Close Shave

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I don’t know when the idea occurred to me. It was some time after I started using the rough-surfaced watercolor block. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a surface that was both rough and smooth in places?” I probably thought of this while I was shaving. I use an old fashioned safety razor that uses a double-edged blade.

So I started today’s watercolor with a shave – of the rough paper. It wasn’t as easy as I thought. Not like shaving, at any rate. The blade skipped around on the paper, missed places and gouged out chunks of the paper. Ok, the latter part was like shaving, a bit.

The insulted area of the paper encompassed a more or less diamond-shaped area in the center.


I am still enamored of the earth tones. I applied Van Dyke brown and yellow ochre to the dry, really rough surface.  Below the dry-brush earth-toned strokes, I painted in the greenish Prussian blue; above, the more red-toned cobalt blue.

After drying, I re-shaved the previously ‘smoothed’ surface and used burnt sienna to paint all but the apex of the diamond, to again expose the white of the paper.

Watercolor: Abstract - earth tone triangular shape surrounded by blues

9″x12″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block


This study began as an experiment with the surface medium. I wanted to see how modifying the substrate affected the final look of the watercolor. In this case, the granular, earth tone pigments were applied to the dry surface. The pigment did not soak into the shaved areas.

I can think of several other ways to experiment with modified surfaces. For example, I could pre-wet the shaved areas and apply non-granular pigments; I could add to the surface with gesso and combine the rough and smooth areas by that means.

Now I just have to think how this can expand my range of expression, which after all, is the name of the game.

What’s That Feeling?

Did you ever have a time when you couldn’t identify a feeling?  With me, sometimes it manifests itself in being crabby to everyone. When I do have an unidentifiable feeling, I try to reason it out. I ask myself, “When was the last time you ate?” or “Did you get enough sleep last night?” Depending on the answers, I can tell myself, “Oh, you missed breakfast, you must be feeling hungry.” Or, “Ah, I got up at 4:30 this morning, no wonder. You must tired.”

This happened to me in a waiting room the other day. I asked myself those questions and I still didn’t know what I was feeling. But I did have my sketchbook with me.

Today’s watercolor experiment:


I started by drawing a hole in my on my craft-paper journal. That’s what the feeling felt like… a little. Then I drew a slump-shouldered arch. I once saw a person in a nursing home from the back. She was steering her walker. I couldn’t see anything but her back from my vantage point. Her head was down. She must have been concentrating very hard on where she was going.  I was trying really hard to put pencil to paper in a visual description of what my feeling was, although probably not as hard as that lady.

I drew a bit of the back of my head as an arch poking above the shoulders.


I soaked the paper but only swept the lower part with a wide brush loaded with ultramarine deep. I took care of the blotting as usual and made sure to blot a big hole in the middle. After this dried, I replaced the ultramarine with cerulean around the edges and turquoise toward the center. I gave this spot some time to dry then I dabbed in some of my dark blue (probably indanthrone) hoping that it would diffuse just enough for a spidery web effect. After drying, I elephant-ear sponged out the pigment in the center, leaving the dark ring on the outside, with a turquoise inner ring.

It occurred to me that the feeling in my center made its way to my head. I painted Winsor and cadmium red rays, blending into the orange-tinted gamboge, ending in the greenish lemon yellow. The lemon yellow color seemed a good fit for the space above the stooped ultramarine shoulders. I tinted that area with some of the greenish blues that I had on my palette.

Finally, I echoed the lemon yellow and formed a ring inside the turquoise. The very last touch of paint on paper was the red dot at the center of it all.

Watercolor: Abstract - Unidentified Feeling

What’s that Feeling?
9″x12″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block


I don’t think I felt fiery. But this could have been the persona I projected.

Earth Tone Abstract

Today’s watercolor experiment:

My two previous foray’s into earth-tone paintings were a bit drab and monotonous; I’m not even going to provide links to them. If you really want to see them they both were posted within the past couple of days.

Today, I started with my usual soaked paper and laid down some of the earth tones that I tested yesterday by painting the pure pigment and gradually darkening it to black on one end and lightening it to white on the other:

Watercolor : Test strips with yellow ochre, quinacridone orange, burnt umber, raw sienna, burnt sienna, quinacridone nickel

Earth Tone Test Strips

Stage 1 – underpainting:

I began my study with raw sienna on the upper left corner, merging it with yellow ochre and ending in the lower right corner with quinacridone burnt orange. While the paper was still wet, I added opera rose, a pinkish red in the region between the raw sienna and the yellow ochre.

Watercolor : Abstract - underpainting with opera rose, raw sienna, yellow ochre quinacridone burnt orange

Abstract 102014 – Underpainting

I made sure that I did my blotting and dripping during this initial stage of painting – a lesson I learned yesterday.

Stage 2:

Watercolor: Abstract - overpainting first stage

Abstract 102014 – Stage 2

The colors of the underpainting gave me a great opportunity to see what would happen when I added a blue pigment. The earth tones of the background ranged from yellow to red and, of course the opera rose added to the red coloration. I re-wet the paper and, as expected the underlying reds contributed to a purplish hue and the blue-covered yellows resulted in a green coloration.

In the concavities of the blue streaks, I used more opera rose. I was hoping that the jelly fish-like tentacles of the red as it streamed away from the blue arches would be preserved after the paper dried. Alas, they were impermanent and diffused away before this could happen. I did add a bit of the yellow gamboge into the mix outside the blue lines.

Stage 3:

Finally, after leaving the second stage to dry thoroughly, I couldn’t think of much more to do with this study. Then I had an idea. It was as if a light bulb went off in my head, one of those newfangled light bulbs.

Watercolor: Abstract - Earth Tones

Abstract 102014
9″x12″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block

I took some of my water soluble oil paints and brushed in yellow and white parallel lines. I connected them with another set of parallel lines to complete the suggestion of a light bulb.

I still consider this an abstract painting. Perhaps the viewer may see my light bulb, perhaps not. I suppose I should classify this study as an abstract expressionistic work, as it expresses my idea of a light bulb.

I wonder if this counts, since I didn’t start out with a light bulb in mind.


A few days, I was enchanted by the edges of moth wings. I got as close as I could with my phone/camera and tried to zoom in. I wanted to enlarge the interesting patterns. I didn’t do much preparation aside from an attempt to draw the wing segments in as symmetric a manner as possible. This explains my need for T-square, straight edge and French curves. As for the colors, I just guessed and applied them as I saw fit.

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I took another crack at a moth watercolor. Here is my source material, the photo and the enlargement of the midsection:

Digital Photo - Moth

Digital Phone Photo

Digital Photo - Enlargement of Moth's Back


I thought I would do more preparation in the painting department today, instead of the drawing/drafting arena.  I haven’t thought much about making test strips for the earth tones, but that is what I did.

Watercolor : Test strips with yellow ochre, quinacridone orange, burnt umber, raw sienna, burnt sienna, quinacridone nickel

Earth Tone Test Strips

From left to right are yellow ochre, quinacridone burnt orange, burnt umber, raw sienna, burnt sienna and quinacridone nickel.  Now I had a better idea of which earth tone matches the moth’s back.

As for my drawing, I took little care in the symmetry or even the anatomical accuracy. If someone built a moth from my picture, it probably wouldn’t live. I added extra segments and changed some proportions. (It reminds me of the pilot episode of the original Star Trek where the alien had never seen a human being before, so they put the horribly injured girl back together as best they could…  I have a few issues with that, but I’ll save that for another time.)

To summarize, my drawing was not anatomically correct.  But I had my earth tone test strip. I matched the colors pretty well.

Watercolor: sketch of moth's back from photograph; mainly grays and earth tones

Moth Back
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


There is a discontinuity among the components of this study. I tried glazing the central gray area, but this didn’t seem to help.  I used pen and ink to draw in some of the details of the segmented areas. The interesting patterns were small and mainly white in tone. I would say that they would be better suited for portrayal by oil paints rather than watercolors.

Sometimes preparation doesn’t help.  Next time I think I’ll try a butterfly, if I can find one.

Abstract 101819

Yesterday I displayed the underpainting for today’s final abstract. For convenience, I reproduce it here:

Watercolor: Abstract - central yellow to red to blue - underpainting

Abstract 101814 Underpainting

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I took yesterday’s underpainting, (composed of lemon yellow at the center with a dab of gamboge, surrounded by the pinkish opera rose in turn enveloped by cobalt blue) and soaked it with clear water. I washed lemon yellow on half the frame and more cobalt blue on the other.

Watercolor: further work on abstract underpainting from previous post

Abstract101814 Step 2

In the final incarnation of this abstract, I did more of the same. My paper-towel dabbing didn’t do much good, since the underlying colors were very well bonded to the paper and resisted being absorbed. If I really tried to remove the lower layers, I could have used my elephant ear sponge and scrubbed it away.

Lesson to be learned from this: Do my blotting on the first layer of the underpainting so it shows through subsequent washings.

Watercolor: Abstract - dark blue/red on bottom and yellow/pink on top; middle is round shape

Abstract 101814 Final
9″x12″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block

To finish off this study, I used opera rose to reinforce the same color that I laid down in the underpainting. Doing this left a pleasing rosy-orange look to the top portion of the study. Although it is hard to see from the reproduction above, the lower half of this study has an almost iridescent look. The rough texture of the paper worked very well in separating the darker pigments from the lighter ones.


I was ever so tempted to make this into a sunset. I could have drawn a horizon line to remove all doubt of this intention. However, it doesn’t have to be a sunset or a sunrise. It could be a planet shrouded in exotic gasses or just a mix of pleasing colors.

Past Sketches

Today was a busy day. But, I planned for that. It so happens that I was looking through some of my old sketch books in the garage, in a renewed attempt to straighten up. I am not even up to the point of de-cluttering, having back-slid since my first attempt in what seems like years.

In 2011, I was sketching every day. I was just dipping my toe in the watercolor arena, so to speak. The drawing below demonstrates my sparse use of color at that time. I was drawing fairly detailed, small-scale sketches (the sketchbook I used was one of the larger ones I used, at 5″x8″).

Sketch: From hospital window, view of 59th Street Bridge, NYC

View of 59th Street Bridge, NYC (2011)
5″x8″ Watercolor Sketch Book

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I only had a chance to do an underpainting today. I wanted to change pace from the variegated washes I’ve been doing for the past few days (Sky Practice, Vivid Sky, This Sky’s Crazy).


I began with lemon yellow. Instead of using my palette, I squeezed out a dab of it directly in the middle of the soaking wet paper. I blotted around the edges so the yellow stain was confined more or less to the center. Since I love the warm yellow of gamboge, I dropped a few dabs of that color in the middle of the colder lemon yellow.

Surrounding the yellow field, I painted opera rose.  This is an almost fluorescent pinkish red that I am hoping will come through the painting I intend to overlay on this background. Finally, I used one of my blues (my palette has several fresh splotches of blue, so I’m not 100% sure which one it was – it was on the red side, so it might have been cobalt blue).  I blotted up most of the excess water and painted the four corners with a greenish blue – probably Prussian blue.

Watercolor: Abstract - central yellow to red to blue - underpainting

Abstract 101814 Underpainting

Like you (hopefully), I am looking forward to see what happens with this painting tomorrow.


Over the past few days I have been really working with the colors of my watercolors.  Today is a little different. As I was coming back into the house from the porch, I saw this brownish lump underneath our porch light. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was a moth. It must have been taking a rest from its incessant flapping and flopping dance it performed during the night.

Digital Photo - Moth

Digital Phone Photo

It did look brown from a distance, but when I got up close, there were some very interesting patterns. They were almost the same tone, which accounted for its overall brown look. But I really liked the fluted ends of its wings.

Digital Photo - Moth Wings

Moth Wings
Digital Phone Photo

I decided that this should be

Today’s watercolor experiment:


The symmetry and geometric patterns in the wings prompted me to get out my T-square, and triangles; also my French curves, which I hardly ever use.  I spent a significant amount of time approximating the patterns and making sure that nothing was off center.  The symmetry of the actual moth wings was not absolute, however. That was fortunate, because after a while, I did not preserve much symmetry at all.

I began with the dark spots on the edges of the wings and in the middle (tail feathers?). I used Van Dyke brown. The next most inner row of markings were a little lighter in tone. I mixed the brown with titanium white to color this area, but it didn’t look right. I ended up with a mixture of yellow ochre, white and Van Dyke brown for the lighter areas.

There was a lot of white, powdery-looking area below the dark brown markings (painted with undiluted Van Dyke brown).  My approach to this problem was to wash the wings with yellow ochre, darken the browns that the wash covered over and use an opaque white whiten the areas that were supposed to look powdery.  I used a water-soluble white oil paint as my opaque white.

I painted the area of this painting that is not wing with buff titanium. This accentuates the white of the paper just below the dark spots on the edge of the wing.

Watercolor: Monochrome-like rendering of moth wings in browns

Monochrome-ish Moth Wings
9″x12″ Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


I had high hopes for this composition, but it did not come out as planned. Here is where I think I could have improved: 1) emphasize the longitudinal lines that make up each section of the wing. The overall brown patterns on the wings alternate: some of them portray arches that begin on one end of the wing section and terminate on the other while other arch patterns begin in the middle of a wing section, cross to another, and terminate in the middle of that section. 2) explore other color mixtures. I should have done some pre-painting studies with the browns I currently have, to see how they mix with white and with each other.

I will have other opportunities to do this. If you notice, the edges of the wings are only one of the numerous patterns exhibited on the back of this ordinary brown moth.


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