Slowly adding color

This turkey is really fascinating and I am slowly trying to work out what strokes and colors to lay on top of each other. This feels like an ideal subject for watercolor over any other medium. This will remain a slow project. I want to get a few more paintings going, some of which should be faster. I enjoy the detailed work, but can only focus on it for so long at a time.

Thanks for reading.


Starting another turkey, some thoughts on paints

After a short break, I got back to painting yesterday with a new turkey. I am also trying out a few new paints: W&N Permanent Alizarin Crimson (PR 206), Sennelier Red (PR254), and Sennelier Yellow Sophie (PY93). I like the Sennelier paints a lot for their vibrancy, consistency, how easily they activate, and for the 21ml tubes, which are a great value. They won’t make up my whole palette–they don’t have some of my preferred pigments–but I have found myself checking their list first when searching for paints unless there’s a special color I need, such as W&N cerulean blue, which seems to be everyone’s favorite cerulean.

I am looking forward to working more on this turkey. There are some really fascinating oddities on the beak and forehead, with some nice lighting or the face and under the chin.

Thanks for reading

Link: The Atlantic City Makers Summit

On Tuesday morning a friend and I had the pleasure of being in the audience for the City Makers Summit put on by The Atlantic. The focus was workforce development strategies in American cities, but that was really just the anchor for broader discussions on where and how we live and work, and what challenges and opportunities we face. It’s too much to summarize quickly here, and I am still thinking through the incredibly rich (but also intelligently accessible) program–in the three hours of the event I felt like I got the equivalent of an entire college course.

If you’re interested in you can see video of the event here.The show is broken down into segments, so you don’t need three free hours in a row. The opening interview with the mayor of Atlanta is especially good. And in the final segment, the President of UMBC has some great insights into STEM and the continuing value of the humanities. I got so much out of the event, I hope some of you find it interesting as well.

Technical recap of the turkey


IMG_3454.JPGThank you for all the great comments on this painting. This was a real learning effort for me, and I think it helped me push myself further in the right direction, and quickly too. I feel much more confident about my painting with the new year barely underway. Based on some comments, and with a thanks to David Tripp for asking specifically about the background, here’s a rundown of what paints I used and how I approached this.


Cobalt Blue (PB28)–Daniel Smith
Prussian Blue (PB27)–MaimeriBlu
Verzino VIolet (PR122)–MaimeriBlu
Perylene Maroon (PR179)–Daniel Smith
Yellow Lake, aka, Nickel Azo Yellow or Transparent Yellow (PY150)–Sennelier
Lemon Yellow (PY175)–Daniel Smith
Viridian Green (PG18+PG7)–Sennelier
Titanium White Gouache– M. Graham


Escoda Optimo #12 Kolinsky Sable (Just on the background)
Princeton Neptune #12 (just on the background)
W&N Series 7 #4 and #2 on the bird
Isabey Pocket Red Sable #6 (softer than the Series 7, and slighly bigger than the #4) on the bird

The Background:

I used all the above colors except lemon yellow, in roughly this order.

Step 1: Wash of Yellow Lake

Step 2: Mix Prussian Blue and Verzino Violet to make a very dark, rich purple, and lay that on top.

Step 3: Unevenly applied Viridian

Step 4: Unevenly applied Perylene Maroon

Step 5: To bring out darks I layered a mix of Prussian Blue and Perylene Maroon.

Steps 6-8: Some more Yellow Lake, Cobalt, and Viridian applied separately. I did this just to make sure I would have spots of colors in the background I would return to on the bird.

Because those are mixes of staining and granulating paints, with each application there was some mild removal or displacement of some earlier layers. This is why I switch to the Neptune brush later on, and also why some color variation came through pretty well.

The darkest darks were mixed with Prussian Blue and Perylene Maroon as the core colors, but had a few others mixed in to shift the mix.

The Bird:

I tried to channel John Singer Sargent’s watercolor portrait work for the use of brushstrokes and color variations.

For colors, I primarily used Perylene Maroon, Cobalt Blue, Prussian Blue, and Verzino Violet, accented with the other colors. I honestly can’t remember much about how I did this because I just had a few palette spaces going where I would just mix various colors in to shift the colors, so even if I say I mixed Cobalt Blue and Verzino Violet, there was other stuff in there toning down all the mixes and giving them harmony. The turkey is pretty incredible for all the little color variations, and I tried to bring them out here. Throwing in spots of green and yellow was an important realization that I think make a big difference. This is essentially a “primary” color painting, with red, yellow, and blue factoring strongly. Adding some of the “fourth primary” (green) helped to balance it and add interest. At the very end I used some Titanium White gouache to bring out some highlights in the eye and on the feathers. Another nod to Sargent.

For the marks on the paper, I wanted this to have the texture that would come from a mix of small washes and brush strokes. For the most part, I washed, removed with a towel, washed again to get some basic tones right (like the warm light under the chin), and then worked with brush strokes and little dabs and micro-washes of color on top. I had to decide on the most important areas to focus (around the eye, the warmth under the chin), and then make sure the rest worked with that.

Thanks again for following along with me on this one. I have a few ideas to get started on for more paintings this week, so I hope to get at least some preliminary drawings up over the next few days.

Is the turkey done?

My wife and I got some time to paint side by side for once, and I pushed this turkey a little further, darkening the neck, painting the odd bumps on the side, and modifying the shades feathers behind the neck. Is it done? This is the most detailed watercolor I’ve done, so it’s hard to say. If this were a landscape I’d leave it as is. Time to start something else and let this one sit for a while.


Some Thoughts on Art and Truth, Finished Monument Painting

IMG_3440.JPG“For the ancient Egyptians, exactitude was symbolized by a feather that served as a weight on scales used for the weighing of souls. This light feather was called Maat, goddess of the scales. The hieroglyph for Maat also stood for a unit of length–the 33 centimeters of the standard brick–and for the fundamental note of the flute.”

Italo Calvino, Exactitude, from Six Memos for the Next Millennium

In the goddess Maat, the ancient Egyptians tie together self/soul, architecture, and art. I like this intersection because it gets at some of the different ways we try to understand (and shape) our place in the world (individually and culturally). Maybe I’m assigning a little too much to the idea, but I’ve looked to this feather concept as important to me, and the intersection of all sorts of things (art, architecture, self being only some of the points to consider) is a fundamental tenet of my approach to thought/work/whatever (think about/do a lot at once, let the intersections reveal themselves, recognize when they do, and build off of that, which is probably just a long-winded way of saying divergent thought). I’m just now getting this in painting by working simultaneously on several watercolors, though that list of simultaneous works has dwindled now that I finished this one, posted above, and the Pavese sketch last week.

I recall a debate in one of my writing classes when I was in a masters program–I imagine this debate a very common one–about types of truth in writing. I don’t think anyone really posited the right terms for it in class, but the basic sides for the sake of argument were between accuracy and truth, the idea being you could be accurate, but untrue, accurate, but missing the point. I wasn’t too keen on the discussion in class because it seemed to be poorly cast, and perhaps needed to be worked out in writing over time. But I’ve thought about it in different ways over the years, and another way of looking at it might be in terms of accuracy by the wrong measure, like using ounces instead of feathers. Perhaps you could say that art is about understanding and conveying truth as measured by feathers. Or maybe better, about the pursuit of understanding and conveyance of truth as measured by feathers. Or, even simpler (but with the same meaning?): Art is the pursuit of truth as measured by feathers.

I guess this leaves the how part of this line of thought to technique and style, which I am (and will be for a long time) still working through. As my skill improves, so too should my ability to measure with feathers.

As for this work, I did it in two sessions, laying in the sky and buildings with french ultramarine, burnt sienna, cerulean blue, and nickel azo yellow. Today I put some broken clouds/fog on top of the sky laid in last weekend, then finished with the trees, blotting out paint to get the fog and steam effects. The trees were done with perylene maroon, viridian, french ultramarine, burnt sienna, and nickel azo yellow. I could probably have done this with fewer pigments, but it worked out pretty well

I did whole painting with my Escoda Versatil #10 round. I like that brush because it allows for precision work, expressive brush strokes (the trees are mostly with the tip), and broken effects with the side of the brush. It’s not so good for washes, but I wet the paper first and used the brush to its best advantage but having broken applications of paint blend with the wet paper. It’s been fun getting to know my tools better so I can take advantage of their strengths and weaknesses.

I will likely be back at the turkey painting next, but I also want to get a few more new paintings started. Just not sure what yet.

Thanks for reading.

Wrapping up the Pavese watercolor sketch

There comes a time when we take into account the fact that everything we do will become a memory in due course. That is maturity. To reach it, you must have memories.

Cesare Pavese, Diaries, 10.1.1944

Narrating incredible things as though they were real–the old system. Narrating realities as though they were incredible–the new.

Cesare Pavese, Diaries, 11.11.1943

I’m closing out this Pavese watercolor sketch with two quotes from his diary that sum up his writing pretty well. The latter point especially is one that resonates with me, as it informed my writing style (if you’re curious, you can see it here).

To finish this sketch, I researched some Wyeth watercolors to help figure out the table color (Cerulean blue, cobalt teal blue, ivory black, cobalt blue over a mix of a light, bland reddish brown). This seems to bring out some extra interest in the arrangement and feels suitable for Pavese’s melancholy brilliance. After laying in the base of cerulean and cobalt teal I sanded it down to make it look more aged, then painted the shadow. I also scraped out the edges of the book where the cover was wearing out.

I’m wondering if I should exagerate some white highlights for more interest, but I will leave it as it for now. This is a very small work–5×7–and I’ve probably overworked it enough already.

And by an odd coincidence, Pantone’s color if the year is Marsala, which is strikingly similar to the dominant color in this sketch. How trendy.

Thanks for reading.

Revisiting the Monument, working with Dad

I return to work tomorrow after a nice holiday break, so I am trying to build up an inventory on in-progress works so I can tinker with them during the weeks ahead.

I liked that Washington Monument painting I did a month or so ago for my Dad, and wanted to give it a try again in a different composition. The clouds and the mist were really interesting. Above is the beginning of the new one.

I want to keep a lot of paintings going on at the same time so I, and you my readers, don’t get bored with any of them and so I keep some momentum going. This one is taking on a pretty old style feel, but once the bent pines come in, it will get a little more interesting.

With the last few works I am shifting my approach to get a little more patient, to build the works up more. My drawing skills are improving, as are my abilities and confidence with the paint. Last year I was trying to work more aggressively, and I will retain that, but I think I worked a little too fast, was too free, and so might have missed some opportunities. A little more deliberation this year will be important.

Today I was working side by side with my Dad, who is getting back into fine art. He’s going to be working this up into a conte crayon drawing, but here’s his underdrawing.


Thanks for reading.

Moving Along with Pavese and My Wife’s New Blog

What is the real reason we want to be big, creative geniuses? For posterity? No. To be pointed out when we stroll in crowded places? No. To carry on with our daily toil under the conviction that whatever we do is worth the trouble, is something unique. For the day, not for eternity.

Cesare Pavese, Diaries, 7.1.1947

I’m coming to the end of this small Pavese watercolor sketch. I need to let it dry so I can sort out the final shadows and details on the mug. I’m also thinking about what color the table should be. Something with a greenish tint to make the red stand out more, or is there a better color than that? I need to think on that. I also need to scratch out the age of the book. It’s good to save something for tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’m excited to say that my wife started a blog today, and it promises to be pretty great (of course, I have a strong bias in her favor). She does pretty much everything–woodworking, fine art, design, fiber arts, food, gardening, running (a couple marathons, a Tuff Mudder, and counting), and she’ll cover all of that. Check it out here.

Thanks for reading.