Henry Shaw’s Resting Place

I start the week all excited knowing that the weather forecast called for beautiful mild weather, and my calendar is empty – 2 rarities that even more rarely coincide.  On Monday I had to take Andrew to the doctor and had other things to do, so on Tuesday I got all my painting supplies together, and marched over to the Missouri Botanical Garden to paint.  I was feeling very tired that day because I had not slept well the night before.  I decided to paint the mausoleum of Henry Shaw.  The Victorian edifice was truly beautiful that day, with the sun glimmering through the windows and the stained glass, and the dappled sunlight creating a multitude of highlights and shadows on the building. I also loved the twisty tree to the left of the building.

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Henry Shaw’s Resting Place, 16″ x 12″, acrylic on canvas panel

It was a nice quiet day without wind, bugs, or people to interrupt me often.  However, when I paint en plain air I usually do pastels. I’m not used to all the accessories  I have to juggle when painting with wet media like acrylics or oils or watercolor.  Not only that, but about 1.5 hours into the painting, it suddenly got cloudy, and my light completely changed.  I was already quite tired, and having a hard time being able to focus and get in the flow.  So I got quite frustrated and decided to pack up for the day.

I came home, and rested for a few hours.  Fortunately, I had taken a picture, so then I used that to block in the trees and the sky.  Two days after that, I decided to put away the photo, and just go with what I remembered, and used my sense of what would work artistically.  I made a point to create a sense of space by making some of the trees a cooler and grayer green, with less details.  I did this by mixing purple into the green.  I also refined the building by putting in some details of the wrought iron work over the windows, and some flecks of color to suggest the stained glass.  I like how you can see the green trees behind the structure through some of the windows.

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“Garden Sentry” Pastel Painting

I can’t get enough of the Missouri Botanical Garden.  I wish they would allow artists to come in and paint after hours.  I would live here if I could, it is so pretty, and has so many luscious scenes to paint.

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Garden Sentry, pastel, 9″ x 12″

Last Wednesday, my husband and I sat at the edge of the lake in the Japanese Garden so I could paint either the bridge, or the boulders in the lake.  I decided on painting the boulders.  Instead of the traditional composition, I chose to put the rocks in the top 1/3 of my painting, and have the bottom 2/3 be the water and the reflections.  It made for an interesting effect.   Usually the background of the painting has the soft edges, but in this case it is the background that has the more distinct edges and brighter colors, due to the subject matter.

This egret landed on top of the taller rock, as if to say “Here I am, and I’m going to keep watch over this garden”.  It stayed there for at least an hour, preening it’s feathers and just relaxing.  I felt blessed and grateful to have this wonderful addition to my scene!  I like how the blue in the shadow side of the bird goes into pink at the bottom, from the reflection off the rock.  I also like the reflections of light on the edges of the bird and the top of the beak.

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Painting a Series in Tower Grove Park

Jane, my painting buddy, and I have decided to do a series of plein air paintings in Tower Grove Park.  So far, we have painted 2 of the pavilions together.  This one is the Humbolt South Pavilion.  Tower Grove Park is a historic park in south St. Louis built by Henry Shaw, the one who founded and build the Missouri Botanical Garden, which is one of the top botanical gardens in the world.

I have a small field sketch kit by Winsor Newton.  It consists of 12 half pans of watercolor paint in warm and cool versions of the primary colors (yellow, red, and blue), several neutrals, black, and white.  The quality of the paint is very good.  These paints are

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“Humboldt South Pavilion”, 9″ x 12″, watercolor

creamy, smooth, and rich in pigment.  They are easy and convenient to use.  I also had my palette that is part of my plein air Soltek easel to work on.  I used a Shade Buddy umbrella so the sun didn’t dapple on my palette and my paper.

I started, as always, by sketching in my subject.  I had some trouble with integrating the roof lines with the base of the pavilion properly.  Once I got that figured out, it got easier and more enjoyable.  I originally made the mistake of not making the roof bigger and wider than the base of the structure.  I then drew in the “sides” in perspective, which was rather challenging, since this building is an octagon.  I like the fact that all the components of this building are also octagonal – the cupola, the roof, the individual pillars, and even the bases of the pillars (which I omitted in the painting).  So much attention was given to details in the older buildings.  I also loved the various curlicues and gingerbread details on the building.  The main reason I chose this subject to paint is that I love the golden yellow color of the roof.  I like how that contrasts with the teal of the columns, and the reds of the trim.

After the sketch, I painted the sky, and then the trees above the pavilion.  Then, I painted the pavilion, and then the trees and grass behind the pavilion.  The next time I do this, I would change 2 things.  Number one, I would mask in the pavilion so I don’t have to paint around all the columns and fluff on the pavilion.  Second, I would do the background trees and sky wet on wet to make for a softer look, which would create a better sense of space.  I would also paint in the sky all at once, so there isn’t a line and difference in value in the sky on the upper right hand side.

Overall, this turned out all right, especially considering this is my first plein air watercolor painting.

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Bleeding Heart Bower

I’m making a foray into watercolor painting!  Up until recently, I always said to myself “I already do oils, acrylics, and pastels.  I don’t need to do watercolors”.  However, one day I picked up a set of Tombow watercolor brush pens just to sketch with in the field.  I started playing around with them at home in the studio.  I really enjoyed the fluid, organic way the paints mixed together on the paper.  I also love that I don’t have much set up or clean up, just put the pens in their storage container.  The luminous transparent quality is very nice too.

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“Bleeding Heart Bower”,  watercolor, 9″ x 12″

I’ve been learning the technical how-to’s of watercolor from a great youtube channel called “The Mind of Watercolor”.

I worked from a photo of bleeding heart flowers that I took while walking around the Missouri Botanical Garden with my husband.  I thought the pink flowers were striking against the bright yellow green foliage.

I started by doing a line drawing.  Then, I masked in all but the background with masking fluid, so I could put a graduated wash in for the background.  I used watered down acrylic paints in lemon yellow, quinacridone magenta, and viridian green.  The latter 2 pigments mixed made a type of violet. After the background wash dried, I removed the masking fluid.  I had some minor problems with some of the paper coming up with the masking fluid, because the lady at Dick Blick sold me student grade cheap watercolor paper.  (I have since purchased an Arches watercolor block, and will save the cheap paper for sketches and exercises).

Then, I painted in the blooms.  I used pink at the top, and then a light layer of violet and light gray because the pink was too saturated in chroma.  On the bottom, I added more pink, and violet.  For the stems, I did a layer of yellow green, then a layer of hot pink.  Then, I did the leaves in pale yellow, and pale green.  I was not happy with the outcome.  It had no pizzaz.  I added more yellow to the leaves.  I decided to go impressionistic, and did some pointillism with some Posca pens to add in some highlights, and to unify the colors.  I put some green dots in the flowers, and some pink and violet dots in the leaves.  I used an ivory Posca pen for highlights on the flowers and leaves.  This definitely improved it, and made it more original.  I want to try more pointillism in the future.

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Old St Marcus Crabapples

One Friday in early spring, I went about 2 – 3 blocks from my home to Old St Marcus Park  for a day of plein air painting.  It was one of those idyllic spring days where the sun was shining, it was balmy, and nature was exploding with a rich, clear, blue sky, vibrant greens, and luscious pinks.  I set up in the grass that was carpeted with violets.

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Old St Marcus Crabapples, oil on canvas panel, 20″ x 16″

I started by toning my panel with a brilliant cool lemon yellow, which to me is the color of early to mid spring on a sunny day.

After this, I painted the evergreen trees on the left.  I did it quickly and somewhat loosely, because time is of the essence when it comes to painting outdoors.  I then did the path and the grasses.  Then I did the pink crabapple trees.  I used cadmium red deep with lots of white.  I also added some warm colors for the lighter sunlit parts.  I think I mixed in some orange or scarlet.  Lastly, I painted in the violets in the grass.  I allowed parts of the bright yellow underpainting to show through, to connote warmth and light.  This works really well with the parts of the grass that are in the sun.  I deliberately simplified the background, which in actual fact had houses and cars, etc, because that wasn’t the point of the painting, and it would have been noise and distraction.

If you closely look at any tree in bloom or in leaf, there are lots of interior darks and grays that support the vivid colors of the outer sunlit leaves and flowers.  I made this gray a greenish gray, in order to complement the pinks of the sunlit crabapple blooms.    This was done in midday, due to the restrictions of my schedule that day.

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Creve Coeur Shadows

I recently took a class with Jerry Thomas called French Impressionist Blue Painting.  The basic premise is that you use at least 2 or more pigment blues, and keep them isolated

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“Creve Coeur Shadows”, 18″ x 14″, oil on canvas panel

from each other in different areas of your painting.

This particular scene is at Creve Coeur Lake in St Louis Missouri.  My husband, sons, and I have spent lots of time sailing here during summers.  I used cobalt blue for the sky, Prussian blue for the water, and ultramarine blue for the snow shadows. Blue is a space color, and there is a strong sense of space in this piece.  I started with a panel toned in bright yellow, to offset all the blues and warm it up, so it wouldn’t look icy cold.  I also used soft pinks, yellows, and violets in the grays of the trees and shrubs.

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Shadows and Reflections

When I was walking past the lily pad ponds by the Linnaeus House in the Missouri Botanical Garden, I was mesmerized by the pattern of lily pad shadows and reflections on the water.

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Shadows and Reflections, acrylic on canvas panel, 14″ x 18

I painted this in acrylic based on a photo I took of the scene.  I enlarged it on my ipad mini, and did a drawing first.  Then I painted in the scene.  It was colorful, but looked somewhat flat and disjointed.  So, I put my Monet on and put lots of broken color in the shadows and the sky reflections.  This made it much more vibrant, and unified the painting.  Later, I darkened some of the shadow areas, and brightened the lighter areas to improve the value system.  Finally, I realized it was hard to tell the reflections and shadows from the actual lily pads and flower, so I put a glaze over the water using a mixture of translucent zinc white, iridescent silver, and iridescent gold.

My favorite part of this is the foreground lily, with the white and gold light reflections on it.

Here is the listing in my online store.