Painting the Same Still Life Twice: technical challenges of watercolors redux

The first watercolor (pictured below) was painted in my Pandemic Sketchbook starting with a loose, wet on wet technique with some dry brush details added later. (Note to impatient people: I use a hair dryer to speed up the drying time so I can add the next layer of color sooner rather than waiting.) The sketchbook paper is intended for dry media and not really thick enough for watercolor as it tends to buckle. Despite that, the paper can handle a pencil sketch with a light watercolor wash, if not overworked. The intense red and green colors of the peppers are much better in this painting than in the next version of the still life, but I don’t remember exactly how I blended those colors to get that intensity (or ‘high chroma’/‘saturation’.) I always use the same limited watercolor palette so that was not the variable. Probably using less water on my brush and on the mixing tray before applying the paint to the paper made the hues more intense. I’ll have to remember this…

Still life of red and green peppers and a white pumpkin, watercolor
Peppers and White Pumpkin, watercolor

The second watercolor (below) was painted on heavier watercolor paper starting with wet on wet then adding details with watercolor pencils later. The objects have a more hard-edged style than the first painting which tends to make them look a bit flat. I added highlights by trying to leave white paper, then by removing (picking up) pigment with a wet brush, and finally by adding white gouache which sadly looks a bit chalky. Another problem is the shadow on the left side of the pumpkin which looks like a sunken bruise. I might go back to soften the hard edges by picking up some pigment and fix the ‘bruise’ perhaps by continuing the indentation ‘line’ of the pumpkin and blending out the shadow. I’m at the point where I am a bit tired of painting this still life though, so I’ll let it rest for a while. The 140 lb watercolor paper can take a lot more abuse and redos than the 60 lb sketchbook paper so I can’t use material failure as an excuse to stop working on this version of the still life.

Watercolor still life of peppers and a white pumpkin
Peppers and Pumpkin, watercolor

So what have I learned by painting the same still life twice? The quality and weight of paper definitely affects the outcome. Hard edges fight with the illusion of volume, as my teacher pointed out when she saw my preliminary posts on Instagram. White highlights are best if you don’t paint over that lightest spot in the first place. Maybe I should get some masking fluid? I still struggle with wet on wet followed by a dry brush for details because the dry brush details sometimes obliterate the spontaneity of the wet technique. I should make a color chart to practice getting the right intensity of color and how to mix my colors and so on. You can see my small palette in the phot so a color chart would be manageable. And finally, draping a piece of white sheet over my drafting lamp makes a surprisingly nice still life backdrop!

Still life set up on a drafting table
Still life on my drafting table

Pandemic Sketchbook: Zinnias, collage

Collage of zinnias
Zinnias, multimedia

Zinnias on my deck, collage and oil pastels.
Underneath the layers of glue and hand painted paper is the television schedule from the newspaper. That little bit of a Pandemic Past-time reference got covered up. Whoops. Can you find the paper towels I use to blot my watercolor brushes? Or the glossy advertisements for patio and landscaping companies? ‘Safer at home in the suburbs’ – maybe that should be the title. Try collage as a ‘way in’ to your artistic subconscious.

Pandemic Sketchbook: the Return of Fleur the frog

Drawing of a frog
Fleur the Frog looks at her Portrait

I have found it difficult to draw during this fourth month of staying at home, so I started painting rocks in June instead. Rock painting seems to require less concentration. I finally got back to my sketchbook today thanks to Fleur, my old froggy friend. In this drawing, Fleur the Frog looks at a painted rock featuring her portrait. An explanation of sorts is required. When I used to blog book reviews in my former life as a librarian, I recruited Fleur, an area frog from the local swamp, to ‘write’ for the blog. It gave me a break from the task. She reappeared on one of my recent painted rocks. Then, as is her rather ‘meta/ironic?’ habit, she just popped up in this still life today (above).

Mono print of a frog
Fleur the Frog, monoprint
Drawing of a frog
Fleur the Frog, pencil

Fleur appears in my art from time to time: in the monoprint from 2019 and in the original drawing which still appears as her avatar on the old library blog (above) In today’s drawing, I used a small plastic toy as a model in the still life. Thanks, Fleur, for posing. I needed the inspiration and bit of whimsy that you always bring to my work.

Still life with frog
Box of Rocks and Frog, pencil

Pandemic sketchbook: collage

Collages of potted plants
Aloes on the deck, collage
Geraniums, collage

Trying new techniques while sketching only what I can see while staying at home is a good way to see my surroundings with a different point of view. Collage is a technique that for some reason takes a little less concentration than a realistic sketch. It is less bound to reality, I suppose. I included crossword puzzles from the newspaper to remind me of new activities people are doing to pass the time. You can also spot a wrapper in Chinese from a bar of soap and a photograph of Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading infectious disease specialist in the U.S. So hints of the pandemic lurk in the collage inevitably.

Pandemic Sketchbook: cooking, gardening, puzzles and other pastimes

With people sheltering in place at home, something had to take the place of going out to socialize, eat, work, work out and other daily activities. Cooking, doing jigsaw puzzles and gardening became really popular. I’m a terrible baker because I don’t follow directions. When I made scones, the flour in my cupboard smelled funny, so I texted a friend who said to throw it out. After digging deeper in my baking supplies, I found a small bag of flour, so I made a small batch of scones. They tasted bland and were hard, so I painted a still life of the scones in the style of a Mexican bark painting that hangs in my studio.

Tea and scones, watercolor

When the weather warmed up, I cleaned up my garden to get ready for spring planting. It has been a cold, but beautiful spring in New Jersey, but the herbs seemed to be growing already in early April.

Herb garden, pen and ink

Puzzles are really in demand. Luckily I found two in my coat closet. It turns out, I’m not a very patient puzzle person, so again, I drew the picture instead of sorting the pieces the first day. A month after this painting, the puzzle is only half done!

Starting a jigsaw puzzle, watercolor