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.

This Sky’s Crazy

Today’s watercolor experiment:


Joy showed me the sky this morning. There were yellows and reds on the bottom of gray clouds.

Digital Photo - Sunrise

Morning Sky
Digital Phone Photo

The photo does not do this sunrise justice.

So I had my goal for today. Red and yellows to gray. Instead of starting out with my good paper, I decided to see how my different reds looked with the Payne gray. While I was at it, I tested all those same reds with cadmium yellow pale.

Watercolor: Gray Red Test Strip

Gray Red Test Strip

The reds I tested were (left to right, starting on the top row): cadmium red light; cadmium red deep; Sennelier red; French vermilion; Opera rose (Sennelier); permanent red deep (MaimeriBlu); quinacridone red; cadmium red; Winsor red deep; Opera rose (Winsor Newton) and permanent alizarin crimson.

From the test, I thought that Opera rose would lend a nice pinkish tone that one sees in the early morning sky.

That was the plan.


I started at the top, as I usually do. As yesterday, I wanted the top part of the sky to be a reddish blue. I soaked the paper and began with cobalt blue. I added French ultramarine which is delightfully reddish. I used a lot of water and did a lot of blotting. I also decided to try the permanent red deep, and dropped some into the blue area.

As per my plan, I laid down some Opera rose and the cadmium yellow pale. It did not look very good.

Watercolor: 1st Stage Multicolored Sky

Crazy Sky First Stage

Proceeding from stage I, I added Winsor blue (red shade) at the top of the picture plane. I liked the graininess of the blue and red area, but the red-yellow mix was not satisfying.

I thought I could fix the red-yellow mixing problem, so at this point I dropped in some Payne’s gray. The rest of my painting process consisted of blotting and dripping paint and water in different measures.

To solve the red-yellow problem I decided to use gamboge, one of my favorite yellows, although heavily tinted to the orange side.

To finish off at the bottom of the study, I used Van Dyke brown to once again depict receding hilly terrain.

Below is the finished study:

Watercolor: Multicolor sky abstract

This Sky’s Crazy
9″x12″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block


Although I wasn’t able to capture this morning’s sunrise colors, I am pleased with the results. The testing I did before painting didn’t seem to do much good, but it did give me a little fore-knowledge of what to expect. I learned more when I was in painting mode.

Right now it seems as if I am wrestling with the watercolors. Hopefully this will turn into more of a collaboration. (Thank you Carol, for that thought.)

Vivid Sky

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I’m still interested in the amorphous formations of clouds in the sky. However, instead of drawing or painting specifically shaped cloud objects, I am allowing the watercolors to be watercolors and let them flow, mix, bloom with the addition of diluted color or clear water, and blot with the touch of a dry brush or paper towel.

My painting started with vivid colors as a multi-colored wash. Initially I wanted to lay down the blues, in order of redness. From my testing, I have noticed that French ultramarine and cobalt blue are on the red side. Inanthrone blue is also slightly red, but what I like about that color is its darkness. On the other hand, Prussian blue and phthalo blue are on the green side. The long and short of it is, my ordering of the blues did not work out so well, so I shifted gears.

I laid down the dark indanthrone blue at the top of the frame, followed by French ultramarine. After this, I applied Prussian blue and then lemon yellow. Finally near the bottom of the paper, I used cadmium orange to complete the spectrum.  I returned to the top of the paper and overpainted the indanthrone with indigo blue followed by permanent mauve underneath it.

The result of these merging stripes of paint was a shiny surface of glistening deep color approximating the colors seen when the rays of the sun are split by a prism.

I didn’t really want a 9×12 portrait of a spectrum so I dabbed away with my paper towel. As some of the pigments were staining, I wasn’t able to blot up all the color. I dripped some extra water on the blotted surface and even flung some diagonally across the paper with one of my mop brushes.

I gave up artistic control at this point and allowed the paper to dry. I painted in some wavy lines with Van Dyke brown at the bottom. This part of the canvas reminds me of mountains receding into the distance.

Watercolor: vividly colored sky with clouds

Vivid Sky
9″x12″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block


I am pleased with this study, although I don’t think I worked hard enough to get these results. Maybe I should embrace this and allow the watercolors to do more of the work in the future.

Sky Practice

For the past couple of days I have been trying to emulate paintings that contain atmospheric conditions such as clouds (Copy) and fire (Orange Sky, Fire- Final). The key to these pictures is, at least in part, formlessness. It makes sense. In drawing or painting clouds, one must somehow define its boundaries. This is difficult to do when there is no clear edge.  The paintings that have inspired me recently (Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed; Sapiro’s Flash Point) are oil paintings. Today I have tried to use the qualities of watercolor to produce atmospheric effects.

Today’s watercolor experiment:

Since I overworked the sky in yesterday’s study, I thought I could use some practice. I began by testing some of the blue colors in my paint box. Below is my series of test strips, which include the unmixed color in addition to the mixes with lemon yellow and buff titanium.

Watercolor: Test - swatches of blue with lemon yellow

I knew that lemon yellow is a bit on the green side, but I wanted to see how it reacted with the range of blue tints, from reddish blue to greenish blue. It would make sense that the reddish blues mixing with the lemon yellow would yield a muddier green than with the color blues.

However, learned more about the range of blues than I did about how they mixed.

Preparing for the sky study:

I wanted the sky to range in color from a dark, reddish blue to a lighter, cooler blue as it approached the horizon, to eventually end in lemon yellow.

The colors I chose, working from the top of the paper (in order of application) were: indanthrone blue; ultramarine blue; cobalt blue; phthalo blue.

I used my paper towel to blot some of the pigment and approximate the shapes of clouds. I washed the paper several times with the blue pigments to darken the upper reaches of the sky.  Finally, with the paper still wet, I applied Payne’s gray to the bottom portion of the cloud shapes.

Watercolor: Practice study of cloudy sky

Sky Practice 1
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


I am very pleased with the results of the tops of the clouds, although I would have liked the clouds to be brighter and the sky to be darker behind them. The Payne’s gray seems to have worked well, giving the impression of rain.

The transition from the blue to the yellow didn’t seem to work as well, nor did the foreground of warm sienna and yellow ochre.

Perhaps I will be able to improve this study. If I am successful, I will post. If not, to quote Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day.”


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