Monday, December 31, 2012

A Look Back at Year 2012...

As the clock ticking close to midnight, I am turning my eyes to the year passed and all that has happened in my art journey along the way. As I mentioned in my last blog post, it has been an amazing ride, thanks to all of you, my dear friends and collectors! When I set off at the beginning of the year, I did set some modest goals for myself: creating some artwork every week, posting them online for sale, documenting the process in this blog, and trying to enter some juried shows. In the end, I have accomplished so much more, -- something that would not be possible without your kind encouragements and support along the way!

In this year, I have managed to finish a total of 54 paintings -- including studies and plein air work. This may be a modest number for many, but to me it is a real accomplishment, as I am a very slow painter and the work I have managed to actually finish in all the years before do not even add up to this number. I would definitely like to do at least as much in the coming year, but I will leave goal-setting to my post tomorrow. ;-) Now is the time to enjoy the bubbly drinks and pat myself on the back! 

I've managed to overcome my fear of losing control of what happened on paper and tackled some unfamiliar surfaces, the most difficult of which being Ampersand Aquabord, and with the kind encouragements of Kara and Crystal, got some success in the end. I would love to keep at this effort in the coming year -- and maybe try some portraits on it too!

This year I have also tried a few different sales venues -- both online and offline, some more successful than others. I've set up my Daily Paintworks Gallery, where I auction off my smaller original works; I've stocked my Etsy Shop, where I sell both originals and Giclee prints, as well as products such as calendars and note cards; I've uploaded my work to the print-on-demand site, Fine Art America, so that anyone can purchase Giclee prints of my paintings to the size and surface they desire, as well as my works as note cards. I've kept up on this blog (although updating regularly did remain a challenge when school work got busy) and maintained regular update of my facebook page, through both of which I have met many wonderful friends! I've attempted my hands at three local art fairs and managed to break even at all of them, and received several leads which resulted in sales afterwards from these events. I've also become a member of the wonderful Main Gallery in Redwood City -- the amazing talent and creativity of the artists I've met there made me very proud to be one of them!

I've tried my hands on a couple of local, regional and national juried shows this year, and was fortunate enough to be juried in 20 of them, getting a couple of awards and selling some of my larger works through these shows. I am extremely honored to enlist among the wonderful artists -- many of whom are my teachers through their books and instructional dvds -- in these shows, and consider the juries decisions a gentle nudge of encouragement for an artist at her starting point like me. For all the ones that I did not get in, I can only say I will definitely try harder the coming year!

What I did not manage to do, in the year past, is to keep a sketchbook and draw freehand everyday, to go outdoors more often and do more plein air studies, and to keep finishing two small paintings a week. With four days a week in the Golden Gate Atelier learning classical drawing methods, it has proven quite a challenge to keep at these goals. But I will not give them up in the new year, -- I've just signed up for an impossible crazy task today, which I will reveal in tomorrow's post. So stay tuned...

Ok, before I bore you with more self-bragging, I just want to share with you my seven favorite paintings that I have created this year. Some of them are award winners and already happily settled in their new homes, others I love not because of the final results, but also the challenges I have taken and difficulties overcome during their creation...

High Summer Dreams II, Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 10"h x 14"w, Sold

This one has won me a gold medal in Stockton Art League's National Juried Show at Haggin Musuem -- the first red-carpet moment in my art career! 

April's Passing,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w
Available through Randy Higbee Gallery ($300 with Frame)

My first successful attempt on Aquabord after much suffering. I feel that after this one, I started to have some understanding of how this difficult surface works, and I was also able to let go of a bit of control to accept what's happening on paper (or, in this case, on board ;-)

Petal Light #2,  Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 7"h x 10"w
Available through Daily Paintworks Online Gallery ($125 with Mat)

I feel that I have truly captured the warmth and vivacity in this bird without fiddling too much. Love the wet-in-wet process from start to finish...

Beauty Queen, Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 7"h x 5"w, Sold

I tried out the multi-colored glazing method of the amazing Jeannie Vodden and combined it with my own wet-in-wet approach in the background. I was very worried the flower and the background would look like completely separate entities, but somehow the painting feels coherent as a whole when finished. Yay! Sometimes risk-taking does pay off...

Edge of Summer, Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 5"h x 7"w, Sold

I tried to paint from a black-and-white photo and just imagine the colors of this one, and lovedswhat became of it. An attempt to correct my tendency to paint colors too literally from reference materials and see them only as a starting point. 

Petal Light #1,  Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 10"h x 8"w
Available through Daily Paintworks Online Gallery ($150 with Mat)

Starting from an under-exposed, uninspiring reference photo of large area of dead dark shadow shapes on the leaves, I let the wet-in-wet process lead me and created interesting dark shapes. I felt a real sense of freedom after pulling this one off!

Winter Light, Watercolor on Arches 140# Rough Paper, 5"h x 7"w, Sold

The first landscape painting I am proud of -- I feel this one did capture more with less. 

Thanks again my friends -- as I have mentioned, I could not have done this without your support! Happy New Year Everyone!!!

You can purchase my 2013 wall and desk calendars here:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

To Show, or Not to Show: That is the Question (My Grappling with Juried Shows...)

... Last night, as the clock on my computer screen ticked closer to 11:50 pm, I was frantically trying to finish, resize and upload my images to for entering Randy Higbee Gallery's 2012 6 Inches Squared Show. And tonight, I opened my emails -- and happily found out "April's Passing" and "Island Beauty - White Plumeria" are accepted. I've just learned several days before that "Peppermint Rose" was also accepted into Debra Huse Gallery's Holiday Treasure Salon 2012. So, it looks like I will have a bunch of small paintings shipped down southern California for the holidays...

April's Passing,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w, 2012 #52

Accepted into Randy Higbee Gallery's 2012 6 Inches Squared Show

Bid in my DPW Auction (Starting Bid $95)

With all these great news, I do not want to sound ungrateful. But after the initial ecstasy faded, the practical side of me cannot help but wondering -- should I really be working against the clock to enter so many juried shows?

Asking a full-time artist who is trying to make a living making and selling their art, you are likely going to get a very passionate answer about this question -- and ask a hundred, it's likely you'll get fifty yes and fifty no, with very good reason on both sides. I've had quite good luck with juried shows this year, getting into many and sold quite a few works with much higher price tags than selling online (mostly because juried shows often requires a minimum size of 10" x 14", much larger than what I usually sell online, and these larger pieces are also framed). However, doing the hard math often suggests such sales are not necessarily economically viable, contrary to my initial belief: take "Peppermint Rose" as example, its label price in the Holiday Treasure Show is $400. If it is sold, Debra Huse gallery takes 50% (which I think they fully deserve for spending time, efforts and money putting on such a great show and doing all the marketing for it, not to mention the huge gallery space a show like this will need also costs money), so what I will get is only $200. Now if we calculate the framing cost (I used a $50 frame from Randy Higbee frames shop for this one, since they have great quality frames, and they also do all the fitting for the paintings juried into the Holiday Treasure Show for free), entry fee ($45 for three images), shipping ($15 each way), handling fee (a very reasonable $10), packing material -- you can see the profit quick go down the drain on my side. So, is it truly worthwhile to spending that much time photographing, uploading, submitting my artwork, and packing/shipping it hundreds of miles away to exhibit in these juried shows? Is there any real benefit for me as an artist to sell my artwork this way versus simply selling by myself online, or in local galleries?...

Island Beauty - White Plumeria,  
Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico 140# Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2012 #12

Accepted into Randy Higbee Gallery's 2012 6 Inches Squared Show


After almost a year's exploration, experimentation and contemplation, I think the answer to that question is more likely "yes", but the reason does not lie in the economic side. In stead, I think it maybe worthwhile to enter juried shows for the following two benefits:

-- Exposure. Juried shows in different regions of the country may expose your work to local buyers, who may not have a chance to see your work otherwise. Often it is not practical or even possible for an artist, especially artists who are just starting their career to have representations in galleries across the country, therefore, juried shows can bring your work in front of potential customers in the regions far from your normal reach. Juried shows also often showcase larger-sized works whose scale is hard to fully comprehend until the viewer is standing in front of it, instead of looking at it on a computer screen. Some work are definitely more powerful and awe-inspiring when viewed in person. I think this is why my larger work are often sold in juried shows instead of online. 

Peppermint Rose, 
Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico 140# Cold Press Paper, 8"h x 8"w, 2012 #36

Accepted into Debra Huse Gallery's Holiday Treasure Salon 2012


-- Recognition. For artists who are just starting their career, getting into juried shows, and getting awards may open a few doors leading to wonderful opportunities. Art magazines, art book editors and curators may see your work and approach you for potential possibilities of writing an article about you, using your work in one of their art books, or even suggesting a future show opportunity. Art communities may see your work and invite you to give a demo, teaching a class or even a workshop. Adding national juried show acceptances and awards to one's resume also definitely make that road to gallery, artist-in-residence or grant application a bit easier. What's more, it is a demonstration that you are continuously making an effort presenting your work as a professional artist, which serves as a strong evidence in case you file your tax return as a professional artist, but cannot generate profit three out of five consecutive years. (Often, tax agents are quite flexible regarding applying this standard to artists, as long as you demonstrate the "continuous effort" toward becoming more professional and making steady progresses.)

Crimsonscape - Red Poinsettia
Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

Of course, one can also add that simply putting one's work "out there" to compare with all the wonderful professional artwork submitted to a juried show can serve as a measure of one's current level and progress through time. However, I would definitely caution taking this measure too serious, as more often than not, acceptance or rejection in a juried show with only one juror reflects more on the juror's taste and preference than the absolute quality of the artworks entered, and it can (surprisingly) be quite subjective. Therefore, whenever I am accepted into a show I really like, I would always caution myself that this by no means is a certificate that I have "made it" and better than all the artists that did not get in. Instead, it more likely just means that I am lucky enough that my artistic expression happens to fit in the vision of this particular juror...

To show, or not to show, that seems to be the eternal question for an artist struggling to establish his/her artistic career. To answer it, one really has to reach deep down, and ask oneself -- what is the purpose and driving factor for me to enter this show? What are the biggest benefits? What are the draw-backs? How much time and money am I likely to spend for it? Can I afford such time and monitory expenses? What can I get in return? Who is likely going to see this show? And are these people who I would like to show my work to at this stage of my career?... It is not an easy answer, and only you -- the artist can answer it for yourself...

Friday, November 16, 2012

2013 Calendars! (Different Designs Available...)

With the holiday season approaching, I am preparing my first calendars to offer for sale -- both online and in my galleries. Currently, I have three different desk calendars (8" x 4" in size) and a wall calendar (8.5" x 11" in size) for sale. Two of the desk calendars and the wall calendar uses the best floral paintings I did this year, and the other desk calendar contains images from my plein air paintings and sketches from this year. I am selling the desk calendars at $12 each (plus $3 shipping) and the wall calendar at $20 (plus $5 shipping), and if you purchase more than one, they will be packaged together at reduced shipping costs. If you purchase more than five (they could be either five of the same design or a combination of different designs), I will provide free shipping (I will refund your shipping cost after your payment)! Here's a sneak peak of the cover images of the different calendars:

"Garden Glory Desk" Calendar Cover

"Days of Roses, Nights of Tulips" Desk Calendar Cover

"Season's Impressions" Desk Calendar Cover

"Garden Impressions" Wall Calendar Cover

I've also revamped my blog to add a page which includes all the images of different months for each of the calendars. But you can also purchase any of the calendars by selecting the corresponding item in the drop down menu below, then click the "Add to Cart" button. If you want to purchase multiple calendars, you can simply close the paypal checkout window after adding one item to the cart, and select the next item you want to purchase, then click the "Add to Cart" button again. To purchase multiple copies of the same calendar, you can modify the quantity in the paypal checkout window, then click "update".

Purchase My 2013 Calendars:

Also, I've added links to my website, my Daily Paintworks Gallery, my Etsy shop, my available prints and note cards for sale (at Fine Art America), and a little blurb about myself to the blog -- you can now access them through the page tabs right under the banner image of my blog!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The "Love" Part of a Perfect Love/Hate Relationship: Me and Aquabord

I Admit at times this all look like slow motion (to all the incredible fast painters out there who makes me feel like a snail...), but, a love relationship just cannot be rushed, especially when it's facing some significant difficulties... Ok, ok, before your thoughts go astray, I am actually talking about this new surface I have been continuously trying (and tucking away out of frustration) for about a year -- the Ampersand Aquabord. And I think I am finally making real progress in understanding how it works...

You see, the problem of painting on Aquabord mostly come from the fact that it seems to have a will of its own -- washes laid down on it does not seem to go to places you want them to go, smooth washes are next to impossible for large areas, surface dries in a heartbeat and wet-in-wet applications almost always fail -- despite all of which, once you have tried it, it's hard to put down: colors do not sink into the surface and the brilliance of hue you can achieve on this surface is almost unsurpassed as far as watercolors go. Just like a perfect lover, it's wild, hard to tame, but your heart always goes back to it after every painful fight and every separation.

Remembering June,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

Like any other love affairs, it only start to become better and the two parties involved have "broken in" with each other. After much trial and frustration, the beauty of handling quality of this difficult surface start to reveal itself little by little:

-- Glazes of color merge seamlessly without revealing where the rewetting starts and where it ends. On paper, when applying a glaze to an area, despite out best effort to fade color back to clear water on the edge of shapes that requires a soft transition, often than not a "watermark" show up at the edge of the area that has been wet if the glaze is applied on areas that already have heavy pigment applications on them. This is because water would almost always loosen the pigment lying underneath and redeposit them on the edge of the wet area, no matter how light your touch is. I've tried soft squirrel hair brush, it helps but still does not totally eliminate the problem. On this surface, though, the surface texture of clay seem to break the obvious "ring" appearance of the rewetted areas, and glazes merge without a trace into existing color passages if you apply them lightly and avoid to disturb the existing pigments too much.

April's Passing,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

-- Delicate layering of colors truly "GLOWS" on this surface. If I apply washes that are so faint only a trace of color can be detected when applied directly on white paper, the color seem to stand out with more integrity and shows up more. So, if you are patient, the colors on this surface can almost be infinitely modified by applying a very thin, watery glaze over any existing passages, like the shadow areas on the petal in the details shown below -- the Cobalt Blue glaze I applied would totally disappear had I try to do this glaze on paper, but here, a very lovely subtle purple tinge shows clearly on the glazed areas.

-- Lifting from very dark to near white can be easily done with a synthetic brush, while lifting from pale passages would result a pearl-like glowing stain that hints the original color. The lovely surface texture also gets emphasized and adds surface interest with these near-white liftings and thin glazes, as shown in the lifted white shapes in the detail below.

Details of April's Passing,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

-- Very interesting diffused edges where a dark area meets a light area can be achieved by laying the dark pigment thickly (almost like cream or paste consistency), then immediately teasing out the edge with a wet (not just damp) brush. I used a small (size 4) brush with synthetic hair to do this, laying water droplets next to juicy dark passages, then push and pull color with the brush and water on surface, lifting if necessary, to create all the interesting shadow shapes on the leaves shown in the detail below. Since lifting back from near black to near white is not hard on this surface, once I let go of the fear and allow water to push and pull pigments with its own will to areas I have not expected, some very interesting edge effects and texture appears miraculously...

Details of April's Passing,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

In the end, what did I learn from this very difficult yet extremely rewarding relationship? I discovered that once you stop the dire effort of trying to control every aspect of it -- making every shape, every edge, every color passage to go exactly as you imagined -- and let go a little bit to observe what happens on surface as you lay down the colors, half in panic (always), half in expectation, beautiful surprises lies in every corner. A partner with character may be hard to handle, but never will there be a dull moment or boredom in the relationship that comes along...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Throw in a Little Play Time... (Have You Played Today?)

At times we can all be so busy -- busy producing work to enter competitions, to send to galleries, to list online for sale. It may seem that we are under constant stress to create, create, create more artwork! We feel the need to update our blogs often -- if not with a finished painting each day, at least some great progress shots (that actually shows progress)! At times we wish that the first reference photo we lay our eyes on or the first still-life setup we place on the table would just make a brilliant composition, that every brush-stroke we put down on paper or canvas would work magnificently toward the beautiful vision we had for the piece in our mind, that we could speed up this whole process of drawing, painting, sculpting into a linear progression along a single line aimed straight at a splendid finish ---

... And if it doesn't, if there are much time spend agonizing setting up a still life, cropping  a reference photo, if there are many passages scraped, scratched, lifted out, washed off, and repainted, if for a little while we seem to have lost in the process and not sure where the piece is going, we feel anxious and sometimes even guilty that we are not "productive" enough --

Fire Dance,  Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 1

... But, are we really?...

-- What if you allow yourself some time every week to just play with that set up process, substituting familiar and tried items with ones that just does not seem to work, and find out why? What if you try to center the entire composition around that problematic object, using other items with complimentary or analogues colors and patterns, contrasting or similar textures, and try to design shapes that make the problematic object the center piece? What if you try a totally different point of view -- such as setting up the still life above the eye line to emphasize the majestic quality of ordinary, day-to-day objects?...

-- What if you spend a day to just look through the lens of your camera, pointing it at random angles and shooting found objects that you may never intentionally try to take a reference photo of? What if you crop these photos dramatically, using super close-ups to look at only the surface texture, or very small details instead of the entire object? Instead of cropping yet a other head-and-shoulder shot for portrait, what if you cropped off the head and focus on hands, feet, chest with shirts and legs with torn jeans?...

April's Promise,  Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 1

-- What if instead of going straightly at that beautiful wash, that light underpainting, that carefully drawn details that you know would lead to a successfully painting in your typical style, give up your normal procedure, and try something new, something different, something that may be way outside your comfort zone? What if instead of painting light to dark, general shapes to details in watercolor, you put in bold darks and wash light colors over them, and let the darks bleed out? (No panicking please!!!) What if you just take out the work (or its photograph, in most cases) of an artist you admire and never has a chance to study with, and imagine how he or she achieved a particular passage in the painting, and try out that method? What if you just try a new type of material, a new surface, a new painting tool and try to redo a painting that you have done and liked, or for that matter, something that you have tried to do and never worked out?...

-- What if you take the photograph, and turn it into black-and-white, instead of painting true to the color of the photo, just choose a color scheme from a painting by another artist that you feel greatly inspiring, and try to design your painting using that particular color scheme? What if you try a limited palette of only primary colors, only warm and cool earth colors? If you are used to painting with a limited palette, what if you try three new colors and add them to this new painting to just see how they work with your old palette, and how they work (or does not work) with each other?...

Waiting for Spring,  
Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico #140 Cold Press Paper, 10"h x 7"w, WIP 1

Guaranteed, most of these "experiments", or as I would like to call them, "play time" products may never turn out to be master pieces -- they may never be finished, but I believe they are just as important as the beautiful finished pieces we enter shows, win prizes, sell across the ocean or to the next door neighbors, and post on our blogs, facebook pages and websites to gain all the "wow"s an "ah"s. Because it is for us, for the artist within, for the growth of our paintings and ourselves, and for the wonder of the activity we call "creating" that lured us in the constant ecstasy and agony of being an artist --

... So, maybe today, among all the "serious" work we do daily as artists, we can throw in a little, just a little... "Play Time"?...

(I would love to see your experiments and excursions -- post a comment or a link to your adventure and the fabulous -- they by definition all are -- results of it here, I will share it on my facebook page!)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Special Report: Painting on Aquaboard

In the past few months I've had my continued efforts with Ampersand Aquabord -- and continued to fail in terms of getting consistent, acceptable quality results. After working and reworking each image for an extended period of time, I was able to make the final results look somewhat pleasant to the eye, but it was extremely time-consuming and frustrating to me as far as the overall experience goes, and here's why:

1. The surface does not stay wet long enough no matter how many times you wet it -- not wet enough to achieve all the splendid wet-in-wet movement of pigments that I love so much and try to achieve in every paintings I create. If I wet it too much that water pools on the surface, the pigments just float on pools of water and make a big mess; but as soon as I drain excessive water off, the surface just becomes damp and pigments do not flow like they would do on wet paper;

2. Difficulty in achieve an even wash or gradation -- with each brush stroke the pigments would tend to accumulate where the stroke ends, and again, the surface dries so quickly that seamless application of washes from one stroke to the next just seems impossible;

3. Difficulty in controlling edge quality -- since the surface do not stay wet long enough, it seems very difficulty to soften edges between shapes, as newly laid-down washes seem to dry almost immediately, leaving very little time for edge manipulation with a damp brush.

But the brilliance of color and interesting granulation textures you can achieve on this surface, and the possibility of framing it varnished, without mat or glazing, directly in a frame kept me coming back despite of all the frustrations. After many Q & A sessions with my painting friends, Kara Bigda and Crystal Cook, who had much better success with this surface than I did, I realized that beside learning curve of a new material, what made this surface particular difficult to me and my usual painting method is -- unlike Kara or Crystal, I do not paint wet-on-dry using thin washes very much. Fundamentally, I am not a brushstroke painter but a wash painter, and I love to wet and area and drop in juicy, thick, wet pigments to create the right color and value in one or two applications, instead of patiently building up thin glazes of color on dry surface to achieve the same effect.

After this realization, I decided to revise my working method and give it another go. And sure enough, it worked like a charm! Guaranteed, my first trials are not masterpieces and I still needed much more practice on this surface. But for the first time, I feel I am knocking at the right door and with this method, I could achieve consistent results for all the different imagery I was working on --

April's Passing,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 1

So, here's the method I currently use to work on Aquabord:

1. Use lots and lots of water and very thin pigments for any large area washes (I am talking about onle 4-5 square inches). You can either wet it first, and keep your board on a tilt to let excessive water drain off its surface instead of pool on it (use a towel underneath your board to absorb all the run-off water if you'd like to keep your table top dry and clean), or you can directly work on dry surface (I would wet the entire surface at least once before painting on it, to break the surface tension and release the trapped air bubbles on the surface coating). The secret is to keep this first wash very light in pigment. If the area is really large, you will likely observe the first part of wash start drying as you continue applying it to the other areas. This is normal. Do not attempt to go back and rewet or paint-into the dried edge, as it would wash away pigments in that area and create nasty blooms or white rings. It is very easy to remove any ugly or dark edge on this surface -- after everything has dried, you can simple go over it with clean water and use a soft brush to smooth-off pigments, or glaze over it with a second wash. Sometimes, leaving imperfections in a wash creates good surface interest and does not need to be smoothed out at all, like what you can see in "Remembering June" below:

Remembering June,  Watercolor on Ampersand Aquaboard, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 1

2. Whenever you want to achieve soft edge, use slightly dense pigment-to-water ratio, lay the shape on dry surface, then immediately run a damp brush (slightly more watery that one that you would normally use for softening edge when painting on watercolor paper) along the edge you want to soften, let the pigment move into the newly wet area, and soften the leading edge of this area again -- you may have to do this several times until the leading edge of wet areas no long seem to contain any pigments. If the pigments have run to areas you do not want it to go, when the whole area is still damp, you can actually use the damp brush to push pigment back and "erase" it from those areas. All the soft edges on the rose petals in "April's Passing" are achieved using this method. When doing this, I am usually working one soft shape at a time, in very small areas -- the secret of working on this surface is to have patience and do not attempt to juggle too many balls all at once!

3. If you want to blend two colors in an area like the various hues on the water lily petal in "Remembering June", you can either pre-mix all the hues you want to use in very watery mixtures, and paint them next to each other on dry surface, let them mingle (again, one small area at a time!), or you can paint one hue, soften the edge, wait until the area is dry, then paint the other hue next to it, soften the edge (lots of softening!);

4. When painting darker passages, glazing using watery mixtures many times can work. If the pigments start to build up on surface, it is still possible to glaze over it with wet pigments, but trying to wet the surface first then drop in colors would be quite difficult, as the pigments already on surface at this point would tend to move with the first application of water. In other words, you can glaze multiple times on this surface, and the secret is to lay down each glaze wet-on-dry and do not touch any passage back when the surface is still wet. Alternatively, you can mix your dark colors on palette, and lay them in thickly, then quickly soften the edge with a damp brush. The dark areas above the rose in "April's Passing" is done this way;

5. You can definitely use this surface to its advantage -- utilizing the texture interest created by uneven washes, utilizing brushwork to describe texture or patterns of your subject, utilizing thin-glazes and build them up slowly to achieve luminosity... And the biggest advantage -- you can scrub it using any hard brush to remove various degrees of tints of color, almost back to white, and never have to worry about damaging the surface! If a painting totally goes south, you can hose it off with only a ghost image remaining -- something pastel artists often do and make me envy. Then you can even incorporate that ghost image into your next painting adventure on this revived surface! Often, that's a wonderful starting point of your creativity... 

I'm still learning my ropes regarding this challenging but extremely rewarding surface. And I will continue to share with you what I have learned about it here. -- Big thanks to Kara and Crystal, both of whom have so generously shared their working methods with me when I am on this journey, and both of them have created some stunning paintings on this surface. If you haven't already, be sure to take a look! I promise you will not be disappointed...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Work in Progress: Tropical Flowers Continued

Just a quick update of some of the tropical flower paintings I am still working on -- it's been a long time! October is flying by with almost an art fair every weekend, together with school it has surely bitten into my painting time! It's time to get them finished and posted!

Jungle Fire,  Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 8"h x 10"w, WIP 5

"Jungle Fire" is almost done and only a few glazes on the petals to make the red-orange really sing and glow! "Heliconia Dance", on the other hand, still has a long way to go, and I am enjoying playing with wet-into-wet in the background and all the subtle muted colors created by letting a limited palette of Cobalt Blue, Aureolin Yellow and Permanent Rose blending on wet paper...

Heliconia Dance,  Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 7"h x 5"w, WIP 3

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Storm Over Estuary (DPW Sky Challenge)

This is a little test of landscape I've posted on my facebook page (with a terrible image taken by the iphone camera in a hurry just after I finished it) and I never got around to share on my blog, or upload to my Daily Paintworks Page. The painting was done completely wet in wet, as a test of the Fabriano Blocco per Artisti paper I recently purchased. The surface of this paper is more similar to the laid instead of woven patterns (which is the most prominent surface pattern of contemporary watercolor paper), The lovely laid pattern gives it a very antique look, as this is the surface pattern of most of the paper in the age of Cotman or Turner. Layer on this paper, or repeated wetting, has proven to be extremely difficult. Like all Fabriano paper I have tried, it lifts like crazy. But the granulating colors separate and diffuse beautifully on it, and created this glowing orange (of Burnt Sienna) along the horizon and in the light passage in the land -- a river channel reflecting the setting sun. (The photo here, unfortunately, does not show the subtle, low saturation color in the original painting.) I am submitting it to this weeks DPW challenge -- paint a sky. John Sell Cotman has said "a sky a day" is a great exercise in watercolor painting, since it is always there for you to observe. This one is painted looking at the lovely back waters of San Carlos.

Storm over Estuary, 
Watercolor on Fabriano Blocco Per Artisti140# Cold Press Paper,5"h x 7"w, 2012 #51


Friday, October 19, 2012

Work in Progress: New Plein Air Pieces

Lately I've been pondering the question why I have not painted more landscape paintings -- I really love landscapes and they've been my initial motivation to become a painter, but I have only occasionally dabbled on some small landscapes here and there. Why? After much reflection I've concluded that landscape for me are much less literal, and more poetic; a whole lot has to go into the initial preparation stage -- dissecting the reference image (or the sweeping vista in front of me), deciding the mood I want to convey and the color scheme that can evoke such mood the best, doing small value sketches to choose which elements in the reference materials to include, and which ones to exclude. Also, a good landscape painting requires much more abstraction, utilizing simplified shapes to suggest objects, and pay a lot of attention to the actual mark-making process so that each individual mark on paper creates the illusion that it's representing something in the actual landscape. A good landscape is seldom a truthful copy of the reference material or the real vista in front of the artist's eye, but a rearranged, abstracted combination of value and color shapes that comes from within the artist's mind, guided by a good sense of design. It is in my mind one of the hardest genres of representational art and actually the closest to abstract works. I've been, subconsciously, quite intimidated by the process.

Since the best way to overcome fear is practice, I decide to work on landscape painting everyday from this point on -- this does not mean I will be able to finish a piece a day, and I can imagine there will be many throw-aways. But I will keep at it until I feel more comfortable for the entire process. I will probably do some studies of master artists' works, some plein-air exercises, and some practice projects from good how-to books, as well as work on some larger pieces from my own reference materials. Some days I may only be able to complete a few sketches or composition studies, other days I may be able to finish a couple of small works -- but I will share my successes and failures here, as well as what I have learned from them.

So here they are -- the first exercises, both started en plein air but would get finished in the studio. The first one is a river estuary view along Carmel Beach, where I am exploring the possibility of not painting any actual "objects", but just utilizing mark making to hint the undergrowth, river and sand beach. The focus is creating interesting color-variations and surface textures using various brush-marks. I did this one in a workshop with the wonderful artist Dale Laitinen, who is a master of abstracting shapes and create surface interest using brush-marks. I decided to study his work closely to add a weapon or two into my arsenal...

Carmel River Estuary,  Watercolor on Arches 140# Rough Paper , 7"h x 10"w, WIP 1

The second one is a near dusk view of headlands and rocky shorelines near Drake's Beach, in Point Reyes National Seashore. My focus is to use cool, low-key colors to hint the chilly, foggy atmosphere in the evening, and practice wet-in-wet in different stages. Again, I try to use brush-marks to hint the texture on the headland and rocks, as well as the undergrowth on the beach, instead of delineating everything I see while standing there. I did not get to finish it before dark, so the rest of the image will come from my imagination in the studio. Let's see how it goes! I will update tomorrow...

Dusk at Drake's Beach, Point Reyes,
  Watercolor on Arches 140# Rough Paper , 6"h x 8"w, WIP 1

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Work in Progress: More Tropical Flowers

Time flies -- my post here has been sporadic lately, although I have not been slacking off! For one, the study at the Golden Gate Atelier has resumed on October 1st after the summer break, and boy was I rusty! I am struggling Monday through Thursday trying to regain the skills of seeing shapes, comparing values, measuring angle and length by drawing from live models and copying master drawings, which leaves only the weekends to paint. Even those are hard to come by, however, since I have a couple of art fair events coming up every weekend of October (I will talk about my experiences in tomorrow's post, since I've learned quite a bit in my first art fair, and during the discussions with other artists who are veterans in these affairs)! Between printing, framing, setting up and taking down tents and panels, and long driving sessions, there are only a couple of hours here and there left to create new work. I am itching to paint and managed to paint in early mornings and late nights for an hour here, an hour there. Progress has been slow, but I thought I should at least share them here:

Soar,  Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper , 6"h x 6"w, WIP 2

I've got farthest with this little 6" x 6" little painting of bird of paradise. It is not a very complicated image, and the reference photo is very colorful. I decided to try out the multi-colored layering techniques I've been learning in the fabulous Jeannie Vodden's class, and practicing painting with lots of water, thin layers of pigments, and wet-on-dry. Well, I would not say I was completely successful -- in some of the shapes of darker foliage areas I got carried away and again started blending thick, juicy pigments wet-in-wet. But I am not unhappy with the results. I would like to practice saving areas of delicate, light-valued passages using this method in my next exercises... I feel I do painting too heavy-handed sometimes and did not quite utilize the full potential of the delicate nature of watercolor glazes. Something to ponder about in future projects!

Jungle Fire,  Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper , 8"h x 10"w, WIP 4

In this cropped bird of paradise painting, I have practiced the same glazing method as in the one above and managed to achieve soft blended edges in the background foliage areas. Now it's time to get that intense, rich orange color of the flower on there!

Heliconia Dance,  Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper , 7"h x 5"w, WIP 2

This heliconia painting is still at its beginning stage. I am learning from the two bird of paradise projects, and taking my time to build up values using blended thin layers of pure colors. I love paintings at this stage -- you can play with the abstract shapes of light and dark, take liberty with the colors, and enjoy the flow of wet pigments on paper without worrying too much to make it look like the photo. Since I am enjoying this process so much, I am suspicious I've indulged a bit too long at this stage... :-P

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Petal Light III (Finished!)

I stayed up late for three consecutive nights and finally managed to finish this one for the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society's Annual Member Show! I am quite happy with the wet-in-wet passage of the big tree stump behind the flower -- but it was absolutely scary when that whole area is wet, and thick pigments of French Ultramarine and Quinacridone Burnt Sienna oozing in amorphous shaped puddles, and I was frenetically trying to lift out some brighter passages within the whole mess of darkness... I did struggle back and forth about whether I should even leave the stump where it is before starting to paint this image -- or whether I should simply remove it and put in more foliage behind the flower. I finally decided the image has enough areas of foliage and the stump could potentially break the monotony of blues and greens, add a little muted warmth to the imagery, and decide to leave it in the picture. To contrast with the detailed flower, I decide to paint the whole area wet-in-wet, using only brushwork to hint the wood grains and rough textures on the bark. I'm really glad that I did it this way -- and on this difficult paper, because it did force me to totally loosen up and break away from my reference photo, and only concentrate on WHAT IS HAPPENING ON MY PAPER to make interesting shapes using light, medium and dark value patterns and warm-cool color contrasts. It is so liberating and I really need to do this many, many, many more times!!!  

Petal Light III, 
Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico 140# Cold Press Paper,10"h x 14"w, 2012 #50

I choose a dark copper-bronze colored frame to echo the warm rusty hue of the tree stump, and deposited the painting at the Rose Shenson Gallery of Triton Art Museum in Santa Clara. The show runs from October 4th to November 3rd, and the opening reception is next Saturday, October 7th from 1:00 pm to 3:30 pm. I will be at the reception. If you are in the area, stop by and say hi! 

Petal Light III, Framed (Frame Size 16"h x 20"w)

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