Rialto Beach Watercolor

Rialto Beach, copyright 2107 Skipstone Press

Today Daniel Smith posted a step by step watercolor demonstration that I wrote up. It's all about the dramatic sea stacks and headlands at Rialto Beach on the Olympic Peninsula, part of Olympic National Park. This watercolor appears in my book Colors of the West: An Artist's Guide to Nature's Palette and I thought it would be fun and useful to offer a demo for Daniel Smith on the techniques I used for that watercolor. I worked with several students in June at the Seattle store and watched them try it out, live and in person. We had a very good time!

Moon & Pyramid Peak: Woodblock Print

Moon, Pyramid Peak block printToday I am showing the stages of a Japanese woodblock print I just completed. The subject is sunset and moonglow on Pyramid Peak in the North Cascades. I carved three blocks of shina plywood for this print. Moon, Pyramid Peak, step 1
Step 1. On the first block, I carved out the moon shape and the illuminated snowfields. In printing this block I used two colors, a blue and a crimson; the nori (rice paste) allows for a delicate blending and gradation--a subtlety that continues to draw me to moku hanga printmaking.

Moon, Pyramid Peak step 2
Step 2. On the second block, I carved the peak and rocks below. I used a mixture of alizarin crimson and paris blue gouache, made by Schmincke. For the time being I am using gouache, but I plan to use dry ground pigments for my next print. I'll grind them with a little bit of rice paste, using a palette knife to eliminate the larger crystals and grains of color.

Step 3. Seen above. On this block I carved the cast shadows on the peak and the trees on the ridge below. One of the things I appreciate about printmaking is the neccessity of seeing shapes and values. This is not always as obvious in watercolor, where I find I can get caught up in subtle light effects, small details, and elements that don't always have the power of shape and contrast.

I order all my materials from MClain's Printmaking Supplies in Portland. They have brushes, carving tools, wood blocks and beautiful papers, plus a very knowledgeable and helpful staff. I recommend them highly; all of the folks who have taken my phone orders have answered my questions with great care, their shipping is phenomenal and quick. My only regret is that they don't have a storefront in Portland--they are strictly a mail-order business.

A Scold of Jays

Jays Watercolor SketchI'm planning for my upcoming Watercolor Wildlife and Birds class at University Heights Center this spring and aim to present a way of painting that gives a sense of the fluidity of the watercolor medium. Painting loosely also serves as a great warm up and conveys the proportions and contours of a bird or mammal quickly.  On this sketch of a scold of jays (such an apt collective noun!) I worked on Fabriano Artistico cold press paper and laid a loose background wash first. After it dried I painted the birds directly (no pencil drawing first) with a DaVinci Maestro #6 brush--it holds alot of paint, but with its beautiful tapered point it's easy to get sharp details like bills and claws. The birds were painted with the  medium value general color first, then water was dropped in to create lighter areas, and then the darkest darks were lightly added with the brush tip.

Italian Sketch: A Demonstration on Toned Paper

Venice RooftopsUpon arriving in Venice early in the morning after a dreamlike sunrise flight over the snowy Alps, we opened the window shutters in our hotel room and saw this jumbled and delightful view of rooftops--a kind of back view of Venice. It appeared to be a complex subject to draw, but recently I discovered a book on sketching architecture, Freehand Sketching: An Introduction, by Paul Laseau, with some excellent exercises and insights. Laseau writes that while perspective is a handy device to construct imagined spaces, it is not useful, and possibly detrimental, to sketching existing environments. Using perspective can place an arbitrary screen between you and the environment, leading to rationalizing rather than scrutinizing your subject. I used the book with the classes I taught this winter on travel journals. To sketch freehand, it's important to create the frame first and then fit the larger elements into the frame.  In this sketch, I fitted the roof in the left foreground in first, then the wall above it, adding the outside contours of each of the large shapes. Once those are in place, it's easy to subdivide those spaces by adding windows, arches, chimneys and
moldings. The paper I used is made by the Ruscombe Paper Mill in England. They make a variety of very traditional toned watercolor papers--this warm creamy brown with the lovely texture of small hemp fibers floating here and there is called the David Cox paper, after the famous 19th century watercolor landscape artist. They also make Turner blue, a stunning gray'green/blue hue. All of these toned papers are relatively smooth and allow for precise line work. I stretched this piece first on gator board, as it's rather thin and would buckle under heavy washes, though I think it would work fine for pen and light wash without stretching.Venice Rooftops 1 

In Step 1 you can see how I began, as I left some areas unpainted.

Venice Rooftops 2In Step 2, more areas are painted, but there are still many details left to add.Venice Rooftops 3

In Step 3, you can see completed tiles, and a light glaze of cobalt blue over some of the shadowed areas.

Venice RooftopsIn Step 4, the completed sketch, also shown above, notice how I have painted white on some of the tiles and molding. Those highlights help to show the sunlight striking some areas. And in using toned papers, the addition of white gouache really completes the painting or sketch.  The 19th century British watercolorists used it frequently. I opened a fresh tube of Winsor and Newton Permanent White Gouache, and at nearly full strength it really covers.

Maple, Moon and Snow

Maple, Moon and Snow for webI recently completed a set of moon and snow paintings for Pomegranate Communications, who will be publishing them later this year in a boxed set of holiday notecards: December Moon. It was challenging and fun coming up with the four designs.  I had just traveled to Yosemite, and then the Portland Japanese Garden, and those places inspired my illustrations. There was a beautifully intricate Japanese maple at the garden, and I imagined it with snow, and changed the perspective just a little bit, to include a pond and distant shoreline. I used masking fluid to save the snow atop the branches and small shrubs. The blue paint I used was a mixture of Daniel Smith indanthrone blue and phthalo blue red shade.  It gave me some dramatic dark indigos.

Giant Sequoia: A Walnut Ink Sketch

Deer and Giant SequoiaWhen walking in the Upper Mariposa Grove back in October, we saw deer grazing beneath a giant sequoia, and it gave us a very immediate sense of the enormous scale of the the tree. This week I used my photograph, some walnut ink loaded into Niji waterbrushes, and a Pitt sepia brush pen to sketch the scene.  I buy walnut ink crystals at John Neal Books, and mix them with distilled water. This way you can determine the degree of saturation--I find the bottles of walnut ink available at art stores are too diluted for my purposes. I wet the tree area first, and then brushed in the walnut ink, using 2 different saturations, loaded into 2 different Niji waterbrushes. After the wash dried, I used the Pitt sepia pen to stroke in a few quick dark lines.  I've written about walnut ink several times in these pages, as it's my favorite sketching medium, and I'm pleased that a few of my sketches will appear in the upcoming book Sketchbook Confidential 2, published by North Light Books, and available this May.

Sketching with Walnut Ink: North Cascades Wildlife

Marmot sketch step 2  I've just returned from a few days in the North Cascades, where we saw some great wildlife, including this marmot at Cascade Pass. I took a photo of the marmot sprawled in the snow on its belly, cooling off. I would guess those big rocks really heat up in the sun and a little snow-bathing must have felt very good! I decided to try out some walnut ink sketching back in my studio, so here's a demonstration.Walnut sketch tools 
1. Materials and tools: Staedtler Pitt brown brush pen with permament ink. 3 waterbrushes, one with plain water, 2 with solutions of walnut ink made from walnut ink crystals. One solution is weak, the other stronger.

Marmot sketch step 1  Step 1. I began without pencil, brushing in the overall shape of the darks, with the brush pen that was filled with a weak walnut ink solution. It's liberating to forgo the pencil because then you find you are really looking at shapes and darks and lights, which is what we all want to get to as artists!  You can see a few pen marks on the marmot's tail. Even though the pen is waterproof, it will still dissolve if you wet it before it has a chance to dry and fix.

Cottonwood Reflections

Water final copy This is the latest of several watercolors I have done of reflections in water. Bare cottonwood branches appeared as a beautiful pattern in a pond in winter and inspired this painting.

Water step 1   Below is the painting in an earlier stage. I had begun by laying a smooth wash of yellow gold and blue gray over the entire paper, allwed it to dry, and then added the darker blue pattern of the waves. Once that had dried I applied masking fluid.Water step 2




Next I used a rigger brush and a Da Vinci Maestro number 8 round to paint the patterns of the dark reflected trunk. You can still see the masking fluid on this version.

Woodcut: Tree Swallows

Swallows block print photo These are first proofs of a woodcut I am working on. Earlier this year I took a photo at Union Bay Natural Area in Seattle of a trio of tree swallows sitting on a branch amidst foliage, and thought it would make a good print--how graceful swallows are, even at rest. You can see where I have carved out these blocks, leaving the blue/green and black in relief. Swallows proof
 The two color proof shows where it will be neccessary for me to do further carving to clean up the lines. I am hoping this print will turn out well enough for me to include it in the upcoming exhibit February and March 2011 at the Elisabeth Miller Library at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

Tinting Block Prints with Watercolor

Goldfinches for web 
Daniel Smith Artist Materials just published an article I wrote about combining block printing with watercolor.  You can read and view a-step-by-step demonstration online of how I created this print. I love the process of carving and the strong values I can achieve, but there's no need to give up the subtlety of watercolor, as I am able to manage gradation and the beauty of watercolor hues with the process I describe in the article.