Portrait of a Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

It is that time of year here in the US. There is quite a frenzy for those of us who venture out. The pie store had a line out the door; people waiting for their apple, pumpkin, cherry pies. They ran out of mincemeat, so don’t even ask.

For the past week or so, I have been watching as the twiggy tree on the other side of the fence loses leaf after leaf. The light strikes it just so, in the morning. The remaining leaves are luminous.

Today’s watercolor experiment:

Reference photo:

Digital Photo: Twigs and leaves

Reference Photo


Latex resist

I wanted to preserve the effect of brightness against a dark background. Thus after a light sketch of the spindly branches and remaining leaves, I applied latex resist. There must have been too much air in the bottle the last time I closed it, because when I opened it, the latex was nearly congealed. I wasn’t able to get the fine lines for which I was hoping. However, I thought the thicker lines would enable me to create a backlit effect about the edges of the twigs.

After drying, I applied different shades of green to the background. I began with shadow green and added thalo yellow green and Hooker’s green in varying amounts. I used paper towels to create mottled effects.


The first layer of glaze I applied was phthalo green (Sennelier), a transparent color. Since I wanted the background to be darker, I glazed again with Prussian blue and aureolin yellow. I noticed that the dabs of my paper towel had less of an effect with each wash layer.


I had to use a different shade of green for several of the leaves. Otherwise there would have been no contrast with the background. I used a bluish phthalo green (of different manufacture than the one I used for the background). The yellowish leaves were easier. I used cadmium yellow pale and put in a dash of cadmium orange. Van Dyke brown and yellow ochre colored the central part of the thick branches created by the resist. Van Dyke brown was opaque enough to stand out even when I painted it directly upon the green background .

Watercolor: Twigs and leaves behind a fence, where the turkey is hiding

Turkey Portrait
12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


The neighbors on the other side of the fence keep chickens. But I am certain that at least one turkey is hiding out somewhere in the coop. If I were a turkey today, I’d be chicken too.


Dot Crazy

Watercolor/ink experiment:

I painted the conglomeration of dots you see below, a couple of days ago, in the midst of my ink dot exploration craze – I mean, phase.

In this composition I washed the paper with Prussian blue and cadmium yellow pale before dotting. I used a combination of drawing and calligraphy inks on the wet paper.  The drawing inks are the ones that reticulate, or spread out in a fractal-like pattern. The calligraphy inks spread out more smoothly.

Unlike my more methodical study of ink dots (see Dot Matrix), this composition was a haphazard application of inks. I overlaid some of the drawing ink on the dry calligraphy ink and found that the underlying ink was somewhat waterproof. A bright spot of red poked through the blue ink I laid on top of it. Instead of leaving the single spot as it was, I used my straight razor to scrape the blue ink away and reveal more of the red beneath, after the paper was completely dry. I used the same technique to scrape away some of the pigment from the red spot at the bottom left of the frame.

Watercolor and Ink: Abstract Watercolor and Ink

Dot Crazy
9″x12″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block


The dark ink blots stand out and appear to be in the foreground. Puffs of black smoke (anti aircraft fire), perhaps? The amalgamation of red, appearing as background, could be a late afternoon sky.

I realized that in my previous ink experiments I was a bit timid (Amorphia, Reticulations, Dot Matrix). I was not aware that I was fearful about how I applied my ink blots, but I probably was. I may have tipped the scale in the opposite direction with the composition above. I was less careful of placement of ink blobs. I was not as concerned with aesthetics in this study.

I will probably give ink blots a rest for now.

Rainbow Flower

A few weeks ago I took a picture of a red hibiscus flower on the short walk from the driveway to our front door. I always do that – take pictures of something that strikes my eye. Usually a brilliant color or subtle design attracts my attention. That day, I had an additional unexpected pleasure: lens flare. Most of the time, lens flare (the bouncing around of light within the camera lens, creating auras on the focal plane) is annoying. This time, it also added an essential element of design to the composition.

Digital Photo: Rainbow flower (lens flare)

Rainbow Flower
Digital Phone Photo

Watercolor experiment:

My wife, Joy loves rainbows. I tried to capture the essence of this photo in watercolor.


I knew that it would be impossible to paint any kind of color over a black background in the watercolor medium, so I blocked out the places for the rays, with latex resist.  I also modified the format from portrait to landscape.

The petals of the flower required a number of different shades of red due to the wide range of values from pinkish to dark red. The ticklish part was the thin stamen. I painted small dots of cadmium orange and hoped they would be visible to the viewer.

After the resist dried, I used neutral tint to darken the background, and removed it to reveal the white beams.

I had planned to paint dots of the rainbow spectrum on my wide (3.5 inch) brush and use it to paint the rainbow on each of the appropriate rays of white.  It was a good plan, and it worked… on the first ray. It seemed that the first miniature stroke – not even a stroke – the first touch of the brush rendered it unusable to paint the other rays.  I painted the rest of them individually.

Watercolor: Hibiscus with sun and rainbow rays

Rainbow Flower
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


I like this piece, even though it doesn’t resemble the photo much, and some of the ‘rainbow’ rays look like knitted scarfs.  It does capture some of the spirit of the original.

Hummingbird Flower

I love hummingbirds. When I lived on the east coast, I would see them from time to time, but here in California, they are everywhere. Not so much at this time of year, but I did see one just a couple of days ago.

When we go to my wife’s cousin’s house, I am always out by the fence. The beautiful, red/orange flowers there, look like trumpets (or maybe cornets – I don’t really know the difference). Hummingbirds are never too far away. I approach when I see one dipping its beak into one of the red flowers. If I’m too quick, it darts of to hover at a safe distance, and comes back when I move away.  I have not, as yet, been able to photograph one of these birds up close. I do have many pictures of the flowers though.

Today’s watercolor experiment:

We are going to Joy’s cousin’s house for Thanksgiving. I thought it would be a nice gesture to bring a watercolor in appreciation. Below is my rendition of the hummingbird flower by their brown fence.

Watercolor: Red Trumpet-shaped Flower in front of brown fence

Hummingbird Flower
12″x9″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block


The main point of interest is the front view of the petals of the flower, with an intimate look at the inside goings-on. The rest of the scene offers different views of the same type of flower, a flower mug shot, if you will.

I used several different reds for the flowers. Cadmium red light mixed with warm sepia was the right hue and saturation for the part of the bloom in shadow. Opera red gave a nice pink hue to the petals in sunlight. The yellow orange center was a combination of cadmium yellow pale and cadmium red light. I used a very small brush to draw in the details.

My recent work with ink made me aware of a bottle of white ink that has been sitting around unused for quite a while. I used it in small amounts to paint the bright highlights of the red petals.


The only change I would make before completing this painting would be to darken the dark areas between the flowers at the top of the frame. In the photograph, the flowers stand out starkly in front of a black background.

Dot Dragon

Today’s watercolor experiment:

I’ve been a little frustrated with dots lately (Reticulations, Dot Matrix). I do admit, it is fun watching them disperse and make tiny little patterns (the drawing inks, that is). The calligraphy inks are a different story. They just spread out without a pattern at all. It is as if they want to get away from the center as fast as possible. The drawing inks don’t care. They would rather meander away from their point of dripping, exploring as they go.

Today I dripped. I was Jack the Dripper. I dripped from a height, I dripped from low down, I even placed the eye dropper directly on the paper and fired!  Afterwards, I tilted the board on which my paper was attached to move the errant ink around.

I was going to call this composition “Cr-a-zy Dots”, the way my granddaughter says ‘crazy’. Hard to convey in writing, but that’s what I was going to do.  I set it aside to dry and, when I came back I had another idea.

I had dripped some of the ultramarine blue in to each of two adjacent burnt sienna orbs. They looked like eyes. In fact the entire assemblage reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite articulate.  After a few muddled moments, I realized. I was looking at the essential components of a…. DRAGON!  I should have known right away. I was born in the year of the dragon, quite a while ago.


This morning when I was cutting my last watercolor off the block of paper, I inadvertently peeled off two sheets. To prevent warping of this single sheet, I had to tape it down to a board. The larger work surface probably enabled my lack of restraint today.

Once I visualized the rest of the dragon’s head, it was a small jump to realizing it on paper. My insouciance continued through this stage of the composition. I found an old brush that I didn’t care about and mercilessly disturbed the blob of gold in on the bottom of a clear yellow fluid in the ink bottle. I globbed the paint as dragon scales on the jaw area and two triangularly-shaped ear flaps at the top of the head.

I tried to billow some Payne’s gray watercolor around one nostril to generate smoke, when I had a great idea for flames.  I used spectrum red and spectrum yellow gouache from Winsor Newton. But I did not use a brush. I squeezed them out of the tube right onto the paper.

Here is my study for today:

Watercolor: Abstract Dragon - watercolor inks, paint and gouache impasto

Dot Dragon
12″x9″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block


Every now and then my painting process seems in the doldrums. I just can’t seem to muster excitement. That was the case today, until I saw the dragon. After that, I was sparked!  I left the blue tape in the photo, since it shows that I was not concerned about keeping myself within the boundaries.

I think it is fair to say that excitement is necessary in all fields of creativity. Whether it translates to the intended audience is a different matter, most likely a matter of technique.

Dot Matrix

Today’s watercolor experiment: 

I practiced a bit more with inks on watercolor paper today. The grid I drew was to be the framework for a series of drips. Although I was careful in my draftsmanship, I threw caution to the wind after flooding the entire rough-surfaced paper with water. My first drip, burnt sienna (I was mistaken yesterday when I identified the yellowish reticulated spot as burnt umber) formed a perfect ovoid shape. However, I was a bit flustered when I applied the other inks. I couldn’t think of a meaningful pattern of colors or types of ink. The wetness was not uniform. Some areas were drying while others still had pools of water. Some drips splashed and some of the crud from the bottles fell on the paper. It was hardly a precise, clean-room experiment.

Here is a detail of the larger image in which illustrates the quintessential difference between calligraphy inks and watercolor inks:

Watercolor detail: Abstract - Inks burnt sienna, ultramarine, vermilion = water-soluble; carmine, dark blue, green = calligraphy

Detail: Dot Matrix

The calligraphy inks on the bottom seem to have very small grains. If you look carefully at the bottom blue spot, you may be able to see very small reticulations. The red spot seems more diffuse.  I really enjoy the patterns that the watercolor inks make.

Dot matrix:

Watercolor: Abstract - Inks burnt sienna, ultramarine, vermilion = water-soluble; carmine, dark blue, green = calligraphy

Dot Matrix
9″x2″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block

The watercolor inks make different patterns depending upon the degree of wetness of the paper. For example, the two ultramarine blue spots to the left of the green calligraphy dot and underneath the vermilion watercolor ink dot seem to swirl. This blue seems to mix slightly with the vermilion red.

The red calligraphy ink seems to shy away from the watercolor ink, while the green doesn’t seem to mind the proximity of the burnt sienna. You can see to instances where the burnt sienna seems to invade the green areas.  Perhaps this is a consequence of the pigment, since both inks are the same type (calligraphy ink).

Rather than designing more experiments to compare and contrast ink behaviors, I would rather compose images that take advantage of each ink’s special qualities.


Today’s watercolor experiment:

In my recent watercolor experiments (Autumn Sky, Discontinuous Bird of Paradise, Amorphia), I wet the paper and painted fields of color. I dripped clear water into these fields and watched as it chased the color away leaving a starburst of white. Today I performed the inverse of this procedure. I wet the paper down with clear water and dripped colored ink on the white paper.

The colored ink spots grew and filled in the crannies created by the grain of the paper. It was fun to watch as the spot grew and reticulated. It seemed organic, in the sense that it reminded me of a cellular organism.

Watercolor: Abstract - Detail: Ink Blots Orange and Blue

Detail: Ink Blots Orange and Blue

The orange-colored ink (burnt umber) spread out to make wonderful patterns, wicked by the wet paper and the rough texture.

Different inks:

Blue and orange are complementary colors. I placed the three burnt umber drips on the paper first. This is a Winsor Newton, water-soluble ink. The next spots I applied were from my bottle of dark blue(Winsor Newton) calligraphy ink. Perhaps its waterproof characteristic has some bearing on the different way it disperses. Maybe the pigment is more finely ground in this ink, accounting for the smooth, non reticulating spread.

To eliminate the possibility that the color blue itself disperses more smoothly, I dripped in a Winsor Newton ultramarine blue, of the same type as the burnt umber (not calligraphy ink). Reticulation recurred.

Watercolor: Abstract - Ink Blots Orange and Blue

Ink Blots Orange and Blue
9″x12″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block


I like the way the waterproof dark blue in the vicinity of the burnt umber blot did not mix (in the two lower blots). The result was the creation of an edge between two complementary colors and to set up the orange as foreground with the blue receding into the background.

This study reminds a gathering of nanoparticles. The spots could be cells or little animacules (as first seen by van Leeuwenhoek, inventor of the microscope).

I would like to find a methodical way to experiment with the interactions between waterproof and water-soluble inks. I suppose this means many more daily watercolor experiments.



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