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pmpknmonochrome monochromatic

I spent some time working with the simple color combinations we talk about and use all the time.  I try to cover these in every beginning class I teach and then keep tossing out reminders in the advanced classes.  Sometimes, our paintings just aren’t what they could be.  We confuse our viewers with too much color or don’t provide enough contrast with our colors. We know we can paint anything! any color we choose! We can create a pink horse, a green person, and change the grass to black and the sky to purple if we want! But we do need to be mindful of our viewer if we want our work to have contrast and read well for a viewer.

I sat down with 6 x 9 inch pieces of 140 lb Arches watercolor paper and practiced painting this pumpkin in the five color combinations I talk about in classes.

The first combination is monochromatic. That means taking one color and rendering your entire painting in that color or variations of that color. I chose paynes grey for this one. There could be many versions of a monochromatic. It all depends on how much of the painting you decide to leave white and how much you make your darkest darks and how much midtone values you include. I will save that exercise for another day.

pmpknanalagous analagous

The above example is an analagous color scheme of orange and yellow. Analagous paintings are those that have colors next to each other on the color wheel and one of the colors is usually dominant. I believe the orange is the dominant in this and could have stretched my color range to include red, but opted for a neutral of burnt umber instead. This one stretched my value skills because I chose to paint more of the pumpkin than in the monochromatic example. I had to use varying amounts of water to get the value transitions in yellow and orange.

pmpkncompliment complimentary

Complimentary colors are those found opposite each other on the color wheel. Mixed together, they can cancel each other out to appear black. Next to each other and they enhance contrast. I used no other colors than one orange and one blue to create the pumpkin above. Had I chosen to paint an apple, I’d choose red and green. Had I chosen to paint a lemon, I’d choose yellow and purple.

pmpknsecondary  secondary triad

This is where it gets fun! I could use three colors!  The secondary triad is composed of the secondary colors orange, green and violet on the color wheel. I liked this one, because it looks the most believable for the subject of a pumpkin. I liked how these three colors produced varying shades for all the shadows in this. I found this painting  more soft and relaxing, in appearance, when compared to the next one I tried.

pmpknprimary primary triad

The last color combination I tried was the primary color triad of red, yellow and blue. Wow! This one became so vibrant because I could use bright yellow and red to create my oranges and even the blue came through as vibrant on this one. I would call this my festive pumpkin. There seems to be more energy in a primary color painting.

Try this one with a simple reference and see what you come up with. These are the only color combinations I teach. It does not mean I stick with only those colors. I add other colors to my paintings. BUT, if I squint at them and there is not a distinct look of one of the above color combinations in them, I go back in develop the painting more until there is.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Thank you to wet canvas for the image of the pumpkin I used for my reference.

paytonsabner    6 yr

sedonashorses  7 yr

polarbear 8 yr

The above paintings were painted by my three Granddaughters this past weekend. Yes, I have created watercolors and drawings with them since they were little. Their Mothers have also encouraged them with their art. One thing I did not do, however, was purchase less expensive paints, brushes and paper for them to use. I find many of the student grade papers and paints uninspiring, often resulting in dull colors, brush hairs falling out into paintings and paper that tears or won’t hold up to multiple glazes or layers.

All three of them begged me to be able to paint and helped me to tape their paper to the board. The oldest ran for my pile of photo references. They used to select pictures from their coloring books that were easier to draw but would have none of that this time. The 6 chose a portrait of Abner, my daughter’s dog, the 7 chose a photo of my daughters three horses and mini donkey, and the 8 chose a photo of a polar bear! I said, “Are you sure you can do these?”  The 8 said, “Yes. We can draw them by feeling the edges of the lines while we draw!”  They have all practiced drawing with a continuous line, before. I helped a little, but not a lot! Mostly just to point out an angle of a line or a bump on a horse knee or jaw. The drawing of the polar bear was totally unassisted! I cautioned them about rinsing their brushes before they went back into the palettes for their colors and that was all she wrote. They were off and painting!

Insert, here, praise for their art teachers. The conversation around the table started to revolve around what their art teachers had taught them in school. One Granddaughter stating that her teacher taught her that a painting was just lines, shapes and then add color! Another said her teacher had told her to use bright color and another talked about her teacher teaching them to use the whole page.

And they didn’t get bored! Thank you to all those Moms and Art Teachers out there who recognize the value of creativity for our children.  They may never make a living creating art, but they are learning skills that will stick with them a lifetime about exploring, creating and making choices. Plus! They will have one more thing they can enjoy doing in their free time!








The last thing we practiced in watercolor portraits was rendering hands in a way that they are believable. One of the most common mistakes in portraiture are hands that are too small, proportionately. Another mistake is the artist not rendering the parts of the hands that bend by using properly placed cross contour lines to delineate the joints of the fingers and thumbs. Hands without joints always appear gloved and stiff.

Another watercolor portrait class has ended and I have posted up to two paintings by each artist who took one of the two sessions of this class. Some of the artists have been painting for years. Several have only had one year experience and have come to this class from beginning watercolor, so it is very diverse. They also have very different interests and make different choices about the techniques and references for their creations.



Sue Joseph2

Sue Joseph2

Barbara Steinkamp2

Barbara Steinkamp2

They studied face parts by painting eyes, noses, hands, mouths and ears, individually. They learned work from the use of a grid for proportion and to work toward a likeness. They studied composition and how to design a portrait that would be more pleasing. They studied skin color and

Leslie Vrchota

Leslie Vrchota

how to create a rich and colorful black using yellow red and blue.

This class was not limited to the human face and included figures in landscapes and animal portraiture.  I also handed out a list of watercolor ideas  to challenge them to reach.

Henn Laidroo2

Henn Laidroo2

John Kelty2

John Kelty2

The above portraits show people doing something and suggest a story for the viewer.

Kathleen Smierciak

Kathleen Smierciak

One artist challenged herself to paint white on white.

Mary Smierciak

Mary Smierciak

Another artist created a colorful gouache resist of her son in his winter bicycle gear.

If you would like to view the entire gallery of this fall’s watercolor portrait class, click here. You can also access this page by clicking the link to the Student Art: Watercolor Portraits at the top of this blog page.

Thank you to all of you very talented artists for continuing to take these classes and share your work here. I continue to be inspired by your talent and creativity!



I was lucky enough to be able to spend time with my three Granddaughters this summer.  We went to the zoo and I snapped the reference photo for this portrait right before they rode the train. I am a lucky Grandma.

In order to draw this composition, I used a simple grid.



I frame the composition that I want from the photo.  I use two “L shapes” that I have cut from a matte in order to do this. I then draw a grid over the surface of the photo dividing it into three sections vertically and horizontally. This grid helps me to draw the scene or figure in proportion. It also shows me the four areas or “sweet spots” where it is best to create a center of interest. I chose this composition because the foreground and background girls were near and in a good place for a center of interest.



I then have to measure my watercolor paper (height and width) to be proper multiples of the dimensions of my reference photo. I grid the watercolor paper (lightly) with graphite and draw my composition.  Before I begin to paint, I gently erase the grid lines with a soft eraser.

I do not grid everything I create but it helps with more difficult subject material where proportion or likeness is needed.

By Roxanne Yoquelet

By Roxanne Yoquelet

By Paula Pritchard

By Paula Pritchard

By Laura Lindsay

By Laura Lindsay

The first Beginning Drawing class of this year has ended. I can’t resist posting these blind continuous line “selfies” that they learn the first night of class in order to get out of their left brain and really begin to “see” and feel the contours of a subject. There is such honesty in them as I know many of you understand. These students worked hard through six weeks of learning to use line and value. They studied negative space, perspective and cross contours, also. They learned to use their pencil to determine angles and measure length. They began using plumb lines, practiced gridding a photo reference and learned how to crop for scenes and subjects for a center of interest. If you would like to view more of their work, I have devoted a page to that. You can access that gallery by clicking here.  …or by clicking on the Beg. Drawing page at the top of this blog.

Thank you to all my students who allowed their work to be posted here!



It has been so long since I’ve posted. I don’t know where the time has gone. I did start my 2014-2015 art classes, so perhaps I am just a bit slower this year.

The above is a repeat attempt on a pony team I first painted here. I wanted to paint it in color. Thank you to wet canvas for the photo reference.


                               Big Red Lighthouse


                                 White River Lighthouse 

A couple of years ago, Richard McNaughton challenged many of his fellow art bloggers to paint lighthouses. My sister was up for this! She has always been drawn to lighthouses and visiting them when she travels. To make a long story short, she made sure I had reference photos of five of them for the challenge. You can see the paintings I did from those references by clicking here.  For a while, now, she has wanted me to paint two more of the lighthouses she has visited.  I finally sat myself down and drew and painted them for her. These are both lighthouses from Michigan that she has visited. She says they call the one on the top “Big Red”.

One thing I had to keep in mind is how I painted the previous five as she would like to hang them together. For these, I used a wonderful coldpress watercolor paper called Cartiera Magnani. I also kept these to the size that I had painted the others and tried to stay true to the colors I had used for the others. I had to use liquid frisket to save small areas of white in each painting, since I worked so small. I really enjoy working on this paper but have not been able to order large sheets of it. Every time I try, I am told it is out of stock. I have two blocks of the small 9 x 12  inch sheets remaining. It is a soft paper with an interesting texture and the water and pigments soak into it immediately. It is great for a rather detailed look and retains the brilliant color of the pigments exceptionally well.


by Nancy Longmate

by Nancy Longmate




STEP 1 :        Monochromatic Study


STEP 2 :   Splatter


STEP 3 : Lift and Soften Edges of Some Splatters and Add Color


The above two paintings are Nancy”s and my final attempts with working together on splatter painting. We completed five paintings, each, experimenting with subject material and color. We practiced and painted a grisaille, first, in all five paintings. We used this technique to paint buildings, portraiture, city scenes and landscape.

I have learned that it is very difficult to ruin a watercolor and that it is harder to get mud than I thought. I learned I could paint a monochromatic study and still return to vibrant color. The splatter helped to create interest  and  enhance depth in some of them. We called them our dirty paintings because we had to get used to the way they looked following the splattering phase. I think the splatter helped the “look” of what I normally paint just like the masa paper and citra-solv collage helps my paintings.

A tutorial of this technique can be found here and here.

by Nancy Longmate

by Nancy Longmate



There is not much more I can say about this project than my friend and I are still experimenting with splatter paintings, described here and here. We have always started with a monochromatic study of our reference and then splattered or dripped clear water and color on them, before refining and adding more color. We have branched out to experiment with figures in a landscape and adding more color.

My photo, above, is a  street scene of Pirates Alley from wet canvas and a figure I found in another wet canvas reference photo. I made the dog up (fashioned it after my maltese dogs but a little larger). I will probably continue to use this figure. He is so versatile!

I was fascinated with all the abstract color in Nancy’s elephants! This is a truly adaptable technique that opens all sorts of possibilities with your personal style. It is also underscoring that about anything is possible with watercolor. It is really hard to wreck them.


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