….eggciting week ahead

March 20, 2016

Painting eggs is something of a little hobby which began almost 35 years ago when the process of the dyed Ukrainian eggs was intriguing from an artistic point of view–meaning, the way/how it was done, not the desire to become overwhelmed with making intricate geometric designs.  So employing the method of using beeswax to wax over those parts of an egg one wanted kept white, then dropping the egg into coloured dye, again waxing over the area which would retain that dye’s colour, and dropping it into yet a different coloured dye and repeating the process until the entire egg was covered in wax.

At this point, the wax was removed by carefully holding it over a candle flame and wiping the melted wax free with a tissue.  Once the wax was removed, the egg was blown of its contents and if being used as a Christmas tree ornament, a string was affixed to the top.

Here is an example…..

duck eggs, email size

Quite a number of years later, the notion of doing away with the dye/wax method in favour of actually painting on the egg’s surface was experimented with.  This was successful but a huge breakthrough occurred when moving from painting chicken eggs to painting duck eggs.  A duck egg’s surface is not chalky like chicken eggs, but rather satiny smooth and extremely receptive to watercolour.  This was discovered while staying in The Philippines, where duck eggs were easily come by.

Painting a duck egg would be done, then the egg would be spray-lacquered so as to protect and seal the watercolour-painted surface.  Once completely dry, the insides would be blown out….

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……and in honour of the 6th day of Christmas….

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….which brings us to today and trying to replicate a moonlit rocky mountain scene on a duck egg purchased locally ($3.50/half doz) through craigslist and meeting the man carrying his trusty picnic cooler outside the supermarket:

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A very Happy and Blessed Easter to all my blogging friends!

 

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Results of ‘composition exercise 1’: dividing a landscape into thirds, placing visual interest at each intersectional  point….

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Results of ‘composition exercise 2’:

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and 3:

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bringing us to 4:

It has taken a long spell of waffling over what to do about being less than pleased with the finished piece.  The snowy fields seemed to extend themselves too far down, without enough visual interest to hold a viewer’s attention.  And then I gave into the temptation/artistic trap I almost always seem to fall into, which is going one step too far by defining open field with regimented rows of corn which wind up being so monotonous, the fence posts going the opposite direction only add yet more visual predictability  and kill whatever freshness the piece had going for it.

….so the only satisfactory outcome was to crop the painting and salvage what could be salvaged.

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It is a very small painting, about 6″ x 12″, and has at least enough mood still going on to make it only just worth framing.

As an exercise, however, it was more than useful, and confirmed satisfactorily that placing interest at intersectional points within a composition divided into thirds works (sans rows of corn, that is), does hold one’s attention, and lends a feeling of balance.

 

….composition exercise 2

January 17, 2016

Continuing on with an attempt to test out the compositional dictum known as ‘the rule of thirds’, which was conceived and named by John Thomas Smith in 1797 :

“. . .  Analogous to this “Rule of thirds”, (if I may be allowed so to call it) I have presumed to think that, in connecting or in breaking the various lines of a picture, it would likewise be a good rule to do it, in general, by a similar scheme of proportion; for example, in a design of landscape, to determine the sky at about two-thirds ; or else at about one-third, so that the material objects might occupy the other two : Again, two thirds of one element, (as of water) to one third of another element (as of land); and then both together to make but one third of the picture, of which the two other thirds should go for the sky and aerial perspectives. . . “

To illustrate its basics…..

ruke of thirds

Once again, this is the drawing I did initially, to put this into practice….

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And this is the first go at painting the scene….

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And now today, here is the progress so far, attempting to locate some visual interest at each of the four intersections within the piece, the barn being the first and the pine being the second and the creekbed being the third…..

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The darkest darks and greatest contrast will remain with the barn, for that is the intended focus for the picture, when completed.

The ‘rule of thirds’, as stated above, holds that generally two-thirds of a landscape be devoted to the sky, with one-third given to the land below (the sky being such a vast and dominant feature).  In this case two-thirds is dedicated to the land and a very high horizon means that the one third is devoted to the sky area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…..downtown, phase 2

November 9, 2015

The Plaza Hotel (completed in 1928) is a five story Spanish Colonial Revival building in downtown Kamloops BC, Canada. It is listed as a cultural heritage site in the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

ThePlaza

As is so often the case when seeking out subjects for painting, the postcard view isn’t usually very interesting.

The photo used for reference for this watercolour was taken from the rear alley of The Plaza.

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In view is the old Fire Hall tower, with belfry, 73 ft, built in 1935 at a cost of $24,500, when Kamloops had a population of approximately 6,000 (population today is about 100,000).  It remains a distinctive landmark.

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The decision to cast the subject in Winter has to do with wanting to bring some drama to the scene due to there being an overly abundant amount of sky.  Pigeons have also been added to give more visual interest.

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Because the hotel is a very light orange, (which gives off a bit of a pink cast in late afternoon), the sky is a wash of quin red, quin yellow and ultramarine blue in order to help incorporate the tones of the building into the rest of the painting.  So quin red and quin yellow will be used as the shade of the hotel as the painting progresses.

…..downtown

October 31, 2015

Growing up in the 50s, we lived in a treed suburb of Rochester, New York (home of Eastman Kodak, Bausch and Lomb), but my father was a Pastor of a poor, post-WWII German refugee, inner city Church next to the Greyhound bus depot.  My fascination with the grittier side of Rochester’s downtown must have come from how much more interesting it was compared with the staid predictability of houses and lawns and more houses and more lawns where we lived.

Sneaking away during the sermon, I’d scout out the alleyways of crumbling late 19th century brick tenements with their fascinating tangle of iron fire escapes doubling as fasteners for clotheslines, festooned with gingham tablecloths and sheets and jeans.  Labyrinths of back-doored kitchens, cooks smoking, observing me in my too-small Sunday navy suit, an out-of-place kid trying to look nonchalant and part of the scene.

Luckily for me, Kamloops has that kind of feel.  It is a railroad hub, cow ranchers beyond that–a labourer’s city–begun in 1812 as an outpost of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and has enough Western wear and roughness that some citizens feel our downtown still lacks class.  By ‘class’ they mean there aren’t enough designer boutiques and specialty shops.

This is the start of a painting of downtown from behind one of the old hotels. . . .

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Downtown Kamloops, B. C. Canada

The intention here is to make this a Christmasy, snowy subject, and its progress will be followed as the days go by.

“. . . The Harry Potter series borrowed ancient Celtic views towards the European Mountain Ash also called the Rowan Tree. The Celts and other people of early British Isles thought the tree had magical properties. Its powers were to protect you from witchcraft, one of two reasons why it is also called Witchwood. The other reason is a pucker at the end of the fruit reminds some of a pentagram which is associated with witchery.”

“As one might think, animals also know the mountain ashes as food. It is a favored browse of moose and white-tailed deer. Bears, fishers and martens like it as well as snowshoe hares, squirrels, small woodland rodents, the ruffed grouse, ptarmigans, sharp-tailed grouse, blue grouse, American robins, thrushes, waxwings, and jays. . . ”  http://www.eattheweeds.com/mountain-ash-rowan/

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“American Blue Jays and Mountain Ash”, watercolour on Arches Hot Press 140# Paper, original available for purchase $85US (unframed, excluding postal charges), 5.5″ x 11.5″

From Canadian Author Sarah B. Hood [http://www.sarahbhood.com/]

“. . . A couple of years ago I made the wonderful discovery that the common ornamental tree I know as Mountain Ash is the fabled rowan tree, revered in the mythology of northern lands for its protective and divinatory properties. I was told about it by the mother of a friend who also informed me that rowan jelly is the traditional accompaniment to twelfth-cake in the Christmas season.

I have since looked at many different recipes for rowan berry jelly, and note that most of them advise one not to make jelly until the berries have been frozen (either on the tree or in the freezer), since this makes them sweeter. Apparently raw mountain ash berries can be toxic (I remember my father complaining that they were so acidic that they could eat holes in cars), but heat and freezing both change the chemical structure of the acids they contain.

Here’s a recipe that I’ve used. It came to a lovely set and a great colour, like rosé wine. The taste is something like a cross between grapefruit peels and cranberries: bitter, but tasty.”

Rowan Berry Jelly Recipe
Makes about 3 cups

  • About 4 cups of berries which have been frozen (unfrozen berries are very bitter)
  • About 1 cup of water
  • ¼ cup of lemon juice
  • About 1½ cups of natural pectin from apples (You can substitute commercial pectin, but you’ll have to change the quantity of sugar according to their instruction for a similar recipe such as grape jelly.)
  • About 3 cups of sugar
Day One
  1. Rinse berries and remove stray leaves, stems and shriveled berries
  2. Barely cover them with water and heat them to the boiling point, then cover and simmer until they have completely dissolved. You can use a potato masher to reduce them to a pea soup-like mush, as pictured below.
  3. Strain through a jelly bag. Hang the bag overnight to catch all the liquid, but do not squeeze the bag.

Day Two
  1. Use a turkey baster or pour carefully to extract the rowan berry juice without any sediment that may have collected. It should come to about 1½ cups (top up with extra apple juice if necessary).
  2. In a wide, deep non-reactive pot, combine rowan berry juice, apple pectin, sugar and lemon juice and bring to a rolling boil. It may be rather scummy, so skim if you like.
  3. When it reaches the setting point, ladle into jars and process for ten minutes.
  4. Label and date the jars, and refrigerate any jars that don’t seal.

venice challenge 3

August 14, 2015

It is so affirming when blogging friends don’t find details about paint pigments and their sedimentation arcane.  One can easily picture guests around a table nodding-off face-first into their creme-brulee.

In the Renaissance, clay earth from Siena, Tuscany,  (Terra di Siena, “Siena ground”) rich in iron oxide and manganese oxide was used for pigments.  In its natural state, is a yellowish clay, and becomes raw sienna as a pigment.  When heated up, it turns reddish brown and becomes burnt sienna.

However, due to its being heated up, there is a variety of watercolour burnt sienna shades and hues among the various manufacturers because some heat it a little more, some a little less, making it somewhat more or less ‘burnt’.

burnt seinna options

http://janeblundellart.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/watercolour-comparisons-4-burnt-sienna.html

Ultramarine and burnt sienna will be the two colours for the whole piece with the exception of a bit of Rose Madder and Quin Gold for the more distant buildings.  Doing so (almost) guarantees integration.  That is because a viewer’s eye will find a colour harmony whenever the pallet is limited, as no one colour or tone will be glaringly different from the rest.

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stage two

Focal points are achieved in limited-pallet paintings through value contrast (the dark windows against the lighter walls), rather than by there being a glaringly-different colour thrown in.  That said, some of the early masters used a glaringly-different colour to great visual effect, as in Corot, whose ‘signature’ accent was the use of a dash of scarlet in an otherwise integrated landscape….

jean_baptiste_camille_corot_b1147_paturage_dans_les_marais_small    woman-picking-flowers-in-a-pasture  Souvenir-du-Pont-de-Mantes

JEAN-BAPTISTE-CAMILLE COROT (1796 – 1875)

(sources for ‘burnt sienna’ from Jane Blundell and Wikipedia)


			

venice challenge 2

August 12, 2015

The ongoing quest to interpret in watercolour a photo of Venice by Frank Dwyer of our local Kamloops Photo Arts Club has begun to take shape with a decision to take this 11.5cm x 16.5cm image and paint it as bigger–28cm x 25.5cm (11″ x 14″) –simply because a miniature of such a complex scene might prove less successful.

venice001

So here goes….

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Arches Hot Press #140 lb. Paper, stretched and stapled onto gatorboard, then taped.

As much as the photo (entitled ‘The Blue Umbrella’) reveals damp pavement and the umbrella-holding couple, the sky isn’t quite as rainy-looking as perhaps it can be made to be for artistic interpretation purposes.  So ultramarine blue and burnt sienna were applied to the whole of the sky as a wash.

Ultramarine Blue has a nice quality of being one of the ‘granulating’ pigments of watercolour.  Its origins stem from the grinding of lapis lazuli, and received its name from the Latin ‘ultramarinus’ (meaning ‘beyond the sea’) .

So treasured and prized by the early painters, ground lapis (from Afghanistan, principally) was used by the painters of early icons as the garments for The Blessed Virgin.  (When The Holy Mother is depicted, her robes are red.)

In 1826 a synthetic version was created which itself derives from a mineral compound, lazurite, and is today the most complex of all pigments.  Being a ground mineral, ultramarine produces sediment that dries in a granular way when mixed with water.

To get this effect, however, the painter must apply ultramarine as a wash so the sediment can, in fact, separate and settle to create granulization.  That is why, then, the sky dropped into the first stage of the painting appears granulated and gives a kind of antique look.  If ultramarine is applied with only a bit of water, or straight from the tube (yikes), it will not granulate as such.

Some watercolourists are so avid about granulization, they buy a granulating medium from Daniel Smith, which, when mixed with most any watercolour paint, granulates.  However, the natural granulating pigments are raw umber, burnt umber, raw sienna, and some brands of burnt sienna.  That is because they come from the earth, and earth leaves sediment.

All of this material comes from a variety of sources, including http://janeblundellart.blogspot.com.au/ — (a very thorough and devoted watercolourist from Australia).

venice challenge 1

August 9, 2015

Our local Kamloops Photo Arts Club is doing a joint arts project with our Kamloops Courthouse Gallery, involving the pairing of chosen art photographs with various art media interpretations based on the photo.

At one of our meetings we sat around large tables with a great many photographs strewn about, and at a given moment were invited to select ones which struck us as exciting to base our own work on.  Jan, who is a weaver, selected photos which spoke to her about textures and colours.  Others went with shapes, values, composition.

As a student of representational painting technique, almost all of the photographs were appealing due to their rich tones and lively views.  One in particular was very striking because it involved architecture and rain and water, and an exemplary scene from that painter’s perennial eye-trap, Venice–a place so overly painted, yet so eternally attractive.

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“Blue Umbrella”, 11.5cm x 16.5cm (4.5″ x 6.5″), Frank Dwyer KPAC, 2014

Choices had to be made immediately about size, complexity (whether to simplify while not messing with the integrity of the scene), wetness/dryness (very rainy? or as is), attention to detail (loose interpretation, or ala the photo itself), type of paper, and selection of pallet (minimal number of colours, or full compliment), overall tonal value (to keep it dark or go for something less so).

There is a website where its blogger goes to great and tremendously helpful lengths to demonstrate the qualities of particular watercolour colours when mixed together.  Her name is Jane Blundell http://janeblundellart.blogspot.com.au/.  When wanting to know what might work well as a pallet, she never fails but to provide great choices.  So it was through her that the combination of Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna was selected as the backbone for this challenging photo/watercolour project.

49 Burnt sienna +ultramarine

combination of visual effects possible when combining burnt sienna and ultramarine blue, Jane Blundell: Watercolour Comparisons 4 – burnt sienna

This visual and written saga will continue as progress is (slowly) made on this.  If all is well, the painting and the photograph will be displayed side-by-side in The Main Gallery of The Old Courthouse, Kamloops, B. C. for the month of November. (www.kamloopscourthousegallery.ca)

composition woes….

May 3, 2015

MY GREATEST CHALLENGE when painting anything is composition.  For years I felt I was being a ‘purist’, insisting that I always paint on location, never in a studio setting.  And once at the location, I convinced myself that if a tree was in that spot, then that was how it needed to be depicted.

IT WAS ALL DUE TO my tendency to early-on stop referring to the subject in front of me and become more and more involved in what was happening on paper, to the point where I may as well have not been on location at all.  So in an effort at self-discipline, I decided that not only should I paint what things actually look like, I shouldn’t muck around with how and where ‘mother nature’ placed them.

THE SILLY THING WAS, I ended up choosing a composition by default because of course, I couldn’t paint everything my eyes saw in front of me.  And more often than not, it was not a good composition.  So now, not only do I go to some lengths to study the skill of creating an interesting arrangement, I realise it is the painter’s task to take what ‘mother nature’ provides and make art out of that.  Fences do need to be repositioned, as do trees and hills and clouds.

SO NOW I MAKE thumbnail studies first on matt board before beginning anything . . .

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THE OBJECTIVE is to provide a focal point, a visual way in towards it, then additional visual interest so the eye has more to discover by wandering beyond the subject itself.  These thumbnails are exploring the use of a compositional figure ‘Z’ shape to lead the eye of the viewer.

 

 

 

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“Logged-In”, 25.5 cm x 35.5 cm (10″ x 14″),  Watercolour on Arches 140 lb Hot Press paper, (donated to Kamloops Art Gallery Annual Art Auction)

THESE ARE BEEF COWS, Herefords, the breed most favoured by ranchers in our region.  Their origins descend from small red cattle introduced by The Romans in ancient Britain, along with breeds from old Wales, their subsequent nurtured evolution taking place in Herefordshire where the Hereford is king.  Today more than five million pedigree Hereford cattle exist in over 50 countries.

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BECAUSE THE LARGE FALLEN CEDAR is indicated with only a minimum of brushwork it is necessary to help give it size, weight and substance through the simple use of shadow.

THE SUBJECT MATTER  comes from this photo, very quickly taken when we’d stopped the car on the dirt road running through The Dewdrop Valley (just outside the city limits of Kamloops) after I’d yelled, ‘Cows!’

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This grouping was described to me by my friend Max as a perfect example of a bull and his harem–and the ‘harem’ got nervous and didn’t remain in place very long once I began snapping pictures.  The bull couldn’t have cared less what I was up to, and just lay there chewing.

The very prominent tree in the painting is placed to provide focus.  Rather than leave in the barbed wire fence (in front of them), a natural enclosure is placed behind to sneak a storyline into the scene (the best grass lies out of reach)—that, and taking out the wire fence gives a more natural feel to the setting.

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 IN THIS GRASS RICH region, cattle roam all over boulder-strewn and mountainous terrain throughout the Spring and Summer.  They are finally rounded up on horseback in classic cowboy style in the Autumn.  Because of this, the beef from Kamloops is renowned for its organic, grass fed superior flavour and quality.

THE PAPER IN USE HERE  is a very smooth-surfaced one called Hot Press (140 lb.) by the French Company, Arches (a very old watercolour paper maker).  Hot Press paper has virtually no surface texture at all and is slightly cream-toned.  When papers are this smooth, the paint initially floats on top before being absorbed.  This floating quality creates effects a rough surfaced paper can’t deliver.

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So Hot Press paper looks and feels pretty much like dollar store poster paper–smooth, shiny, and about the same thickness.  And because it is not a heavy paper, and because it is so smooth, Hot Press watercolour paper cannot take a lot of scrubbing out if mistakes are made.  The painter needs to be rather confident about the strength and amount of pigment to use before putting brush to paper.  So because I am always a bit tentative when beginning to paint something as challenging as an animal, I gain confidence by always having a scrap piece of watercolour paper handy to try things out on first.  Once I see how to do it on a scrap piece of paper, then I have confidence to do the same thing on the painting itself. 

It needs to be stressed that Arches paper is superb and bears absolutely no comparison to poster paper when paint is applied to it.  The weight (140 lb) is how thick the paper is.  300 lb. paper is very thick and therefore can take a lot more scrubbing and multiple washes, without losing luminosity.  The downside is that 300 lb. watercolour paper is quite a bit more expensive.  And when I work on very expensive paper, I am too aware of its cost.  That makes me somewhat nervous about possibly ruining the painting.  So I usually choose 140 lb. paper because if it gets ruined, I am not that concerned, and so therefore approach the painting with more boldness which gives a better result.

 

THE DEWDROP VALLEY is a local site and part of a much larger area near Tranquille River and the Tranquille River Gorge.  In essence, the Dewdrop is really rocky, hilly, grass-and-tree- covered pasture for cows and cattle during the Spring and Summer months.  The Kamloops Thompson Nicola Shuswap Region is no-nonsense cowboy rancher country, complete with serious Rodeos and horse and rider cattle round-ups in the Autumn.

This is the first of recording daily progress towards completing a watercolour depicting a typical scene in The Dewdrop Valley . . . . 

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ON DISPLAY are a fine collection of tortured brushes.  Some are from dollar stores or second hand bargain stores, and as soon as they get into the spare bedroom cum studio they’re cut up with scissors.  None of them cost more than $2, and who knows what they’re made of–Moose? Sasquatch hair, perhaps.  Each, however, is priceless.

 

 

BECAUSE WATERCOLOUR is such a watery, transparent, delicate medium–one which must always allow the paper it’s laid on top of to breathe through it–one which traditionally doesn’t use white pigment, but relies on the paper to be the white of the painting–BECAUSE of this (and more) the challenge of the watercolour student is to convey an illusion of texture, without the ability to actually build up a surface texture.

WERE WATERCOLOUR PIGMENT applied so thickly as to create an impasto-like texture on the paper beneath, it would lose its luminosity and look pasty, muddy, dull–worse, it would crack.  Watercolour pigment only works when the paper beneath dazzles through it and brings life to the pigmentation.  In other words, watercolour as a medium is more the business of staining paper than it is a business of building up layers and coats of daubs, stipples, slatherings.

THAT’S WHY CARE is required to not apply so many washes that the luminosity of the paper receeds and eventually provides no life at all.  And that’s why the whites of the paper must be thoughtfully reserved and left untouched in key areas–the crests of waves; the moon; snow; clouds; a picket fence–and skill taken to paint AROUND these places to let the paper be the white.

SO….a student of watercolour (me) learns early-on that (s)he will be a student of the medium for life–that mastery is illusive–and failures, many.  A good piece is approached very thoughtfully, noting where the paper will be left to serve the function of white (pigment) and painted around.  Then the student will also have to gather enough courage to apply exceedingly dark washes in one ‘go’, while maintaining a sense of secure, carefree animation in order to present an immediacy and liveliness in the final piece.

THE DEATHKNELL of a failing, dying work of watercolour is finicky overworking of areas, and a refusal to accept what happened when water joined pigment joined brush joined paper.  It is NOT a medium for those who love to micro-manage or be in control.

THE STUDENT OF WATERCOLOUR has to be more a Peter Pan than a child wanting to grow up–loving the thrill of what happens when ‘danger’ is courted, yet having the assurance that daring will win the day.  However, that daring and search for adventure–on the surface of a good piece of paper–will only be pulled off if it is backed by enough experience to have a good hunch about what will happen when such-and-such is tried.

ATTEMPTING what remains beyond one’s ability isn’t courting danger–it is ignoring it.  Trying to fly without thinking happy thoughts will give a person a broken bone.  Within the bounds of representational art–(i.e. wishing to have a tree ‘look like’ a tree)–a painter cannot ‘pull off’ a landscape with lots of shadows if (s)he has yet to study them in some depth.  Trying to do a scene which includes far far more than what one yet learned how to interpret is an invitation to frustration and wanting to give up watercolour for say, acrylics (oh, my).

AND SO FOR MYSELF, I know by this time that I must confine my attentions to learning about how corn grows, what it feels like, looks like, behaves like, before I can throw my abandonment into rendering a watercolour of winter corn in January.  Not only that, but I must also have studied the qualities of snow–the qualities of what a winter sun does to shadows of corn stalk–the blues, the purples.  And only then can a learned abandonment bring about a possible reward.

IT TAKES A LONG TIME to find the right paper, the right brushes, the right working pallet of colours, the right approach and the right subject matter.  Knowing what can be done when paper is sopping wet–and what can’t–depends on who made the paper, how thick it is, how textured it is, how stretched it is, how quickly it will dry.  Knowing when to wait until the paper is exactly wet or damp or dry enough to throw one’s energies at it, comes (usually) through ruining (many pieces of) good paper.

HERE IS THE LATEST DEVELOPMENT of the subject of Jamieson Creek in a February thaw…..

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TOMORROW will (hopefully) provide a photo of the finished piece!

 

 

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JAMIESON CREEK is about a 15 minute drive from our home, along a dirt logging road.  The Kamloops, British Columbia, region is a geologist’s dream come true, featuring some of the oldest mountains in Canada.  As a student of watercolour, I am fascinated by stone and rock, particularly because it is so challenging as a subject.

 

This is Jamieson Creek, taken four years ago around February, early March….

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And here is my initial drawing of the subject…..

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As you can already see, photography is not my gift (which is why I paint, lol)–so forgive the darkness.  It was taken, pre-dawn in the spare room which serves as a studio.

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