This was a design for a unit called the Bluejay Firemen in California (T-shirts). I used to work as an artist for copyartwork.com, that was a site that would contact me with small jobs in the $25-50 range. They needed me to draw up a quickly sketched design. Which they would approve or ask for changes.
Then, I would create a vectorized digital art file using Adobe Illustrator. It was one of the ways I paid bills between other jobs.
The only info I received about this design was a picture of their helmet and the firehose nozzle. The rest of the information like pictures of bluejays and firemen were found on the internet. You would not believe the pictures that come up on the internet when you search for “firemen”. I had no problem finding muscular men in fireman outfits for this project. Whew.
A Northwest Wildlife Waterhole mural was up for bid at a local adult family home. I called and got what information I could over the phone about the desired subject, asking about the surface type and dimensions so I could estimate costs. The next step was to sketch an idea to use as a visual aid while discussing the project with the owner. After meeting with the owner the next day, the mural project eventually died due to a lack of funding. How many times does that particular scenario occur when you are a self-employed artist? Mucho! All is not lost.
Back at the studio, the pencil sketch lies on the drawing table catching my attention. I really like the whole idea and it says, “Paint me!” every time I notice it. This simple pencil sketch becomes an inspiration to render the scene in watercolor. So, I get out a sheet of 300lb WC paper and begin to place the animals in altered positions across the landscape.
Setting up the paints, brushes, and pallets begins the watercolor journey for this wildlife waterhole creation. I put a brilliant sunrise sky over a snowcapped mountain top in the distance. The reflection of this sky is next on the water surface. The scene comes to life as layers of watercolor are applied to the meadow and waterhole shoreline.
More washes are applied to each animal character and I begin to see a 3-dimensional quality begin to appear with the values as they develop.
The final painting is pleasing to the nature lover’s eye. Okay, my husband points out multiple times that you would never see that scene in real life. Killjoy, of course! I know that bears are not friends with moose, elk, fish, or anyone for that matter. Elk and deer are not buddies either, but all of that wildlife is beautiful to this artist so they are together in this painting. Logic does not always have to be present in an artistic adventure, silly boy. Both the originals sold.
Baby & Mom or Jesus are the subjects of this family snapshot showing the “Smooch, I love you!” moment, between a mom and her baby. It used to be a common practice for me to fully draw any idea out on paper before laying it out on any kind of canvas for painting. So, I’d typically end up with a pencil drawing and a painting of anything I was illustrating.
“Baby & Mom K4006” is a 24″w x 18″h pencil drawing on sketch paper inspired by the above photograph.
I started on a rub-out oil on board painting in the middle of December. Right when the layout began to take shape on the canvas, a great Christmas carol played on the radio. The words captivated my imagination, and immediately changed the people in the painting into the characters sang about in the song.
Mary, did you know
that your baby boy will one day walk on water?….
In 2004, this painting won a place in the west coast USA tour going from Seattle WA to San Diego CA for the Seattle VSA disABILITIES Art contest.
I received an unusual call right before the paintings were sent off for their year-long trek. They asked me to change the name of the painting. Having a religious reference in the title was not appropriate. Really? I was surprised and called them back saying the title was openly stated on my entry form from the very beginning. I would not change the painting’s name. If that is not acceptable, return the painting to me and choose another. They decided to go ahead and send it on tour and there were no problems that I know of.
When I received Baby Jesus back home, I took it to a show at a garden nursery, and He was sold on the very first day. I did not see very much of either the sketch or the oil painting before they found forever homes. The customers had no problem at all with the titles of the pieces.
The Dragonfly in the Sun 05 tutorial covers all the final finishing steps to complete this painting. It is still hard to immediately see the shape of the dragonfly with all the competing edges all around it. So, we can remedy this by creating “high contrast” to direct the viewer’s eye to where the main characters reside. We greatly darken the entire background and add more foliage shapes randomly. A really good and dark mixture to use is crimson with hookers green, it is my favorite black. Kind of a powerful black with a heck of a punch. Once you use this mixture you will be spoiled for life and never even open a tube of black again. More red will make it reddish, and more green makes it greenish. With a sufficiently darkened background, we can now focus on the final details of Mr. Dragonfly and his sunflower.
Highlight & Shadows
Okay, now some people get all upset because I use “white” to render the final details, and I also use Paynes Grey to render the deepest blacks. “Frankly, my dear….” Hopefully, these people will get a life and move on at some point. Notice, the row of slight touches of acrylic white paint added to the dragonfly wing where highlights occur. A thinner mix is applied at each of these clear parts of his wing, which allows the underpainting to still show through. I only apply this where I notice shine and glimmer appearing. It becomes a game of applying, re-applying, and then softening edges with a clean wet brush until you get exactly what you want. You can get amazing soft hints of light by applying a weak mix of white or black to the previously painted surfaces.
Lastly, I apply small amounts of highlight to the flower cone as well. You can see this painting on the artist’s website anytime, Dragonfly in the Sun G1618. Thanks for doing this lesson.
Dragonfly in the Sun 03 tutorial puts the greens into the background foliage and darkens the crimson background. Beginning with a pale sap green watercolor wash for the lower left leaves, I fill in all the foliage areas. There are a few areas left light where the light would be striking specific surfaces.
Proceeding on, this wash fills the stem and leaves surrounding the sunflower.
Before this wash dries I apply drops of hookers green and either lemon yellow to the leaves along with tiny touches of ultramarine blue for those deeper shadows. The water spreads these colors together for me. All during this process, you may think that the colors are too bright but remember that they grow pale as they dry.
For Dragonfly in the Sun 03 tutorial, we start to apply a crimson wash to create the initial background. After applying alizarin crimson blobs in the background area, I wet the brush and carefully wet the paper to where I wanted the color to stop spreading. Once I touch the blob of crimson and connect it to this new puddle it immediately spreads into whatever area I have just made wet. I love the way this works because it gives me a dark edge where my puddle of color starts and gradually bleeds into the other side of the puddle perfectly.
Remember in the previous tutorial, where I mentioned that watercolors tend to get paler when they dry? These last two photographs show a good example of that.
Right now, with all the paint dry the flower, insect, and background appear similar in value, a medium mush.
For the Dragonfly in the Sun 04 tutorial, we begin to add details to emphasize where the flower petals curve down to attach to the center of the sunflower blossom. There is a distinct division of surfaces right where the petal meets the blossom cone.
Adding ultramarine blue and even purple accentuates how deep this crevasse is. The yellow petals are brightened with more opaque yellow washes over some of the areas. Also, reds are added to encircle the flower bud where the petals are anchored. Crimson or cerulean blue are then added to various petals to show where they is shadow. Whenever I paint flowers with all of their curving bright surfaces, it amazes me how many surfaces you discover. Soft arms reaching out and then curving back under another. Do you see a more solid blossom in the illustration now?
The Dragonfly in the Sun 02, this tutorial starts off by painting the foreground characters very carefully. Painting from real life is always better for me. I can see exactly where shadows curve and values begin to morph. I’d much rather paint from life, or a sculpture rather than a photograph.
Beginning with the sunflower petals, I want to carefully preserve how there are light gleams intermingled when the petals are viewed through the dragonfly wings. Notice the small areas of color showing through the wings where we are going to preserve sharp edges to emphasize this phenomenon.
After the initial Azo Nickle yellow base wash is applied, I can apply the smallest amounts of light cadmium or alizarin crimson and allow it to spread to give shadow and shape to the petals. In the wings, I purposely keep the values paler.
Now I begin to see the blossom under the dragonfly. As the petals begin to bend showing me where the light and shadow occur. It may seem like a painfully slow way of rendering the surfaces, a gradual process. I add more, stand back, and look. Discovery, then re-wetting areas needing a darker mix. Dropping paints into the puddles until I arrive where I want it to be. Doing one petal, then doing the next. Suddenly, I have a full sunflower blossom coming to life in front of me. Warm values create all of this blossom (yellows).
Beginning to put the base wash on the dragonfly I use a cool value. Using darker concentrations of cobalt blue provides the darkening where I see the shadows happening.
More crimson has been added to the sunflower. With the addition of these darker hues, you see where the petals are anchored around the center. The artist is happy, Yahoo!
The Dragonfly in the Sun 01, this tutorial had a really neat start. My husband came in from the garden laying a perfect little dragonfly on my desk. An absolutely perfect specimen of a critter that I had never seen so up close and personal.
I had never seen one up close and holding so still. There are four wings and you can see through right through them as they glitter. They almost look like the stained glass in church windows with clear glass. His body is a deep dark blue with flecks of green and black shadows but it also had a metallic gleam to it. The legs are long and spindly below the wings. What a wonderful opportunity to study a physical presence that never stays still while it is alive. I immediately took pictures of him from all views and began going through my sunflower pictures, because that is where I see dragonflies most of the time.
It begins with a sketch of the layout. Then I slowly add an alizarin crimson background wash. You can see my photo reference in the front on the left. My messy pallet up above and the water and brushes on the right along with paper towels. I try to remember to start the wash on the left and work to the right so I am not resting my palm on the wet surfaces as I work.
See how you can see the main images show better as the background becomes separated from the foreground.
Notice how the wet parts seem so much darker than the parts that are partially or fully dry on the left. When working with watercolor it is truly amazing to see how much paler the pigments are when they dry, it forces you to try bolder amounts of pigment as you paint. Scary but great fun when you finally try it out.
Continuing with the Muley Doe, I lay in the greens of the shrubs behind the doe. Using mixtures of sap green, hookers green, and a mixture of hookers green with burnt sienna for the forest greens. I have to be careful to avoid where the lighter branches are crossing behind the deer. Neutral browns are laid in underneath the doe to give her a solid substance to stand on. Multiple tangled brush branches and weed shapes populate the ground area. Her body fur is shaped using reds, gold, and some blue or gray to create shadows.
Details are rendered with the addition of the darkest shadows on the branches and trunk of the tree. Shadows are then also applied under her belly, nose, eyes, and ears which begin to show better definition. Details are finished using darks and light accents.
The painting of a Muley Doe C1919 standing by a birch tree begins with a pencil sketch. You may notice that I concentrate on marking where darks are located as I begin to sketch. The intention is to make the tree and the deer shape intermingled and in a looser rendition style.
By blocking in the majority of the background with light washes allow me to reserve areas of white that will be needed later on. The tree bark and branches are the majority of the whites that I am worried about. Those along with the whites needed on the surfaces of our doe that will be shining in the light.
The next step for me is to identify where the darkest areas are at. As I begin to paint those darker areas with more opaque mixtures of watercolor, the layout seems to work out well. With a more visible mixture of watercolor, I begin to see 3D shapes begin to appear. Things begin to pop-out and show their shape.