Category Archives: painting instruction

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

 

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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!

Good Framing Makes A Difference

Times Square at Night, professional framing, Kit Miracle

Recently I posted about how to frame your artwork on a budget.  This post is about how professional framing and presentation can bring out the best in your artwork.

This is also a follow up to a post I made in May about something different, a watercolor and India ink painting I created of Times Square at Night.  An acquaintance saw the post and was thrilled.  She and her husband had lived in the Theatre district near Times Square for nearly 30 years before moving to New Jersey.  She bought the painting as a surprise for her husband’s birthday.

When I mailed it to her, I told her that I had planned on framing it with a white mat and black frame.  This is what she and her framer came up with.  SO much better than anything I had imagined.  Professional framing really brings out the colors of the painting while displaying it to its best.

So, framing on a budget or professional framing, you choose.

Onions and Garlic, a step-by-step demonstration

Onions and Garlic, 12 x 16, oil on canvas, final- Kit Miracle

I’ve been painting a lot of still lifes lately.  This one was inspired when my husband came home recently with a bag of big, beautiful garlic bulbs.  I quickly grabbed them before he could put them in a sauce or plant them in the garden.  Then I went “shopping” through the house and refrigerator, and even my prop closet for the rest of the items I needed for a still life.  This one reminds me of something by Cezanne or Renoir.  The impressionists were known for beautiful paintings featuring simple household items.

If you would like to see a demo of this painting step-by-step, click here for the demo page.  The painting is for sale on my Etsy shop, KitMiracleArt.  Paint has to dry though!

How to save money by using standard size canvases and frames

A selection of frames from Michaels. There are MANY MANY to choose from.

I am often asked, “You mention standard sizes in your painting and framing, but what does that mean exactly?”

Good question.

For many centuries, artists have been unrestricted to the size of their wood panels, paper or canvases, so their wonderful creations could be all over the place with regard to size.  This is fine for creativity, but it gets expensive to frame paintings.  The reason is that unusual sizes call for custom frames, thus the expense.  Yes, one gets many more options, but if you’re on a budget, you may wish to stick with artwork which conforms to standard sizes.

Canvas sizes and frame sizes.

In my work, I buy boxes of canvases and canvas panels (wood or heavy cardboard covered with canvas), and even use custom wood panels cut to standard sizes.  This saves me money by purchasing in quantity which, in turn, I can pass along the savings to my customers.  Yes, I still will stretch linen or cotton canvas on stretcher bars if I want a certain size which is not readily available, but that is my choice and is usually for larger paintings.

Since watercolors (and other works on paper) require a mat to separate the painting from the glass, I am cognizant of of the sizes of ready-made mats and frames.  For instance, most of the watercolor/pen and ink paintings on my My90Acres Etsy shop are 4 x 5 inches, which I mat to 8 x 10.  All the mats are museum-grade rag mats in a soft white color which I purchase in bulk directly from the manufacturer.  This allows the buyer to purchase an 8 x 10 frame and have the painting hung in minutes.  Many of the larger watercolor paintings on my KitMiracleArt Etsy shop will also fit standard frames with mats (my bigger works don’t come with mats).  Where the store-bought mat says that it will fit an 11 x 14 inch painting or photo, the mat opening is usually cut to 10.5 by 13.5 inches but you can measure them in the store.

A selection of frames from the big box store. Some come with mats and some without. You can also toss the glass if you don’t need it.

 

So where can you buy frames and mats to save money?

There are many wonderful stores online where you can buy frames and mats of standard sizes.  Some of my favorites are:  PictureFrames.com, Jerry’s Artarama, Dick Blick, and even Amazon.  Some websites even allow you to upload a photo to try it out in the frame you are considering. Also, oil paintings are not usually framed under glass.

If you prefer to see the frames in person, there are plenty of stores which can meet your needs.  Michaels and Target come to mind.  Many of the big box stores have a good selection of ready made frames, with or without mats. I have even been known to buy a frame with a cheap print in it and throw away the print!  Hey, whatever works.

One word of caution if you are framing a painting on canvas, is to consider the depth of the frame, i.e., the rabbet.  A thicker canvas will require a frame with a thicker depth.  You will probably need some special clips to keep the canvas in the frame, but many of these are sold with the frame or can be added for a very small charge.

Attaching a canvas into a frame with canvas clips. These come in various sizes depending upon the depth of the frame.

Painting Marathon – Trying Something New

About a week ago, I decided to see how quickly I could paint ten paintings.  I’m not quite sure what the spark was.  Maybe I was bored, tired of the old style. Something I saw that reminded me of some yellow and blue paintings that I had done years ago.  Anyway, I decided to challenge myself, not only with the number of paintings, but stretching to a slightly different style.  In this case, my aim was to paint looser, faster, and more colorful.

Apple Jack, oil on board, 16 x 12, Kit Miracle

I chose my subject matter by going “shopping” through my house and refrigerator, and, of course, my prop cupboard in the back of my studio.  Hey, I didn’t even remember that I had martini glasses until I spotted them in the back of that cupboard!  And a shaker, too.  Must have been from a resale shop.

Two Lemons and a Martini Glass, oil on canvas board, 12 x 9, Kit Miracle

It was really great fun.  The miserable and damp weather meant that I didn’t feel any guilt at all about holing up in the studio instead of going outside for some fresh air.  I didn’t even want to come into the house to eat.  (And that never happens!)

Wait for Me!, cherry tomatoes in a dish, oil on canvas, 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

Although I wasn’t deliberately trying to emulate any particular style, I can see a lot of Cezanne and Janet Fish in these paintings.  And I’m really eager to try some more, perhaps larger or some landscapes in this style.  What do you think?  Thanks for stopping by.  Your feedback and comments are always welcome.

Oh, yes, all of these paintings are available at my Etsy shop, KitMiracleArt.  Check them out.

Three Tomatoes on a White Plate, oil on canvas, 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

Three Lemons in a Blue Bowl, oil on canvas, 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

Pine Sprigs in Antique Blue Bowl, Weller pottery, oil on board, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

Lucky Four, green apples, oil on canvas, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

Lemons on Blue Plate, oil on board, 12 x 16, Kit Miracle

Green Apples and Cut Glass Dish, oil on canvas board, 9 x 12, Kit Miracle

Adam and Eve, red apple and green apple, oil on board, 8 x 10, Kit Miracle

The Huntress I and II, oil on canvas

The Huntress I – oil on canvas, 20 x 20, Kit Miracle

The Huntress II – oil on canvas, 20 x 20, Kit Miracle

The Huntress I and II are two paintings that I created earlier this year.  Although I have often created a series of paintings, this is the first time that I created a pair of paintings.  They each stand alone from a design view, but work better as a pair.

My aim here was to create a bit of mystery, to simplify the background and the figure, and to play off the high intensity light without adding a harshness to the scene

Check out the step-by-step page to learn more about how I made these beautiful pair. https://my90acres.com/artwork/the-huntress-i-and-ii-step-by-step/

Telling A Story with Your Art

Pumpkin Head – final painting, oil on linen, 29.25 x 36, Kit Miracle, Halloween theme, telling a story

I was talking with an artist friend recently and was lamenting that I couldn’t seem to find my style.  She was astounded and said that I definitely do have a style.  Upon reflection, I’ve had other people tell me that they can recognize my paintings immediately in a gallery full of artwork.  So, I guess maybe I do have a recognizable style.

But as we talked further, I said that the paintings that I’m most proud of are the ones that tell a story.  To me, storytelling is so much beyond just the skill of being able to render a still life or landscape.  This is not really a new thing. Artists have been telling stories through their art for centuries from the first caveman drawings (how to hunt) to relaying biblical scenes to recording street scenes.

Some of the things I think about when I’m creating one of these story paintings are:

  1. How can I engage the viewer?  How do I draw him in, step closer, stay awhile?
  2. I want the viewer to ask, What’s next? Is there a next?
  3. If I can, I want to insert an element of surprise. After the viewer stands in front of the painting, they notice the small things.  Maybe they have an Ah Ha
  4. I like to insert some emotional aspect.   Wonder.  Fear.  Danger.
  5. And it seems as if many of my story paintings exhibit some quality a little beyond reality.

The painting Pumpkin Head is such a painting.

The straight story here is that my son was carving some pumpkins for my granddaughter for Halloween.  When she asked for happy faces, he responded, No, they’re born as pumpkins and they die as scary Jack O’Lanterns! Kinda creepy if you ask me but it set the scene.

Many viewers have picked up on the element of danger here.  He really shouldn’t have been carving a pumpkin in his lap…but no blood was shed.

Pumpkin Head – detail, carving jack-o-lantern

And the element of surprise.  The viewer doesn’t really know if the child is a boy or girl with the gray outfit and dinosaur boots, until the pink bow is spotted peeking over the pumpkin she is holding.

Pumpkin Head – detail, child with jack-o-lantern

And, of course, there is humor.  It’s just a bit silly but something kids have done for years.

Finally, there’s an unreal quality about the painting.  Maybe it’s the October light or the impressionistic handling of the paint.  The moment in time.  The difficulty for me was to decide what to leave out of the painting.  I worked on this for two months with the last month taking the most time as I agonized what to change, what to emphasize.

I will make some future posts of other recent story paintings.  Meanwhile, think about the idea as you look at the work of Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, or Diego Rivera.  Good art is a lot more than just pretty decoration.

To view a step-by-step illustration of Pumpkin Head, visit this page.

Pumpkin Head is currently on exhibit in the annual Juried Show at the Krempp Gallery, Jasper Arts Center, Jasper, Indiana.

Will your artwork last?

One thing that has concerned me since I first became a professional painter (over 35 years now) is the quality of the materials that I use and how to make sure my art lasts.  This is important to me not because of my ego but to ensure that my customers can expect a painting to last for years, even decades or centuries with proper handling.  I educated myself early on about the greatest causes for deteriorating artwork, especially works on paper.

Some of the greatest causes for paintings to fade or change are:

  • Sunlight! Yes, while the sun is great for so many things, it is not good for paints or papers.  Even over a long period of time, it will fade the colors and break down the fibers of the paper or canvas.  Sun will even fade wood over time.
  • Damp enviroments invite mold and organic changes to the supports.
  • Insect damage. Those little silverfish love to eat paper.
  • Using cheap materials. This is my personal pet peeve.  Why put all the time and effort into creating a work of art and use cheap materials?  Doesn’t make any sense to me.

What can you do as an artist or art owner?

  • Always choose the best materials you can afford. For instance, if you’re an artist, use artist-grade paints rather than studio or student-grade paints.  The artist-grade paints contain more pigment and better quality.
  • If you’re creating works on paper, use 100% rag, linen, or cotton fiber. These will hold up decades longer than  pulp papers.  Wood pulp contains chemicals which deteriorate almost immediately.  Remember that pile of yellowed newspapers in the garage?
  • Ensure that the matting and framing is archival or museum-grade. I always use museum rag mats and archival backing.  If the work is under glass, you can help prevent sun damage by using UV filtering glass.

So, if you are an artist, take pride in your work and make it with the best materials you can afford.  If you are an art collector, ask the artist or gallery about the materials or framing.  If it isn’t framed, have your framing shop frame it archivally.

My personal experiment.

Many years ago I decided to test my materials by putting samples in a south-facing window of my studio.  Both of the samples shown are on 100% cotton rag paper.

This was the test. Two pieces of Arches 100% cotton rag with ink and paint samples in a south facing window

I was testing four things.

  • How well the paper withstood the direct sunlight.
  • How the watercolor paints held up.
  • If there was fading to the computer printed color paints.
  • If any of the commercially available inks and ink pens held up to the sun.

The time frame for this experiment has been about fifteen years.  I folded the art pieces over and they have just been sitting in the window for that long.

This is the outside of the mini watercolor painting. I was surprised that the red didn’t fade over 15 years. It is usually pretty fugitive.

Each piece was folded over with part of the experiment covered by the fold. In this case, it was an old mini painting. As you can see, the actual watercolor paint held up pretty well.

On the inside of this piece, I tested several commercially available pens as well as the standard India ink. Some faded totally away while some others held up surprisingly well.

As you can see, there is some small damage to the paper along the edges.  I attribute this mostly due to water damage from condensation of the window, not to direct sun.

The watercolor paints (Winsor and Newton) held up surprisingly well.  I was somewhat surprised that the reds held because that is a color that has a great tendency to fade.

And the pen inks.  What can I say?  Some, like the Zeb Roller Ink totally faded.  But others, like the old standby India ink and newer Vision Elite haven’t changed at all.  That is good news.  I’m now testing a carbon ink from Japan and have high expectations for that.

In this test piece, I printed color ink from my computer onto rag paper. Pretty faded, eh?

The fading is even more noticeable when the covered part is revealed. Note to self: don’t use standard office printers for original artwork.

The computer printed paper totally faded. So much for archival inks. My experience has been that the black computer ink will last but not the colors, however, inks may have changed over the years.  And I’m sure that commercial-grade printers and ink will fare better.  But best to ask if you are purchasing a print.

The takeaway is to use or buy quality art materials and frame them in a way that will prevent damage, particularly from sunlight.

Please note:  I am not a scientist so this was just a personal experiment.  Use your own judgement in the end.  Check out this article from scientists who are actually fixing old artwork.  https://www.livescience.com/13536-winslow-homer-van-gogh-fugitive-art.html

One hour painting challenge

Painting in plein air is a great time to challenge yourself with a limited time to complete a work.  Usually you’re painting quickly anyway due to the changing light and conditions.  In this piece, I decided to limit myself to one hour.  I even set a timer.

Wild daylilies

Orange daylilies grow wild here in southern Indiana and can be found along nearly any country road in June.  They’re so beautiful and hardy.  This patch of flowers I actually dug up along the road since, surprisingly, our farm had zero of these elegant and lively flowers.

One morning I noticed the light pouring through the trees which seemed to spotlight this flowerbed.  I also loved the dark background of the bushes behind the flowers which seemed to make them stand out even more.

Wild daylilies plein air, Kit Miracle

I decided to work in acrylic which is not my strongest medium to work with.  The pochade box is a Sienna which is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship in itself.  As an aside, I will say that I was not prepared for this painting venture; I had to keep returning to my studio for supplies that I had forgotten. (Note to self:  make a list of supplies for each medium and keep everything together.) I also limited my palette to four colors plus white.  I could have eliminated the green and just stuck with the primary colors.  I would also have used an acrylic paint retarder medium as the paint kept drying too quickly.

When I set the timer, I dove into the work by doing a quick sketch and using larger brushes.  I tend to cover large amounts of canvas for the initial lay in, going back to add details and tweak things.  That’s my method but you may work differently.  The whole point of the timer and this exercise was to force me to make decisions more quickly and not get overly fussy.  Having too much time is not always beneficial.

Wild daylilies, Kit Miracle, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12

Shooting for bright colors and the contrajour light, I think I accomplished my task.  What are your thoughts?