Monday, January 3, 2011

evolution of a painting

I think this one is done, or perhaps I should say I'm done with it. I'm not very good at doing practice paintings since if I'm not seriously involved in trying to get something just right I have a tendency to scribble. Nevertheless, there are a few techniques I need to work on so this is a practice painting done over the course of the past few days.

This is the first drawing from my notebook of a young girl sitting in a doorway. Well, the doorway idea didn't sound too interesting and the flowers were very uninspired.

However, I liked her enough to place her in another setting and replaced the flowers with a wary looking bunny and a lamp hanging from a branch when I transferred the drawing to the watercolor paper.

Before I began painting I got rid of the lamp and added a few magic bubble spheres. I've been trying to figure out how to paint glowing bubbles and seem to be making some progress.

It took me a day or two to paint in the background - really the biggest difference since I usually paint the central figure first and then paint and detail the rest. It felt strange painting in a way that was backwards for me, even though it's a more traditional method, but I think overall the result is okay.

I have to mention that right here was where I could have made some decisions that would have made the final painting a better one in my opinion. I should have left more light on her right side and darkened the left including the underside of the fungal seat. Oh well, it's practice.

I have a couple of large drawings that are interesting enough to turn into paintings but the big ones take weeks - it's rather like painting in miniature on a large scale. I need to tighten up my palette before I work on them and some others I have in mind so there will be more small ones as I get comfortable with color again. This is what I accomplished over the course of five days, which means it really is my first painting of 2011. I wish I'd scanned a few times in the between stages of painting but I was too caught up in the action :-) I've never posted a how I did it before so I hope you found it interesting.

We're always looking for that perfect note, aren't we? May we all make good progress in the coming year.


  1. you are right , you never have and i am so glad you's always a good thing to see how other artists do their thing and since you paint in a much different style from me, (i don't have one:), it's interesting to see the did a marvelous tree that i thought could have been the back of a marvelously large stag in the beginning the spheres and have put some buddhas in them...why not? imagination!! and how meticulous you are is amazing to me, don't vary ever and that is what i am not good at...i would like to tighten up but never will...

    this is so cute and i think she is going to be one of your best little children-fairy paintings...can't wait to see her all finished and glad to see color again too, delicious color. xoxox and now to bed i take my skinbag, it's late, too late says the rabbit she is holding. xxx

  2. The bubble spheres are what caught my fancy as I studied the painting (before reading your post). It fascinates me to see the progression of the work. That the girl wound up in a tree with that handsome bunny is totally wonderful!

  3. It IS interesting to see how you might go about it. Thanks for sharing that.

    You said,"...I could have made some decisions that would have made the final painting a better one in my opinion."

    I hear you saying,"...made the final painting DIFFERENT"

    I can't put good and bad, or better and best in what I see, only differences. Of course you're the author, painter, creator, and you'll assess your own work far more scrupulously than I would. I can't paint a lick!

    Anyway, another cutie, and she's sittin' in a tree. I love the glowing orbs. They look great. I focused on them now that you mentioned your uneasiness in drawing/painting them. They look fantastic.


  4. 'bout time you gave us a glimpse into the process. The glowing orbs, something will o' the wispy about it, but not in a nefarious, dark nether realms kind of way. Above ground Alice?

  5. You know I love process posts! This was was particularly interesting. As your work evolves, may we have more please?

  6. I like the bubble spheres! Poor rabbit, though...must be wondering what she plans on doing with him up in that tree. Perhaps a flying lesson? I hope not!

    As always, I'm overwhelmed with your talent.


  7. It is an utterly delightful piece Susan. Now for me to get my arse into gear and take some photos!

  8. Lovely! Thanks for sharing your process. We all develop our own ways of working things out and we can also sometimes learn from how others do it. Good on you for doing your painting already this early in the New Year.

  9. linda - I never have before and we'll just have to see what happens with the next one. I like your idea of the stag, like drawing them too, but the bun just seemed to fit the space :-) The problem I've always had with my meticulous style is that it's all too easy for me to kill the movement of the original drawing so I think a somewhat more fluid approach will make a big difference in the long run. Your style has certainly taught me that it's okay to be loose and get wonderful results.

    I'm so glad you like her and I hope you had a long lie-in this morning.
    btw - Buddhas in bubbles will come but I'll need bigger ones since my brushes can't get smaller.

    lydia - It may seem silly but translucent things are one of the most difficult things for me to paint in watercolor. I'm so glad you like this one.

    spadoman - My husband said the same thing about it being good as it is and could only have been different. Now I've accepted that and will just get on with the next one :-) Yes, I'm pretty demanding of myself as an artist but, just like any other craft or artform, practice and looking honestly is a big part of the process.

    Maybe next time I'll paint bigger bubbles.

    randal - Notice I posted the whole at once. I'd never dare to do this if the end result was terrible. I rather wish I could paint nether-world stuff but the best I can manage is a look of irony.

    lisa - I've done it before with the silks but never a painting. Of course, I'll do it again so long as they don't get so big they won't fit on the scanner bed.

    nunly - Thanks. You're right that the bun does indeed look a bit worried :-)

    jams - Glad you like it. Yes, that's the ticket - more pictures. I love your photos.

    marja-leena - Yes, I really enjoy seeing how people process their visions into finished pieces too. I wasn't really thinking about getting it done early in the year - that just happened but I'm glad you liked it.

  10. I thought I detected a sort of bemused look upon that rabbit's face but your description of "weary" sounds more like it!

    As I always say about a lot of your work - this style of yours with children and animals, painted that fanciful, whimsical way of yours, could stand up against illustrators who are are publishing. Though I've noticed a trend in the Caldecott books lately - not sure how to describe it, and I do like a lot of the newer ones like the fellow who created the NO, DAVID! stories and there is a series about a silly penguin (though I don't know if it's a Caldecott winner) and the Olivia stories. Your paintings have an older style charm to them. Like that of Rackham, perhaps? The names are not coming to me now and in any event, they style is your very own, just reminiscent to my eye and heart of a more nostalgic time in art and illustration and I love that.

  11. pagan sphinx - I like the bun. It was a nice surprise seeing some of Beatix Potter's rabbits on your blog yesterday.

    It's very kind of you to compare my work with prize winners. My most powerful early influences were the 19th and early 20th century watercolorists like Rackham, Sulamith Wulfing, Kay Nielson, Charles Robinson, and, of course, Edmund Dulac. I don't paint anything like they did but they are the ones I most hope to emulate.

  12. This painting was a lovely surprise when I finally got back online this morning. I didn't expect something this finished this soon after the other (the accordian player).

    It was marvelous and helpful to see how you achieve some of your affects by viewing the progression of images. I found that instructive, and some of what I learned will probably show up in my own painting or drawing.

    Comparing your different compositions, I understand each development - each was stronger than the former. It was fascinating to follow your thinking. For me most of the changes (even wholesale erasures) tend to happen on the same sheet. With hot press, and starting with light pencil work, this is possible. I hate to draw something over - I want to move on. Restless. I know there is more to learn and probably better results to be had with more discipline, but (like Linda) as much as I know that and even wish for it, I can't see me doing it. I admire it in others - like your work here.

    I see what you mean about the possibilities - more light on the right, darker under the mushroom (bracket), etc. Actually, when I look at your partial painting I thought of how the painting might have progressed if the girl remained more light and translucent, and the background were darker than she... But that's maybe more like my style and preferences - leaving so much of the light of the paper still showing. Paintings seem like trees to me - all those branches you might go down instead of the one you take.

    Like Lisa and Linda, I hope you do this again. It was useful to me.

  13. steve - I'm very glad you've been by to see this one. I tend to spend a lot of time refining drawings before I start to paint but the painting process often must be done quickly - particularly on hot press which stains very fast. A slightly too dark shade at the wrong moment and suddenly we're working on a picture we didn't expect to see. It's all part of the thrill of watercolor, isn't it? You've seen exactly what happened with this one when I continued painting after I lost the light and was growing tired. It's fine as it is but it could have been airier and I would have been better pleased. Long ago someone told me I use watercolor like most artists use oils but it works for me. Your light touch and exquisite designs are very beautiful.

  14. I'm glad to be following Steve's response - the whole idea of showing the process reminded me of his many examples of such, and of how things can transform as the process progresses.

    I like the transition of light to darker on the girl - it seems to affirm, if you will, the luminosity of the orbs on the left side of the painting.

    As an aside, and perhaps as an indictment of the way my mind works/fails to work, I hadn't even seen the fungus 'till you mentioned it. As I look at it longer, I think it's because the stronger lines of the tree stole the show for me (magnificently, I must say!)

    I could say many of these things about the photos I take - it's amazing (though not surprising) how much the two forms have in common, and how much I have to learn from those of you who wield brushes!

  15. cr - It seems your timing for a visit was just right for this one. Steve's observations about my paintings have invariably been very astute and his breadth of knowledge about artwork he enjoys is phenomenal.

    As often happens with my paintings, I've grown to like this particular one more now some time has passed and I'm no longer trying in my mind to make changes. There were parts I knew were just right - like the tree and the rabbit hunched down in her arms.

    I agree that good photographic images have very much in common with fine art. I think that has much to do with composition and how light moves to enhance the focal points. Both take vision, skill and practice. That's why I love your work and I don't say that to everybody.