Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Innocence - Day Thirty of the 30/30 Challenge


Innocence, 
Watercolor on Saunders Waterford #140 Cold Press Paper, 15"h x 11"w, 2015 #32

Master Study, Not for Sale

Day Thirty of the challenge -- I've made it this time! Yay!!!

This last painting I've completed for the challenge this month is also not done in a day's time, but on and off at every chance that a day's painting has not taken the entire time of that day. It is also a master study of Jan Kunz, as I have set a goal for myself to learn the basic of portrait and figure painting in watercolor in the coming year. I have learned a lot from doing this one -- from how to mix believable skin tones to the procedure of rendering the features of the face, as well as how to apply a background that does not detract from the figure. It's also done on a surface that is hard-sized, but for some reason dries much faster than Arches, so the window of time left to manipulate wet washes on it is not ideal. But it forces me to simplify and work fast, and in the end, I think I've learned to apply multiple light glazes to fix soft half-tone shapes that don't quite have the right value, color or edge quality. I would like to do some figure paintings of children in a simple, one-light-source setting like this one next. If you have a good photo of a child that I could use, please email it to me. Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

It Takes Two to Tango - Day Twenty-Nine of the 30/30 Challenge


It Takes Two to Tango, 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 11"h x 7"w, 2015 #31

Master Study, Not for Sale

Day Twenty-Nine of the challenge -- never thought I would make the whole challenge again! Yay! It is almost the end!!! This painting is a study of master watercolor artist Jan Kunz, whose work I have admired since I took up watercolor a few years ago. The clean, colorful washes that radiates with light just grabs my heart the first time I saw one of her books. Since I haven't painted many still life setups, I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to experiment with different texture -- glass, silver, wood, etc., before to attempt assembly a grand still life and paint it. So this is my practice for capturing the texture of clear, thick glass. It combines something that I am familiar with and feel comfortable painting -- rose, with something I am feeling a little bit timid about -- glass. I had a lot of fun doing it, and painted it over a few days of this month, whenever the day's painting did not take up too much time and leaves a few hours to spend on other projects. I have discovered that painting glass is not unlike assembling a big piece of puzzle -- I have lost numerous times over the different patterns of reflection and refraction painting the ball jar, and it is just one simple little jar! Clearly I needed more practice on this subject, but it was so much fun. The next step is to assemble a still life of my own similar to this setup and see if I could carried out what I have learned doing this master study into my own painting. Can't wait to do that!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Dusk over Marsh - Day Twenty-Eight of the 30/30 Challenge


Dusk over Marsh, 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #30

Bid in My DPW Auction (Starting Bid $50)

Day Twenty-Eight of the challenge -- a little plein air piece at sunset, done mostly with my 1" slanted bristle brush. I am falling in love with this big, stiff brush that is not at all capable of doing any details, but carries so much pigment and water and does soft wet-in-wet blending and rough edges both so well! When the sun is setting and the light changing fast, it is really handy! I actually did several different studies before the sun completely sinks under the horizon, but I love this one the most -- it did capture the glorious sky that I saw, which made all the draw grass near shore literally glows with dragon's blood red! Again, this is done in a quiet back corner of the shoreline park of mountain view. I can never get tired of painting the beautiful wetlands in the bay area...

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Remnants - Day Twenty-Seven of the 30/30 Challenge


Remnants, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #29

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Day Twenty-Seven of the challenge -- another little plein air study I did at the ghost town of Drawbridge, near the marshlands by Mountain View. The sky is extraordinarily clear and very intense warm blue in the zenith, with just the slightest bits of pale clouds down toward horizon. The shoreline is cleared of people at the early hour. Because of the heat and drought in the past few months (years?! :-), the grass along the shore is a lovely golden brown color, providing contrast with the cool turquoise water -- I just have to paint it! The dilapidated shack near a broken wooden-plank bridge naturally became my center of focus for this painting, as it has so much character, like an old face full of wrinkles and history. I can't help but wondering who built it, who has stayed in it over the years, coming out between the time after the stars are gone, and before the early dawn light is in, staring into the big empty sky and wondering what is at the other end of the horizon. In the quiet hours of dawn, I feel connected to all that has happened here before, the people who have come, and the days flown by. I put my brush to paper...

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Low Tide, Linda Mar Beach - Day Twenty-Six of the 30/30 Challenge


Low Tide, Linda Mar Beach,
 Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #28

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Day Twenty-Six of the challenge -- another little plein air study I completed at the Linda Mar beach of Pacifica. The sun was setting behind a thin veil of clouds, and there is an intense purple-magenta glow through moistened air. The tide is out, ten thousand little channels on the wet sand beach glisten with warm golden reflections. Because the fog is closing in, this busy beach is surprisingly empty, when the near-shore rock formations were back lid into a parade of strange and a little intimidating gigantic mystical beast sculptures. One slender figure in red drifts in with the wind, almost silently, and lingers near the distant rock form. I just had to add her into my painting. Love it when a painting almost paints itself for me -- one of those rare occasions...

Friday, September 25, 2015

April's Promise - Day Twenty-Five of the 30/30 Challenge


April's Promise, 
Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #27

Sold!

Day Twenty- Five of the challenge -- another one I have labored on for ages. When I first started this painting I had absolutely no idea that Fabriano Cold Press paper is very very different from Arches Cold Press paper -- in absolutely every aspect. Arches is hard-surfaced, holds pigments applied onto its surface relatively well, because the pigments do sink into its paper fibers quite a bit -- and because of this the colors do seem to get a little bit duller as the applied washes dry and sink in, also it is difficult to lift colors from this paper, especially if you are using some of the staining ones such as Thalo or Alizarin Crimson. Fabriano Artistico paper, on the other hand, only keeps pigment on its very soft surface, which makes lifting easy -- even lifting back to the paper white is possible without actually damaging the paper surface, but wet-in-wet glazing difficult as the underlying colors have a tendency to lift off if you wet the paper again! Also, soft-surfaced paper dry at a speed much faster than hard-surfaced paper, as the latter has a lot of surface sizing and prevent drying by absorption to a certain degree. I have since learned my lesson -- the painful way, as I labored my way through this little piece, throwing my brush onto the ground numerous times as the applied wash simply refuse to do what I want it to. Luckily, I was taking some classes with the amazing watercolor artist, Jeannie Vooden when I started this painting. And I have learned the patient blending of very thin, watery washes wet-on-dry in her class. I modified this method by trial and error to use on the Fabriano paper, learning complete different painting techniques and procedures that would suit the temperament of this delicate paper... I have learned so much through the process!

Looking back at this finished piece, I am amazed at how much my method of paint application has changed through the struggle of this little painting. It has literally taught me so much about watercolor, and about myself as a painter. I am grateful for all the struggles it put me through, and feel very proud that I have stuck with it till the end.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fire Dance - Day Twenty- Four of the 30/30 Challenge

Fire Dance, Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #26

Currently on Hold ($175)

Day Twenty- Four of the challenge -- this is a painting that I have labored on and off for the past few years, and each time after putting it away for a while and taking it back out, I find something to add or change here and there. But the most recent examinations have revealed less and less changed that I feel necessary. So today, after doing a few last little tweaks, I've decided that it is time to call it done and let it go to the wide world! As a cherished child this is the first painting that I feel hard to let go... And there is a collector that I have promised first dibs when I finish it, after which I will let it go to the open auction. A personal favorite of mine...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Curiosity - Day Twenty-Three of the 30/30 Challenge


Curiosity, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #25

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Day Twenty-Three of the challenge -- I don't paint animals often, especially those with feather and fur, not because I am not drawn to these cute little critters, but due to the fact that I am really not feeling very competent with creating realistic texture of feather and fur with watercolor. Taking the opportunity of this challenge though, I decide that I should not shy away from these subject if I ever want to get better at painting them. Instead I need to tackle them head-on! So here it is, my very first attempt at a furry critter, it's big cute eyes just melts my heart... The fur patterns has taken my many wet-in-wet glazes and careful lifting with small stiff brushes to do, and I still cannot say that I have fully mastered how to do it for all future instances, but it's a start! I have also discovered in the process that Yellow Ocher has very interesting granulating qualities that is different from it's warmer, more transparent sister, Raw Sienna. I would like to explore it a bit more...

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Glen River Autumn - Day Twenty-Two of the 30/30 Challenge


Glen River Autumn, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #24

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Day Twenty-Two of the challenge -- working with an earthy palette again. This one is a memory painting of the Russian River valley up north, which I have painted "En Plein Air" many times. I especially love the fall there -- clear air, cloudy sky, muted ocher-colored shrubs, always reminding me of the highlands of Scotland... 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ancestor's Place - Day Twenty-One of the 30/30 Challenge


Ancestor's Place, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #23

Bid in My DPW Auction (Starting Bid $55)

Day Twenty-One of the challenge -- a painting of the red rock country of Sedona, Arizona. I have been wanting to paint these amazing rock formations forever since I paid my first visit to the desert country of the grand canyon state in 2008... I used a primary palette of Winsor Red, Burnt Sienna (a muted orange serving as my yellow) and Winsor Blue for this one, painting the sky and the clouds mostly wet-in-wet while patiently layering the red rock shapes from light to dark, softening edges where the cloud is in front of the monolith, adding dry-brush texture toward the base. The small foreground tree shapes were painted mostly using the 1" slanted bristle brush to get the rough silhouette of the foliage, and the linear marks of the branches were added where I think a line may compliment the dark mass. I was happy with this first effort, but would like to paint it again to explore different format and play with horizontal as well as vertical composition, to see how they can give different mood to the painting. This is what I really like about the 30/30 project -- it prevents me to linger too long on a small piece of the paper and opens the doors of experimentation. Each project by itself does not become overly precious. But as a body of work, I can always see my progress through them very clearly at the end of each challenge...


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Savannah Moon - Day Twenty of the 30/30 Challenge



Savannah Moon, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #22

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Day Twenty of the challenge -- today I am playing with limited palette again, starting with a concept of nocturnal and aridity, I used mostly Raw and Burnt Sienna with a little Indantrine Blue added to cool down the mixture in distance, and just used a large 1" flat sable brush to make various wet and dry marks to indicate foliage. Linear marks were added later with a rigger or scratched into the wet paint as it dried to suggest branches. The moon was lifted in the end with a stiff-haired synthetic rounds. As I have mentioned before, limited palette makes it especially easy to explore quiet, somber moods, and create a sense of mystery. I added the distant group of trees when evaluating the composition and found my foreground foliage shapes have slowly crept up toward the middle of the picture as I was painting, despite my initial planning and composition sketches warning myself not to do so. And the small, distant tree shapes serve well to break this center-symmetry, providing much-needed pictorial relief. Reminding myself I need to stop more frequently while painting to evaluate the development of the composition and avoid such problem in the first place! :-P Lol...

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Day Dream - Day Nineteen of the 30/30 Challenge


Day Dream, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #21

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Day Nineteen of the challenge -- I started three little plein air pieces of this marsh in the same time, dividing my big piece of paper and drew views from different directions. It was morning and the soft lavender clouds blushed against the edge of distant shore, shifting in and out of the tree tops. I want to capture the sense of cool, moist air and sun light peaking out of clouds, catching on the top of the lush growth of marsh grass. Unfortunately out of the three paintings only this one turned out to be worthy of posting... Oh well, the reality of painting outdoors! I added thick Cadmium Yellows with a rigger for some definite linear marks to contrast with the soft edges shapes of the marsh grass, as well as some wet-on-dry shapes defining the edge of the big tree on the right side. Thinking of repainting this one into a larger piece, but I need to work on the composition and color schemes a bit more...

Friday, September 18, 2015

Morning Fog, Tamalpais - Day Eighteen of the 30/30 Challenge


Morning Fog, Tamalpais,
 Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #20

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Day Eighteen of the challenge -- Trying to catch up today but was not quiet happy with the other painting I am working on, so maybe I will get a fresh eye tomorrow morning... For this one I again worked from a previous Plein Air piece, changing the format from horizontal to square, allowing more space for the receding mountain ranges. As the evergreen-covered hills gradually get closer, I added more Quinacridone Burnt Orange to warm up the color, and put down the last two tall fir trees in the foreground with thick paint on a quite worn-out old brush to give some more interesting edges. The whole painting was done in one wetting of the paper, but I was not too happy with my first two attempts of it, so this is the third one. Sometimes you can wash off freshly applied watercolor paints and start over on the same piece of the paper, but I find often the surface sizing would largely come off this way, and granulating pigments don't quite settle the same way, so for a small piece like this I would just start anew on a fresh clean sheet. Luckily the shapes worked out quite well the third time... Now it is really time for bed! :-)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Edge of the Meadow - Day Seventeen of the 30/30 Challenge


Edge of the Meadow, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #19

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Day Seventeen of the challenge -- I did not finish this one quite in time and it is really late now... Experimented a little bit with the 1" slanted bristle brush again to suggest the background woods and soft grass shapes in the foreground meadow. Got a little carried away with rigger work on the bare branches, but it was a lot of fun! I am still hanging on here -- happy painting everyone!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Autumn Glow - Day Sixteen of the 30/30 Challenge


Autumn Glow, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #18

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Day Sixteen of the challenge -- I wanted to try something different today and started this one on paper without a reference image, just playing with soft washes of contrasting cool and warm colors that are loosely divided into complimentary color families, being careful to leave enough areas of white paper. When the applied washes mingled on wet paper, I titled the painting in different ways to encourage the blending of complimentary colors in certain areas, and prevent them from blending so that higher saturation could be retained in other areas, especially near where the reserved white is, as I could like to design my center of interest near these areas. When this initial wash dried, I looked at the resulted color-value shapes and saw rocks and back-lid foliage in the glowing autumn light in the foreground, and dark woods behind it. So I enhanced this imagery with further glazing on dry paper, careful not to lose all the soft edges created in the first wet-in-wet wash (it is so easy to overglaze and lose all the soft edges before one realizes!). I also lifted light linear shapes hinting stems and branches of fir trees in the dark background, thus suggesting a dense growth of evergreen forest behind the rock and center pine tree. To counter balance the dominating vertical shapes of trees, I added horizontal shapes at the bottom of the image -- interesting shapes in light and dark glazes overlapping each other, be them suggestion of rock ledges, water or reflections. I am quite excited about this project, as it is very different procedure from how I usually work, and forces me to think more abstractly about the balance of values, shapes and lines. It is from inside out, not outside in. Think I will try it a few more times for the 30/30 challenge...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Edge of the Sea - Day Fifteen of the 30/30 Challenge


Edge of the Sea, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #17

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Day fifteen of the challenge -- can't believe I actually made it half-way this time!!! This is another Plein Air piece from the white cliffs of Limartour Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore. From the usually foggy horizon one can still tell the emerging silhouette of the Bodega Head in the distance, floating in a sea of clouds merging into the shoreline. Ice plants grows on the top of some of the white cliffs, together with other shore grass and scrub bushes give a sense of lush growth even at the end of a long, dry summer. One local naturalist once told me that even in the driest year this shore gets plenty of water by means of condensation. Near the bottom of the cliff, piles of darker rocks are scattered around, covered by sea weeds and barnacles, chitons and like. The water beyond them a dark blue-grey. 

The moist air at shore kept my watercolor paper from drying, so I was able to do a fairly wet-in-wet lay-in of the major value shapes in my first wash, which I was almost never able to do in even the smaller plein air pieces. After that I played with different brushes making marks with fairly fluid washes, trying to form interesting shapes that reads as "grass" and "foliage" without actually painting the individual blades. I painted the darker rocks first as one mass, later adding smaller, even darker planes on their shadowed side. Some spattering with stiff bristle brushes finished the work. It's an overcast day without strong light and shadows, but I liked the subtle colors revealed by this less harsh light. Colors often seem more saturated and nuanced on overcast days to me. Since such days are plenty in the Bay area from June to October, I decide to paint outdoors more often on them to practice observing the difference in light qualities between these and sunny days. Plein Air painting is really great learning experiences to me -- one is always marvelling at the infinite variety nature presents and humbled by our limited ability in capturing them with brush and paint. Never a dull moment...

Monday, September 14, 2015

Marsh Dawn - Day Fourteen of the 30/30 Challenge


Marsh Dawn, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #16

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Day fourteen of the challenge -- I am really late for this one. I tried a very limited palette of Cobalt Blue and Quinacridone Burnt Orange on this one, going for mood and atmosphere rather than details. I found that with restrictions often comes poetry, such as Haiku, with its extremely constrained forms the wonder of poetry often comes through quite easily compared to free-form modern poems where everything goes. 

This is not a particular scene that I am painting from life, but I have seen it so many times while taking morning walks in different wetland parks bordering evergreen forests -- at the mouth of redwood forest streams, near the river estuaries of Olympia National Park, even along mountain meadows at the edge of alpine forests in a wet season. The lingering fog and the mirror-clear reflection of the forest is woven into my most intimate memories. When I close my eyes, it can just flow out to the tip of my brush. I can almost smell the moist air tinged with the scent of new grass. Somethings you just never forget...

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Windy Hill & Cypress Hill Sunsets - Day Thirteen of the 30/30 Challenge


Windy Hill Sunset, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #15

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Day thirteen of the challenge -- this one is a little test of compositional elements for a larger piece. I really wanted to do a sunset scene today and used a combination of primary color palette -- Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow and Ultramarine Blue for the sky and clouds. Since the composition is overly horizontal, I tried to experiment with different elements of diagonal movements. In the first one I tried to add back-lid barren deciduous trees; in the second version I used wind-blown cypress trees, since I was working on a larger sheet of paper, and had more room to play with shapes:



Cypress Hill Sunset, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 8"h x 11"w, 2015 #16

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I am quite happy with both version and think that I may go with the second concept on the bigger piece. But I may play with the composition just a bit more... We'll see!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Perch - Day Twelve of the 30/30 Challenge


The Perch, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #14

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Day twelve of the challenge -- this is a little painting I did based on a previous plein air piece at the shoreline park of mountain view. In the untraveled back portion of this park you can often see raptors perched on barren deciduous trees that did not survive the invasion of salty water toward shore. Against the pink and lavender evening sky the magnificent bird seems truly free of any weight and terrestrial entanglements...

Friday, September 11, 2015

Heart's Desire - Day Eleven of the 30/30 Challenge


Heart's Desire, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #13

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Day eleven of the challenge -- I made it to the double digits! Again, a very busy day and I did not get to start painting until much later in the day. So I worked on this piece based on a previously finished plein air version of it at Ruby Beach, Olympia National Park, Washington. I used analogous color scheme of blues and purples as well as greyed-down versions of them by adding a bit Cadmium Orange and Quinacridone Burnt Orange to the mixture, hoping to create a more somber mood. For the tree and shrub shapes, I tried to design the linear elements to contrast and compliment the diffused cloud mass and the distant headland with soft edges. For the near-shore rocks I combined staining and granulating pigments so that when I use a palette knife to scrape off the damp colors to create the light planes of the rock, only the staining colors were left in the scraped park, creating more interesting color variations. I love the mood of evening gradually sinking in and hope to convey it in this painting... Dusky hours are my favorite ones in a day. How about you, my friend?...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sun-Drenched - Day Ten of the 30/30 Challenge


Sun-Drenched, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #12

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Day ten of the challenge -- Can't believe I made it this far! This is a little plein air I did at the white cliff of Limartour Beach of Point Reyes National Seashore. The sun is shining brightly on the cliff face and I wanted to capture the brilliance and sheer sense of light of the bright summer day. I did a little more work with the brush in the studio today to practice using brushwork to delineate structure of the rock and add texture to the beach. It is painted mostly wet-on-dry and very different from my usual working method. A bit scary and a lot of fun!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Raging Surf - Day Nine of the 30/30 Challenge


Raging Surf, 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #11

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Day nine of the challenge -- I completed this plein air painting from memory back at my studio. When I am out in nature, facing awe-inspiring landscape, I am usually very excited by what I see, hear, smell... etc., and can hardly control myself from laying my brush frenetically on paper to try to capture the energy I feel from the scene in front of me, especially if it is something as dynamic and powerful as surf crashing onto shoreline rocks. Even though I try to do a small value sketch before drawing out the composition on my watercolor paper, and think about the color combinations I am going to use, most of the times I still rely on my intuition and paint rather "literally" of what's in front of me. In the quietness of the studio, there is often more room to ponder, analyze, design. Away from the source of inspiration -- nature, the distance can be good for the artist to assert his or her own voice instead of being "overwhelmed" by what's actually out there. This is often hard to do when the scene is right in front of you. But in the end, the painting needs to stand as an entity of itself alone and the shape, value, color, edges have to make sense as a whole. It will not be judged as how accurately it is as a copy of the actual scene.

As for this one, I glazed over the water with different near-horizontal shapes to counter-balance the diagonal movement of the surf, and shaped the rocks a bit better, casting darker shadows underneath them to anchor them better onto the sand beach. I added sprayed color to indicate foam, and create a bit more surface texture to add interest. I think it is nearly finished at this point, but may continue to pull it out and look at it from time to time, to evaluate whether bits and pieces need to be put in, taken out or altered here and there. This process is the most time-consuming for any painting, any may hardly get notices at the first glance of the before and after images. However, most of the times the inconspicuous changes could make great differences in terms of tying the whole painting together, making it look more homogeneous. Sometimes I will feel that I prefer one of two very similar images infinitely more than the other, but cannot quite tell the "why" explicitly, I would guess the artist has done the ponder, and the back-and-forth dance with the painting.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Beachcombers - Day Eight of the 30/30 Challenge


The Beachcombers, 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #10

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Day eight of the challenge -- A busy day today and I did not get to paint until very late in the day. This is no time for fiddling! I took out my 1" synthetic hair flat and quickly laid a light wash of sky and sand color on very wet paper to establish the composition. The distant headland and modelling on the beach came next, as the paper just started to dry. When I added the darker color of the surf, leaving out a stripe of white paper to indicate the foam, I noticed that the paper is getting quite dry, and I was able to get some dry-brush effects by using thicker paints picked up by the barely damp brush. I added the near-shore rocks as well as the darkest color of the headland last, scraping with palette knife again to indicate some lighter planes on the rock, and get a bit variations of surface texture. To balance the composition and reduce the "emptiness" of the large sand foreground, I added some silhouette of a few sandpipers, as I painted this painting based on a previous plein-air piece at Linda Mar Beach of Pacifica, and you really can see these lovely little critters everywhere near the tide line on that beach! Now time for bed...

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sudden Snow - Day Seven of the 30/30 Challenge


Sudden Snow, 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #9

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Day seven of the challenge -- I am still hanging on there!!! (Truely amazing for me, although I admit only barely... :-P) It seems like the hotter the weather gets, the more I feel drawn to painting images of the chilly winter scene... In this one I really wanted to capture the feeling of sudden change of seasons -- a night's snow fall before the brilliant fire of fall colors have a chance to run their course and gradually diminish. I experimented with very granulating colors such as Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Violet and Manganese Violet on the snow washes, then scrubbed with a damp, relatively stiff synthetic brush and blotted with tissue to lift out the light shapes on the snow field. By using a relatively soft brush and varying its degree of dampness as well as the pressure applied, I was able to achieve softer and harder transitions at the edge of these lifted shapes. I really liked this technique and decide to try it more in my future paintings. The light facets on the snow-covered rocks were squeezed out with a palette knife before the applied dark colors have totally dried.



Water's EdgeWatercolor on Aches #140 Cold Press Paper, 5"h x 7"w, 2014 #19



On a separate note, a painting I created for last year's 30/30 challenge in September (which I was not able to complete but nevertheless is still a great exercise) was chosen as the judge's pick by Carol Marine on Daily Paintworks. I feel very honored to be selected by an artist who I admire among so many great competitors. Thanks Carol! 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

While You are Gone - Day Six of the 30/30 Challenge


While You are Gone (Plein Air at Rodeo Beach), 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #8

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Day six of the challenge started as a plein air piece at the Rodeo Beach of Marin last month. It was an overcast day and the wind was blowing incessantly. The water at Rodeo Lagoon takes the same somber turquoise-grey tone as the sky. I really want to capture the feeling of the wind ravaging through shoreline vegetation, and its power shaping the land, the water and the growth. I was not exactly happy when it started to drizzle before I was able to finish, but sometimes having a little distance in the studio to complete a piece like this is not bad -- I was able to spot some major composition mistakes such as there is not enough value difference between the foreground bluff and the one behind it to saperate them, and the value of the bluff itself was too light, making it indistinguishable from foreground sand beach. So, here it is, a plein air piece finished in the studio. I hope I have not lost all its freshness... What do you think, my friends?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Wild Things - Day Five of the 30/30 Challenge


Wild Things, 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #7

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Day five of the challenge -- continuing my adventure with my slanted 1" bristle brush, trying to load more than one pigment onto different corner of the brush, and let them freely blend on paper. Doing a painting without drawing has an especially freeing effect after a day at my easel working out the detailed drawing of a larger floral painting. I let my rigger brush dance freely on the paper to create the twisted branches of the foreground twigs. Painting snow in the heat of summer is also fun. I am feeling the cool breathe of air when laying down those cool blues, purples and muted greens...

Friday, September 4, 2015

Northern Exposure - Day Four of the 30/30 Challenge


Northern Exposure, 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #6

Bid in My DPW Auction (Starting Bid $30)

Day four of the challenge -- continuing with big brushes and try to get all the elements of this minimalist landscape in painting on a piece of soaking wet paper as it was continuously drying. I put in the twigs and brushes by scoring the paper with the blade of painting knife, and added the little bare tree using a #3 rigger. Sometimes a picture almost just paint itself. I am happy this is one of those days. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Day's End - Day Three of the 30/30 Challenge


Day's End, 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #5

Bid in My DPW Auction (Starting Bid $50)

Day three of the challenge -- one of the goals I have for this 30/30 challenge is to try using as big a brush I can manage and carry the painting to as far a point as I could, as I did in the last painting, "Woodland Fall"; a second goal I have is to experiment with non-conventional brushes and surfaces without the worry of "failing", i.e., not turning out a beautiful little painting in the end. 

For this 6" x 6", I used primarily a slanted 1" stiff bristle brush to lay in the soft sky and foreground snow on very wet paper, and added gradually thickened pigments to create the distant mountain with fir trees as well as to establish the general shape of the snow-laden evergreens in the foreground before the paper dried. The advantage of bristle brush is, they really can pick up and carry a lot more pigment (especially if your pigment is not fresh squeezed out of a tube) compared to traditional watercolor brushes, even the stiffer synthetic haired ones. Another advantage of these brushes is that they have very jagged hair, hence it is absolutely futile to try to get any detail out of them when painting. One is thus forced to pay attention to the general tone, color and overall silhouette of each value shape, and design the bigger picture before putting in the details (which would require switching to a different type of brush). 

I did eventually switch to smaller bristle brushes to establish the darker crevices on the rocks, the branches of foreground fir, etc., and used a small rigger brush to suggest some bare branches of deciduous trees as well as shrubs, but most of the painting was done with the big 1" bristle that at times made me feel very awkward and not knowing what I was doing. Overcoming that awkward feeling was very liberating, since I know I am going beyond my own comfort zone, pushing myself to learn more and grow as a painter. The results is not always as exciting as the process itself, but in case of this little painting, I am feeling quite satisfied...

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Woodland Fall - Day Two of the 30/30 Challenge


Woodland Fall, 
Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 12"h x 9"w, 2015 #4

Bid in My DPW Auction (Starting Bid $40)

Day two of the challenge -- I started this painting in Carl Purcell's workshop last year, and was not happy with the results. The emphasis is to use layering of gradually darker values with various brushwork to invoke a sense of growth and abundance without painting each branch and each leaflet separately, but I was feeling very nervous about painting wet-on-dry and was not happy about the shapes of resulted dark and light foliage. So, out goes the "Mr. Clean Magic Eraser" and the whole painting was reduced to faint ghost colors. I painted the new shapes on top of this nice soft stain, using stiffer synthetic flats that are 1" wide, let the brush dance on its edges and corners to create more interesting shapes and edges. Much happy with it now! And this is also why I love the 30/30 challenge -- you get to try different things, knowing if it is not successful this time, tomorrow is another start for another experiment! 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tropical Greetings - It's That Time of the Year Again!


Tropical Greetings, 
Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico #140 Cold Press Paper, 6"h x 6"w, 2015 #3

Bid in My DPW Auction (Starting Bid $50)

OK, call me crazy but I am doing it again! Leslie Saeta's "September 30 Painting in 30 Days" Challenge -- here is the first one! I will be travelling abroad part of September due to family matters, so we will see how this goes, and I may not be able to post everyday... But, it never hurts to push yourself and try! I really hoped to define a theme this year and create a more consistent body of work, but decided to back off it until next time I do the challenge -- so that I am not overly ambitious and ending up wanting to kill myself on the 20th day of the 30 day theme and really feel tapped out to paint the same series throughout... (If you are familiar with my painting habits, you know that I like to jump between multiple paintings of different subjects and styles... :-P A born ADD indeed!) So, here we are at the starting line. Happy painting everyone!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Little Experiment with Gold Leaf...


California's Gold, 
Watercolor on Aches #140 Cold Press Paper with Gold Leaf, 8"h x 8"w, 2015 #2

Bid in My DPW Auction ( Starting Bid $85)

At school break I experimented a little bit with texture and really enjoyed it -- combining wet-on-dry glazing of very thin washes with wet-in-wet technique to depict feather and fur, as well using gold leaf as background for a watercolor painting. I really love the shimmering gold and thought they are just great in capturing how I feel when seeing this little creature glittering in the morning light as it zipped back and forth around the prickly pear cactus flower in my garden. It's hard to imagine that little body containing enough strength and tenacity to fly a thousand miles every spring and fall, through mountains and across oceans. It is a fierce, exuberant force of life...


In case you want to try your hands on the gold leaf technique (it's really fun! Albeit a little messy...), my friend Carrie Waller -- a fantastic artist -- has a great tutorial here. Enjoy!



California's Gold, Detail of the Little Hummer


California's Gold, Detail of the Prickly Pear Cactus Flower

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Winter Woods II -- A Limited Palette Watercolor Study


Winter Woods II Study, 
Watercolor on Aches #140 Rough Paper, 7"h x 10"w, 2015 #1

Bid in My DPW Auction ( Starting Bid $65)

I really enjoyed playing with the very limited palette of French Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue in this little study, and experimented with combining wet-into-wet and dry-brush to created the texture on the bark of birch trees. I think I might try to play with the composition a bit and make a bigger painting from this little study...

So many things have happened this year! Time really flies... I have just completed the Silicon Valley Open Studio event and it was a blast... And today I learned on the phone that I was chosen as the San Mateo County Fair Artist of the Year again! I am really thrilled to get this award two years in a roll... Yay!

I'm sorry that I haven't been posting as often as I would like to for the past year, since I started painting in oils in the Golden Gate Atelier. This is the first semester of the fourth year I am enrolled at the atelier, and I am making steady progress toward learning the craft of classical methods of drawing and painting from life. I am really grateful for this incredible opportunity, and the fine teaching I've received from my instructors there. I have really struggled very hard to learn how to handling an oil painting brush, as it is very different from painting watercolor (those of you who work in both these media would know :-P). But lately I'm feeling I've finally getting the hang of it -- after a year of almost crying myself to sleep every night thinking it may never work for me. Looking back at my first effort of working in oil (it was truly horrible) I know I've come a long way, although there are way more miles to go ahead of me. I will post a few of my paintings (only in grisaille at this point -- I am not allowed to use color yet) in my next posts and share what I have learned so far. I am finally feeling a bit more relaxed as I am seeing the light at the end of this long black tunnel now...

And nothing better as a celebration than going back to my first love -- watercolor and try out some loose landscapes! Yay! It's like eating candy!...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Pink Ladies in Progress, and Thoughts on How to Use Reference Materials


Pink Ladies, Watercolor on Arches #140 Cold Press Paper, 8"h x 8"w, WIP 2

I am trying to ignore the fact that I have not posted here (or on my facebook page, or on my Daily Paintworks gallery... =_=b.....) I used to beat myself up for these artistic "dormancy" periods, and feel like I am being lazy and irresponsible to not turn up one painting after another, or worse still -- not even working on any paintings for an extended period of time. When I am in school doing oil paintings, I feel at least there is a reason (or excuse to forgive myself?...) that I am not producing more watercolor paintings, since I am learning something new and not turning out finished products that can be shown to the world (without shame...) is allowed; but doing the breaks between semesters, I often go through these extensive periods feeling so guilty that I am not working more on my watercolor painting, or painting bigger, more substantial works that I've promised myself so many times I would do...

But, guilt aside, I do start to realize (after fighting with myself so many times) that these dormant periods are essential to my growth as an artist. I almost always come out of them learning something new, and paint a little differently. So, this time I am trying to not feel too guilty about it when it happened, and embrace the time I feel needed to study other artists' wonderful works (both on the amazing web and in museums), watch tutorial videos, read instructional books, and most important of all, think about my own approach to each potential projects that comes my way, trying very hard to analyze what is missing in my paintings at this stage of my artistic development.

Gradually it becomes more and more clear: I am too much of a slave of beautiful reference photos -- for the colors used, for the shapes presented, for the myriad amount of information presented in the photograph. The more time I spent setting up a still life/floral, or walk around trying to find that "perfect view" to take my reference photos, and the more photos I take "just in case" none of the ones I took previously turn out to be just "right", the more I seem to be unwilling to let go of it during my painting process. But can one really learn to run without finally casting away the walking stick that he/she has held on so tight for dear life?... Especially as an artist working in the realistic tradition, how much should one be bound by the information (shapes, colors, values, edges, etc.) provided in the reference material and how much artistic liberty can (or should) one take?

Obviously every artist (even the most photo-realistic painters) takes some liberty editing their reference material to create their art -- without this editing painting simply becomes a mechanical "pixel-by-pixel" copying of the reference photo, and cease to become a window into the artist's soul, therefore cannot hold its own. However, not all alterations from a reference material automatically improves the art piece -- nature often provides us with much more interesting shapes and subtle value shifts, for example, than most of us could come up with if we are given a blank piece of paper and no reference to work from. The hardest thing is how to make all the editing actually add onto, instead of detract from, the final resulted artwork. It's a true test of the aesthetic taste as well as technical skill of the artist, and it's scary as hell.

But maybe, it is time for me to start...

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