Color Me Tea Cup Crazy-Star Diamond.

Whoever is in charge of naming new paint colors: Bravo!
P1000476I stopped by Lowe’s (the building supply mega-store) the other day (to pick up more birdseed) and on my way out I passed by the Paint Dept.  I dropped my 35-poung bag of bird food and spent a very pleasant half hour picking through the new paint brochures.


I know macarons have been all the rage in Paris lately, but are they all that well known in the U. S. of A.?

I do love the art direction of paint brochures — the photos capture an entire mood and sense of place and socio-economic aspiration. I get lost in entertaining digressive thoughts when I contemplate the story of each paint brochure photo, but my happiest time is going through the paint chips on display:


Within this array of color there are hues with the names of Blanket, Off Broadway, Inhale (and an Exhale), Luxury Linen, Poetry in the Park, Modern History, Corner Pub, and Porcelain Pear. Sad to say, but the lovely-sounding Porcelain Pear is the color of thrown up lima beans. If you can correctly guess the hue of any of these other color names, I will be very impressed indeed.  Because frankly, I’m not sure that the color-namers are even in the same room as the colors they are naming. But still, for these evocative mini-poems to be found in Lowe’s Paint Dept., I say Bravo!

However, today, the only color we are exploring in-depth is gray. Hand-made gray.

I make my own grays because I think the hand-made grays have more personality than store-boughten ones.

I start by mixing  Umber and Cyan Blue. I’m using my cheap, powdery Grumbacher paints because I like the texture of them, and I love the way they interact with water. Until Carol Gillott of ParisBreakfasts told me to up-grade my tools two years ago, I only used Grumbacher. I know their properties very well, and still like them for certain applications — but I don’t use the greens and yellows much at all anymore. Windsor-Newton is better.


Now it’s time to make a bottle cap of gray (because I work small), using bottle caps from  quart bottles of Gatorade . I start by making a puddle of brown paint:


Then I add dribbles of blue and a drop of white. Note:
a little white gauche goes a loooong way, so use it sparingly:



Mix together and Voila! I’ve got a bottle cap of one-of-a-kind gray:


Now, you remember the problem from last week:


I have to get rid of those wonky railing shadows and, while I’m at it, I might as well re-do the cat so that it looks more like “cat” and less like “orange blob”.

So I cut out the offending bits…


…and started over. First, I re-drew the offending railing shadows, which ought to have looked like this in the first place:


Quick digestion shot of my railing sketch illuminated on the light box to show you the trial-and-error of my ways:


Whenever I draw  a stinky line, I cut it out and tape in a new bit of tracing paper and  draw it correctly — I hope you can see that my “sketch” is actually a collage of about seven scraps of stop-and-start-again tracing paper. I’m not smart enough to get it right in one swell foop, so I give myself a break and destroy the bad while keeping the good — all without guilt.

I used tracing paper for this sketch not because I was tracing it (I WISH) but because I will be painting this picture on the light box, so I need a light-weight paper to let the light shine through it so I can paint the pic without drawing pencil lines on the art work. I never paint on a lift box because I’m a girl who loves outlines, but as this is an illustration of shadows, and shadows, in nature, don’t have outlines, I have to paint “painterly”, for once.

Well, here’s the tricky part. I have to adjust my bottle cap of gray paint by adding more blue, or a different blue, or more water, or maybe a molecule of black, to get the matching hue that I need to pick up where I left off in this pic. It’s the matching that is a bitch.

I started out with this too-greenish gray:


It needed more blue. After a few tries, I got it. It might not look like it in this photo (below), but this gray tone was a very good match:


I forgot to tell you that, in order to make bottle cap of home-made gray, you have to keep loading your brush with slurries of brown and blue and white pigment, and then you have to squeeze out those loads, from the paint brush’s brushes, into the bottle cap. It’s rather messy:


Anyhoo, I began to paint the replacement part of this illustration and I was very pleased with its matching-ness until I got this far…


…and then I said to myself:”Oh shit. I forgot the cat.”

Well, I was losing the afternoon light anyway because it had started snowing again, so I packed up [put everything out of a nosey cat’s paw reach] and called it a day.

I began again the next  morning. I forgot to take a photo of it, but overnight the bottle cap of gray had totally dried out, so I had a bottle cap of dry pigment ready to be water-activated. This is absolutely the BEST way to paint from a bottle cap!  When you’re starting with a solid pigment it’s very easy to control the very small adjustments it takes to lighten or darken a color, IMHO.

But I had to put off playing with the bottle cap of gray because first, I had to draw a cat. I thought that a crouching cat might look good on this shady Key West porch, so I drew one and taped my new kitty over the tracing-paper sketch like so:


The line that I drew down the back of the cat is so I will know where the spine is — I was hoping that I could paint a cat that was turning away from the viewer, as cats are wont to do.

But I didn’t like the position of the cat, so I had to peel it of the sketch, like this:


YES, with a tweezer. And not just any tweezer — that’s my old diamond-grading tweezer, designed with a long needle nose for ease of picking up dropped diamonds from the floor.  THAT’s THE KIND OF PAINTER I AM. If anybody else works this way, I would love to chat. Main topic of conversation: Are we mad genius self-taught users of scotch tape, or what?!?!?

So I re-positioned the cat to be more forward-leaning:


But now I didn’t like the cat  at all, mostly because I did not like how the tip of the rocking chair’s arm did this:


So I drew a new new cat, one that wouldn’t go anywhere near the rocking chair’s space:


But then the new new cat did this:


No problem, not for me (world champion of Making Pictures Work No Matter How Long It Takes). I just cut away a few of those cat-overlapping floor boards, re-mixed a correct shade of gray, and began to paint the first layer of shadow:


I painted the cat (yes, I moved his tail to get it away from the rocking chair):

Then I painted the correct railing shadows. Every time I needed a new brush full of paint, I had to re-mix the paint and turn off the light box to compare that the grays were still compatible — it’s hideously time-consuming. But finally I got this:


Cut to DONE:


Top Cat wishes my posts didn’t go this long, but I know that some of you, Dear Readers, don’t mind watching me save my professional watercoloring ass step by step.

Color me Got Away With It One More Time.

17 Comments, RSS

  1. Linda June

    So glad to see all your efforts step by step. Watercolor is hard–I’ve been trying my hand at it for a couple years now, and I still STINK. But I keep at it!

  2. janet b.

    it is astounding how much work goes into a quietly peaceful image. i’m blown away. and thank you for this morning’s guffaw, where i nearly spit my coffee onto my laptop after reading your description for PORCELAIN PEAR. oh, and i, too, have a THING for paint chips. yep~ going through the possibilities of color when meditating on what i want a room to look like is quite like being in a candy store for this girl.

  3. I LOVED reading this detailed, step-by-step description of what it takes to make a watercolor that looks ‘effortless’. And I, like the above Linda June, have been struggling as I realize there is NOTHING effortless about watercolor! Your weekly posts are a delight and I’m so happy you’re back to them!

  4. JunoP

    So much to think about in this post. Your description of Porcelain Pear — a hoot. Blanket: warm bright yellow (like my own blanket). Modern History should be black. Nothing cheery comes to mind when I think “Modern History” (it’s official. I’m a crank.)

    I did not know that blue + brown = gray. Thank you for showing that.

    Only because you showed the new railing shadows I see that the old shadows were off. But ONLY because you SHOWED me. I would have been so happy that I painted shadows in the first place that I would have left it alone. It’s very brave of you to cut half of your picture away and start over. How long did the whole process take?

    And now that Ive seen the before and after, and I saw how you rescued a beautiful picture to make it even more beautiful with my own eyes, I have to say ——– you make me believe pin MAGIC.

  5. Laura

    How the orange cat danced with the rocking chair -an important lesson in composition for unity, object reaction and fit. I like how you walk us through the painting process, both technical and aesthetic. You are a great teacher.
    “Cloudless” is the color of our center hall as are the days that I look forward too here again on the “north coast” .

  6. Patricia

    Love to have you back. Love to have the “mistakes were made and what the hell do I do now” posts. I’ve missed you. I’ve really missed you.

    Love the kitty flipping his tail around…

  7. Patricia

    PS. Back in the days of mail order catalogs a work buddy and I would read out a color name and the other one would have to guess what the color actually looked like.

    We were usually wrong…

  8. Maryanne in SC

    Indeed, watching you save your professional watercoloring ass step by step is just one of the many reasons we love you.

    The diamond tweezers – yes! My box of painting tools has a number of repurposed items that I would never admit to using thusly.

    It is so …NICE… to have you back on Fridays.

  9. I love paint chips. I’m sure I drive the paint store folks crazy when I collect 30-40 shades of blue because I need to take them home and stick them on the wall until I determine the *precisely* right color I need.

    My house (exterior) is painted Banana Cream Pie. It is extremely cheering in the gray Pacific Northwest.

    Do you make your own blacks, too? I find those more satisfying than the tube/pan blacks. Burnt Umber and French Ultramarine Blue, with as little water as possible, is my favorite black combo, and you can make straight black, or brown-black, or blue-black. I did not know about the lighter grays though — Cyan is not a color I use. Looking forward to trying it — thank you!

    Love the new painting — the railings look great now and the cat is a cat again. Brava!

  10. Gigi

    I am so relieved to know I am not the only one who kind of “goes away” in the paint section at Lowes. I, too, carry color stuff home, and then wonder why the heck I did. I guess I need some kind of image and color board to keep shifting favorites in and out.

    Fantastic to see how you fixed the painting, and completely daunting to see how painstaking the changes can be. Even on a Trisket-sized painting. I so appreciate the lesson and, any time now, I may commence cutting up my own troubled and troubling watercolors (the ones stashed under the bed in shame, if you know what I mean…).

    Thanks for a fabulous post!

  11. Kim Davison

    That is an incredible amount of work for one picture! I just thought you drew, painted and that was that! The more I learn of others the more amazed I am…your blog gives me even more appreciation for artists and their art. I’m enjoying your books immensely, especially when I read your blog too. Every picture becomes a gift.

  12. I could watch you save your professional watercoloring ass any day of the week — I learn so much. And even if it didn’t matter, it would still be fascinating! No wonder publication takes so long!

    I, too, go through periodic Lowe’s paint chipping — I’ll get quite the collection, then somehow they all disappear, which gives me a grand excuse to return! But wow — the color writers must have been on a romantic novel roll with these!

  13. The Other Bev

    That is IMPOSSIBLE. What I just saw you do, that is IMPOSSIBLE.

    I know you work from photographs when you illustrate. Was this picture from a photo of your own? And if so, did you compose the photo in the first place to get such a beautiful picture of shadows???

    The way you positioned the chair is amazing. I love the intricate shadows on it. And the way you saved your watercoloring ass by recomposing the background is genius. We are not worthy.

  14. Joan

    Another whiz bang tutorial in mending a painting, but also in perseverance and patience. Good DoG,! I would not have the patience, especially on a painting the size of a tea bag.

    I also belong to the Paint Chip Collectors Club Color theory is a fascinating subject (to me) how they pair up the color combos is endlessly intriguing.. One artist I know of, Birgit O’Connor, makes up her own color mixtures, paints them in grids and frames them! Lovely little swatches of color in her studio. I’m too lazy to do it.

  15. bunny

    I love getting your lessons on your watercolors along with the wit and wisdom. Did you ever consider teaching a class, perhaps on line?
    I for one, would be happy to try and become HALF the artiste that you, have shown us all these years.
    To think, you can be happy looking at paint colors at Lowe’s! Just goes to show, you can find gems sprinkled throughout the world in the strangest of place, if you look for them…

  16. ann

    Work is work, I like to say. Thank you reminding me of this with your paintings. Sometimes I forget that when my job is so hard, but yours is too.

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