Beginning of the Beginning


Shenanigan Flat plein air from August

I thought that I would post a few of my favorite watercolor paintings from the past 5 months. I started this amazing journey delving seriously into learning this wonderful medium and to discover my particular style. I wanted to include the painting above because I feel that it depicts where I want to be in watercolor. Of course this painting only shows a smidge of the style that I envision.


A semi-abstract of several madrone trees in my backyard has been an adventure of sorts. Finding my way around abstraction, loosing up and learning not to be so critical of myself in having a “perfect” painting.

plein air from 2014 on Wallis paper
      My past has been solidly planted in soft pastel for approximately 17 years. The above painting is one that I wasn’t too sure about at completion because of the looseness but now I see it as being perfect because it is loose.
     As you can see, I have come a long ways and have even further to go, I believe that the artist life is very complex and a never-ending journey. If you have been following my blogging here on WordPress, you learned from my last post that I am stepping away during the month of November to give myself a breather. In actuality I found that I was delving deep into an area that I have visited many times before which I feel goes against my creative striving.
     I am aware of this being normal for a creative, but in my case there is a portion that is solidly based upon my childhood and wounds that have occurred. My hope and plan is to focus on how to bounce back quicker with less stress. I also am wanting to put to rest the need for validation and hopefully to leave behind a large portion of my harsh self criticism.
     When I had originally thought of taking a month off, I was questioning if it was something that I should do, when I ran across a post by a fellow blogger that tied right into what I have contemplating about, I knew it was a confirmation.
      I am a very positive person who has great hope for my art and what I can learn from pursuing being creative. I could touch upon a lot in this post but it would be too lengthy and you all be yawning and ready for this post to end. I do believe that when I do come back in December, I plan on blogging more about the creative life (and struggles) in addition to my art adventures.
     While I am on my leave of absence, I will be working more on a painting that is meditative Intuitive Painting-Psalm 65 If you want to snoop into the conversation regarding this planned absence, I suggest that you read the comments in this post  Fall on the North Yuba. Goodness, it is about time I end this and post it. I will be come back and keep an eye on the feed, until then….happy creating!


Madrone Madness #8

Madrone and Co. on Saunders 200# 11 x 14 inches

I was high jacked this morning by the light and my trees. of course I obliged, willingly. I am in love with Fabriano but for abstracts like this, I love the softness of Saunders 200# and I can’t wait to try out Fabriano Soft Press in which Debi Riley raves about. As soon as I can manage it, I will be buying it. This is my first painting session with my madrones here: Madrone Madness-June WC #1 as you can see, I am getting looser and improving, I hope!

I am finding that I love to use my sprayer while painting to help coax the paint and to limit brush strokes. I do use my brush to drop in paint or use the very tip to push/brush the paint to make the trunks of the trees stand out. I also have found that allowing the excess water from my brush to drop into the paint mixture I had just put down, helps to lighten that area. I love this way of painting, it is truly me. Abstraction is something I love and I am hoping to incorporate it more and more into my plein air of the river. I try so hard to depict what I see and I usually overdo it or bungling it up, I have used this kind of  painting at the river before and I loved the results,  Shenanigan Flat-North Yuba River with painting #3.

P1110684 (2).JPG
close-up of one of my favorite areas
My scene before the glow that I chased

Learning Points:

  • With abstracts such as these, incorporate all kinds of means to get the job done, think outside the box.
  • For me, limiting actual brushstrokes work best for abstraction.
  • Plein air is hard but when it is happening, it is heaven!
  • Don’t be afraid to let that paint flow or let those colors mingle, who knows what you will end up with?
  • Adventure keeps you young!
  • Wet paint from the tube is best for abstraction.

Madrone Madness #7

Painting #1 on Fabriano 300# 7 x 9 inches

I didn’t plan on painting but when I saw the lighting and I was swept away….again. What can I say? I love to paint. My first two paintings were very rough and my plan of attack was not working. I couldn’t decide how to depict what I wanted and was very divided. I simply sprayed them off and will re-use the paper. The above painting I enjoyed painting the foliage but the trunks seem stiff and awkward. They were as dark as you see, but I wanted more of an artsy look.

painting #2 on Fabriano 300# 7 x 9 inches

This painting was a little easier and I decided to go a little more detailed, at least for me. I can detail the crap out of a painting which is my inclination from the perfectionist me but I don’t let that “me” out of the box too often. When I do, I refuse to go as detailed as the old me use to. It has taken all these years to learn that I don’t enjoy tight and perfection, my left brain does but that is a whole another story.

Learning Points:

  • Let loose, I don’t have to know where the painting and watercolor is leading me.
  • If a painting fails, no problem, spray it off and re-use the paper.
  • Don’t spray too much water into my wells as I found that I ended up with too much water on my brush every time I dipped for fresh paint.
  • Coffee does not work as well as water and I  am sure it doesn’t add the right flavor that I enjoy, not a good idea! Stay aware where I keep the water bucket and my coffee, preferably not close to each other.
  • A good idea to loosen up with sketches and painting prior to serious painting. I always seem to forget this. It takes at least 30 minutes for my brain to coordinate with my eyes and painting hand.
  • Learn to soften edges, hard one for me to let loose and allow watercolor to do its thing, a common denominator with this medium.

Madrone Madness #6

I was planning on going to the river but I changed my mind because I will be going to the river with my daughter and her three children tomorrow to swim. I decided to keep my ventures to the river special each and every time. I didn’t plan on painting today but with the lighting on the madrones out back, last-minute decision and here we are. One of my favorite painting sessions using these madrones for my subject Madrone Madness #5-World Watercolor Month #5

Painting #1 on Arches 300# 11 x 14 inches

I liked how this painting started but I changed my mind on certain sections and took off some paint. I am only including this painting to illustrate what happens when the focus or intention goes awry. My first intention was to highlight the golden color coming through the trees. Usually morning light isn’t as golden but because of our smoky skies, the light in the morning has been more of an evening tint. There are some parts that I do like in this painting but I call it a fail. I also am asking you all what would you do with this painting? add or subtract? I am undecided. I just might turn it over and paint on the other side.

This is the section that I do like
Painting #2 on Saunders 200# 7 x 9 inches

Now we are cooking! I loved how this one painted and turned out…..So fun! I used my water sprayer extensively and yet cautiously on this one. I learned from my last painting to keep my mind on one intention and let the magic of watercolor happen.

Close-up of my favorite spot
Painting #3 on Saunders #200 7 x 9 inches

I enjoyed this one almost as much….probably too much red but then it really makes the painting sing. Looking at it now, I had hoped for more soft edges but I am not touching it again.

Learning Points:

  • Don’t have two ideas conflicting while painting, one focus or intention at a time.
  • Getting in and getting out is fun!
  • Keep your colors fresh and allow mixing on the paper. I failed to allow this to occur on painting #1




Madrone Madness #5-World Watercolor Month #5

Painting 1    Saunders 200# 11 x 14 inches

I truly wanted to go paint at a new location and I will hopefully be able to this weekend but this morning I just wanted to stay close to home. All I had to do this morning is walk out back and there are my madrones which I have been painting a series of Madrone Madness-June WC #1  take a peek at my very first post on these magnificent trees.

Painting 2   Fabriano #300 11 x 14 inches

I truly am in love with Fabriano. I can’t get over how wonderful a paper this is and it suits my approach to painting. With Fabriano, you don’t want to keep brushing at it. One to three brushstrokes is safe, any more, you are going to be messing with this picky, but beautiful paper. It suits me because I have a tendency to get in there and get out with just one or two brushstrokes because I am impatient and go bold, fast and get it done. That is basically my personality. I suggest that you buy a watercolor paper that is reputed to be “difficult”, it will teach you the lessons that you need to learn.

Painting 3  Arches 140# 7 x 9 inches

With this painting I intended to go tight and more realistic but I just couldn’t help myself. Why restrain the natural inclination to go wild and bold? I am painting first for me, I love how I am naturally being pulled into my own style. It has taken years upon years to move into my style. I worried for years, fretted and searched for my style. I hear other artists, in particular, beginners say that they want to find their style.

Fretting about it and pushing for it is really not the way to find your style. It comes with a lot of learning and hard work. It wasn’t until I ventured into watercolor that I began to understand that I do have a style and I know what it is. That came through watercolor I believe because I allowed myself to be playful, bold, let loose and just learn by letting watercolor show me.

Learning Points:

  • Accept that I love abstract and loose. I can go tight, I know that but I prefer loose.
  • Control and learn the ratio of paint to water, keep practicing.
  • Wet or dry paint on my palette? that is the question. With this style of bold, loose and wild, wet out of the tube is best but then I can’t put out wet all the time because then I will have to allow it to dry. Something that I need to research.
  • Stretch yourself and try all kinds of paper, techniques, stay out of that gutter of familiarity and sameness. Do yourself a favor and live a little.

Madrone Madness #4

Soft Pastel 10 x 14 on Mi-Teintes Touch

Yep, I am at again. I want you all to know that I painted this madrone in my nightgown! I am a devoted painter or perhaps crazy? The photo above doesn’t quite show the redness of the tree, the salmon color on the ground is perhaps a few shades brighter. The darks didn’t come out as dark as they should. The yellow and gold in the leaves are not quite brilliant enough in this photo but at least you get the idea. I tried my best to marry up the photo to my painting, it was difficult in this painting for some reason.

Having not painted en plein air in pastel for a while, I resented having my hands getting dirty, how did I ever get used to this problem when I first started? I am an aggressive painter and I had forgotten to go light with my softer pastels, I learned the hard way. I had one crumbled right in my fingertips. Lesson learned. I might go back and give my sky holes a lighter blue, they don’t show up well enough to read as sky.

close-up #1


close-up 2


I had an absolute blast and the process of creating a painting and decision making was no different between watercolor or pastel. That was a surprise for me. I have worked with both mediums in the past but the fact that I haven’t painted in pastel for over a couple months, I was able to decipher this difference.

Another realization that came to me after I had posted and looking at my painting, I feel that I over-worked it and the plein air looseness and freshness has been lost. I have recognized this before in some of my paintings and I would call it “boring or ho-hum” and the fact came to me that I was detecting a painting that has been over-worked. I never connected the two before and I think that now that I have recognized the fine line, I can head off this tendency to over-work. Of course it might be other factors that will make a painting ho-hum but in this case my painting has been over-cooked.

I feel the reason I take a painting too far is that I am trying to work out the problems; either the values are off or I am thinking that I am not depicting it like I see it or want it. Working it until I get there can be a trap. I have worked something until I got what I wanted and I have been able to do this without over-doing it. It can be done and it is achievable, it takes being sensitive to knowing when I am over stepping this fine line into being over-worked. Something that I will be more aware of and be working on. It is a never ending, learning task being an artist.

My learning points:

  • I hate Mi-Teintes Touch…not enough of a gritty surface for my personal taste. I am aggressive and it was too mediocre in receiving the pastel. I fought my paper.
  • Mid-tones are so important in building up your values, it is the foundation of your painting. I always seem to go dark and then concentrate on the lights. Not sure how to alleviate this lack of seeing and putting in my mid-tones. It is a work in progress learning this.
  • Even though I painted in my gown, I will not do naked, no thank you.
  • In order to depict details such as leaves, this can be done in a impressionistic grouping, convey it simply and bring in only necessary detail to convey the motif as needed.
  • Watch the fine line between good enough and too much, there is always next time, keeping it fresh and lively is key for plein air.

Madrone Madness #3

Painting #1 Saunders cp 200# 10 x 14

I decided to put the first painting in after taking another look. Not as bad as I thought….oh I don’t know! I am not too keen on those leaves that I decided needed to be there but at least the lighting is beautiful.


painting #2 Saunders cp #200 10 x 14 inches

I figure that my madrone tree series require a category all to itself. I have so many large madrones on the property, I could paint 100 paintings and still keep at it. The only thing with madrones is that they are an evergreen, so I won’t have much variety other than the lighting, the surrounding environment or time of day. I will be painting in all angles, different groups, the more I looked around the more I realized, dang, there are a lot of large madrones here! I think Monet had painted his pond and garden many, many times.

These madrones were painted yesterday morning. This morning while I was preparing my coffee, I noticed the lighting that always seem to suck me in but I resisted, yay me. It was 7 in the morning and I convinced myself that it is too late, it worked (this time).

I encountered several problems for painting #2, such as the background foliage, there was a myriad of light, foliage and drama in the background but I struggled with trying to marry that up with the focal point.

My learning points:

  • With this painting, I focused too much on “how do I do this” which cut my freedom of expressing in half, I faltered, which affected the painting.
  • Continuing to learn values and color relationship, very important.
  • Be decisive! Be Bold, it won’t break me or my brush.
  • Choose my focus, is it the background lighting or what is in front of my eyes, choose! I can’t have it all, quick, decide.
  • Painting en plein air is important because while I painted these madrones I kept thinking that if I didn’t do all this painting with the subject in front of me, I couldn’t do these madrones justice. Madrones has this beautiful red quality to the bark and interlaced with black and burnt sienna. My personal experience with painting en plein air keeps me striving to keep the integrity of the subject true. I can’t do this without personal observation and experience.

Madrone Madness #2 June wc #6

My goodness, my titles are getting complex! While preparing my breakfast, I looked out and saw “the perfect lighting” on my Madrone trees. I immediately grabbed my watercolor supplies and out the back door I went. Forget breakfast!

We have had some cooling down and it has been quite chilly. I heard that up at the Sierra Buttes area, they were having snow flurries!

I bought some new paper and for my first painting, I used Saunders 200# cp. I really liked the surface of this paper, at first it didn’t seem to be much difference between Saunders and Arches except that Saunders has a softness and receptiveness that I like. I think that I would like to try out the rough version next time. I wanted to try out a heavier paper and I was so pleased that it didn’t buckle at all. I am too lazy to stretch my paper, I know I should but I don’t. I have done it in the past and found that it still buckled. I followed all the instructions to the T and have tried several times.

1st painting 11 x 14 200# Saunders cp


2nd painting 7 x 10  Fabriano Artistico 300# rough


Do I love this paper or what? Yes I do! very much. It forces you to be bold, to make decisive marks and leave the paper alone. I have noticed that you can lift the color easily but be careful because there isn’t much resistance in that lifting, so it can be quite stark, make your lifting decisive. Another observation is that excessive brushwork will disturb the natural beauty of the surface, I limited my brushstrokes to only one or two strokes in the same area. If you take a closer look, the texture is very unique and has a mottled, valley appearance. If you are picky with the surface of your paper, this might be a deal breaker. I liked the surface very much and the way the paint goes on, it is magical.  I don’t mind finicky paper because it teaches me exactly what I want to learn with watercolor.

3rd painting 7 x 10 Fabriano 300# rough

With my third painting, my attempt at painting my blue hydrangea got lost in the shuffle. I had cut around the blue flowers but later on second thought brought in some surrounding colors and then poof….I lost them. I do like that tree to the right of it. I think that I was losing steam and you can see it in this painting. I value this painting regardless because of the learning points….which are:

Learning points:

  • Be willing to embrace and learn from new papers, don’t be afraid to step out from the familiar, either with paper, paints or techniques.
  • You don’t have to know where you are going while painting, it is like asking the driver “are we there yet?” it causes tension and chases away enjoyment.
  • The more you paint, confidence will build and the know how. Carpenters or tree fallers don’t know how to frame a house or fall a tree on the first day, give it time, it is a learning process.
  • Learn to mingle on your paper, over mixing is a killer, I thought about this as I mingled my colors, I have to resist the fear of the unknown and trust that there will be magic.
  • Don’t change your mind at the last minute unless you know you can pull it off successfully. As my Dad used to tell us….”Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream”.

Madrone Madness-June WC #1

Kind of dark but you get the general idea of my scene


It’s June and I am off to the races with my adventures with watercolor. I decided to paint the view right out my back door. While relaxing early on the patio this weekend, the lighting was so beautiful coming through the trees from where I sat. I decided I had to paint those trees. The madrone is the largest tree and will be my focus and it is at least 75 feet tall.

I can fit my plein air supplies quite well in my backpack but this morning taking everything out to my site took extra trips. I should take my “plein air mentality” out my back door without trying to take my entire studio outside. Lesson learned.

I first warmed up with a couple of color sketches.

I decided to try a larger size paper for plein air and on an easel. I immediately freaked out and decided to put my painting board in my lap. I was doing a few things different and found myself nervous and trying to take back what I was doing. Talk about insecure!

Once I relaxed and enjoyed watching the mixing colors and eventually I realized that I was going against the current by judging and freaking out when I hardly had paint down on my paper.

My final painting on Arches #140 rough 10 x 14.5 inches

That drip was when I had my painting on the easel and I changed my mind because of that drip, I need to get comfortable having my painting tilted and dealing with washes that are cascading down. I probably had too much water on my brush. I will eventually learn this but I wasn’t ready for it today.


My learning points:

  • Steady that wild mustang of fear and anxiety, “she” won’t be bucking me off after all, I am holding those reins, me!
  • Just because I went out of my comfort zone doesn’t mean that I won’t be able put out a decent painting, going out of my comfort zone is not a recipe for failure.
  • Get use to being able to handle both fresh and dried paint, especially fresh gobs of paint on my palette.
  •  Set aside the fear of making mistakes, it dams up creativity.

I have a question for you watercolorists, I have been used to working from the dried paint on my palettes and I find that I can control my washes far easier than with fresh globs. I had to replenish my paint this morning and of course, I had fresh paint. I found that I was being aggressive and getting too much paint on my brush and well, you get the idea. I would like to hear what you all have to say about this.