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I set out designing a cow and calf picture of those fun hairy West Highland cows. I had to design the mother from other photos on wet canvas.  I also had decided that I wanted to paint this as a value study and experiment with lost edges.  I couldn’t stand this, so, unwilling to give up, I tried something I’d read about and that was to wash it under the faucet and see what I came up with.

This is what resulted from the wash down.I did not scrub into this but rinsed it 3 minutes, TOPS, under the faucet. I then stood at the sink and fed a little burnt sienna and diox violet into lower right and left corners. I liked the less flat and drab look of this better than before I had washed it. I also liked the granular or textured look that appeared from the wash. After letting it dry overnight, I painted back into the composition trying to bring a little life back to the shapes and enhance the tones.

This is what I am going to be satisfied with. I learned that I really have to push the values if the intent is a value study and that using just earthtones aren’t going to be enough for what I like to do. I also learned a little something about lost edges and where they may work and where they are not needed. It was important to me for this painting to work on some level.  I am more satisfied with the texture and value in the third image than the first. I can also say I was glad to have the opportunity to wash down a painting. This poor piece of Arches 140lb coldpress paper took a beating and came through it with no tears or holes. The whiskers were scratched in with a scratch tool and then went through the beating with the rest of the paper.


  1. I love the brown cows! Do they make chocolate milk? LOL. My favorite farm animal is the pig, though. 🙂

    • LOL! I don’t think chocolate milk is their forte. I’ll remember about the pig. I would like to paint one sometime. Thank-you, Tacy.

  2. Really like the watercolor tints and tones in this painting.

  3. Well for all the battling, i think you won.

    • Thank-you, Kokot. It WAS a battle. I, at least, learned from my mistakes, huh?

  4. I love the rich browns you achieved. Amazing how the
    wash created softness and a beautiful aura.

    • Thanks, Nancy, especially for saying something about the browns. I learned I had to use color in them or they all looked kind of flat.

  5. Loved the washed out cows it softens the image and to me makes it more pleasing to my eye.

    • Thank-you, Richard. I would never have tried it, except for the fact that I didn’t like my first rendition. I guess I’m for trying something like this, when all else has failed.

  6. Thank you for describing the process. I have tried washing a couple of times but usually I scrub as I do it. Next time I will just let the water run. The painting is great and I appreciated your discussion of color. I am inspired by your efforts to constantly push yourself. It encourages me to do the same!

    • Thank-you, Linda, your comment inspires me, in return. When I first started drawing, I worked so hard at getting it RIGHT. One day I learned there was no “RIGHT”. There were skills that I was learning to help me say or create whatever my heart desires. So, like these cows? I didn’t like the first one, no problem, someone said you can wash one so I tried. If I had scrubbed this, I would have lost the whole painting. Those neutrals I used go whoosh real fast down the drain. I still don’t know if I like this painting, but I like it better than the first one. I think you do great with the challenges you have set for yourself, Linda! 🙂 That is also why I visit your blog.

  7. When I see paintings like these I wish I knew how to paint, you’re talented and you bring smiles, you do to me.

    • Hi Soul dose. These cows are pretty interesting to look at. They make me smile, too. That is a very kind comment and you made my day. Do you think the Beatles, back in the 60’s, got their idea for their hairstyles from the Westhighland Cow?

  8. I love the colours in the browns Leslie! A very successful experiment indeed. Incidently, your good quality photos make it possible to see every nuance and even the grain of the paper – it’s always a delight to zoom in, thanks!

    • Thank-you, Lynda. I learned a lot of tough lessons with this painting and that colors definitely need to be in those neutrals to satisfy what I want to say. Thank-you for the comment on the photos. I have to thank for that. I take my photos in daylight with the flash turned off and careful to not cast a shadow. Then I crop and resolute in photoshop and set the levels so the image looks like the piece. It took me awhile to get the hang of it.

  9. You went a couple of rounds with the cows and luckily you won! VERY brave of you to take the paper and run it under the water. I’ve heard people talk about doing that in class. It sounds like it would be a little scary to do. All 3 cow paintings look great, but in the last one you seem to have achieved more of the value range you were looking for.

    • Thank-you, Carol. You are a wonderful friend to say you like that first one. I actually pulled that from the board and stashed it away like that and it kept calling to me because I had decided I didn’t like it. I re-taped it and washed it.I knew I didn’t like it. I would only wash a painting if I knew for sure I didn’t like it. It sets up a whole new set of challenges because you have to do a lot more work, once again, and it definitely changes a watercolor from transparent to looking like some other medium. (the watercolor GREATS would go UGH!) I do feel like the third one has more depth and is less flat. The painting has definitely helped me to learn a few things. …and I want my students to be less hasty about giving up on their work. I see so many that get thrown in the trash that I see possibility with! That breaks my heart.

  10. I think this turned out Leslie. I had the same experience once I was painting with acrylics and I just hated the way the painting turned out so I took it outside and sprayed it down with the garden hose. In disgust, I threw it in my garage and forgot about it. I few days later I discovered it was a nice painting :). They are controlled accidents I guess. Nice painting!

    • LOL! I can picture you doing that! Somehow, I think that rise of disgust, in us as artists, is an element that actually is our teachable moment, if we don’t ignore it. It always sparks something in me. I become a little more attentive and a little more driven. It’s that moment that you and I have referred to when Lucian Freud talked about it in his interviews as the force that drives us forward. Thanks, Jay!

  11. I had done a similar technique long time back when I started painted. I washed down a painting and painted over it again with same colors but with more intensity. When I washed it down, I got a much lighter background than yours. No, I did not scrub the painting.

    • I think the non-staining colors wash off spit-spot and just a trace remains. The staining colors hang around forever. Should have mentioned that in the post, so thank-you for saying something in comments, Raji.

  12. This is very sweet,Leslie! 🙂
    I like the new painting a lot.Reminds me of my country 😉

    Have a special day,my dear friend! 🙂

    • Thank-you, Alina! You have a super day! I needed your happy day wishes, today as it is raining and snowing at the same time, here. It is mushy dark and bleak. 🙂

      • Here it was the sun on the sky few hours and also abit wind, but still a nice day. The daughter of my aunt has 3 years old almost and when we were in the town she asked me where the snow is because she likes a lot to have fun with it.
        I was told her that the sun makes miracles sometimes and one of the miracle is that the snow was left once that the sun was came out from the clouds 🙂
        She understood it quickly.

        Have a wonderful time,my dear friend! 😉

      • What a wonderful story, Alina! Thanks for sharing your part of the world and day with me!

  13. I love the new color you have introduced in the final version – in the big cow’s forehead – is it Payne’s grey? No maybe it’s more of a green. Years ago I used to hand color photos with windsor and newton oils and Payne’s Grey was always secretly my favourite colour to use in landscapes because it gave them depth. Just like you have done here.
    I really admire your patience Leslie and am glad you persisted. Highland cows are such grand creatures. You couldn’t just throw them in the drawer 🙂

    • Hi Kirsty. I have the same problem with Paynes gray that I had with these neutrals. 🙂 I have to add other colors to help them not appear flat. In between the hairs in the deepest dark areas is a color called winsor green(blue shade. The other colors in those areas are burnt sienna and diox violet. You are right. This could not be thrown in the drawer. Thank-you for the comment, Kirsty. More photos soon?

  14. Leslie, you are so brave! I like the first painting, but I understand why you washed it, when I see the results. It turned out so much softer. I noticed in your reply to Carol that the painting wasn’t a fresh one. Do you think it needs to be dry for a certain amount of time before you could do this? Could I take a painting I was working on this morning and wash it? I love the results and I want to be brave, too! 🙂

    • No. It doesn’t need to be an old one. You watch it disappear as you hold it under the faucet. I don’t recommend a hard fast stream of water as you could lose the whole image. Slow stream of water and pull it out when you like what you see. Thanks for the comment, Beth. Thanks for liking the first image!

  15. Leslie, your cows are wonderful! They are cute and funny and dear and shaggy – a pleasure to look at! I really liked the first image, and for a while was not clear to me what did you think was wrong with it. Only after I enlarged them all and looks with precision I got it. You are right of course, what a discerning eye! I still maintain that there is nothing wrong with the first image, but the final result is better – clearer, livelier and more uplifting.

    It was neat to read about your washing a painting in the sink experiment. I just had the same idea recently when I was struggling with my last painting, but I hesitated to do it. Next time I will go right ahead :D!

    • I don’tknow. The top one just looked flat and dull to me. I was not happy with it enough to want to see if I could rescue it in anyway. I guess I’m just one that has to see other colors in my work. If it is going to end up in the trash bin, I don’t mind washing it, or sandpapering it or using other media to see what I can pull off before trashing it. Watch it carefully so you can pull it back out at the point you see something you can work with. Thanks, Alex! 🙂

      • No, I can see the difference now. I think that I was so captivated with the cows and their personalities at first that I didn’t pay attention to the colors. When I enlarged the images I saw what you meant.

        Thank you for the advice on washing a painting. It will come very handy, I am sure!

  16. These are just toooo funny !

    • Thanks, Isabelle. I know I know. They are all hair like my little maltese dogs! I think that is why they are such a challenge to paint. 🙂

  17. You blow my mind! Seriously, Lady! This was a wonderful journey to read and to see. I love the cows! Thank You and Cheers and Namaste. 🙂

    • Thanks, Bliss. I’m telling you that this was more of an obsession to get these cows looking like they had some kind of shape. LOL!

  18. i really love how you envisioned these cows. those bangs are adorable! thank you!

    • Thank-you, “Y”. On the last attempt I kept thinking the little one looks exactly like “Ringo” of the Beatles! 🙂

  19. This series of paintings is what first drew me in, but then I got sidetracked commenting on the others I had not seen.

    I like what the wash did to the original painting, which seemed too dark and too harsh (for lack of a better term) in the strokes. But the wash softened it up considerably, and then the new work on top, brought out the brilliance.

    I love when you show the evolution of your work, Leslie!

    • The top one is too dark and too harsh and too flat. I’m not sure I saved the painting, but I like it better now because I can see a forward and back pull to the values. Thank-you, Kate, for mentioning the evolution part. I’m hoping it helps others to not give up too soon. I learned some things from this one.

  20. The evolution of your work is what give me hope with mine!

    I think I will take one photo and try a variety of different things with it, as you show so well.

    I am so glad we became friends!!

    • I can hardly wait to see what you come up with. I liked your ink sketch that you did in photoshop of the front of the building.
      I, too, am glad I met you!

  21. west highland cows? they are literally at my doorstep and you have captured that attitude they always have without even being able to see their eyes! good to read your thoughts on your process though i have never tried watercolours, it makes me think perhaps i should. thanks Leslie:)

    • Are they as friendly as the write-up on them portrays? There is a herd in a pasture near the airport, here. I have stopped in the gravel lot next to their pasture to watch them. Some come to the fence.They appear much smaller than the cows I am accustomed to and seem to have an extraordinary way about them. Thanks for the comment, Rahina!

  22. Aren’t those cows fun? They make me smile. I think I like the first one, but I also really like the third one. Anyway, the painting is well done, as always. I just can’t seem to decide which one I like the best.

    • Yes, their hair is quite a challenge. I’m glad you can’t decide which one you like the best. I really disliked the first one. I thought it was too dark and much the same values all over. I tried to get them to have more shape. I don’t know if I succeeded, but didn’t give up. Thank-you Little Lynx! 🙂

  23. Hey Leslie – I like what happened to these cows – I think the washing in water softened them in all the right places and took out the control. Well done for your restraint in building up from the washing. What a great subject!
    And you do it so well.
    As usual your blog has something on which to reflect for building my painting world.

    • Thank-you, Stephen. I’m glad that some people were able to see what I had done, here. I don’t think you will ever have to wash yours, however. This seems to happen when I obsess on a subject too long. 🙂

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  1. By Penelope « Leslie White on 13 Jun 2010 at 10:46 am

    […] to her?”.  The next thought was,” I have tried neutral tones before and struggled, here!” I had a horrible time trying to figure out other colors that went with them and still […]

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