Category Archives: watercolor

Plein air painting in watercolor – tips and tricks, part II

Plein air at Patoka Lake.

It’s a great time to get outside and do a little plein air painting as the season turns from spring to summer here in the Northern hemisphere.  It’s also a great way to socialize while keeping socially distant in this challenging time.  Not to mention getting some fresh air and just enjoying the great outdoors.

In my last post, I discussed some of the background of plein air painting and some general tips.  Today I’m going to elaborate on how to do plein air painting in watercolor.

This is my old Stanrite watercolor easel. The legs are adjustable and it will collapse to a pretty small package. The top tilts which is handy for watercolor since most painting is done horizontally. And it has two adjustable clips to secure your board. I’m not sure if this is made any more but grab one if you see it. This one is at least twenty years old and has proven to be very sturdy and reliable. Stanrite No 5, Watercolor

Plein air painting equipment can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish to make it.  I tend to lean toward simple and light weight.  Instead of using a French easel (which I find heavy and cumbersome), I like to use an aluminum watercolor easel (by Stanright).  The easel has legs which expand to various heights and a top section which tilts to many angles.  The top also has two clips for securing my watercolor board.

My favorite watercolor paper is d’Arches 140 pound cold press.  For ease of transport, I cut the 22 x 30 inch sheets into quarters and attach them to a luan board which is a little larger.  I find trying to paint outdoors on full size sheets of paper to be awkward but that is just my preference.  Since the smaller paper is only about 11 x 15, it can easily be attached to the board by painter’s tape or clips and does not need to be stretched to prevent buckling.

Plein air watercolor equipment that I keep in my bag. See the list in the body of the post.

I usually keep a bag packed with items just for watercolor painting.  I find this helps speed up the process of packing when I’m ready to get out of the house.  The bag I use is a multi-pocket computer bag which I bought for $5 at a resale shop.  It has a nice shoulder strap which is very comfortable and plenty of zippered compartments. I removed the extra padding.

The used computer bag that I use as a plein air bag for watercolor. I love the many zippered pockets and the comfortable, adjustable strap. I paid $5 for this at a resale shop. Then removed the foam padding.

A very big help to me is that I have color-coded index cards for each type of plein air painting that I do.  This helps to remind me what I need to take just in case I have removed something from my bag.

My list of items to take in my watercolor bag are:

Easel

Chair / stool

Umbrella / bungees

Bag

Paper

Support

Clips

Watercolor travel palette (Mijello)

Brushes -assorted

Paints – assorted

Water and collapsible  cup

Spray bottle

Pencils/pens

Sketch book

Tape / clips

Multi-tool / pliers

Paper towels / cloth rags

Sponge

Bug spray

Sunscreen

Hat

Camera / cell phone

Apron

Scissors / knife

Snacks

Business cards

Some folding green stuff (money)

Band-aids

 

Even with my list, I have forgotten items before.  Once I forgot my collapsible water cup so I cut a spare water bottle in half.  The bug spray will be really welcome if the mosquitoes or flies find you.

Various layers of clothing might be warranted if the weather is likely to change, as is a poncho, etc.  I always keep a travel blanket in the car which I have found handy to wrap up in on particularly windy or chilly days.  The bungees can be attached to your bag and easel to prevent it from flying away, or used to secure your umbrella to your chair for shade.

I usually use a small sketchbook to make thumbnail sketches but sometimes I’ll paint in a watercolor notebook.  It’s important to be flexible and not get bummed out if you forget something.  I have a friend who paints with sticks (and the results are amazing).

Depending upon where I’m painting, I might even take my Square-card reader…just in case a passerby decides that they must have that painting right then and there.  Be prepared, I always say.

All in all, the whole kit – bag, easel, chair, etc., weighs about twenty pounds or less.  Although I’ll throw some things into the car, I don’t always  lug everything out.  For instance, a rock, bench, log or wall might be the perfect seat so I can leave the chair.  Maybe it’s too windy for an umbrella so that stays in the car, too.  But I do like to have these things with me, just in case.

I have even been able to organize all my equipment into a couple of panniers for my bicycle.  Then I can really tool around without even looking for a place to park.

Bike with panniers and equipment for plein air painting. I don’t do much of this anymore but I put thousands of miles on my bikes. With the distraction of cell phone usage now, it’s a little too scary to bike regular roads.

https://www.jerrysartarama.com/mijello-fusion-air-tight-watercolor-palettes

https://www.jerrysartarama.com/faber-castell-clic-and-go-cups-brushes

I can’t find the Stanrite No.5 Watercolor easel anywhere but there are some other makes available.  I would opt for the light-weight aluminum over the wood.  You might also be able to find a used one on Ebay.

Juicing up your painting colors

Bill’s Gate, Autumn, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

I’m teaching a class in landscape painting, watercolor with pen and ink. Last week I asked the students which picture they preferred, the regular photo or the one with the juiced up colors.  They all agreed that they liked the one with the brighter, more emphasized colors.

It is often a difficult choice for artists who paint in a realistic style, of whether to paint exactly what they see or to change things to suit themselves.  I tend to change things to suit me.  Personally, I like paintings with a little extra pop in color.  Not to go garish, but to just add an extra emphasis.

Below are some comparisons between the original photos, the juiced up photos, and the final paintings.

Which do you prefer?  Would love to hear your comments.

Autumn sunset photo before enhancement.

Autumn sunset with color saturation.

Autumn Sunset, painted with the enhanced colors. Watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

East field in fall, before enhancement.

East field in fall, after enhancement. I wanted to emphasize the warm autumn colors in the trees in the distance.

East Field in Autumn, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Florida Keys before color correction.

Florida Keys after photo saturation.

Florida Keys painted from the color saturated photo. The water down there is actually a turquoise color but it’s a great place to spend a morning in the shade.

Wickliffe Road without color enhancement.

Wickliffe Road, Watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

 

 

 

Creating a painting from a sketch

West Texas Big Sky, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5, Kit Miracle

A few weeks ago I posted several sketches from my recent vacation.  I’ve been working with those and some 1500 photos to create some fresh and lively watercolor / pen and ink paintings.

This is an example of a painting of the Big Sky country of West Texas.  There is just something about the terrain and the brilliant blue sky with the white fluffy clouds that draws me.  I’m not sure I quite captured the fluffy clouds receding into the distance but I like the colors.

Driving west on 87, sketch, Kit Miracle

Western Landscape Paintings

Arches Vista II, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5 inches, Kit Miracle

Since we returned from our big adventure out west a few weeks ago, I have been taking a break from the beach series of paintings that I’ve been working on.  It has been fun painting several landscape impressions in watercolor with pen and ink overlay.  I just can’t get away from this subject.

These paintings are very loose with bright colors.  I have probably done more paintings in this medium than any other over my artistic lifetime.  And I still find them fun as well as challenging.  Of course, they’re all for sale in my Etsy shop.

Arches Vista I, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5 inches, Kit Miracle

Zion Vista II, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5 inches, Kit Miracle

Zion Vista I, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5 inches, Kit Miracle

Grand Canyon Vista III, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5, Kit Miracle

Zion Vista III with Virgin River, watercolor, pen and ink, 13.5 x 9.5 inches, Kit Miracle

Flowers from the garden

Here you see Beebalm, onion, and a beautiful Magnolia. Watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

After the painting blitz of landscapes the past few weeks, I jumped back to painting flowers again.  I’m teaching a flower painting class in October, watercolor / pen and ink, so I wanted to have some more work for the class.

All of the flowers I depict pretty much come from my own property.  Even though they’re seasonal, it seems as if we always have something in bloom, either cultivated plants or wildflowers.  One has to be pretty quick sometimes because the blooming season passes quickly and some plants I’ve missed.

Zinnias and red day lilies, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

I needed to catch up on photographing paintings today.  In the old days of film cameras, I used to have to order special film from New York, special lights and filters, then set everything up in my studio with total black-out curtains.  The lights were hot and it was a real pain.

These days, with digital cameras, I just hang the paintings on the side of my studio, either on overcast days, in the shade, or on the north side.  As long as it’s in focus and square to the camera plane, photo editing programs will take care of the rest.

For the flower paintings, I divide a full sheet of watercolor paper (22 x 30) into quarters.  Each quarter is then divided into smaller sections, either four, three or two.  I tape these down to a board and work on them that way from the actual flowers.

Orange cosmos and a mixed bunch of purple and lavender cosmos. Watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle. The orange cosmos is topping seven feet now! Can’t believe it.

The style is a very loose, not botanical studies, but lively, colorful depictions of the flowers. My whole aim is to capture the spirit of the flower, its uniqueness and what makes it special and different.

I’ll have some of these up on my Etsy shops soon so if you’re interested, check them out.

Etsy:  my90acres for the small paintings and KitMiracleArt for the larger ones.

Calla Lilies and Other Garden Musings

Happy Independence day, everyone!  Celebrating here in the United States. Family, friends, plenty of good things to eat.  And maybe a beautiful tour through the garden.

Calla Lily, Picasso variety, watercolor, pen and ink, 14.5 x 10.5, Kit Miracle

The calla lily is in bloom.  This is the standard Picasso variety. It seems to require no care at all except to weed around it once in awhile. Unfortunately, Japanese beetles, slugs and snails love to munch on these lovely blossoms.

I love these tall, elegant blooms. They’re somewhat waxy in texture and will last a few days.

Calla lilies seemed to be a common motif in the art deco period, maybe for their simple lines and shapes.  I also like their speckled leaves.

Calla Lily plant in the garden

Fair as a lily, and not only the pride of life, but the desire of his eyes.

Charlotte Bronte

Trusty Guard Dog, Mikey

On another front, the first planting of sweet corn is nearly ready; only a couple of days left.  This time last year, the raccoons came one night and decimated the crop.  Thus, our trusty guard dog is being posted out by the garden. Based on his enthusiastic barking last night, I think his presence was effective.  A couple of more days before we can harvest.  Mikey says he’s tired and needs some sleep.

Postcards from Texas

South Padre Island, panorama from the balcony, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

We recently drove to Texas to pick up our granddaughter and take her to the beach.  It was wonderful being able to introduce an eight year old to the ocean for the first time.  We went down to South Padre Island which my husband and I first visited forty years ago.  Needless to say, it has changed quite a bit.  When we initially visited, it had one Holiday Inn, a couple of mom and pop hotels, a few ramshackle houses and a few restaurants.  Of course, most people go there for the ocean and the beautiful beaches.

South Padre Island, postcard #1, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Everything has changed except the beaches.  Still beautiful.  Gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.  But the Gulf side is now lined with high rises and there are now many, many eateries and other things to do. We took an Eco and Dolphin watch tour, visited the Sea Turtle Sanctuary, and went to the light house.

South Padre Island, postcard #2, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

I usually take some painting materials on my trips but this time I restricted myself to just watercolors.  One thing I love to do is paint postcards and mail them to friends.  I’m not sure where I came up with this idea but I think it was when I read about a guy who financed his trip to Europe by preselling postcards.

South Padre Island, postcard #3, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Amazingly, they come through the mail just fine.  Yes, mailing original art.  With a stamp.  I make the cards from heavy watercolor stock of at least 140 lb.

South Padre Island, Dolphin Watch, postcard #4, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

South Padre Island, Seagull, postcard #5, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Wildflower perfumes in spring

Spring in southern Indiana is a cacophony of overload for the senses.  As an artist, I’m naturally attracted to the visual of the changing season.  From the pale greens of new shoots and leaves to the endless variety of flowers.  Something new is blooming every week.  And sounds add to the wallpaper of the experience as I presented the cheerful house wren in a recent post.

One thing that I haven’t touched on are the beautiful scents that waft through the air.  Yes, there are plenty of floral perfumes from cultivated plants, but today I want to show you three wildflowers with really strong scents.

Multi-flora roses, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

The first is the multi flora rose.  First introduced from Asia as a soil erosion remedy, it quickly got out of hand and is truly a noxious weed.  So difficult to get rid of.  However, for a few short weeks in spring, the scent of this flower is almost overpowering in the woods and ravines. It’s only redeeming quality in my opinion.

Honeysuckle vine in bloom, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Blooming right on the heels of the multi flora rose is the wild honeysuckle vine.  I’m not sure if this species was introduced but is is definitely invasive.  Around here we have the variety with white blossoms which fade to a creamy yellow as they die.  Great food for hummingbirds, they unfortunately tend to strangle many trees and bushes.  If you’ve ever seen a walking stick with a spiral design, it was naturally created by the honeysuckle vine.  Its perfume is so strong as to be almost nauseating.

Common boxwood in flower, watercolor, pen and ink, Kit Miracle

Following on the heels of the honeysuckle vine is the common boxwood.  This shrubby bush is semi-evergreen in this area.  It is an under story plant and likes the shade of larger trees.  There are many varieties of this plant but around here it has smallish white flowers in little groups which look a lot like a small honeysuckle blossom.  Again, the perfume is pleasant and not as overpowering as the first two plants.

For people with allergies, the Ohio River Valley is probably not the most pleasant place to live, but the wildflowers certainly put on a show, both in blooms and scents.

Flowers, flowers and more flowers

Pile of paintings. This a a stack of recent flower paintings, usually four to a sheet. Watercolor, pen and ink. Kit Miracle

May has been the hottest month on record in these parts. I’ve been trying to capture local flowers in watercolor with pen and ink but the heat has pushed everything into high gear.  The flowers are blooming faster than I can paint them.

Hurricane Alberto dumped some rain on us but it wasn’t too bad.  Unfortunately, accompanying winds broke off a large limb of a maple tree in the back yard.  More clean up and some firewood.

Persimmon flowers. These waxy, bell-shaped flowers on the persimmon tree will yield wonderful fruit in late summer. Watercolor, pen and ink, 10.5 x 14. Kit Miracle

And the vegetable garden, about 60 x 40 for the main garden, plus the additional spring garden which includes the cold frames, asparagus area, onions and garlic, peas and the squash patch.  I planted this entirely. Yippee.  And it needs hoeing as soon as I can get in there after the mud.

This doesn’t count the nearly forty flower pots, plus flower beds, plus general spring tidying.

And, of course, trimming bushes coming up this week.

Sheesh.

Four flowers. A typical quarter sheet of watercolor paper has been divided into four sections. Here you can see lamb’s ear, weigela, Venus looking glass, and lavender.

I really want to paint something besides flowers.  I keep telling myself, OK, they’re all done.  Then a walk through the yard reveals some more.  Stop, already!  Ok, humpf, I’m over it.

Anyway, here is a whole pile of recent paintings.  It’s been fun if hectic.  I’ve spent some time roaming through my plant books and guides to identify each one but if you see some errors, please let me know.

Thanks for stopping by.

Homage to a dead bird

Dead bird, wood thrush, watercolor, pen and ink, 10 x 14, Kit Miracle

There’s something about birds.

When I’m sitting on the patio in the evening, watching the night fall, listening to the sounds of life wind down, or in some cases, just change from day to night, I love to try to identify the birdsong.  Watch the various birds – robins, blue jays, wrens, the lovely mourning doves.  I love how the birds have adopted our territory as their territory.  We have so many kinds of birds.  Cardinals, goldfinches, bluebirds, owls,  even the dratted starlings in the gutters.

So the other night we found this lovely brown thrush on the ground.  Apparently he’d broken his neck on a window on the greenhouse.  So sad.  Although the cycles of life and death are a given here in the country, each little animal has a pull for me.

I decided to capture this bird in a memorial drawing, watercolor with pen and ink.  Taking the time to capture his tiny but strong feet.  Thinking of them clinging to a twig in the winter.  And admiring the bib of spotted feathers.  His long black beak.

Although his heart beats no more, he shall live on in this small painting.

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over, lest you should think he never could recapture the first fine careless rapture!

Robert Browning