Tuesday, July 17, 2012

International Watercolor Society

What a treat I got in the mail.  A packet from Turkey arrived and it contained my copy of the IWS Catalog and a certificate of appreciation too.

Thank you very much IWS.  What a great honor for me.  Thank you not just for the experience but also because I met and gained new friends who share the passion for the medium.

About IWS - International Watercolor Society

The catalog is not yet available for ordering but is available for viewing online.  Catalog cover pic will take you to the fb album.  A bit of correction.  The 2013 is not yet out.  This is the 2012 IWS catalog.

IWS Catalog

My painting that got included.
Before I go, let me share with you this video collection compiled by IWS from participating artists all over the world.  Watercolor is really a very expressive medium able to accommodate a multitude of styles.

2012 IWS Jury Committee

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Red Hibiscus… With Girl

12.5 x 15 inches
watercolor on paper

Kidding!  Haven’t decided on the painting’s title yet.  Was just playing around with the article title and thought I probably should acknowledge that I am aware some of you may be thinking that I am stuck on hibiscuses with them being mostly my output lately.  Partly true.  Could not help myself.  I had not realized there were so many color varieties for this flower that it makes me want to experiment with the color mixes whenever I get my hands on a new variety.  The second reason is because I get requests for hibiscus paintings.  Win/win for me.  I get to paint what I like often.


Let me introduce you to Morgana, my niece.  She was accompanying me around their garden as I scouted for flowers  when the reference photo for this painting was taken.  Not many are probably aware but perfect reference photos do not usually just happen by chance.  Most blooms have a mind of their own and usually pose themselves so that they stand out like divas from their peers.  Perhaps a quirk of evolution... survival of the prettiest.  More often than not, as I like painting flowers in their natural setting, I would find myself fixing and posing the flower/s on the spot.  I was doing exactly that with the red hibiscus here.  The flower was quite large and looked velvety red.  it was also the sole bloom at that time from that particular plant.  So when my niece suddenly placed herself in front of the camera and pulled on this bloom, my first reaction was to panic.  I have just spent several minutes tucking this branch here, this leaf there, and I thought she was going to snap the flower off thinking to help me by just handing the thing to me.  So I was saying…no…no…no… and then realized she was carefully posing with it.  Feeling relieved, I took her picture.  When I looked at the camera display, I realized, wow... she’s quite a photogenic kid.  The lighting seemed perfect too.  Sunlight was coming from behind the foliage highlighting her hair in places and there was a lot of reflected colors.  It is a good thing she’s not shy around the camera and was game when I gave her instructions… look this way, hold, now smile when I tell you to… the kid is a natural model.  I exercised artistic license though and later changed her ornate headband to a plain white one when I painted it.  She was also wearing a black top with a checkered green and peach pattern which I changed to plain unadorned white for two reasons:  To make sure the outfit would not pull attention from her face and also because the lighter color would suit a child better.  Originally, I was planning to use a very simple background for this painting.  So it would be just Morgana and the red flower.  But as I started to put the initial washes for the arm that she was holding the bloom with, I realized her body position and gesture would look unnatural and strained if I did not include into the painting a hint of why she is posed like that.  So I included the leaves and the upper part of the plant that the flower is attached to.  At the same time, I was aware that if I made the plant too detailed, it may compete for the viewer’s attention.  I used more definition for the leaves specially the one on top that was pushing against her hair.  I just hinted at a branch and some leaves on the lower right side just to suggest an anchor for the rest of the plant.  Subtle enough not to lead the viewer’s eye out of the painting.


I finished the sketch for this portrait and had the drawing already transferred to the paper months ago.  But I only put paint to paper two weeks ago.  It was because I was at a loss as to how to paint our skin color.  Most instructional books have color suggestions for fair and dark skin but not our race's usual color which is "morena" - a sort of golden brown.  I have just finished another painting, Red Hibiscus, when I noticed I still had a lot of clean colors left over.  It made me remember a conversation I had with my friend Erika who is also an artist.  She shared her morena color with me.  While what I had on the palette was not exactly the colors she shared with me, I got the concept from it.  I remembered Morgana's drawing and decided if I was to swim in cold water (having painted my last portrait so long I feel like I've forgotten everything), better to get over the initial shock by jumping right in.

The idea is a basic brown mix to which you add blue, red, or yellow depending on whether you will use it to highlight, darken or just to add a glow.  This method may also remind you of Jan Kunz's method and you are right.  She is one of my earliest influences.  I received my knowledge about crevice darks, reflected colors, highlights and general watercolor knowledge from her books and videos.  I highly recommend her instructional books and videos.  Back to my color mixing.  I made my basic brown mix from cadmium orange, french ultramarine blue and permanent alizarin crimson.  I used for my yellow, red and blue mixing colors cadmium yellow, permanent alizarin crimson, french ultramarine blue.  But have fun experimenting with different colors.  I am reserving Erika's exact trio for my next portrait painting.  Thank you Erika!


Red Hibiscus
8 x 8 inches
watercolor on paper

This red hibiscus will be auctioned off this September for a cause my high school batch is supporting.  Batch 88, Assumption College.

Colors used for Morgana's portrait and for the Red Hibiscus are:  Cadmium yellow, cadmium orange, permanent alizarin crimson, French ultramarine blue, permanent sap green, ivory black, winsor violet, and winsor green.

My colors were a combination of transparent and semi-opaque colors.  The trick for  not producing “mud” is patience.  I dry completely between layers.

Another thing I noticed is that some of the colors look different on the photograph.  When viewed in real life, the flesh tones in the painting look very soft and well blended.  However, in the photograph, I can see color patches with distinct edges overlapping.  I am already aware that some colors like Cobalt blue behave this way in front of the cam.  This probably is related to some colors being transparent and some opaque.

Well that is it for now.  Til next.

Erika Nelson’s blog

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Up For A Challenge

Red Jade Vine


12 x 16 inches

watercolor on paper
Collection of Librada Dela Fuente


The name is actually a misnomer as the red jade vine is of a different species (Mucuna bennettii) from the jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys).  Beautiful and not so commonly found, both are sought after by garden enthusiasts.  These type of flowering vines are most often used to fill and decorate shaped frame structures for walkways.  They provide very good shade.

We have both the jade vine and the coral vine (another name for the red jade vine) now in our garden courtesy of Kakang Badeng (grandaunt) who is a collector.  It is from her garden that I get some of my more unusual flower references.

Painting this coral vine was quite a challenge.  It was several months in the planning.  First, because it is a seasonal bloomer.  When Kakang Badeng asked me if I could paint it from a picture she took, I said I will have to see the coral vine closer up and in the natural setting.  This is one of those blooms whose color cannot be captured by photographs well.  The red orange coloration is so bright that the camera perceives the individual blooms to be almost one solid color.  It becomes difficult to distinguish individual structure and detail.  The chandelier-like formation of the combined blooms also can be limiting in that you are more or less stuck in having to show it hanging down otherwise, it might not become recognizable.  I was able to take home a flower cutting the next time it bloomed.  Lola had one of her gardeners climb and get a sample so we can see it closer up.  At home, my sister had to hold the stem with a forceps because the stem has spicules.  Not a very nice feeling when you get the sharp, tiny spikes in your fingers.  I had to use masking tape to get mine out.   But see how bright the coloration is.  It is even more beautiful "live" because you see subtle differences within the orange color - hint of red, green, yellow and even violet.

As I was studying the coral vine and making notes, I realized it would be easier composition-wise if I placed it in its natural setting.  I can use the background to add more interest.  I mentioned to my lola that I need more information.  I will need to see how the flower is attached to the vine, how the leaves are oriented, etc. (more from curiosity and the need to see it - orient it logically in my brain than the actual need to paint details).  And that is how I found myself atop a tall aluminum ladder the next time me and my sister visited.  Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.  :D   When we got there, this ladder was already in place complete with an assistant who would make sure it will not topple over.  As I was climbing the ladder with my knees shaking not just from the height but the feeling that the ladder might not take my weight, I looked down and saw Kakang Badeng.  She was so confident I could do it that it convinced even me.  So who says there is no thrill and adventure in painting.  This passes for the equivalent of bungee jumping when you get to my age.  :D


How I planned the painting itself can be summarized by this simple illustration.

I placed the subject (large orange oval) off center, left and higher up.  The smaller orange ovals add interest but don't detract from the main subject.  The function of the satellite ovals is to add interest but at the same time it also acts as a pointer or reminder so that your attention is brought back to the more dominating large oval.  To make the background more dynamic, I angled it.  The green zone is for the vine branches and leaves.  Blue zone for the sky.  The large white area at the bottom which I will leave mostly blank will reinforce the illusion that the bloom is hanging.


Here is how it looked from the top of the ladder.  You have vines crisscrossing, some as thick as my wrist, others thin as a finger.  The greenhouse has a metal framework which the vine uses for support.  The leaves are mostly outside and on top of the greenhouse.  Sunlight pierces through gaps and you can see glimpses of sky in the spaces.  See how photographs are great tools for memory or recollection.  Now to paint as if you're doing it plein air, don't get too caught up in the photo but distill the essence or principle of the thing and use it to suggest realness.

I had fun when creating the background dropping in colors and creating ghost branches.  I had so much fun I forgot to photograph the process in between these two stages.  Sorry.  Sometimes you get too caught up with an idea, you forget about documenting.  But the idea is to leave spots of areas lighter in color among the branches.  Later, I would color these the same blue as the sky.  The branches were semi-detailed in some spots and vague in others.  Some areas, I covered with varying degrees of green.  I debated against painting realistic detailed leaves because it will compete with the blooms and also because I wanted the illusion that you're viewing this from a distance.  At that height and distance, either you would focus on the bloom or on the leaves and vines.  That is how the normal human vision works.  I want the viewer to think it was his idea to focus on the blooms so I left the detailing mostly on the flower itself.  Try it, see how even when you consciously try to walk your eyes around the painting, you would find your eyes straying towards the main flower.  Last, on the finished painting, you would notice that I signed my name very lightly with the same blue I used for the sky.  I wanted the signature to be as unobtrusive as possible.  I was thinking of not putting it in at all but because I will not be supervising the framing of this painting, I have a feeling that the framer might crop the large white area thinking to save space.  Putting it in this way, they would feel compelled to include the signature.  If this blank area was shortened, you will lose the feeling that the bloom is suspended high up.

So that is one way to do the old school way of composition.  These days, we do not really adhere to the "rules" but sometimes it is good to know the basics.

Thank you for dropping by.

Friday, February 17, 2012


10.5 x 13.5 inches
watercolor on paper

Gone green lately.  Have been a bit busy in the garden.  And congratulate me, only half the plants I have repotted keeled over.  That is quite an improvement from my 007 status in the plant world.  I also got bougainvilleas in multi-colors so you can probably guess what my next projects will be.  And yes, the bougainvilleas are expected to survive 100%, I was only allowed to watch when they were being replanted in the bigger pots.  :D

About the painting's title "Saging-sagingan", literally translated it means mock bananas or fake bananas.  It is the local name for the plant Heliconia psittacorum (also known as false bird-of-paradise, parrot's beak).  I noticed ever since being told the local name, I can't see the parrot's beak anymore but keep seeing bananas, bananas.  The leaves of the plant also look like banana leaves growing upright from the ground.

For this painting, again, I used a limited palette and used the whiteness of the paper to get lighter colors.  One advantage of using a limited color palette is it makes it easy to achieve cohesiveness in your paintings.  For example, to get a darker green I added a bit of violet to the sap green.  For other parts of the leaves, I added orange or red to the green to get different shades of green.  For the shadings in the "bananas", I used mixtures of green and blue.  The red got darker or lighter with the addition of violet and orange, etc. Even though the colors look distinctly blue, distinctly green, distinctly red or yellow, they have parts of the other colors in them that later when you take it all in together, you know the colors fit.

My palette for this painting:
(W&N)  permanent rose, Winsor yellow, Winsor orange, permanent sap green, Winsor green, cobalt blue, cerulean blue and Winsor violet.

Thank you for dropping in.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Make Your Own Watercolor Stretcher Board 2

Ever wished you can order gator boards in custom sizes?  Love those boards but they come only in fixed sizes.   I have cut some of them to make it more convenient for me when painting in smaller, non-standard sizes which I find myself repeatedly favoring.  But how to add two or more together to get a bigger surface to stretch on, that is a challenge.  The problem is you would get a ridge where two board edges meet and that might cause a permanent indentation on your watercolor paper.  These boards also have more noticeable bending or bowing the bigger you go (due to the paper pulling as it shrinks) so added support will be needed if you plan to make bigger stretcher boards out of them.

I have been experimenting over the last months using whatever materials I have around.  I dared not use the gator boards for the experiment because they are a bit expensive here so I used instead foam core boards.  At first I used illustration board as a backing to the foam core boards with the result that the first time I tried stapling paper on it, I ended up yelping.  The staple ends poked through the foam core board and the illustration board and into my palm.  Back to the drawing board.  Well, after trying on different supports and testing them out, I have come up with this final design.  So far, so good.  Will give you my review on how it performed at the end of this article.

Materials for this watercolor stretcher board:
  • Plywood (at least 6 mm thickness).
  • Paper tape.
  • Elmer's glue (carpenter's glue).
  • Foam core board.
  • Acrylic Gesso.
  • Brush for gesso application.


Cut the foam core board and the plywood that you will be using as backing to your desired specifications.  I find it best to measure and cut the plywood first and then use that as a template for cutting the foam core later.  Easier to trim foam core than to trim excess plywood.

This is optional but I like giving the plywood backing some finishing.  You can use paint, sandpaper or treatments you can buy from the hardware to give the backing some finishing but my preference is paper tape.  One reason is when you do a double layer of it at the back, it sort of softens the backing.  I have appropriated our seldom used dining room at the main house as my studio because I get good lighting there.  I'm very conscious of abrasive, hard, sharp surfaces because they may scratch the glass top of our dining room table.  With the paper backing, I am not so afraid to rotate the board while I am working on it.  I like how the paper backing also prevents me getting splinters from the wood

Shown in the picture (above,right) strips of paper tape applied side by side onto the plywood. I cut them longer than the length of the plywood so I can fold them over and get a neat paper covered edge. After this layer dries, I place another layer of paper tape but position them perpendicular to the first one so I would get paper covered edges also on the last two bare sides. (If first layer is lengthwise, apply the second layer crosswise). Allow the paper tapes to dry completely and then turn the board over.

Put a liberal amount of glue on the inside surface of the backing board

Spread the glue evenly.  One reason why I keep some of the used prepaid phone cards.  They are very handy when you're spreading glue.
Place the foam core board onto the backing board and let dry overnight.  For better adherence, I would turn the board over, making sure that the surface I am putting on has nothing that will mar the foam core board's surface.  Then I use heavy books to weigh it down.  I forgot to take a picture when I did it so I recreated the scene but used fewer books.  There were a lot more books than these but they were heavy to lug around and I have already put them back.  But you get the idea.

Last, put several coats of gesso on the surface of the foam core board and on its side to seal it and make it water resistant (depends on how many layers of gesso you put on).  Do not forget the sides.  Gesso acts as a protectant or buffer against the elements and your foam core board would last longer if its inside is not as exposed to air and water.  It also is acid-free so even when you place wet paper over it, you will not be exposing your watercolor paper to acid you normally do when you get your paper in direct contact to wet wood.

Close up of the board's side showing why you need to cover it up with gesso too.  The exposed part will turn yellow and brittle over time.  The gesso will hopefully delay this a bit.  The board should give you extra years of service when you take precautions.

Tada!  With paper stretched on it.  Ready for painting.  (Of course, I let the gesso dry completely for several days before stretching on it.)

The review:

What is good about it:
  • You can custom make it almost any size.  Foam core is available at size 30 x 40 here so you can make a stretcher board as big as that.
  • With the plywood backing, it is not as prone to bowing.  This board I just made is 40 x 18 inches. When paper I stretched on it started drying, I only got slight bowing... almost negligible.
  • It is reusable.  You only need to invest time in it once, when you make it.  Although I did put another coat of gesso on a previous one I've just taken a painting off to plug the holes left behind by the stapler.  Still it looked pretty much intact and the surface was even despite the holes.
  • Not so expensive although quite time consuming.
  • The foam core layer took in the staples better.  I did not get that much shock on the wrist stapling on it.
What needs improving:
  • It is heavier with the plywood backing.
  • Not sure if it is due to the wet weather last month but I noticed that I needed a longer drying time in between sessions of painting.  Clay surface versus gessoed.  The clay surface of gatorboards seems able to dry the underside of watercolor paper faster.  This needs investigation.  I'm hoping maybe if the correct thickness of gesso is achieved, this will improve.  
I still favor using the commercially prepared gator boards when the painting I'm planning to do fits its dimensions but for the unusual formats, I think I did good with my DIY board.

Now if all of these seem very labor intensive and you have money to spare, you can always get thicker paper that will not need stretching.  :D

Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sunlit Yellow Hibiscus

Finally, regular internet service is back on.  Thank you friends for waiting with me.  It has been quite a while but I am hoping to make it up this year with all that I have promised to do.  Thank you for the patience.

Finished this hibiscus early December last year but could not post it or the painting progress online.  Aside from losing internet service, this painting was to be a surprise gift for my friend Cathy from her husband.  I usually do not do the same color flower in a row but when Noel and I were discussing what kind of flower Cathy might like and at the same time what would compliment the color scheme of their house best, we agreed on a yellow hibiscus.  It helped that the last time they were over at our place several months ago, Cathy liked the yellow hibiscus I just finished for Gigi.  

Sunlit Yellow Hibiscus
19.5 x 16.5 inches
watercolor on paper

Thank you very much Noel and Cathy for the support and for letting my work be part of your new home.