Congratulations to the 10 finalists chosen in the 2008 Watercolor Cover Competition. These accomplished artists each take a different approach, revealing the versatility and adaptability of watermedia. Here, they describe their sources of inspiration as well as the materials and techniques they use to bring forth a unique vision.
by Deborah L. Chabrian, 2006,
watercolor, 10 x 15.
Winner: Deborah L. Chabrian
“I push the medium of watercolor to create paintings that are perhaps richer and denser than one would normally expect from a watercolor painting,” Connecticut artist Deborah L. Chabrian says. The artist does this in two ways. First, she works on Bristol board. Unlike the more traditional watercolor papers that absorb the paint into their fibers, making it difficult to alter, Bristol board allows her to move the paint around on the surface the way one can when working with oil. This means she can make changes as she goes along. Second, she builds up multiple layers of color. “I often hear viewers comment that my watercolors look like ‘real’ paintings,” the artist says. “I can only imagine that this is because they expect watercolors to be more subtle and light and mine are usually not. I find this amusing because I have always thought that watercolors were ‘real’ paintings.”
Chabrian’s choice of subject matter evolves naturally from objects she collects and has around her. “I choose things that have evidence of wear and tear, that evoke a sense of the passage of time,” she says. “When setting up a still life, I usually start with one object that inspires me and then arrange things with it until I am satisfied with the composition, which can take a long time.”
by Deborah L. Chabrian, 2006,
watercolor, 22 x 26.
Chabrian sets up her still lifes wherever the light inspires her and begins working on them at that location. “I do not set up the still life in the studio because while the studio light is great to work in, it is not the kind of light that inspires me,” she says. At a certain point, she photographs the setup and moves into her studio to work. There she paints from photos and from elements of the still life that she brings in for reference, finishing the details and finalizing the colors.
Chabrian begins a painting by making a detailed graphite drawing of the composition on Strathmore 500 Series 4-Ply Plate Surface Bristol board. She then masks out the whites with Winsor & Newton Art Masking Fluid. “I do this so I can paint freely through those areas of white instead of dancing around them,” she explains. “I find that no white paint can ever have the luminosity that the white of the surface has.” Next, using Isabey and Raphaël Petit Gris Pur brushes, she lays in broad washes of warm and cool values with Winsor & Newton watercolors. She builds multiple layers of color using Isabey, Raphaël, and Winsor & Newton brushes.
by Deborah L. Chabrian, 2007,
watercolor, 9 x 13½.
Collection the artist.
For Spicy Tomatoes, the inspiration began with an antique paprika can Chabrian found on a trip to Argentina. “I bought it just because I loved the blue color and the rusted surface,” she says. “I found the tiles at a local closeout sale and the heirloom tomatoes at a farmer’s market—I love how colorful and varied they are. I wanted to paint the can, and the tomatoes and tiles complemented it.
“I set up the still life in my kitchen,” the artist continues, “which has great light flooding in at various times of the day.” She then began drawing from the setup directly on Bristol board. When she felt the light was right, she took photographs of the arrangement. Before beginning to paint, she masked out a few key areas where she wanted to retain the white of the surface. She continued to work from the setup until she had established the general color of the painting with broad washes of warms and cools.
At this point she moved to the studio, working from a combination of parts of the still life and photographs. Chabrian says she didn’t finish the painting in the kitchen because she has limited time to work there undisturbed by children, meals, and life’s general distractions. “My husband is also an artist, and our house and studios are intermixed,” she says. “The art often overflows into other areas of the house, and our home life overflows into our studios.” She continued to paint for several more days in her studio, gradually adding details until she felt the painting was complete.
by Sarah Chalek, 2007, watercolor, 20½ x 15½.
Collection the artist.
For more information, visit www.chabrian.com.
New Jersey artist Sarah Chalek painted this piece for a class at Syracuse University, in New York, where she is majoring in illustration. It started with a photo shoot in which the students dressed, lit, and posed models. Chalek says she chose the cowgirl after taking about 200 photographs of models in various costumes and compositions. She completed the painting in about a week.
“I start every watercolor painting with a very light graphite sketch to make sure I get the proportions right,” the artist says. She then lays on washes and glazes of color, slowly building up the values from light to dark. Chalek uses Daler-Rowney watercolors, Arches 300-lb hot-pressed watercolor paper, and an assortment of round and filbert brushes.
For more information, e-mail the artist at email@example.com.
“Composition, value relationships, and color harmony are the basis for my approach and define my process,” says Minnesota artist Catherine Hearding. She begins by designing her composition, making sure all of the elements have a solid abstract quality. “I also make a value sketch to lock in the relationships and make sure that the painting has movement, and then I choose my color palette,” she says. Her palette will change depending on the subject and how she wants to work with it. Hearding creates an underpainting with poured watercolor washes, which helps establish her values and colors early in the painting process. “Pouring washes enables me to mix wonderful and spontaneous colors on the paper,” Hearding says. She masks her whites while pouring the initial washes. “Finally, I respond to what is happening on the paper and work to bring the painting to resolution,” she says. Hearding uses Winsor & Newton watercolors and Arches 140-lb cold-pressed paper.
by Catherine Hearding, 2006,
watercolor, 20 x 28.
Collection the artist.
Green Grocer is part of her Market Still Life series. “I love the sights, sounds, colors, and textures of farmers’ markets and find that early morning is the best time for beautiful light and shadows,” she says. “I was struck by the way the light described the forms of the onions and bok choy, and I used negative-space painting to create that effect. The colors of the market are always inspiring, and in this case I liked the complementary color scheme. The shadows also played well in the composition and helped create movement through the piece.”
Boats depicts a familiar scene near the home of Wisconsin artist Aaron Holland, overlooking Green Bay. “There are usually dozens of boats anchored there during boating season, framed by a rocky coastline and lapping waves in the foreground,” Holland says. “In this picture I wanted to capture the feeling and mood of the day: a balmy, sunny, summer day with a slight fog hovering over the area. I attempted to re-create the delicate coloring of the water and sky, and the soft, warm lights reflecting in the clouds. I incorporated a number of experimental, layered drybrushing effects in the rocks, as well as multiple glazes, until the texture felt right to me yet still maintained a sense of mass and solidity. Boats is one of four watercolors in a series, each depicting a different aspect of this peninsula and what makes it unique.” Although Holland paints en plein air regularly, he created this piece in his studio.
by Aaron Holland, 2003,
watercolor, 24 x 18.
Collection Door County
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
He first makes a drawing in which he works out all of the shapes and values, resolves any problem areas, and gets a clear idea of what the result will look like. “This approach helps me become familiar with my subject and plan for spontaneity,” the artist says. He often moves elements around in a scene to better suit the composition. Holland begins painting with broad masses of color, usually on a light golden-toned paper. He works from light to dark and from background to foreground, but he doesn’t hold himself to those rules too firmly. “I follow the direction the picture takes,” he says. “I get to a point where I will depart from painting just what I see in front of me and begin to paint how I feel about what I see. I then work from memory and intuition, trying to express what is important to me. I don’t want simply to record things like the eye of a camera, but rather with the heart of a poet and the artist’s eye that God gave me.”
Holland almost always paints on 300-lb cotton-rag cold-pressed paper. He uses three main brushes: a size 12 round kolinsky sable, a 1″ flat kolinsky sable, and a 2″ squirrel-hair wash brush. He occasionally uses a rigger for detail work, although he says that a quality size 12 kolinsky round will often do the same job just as well. In the beginning stages of a painting, he uses squirrel-hair mops to apply broad, wet washes. Calling himself “a purist,” Holland prefers transparent watercolors. He generally uses a warm and a cool color from each of the three primaries, although he will adjust the palette to accommodate the individual needs of each picture.
For more information, visit www.hollandartstudio.com.
“I have a love for florals and desert plants,” says California acrylic painter Reenie Kennedy, discussing Survivor. “The prickly pear cactus manages to flourish under the most difficult of circumstances, in this case, seemingly forcing its way through solid rock.”
by Reenie Kennedy, 2007,
acrylic on gallery-wrapped
canvas, 24 x 18½.
Kennedy first sketches a few simple lines directly on the canvas and sprays it with fixative. She blends the colors used for small highlights and larger plant areas on the palette. When painting rocks, she lets a lot of the mixing take place on the canvas, layering colors until they reach the appropriate values. With florals she generally works from light to dark, and she uses gel medium to help slow the drying time of the paint. She likes to combine warm and cool colors and soft and hard edges. “It is always important to vary the edges from soft to hard in order to integrate your focal point with the background and to avoid making the subject look like a cardboard cutout,” Kennedy says.
For this painting, she used Winsor & Newton and Grumbacher acrylic. Alizarin crimson, burnt sienna, and touches of cadmium red light gave the warmth to the red rocks. Thalo blue and raw umber were worked into the shadows and rock folds to create depth and texture. Kennedy created the cactus by varying shades of sap green, cobalt green, and cadmium yellow medium, adding touches of titanium white to make the highlights pop forward. She made the lavender color in the dry grass by mixing cobalt blue and Winsor violet with titanium white and added it to the foreground rock to invite the viewer into the painting. For overall color coherence, she also applied the lavender to the cactus where the late-afternoon sun hits it. The sharp needles were added to catch the light and provide detail. “Although it’s usually not a good idea to put your focal point in the center of a painting, I think it works here because of the sense of depth created by the planes of color and the sparks of cool lavender against the predominantly warm palette,” Kennedy says.
|Rita & Katrina
by Paul Jackson, 2006,
watercolor, 36 x 22.
Collection the artist.
Missouri artist Paul Jackson calls Rita & Katrina a “found still life, based on various pieces and parts from a storefront window.” Jackson says it began as a challenge to a handful of workshop participants whom he led on a late-night “safari” through the French Quarter in New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina. “We came upon the windows of the Fleur de Paris vintage hat shop, and I challenged each artist to create a composition from what we saw,” he says. “Because it was nighttime, the lighting was entirely artificial. Much of it came from inside the store, but some was reflected from nearby streetlights.”
He created the painting in his studio from photographs and his imagination. “The materials I used are old favorites: Arches 260-lb cold-pressed watercolor paper and Winsor & Newton transparent watercolors,” Jackson says. “My approach to the painting was to layer very thin washes. I am willing to spend whatever time and find whatever patience is necessary to make every painting work for me.”
After spending years painting exclusively in watercolor, Ohio artist Christopher Leeper now combines watercolor washes with traditional oil- and acrylic-painting techniques. “This combination produces a rich depth of glazed color along with an interesting surface quality,” he says.
2007, by Christopher Leaper,
acrylic on linen, 32 x 44.
Collection the artist.
Painted with Liquitex acrylic on Utrecht stretched portrait linen with a variety of round, flat, and bright Isabey Isacryl brushes, Garden’s End depicts the artist’s garden in October. Leeper photographed the scene early in the morning when the corn was backlit by the sun. “I was inspired by the contrast of the ragged cornstalks against the dark forest background,” he says. “By the fall, the garden gets neglected, and the weeds compete with the remaining vegetables. This makes for an interesting, albeit untidy, scene.”
Working from photos, the artist first made a detailed drawing on the canvas. Using transparent washes of color, he then indicated the darkest-value shapes. Next, he washed in the local color and painted the lightest-value areas with a semiopaque mixture of color and titanium white. For the background, he layered semiopaque and opaque mixtures of color. He added the final tree textures with a Liquitex No. 14 palette knife and completed the corn and garden areas using several layers of transparent and semiopaque color. The lightest values were done with opaque color applied with the edge of the palette knife and a No. 2 Isabey Isacryl flat brush and a No. 4 Isabey 6227Z kolinsky round.
“My primary subjects are the magnificent landscapes and seascapes of Cape Cod, Massachusetts,” says New York artist Sandy O’Connor. “I love the cape for many reasons. There are few places where the quality and intensity of light are as spectacular. Each season allows the same composition to take on an entirely new dimension and inspiration. These factors, combined with the architectural charm of its historic villages, make Cape Cod a truly special place for an artist.
|Back to the Sea
by Sandy O’Connor, 2007,
watercolor, 22½ x 16.
Collection the artist.
“I am always mesmerized by the beauty and power of the ocean,” O’Connor continues. “The crashing waves, the shifting tides, the morning light, the flickering dance of a million stars on a perfect moonlit night—each element is a miracle to behold. In Back to the Sea I tried to capture, in microcosm, the essence of the ocean’s energy. The small rivulet of water erodes the sand, pushing the water into small tributaries that eventually fall back to the sea.” The artist envisioned the scene as a canvas that is wiped clean with each new wave, creating a new picture. “This same process has shaped the contours of the earth since time began,” she adds. “It inspires both wonder and awe.”
O’Connor spends a tremendous amount of time thinking about a painting before putting brush to paper. “But once I do, it’s usually the first thing on my mind when I open my eyes in the morning and remains the focus of my attention until the day I finish the painting,” she says.
She enjoys painting outdoors but is more productive as a studio painter, so she depends on her camera. After making a sketch to frame her composition, she fills in the details with photographs. “Sometimes I get lucky and produce that one perfect shot, but most times I utilize a montage of photos to inspire the right composition,” the artist says. “This part of the process is critical for me, for if I plan to spend days living, breathing, and dreaming about my work, I need to connect with it from the start.” A realist who paints in the traditional approach of light to dark, O’Connor makes high-contrast black-and-white photocopies of her photos and/or sketches. “This process allows the whites and light values to jump out and act as a roadmap for masking and painting,” she explains.
O’Connor prefers Arches 140-lb cold-pressed paper. When the subject matter calls for more texture, she uses Arches 300-lb cold-pressed paper. Her favorite brushes are a 1″ flat Morilla purchased more than 25 years ago (“It still looks like new,” she says), a No. 12 Winsor & Newton round, and a No. 9 Grumbacher round. To capture all of the dune grasses and marshes on the cape, she uses a variety of fan and small scraggly brushes—some with only a few hairs left—for detail work. She works with a limited palette of Winsor & Newton watercolors, creating all her colors with three to five paints. “To my eye it creates a more harmonious painting,” she says.
“I am in love with light and shadow,” says Kansas artist Valda Robison. “I look for a striking abstract design within a realistic framework, usually a still life subject and often just one object with dramatic lighting.” Robison says she has been influenced by the old Dutch masters, and she seeks to emulate the radiance of their work in her paintings.
by Valda Robison, 2006,
watercolor, 25½ x 16.
Collection the artist.
Striving for realism, she usually starts by making a detailed drawing and transferring guidelines to the watercolor paper. “After painting a pale ghost of the entire subject to establish the form, I then build up colors and shading with many layers,” the artist says. “I may glaze over an area many times, charging the wet surface with several colors that mingle on the paper. After this colorful underpainting, I apply more and more glazes to build up the shading and then apply details. I never use black paint but instead mix up several pigments to make a saturated wash.” She primarily uses Winsor & Newton paints on stretched Arches 140-lb cold-pressed watercolor paper.
Robison was inspired to create this painting one summer morning when she saw the sun shining through her kitchen window behind an onion sitting on the counter. “I saw an amazing glow through the loose onion skin and an elongated shadow full of reflected color and light—and knew I had to paint it,” she says. She took several photos of the image and used her computer to crop them. “I felt a dark background would add drama so I added an edge to separate the two extreme values,” the artist explains. When she began to paint she was careful to preserve the light areas. After tackling the green stems, she created the dark wash with a mixture of colors. “It took several layers to achieve the dark value I wanted,” she says. Robison seldom uses masking, but for this painting she masked out the small roots. The shadows were painted very wet with several reflected colors charged into the wash. Once she had painted the major shapes, she added color and details to make the onion look more realistic.
For more information, e-mail the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In choosing a subject, Alan Shuptrine looks for the emotion and drama in a composition that his father, the late Hubert Shuptrine, referred to as the “X” factor. “Growing up watching my dad chronicling the dying South with his paintings, I am naturally drawn to the same subject matter in my watercolors,” this Tennessee artist says. Shuptrine was inspired to begin this painting during a visit to Highlands, North Carolina, in the spring of 2007. “Highlands was my childhood home in the early 1970s, and I have always loved the Blue Ridge Mountains, particularly the dogwood trees,” he says. “I remember the dogwood blooms would sometimes stay until the first of summer. When I was 7, I would run through our front yard in sock feet, swat the gnats with a Frisbee, and watch the sun pierce through the evergreens and light up the blossoms.”
by Alan Shuptrine, 2007,
watercolor, 21 x 29.
Shuptrine spends a lot of time squinting at his subject, even after making a light graphite drawing on paper. “I try to visualize the finished work from the very onset, rather than let the work evolve—although sometimes it has a mind of its own,” he says. “I approach a watercolor as a planned sculpture of many layers.” Shuptrine first lays in the background with loose washes to create a distance that is casually out of focus. He then builds up the middle ground with more detail and warmer tones. “By the time I reach the foreground,” he says, “my colors are more intense and warmer—this creates the depth I need to call attention to my subject.” Typically, he chooses his specific palette ahead of time, emphasizing color balance and complementary colors.
He prefers Winsor & Newton watercolors, Twinrocker cold-pressed white watercolor paper, Arches cold-pressed papers, and fine kolinsky sable brushes in round, cat’s tongue, rigger, and fan shapes. He uses a hake brush for laying in large background washes. His palette is fairly simple: French ultramarine, cobalt blue, alizarin crimson, permanent rose (sometimes), cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt umber, raw umber, sepia, and Hooker’s green. “I try to use only transparent colors whenever possible and rarely use Chinese white gouache—it just doesn’t look as vivid as the white paper,” Shuptrine says. He usually sits when he paints, employing a horizontal easel that he tilts to make a wash run.