A watercolor experiment with dense foliage and fog

A watercolor experiment with dense foliage and fog

Sometime last summer I looked out the back door and saw an ephemeral layer of fog floating over the Mill Pond. I grabbed my camera and raced the hundred feet down to the dock to get as many photos as I could before it all dissipated. It was fortunate that I hurried, because the scenario only lasted two or three minutes. About a week ago I must have gotten the feeling that maybe if I painted something green springtime would come soon. I also wanted to try once again to get some believable foliage since I had been fooling around with watercolor foliage (somewhat unsuccessfully) for a few weeks already. I did this one the hard way–no masking, no sponging, no scraping, no spattering. Just layers and layers of tiny brushwork. I’m happier now.

Background, rider and saddle, and bridle are done on Cantana's portrait.

Background, rider and saddle, and bridle are done on Cantana’s portrait.

In between watercolor sessions I squeezed in some more work on Cantana. I’m really happy with how this one is coming along. Just need to do as well on the horse as I have on the rest of the painting!

First pass, or probably more accurately a pass and a half.

First pass, or probably more accurately a pass and a half. Not to be confused with a “half-pass” (dressage insider joke–never mind)

Anyhow, the background on this oil portrait is probably done unless I see that it needs some adjustment after the horse and rider are finished. Just one quick coat of paint on horse and rider to give me an idea of where I’m going. I ran out of steam before I got around to the bridle, but all will happen in good time. Meanwhile, off to work on another experimental watercolor while this layer dries.



I took a bit of time off from the usual subject matter of my painting. I think this is a good idea, because it’s really easy, for me anyway, to become quite stale and stuck in a particular way of observing things and translating them to paintings. So I went back to watercolor on paper, which for me is much more intricate than my watercolor paintings on Aquabord™. I was looking to loosen up and although these two paintings do not look particularly loose, the journey to the finish line was filled with wipe off, scrape off, flood the area with paint, repeat.

This is Sturtevant Falls, at the end of the trail by the same name in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California.

This is Sturtevant Falls, at the end of the trail by the same name in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California.

Sturtevant Falls caused me the most grief. I was thinking of throwing it in the trash from the first brushstroke. I had put masking fluid on the water area first to preserve the white splash areas but was very clumsy about it and did not get anything where I had intended to put it. As I kept laying on paint it only got worse. So I decided that since it is a legitimate watercolor technique to scrape away areas where white should be, I put a fresh blade in my X-acto knife and went to work literally shredding the paper. Thankfully Arches watercolor paper is exceptionally sturdy and it survived all my hacking. I had more trouble trying to integrate the lighter rocks (which I had also masked out and which therefore formed a hard outline) into the darker background without having them look cartoonish. More sessions of apply paint, wipe some off, apply more paint. This painting is only about 14″ x 9″, but it took me probably ten hours or so to finish it. Which is why I keep saying I will never be one of those artists with mountains of output every few days!

This is Franklin Canyon, a lovely park and nature reserve near Los Angeles.

This is Franklin Canyon, a lovely park and nature reserve near Los Angeles.

This painting is even smaller, 7″ x 10″. And I can say that it did not cause me nearly as much grief as the waterfall even though the issues were basically the same. Lots of laying on paint, removing masking fluid, laying on more paint, scraping some off. Mostly I did this one just to play with water effects, but I ended up spending the lion’s share of my time on the tall grasses! Not “high art”, but cute…now, back to the horsies.

If one were to judge by my complete absence from the blog scene during the month of January, one might assume that I had been in hibernation. As much as I may have wanted that to be true, it wasn’t. Things were happening, but there was nothing to see until now.

Here are two new stall plaques that are finished except for the varnishing part. Billy’s plaque will go with me as a demo piece for my horse show/expo booth. I’m sure he’ll take a peek at it from horsey heaven and think it looks really cool. Charm’s plaque will go on her stall door as soon as it is good and dry. These plaques are hand-lettered (probably the most tedious part) and hand painted. I initially thought that painting script lettering would be more difficult than block lettering but I discovered to my pleasant surprise that the script just sort of conveniently rolled off the brush. Which means I won’t have to charge extra for it like I thought I would have to do.


Billy’a plaque is on basswood with the rough bark still attached along the top and bottom edges. I think it is a nice rustic look.



Charm’s plaque is identical to the one I did for Sydney a while back, on a pine panel with nice scrolled edges. Charm’s stall is right across the aisle from Sydney’s, so these two plaques will make a nice pair.

And now that these are almost done, I can start laying down some paint on this drawing which I was also working on during January.


This will be my first painting of a dressage horse and the complications of the bridle, while fussy, aren’t nearly as frustrating as the harness on some of the draft horses. So I am thankful for small favors. This painting will be of Cantana, a Grand Prix horse ridden by Betsy Van Dyke at the Region 2 dressage finals in 2013. You can see Cantana in one of my past posts where Betsy was riding him in a parade on Mackinac Island – he’s the chestnut on the right. It will be fun to paint a large portrait again!

Looks more like a waterfall, don't you think?

Here’s the original disguise, so long ago you probably scarcely remember it.

Here's Yoder, looking pretty good as a dog again.

Here’s Yoder, looking pretty good as a dog again. Watercolor on Aquabord™.

I had to be careful not to get the pink petunias into the disguised version as that might have given it away a bit. Anyhow, the recipient of this Christmas gift was super pleased to receive it as it is a tribute to a wonderful dog who left our world this year. I had donated a commissioned portrait to a dressage club fundraiser, and the lovely lady who won it could hardly wait to have this one painted for her husband. Everybody happy, even if a little bittersweet.

Looks more like a waterfall, don't you think?

Looks more like a waterfall, don’t you think?

Really, this came from the finished painting. Everybody should have so much fun twisting their paintings around into interesting abstracts! I still don’t know if this (the unscrambled version, of course) will be a Christmas present or not, so will have to wait for further word before my little ceremonial unveiling.

Well yes, it’s another secret commission but thankfully not a Christmas present (or it could be if it gets done by then) so I’m not under an intense amount of pressure. It’s doubtful that the intended recipient would chance upon my blog, but it is certainly possible that various acquaintances of the recipient might see it and then unintentionally blab…

So, shortly you shall be treated to another lovely distortion of the work in progress, courtesy of Photoshop. The only information I will leak about this portrait is that it concerns a dog.


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