting of the falls at Bald Mountain Tennessee. This watercolor has had the pen and ink applied to it. Check out the detail to see how loosely the ink part is done.

Close up view of the painting Falls at Bald Mountain. See how loosely the ink lines are drawn.


I always use Winsor Newton artist grade watercolors. I apply the paint starting from light to dark, making sure to keep the white areas free.  I do not use any masking fluids.  Try to paint in bigger strokes and not get too fussy.  You may need to let the paint dry between layers.

These are the general tools that I use for my watercolor and pen and ink paintings. The large ruler (actually a quilting ruler) is what I use to lay out the painting squares. The small ruler is sometimes used where I need a straight line. Pencils and a plastic eraser, the platinum pen and two dip pens, India ink, carbon ink cartridges for the platinum pen, tape, either regular masking tape or painter’s tape.

Sketching with ink

At this point, you may decide not to apply any pen and ink.  See the samples of the waterfall.

If I decide to apply some details with pen and ink, I do so very loosely.  Do not try to add every detail.  Let the viewer’s eye add the details.

For many years I used a dip quill pen #3 and plain old India ink.  I like the bounce and variance of the lines.  I would also buy the nibs in bulk because I like a sharp point.

Then I moved to some commercial pens.  I like the Lamy Safari.

My current favorite is the Platinum Carbon Ink pen.  It has great flow and the carbon ink is light-fast.  It is also permanent and doesn’t seem to smear if you have to apply some more water media on top.

The real key is to draw with your whole arm, not just your fingers.  Keep it very loose.

Arthur L. Guptill’s book Rendering in Pen and Ink. This is an old book but probably has the most extensive demonstrations for pen and ink.

One of the most beneficial books about Pen and Ink instruction is Arthur Guptill’s Rendering in Pen and Ink.  Although a little dated, the information is very useful for technique.

So, this is my method of using watercolor with pen and ink.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need more clarifications.

Also, check out some of my previous postings on this subject.  Links listed below. Also, search for pen and ink for more demonstrations.

How to Combine Watercolor and Pen and Ink

Painting Wildflowers

Sage Cottage

Peonies en Plein Air


Watercolor with Pen and Ink – part 1

Rockport, MA. Watercolor, pen and ink, 10.5 x 14, Kit Miracle

There are many styles of watercolor with pen and ink overlay.  Some artists do the pen and ink drawing first and then add the watercolor washes on top.  If you use this method, you must be sure that the ink is totally waterproof and won’t smear once the watercolor hits it.

In my case, I draw a pencil sketch first before adding the watercolor washes.  After it is totally dry, I then go back and add the pen and ink details.  I have used this method for twenty-five years but I suggest that you experiment with several methods to find what works best for you.

All of the small paintings shown on my Etsy shop My90Acres are created this way.  I like the looseness that this method allows me.  If I were to draw the object first in pen, I would have a tendency to get too bogged down in the details. Then adding the the watercolor would feel more as if I were “coloring in” the painting.  This seems to make the painting more static without much life, good for medical illustration but not the look I’m after.

I always begin a new wc/pi painting by marking off the outside edge of the painting (adding an extra ¼ to ½ inch) and then taping it down to a drawing board.  I use at least 140 pound watercolor paper.  Sometimes I’ll use painter’s tape but actually, regular old masking tape will work just fine if you’re not going to keep it on the board for months.  A few weeks will be fine but you’ll probably be done with the painting before then.  Taping the painting to the board will help reduce any buckling when the watercolor is applied.

The next step I take is to make a loose sketch on the paper.  Be sure not to press too hard with your pencil or to do too many erasures as it will bruise the paper.  Bruised paper will create dark splotches when the watercolor hits it; not an attractive sight unless that is the look you’re going for.

After the sketch, I apply layers of watercolor, usually working from light to dark. A hairdryer will speed up drying time between layers of paint.  After the paint is totally dry, then I begin to add the ink drawing.  I always start with the more complex parts of the painting, such as, the buildings.  I might even carefully use a ruler for the straight lines, but the painting will look fresher if you just freehand it.  The ink is just used to loosely add details; you don’t need to put in every brick and board, every blade of grass or leaf.  Simplify the shapes and let the viewer’s eye fill in the rest.

Finally, after your painting and the ink is totally dry, you can use a plastic eraser to remove some of your pencil lines if they are still showing.  Really!  I don’t know how this works, but it does.

Take a look at these three paintings of Rockport, Massachusettes. Click on the paintings to examine some of the details.

Part 2 of this post will explore some of the materials and other techniques.

Main Street, Rockport,Massachusetts. Watercolor with pen and ink. 6.5 x 9.5 Kit Miracle

Beach at Rockport. 6.5 x 9.5 Watercolor, pen and ink. Kit Miracle



Jack Frost Visits

Jack Frost on my windowpane in the studio.

After a balmy winter holiday, the temperatures in the Midwest plummeted.  We recorded minus 4 degrees (F) this week.  Needless to say, I’m a wuss and am not spending much time outdoors.  However, even working in my studio has challenges.

As I have mentioned before, my studio is an old summer kitchen about 30 feet from the back door.  It was designed when cooking was done on wood-fired cook stoves (which it actually had when we moved here.)  This was to keep the heat out of the house in the summer.  You’ll find one of these buildings on many old farms in southern Indiana and throughout the Midwest and South.  I am lucky that ours is about 15 x 25’, which is pretty large for a summer kitchen.  In this case, the family and field hands actually ate in the building.  It is a perfect size for a studio.

Unfortunately, the whole purpose of the design was to keep the heat out of the house so they didn’t really care about insulating the building.  Thus, it’s very drafty.  Although I have a gas heater, unless I want to go broke, I keep it turned down.  This week I was wearing a hat, many layers of clothing, two pairs of socks (the cold comes up through the floor), and I was still chilly.

I snapped this photo of the beautiful patterns of the frost on the windowpanes.  It looks like giant feathers.  With all of our insulated windows and super-heated houses, window frost has become more and more uncommon.

The beauty of nature is all around us, even in the most unlikely places.

Since I was confined to studio painting, here are a couple of my recent works.  Plus, I tweaked the still life with red cabbage and artichokes that I posted on here a few weeks ago.  Artists are never quite satisfied with their finished work. Renoir was known to bring his paints to gallery exhibits even after his paintings were hung, just so he could make changes.  I’m not quite that bad but I might fiddle around with a painting which doesn’t quite suit me.

Here’s hoping that the weather is better where you are and that warmer days will be here soon.

Artist Still Life, oil on canvas board, 10 x 10, Kit Miracle

Down by the Creek, oil on canvas, 20 x 16, Kit Miracle

Red Cabbage and Artichoke, 18 x 24, oil on canvas, Kit Miracle. Still Life revised from previous version.


Other art forms

Although I am primarily a visual artist, I appreciate many other art forms.  After spending many years in the performing arts (as Director, not performer), my heart was opened to so many other areas of self-expression.  This is a beautiful video which combines poetry, music, and amazing film photography.  Check it out.  The blog is called Words in the Light.

Night Skies


Red Cabbage Still Life – A Challenge in Color and Shape

Red Cabbage Still Life, oil on canvas, 18 x 24, Kit Miracle

This still life is a little larger and more complex than many of my other recent paintings.  I was inspired by a visit to the grocery.  I must have had my “artist’s eyes” on that day because I seemed to be dazzled by the beautiful colors and shapes of the vegetables.  Several of the more interesting vegetables came home with me that day.

Inspiration in the vegetable department at the grocery. I love these colors and interesting shapes.

Before I tackled the main still life, I first completed several smaller still lifes just to get a feel for the shapes and colors.

Red Cabbage, oil on canvas board, 10 x 10, Kit Miracle

Surprisingly, the red cabbage was the most difficult to paint.  It has very subtle hues of purple, red and magenta.  It was a tight head so not much interest as far as shape until I peeled back a leaf or two.  I think a larger, leafier cabbage would be far more interesting.

Artichoke, oil on canvas board, 10 x 10, Kit Miracle

The artichoke, with it’s pointy leaves and shapes, was very fun to paint.

Radishes in Green Bowl, oil on canvas board, 10 x 10, Kit Miracle

The radishes are usually fun but their greens started to wilt quickly.  However, they later generated more new leaves so that was a big help.

The final big still life was painted on an 18 x 24 inch canvas which I had toned in variegated colors.  It seems to have a glow all its own.  I don’t quite know how that happened except that some of the under painting showed through.  Unfortunately, I didn’t’ take step-by-step photos of this painting.  I might tweak it a bit more but there’s always a risk of going too far.  Sometimes done is done.

These paintings will be for sale on my Etsy shop.  KitMiracleArt


Plein air painting, Brooks Bridge, Martin County, Indiana

Plein air painting of Brooks Bridge, oil on canvas board, Kit Miracle

I went plein air painting with my friend Bill Whorrall on Monday.  It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm December day with temps in the 60s.  However, the wind was brisk which posed some problems later.

Brooks Bridge across the East Fork of the White River in Martin County, Indiana

Bill lives in Martin County, Indiana which is lovely and boasts a variety of terrains – rivers, stone ledges, hills, woods.  We decided to paint this one lane bridge, Brooks Bridge, which spans the East Fork of the White River south of Shoals.  We had spotted this location before but the ground was too wet to drive on.

While we were painting, we saw about four vehicles, including a four wheeler; probably the farmer checking us out.  (It’s hunting season and there are lots of poachers.)  I just waved and he drove back.  The sparse traffic is probably why the bridge is only one lane.  Yeah, impossible for you city people to believe but they still exist.

Bill was working on some ink drawings that he created with sticks and twigs as drawing instruments.  You can see the results here.  Really neat.

Plein air painting along the East Fork of the White River south of Shoals. My friend Bill Whorrall is drawing with ink and sticks.

Painting half done

I decided to use a canvas panel toned with yellow paint.  It was pretty bright but where it shows through, it seems to add some magic.  I like it anyway.

Plein air painting of Brooks Bridge. The wind nearly took my easel right after I took this photo!

The only real problem was that the wind picked up throughout the morning.  A strong gust nearly knocked my easel into the river!

I tweaked the final painting in my studio, darkening the details and adding highlights.  It’s sometimes difficult to really see and judge colors and contrasts in the bright sunlight.  What do you think?

Yeah, it’s for sale at my Etsy shop.


Ladybug Teapot, a Whimsical Painting

Ladybug Teapot, oil on canvas, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

This playful still life was inspired by the whimsical ladybug teapot that I found in my prop cupboard.  It’s actually a teapot and cup combination which I paired with some red apples and bright green fabric.  Check out the step-by-step of how this painting was created here.

The painting can also be found on my Etsy shop, KitMiracleArt.  A great gift for your favorite tea lover!