Music as a Painting Aid

When you are stuck, change the music.

I gladly accepted a commission from an organization to paint several watercolors for people who were retiring. Some of these people are friends and it was honor to be asked. Then I was given the reference photos. Oh, my…The photos were over forty years old and faded from age. In a word, they were pitiful. I started looking for life in these sad photos. I scanned them into my computer to increase the contrast, then I decreased the light in the shadows to see more detail. This gave me the structure to paint and although the photos were in black and white I could imagine them in color. The painting below is from a black and white photo taken in early winter.

This piece went though what I fondly call the “adolescent stage”, when there is an abundance of potential but a lack of cooperation.  To be blunt, it looked gawky and tired.

This is when I go to Pandora, choose a bluegrass station and turn it up really loud. I find it so motivating and energizing. I stand up with a large brush and lots of paint on the palette and go. I’m sure it looks and sounds pretty crazy, but it helps me overcome the blah feeling of being stuck. What music do you listen to for motivation?

Below are some other paintings in that group of commissioned pieces.

Late Autumn or Early Winter?- A Sketch

Caribou Creek Hill

Yesterday the sun was blazing over the tops of the mountains. As it sinks lower and lower into the southern sky, it will soon be skipping between peaks and we will count the few minutes of sunshine.  I make feeble attempts at gratefulness for any sunshine we get, but it is so harsh and lacks any real warmth. It is similar to glaring into high beam headlights. It isn’t really winter until we shovel snow and so far there is just a dusting on the ground that will most likely remain until April. This is late Autumn or early Winter. Ice but no snow.

The robins and songbirds have all left and the swans and geese have packed their tiny bags for their vacation in the relative warmth of the lower forty-eight states. Deserters. Chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers flit around the bird feeder and the sun sparkles on their puffed out feathers. Perhaps I’ll sketch them next.

Making Watercolor Pigment from Mud

I’ve been wondering if pigment could be made from clay and I learned that it can from a book called, “The Complete Decorated Journal” by Gwen Diehn. First I used clay from the Matanuska River flowing near us. It is a glacier-fed river with lots of silty clay along the shore.  There is also a stream a few miles away near Sheep Mountain with golden-yellow mud along the bank. Perfect for pigment!

I started by mixing the silty clay with water, then strained it through a fine mesh sieve. That got rid of the sand. Using several layers of cheesecloth, I strained it again. Finally, I strained it through a terry cloth. I tried to use a tee-shirt as suggested in the book, but I couldn’t get anything but clean water to go through it. After allowing the muddy water to settle, I poured the clear water from the top and allowed the remainder to dry to a pudding-like mud, then mixed in several drops of gum arabic.

I used the silty river pigment to paint this scene of the Matanuska River below. I was so disappointed with the deadness of the color.

Matanuska River painted with glacier silt pigment and a little bit of Sheep Mountain mud.

Painting with the river pigment is like painting with…well, mud. Watercolor pigment should be responsive by moving across the paper, not turning to sludge. I repeated the process with the Sheep Mountain mud. This was entirely different! This pigment was rich and moved across the paper beautifully.

The grass in the foreground is Sheep Mountain mud.

This sketch below is looking over the Matanuska River, very near our home. I used some of the Sheep Mountain mud and none of the silt from the river.

Chugach Mountains and the Matanuska River

The sketch below is of a neighbor’s house.

The leaves have been gone for a while, but it was fun to paint them when they were golden.

Fall Sketches on Craft Paper

Lately I’ve seen some of my friends sketching on brown craft paper and thought I would give it a try. Watercolor seems to just soak into the paper, creating only muddy color, so I used gouache paint. Gouache is water based, but it is opaque and doesn’t soak into the paper like watercolor. I started with black pen, then followed with paint. Some of the lines get colored over, unlike watercolor. Because I was a bit timid with this new technique, I used white and black paint alone for the first sketch.

White and black gouache with pen and ink on craft paper

This was so much fun, I decided to add color to the next sketch and used a full spread of two pages.

Painting with gouache was much easier than I thought, but sketching on watercolor paper is still my favorite.

Mushrooms growing in our lawn