Daring Watercolor #6

A lovely swan planter

I suppose that when I decided that I am going to tackle watercolor to learn; I am not one to start out meager……I guess I know that I am one for starting out BIG. Now as I mentioned, I am not really new to watercolor but it feels like ever since I have started this challenge, I feel brand smacking new. I told myself yesterday during my down time that I would paint a simple motif with this next painting. It looks like I was dreaming because does this look simple? NO!


I tried to match up my photo…happy to say that my pansies in real life looks more like the color in the reference photo. Keep that in mind and also there is more depth in the shadows than they appear in photo of my painting. Also the light hitting the swan is not showing up as well as it should.

Initially I adored painting this but I found that I was staring to get tired about 50% in and I can see why artists take subjects like this and slowly work it to a finish. My initial plan of attack was to be sloppy and loose but guess what….yep I went tight. I figured that I would learn from being tight in order to familiarize myself with a subject like this one.

A close-up

What I learned:

  • Don’t bite off a big piece and try to finish it in one gulp! No…..little bites with slow chewing works wonders.
  • Learn to mix better greens
  • learn how to save my whites….for goodness sakes!
  • Slow way down, it won’t kill me; I am still learning this.
  • It’s just art, an expression even if it is an eyesore…..I don’t understand the philosophy to this statement, let’s not analyses this one.

I won’t be posting tomorrow because I don’t paint on Sundays and plus, it’s Mother’s Day! I’ll be going to a well known restaurant in Grass Valley to have lunch with my two daughters and son-in-law. Happy Mother’s Day to everyone!


34 thoughts on “Daring Watercolor #6

    1. With watercolor you go from light to dark and usually if you need pure white or near white, you plan for that. I had some nice highlights with those pansies (in my photo) that I should then have “saved my white” because once paint goes down (esp. reds and yellows) it is hard to get your white paper back. I also meant to work up my light areas slowly instead of going over board with all that pretty color! I always seem to forget that watercolor is different, working slowly instead of being enticed by that bold color. I hope I explained it well enough 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I get it now, you can’t put white in with paint like with acrylics, so you need to save the white paper instead. Good tip, I would never have thought of that, I always put the lightest colors and White highlights last.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This is lovely! 😍I like the dramatic light… but it is a rather daring subject. Hehe… I’m not sure how I’d begin with this one, but your result is super successful! Beautiful! I don’t spend much time on a single piece, preferring to work quickly in a sketchbook, but I still have managed to get tired half way through some sketches. 😊As ever… love reading what you’ve learned. Excellent advice you’re sharing! Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rather daring???!!!! Hehe…I am not one to love roller coaster rides but somehow I tend to grab the fastest and more daring “watercolor” ride to see what happens! I am hoping to slow it down in excitement and be less daring next week. I can’t promise anything but we’ll see. Thank you for your comments Charlie.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. First , Happy Mother’s Day to you . I hope you will not be offended, but I think your subject per the photo have too many things competing for interest . I like the painting overall , and I like your blogs !

    Liked by 2 people

    1. you are right! So if you were to choose the point of interest what would it be? I think that for me the point of interest should had been the pansies. I think if anything it was a good exercise (huge one) but I am trying to do a lot of “sprinting” during this month of all watercolor. Maybe I’ll use June as the month to settle down and do more planning and taking it slow. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Oh I just noticed your concern that I would be offended…..actually I want feedback. I am not sitting on a glass throne of my own making, thank goodness that I am not! I don’t want a kind pat on the back and an “atta girl”, I want the real McCoy! Thank you for being sensitive. 🙂


  3. I think you’ve done a very nice job with your subject – a difficult one! You are not afraid of a challenge, lady! Gorgeous deep purples, really scrumptious. Lovely feathering on the swan, and great dimension in your flowers! Can’t wait to see what you do next! Have a lovely day tomorrow, Margaret; Happy Mother’s Day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Oh I know, crazy that I keep choosing these hard ones, I really think that it is atrocious! I had fun at first and then the more I look at it, the more I hate it. Next week I am going to have a strategy because being pinned down to putting some fast ones out there I am letting some planning and carefulness go out the window. I might try this, paint every day but use two days to finish a painting. So, are you a Mother? if so….Happy Mother’s Day!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am, thanks Margaret! She’s a recent college grad, working for her alma mater in a neighboring state. She sent me a dozen roses this year which totally blew me away. I wish I were a better painter; I’d try and capture them.

        I think taking two days to produce a complex watercolor painting is more than reasonable. It’s a chess game! Has to be planned out. One of the reasons I’m not the hugest fan. I don’t have the patience to spend hours and hours on a painting. At least, not yet! I think there are lots of good things about this painting and, considering the time urgency in particular, that you did a great job with it. If you learned something from it, it was valuable even if you don’t like it. I wish I could get the form in a dark flower that you’ve brought to your pansies. I love pansies and violas!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you Laura! You must be a proud mama. I am impatient but I am known for being able to slow down and take it very slow. When I had to paint intricate feathers on a Native’s headdress, I took it so slow that it ended up looking very realistic; I found that I really enjoyed it. I need to remember that moment in my painting history.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Lol understood! I think I could do it too, but I would need to make the switch. Well, and have lots more practice when it comes to any paint media but in graphite and ink, I’ve done some detailed work I actually like. I’m always finding paint media much more of a challenge! I prefer pointy utensils for any type of precision.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. sjqzoom

    Yes I like this – and I like what you have learnt from the painting – slow way down is such a great approach – now you have to do it – heh heh
    Greens are a worthy challenge – especially because we perceive a much much great range of variation in green. Do you do your own colour charts?

    have a great Sunday

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hehe right! Let’s see how that “slowing down” goes next week. Seriously though this time I will have a whip on my back specifically for that slowing down. It is all about the learning and process. It will help my greenery as well. 🙂


  5. A suggestion for slowing down: grid the reference photo and grid the paper. Grid the watercolor paper with pencil (you can erase the pencil lines when the watercolor’s done). Paint one square at a time.

    Another option is like a grid, where again you paint one part at a time, but you make the parts organic — i.e. you paint one flower at a time, paint the swan’s head in one sitting, the swan body in another sitting, the surrounding space in a sitting, etc.

    Anyway, if you decide to “go organic,” drawing things in parts, you have to draw the whole motif in some form (it can be simple contour outlines) before you paint. Your attention is focused on each part during that session and you develop the whole image gradually. But each part is a whole part. Inelegantly expressed — but the flower is a whole flower, the leaf is a whole leaf, etc. It’s just that you paint things one at a time and when you get tired, you quit and come back fresh after lunch, or next session.

    If you grid, you can simply make the grid then paint one square at a time, treating the interior of each square as an abstraction. Then you work from left to right, or right to left, or top to bottom, middle to edges, or whatever strikes your fancy. These two methods involve entirely different ways of thinking about the image. With the grid, things aren’t things, they are abstract shapes. The grid will cut through objects. Part of the flower will be on one side of the line, part inside an adjacent square. Of course since you use the grid to help you see the shapes, you can paint across the grid merely using it as a tool. Or you can be literal and just paint what’s inside the square and wait till it’s all done to see the result!

    As the image grows, in either method, you can think about ways of connecting parts, of getting effects that unify the picture as a whole — as it develops or near to the end, connecting the parts to each other a little more through added washes or with carefully made corrections.

    Can be interesting to do both things and afterwards compare the different approaches. If you do both, use the comparison for a motif that you’re mad about — something that’s worth doing twice. Only you know what that is, of course. Maybe this motif above, maybe something else. The advantage of breaking things into parts is that it forces you to really look at the parts, and then the “negative space” also becomes a part that is considered especially carefully. The negative space in a picture is super important in the effect it has upon the motif as a whole, the blue area at the top that signifies the air, spaces between leaves, etc.

    Let me amend this as I think of it, because with the grid of course there is no negative space. Everything is a little square. The only “negative space” is just whatever is inside that little square that you’re not paying attention to! The grid forces you to pay attention to more visual incident because now nothing is a thing anymore. It’s all a color, a shape located in a Cartesian graph.

    While you are doing either approach, you can make small studies of individual features, individual flowers or the swan’s face on small practice sheets (like the ones you used for landscape). These are cheat sheets — stuff you do to try out colors or to practice drawing. They’re outside the work — no one knows they exist unless you tell them.

    If you need more information for details, do you have this swan planter available? Can you draw from the actual object? Or can you find another swan planter, maybe on the internet and from another swan face to add information? Looking at the reference photo, I notice that the swan’s face is tonally very even (there’s not very much contrast). So it’s a little hard to make out the form from the photo.

    You’ve already changed things from the reference photo, removing the isolated stem that goes straight up and cuts off, removing a leaf near the top also. And the leaves on the left are yellow in the photo, and on the right are bluish, whereas in your watercolor they are yellowish across the whole image. You’ve made these changes; you can add stuff as well — maybe you find other flowers that you want to insert, ones from photos where the flowers are particularly well defined.

    By the way, artists whose method requires keeping the paper white (for applications after the darks are settled) use frisket. Personally, I don’t use it because my interests go more toward figuring out ways of thinking about the motif to get the results I want, but lots of meticulous watercolor painters rely on it. So those miraculous whites that are perfectly unsullied are the result of the frisket.

    I did a gridded watercolor once and include it just so you can see what I mean. In this case I left the grid because I liked the way it looks, but one could erase it with a soft eraser. Here’s the link


    I put it on the blog when the blog was in a different format so I notice the pic is small even when I click on it. But it you use the enlarge on your computer you can see the pencil lines a little better. I liked ’em so I left ’em. But you can see what I mean about the abstraction. Inside an individual square it’s all just colors and shapes. The bridge and so forth comes out from the whole.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Now having the time to read your post I realized that I had figured out to slow myself down by taking the painting I did on the iris, section by section as though it was a jigsaw puzzle and it worked beautifully! I will be taking a look at that grid. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. NGA has a rich collection of Winslow Homer watercolors. If you search on the artist’s name (search collection) you can filter the search to find mostly watercolors by selecting “drawing” on the using the filters (they appear on the left once you get the artist’s works on the page). The watercolors come after the drawings that are drawings … (if that makes sense).

    Here’s a link to one just as an example and again you’ll find that the zoom provides some really neat detail. But note, NGA has a bunch of his watercolors. There may be others that you like better.

    In this one, if you zoom, you can see pencil lines that he used in an early stage to guide his painting.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Daring, indeed! I admire your willingness to challenge yourself. You always come through, so the approach seems to work well for you. I love pansies, and for me that was the “focal point”. From there, my eyes followed the graceful curve of the swan’s neck…then my gaze bounced around a bit from the swan to the flowers. I have a lot to learn about composition and creating “points of interest” in drawings and paintings. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

    I’m a bit behind on blog-reading, so Mother’s Day is already past. I hope you had a great one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I had a wonderful Mother’s Day, a lunch in town with both my daughters and one son-in-law and a grandson, so it was more than expected. I got some plants to boot! I agree with you the swans’ neck takes the eye elsewhere. I have a basic understanding of comp but again as usual….sigh…..I was wanting to hammer this one out. Now that I have done crazy sprinting of sorts, I will be slowing down and plan more accordingly. So….I give you permission to yell….Margaret! slow down! Plan! lol thank you for your comments by the way. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have a rose and that is one difficult subject, I might see if I can find a bud to paint. The other is a yellow miniature rose and a budding peony. Hmmm I will have to take some pictures and crop down to very simplistic comp…..we’ll see! I do know that it will be a flower motif that I will be painting today. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the color mingling on the pansies and the form of the swan. I can picture a lovely close up painting of just the curve of the neck and the flowers without the stalk on top going out of the photo. I tried to do a crop just to see how it would work, but I can’t attach it to the reply. But I could send it to you in email if you’d like…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry I didn’t get back to checking your blog, or any blog for that matter! geesh. where do the days go? Yes, I am on FB. I will go send you a friend request and then I can send you the cropped photo that way. good idea!

        Liked by 1 person

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