Today I thought I would post a few of my latest watercolor creations. I wanted to try out some new materials and just have some fun, but what to paint???
Enter “Mo” my studio gnome…
Mo is a daily inspiration to me.
I love his unkept salt and pepper beard and the perfect roundness of his nose.
Though his drab-colored clothing is practical and basic, and his shoes are different sizes and a bit wonky looking, his stocking cap speaks volumes about his whimsical nature.
In short, I can’t help but chuckle when I see him there waiting on my studio desk.
But what does Mo have to do with letting go???
Well, seeing Mo reminds me not to take myself so seriously—to let go of what others think of me and much of what I think about myself.
And since I’m a pretty serious person, I need this reminder on almost a daily basis!
Artistically speaking, being able to let go gives me permission to play and experiment.
In short, it gives me permission to ask, “What if….?” while I’m creating.
That playful attitude helps the artist in me to try new techniques, mediums, supplies, and application methods, which in turn encourages my overall artistic growth.
Even if I don’t end up liking what I create, it’s time well spent to help me know not to head in that particular direction!
Without the ability to let go, we lose the chance to grab onto something new or different.
So why is it sometimes so hard to let go in life and in our artistic process?
Fear can be a huge driver in much of this, at least for me.
Unfortunately, fear can come from any direction and take many forms: fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of criticism, fear of losing control, fear of comparison, etc.
How do we combat fear?
By faith in practice and by practicing our faith!
You don’t have to be an artist for long (or a human being, for that matter) to know that you will create lots of stinkers and make lots of mistakes.
But you can learn to let go of the failure and keep moving forward, and gradually you learn not to make the same mistakes.
I will leave you with a quote by one of my favorite artists of today, John MacDonald.
“Creativity and learning flourish when we’re on our edge, out of our comfort zone and out of our spheres of knowledge. We can only learn when we’re in the unknown. But the unknown is often terrifying…. When we’re filled with the joy of playing, there’s no room for fear. It is in the state of play that we learn the truth about fear and discover that we can live with it and manage it. And as we become more accustomed to playing fearlessly, we can relax, open up, and begin working fearlessly.”
Today I am sharing how I paint my own Christmas cards in watercolor.
My daughter and I painted last year’s card during her Thanksgiving break from school. It was fun to put on some Christmas music, have a cup of cocoa, and be together creatively—plus, it got us into the holiday spirit without having to go out on Black Friday!
So, grab your cocoa and a few simple supplies and let’s get going!
You will need:
* sketchbook or notebook paper to try out design ideas; a pencil with eraser
*5×7 inch pieces of watercolor paper, 140 lb (cold press if you want texture, hot press if you want less texture)
*5×7 inch pieces of mixed media paper (I used Strathmore Mixed Media Paper—vellum surface, 184 lb., 400 Best series; it is smooth like hot press paper, less expensive than good watercolor paper, and perfect for this type of fun, sketchy painting where you might not want to use your best paper.)
*watercolors and a palette to mix them on
Check out the little porcelain mixing palette and watercolor paint tin I found on Amazon…
*watercolor brushes of your choice (I prefer Silver Black Velvet rounds, size 4, 6, and 8 for most of my watercolor work.)
*and of course, water! One cup for cleaning brushes, and one for dipping into for clean water.
STEP 1: Start by considering what kind of card you want to send. Traditional? Whimsical? Cartoony? Elegant?
Then look at the inspiration around you that fits with the aesthetic you have in mind.
You might find that the ornaments on your tree, the toy soldier on your fireplace mantle, or your favorite Christmas carol sparks an idea for what to paint.
This year, I am all about snow people. In fact, tomorrow my family and I will be creating a snow gnome in our front yard, sans snow as of yet, but I’m sure that will be added soon enough!
So to that end, I decided to paint this little figurine of a snow family that we love.
STEP 2: On a plain piece of sketch or notebook paper, sketch out your design idea very simply by placing the major shapes within a 5×7 inch rectangle. Don’t worry about the details at this point unless you feel unsure about placing them correctly later with paint.
Once you are happy with your design, you can jump right to sketching onto your painting paper. Just remember to draw lightly onto your painting paper to make it easier to erase later—especially if you don’t want pencil lines in your final product.
STEP 3: Now for the fun! Add your first base washes of color to your painting. Use lots of water for paler washes, less for stronger washes. Since watercolor is usually painting light to dark (that is, you save your white/lightest areas instead of painting over them), start with paler washes. You can always add more color later.
STEP 4: Continue layering each area of color until you get the value, texture, and depth you desire. Be sure to let each layer dry before you glaze more color on top.
Texture tips: Keep in mind that as you are painting, you may want to add extratexture in certain areas. One of the easiest ways to do this is with salt.
In my painting, I wanted to create texture in the scarves of the snow people, so I sprinkled regular table salt onto the areas while they still were glistening.
You will get different effects depending on how wet the paint is—generally, the wetter the wash when you apply the salt, the more effect the salt will have. Applying salt to an almost dry wash will have, surprise, almost no effect. 🙂
You can also try out different sizes of salt granules—from kosher, to pink Himalayan, to very fine—each will give different results. Or surprise yourself and purchase a salt grinder which will give you various sizes to keep things more random looking!
Whatever salt you end up using, just be sure to let it dry before wiping it off or you will smear the effect it created.
Another way to add texture is by spattering on or dropping in plain old water. This will create blooms by pushing the wet pigment out of the way and revealing some of the paper color underneath. Experiment with different applicators to see what gives you blooms with the size and randomness you desire — flicking the end of an old toothbrush will give you smaller, more numerous blooms; tapping your paintbrush onto your index finger is good for larger blooms; an eyedropper will help achieve boulder size blooms….you get the picture.
The sky is the limit when considering tools to help achieve texture and not what this post is about, but other ideas might include using the edge of an old credit card to scrape back into paint; placing wadded up plastic wrap onto a wet wash and letting it dry; dabbing back into wet paint with a tissue or paper towel to lift out paint; using an artificial sponge to dab paint onto a dried underlayer, etc.
STEP 5: Once you have your painting working as a whole, only then should you refine it with details and your darkest accents. For my snow family, this meant adding facial features, buttons, and the glittery paint for the metallic scarf threads (not really visible in the photo).
STEP 6: Once finished with the positive forms of the snow people, I erased my pencil lines and turned to washing in a simple glittery background using a mix of silver and light blue metallic paint made pale with lots of water.
I cleaned up any messy edges and made sure to use a clean, damp brush to soften any hard edges that appeared once my washes were dry.
And here is the result of adding my artwork to a card-making template available from Snapfish.com.
I ordered my cards with Snapfish and they will be sent out to family and friends who I hope will enjoy the touch of whimsy in their holiday season!
So go on people! Make merry and get your creative juices flowing.
I hope you enjoyed this little demo and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas season.
Taking a little break from the bird house series to work on something else with ink and watercolor.
This is on Arches 140# cold press with a Platinum Carbon Pen and a mix of M. Graham and Winsor & Newton water colors.
As an aside, I have to say that I absolutely LOVE the Platinum Carbon Pen! Amazon link
Unlike my Noodler’s Creaper pens (which are now dried up and trashed), the Platinum Carbon Pen has never failed to start right up. The nib is slightly flexible for nice variation in line, if I want it, and the Platinum Carbon ink is waterproof! Perfect for washing over with watercolors.
As for the art itself, the background was an experiment all its own, leading me to realize I need lots more practice with backgrounds! 😉 I do like the fall colors, but there is something else I can’t verbalize didn’t quite hit the mark.
Drop me a comment and let me know how YOU would have handled the background!
I am really drawn to watercolor. While I love the purity of watercolor as a medium on its own, I am absolutely smitten 🙂 with line and wash….or wash and line, as the case may be!
To that end, I am starting a series of posts on watercolor & line and wash experiments whereby I paint the same subject (a birdhouse) in a variety of ways on a variety of papers.
I hope this will help others who are newer to the medium or stuck in a rut to be inspired and perhaps do a little experimenting on their own!
Here is my reference photo of the original birdhouse:
And here are the first three treatments of that subject:
The first and second painting are both done on Arches 140# hot press watercolor paper.
In the first painting, the watercolor was done first, followed by the ink work (Micron Pigma pens – 005, 01, and 05.)
In the second painting, the line work was drawn first (Platinum Carbon Pen) and then washed with watercolor afterward.
(Click on the gallery circles below for full size images.)
Watercolor + Ink (Arches)
Ink + Watercolor (Arches)
Front of house (Ink + Watercolor); Side of house (Watercolor + Ink)
The third painting was done on different paper; specifically, Handbook Travelogue Watercolor Journal (90# cold press).
The front half of the birdhouse was inked before it was washed with watercolor; the side view of the house was inked after being washed with watercolor.
What I Found: It is worth noting that all line work was done with waterproof ink. And I was intrigued to find that on both papers, when I inked the drawing after applying watercolor and letting it dry, the ink lines ever so slightly softened; that is, the ink lines did not “bleed”, but the lines were a touch softer than if I had inked the line prior to washing it with watercolor. In fact, the ink laid down prior to the wash was left undisturbed by brush and watercolor.
This softening effect is probably imperceptible to the viewer, but noticeable to the artist as to how the paper “feels” as one applies the ink on top of watercolor, and probably only perceptible upon close scrutiny.
I also found that the hot press is extremely smooth for ink application, while the Handbook Travelogue paper is not quite so smooth, but definitely smoother than Arches cold press.
🙂 More about this in the next experiment in this series!
Welcome to my first blog post! Thanks for stopping by. I am approaching my 5th decade on this big, blue, twirling orb we call Earth, and I am determined to find my artistic voice. This blog is about my artistic journey. I am taking that beautiful, terrifying leap into the world of self-expression on a level heretofore secretly held closed in sketchbooks and the corner recesses of my mind.
Come on along…You never know what we may discover!
(Rose Petal in Bird Bath – watercolor pencil on 5 1/2 x 8, 140lb Strathmore Visual Journal)