Tag Archives: painting instruction

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.


Flower Market – Provence, France

Flower Market, Jardin du Sur, Uzes, Provence, France. 16 x 20 on red-toned canvas panel. Kit Miracle This shows the final painting. I have sharpened some of the details and added more. I deliberately did not concentrate on the white labels for the flower pots as I thought they would be too distracting. Overall, I like the painting but it seems a bit busy.

Small Flower Market, Uzes, Provence, France. 16 x 12. Kit Miracle Final painting. I like the way the path leads the eye to the main figures. Plenty of color but it works for the subject.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to bike through Provence, France.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime.  I fell in love with the area.

One of our stops was in Uzes at the Jardin du Sur.  This was wonderful open air flower market on a very hot Sunday.  I spent quite some time there, sketching, taking photos, writing postcards, and, of course, buying a souvenir or two.  The flowers and the people were so inspiring.

A few weeks ago, I was going through the old photos and my journal when I came across these references to the flower market.  I decided to create the larger painting first which is on a red-toned canvas panel.  After I was finished with it, it seemed a bit too busy even though I had cut out many details.

Then I decided to do another painting of the same scene but just a close-up of the two main figures. This was on a canvas which I had toned fuchsia!  Yes, really!  I think I like the second canvas better but what do you think?

Anyway, if you’d like to see a step-by-step, visit this page where you can follow along on both of the paintings.

Painting on a toned surface

50 Cents, farmers market still life with contre jour lighting (back lighting). Acrylic on canvas board, 20 x 16, Kit Miracle

My studio is an old summer kitchen about 30 feet from the back door.  It was built to keep heat out of the house, therefore it is not insulated.  In the winter I often work with a hat, two pairs of socks and multiple layers of clothes.  Despite the old leaky building, I worry about breathing paint fumes from the oil paints.  Even though odorless turpentine is supposed to be, well, odorless, it isn’t.  And even if it were, I would still be exposed to the fumes.  Not good.

So when a friend recently gave me several canvas panels, I decided it was time to try something new.  These panels are all 16 x 20.  I don’t usually use canvas panels this large but why not?

I decided to work on my acrylic painting skills and toned several of the panels in red. (See the links at the end of this post for other pages about using toned canvasses.) I like using red as little bits peek out, adding a lot more life.

At the Flea Market, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20, Grafton, MA Kit Miracle

Acrylic paint has some of the best and worst properties of watercolor and oil paint.  It is water-based and dries quickly.  It is also has the opacity of oil paint along with texture.  But it requires a lot of planning and forethought before you can even begin the painting process.

Farmers’ Market Bounty – in process. Notice the loosely drawn vegetables. The actual painting is much more vibrant than the photo shows.

Farmers Market Bounty, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

These four paintings were created relatively quickly.  I deliberately used larger brushes and aimed for the feel of the subjects rather than fussing over too many details.  The subjects were from photos that I took at some farmer’s markets and flea markets last year.  I also thought it would be interesting to paint some crowd scenes.  Anyway, I’m pretty pleased with the results.

Check them out below. Check out my Etsy site for more details photos.  Yes, they are for sale.

I always welcome feedback.

Saturday Morning at the Farmers Market, acrylic, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

Other links.  Painting on a Toned Canvas – Step-by-step. 

Also, search for toned canvas for several other posts about the subject.

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


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!

Shari Blaukopf, Canadian artist

A big tree which Blaukopf paints each autumn.

Another artist that I follow online is Shari Blaukopf, an artist living in Montreal, Canada.  I first encountered her work though Urban Sketchers, a world-wide group of artists who primarily paint outdoors, or in plein air.

One of the courses which Blaukopf teaches on Craftsy.

I admire Shari’s work of loosely painted watercolors with pen and ink, or sometimes with pencil overlay. Her usual topic is street scenes, but she also records human figures in various situations, subways, restaurants, etc.  And her dog Alice  She can find beauty in some of the most unusual places.

Shari Blaukopf, sketch of her dog Alice

Cover for the book by Shari Blaukopf

Shari teaches in Montreal.  She also conducts classes on Craftsy and has written more than one book.  She makes it look so easy.  Check her out at her blog https://shariblaukopf.com/ or her website at……http://www.blaukopfwatercolours.com/

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.