Painting with Roger Whitlock

In January I began a series of weekly classes with Roger Whitlock, a notable watercolorist who lives in the Seattle area. He and his other students were all accomplished NWWS member painters, so I was initially a bit intimidated about painting in such company. But I’m glad that I did because I learned about new materials and techniques and met some lovely people in the class.

First, we learned a new (to me) technique for handling watercolor paper to manage its wetness at each stage of the painting process, without going through the tedious process of stretching and drying the paper before one can even begin. Big win!

Roger also offered valuable guidance for handling paint in ways to achieve bright clear colors and create strong values for a successful painting. He also encouraged us to use only big brushes in the early stages to avoid getting lost in the details.

We all worked from Roger’s reference photos and usually completed a painting in each session. The landscape below is from the first class, and uses two colors I’d never used before. Naples Yellow creates a warm glow at the horizon that grades to increasingly dark blues at the top. Surprisingly, Naples Yellow does not create a green where the yellow and blue meet. In addition, we learned that Viridian, a rather vile green on its own, is best used to darken other colors and make them more interesting, as in the foreground trees.

Painted from Roger Whitlock’s original photo

Our third lesson was about depicting subjects which are lit from behind, rather than from light shining directly on them. In the painting below I am most pleased that the strong darks on the left side add the real drama to this scene.

Painted from Roger’s photo of a Mexican scene

Group review sessions at the end of each class were truly helpful. We were all honest but generous and regardless of the skill level we each brought to the class, everyone progressed under Roger’s teaching.

A new series of classes with Roger was to have begun in March. But until we’re no longer all “artists in residences” due to pandemic virus concerns, I’m looking back through my older works with an eye toward painting some of them again, using what I learned from his classes.

Brave Beginnings

A year-end studio cleanup found me sorting through stacks of practice paintings and drawings. The effort quickly became a self critique of what I’ve accomplished since leaving the work world and focusing on my art skills. 

Reviewing my efforts chronologically, I see progress, largely due to attending frequent artist lectures, demonstrations and workshops at Daniel Smith. This art supply store is an amazing resource for all kinds of art makers. I’ve also taken local figure drawing classes and online classes through Artists Network. When I’m stuck for ideas, I enjoy working my way through instructional books for design, drawing, watercolor and pastel painting. And I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit, watching watercolor demos on YouTube. I joined the Northwest Watercolor Society to connect with other local painters. I’m even volunteering for the group. In all, the past three years have given me a range of good experiences and now it’s time to find my personal style and become a bit braver about sharing my artwork. 

So this week I hushed my inner coward and entered my first competitive NWWS watercolor exhibit. I picked three of my practice works, all painted from my own sketches or photos, so they are my original work, rather than student exercises. I don’t expect to have any of my entries accepted this time as I am not in the same league as the painters whose work I’ve seen in several NWWS shows. But I think it’s good experience to learn to photograph and prep my images to the NWWS specs and then use their online entry system. (I actually uploaded the wrong file sizes initially, but with some help from another member, I finally did it.)

My entries:

Bloedel Path, 2018, Copyright Peggy Willett

I’ve done several pastel and watercolor studies of this path lit by a bright tree at the Bloedel Reserve. It was on this 2016 visit to the garden that I first saw a flyer for Julia Cameron’s book “It’s Never Too Late” about creativity for “retirees and other creative souls.” Her book set me on my own artful path, so it seems appropriate to enter a painting from the photo I took that day. 

Pearly Morning Alki, 2019, Copyright Peggy Willett

I often walk on Alki beach in the morning. It has a nice flat stretch of waterfront where I can do my two miles and then stop for coffee at any number of cozy places and watch ships and birds and people. I like the contrast between the soft edges of the trees, water and beach, and the hard lines of the walking paths, the seawall, the steps going down to the sand. Some mornings, the light is almost pearlescent. 

Mary’s Poppies, 2019, Copyright Peggy Willett

My daily walks to the market take me past my neighbor Mary’s rockery garden, which glows in summer with California poppies. This view is looking to the North and I really like the way the chain link fence leads your eye into the picture. 

My favorite study of her poppies, however, looks to the South. I could not enter this one into the NWWS show, however, because at just 5×7 inches, it’s too small. Perhaps I’ll paint a larger version next.

Poppies, 2019, Copyright Peggy Willett

Back to dustless media

I’m struck with the vivid colors and immediacy of drawing and painting with pastels, but their dust creates an issue for me, at least for now.

I’ve taken some steps to avoid breathing the dust, such as wearing a mask and tilting my easel so the top of the paper is slightly toward me, allowing the dust to fall away from the surface into a collection bin. I’m also using the harder types of pastel, NuPastel and pastel pencils, which shed less dust than softer brands.  Between layers, I’ve also spritzed my drawings with an alcohol or water mist to ‘set’ them on the paper.

But last weekend when I was working on a new piece, the light was just right when the furnace kicked on and I began to see faint, smokey-looking wisps of very fine dust rising from the paper into the air and toward the cold air returns. Yikes!

Because most pigment colors come primarily from minerals and metals, it can’t be good for the fine dust to fly through our air ducts and be distributed throughout the house for us to breathe.

I clearly need to learn more about how pastel artists deal with this issue. And I’m researching dust management methods at various websites to see what other steps I can take.

This medium, for me, may best be used outside or in a separate studio; not my home. It will soon be warm enough to work outside and I’ll try them again then. For now, however, I’m returning to other tools – including dyes, ink, watercolor pencils and paints.  I used them all to interpret this reference photo of some red and white tulips against a dark background.

Tulip reference image
photo copyright by Peggy Willett, December, 2017 – please ask for permission to use

After drawing my composition lightly on some 140 pound hot press watercolor paper, I used an Inktense dye pencil to create a dark, soft background texture around the leaves and flowers. Painting clear water over pencil marks ‘melts’ them into a wash, just once, before becoming permanent. This ensured the background won’t leak into the lighter leaves and petals as I dampen the paper and paint them in with watercolor.

Step 1 Tulip watermedia

Next, I added some detail to the blossoms and leaves with watercolor pencil and softened these with water, too.

Step 2 tulips

I then added transparent watercolor paint to the leaves and some areas of the white blossom. I was slightly terrified to add the reds!

Step 3 tulips

Finally, I added darks and more vivid reds with Tombow pens, which are also water soluble.

Step 4 - final tulips

As soon as the weather warms, I look forward to trying a pastel version of this composition. Outside.

If you have any tips on containing pastel dust, I’d be grateful for your comments.




Delicious colors

I am always looking for interesting objects to draw for practice. I found some beautiful radishes with frilly leaves and gnarly roots and placed them on a glass table, where they created interesting shadows and reflections as the sunlight changed over the course of a couple of hours.

Radishes copyright Peggy Willett

Translating this composition to watercolor, I added a horizon line so the radishes would not seem to float in space.  As with the pear paintings, I limited my palette to three colors, mixed and applied (patiently) in layers.

This is Quinacridone Rose, Aureolin (Cobalt) Yellow and Pthalo Blue. I used masking fluid to retain my lightest areas. Removing it damaged the thin, 140 pound paper in a couple of places. Grrr. Radishes 1 copyright Peggy Willett

I like to work in a series, so next I splurged and used a sheet of 300 pound paper. These sheets are mounted in a block and glued on three edges so they do not buckle when wet. No stretching and taping required. I love this stuff!

I changed my blue in the next two paintings to Prussian Blue. The masking fluid came off this paper without incident.

Radishes 2 copyright Peggy Willett

I took what I learned from the first two and painted one more version on the back of the heavier paper. I’d removed it from the block and used no masking fluid this time.  I got brighter greens with overwashes of pure yellow but they were SO bright that I pumped up the red in the radishes to balance the values. This version was painted the fastest and with the fewest brushstrokes.

Radishes 3 copyright Peggy Willett

I’m feeling more comfortable with watercolor as I paint more frequently.  And I’m feeling better about my drawing skills.  Onward to more complex shapes as I work my way through the pantry and into a figure drawing class.



Watching paint dry

Watching paint dry is a phrase we understand to mean the epitome of boredom. But taking the time to literally watch watercolor paints dry can be surprisingly interesting and may just be the key to success with this medium.

I’d read and heard about the need to let colors and paper dry completely before adding a new layer of paint, but doing so seemed too slow and disruptive. Now I know that rushing the process simply produces a lot of muddy colors and abuses a lot of expensive watercolor paper.

I’m finally seeing that having the patience to watch the paint dry – or to walk away and do something else for awhile, is the way to build bright, luminous layers of color. The colors change as they settle into the paper and moisture evaporates. They mingle, separate and granulate, sometimes creating ‘blooms’ and run backs that add texture and interest. Watching this happen can be mesmerizing. Very zen, eh?

To show what I mean, here are several of the steps I took to develop a painting of pears. To keep colors harmonious throughout, used just three colors: Quinacridone Magenta, Pthalo Blue and Hansa Yellow, allowing each layer of paint to completely dry.

First layers
Step 1 – started with an overall yellow wash followed by separate washes of pink and blue.

Step 2 adding more layers and more definition to pears – note the ‘blooms’ in the green background and how the blue and pink colors have separated in the pink area

Step 3 – more intense colors added

Two Pears final C Peggy Willett
Added final details – stems and shadow and darkest value under the pears. A final light green wash over the foreground to calm that color slightly.

One year later…

I began my blog almost exactly a year ago with several goals in mind:

  • To document my efforts to be a more creative person after leaving my work life.
  • As a way to share my retirement journey with friends and family.
  • To connect with others who are figuring out their own ‘seniority’ and creativity.
  • To keep and improve my writing and computer skills.

Though I hit a creative block for a few months and I’ve not posted recently, I’ve made some progress toward all these goals and hope to write more frequently in the new year.

So I begin again!

I continue to struggle with watercolor. The medium confounds me most days! So I took a break from the paints for a few months to work on my basic drawing skills, which I think will eventually make me a better painter.

Over the summer and into the fall, I drew various fruits and vegetables which were at hand from my pantry.  Good practice for form, composition and values.

Two pears

Now, I am trying my hand at translating some pencil drawings to water color.

Two pears in watercolor

More to come!