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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Just a big ole’ grin!

The above painting was created from a photo reference by Carol McLaren Theologo submitted to the Paint My Photo site.

The above painting was painted from a reference photo taken by Michael Yates and posted to Paint My Photo. It is a site where artists can share their photos and their artwork of others’ photos offered on the site. I learned of this site while reading a post on Nicola’s blog, Pointy Pix.

I was attracted to the bits of light and shadow in this photo and wanted to see if I could paint it.  PLUS!  With the heat we are having this summer, standing in a cool stream seems just the best thing!  Smart horses.

Painting by John Kelty

Painting by Robert Einhaus

The above paintings are two examples of masa paper paintings that were created by students who recently completed my watercolor on masa paper class. There are more examples of their incredible work on the Student Art 2 Page (click here). Everyone did an incredible job! Thank you to all of you who participated. I hope to see you again in the future.


I found the above image in a reference photo book for artists. I wanted to try a silhouetted image on masa and this one caught my eye.  The most difficult phase of the piece was the drawing. The rest was just a study in painting believeable values. The light is the original tone of the masa paper I selected for this. As I painted around that area, it became lighter and lighter.

The above image is the drawing on the toned masa paper prior to my painting on it.

 photo reference

This is Abner. I have painted him here and here.  This time proved to be the most challenging.

 Fig 1

I had wanted to try something new on masa paper.  Instead of toning the paper, first, I began this piece with a continuous line drawing, in pencil, on the shiny side of a piece of masa paper. I went over those lines with a brush and waterproof india ink. Fig. 1 is what I came up with .

 Fig 2

After the ink dried, I crinkled the masa paper into a ball and wet it thoroughly in a bowl of water, reopened it and allowed it to dry. I then glued it to a piece of taped down Arches 140 lb coldpress watercolor paper. I mixed 4 parts acrylic Matte medium to 1 part water as my glue. I turned the drawing face down and covered the back of the piece with a thin layer of the glue mixture and then turned it over and affixed it to the surface of the watercolor paper by stroking a thin layer of the glue mixture all over the front. I encouraged air bubbles to escape by stroking with my brush from the center out. I then let the piece dry overnight so the surface of the paper was flat to work on. Refer to Fig 2.

 Fig 3

I, next, explored the colors I might want to use for rendering this image and ran into a huge problem! The colors were “dead” looking on the colorful background. They came out very mid-tone and matched the value of the background colors that I had wanted to save for this. I also had another problem. I was trying to paint the dog more realistically than my loose continuous line drawing was going to allow for. I had already lost the light area on the topmost portion of his skull. My next step was to spray what I had painted and lift out as much as I could with paper toweling. Voila! It worked to soften the grays I had tried to replicate and I thought I could, perhaps, continue if I did something with the foreground and background, first. That would give me some time to think about how I might approach painting the dog since my original intent to follow the patterns of the photo were not going to work. Refer to Fig 3.

 Fig 4

I painted loose greens, yellows and blues for the grassy area in the foreground and tried for a bushy red and green background. The background just did not fit, so I sprayed water on the bushy background and lifted as much as I could. It looked awful! …but, at least the dog’s head popped forward some.  I added a very dark underside to the bushes, accentuating two of the colors I had used to begin painting the dog (hoping for harmony). I liked how the original toning of the masa paper began to help me as I painted the dog, so I opted to allow some of the reds and yellows to show through and define some of the dog’s form. I liked portions of what I saw in Fig 4, above, but was about ready to throw it into the trash because I was getting a painting that was largely midtones in value. What did I do? I went to bed on it.

The next morning, with a clearer head and a completely dried painting (Fig 4), I asked myself what I thought the major challenges were. I came up with:

1. Lack of value contrast

2. I would need to work with the quirky distortions of my continuous line drawing

3. I would need to provide some kind of contrast between the dog and his environment

4. I needed to divorce myself from the photo reference and allow my imagination and creativity to come forward

I disliked the background so decided that one way I may be able to provide contrast in value was with a white picket fence in the background. By doing so, that would give me contrast between the flowing continuous lines of the dog and the rigid manmade lines of the fence.

 Fig 5

I rendered the picket fence with white goauche and came up with Fig 5. The white goauche was not sufficient enough, even with two layers, to cover the layers of watercolor which kept bleeding through.

 Fig 6

I pulled out my white acrylic paint and painted it one more time.  What I liked about this was that it immediately provided contrast between dog and background, pushed the dog forward and even looked like a painted wood fence due to the crinkles in the masa paper.  Refer to Fig 6.

Note, also, how the dog’s value became lighter with the brightening of the fence between Fig 5 and Fig 6. This often happens when you make value changes and needs to be addressed. Thus, I knew I had to darken the dog again.

Finished Painting

In the final steps of creating this piece, I worked with blending aureolin (transparent staining yellow),  permanent rose and prussian blue to develop a gray black on the surface of my dog portrait. I opted to allow and exaggerate some of the reds and yellows that were in the original toning of the masa paper, salvaging a quirky look to the color of the dog to parallel his loosely rendered continuous line form. I pushed these colors until I felt his contours read believable. I exaggerated the darkness of his pupils and iris and contrasted that with white goauche for the whites of the eyes and left his muzzle very light so as to draw the viewer’s eye to his face.

This is not at all the end result of what I had pictured in my mind. However, I now have a painting that is creative, somewhat quirky and reads well enough to avoid my trashing it.

The true test will be when my daughter sees this. This is Abner, one of her rescue dogs. He “IS” quirky, energetic and a bit of a prankster. Perhaps that comes through in the color and the playful way I have approached painting him.

What is the message? Don’t give up! Masa paper presents a challenge. As an artist, I have the tools and the creativity to learn from whatever any particular painting is trying to teach me! I can change it to a mixed media if I have to. I can create contrast and push for the values I want there. I may surprise myself.

To view other masa paintings I have painted click here.