New Approach

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I bought a new brush today. I never had one like it before. It a 3/4″ oval wash brush. The bristles are about an inch long and they area smooth and flexible.

I started today’s watercolor by using this brush to see how it works. After I soaked the paper with water, I used perinone orange, which I have found disperses like crazy on a wet field, to trace out a profile. The smoothness of the brush translated directly to how it paints the paper: smooth as silk.

I doubled the 3/4″ outline with another stroke, this time using cadmium orange, and yet another stroke using a warm orange (which was more on the red side).  Perhaps as a result of my Janus study, I thought of painting another profile facing the other way.  I wasn’t thinking of the Janus character however, but rather the concept of introspection. The second profile is contained within the first profile.

I painted the outside the inner-looking profile, with a blue black mixture, which sometimes is how I feel inside. The outside of the outward-looking profile is tinted with quinacridone purple.

The dichotomy of an inward and outward-looking profile got me thinking of division. In geometry, I used to love bisecting lines using a compass. Setting the compass radius to the length of the line to be sectioned, and placing the point of the compass on one end of the line, I would draw an arc. Repeating the process with the compass point on the other end of the line, the arcs would intersect above and below the line. Drawing a line from one arc intersect to the other would bisect the original line.

In today’s study, I didn’t actually bisect the line. However the idea behind overlaying this faux geometry on my watercolor sketch, was to look at introspection as a kind of bisect of one’s view of the world: an outlook, which everyone understand; and, to coin a phrase, an ‘inlook’, my word for introspection, or introvertedness.

Behold, Introspection Bisection:

Watercolor: Abstract - Two profiles looking away from each other; Arcs circumscribe each face; Lines join arc intersections bisecting a horizontal line

Introspection Bisection
12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

Part of a Face

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I started today’s sketch with a wash of perinone orange. I proceeded, after drying, painting a Winsor red circular patch in the middle of the paper. The red did not extend all the way around. I painted the other side with orange and brightened the a small section to give a bulbous impression.

What goes with a red bulbous shape? The rest of a clown face. However, I drew a Prussian blue mustache first; an elaborate one. I must watch too much Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s famous detective with a trademark curled mustache. (I don’t think his curled around as much as the one I just painted.)

At first I just drew normal lips of someone who is neither happy nor sad. Then, I thought that I would try to overlay on that, the happy lips of a clown face. I did not have any opaque white watercolor, so I used water-soluble white oil color that I picked up as part of a sample at an art fair. I never understood the term ‘water-soluble oil’. It seems so oxymoronic. After all, oil and water don’t mix.

As one of the final steps, I painted the bottoms of baggy eyes.

Watercolor: Parts of a face with clown lips and bulbous red nose

9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


I don’t know if the grin on the clown lips are not curved enough or if the mustache interferes, but this is not a happy face, clown-wise or otherwise. I don’t think this is a realistic face, or even a realistic expression, but for me it does convey a kind of resignation or sadness.


Have you ever seen a chain smoker light a cigarette from the one he is just finishing? I am doing the equivalent with my blog.  Yesterday I was trying to explain the thought process I use when I am painting. This is unsettled territory for me. My process has changed significantly from when I began; even yesterday’s process was different from a month or so ago.

Today’s watercolor experiment:


At the end of yesterday’s post, I decided that the idea of fulfilling a compositional goal was not a very good approach to painting. Instead, painting energy would be better spent striving to attain a vision.  For example, I am very proud of my painting, Grief. Before I painted it, I saw it in my sleep. I practiced with a couple of pencil sketches before committing it to watercolor paper.

So, the last line of my last post inspired today’s experiment: paint my vision.

At one point in my watercolor experiment of yesterday, I decided that the round yellow form resembled a planet, although I did not start out with that in mind.  Today my vision was to create my own world.  I have always marveled at the pictures of the planet Neptune. It is the quintessential pale blue dot. The uniform, mysterious blue color is fascinating. I wanted to make something like that.


I began with a mixture of indanthrone blue, Payne’s gray and black (mainly because I added the indanthrone to my mixing dish that I hadn’t cleaned out – I hate wasting pigment). Also, I thought a darker shade of blue would suit my purpose.

I applied an excess of pigment to dry paper and allowed the pools of blue to dry in the sun. I thought that the pools would remain after the paper dried. I was surprised to find that, like the surface of Mars, the remains of the blue pools resembled canals, where water once flowed.

Watercolor: Abstract - Stage of Planet, Dark blue partial circle with Light Blue filling in remainder of circle

I painted the lighter areas with turquoise blue.

In the process of drying, the surface of my ‘planet’ was degraded just as Mars’s surface was degraded after the loss of its atmosphere. I had terraformed my orb, in reverse.

To finish my planet project, I had to put in a background of sky. A dark blue or black sky wouldn’t do. Too little contrast with the planet. Therefore I chose to paint the sky orange, for maximal contrast. I will pretend that this is the sky one sees with an x-ray or other sensor that picks up this wavelength.

Before applying the orange sky, I dabbed the stars in with my liquid latex.  Here is the final rendition of my planet:

Watercolor: Abstract - Stage of Planet, Dark blue partial circle with Light Blue filling in remainder of circle, with orange background, stars and nebuli

9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


It was satisfying to have a vision in mind when beginning a painting. What does one do when there is no vision?  I plan to treat this like I treat my writing: paint (write) on a schedule; if there are no ideas, paint (write) whatever comes into my head. One of the differences between painting and writing is, there are so many more variables with painting. Writing by hand only requires a pen or pencil – the tool is irrelevant.  This is not so in painting. Color and tool (brush) are highly relevant. Therefore, a painter faces many more decisions than a writer does before even beginning.

Abstract Process

I am more aware of how I think when I paint these days. For yesterday’s experiment, I began with a premise as a starting point. Months ago I used a different method: I would randomly brush or splatter paint or latex resist, sit back and wonder what to do next with what I saw on the paper.

Today’s watercolor experiment:

My plan today was to do more work combining curved and linear pictorial elements. The picture below is the first stage of today’s study.

Watercolor: Abstract 92614 stage 1 - Yellow round center, Red top stripe; Orange bottom stripe; Blue sides

As in my experiment the other day, I painted a strip at the top and one at the bottom (alizarine crimson and perinone orange, respectively), connecting them with thin bridges. But today, I started with thoroughly wet paper.  This gave me the opportunity to add a circular cadmium yellow pale color area that would merge with the surrounding frame. I added Prussian blue on either side of the yellow form. I chose Prussian blue, since it is on the green side of the spectrum and thought that it would merge well with the yellow. I tried to keep it away from the red and orange to avoid a muddy mixture.

Second stage:

Watercolor: Abstract 92614 stage 1 - Yellow round center, Red top stripe; Orange bottom stripe; Blue sides; Purple wash, around Yellow Center

The major addition to the second stage of the study was the addition of permanent mauve. I used this purple color to make the yellow stand out. Purple is on the opposite side of the color wheel to yellow and provides maximal contrast.

At this point, the circular yellow patch was beginning to look more like a sphere. I got the sense that it looked like an explosion. I could also see that it could become a snow-globey-type object.

Time for the next coat.

Watercolor: Abstract 92614 stage 1 - Yellow round center, Red top stripe; Orange bottom stripe; Blue sides; Purple wash, around Yellow Center; add stripes in yellow and more orange at bottom

Abstract 92614
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I re-wet the paper for some more manipulations. I finally decided that the round shape should be some kind of planet. I painted horizontal blue striations across it. I had not given up the snow globe idea, so I rewashed the bottom of the frame with orange so it would seem like a plinth or base of the orb. Along the sides I used the dark indanthrone blue to make the yellow stand out.


I believe I successfully achieved the goal of integrating circular and linear planar elements in this composition. In and of itself, this is not a big deal. However, as a watercolor experiment, it allowed me to articulate and execute this premise. The current experiment is a simple combination of just two elements: the linear frame surrounding and interacting with the circular center.

I’m not sure that painting can be summed up entirely by the execution of premises. Perhaps I should think of my little experiments as lessons I can apply at the appropriate moment, in the execution of a vision. A vision and not a premise.

To Read, Perchance To Dream

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I took my own advice from yesterday and tried to combine the square, frame-like organization with a more organic (meaning smooth or natural), looser composition.

I began painting today, as yesterday, with simple, flat brushstrokes. Today, I allowed the horizontal ultramarine blue and Winsor red swaths, painted at the top of the picture plane to interact; I repeated this procedure on the bottom of the plane. The red/blue, upper and lower horizontal swaths were connected by extending these still-wet areas with the edge of one inch flat brush, to complete a frame structure.

After drying in sunlight, I progressed to the ‘organic’ phase of my design.

I was very pleased with the single-line drawing of my grieving person in my study, Grief. I incorporated a similar element in today’s experiment, superimposing it upon the frame I just completed. I washed the interior of this shape, and the overlying frame, with Indian yellow.

I was very interested in where this composition was leading me. I had the sense that the frame was something to look through, a window, perhaps. My imagination did not follow me along that path, however.

As the organic shape I constructed was originally used to represent a person, I used the dark indanthrone blue, with a small brush, to sketch in some eyebrows on the wet background. This was the point that crystallized the rest of the design. It was exciting.

Watercolor: Abstract - Book-like frame overlaid on closed eyes of an underlying figure

To Read, Perchance To Dream
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


The most remarkable part of this study was the tipping point between executing a premise and completing a vision. The purpose of my watercolor studies is to find a way to express something I feel. I started this one with a simple premise: to combine rectilinear and organic design elements.  But when I inserted the two marks that anthropomorphized the organic shape, everything changed. The eyebrows became closed eyelids, the frame became an open book. I was reminded of the joy of reading and how, frequently, my imagination would take over and I would drift off into a dream that continued the narrative of the book.

Process notes:

After the revelation of the eyebrows, I tackled the problem of the text on the book. Initially I thought of transferring text from pages of an actual book. It would have been perfect. The transferred print would be backward, just as it should be if we, as viewers were looking through it at the dreaming reader.  I heard that alcohol would be a good solvent, so I soaked a page of one of my science fiction magazines in my Jameson’s Irish Whisky (not the good stuff). Unfortunately, it did not work.  I had to satisfy myself with my own scribbled nonsense text.


Cancelled Flight

Today’s watercolor experiment:

In keeping with my quest to change the way I begin my watercolor sketches, today I started with dry paper and a 2″ brush loaded with Prussian blue. I swept across the paper twice horizontally at the top and bottom (to form 4″ swaths) and once vertically on each side to form a 2″-wide border. The result was a rectangle, open in the middle, inscribed within the larger picture plane.

I couldn’t help seeing this shape as a frame. The dry paper did not absorb all the blue color, which left me with an interesting form in the lower midsection of the inside of the frame. I accentuated the top and bottom edges of the inner frame with Winsor yellow, adding a bit to the right edge of the frame as well. With a very small brush (size 1) I added Winsor red just to the inside of the yellow.

The midsection of the frame reminded me of a postage stamp, for some reason. I thought I would have some fun and create my version of one of the rare philatelic errors, the Inverted Jenny, a misprint of a 1918 US stamp. The error resulted in the featured image, an airplane, being mistakenly printed upside down.

The loose form of the airplane was the result of my application of indanthrone blue (a dark, indigo-like pigment) on the wet field at the center of the frame. At first, I  showed the upper and lower wings of the biplane (I should say lower and upper, since it is upside down). However, I opted to draw a water line to show that this plane met with disaster.

For the final flourish, I painted three parallel squiggly lines on the left side of the frame. If the stamp analogy was not noticed by the viewer, surely these iconic marks would do the trick.

Watercolor: Abstract - Blue square border surrounding a Yellow outlined square with thin Red accent; Blue plane upside down in water at center

Cancelled Flight
9’x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


I kept this study simple. There was no significant washing or glazing of areas with different colors, minimal flourishes, and no overworking of the content. Somehow it didn’t seem right putting down my brush. But I liked the way it looked and I couldn’t think of anything more to add.

Perhaps the trade off for simplicity in design is the lack of depth. This is a flat design; rectilinear from the first brush strokes.  I suppose it doesn’t have to be that way. Many of Hans Hofmann’s paintings contained rectilinear elements, and yet the thesis behind his art was ‘push pull‘, the role that colors and shapes play in adding a third dimension without the artifice of perspective.

Perhaps, in a future experiment I could combine the rectilinear format of today’s study with the fluid ease of applying the swooshes of color of some of my previous work.

Abstract with Triangles

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I don’t have intermediate stages of today’s study to show you (as I presented in yesterday’s study). To tell you the truth, I was a little disappointed by my process and by the resulting overall muddiness.


I can’t very well regale you with my successful studies and omit the ones that are I don’t like as much. In writing about them I can review my progress and learn.

I began with a wash of Indian yellow, which I have found to be more of a yellow beige than a vibrant yellow. ‘Unsaturated’ is probably the word that best characterizes its look.

I put down a long streak of alizarine crimson, and several shorter streaks below it before the Indian yellow dried. With a flat brush, I applied wider streaks of Winsor red.

I continued my trend of drawing lines with my paint brush. I used a variety of different colors: French ultramarine, turquoise, quinacridone nickel and a couple of wider streaks of shadow green.

Glazing was next on my agenda, but since I wanted to use the greenish Prussian blue, I was worried about what would happen when it mixed with the red arcs. I re-enforced the middle arc with Spectrum Red, a gouache color, hoping that the blue, mixing with the Indian yellow background didn’t form a green. Green mixed with red can turn out icky.  Which is what happened, slightly. Application of the red gouache did seem to help stave off the sludge.

Under the bottom red arc (the spermiest looking of all of them) I painted an orb, and a vertical blue line to suggest a cat’s eye.  I placed a triangular shape, perhaps a displaced cat nose, in the opposite corner.

Up to this point, the design appeared to consist of forms radiating from the lower right corner. It reminded me of a tornado with line-drawn detritus in its midst. I used a directed wash of Prussian blue to accentuate this notion.

Finally, I painted the lower left and upper right corners with a bright Winsor yellow.

In low light, I am not proud of this work.  However, when I took it into the bright sun, it seemed to gain a bit more character.

Watercolor - Abstract: Yellow upper & lower corners; 4 Red arced shape from lower right to upper left; covered by Green wash

Abstract 92314 Triangles
9″x12″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block


The muddiness is not as noticeable in direct bright light. Nor is the grain of the paper, which is of rough texture. I thought that an overlay of pen and ink, outlining all the triangles in this study might be a good addition. There are a lot of them, so it would probably make the composition a lot busier than it already is. Maybe I could try drawing this on clear acetate first, to see how it looks.


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