My steps of creating a dramatic watercolor painting

I am often asked how I create a  transparent watercolor of a botanical subject that has that "magic", so I will go through the steps that I take.

My subject is a marvelous pinkish mutant variety of the lovely Cereus Peruvianus that we have had for many years in a big pot by our back door.  Its stunning fragrant flowers only bloom for but one night and one day in the late summer , and always cause me to stop in my tracks to gaze in awe at its ephemeral beauty.

 

 

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 1. I start with some sketches of the flower, and then proceed to a value sketch: a study in shades of gray. This step is essential! In the final painting, the colors are much less relevant in the design than the design of value blocks. Try several thumbnail sketches to nail down the best design.

1. I start with some sketches of the flower, and then proceed to a value sketch: a study in shades of gray. This step is essential! In the final painting, the colors are much less relevant in the design than the design of value blocks. Try several thumbnail sketches to nail down the best design.

 2. A small color study precedes the larger than life final watercolor. Here the bumblebee and a daylight setting do not have the dramatic punch that I want, so I make changes and move to a larger than life final sketch.

2. A small color study precedes the larger than life final watercolor. Here the bumblebee and a daylight setting do not have the dramatic punch that I want, so I make changes and move to a larger than life final sketch.

 3. A very careful drawing, twice life size of the actual bloom , is transferred onto a sheet of rag watercolor paper, and then a mask is put around the sky area. The night sky is then layered in.

3. A very careful drawing, twice life size of the actual bloom , is transferred onto a sheet of rag watercolor paper, and then a mask is put around the sky area. The night sky is then layered in.

 4. Transparent layers of color are gradually added to the flower petal and arms of the cactus.

4. Transparent layers of color are gradually added to the flower petal and arms of the cactus.

 5. We are almost done! I look at the large watercolor upside down and see that we are now ready to add the stars and move to completion!  The final product is at the top of the post!

5. We are almost done! I look at the large watercolor upside down and see that we are now ready to add the stars and move to completion!

The final product is at the top of the post!

Festival Mozaic Featured Artist 2018

This coming year's 2018 Festival Mozaic Music Festival has the theme "Music Without Borders." I was pleased to be chosen as the featured artist, tasked to create the signature painting for the festival which will be utilized on posters and other publicity materials. The original 24x30 inch cradled panel will be auctioned during the festival. 

 The final piece

The final piece

Children’s Museum Saber Toothed Cat Exhibit Revamp

 This week I was tasked with revamping  the sabertooth cat dig site exhibit at the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum. To begin , the new skull was a fixed onto the old Sabertooth Cat  skeleton slab, and then I began repairing the substrate and outlining  the “fleshed out” body. 

 Prep work on the Saber Toothed Cat Slab

Prep work on the Saber Toothed Cat Slab

 The Initial Outline: changing hind leg position

The Initial Outline: changing hind leg position

The intention is to show children and parents how the bones , (with many missing from the old exhibit) and the surrounding tissue and fur become much larger than expected. These big cats were the top predators of Central California before the Ice Age , and towered above the size of children. 

 Day 3: The task of bringing to “life”  this Cat begins with research on what we know about this kitty and asking questions about its size, muscling , probable  tail positioning and “attitude”. 

Day 3: The task of bringing to “life”  this Cat begins with research on what we know about this kitty and asking questions about its size, muscling , probable  tail positioning and “attitude”. 

 March 2017 Concept Design Digital Sketch

March 2017 Concept Design Digital Sketch

I go back to the digital concept design that I drew on my Wacom tablet , using the old skull fragment with its missing giant incisors and the old wood block pieces that had held the left hind foot (missing) pieces. This original and damaged exhibit piece needed a bigger over haul: a new skull with incisors in place, empty wood block pieces removed and the tail repositioned to a more realistic and “perky” position, and more realistic color with coat color to match the facing mural that I had painted several years ago of the entire Saber Toothed Cat habitat. The original Cat bones  panel was designed to be a giant puzzle where the courious children could find the bone pieces in the dig site bark and then place them onto the bones exhibit. However, over the years many bones and fangs disappeared and some permanent bones on the wood blocks were gone.

The question was how to attractively fix the cement slab with some  bones reattached and how to paint I such a way the big kitty could come to life. I researched through all natural history museums and came up with this unique and more colorful solution of mixing together the incomplete bones along side the life-like painted illustration . Painting on top of textured cement is not easy, eating up my good brushes and challenging precise detail!

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The Saber Toothed Cat Habitat at the Dig Site exhibit. Children can dig through the bark and unearth  bones to touch  and talk about. This is what the San Luis Obispo landscape perhaps looked like 10,000 years ago!

 

 A detail of the original habitat  mural, with the Saber Toothed Cat smaller than in real life, but portrayed in a cave overlooking its prey that mostly became extinct during the Ice Age. Gone are the giant Dyer Wolves, the camels, the striped horses, the mastodons. Still present today are the turtle and birds: the quail, the great blue heron and condor! Isn’t this amazing of what life survived the Pleistocene!

A detail of the original habitat  mural, with the Saber Toothed Cat smaller than in real life, but portrayed in a cave overlooking its prey that mostly became extinct during the Ice Age. Gone are the giant Dyer Wolves, the camels, the striped horses, the mastodons. Still present today are the turtle and birds: the quail, the great blue heron and condor! Isn’t this amazing of what life survived the Pleistocene!

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A young visitor is charmed by the new skull with fangs, and remarks, “Big, big kitty! It could eat me!”

 Getting Done

Getting Done

The darker color on the background slab and more bones attached are giving more “pop” to the exhibit. I am making good progress and more people look at it with more vibrant color and detail! My years as a biological and botanical illustrator of books and other exhibits help make this less stressful, although the physical positions of crouching and leaning over is a real challenge!

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The next challenge: squeezing in behind the whole skull with my hand and brushes to indicate what a “fleshed out” dramatic  head might look like. This is a quickly painted initial  3/4 view sketch, and shows that the image will be distorted from a passing side view.  Perhaps there is no perfect solution for the frontal and side view of the head, so I will have to worry through a compromise painted solution. 

Now onto more painting! 

 Friday : The Saber Toothed Cat now has glowing backlit fur “outline “ and lots more detail to create drama and sense of reality; it is coming to life!  Public art, such as this exhibit piece of cast bones in cement and now augmented with pigment and real-life form, truly belongs to the viewers. Little people and their adult companions now can better imagine what prehistoric life was like. While painting these many hours, I have over heard many wonderful , creative interactions between the viewers and realize what a fine resource this Children’s Museum really is: bravo! It is great to be part of this endeavor and I wish that I had a spare spot for the children who wanted to help paint!

Friday : The Saber Toothed Cat now has glowing backlit fur “outline “ and lots more detail to create drama and sense of reality; it is coming to life!

Public art, such as this exhibit piece of cast bones in cement and now augmented with pigment and real-life form, truly belongs to the viewers. Little people and their adult companions now can better imagine what prehistoric life was like. While painting these many hours, I have over heard many wonderful , creative interactions between the viewers and realize what a fine resource this Children’s Museum really is: bravo! It is great to be part of this endeavor and I wish that I had a spare spot for the children who wanted to help paint!

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Monday: Added the finishing  touches on the Saber Toothed Cat and slab, bringing the exhibit to life. The small details of painting the  reflection on the lips and eyes, and fine backlit hairs are worth the extra effort.

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Done! I added my signature as small “future scientists” stopped to look and question, after their morning class. I wish that there were more spare bones so that this could be more of an interactive “ puzzle “exhibit , but hopefully this new revamp of the exhibit will work well.

Come see this new exhibit at the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum” and support their upcoming fundraiser.

I will donate a small mural to the auction this Friday, and invite contributions to this fine effort.