September 27, 2012

Buttonwillow In Profile... A Watercolor Tutorial

[first- a word from our sponsor: All photos, text and art are copyright 2012 by Susan Faye.  Please feel free to share the link to this tutorial, but do not reproduce it in any form without written permission from  me.  Thanks!]

To Buttonwillow's delight, I recently completed a watercolor portrait of my little darling in profile.  By popular demand, here are step-by-step photos and descriptions of the process.

First-- the reference photo that I started with... Notice how her pretty eye is almost smack dab in the middle of the composition-- that will be the focal point of the painting.

Next I've taken a piece of 140 lb. cold press Arches watercolor paper, and lightly sketched in the basic outlines in pencil. I've also used masking fluid to block off and protect areas that I want to stay absolutely white, such as the whiskers and the glint in her eye (the masking fluid dries into a rubbery and water-resistant solid, and then can be rubbed off at a later point).  The masking fluid is tinted blue, so that you can see exactly where you've put it on the white paper.

Next, I did an underpainting of warm colors.  This is a fun and fairly random "slopping on" of wet and runny colors.  This will give a warm glow to the transparent colors I choose to put on top of it (plus, because I use "non-staining" colors for my underpainting,  lifting "mistakes" that might be painted on top of it becomes that much easier!)

I do not own a tube of black or gray paint.  That's because it is so easy to achieve much more interesting blacks and grays by layering two or more complimentary colors on the paper.  A classic mix is a dark blue, such as ultramarine or prussian blue and burnt sienna (you can use any two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel). So that's what I've done here.  The paint tubes say blue and brown, but your brain says "BLACK"!

See how the masking fluid is protecting the white of those delicate
 whiskers, eyebrows, and ear floof?

Now for that focal point: the eye!  I am going to take extra care to make it shine. First I put on a very wet wash of yellow. (Remember, those blue spots are the water-resistant masking, which will eventually revert back to white areas)...

 Next, I drop in some blue paint, right into the wet yellow-- mostly toward the top of the eye.  It's going to mix and swirl and make a mottled green. I want it to stay lighter at the bottom where the light is bouncing into her eyeball (look at the reference photo and you'll see what I mean).

I also drop in just a hint red while everything is still wet, to tone down the lime-green effect of mixing the yellow and blue...

While all of that dries, I paint her  cute little pink nose and add some warm color to the inside of her ear.

Most watercolor reds don't dilute down to a very satisfactory or vibrant pink.  So I use "quinacridone red" which is a very vibrant, transparent deep-rose-pink-red color that dilutes down to a soft pink very nicely. 

I also use a very diluted gray mix and work on her mouth line, her chin, and all that glorious floof below her cheek. layering the pale gray to make soft shadows.

 As watercolor paint dries, it always fades a bit.  So now I am going to dab in some more yellow and blue toward the top of the eyeball to deepen that color a bit;  then I paint in the dark pupil with my mixture of dark blue and burnt sienna which = black...

Now for the fun part.  With an art eraser, I gently rub off the rubbery blue masking.  Wow! Those whites are still so white! They are too white (and pretty harsh) aren't they?  Let's soften them up a bit.

 Using my gray/black mix and a fine-tip brush, I narrow down each whisker and hair. Also, I "tone down" some of the whiskers with a pale gray wash-- this will make them recede a bit and make the whiter whiskers look like they are in front, adding dimension.


I also tone down the glint in her eye slightly.  It is actually the reflection of a window, and that window has some tone variation in it.  It's little details like this in a focal point that will add authenticity.  See what a difference it makes?  You can also see the before and after of the eyebrow hairs...


Then comes a prolonged period of tinkering, dabbing,  adjusting, and obsessing. until at some point you put on the brakes, probably because the cat is demanding dinner. With any luck,  you haven't over-worked the entire painting...

Thank goodness for hungry cats. It looks like its done!

 Any questions?  
Drop me a line in the comments section, and I'll do my best to answer them!


September 25, 2012

What I Did This Summer

Something I miss about Autumn is the annual "what I did this summer" report that seemed to be a staple during the first week of school-- a pleasant way to linger over the joys of summer vacation.  Here is my report:

1. My 8 days in HELL, er, I mean my beloved birthplace, Southern California

My recent descent into the flames began with a solo two-day, 1000-mile drive south during which I had a "tire separation" (an inside belt broke) and a nerve-wracking detour to a Les Schwab Tire Center in Modesto (god bless you, Les Schwab).  The goal of the trip was to help my little sister move out of her 100-year-old two-story house. It should be noted that my sis, like every other member of my immediate family, was endowed with the Packratitis gene.  In her defense, she is an antiques and vintage clothing dealer, which accounts for 90% of her glorious accumulation.  My brother, sis, and I spent eight days in the 95+ degree humid heat moving boxes full of treasures, closets full of clothing, and well-made [translation: HEAVY] antique furniture.  On my last day there, the mercury settled in at 108-110 degrees in the afternoon-- the day that we had rented the truck to move the furniture! The only thing that saved me was a wet kerchief tied around my neck-- and old trick from my hiking buddy Mary-- the evaporating water creates the sensation of coolness around your head!

These are the only pictures I have of the trip-- the succulents in my sister's back yard.  It was just too dang hot to stand out in the sun and take pictures.  These are going in my "to paint later" file...

Happily, I survived my time in the sun, the sale of my sister's house went through (yay!), and I got to spend lots of quality time with my siblings and my BFF Anne, the hostess with the mostess who provided lodging, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and Boggle games to revive me each night!

Like many other places in the USA, leisure-time activities are heavily influenced by the weather  and the seasons here in the Pacific Northwest.  This means that outdoor fairs, festivals, and such are highly concentrated between the months of May and September.  Our local Yamhill County Historical Museum plows and plants their fields the old-fashioned way at the May Farm Fest:

then they reap it all at the August Harvest Fest...

It really makes you appreciate farmers and the food on your table!

 The most aromatic festival in the county and my favorite art fair! 

My new lavender sachets were a big hit this year!

The Yamhill Lavender Festival takes place in mid-July, in the town of Yamhill Oregon. It includes a plein air art show, lots of vendors, and entertainment, all in the lovely shaded Beulah Park.  The Festival is part of the larger Oregon Lavender Festival Tour, where you can visit lavender farms throughout the county, a real treat to see AND to smell (we're talking MEGA aromatherapy!). 

By far the most hilarious event of the summer, the PDX Soapbox Derby takes place in Portland each August where "Portland's finest freaks pull their home-built creations to the top of Mount Tabor and let gravity guide them to the bottom of the hill." 

The derby draws crowds of over 5,000 people who come to watch this hilarious spectacle with 40 some teams letting loose with their creative coaster cars. 

zoom zoom
Yes, indeed you are seeing Three Men In A Tub racing down the hill in a trail of soap suds...

The crowd favorite was this airliner, complete with sassy stewardesses handing out salty snacks...

It turned out to be too stormy and windy at 6 a.m. for the hot air balloons to ascend at the Loose Goose Balloon Rally at Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum , but in the evening we enjoyed a piano concert out on the lawn; the Evening Glow with inflated balloons was cancelled due to wind, but we enjoyed the showy Candle Stick Glow where just the burners were fired up in the twilight sky...

I'm a new dahlia fanatic, thanks to a visit to the Swan Island Dahlia Festival in August, and as you might already know, I am especially obsessed with bees on dahlias.

All in all, it was a glorious (but somewhat brief) summer. The Art Harvest Studio Tour starts in less than two weeks, so it is time to pack away the shorts and flip-flops and get in gear as I look forward to a glorious Autumn!  Now where did I pack away all of those sweaters?

September 23, 2012

I'm Back!

yes, it's me, buttonwillow. I am back. You probably knew that art lady was gone. she abandoned me and took a trip. but did you know that i was gone too?

it all started with my diabolical plan to make her sorry and make her come back home, because it seemed like art lady might never come back and that pesky inka kitten was here to stay. here's how you do it:

first you find a really good hiding place.  i'm not telling where mine is because i might use it again some time.

then, when the gizmo guy thinks all the cats are outside in the patio, you go and hide in your secret hiding place until it gets dark.  this gets gizmo guy all worried when he can't find you.  the next morning he goes to all the neighbors and goes around the block looking for you.  i'm thinking he probably called art lady in some faraway place and told her, and i'm guessing she probably cried, which serves her right for leaving me. 

next, college guy and autie mary come over and everyone frantically combs the yard and the garage and the house for a sign of me.  i just snicker from my secret hiding place.  then you wait until night comes again for the best part: you sneak into the house through the kitty door so that at 3:30 in the morning when gizmo guy gets up to look for you, he finds you curled up in your chair like nothing happened.

but even after all that, art lady did not come back.  so i initiated plan b.  i set up camp under the futon and went on a hunger strike.  i stopped eating and drinking and i did not groom myself for days and days. it was very hard, because you know how much i love food. and you know how beautiful my incredible fluffiness can be when properly groomed.  but it was worth it.

art lady finally came back.  and i started eating and drinking again little by little, but not until i was sure that she was going to stick around.  plus, she threatened to take me to the cat doctor.

i hope she doesn't leave ever again.  and as you can see, in the throes of her grief and remorse for leaving me, she finished my portrait!  she says she will show the rest of the tutorial, step by step, of how she painted the picture in the next day or two.

in the mean time, i'm enjoying extra treats and lots of adoration.  life is good.

love and fishes, buttonwillow

September 2, 2012

What Should I Paint Next? (Plus another Work In Progress)

The Art Harvest Studio Tour is looming ever-closer so I am painting, painting, painting!  At any given time I like to have several paintings in progress so that I can let one "rest" while I work on another one or two.  

I need your help! 
What should I paint next?  

A plow-horse team, A bumblebee on a dahlia, a cottontail bunny or my streptocarpus flowers?  Please vote in the comments section of this post.

In the mean time, here is what I am working on now.  Last week I put it to a vote here and on my facebook page and Buttonwillow won hands down.  Here is the reference photo: 

First I've sketched in her pretty face and used masking fluid to block off areas that I want to stay absolutely white, such as the whiskers and the glint in her eye (it will be rubbed off later on ).  

Next, I did an underpainting of warm colors.  This will give a warm glow to the transparent colors I choose to put on top of it (plus it makes lifting "mistakes" that much easier!)

 I do not own a tube of black paint.  It's easy to achieve much more interesting blacks and grays by layering two or more colors on the paper.  A classic mix is a dark blue, such as ultramarine or Prussian blue and burnt sienna. So that's what I've done here.  The paint tubes say blue and brown, but your brain says "BLACK"!

The eye is the focal point here, so I am going to take extra care to make it shine.  I'll work on that later today and show you the results soon.

While things are drying, help me decide what to start on next... Thanks for your help!