Sunday, July 29, 2012

Beauty Queen (DPW Challenge Entry, and a Little Personal Thoughts)

As I was finishing this piece, suddenly a sense of familiarity stroke -- it felt as if I had drawn it, painted it before, as if we had met as old friends, comfortable with each other. I stopped my brush and sat for a while, trying to figure out where this sense has come from. Then I started to remember -- the garden outside my window when I was living and studying in Indiana, which was always blooming with a thousand pink, aromatic roses just like this one by the end of summer. I had gazed at them many, many, many times in the clear, cool breeze of dawn,  thinking about putting them down on paper, which I did not think I could do at that time -- a seed of dream planted a long time ago, to be waken at this moment.

Beauty Queen, Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 7"h x 5"w, 2012 #41


Submitted as DPW Challenge Entry (Rose Challenge)

Indiana was the first place I landed when came to this foreign country to finish my graduate study, a very different place, sharply contrasting to where I grew up -- the never night city of twenty million, Shanghai. Living in Indiana means dealing with life so intimately interwoven with nature -- the whole intermeshing of plant and landscape, of sky and earth, of time and place. Nature was always there where I lived, just down the front steps of the doorway, made of native limestone with tiny fossilized shells embedded in it, along the riverbank that overflows in the summer, in the scarcely-pruned garden filled with native wildflowers of my neighbors... And there was always time, lovely time, to notice the world around, time to relate to it in my own way, time that seems to be in shorter and shorter supply each year now. I wonder if I had studied and therefore stayed at other schools in other places, whether I would end up where I am right now, painting the same thing -- flowers of summer gardens, landscapes with horizons stretching to the sky -- or would I even be painting at all? I honestly don't know, but I remember the kind, patient, guiding hands of my first watercolor teachers, extraordinary artists living their entire life in small town Indiana, not at all interested in the hustle and bustle of the outside world... 

A sense of sweet nostalgia slowly enveloped me. I took comfort in knowing that the way I learned to look at the world about me then and there was the same practice I am taking to observe the world about me now. I came to a western landscape as an outsider looking in, and the reason I could do so is because years ago, in Indiana, I had learned how to be an insider looking out...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Petal Light #1 (Another One Done...)

Lately I was doing an inventory check of unfinished paintings, and realized that the majority of them went into a halt right before the final stage of large-area wet-in-wet applications. In fact, there are a few that I have started this final stage of attacks, however, after each passage there is always a long idle period, more time spent staring at the paper surface than for actual application. It almost seems like I am subconsciously afraid to proceed, worrying about ruining the perfect image that has formed in my head at this stage...

There is no better way to fight fear than just forge ahead. So I spent better time of today finishing Petal Light #1, which should really long been finished. It turns out, the final applications are not nearly as scary as I have imagined them to be in my subconscious for so long. Is this a perfect finish? Probably not. But it is what I could give my best and achieve right now, and one more step in the direction of chasing the illusive "perfect master piece". If I keep on practicing, it will come -- I tell myself, yet again. The journey is the only thing that is more important than the destination...

Petal Light #1, Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 10"h x 8"w, 2012 #40

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Little Plein Air Pieces

After days of buried indoors finishing projects I started to miss the fresh, clear air outdoors, the sea breeze and the bright California sunshine. So, yesterday morning I decide to throw a small sketchbook and a couple of brushes into my backpack and go hiking! That was really a lot of fun. I found myself walking along the beach of Point Reyes National Seashore and looking toward Drakes Head after a couple of sweaty hours. The day is overcast and billowing clouds flying overhead, zipping through intense blue sky (it's very windy, as always, in Point Reyes). Sitting down to catch my breath, I decided to capture what's in front of my eyes on paper. Painting in strong wind is very tricky -- color dries instantaneously and your paper may fly away (yes, the whole sketch book flies) at any moment. It's a physical exercise if not anything else, but I really like the final result. Plein air sketches always have such a freshness that's hard to obtain indoors in front of photos. If not for anything else, one just gains such awareness of the subtlety of colors!!! The colors in nature seldom translate well onto films (or CCD cells for digital cameras)...

Across the Bay, 
Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper , 5"h x 7"w, 2012 #38


After a long stroll along coastal sage bushes, I drove back home along the inland highway 101. There are Vineyards and olive orchards all along the way and as the dusk falls, the sky become this surreal transition from deep, saturate blue in the zenith, to a dark, coppery orange along the horizon. The olive trees, back lit by the setting sun, become these haunting purple-black silhouettes. Their outreaching branches look almost like a thousand arms of ancient, earth-bound creatures in fairy tales. I pulled to the road side of the country land and painted this small piece on the car dash-board as the lovely light quickly fainting outside the windshield... 

Dusk over Oliver Orchards, 

Watercolor on Arches 140# Rough Paper , 4"h x 9"w, 2012 #39


As I drove across the bridge into golden city lights, I realized how much I miss hiking and painting outdoors. It's the inertia of habits that prevents me from doing it more often, and I really should! Painting is as much about personal discovery and growth as it is about transfixing what you experience into a finished image on paper, and nothing, I say nothing, makes one more aware of their surroundings and inspire that being close to the source -- nature in its raw state -- and paint in immersion of it! I made a promise to myself that I will do it at least once a week from now on, no matter how busy and overwhelmed I feel before leaving home -- I know I will always coming back totally exhausted by feeling much fresher!...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer Wakening (Another One Finished!)

Have you ever felt that you are just in the mood of finishing things up? I think I have definitely got into that mode lately. I have dug up all the projects started since the beginning of the year, reevaluate them and putting on that precious "finishing touch". Now, most artists I have talked with mentioned that they really like the final 10% stage of their painting process, during which one normally add one after another yummy details and see the painting suddenly coming alive -- well, not me, I almost always agonize over the last 10% of any painting, spending day after day wondering whether I should modify one more little thing, and worrying about whether that might significantly affect the "freshness" of passages laid down swiftly. I have not posted finished painting consistently for a few weeks now because of this unsure feeling, but this week, I decide to not over think and just go with my gut feelings. So here we go, another one finished -- another one long overdue. I have "evaluated" (procrastinated on) it for long enough. Another look won't give me any more insight and I am happy with it now -- and most importantly, I decide not to worry about whether I would be happy with it five days or two weeks later. As one's skills steadily improve there will always be imperfections discovered on earlier work later on, but it's no reason to linger over a piece and does not allow it to emerge at the time it should have. Whatever that needs to be improved can be accomplished with the next painting -- yes, there would always be a "next painting" -- a comforting thought for me...

... That is, if I can get around finishing all those projects that I have already started and bring them all to a proper finish! :-P

Summer Wakening, 
Watercolor on Lanaquarelle 140# Cold Press Paper , 10"h x 8"w, 2012 #37

Bid at My DPW Auction (Starting Bid $65)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Peppermint Rose (Finished... Finally!!!)

This painting has taken on and off a couple of months time to finish, mostly because every time I am ready to take it off the drawing board and place it into a mat, something suddenly jumps at me and demands further modification. I have (since the last update) toned the upper right corner down with two layers of washes in yellow-green, to harmonize it with the rest of the painting. Several shadow shapes in the center of the flower had their value and gradation adjusted to punch up the light shapes beside them, and two attempts of wet-in-wet was carried out on the dark shape on the left of the flower stem. Overall, these a cosmetic changes, but I do think they are important in letting what's suppose to catch the viewer's attention -- the peppermint rose flower -- stand out more, and integrate the entire painting.

Now I am ready to call it quits. I am more than happy with the final result -- it has been a long struggle from the very start, but it is the ones that you struggle with makes you grow!

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

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Work in Progress: Return to Sun Dance (Starting the Yellow Overpainting)

I'm returning to this painting of yellow rose in full summer sunlight after a long time of setting it aside. The underpainting on the flower center is truly a test for my patience, and I had to place some guess work into it for how dark the underpainting in each area need to go, and to what color temperature -- that is, how blue or red the purple underpainting needs to be -- which will not be confirmed until several layers of overpainting yellows are applied...

Sun Dance,  Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper , 8"h x 8"w, WIP 6

This painting is currently at that "ugly stage" that requires perseverance every stroke of the way in my opinion, mainly because there is a stark dis-accordance between the areas which had been painted over with yellow, and the areas that haven't. Yellow is a tricky color to paint in the sense that if applied a little thickly, almost all yellow, including the most transparent ones such as New Gamboge and Aureolin, becomes opaque and chalky, especially when applied as overpaintings on top of dark colors. Several layers of thinly applied glaze carries the best effect, instead of one layer thickly applied paint, which takes quite some time to do. I am taking comfort in the notion that the areas that has received several layers of yellow glazing show a beautiful glowing effect -- hopefully when finished, the entire painting would have this subtle glow that can only be achieved by glazing...

Today I received bad news from a juried show I have entered -- the "Small Waters" show by Illinois Watercolor Society. I have entered "Petal Light II", which I am quite happy with. However, the competition is fierce, and I did not make the cut! Since another painting of mine, "Hide and Seek II" has won an honorable mention in their national juried show this year, I had high hopes for this submission. Alas, another jury, totally different outcome! There are so many wonderful watercolor artists around the country, I guess I just have to learn from the failure and let it go! Tomorrow is another day...

Petal Light II, 
Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 8"h x 10"w, 2012 #34

Bid at My DPW Auction (Starting Bid $100)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Work in Progress: Greetings of May, and more Sanchez 50-50

Ok, ok, I admit -- after painting a grouping of 6" x 6" sizes I did feel a little constrained in terms of composition, and took a break from them by working on this piece I started in May. I worked multiple layers of very wet washes of mingled colors in the attempt to created the airy, light-filled space behind the flower, which reminded me of the feeling of early summer when I took this reference photo. I love the effects I have obtained so far -- the soft-focused ring effects and the delicious granulation of pigments, but the painting surface overall is looking a little too busy right now, so I think I will darken some area and lose some of the "light rings" to provide resting area for the eye, and emphasize the light-colored flower a bit more. The Lanaquarelle Cold Press paper I am working on is very lovely -- easy enough to lift but still allows glazing provided a light touch is used. I will be very careful not to saturate the surface of the paper before the designed value range is reached...

Greetings of May, Watercolor on Lanaquarelle 140# Cold Press Paper, 11"h x 7"w, WIP 2

But, I did not slack off on the 50-50 project! I worked on this group of green(! yes, it is the actual color of the flower...) orchids. Contrary to the Blue Delphiniums, the subject of this painting -- the group of several orchid flowers -- is itself complicated enough, so instead of trying to add more soft-focused foliage in the background and make it way too busy, I opted for a soft, smoothly gradated background, mostly dark to contrast with the light flowers, hoping it would provide a "quiet area" for the viewer's eyes to breathe. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task, give I don't want to use masking and the background shapes around the flowers are complicated with interlocking edges. I also had to glaze multiple times to obtain the smooth gradation, leaving some lighter yellow-green areas to hint more flowers in the background space. I still have lots of work to to on the flowers in the foreground -- it's going to be a long night again... :-P

Green Orchids, Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 1

... And, I am really really excited that I finally finished the preliminary work required to open my Etsy Shop! All that shipping policy, story of the shop, greeting message -- everything takes careful drafting and a whole lot of typing! But it's finally there, and I've uploaded the first item, optimized the title and tags for it to be easily reached via the all mighty search engines! (A lot of reading of FAQs and Forum Postings on Etsy, and thanks to the great introduction by the wonderful Crystal Cook -- you really rock!) I know it takes time to build a potential clientele, so I will be patient. But this is a new chapter for me and I am really excited...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sanchez 50-50: Delphinium Blue

I spent more time planning the composition of this painting today than actually painting it -- at this stage it is just the first layer of wet-in-wet underpainting of both the main flower stalk and the background. Ideally, for tall, slender groups of flower like the foxgloves and delphiniums, the best format of paintings should be vertical. Due to the specific size constraint of the 50-50 project, this is not an option. Therefore, in order to break the monotony of parallel stalks of the main flowers and the buds, I deliberately tipped them over so that the direction of the stalks are forming an oblique angle with the sides of the paper. This creates more interest than letting the stalks go parallel to the edge of the paper, thus dividing it to a couple of vertical bands. This also allow a longer portion of the stalks to show in the paper surface. I am quite happy with the resulted composition.

For the background, I first painted a variegated wash with Cobalt Blue, French Ultramarine, Permanent Magenta and Dioxazine Violet, repeating the colors appearing in the flowers. After it dried, I reassessed and realized the background is too empty if I just layer it with amorphous washes, and decided to draw in more impression of leaves in the shade. They will be painted wet in wet to produce a soft-focus effect, thus not competing with the main flower in the foreground. We'll see how that goes...

Blue Delphiniums, Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 1

On the business end, I've been working on my etsy shop front! I've got some very valuable advice from the wonderful Crystal Cook, whose etsy shop is truly a sight for sour eyes. I think etsy is a wonderful way of reaching a large base of potential customers, however, to differentiate one's shop from 400,000 other merchants there and be found by the ones who are looking is not an easy job. I am spending a lot of time crafting my artist's profile and the overall descriptions of the works sold in my shop. I am debating over whether to include prints in the shop or only sell original paintings, and right now I am settling on including prints of only the larger, more expensive works (11" x 15" or larger). The prints would be printed on-demand from Fine Art America, which is a wonderful website for artists to customize prints on a variety of surfaces, including canvas, and to produce affordable note cards. I just started to set up my account there following the advice of fellow artist Irina Sztukowski -- so many wonderful venues to explore, so little time! What is your favorite online (or offline) venue of art sales? Please share ;-)

Friday, July 6, 2012

More for Sanchez 50-50...

Things at home are a little chaotic here and I am quite distracted from the progress of the Sanchez 50-50 project by some bad health news from family member. There are a few pieces for the show whirling around in the studio, but frankly speaking I am far from happy with them. This new effort started well and we'll see where it is going... In the mean while, how is everyone else enjoying their summer?

Purple Hibiscus, 
Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 1

Painting a variegated dark background around a light flower subject can be tricky -- I usually don't use any masking agent since my limited experiments with it always seem to roughen up the paper surface, and I don't quite like the hard edge it leaves all around the flowers. Since wetting a large area in the background with complicated edges can take a lot of time, it's hard to maintain the entire background equally wet for a successful application of wet-in-wet. What I have learned is to use the flower to break up the background space into unconnected pieces, thus giving each piece a chance to be able to be painted separately, buying time for myself in execution. For larger connected areas, I look for narrow passages as "stopping points", such as the narrow area left to the bud on the left on the flowers, and the area right to the right-most tip of leaves. I will wet the area on each side of this narrow "mouth" separately, let clear water run a little bit pass the mount and into the adjacent area, but not flowing paint beyond it. This way, the entire background seem to connect into a coherent flow without any discernible hard edge in its soft passages, and allow the viewer's eye travelling around without much effort. What is your trick? Please share!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Work in Progress: Beauty Queen (Finishing Underpainting of Leaves), and Great News from Juried Shows

It may not seem that a lot has been done since its last WIP, but believe me, many hours of loving labor has gone into this little painting between then and now, carefully strengthening the intensity and value of the shadow shapes of the background leaves, and modifying the colors of the light-strike areas. More than once have I completely lost in the middle of this big puzzle of light and dark shapes, wondering where the shape I am currently delineating is located in the reference photo. (I even cut out inch-sized square shapes on white paper to isolate the area I am looking at on the reference photo so that I can get back to the same area every time I leave the painting table... That really helped) I think the underpainting of the leaves in the background is almost finished at this stage. Right now the entire background seem very hard-edged but to me there is a easy-to-identify structure of color temperature and clear structure of light-middle value-dark shapes, which would allow me to do a wet-into-wet overpainting easily -- at least I hope so :-P

Beauty Queen, Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 7"h x 5"w, WIP 6

And I got great news when attending the reception in the Haggin Museum for Stockton Art League's 57th National Juried Exhibition yesterday -- my painting, High Summer Dream II, was awarded the Iona Hepper Memorial 1st Place Award for Water Media! What an honor! Adding to my joy of the day, I was approached by the client who just purchased this piece from the show... It is just like a big happy dream...

High Summer Dreams II, 
Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 10"h x 14"w, 2012 #33


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Another One for the 50-50 Show...

A very busy week with tons of framing, purchasing materials, picking up paintings and dropping off paintings... I was barely able to squeeze out a few minutes here and there to do this small piece of flower painting. It is a very uncommon kind of green flower that I found in our local Whole Foods store, with the name "Bells of Ireland". I liked the little bell-shaped flower heads with the unusual green color and decided to give it a try... The flower heads are almost finished but I still need to do more work on the background, which is some out-of-focus flower heads...

Green Bells of Ireland, Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 1

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A New Series (Sanchez Art Center 50-50 Show)

I was quite busy since the end of June on this new project -- I was juried into the "50-50 Show" hosted by the Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica, which requires each participating artist to create 50 small pieces of art -- 6"h x 6"w to be exact -- and exhibit them as a body of work, installed in 7 rows and 7 columns, plus one title piece together. There would be a theme chosen by each participating artist, and mine was "Rainbow Colored Flowers". I had planed to create 7 rows of flowers, each taking a spectrum of the rainbow, plus a white title piece flower. Now that I am trying my best to paint one 6"h x 6"w sized image in one day, I have some new ideas, which I will talk about when I show more images in my later posts. But this is one piece, almost finished but not quite yet in the lightest parts, created for the show. It would be in center of the red row.

Crimsonscape - Red Poinsettia
Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, WIP 1

I've also got some good news in the mail today -- my painting, "Edge of Summer II" was awarded the Golden Acrylics Merchandise Award in the Red River Watercolor Society's 19th National Juried Watermedia Exhibition. This piece is currently on view at Hjemkomst Center Gallery, 202 1st Avenue North, Moorhead, MN. I am looking forward to receive some beautiful juicy Golden Liquid Acrylics... ^___^

Edge of Summer II, Watercolor on Arches 140# Cold Press Paper, 10"h x 14"w, 2012 #32

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