Saturday, June 30, 2012


"PHL Sulfur Pile"    SOLD
watercolor on illus board, 2012
18" x 27" (45.72cm 68.58x cm)
National Watercolor Society

Here is my painting recently juried into the National Watercolor Society's 2012 Annual Exhibition here in San Pedro.

This painting was a challenge for many reasons... I had an idea of what I wanted but the design of all the elements meant I was faced with all sorts of decisions.

Since it is about the role of the Pacific Harbor Line in the Los Angeles Harbor all these decisions would be guided by this idea, especially how the little black locomotives usually operate alone.

Also, this technique of watercolor is more about achieving the same visual look or depth and richness of an oil painting as opposed to the more traditional approach of transparent (only) watercolor. But at this size larger areas were particularly tough. There were a lot of shapes, values and colors to manage and I did not want it to get too busy and spotty, which is a by-product of this technique on this surface. Although smaller, two others in this technique on illustration board, are here and here.

I used reference for the technical information but the design, palette or color scheme, value pattern etc are my own invention.
One of my design decisions was throwing spot lights down to exaggerate the effects of a cloudy stormy day with sunlight breaking through. This allowed me control the values and specifically, the shapes of the values, molding the design to suit my goals and to edit out what was not needed from a panoramic view.

That also gave it a dark, moody, unearthly look and a psychological impact but with a quality of light and pops of color that keep it from being too oppressive, a characteristic present in much of the mid century California Watercolor Style and the work of...  Art Riley, Hardie Gramatky, Millard SheetsEmil Kosa Jr.Jack Laycox,Frederic Whitaker, Watson Cross Jr., Crandall Norton, Mary Blair,  Joseph De Mers among others, which I have been looking at recently.
Realism does not always have to be naturalistic...sometimes another quality better supports an idea than a more naturalistic depiction does.

I liked the idea of the locomotive in the background with the middle ground having the visually larger double-stack intermodal rail cars. The locomotive is visually prominent by placing it against the bright yellow sulfur pile for stark contrast, no need to have a spotlight on it. And even though small with-in the composition it is still the star and easily recognizable showing only hints of its characteristic diagonal white stripes without further modeling of form.

So I spot-lighted the rail cars and silhouetted the black locomotive against bright yellow for high contrast in color and value. Drawing attention to both but making the locomotive a little bit more significant. It speaks of the role and dominion of the Pacific Harbor Line in the harbor.

Below is a value comp I did beforehand (top) and thought I had it worked out but halfway through the painting I realized some of the values were not working. So I stopped and did 2 more smaller ones based on the first to work it out. These midstream snags sometimes happen when the painting is large scale. Going from thumbnails to full size without an intermediate sized value and maybe a color comp doesn't always go as planned and would have been a good idea.

The problem was primarily with the middle ground, the area just beyond the string of containers and below the sulfur. The middle range values were not working, making for a confusing array in an unimportant area.
I first tried a lighter value setting up an elliptical shape of light and although I liked the idea it still was not right. I did not like the light bringing too much attention to the lower left corner.
The final thumb (lower right) resolved these problems. Dropping everything down in value, including the upper right light-valued refinery tanks, and eliminating unimportant areas.
This simplified the value distribution and strengthened the design.

The immediate foreground is where I fought most of my battles, even having done the thumbnails. It was more an issue of paint handling, edges and degree of finish rather than value. I finally decided it should be treated more like the other corners and remain loose and organic.

Previously it garnered too much attention, competed too much with the rest of the painting and incidentally was defeating the spot lighting idea, which I somehow missed until it's change. Happily the compositional zig-zag line remained.184

Click on images to enlarge
Click 'WATERCOLOR' label below to see other watercolors

Update: I fixed the above links which go to (since they have a new site) showing the mid-century artists who have inspired me lately.

Monday, June 25, 2012

National Watercolor Society Show Announcement

I happy to announce that my watercolor "PHL Sulfur Pile" was juried into the National Watercolor Society's 2012 Annual Exhibition here in San Pedro.
This one was done in one of my two watercolor techniques I work in.
I will post the painting here soon.

The opening is Saturday September 29th and the show hangs until Sunday December 2.
Link to NWS website and NWS facebook for information and hours.

National Watercolor Society headquarters
915 South Pacific Avenue
San Pedro
Ca, 90731

Thursday, June 14, 2012

iPad Thumbnails 1

Here is a page of value thumbnails done on my iPad with the Brushes app.

I really had to resist the temptation to get into too much detail since the point was the big shapes of composition.

I put in just enough to make it interesting and give me some textural differences.
The moment I began to get too picky I stopped.

Although it won't replace the traditional mediums I use I like the idea of having another medium to work in.
One advantage is it's easy to pick up and go right to work.183

Click on image for larger view

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Value Thumbnails 3

Top: Sharpie, pencil, 2012
page 11" x 8.5" (27.94cm x 21.59cm)

Bottom: Black ink, 2012
page 8.5" x 11" (21.59cm x 27.94cm)

Here's a couple more pages of thumbnails.
The top page I used a Sharpie to lay in the darks, can't get too fussy this way, and used pencil for the mid tones. Again, as I said in previous post, using a direct and permanent medium like an ink pen forces me into being more thoughtful and decisive when laying down darks.
Doing this allows me to see the design immediately and do different versions.

The bottom is black ink brushed, no pens.
They can get a bit clumsy at times but are quick and literally show 'the big picture', another advantage of ink.182

Click on images for larger view