Friday, March 23, 2012

Painting plant roots in watercolor: Rooting Spider Plant

Susan Avis Murphy    Rooting Spider Plant    image 10x14"
What houseplant can be propagated faster by rooting than the spider plant?!  I had a little spider plant offshoot that was wanting to grow roots, so I stuck it in a small glass vase and three weeks later I had a profusion of beautiful roots for still life painting!  Here is my original photo for this painting.  The spider plantlet was placed on a black fleece blanket on top of a table in bright indirect light.  I used the dark gray background in order to bring out the brightness of the greens and any subtle colors, like pinks, among the roots.
Spider Plant Roots original photo

Step 1.  I created an 8.5x11" black and white template on plain copy paper, and traced the image using Saral graphite transfer paper onto a quarter sheet of Arches 140 lb cold-pressed paper.
Spider Plant step 1
Step 2.  I masked only the brightest white spots with Daler-Rowney masking fluid, using my 50% ammonia trick to keep the brush from getting gummed up.  I will tell you more about my discovery concerning masking fluid in the next post...

Spider Plant step 2

Step 3.  Next I propped the painting about 2" high using a box of waxed paper, and I mixed up a large puddle of ultramarine blue with Hansa yellow and brown madder. My intention was to create an interesting granulating gray color.  I painted the entire background in one large wash, keeping the paper quite wet so that backruns would not form.  By propping up the board and always working off the bead of water at the bottom of the wash, you can keep the wash from forming back-runs.  Do not go back up and touch with water any parts near the upper half that are beginning to dry...
Spider Plant step 3

Step 4.  The background wash came out bluer than I had intended.  I will be going over the entire background again later.  Meanwhile, I started painting the leaves and colors in the water-filled vase.  I exaggerated a little any colors that I saw there (look back at the reference photo).  This is an exercise in negative painting since the roots are not masked out.
Spider Plant step 4
Step 4.  I continued with the leaves, making them bright and a yellow-green color so that they would be as bright as possible.  I washed in some yellow and ivory color for the roots, with a tinge of pink; painted more of the water (fairly dark since refraction is intensifying the color).  I started darkening the whole background with another wash of the same mixture, this time with more brown madder in it.  Since it would be hard to do that entire wash at one time, I stopped at the bottom and added some water to create a soft edge.  I can pick up there again later...
Spider Plant step 5
Step 6.  Here I have painted more of the roots.  First, though, I masked the smallest root hairs so that they would stand out against the thicker roots (could have done this in the beginning).  See the detail right below.  Also you can click on one image and they will all open up larger in another window.
Spider Plant step 6

Spider Plant step 6 close-up
Step 7.  Here I have added more darks and negative painting among the roots.  Also I have added two dark shadows on the right, representing rolls in the blanket.
Spider Plant step 7
Step 8.  And now I have added a few more details among the roots and leaves.  Also I used a stencil brush to lift out the bright little spot of light on the blanket.  Plus I glazed the large open space on the right with a watery mixture of blue to suggest more about the roll in the blanket.
Spider Plant step 8
Step 9.  I have been bothered a bit by the shape of the dark shadow in the back, so I decided to alter it.  I used a large soft stencil brush to lift some of the paint under the leaves on the right, and re-orient the shadow so it looks more diagonal.  Also I lifted off the diagonal shape in the upper right edge and will paint it brown.  I also have been bothered by the large boring gray space under the leaves, and decided to add another element to the picture, namely a baby spider plant branching off (the suggestion of my student, Betsy Thomas!).  I can add anything I want, because all my paint is of the "liftable" variety--i.e., I do not use staining colors.  More in the next step...
Spider Plant step 9

Step 10.  To find a little reference photo for my baby spider plant, I Googled "spider plant images" and came up with hundreds of photos!  I choose a good one just to look at a little as a reference.  First I had to remove the gray paint.  So I drew in my baby plant with pencil, then surrounded it with 3M drafting tape to mask the edges, and lifted off the paint with a small stencil brush.  It took a while.
Spider Plant step 10
 Step 11.  After the new cleared area was dry, it was quite simple to paint in my baby spider plant.  I also worked on the water drops and reflections of the window panes that are in the vase.   Here is the final painting.  Voila!  Feel free to tell me what you think by commenting on the blog.  Next posting will be about the painting of the "Rooting Tulip Bulbs"!
Susan Avis Murphy    Rooting Spider Plant     10x14"

Monday, March 19, 2012

Still life paintings done by students at the ARThouse Studio School

We are well along in our Still Life in Watercolor course, and I have many excellent results from students to show you this week.  The paintings below are based on assignments (painted at home) such as:
  • Painting a shiny object
  • Painting a transparent object
  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Painting a table setting in a loose, painterly style
Students have either created their own set-ups, and then photographed them or painted from life.  Or they have worked from a reference photo provided by me, such as the "shiny little creamer", the "gardenia in a glass vase", or the "Blu' Island Bistro breakfast".  Tell us what you think by making a comment at the bottom!

Gloria Tanton     Lenten Roses

Angela Lacy       Gardenia     
Ann Williams       Shiny Creamer   

Jean Perretta       Shiny Creamer

Patty Corridon       Shiny Creamer

Sue Adams       Shiny Creamer

Susan Wittenberg       Shiny Creamer

Beth Dugan       Shiny Objects

Meredith Ramsay       Silver Cup

Mimi Hegler       Silver Pot and Shells

Angela Lacy       Still Life with Tulips

Ann Williams       Breakfast at Blu' Island

Cecile Kirkpatrick      Fruit and Flowers and Blu' Island

Gregory Keating      Flowers and OJ at Blu' Island

Susan Taylor       Fruit and Grits at Blu' Island Bistro

Ruth Sentelle       Fruit and Grits for Breakfast

Nancy Preuss       Still Life with Fruit and Flowers

Mimi Hegler       Ducky Teapot and Strawberries

Phyllis McElmurry       Ceramic Jug and Fruit

Toni Tiu       Mums and Mugs at Blu' Island Bistro

Sally Drew      Peppers at the Farmer's Market  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Painting vegetable still life--beets and carrots on a cutting board

Hi Folks!
I'm glad you are enjoying my blog--I have been getting a lot of positive feedback!  Please feel free to comment even if you are not part of the class.
This past week we tried our hand at painting vegetable still life.  I went to the grocery store Roots, and purchased some fresh beets with their greens still on, plus farm-fresh carrots, onions and large mushrooms.  Took them home and set up some still lifes.  I had to play around a lot with the arrangements of objects and the lighting, and took about 60 photos.  Here is the reference photo I finally selected for my first painting, where the beets were placed on a dish towel and cutting board in front of a window with bright indirect light.  I like the back lighting and creates a white rim around the leaves and the top of the beets!

Step 1.  Beets and Carrots was painted on a piece of 16x20" bright white Arches 140 lb cold-pressed paper stretched on a washed Homasote board.  I traced the image onto the paper using graphite transfer paper and a light gray template I made on my printer.  No apologies for not drawing it free-hand!  But for students who need to improve their drawing skills I would always encourage you to draw the image on tracing paper first and then transper it to the watercolor paper using the graphite paper if you wish.

Step 2.  I decided to use a somewhat limited palette for most of this painting.  Using three primary colors that blend well together, I was able to do almost the entire painting.  They were Winsor & Newton quinacridone red, cobalt blue medium, and Da Vinci hansa yellow (an arylide yellow such as Winsor yellow from W&N).  I also used cerulean blue combined with the same yellow to get some of the bright greens.  Ultimately I put in a very dark background using darker colors which I will describe later.  Here I started the beet leaves with mixed greens (sounds like a salad!) and painted the middle beet with quinacridone red mixed with cobalt blue.  I allowed the colors to blend on the paper and allowed back-runs (some people call them "blooms") to form on purpose to create the texture of the beet skin.

Step 3.  Notice I left white edges around the beet greens to suggest the rim lighting.  I painted the carrot with quin red and arylide yellow (a very bright yellow).  I started painting the dish towel shadow parts with a very light mixture of my three primaries.  When painting shadows on a patterned surface like fabric, it is always best to paint all the shadows first before you paint the pattern.  If you paint the shadows after the pattern, your pattern might run.

Step 4.  Continuing with another beet and it's greens.  Try to get a lot of variety in your greens.  If you mix your greens instead of using a green pigment, it will encourage more variety.  I did end up using some W & N perylene green for some of the darkest greens here.  Also I often injected a little quin red into my green washes for variety.  The veins are a nice dark red, so they were easy to paint on after the greens dried using a rigger.  Negative painting between the beet stalks brought out their shape.

Step 5.  Moving on to the cutting board here.  For this I used quinacridone gold with blues and red mixed in.  I am not going to duplicate much of the wood grain.  I have seen very few watercolors where people successfully duplicate wood grain, and have come to feel that it is best to merely suggest it a little bit...  Will do more to the cutting board later.  In the early stages of a painting, I am using just getting down the local color of the objects with the intention of coming back and adding their shadows later.

Step 6.  Here I have painted the luscious black shadows on the knife, plus the second carrot.  When painting an actual black object, I usually use actual black paint, in this case, W&N neutral tint.  On the knife blade I showed the reflection of the beet.  On the knife tang I showed the reflection of the carrot.

Step 7.  Finally I began to paint the red stripes of the dish towel, using quinacridone red (one of my favorite colors by the way).  I noticed that the stripes in the shadow parts appeared more intense than the stripes in the sunlight.  I wiggled and wavered them according to the slight folds in the towel, and tried to paint them imperfectly to keep the painting on the loose side.

Step 8.  Big changes here!  As you can see, I decide to go with a dark background.  You might wonder if the background is so dark, where is all the light coming from?  But we could imagine that the table is below the windowsill and the wall is in dark shade.  The advantage of doing this is that it is very striking and really makes the lights dance!  My first pass on the background was a little too light and mottled (I felt) so I glazed it again later.  Colors used were permanent magenta and perylene green.
Also you will see that I darkened the cutting board board edge considerably so that the carrots would stand out more.  Plus I began painting the third beet and its greens!

Step 9.  Here I have darkened the background using the same colors again and made it smoother so it would be less distracting.  Also I finished painting the stripes on the sunlit part of the towel.

Step 10.  The painting is just about finished here.  I intensified the orange of the carrots, essentially painting them again, and I put in the scar on the bottom carrot.  I finished all the beet leaves and their veins.  I did some darker negative painting to accentuate some of the "crevice darks".  Generally I went around and tweaked things a little.  This last effort in a painting is so important and can make the difference between a good painting and a very good paintings, or a very good painting and a great painting!
Susan Avis Murphy      Beets and Carrots     image 14x18"
Self-critique:  I am pretty happy with this effort and like the bright colors and variety within these colors.  I wish the bottom carrot had been aiming down instead of up, and perhaps going off the bottom of the picture a little...  Also I kind of wish I had painted all the objects completely before doing the dark background so that I could see what it would have looked like with a light or white background.  I am going to try to create that look using Photoshop and post the painting below.  Give me a few minutes...

OK, here it is.  I have put the above image in Photoshop and used the magnetic lasso tool to isolate the black background, then created new adjustment layers and changed it into either white, magenta or purple, shown below.  What do you think?  Do you prefer any of these over the black version?