Plein air in Round Top

Plein air watercolor study

We’ve visited Round Top, Texas regularly since 2008, and regularly stay at the wonderful Elisa’s Sunday Haus. There’s lots of things to paint there. Unfortunately, when contemplating an on-the-spot watercolor, I sometimes get overwhelmed. Time and weather are not on your side when trying to capture a moment in a landscape. More often than not, I admire a scene but talk myself out of trying to capture it. This time, I was determined to paint something. So I picked a single copper planter on her front porch in early morning. I love painting dramatic shadows, and was drawn to the long but increasingly shorter one being cast by the container. I also loved painting the wood grain and how the transparency of the shadow shows through. After viewing the photograph of this, I realized that the green copper patina leaned much more toward blue than was rendered. File away for next time.

New watercolor


This is the final studio watercolor, along with my working sketch of a commissioned work, one of my more challenging. Final size about 18 by 13 inches. There was a lot going on with this home. I took many reference photos from different angles and spent quite a bit of time consolidating and compressing the placement of the many prominent items in the yard as to get them all in the image in a pleasing way without overly compromising their actual placement in the landscaping. I’m a bit reluctant to say that this work took many months to complete. Fortunately, the homeowner was very accommodating and understanding. It just so happened that about the time I was commissioned, my graphic design business really took off. But I should also admit that I intermittently suffered from the “crisis of confidence” that I suppose every creative person goes through. In my experience, the only way out is to go through it.

Winter Street Studios

Winter Street Studios

I set up my easel at Winter Street Studio last Sunday afternoon and painted this watercolor. I’m not necessarily a transparent watercolor purist, meaning that I use opaque white when the need arises, especially out-of-doors when I’m having to paint quickly and don’t really have time to mask small areas of paper so that they will stay paint-free. So it was freely used here, apparent in the sunlit telephone lines, but not as much so in the highlighted areas of the transformers and the fence.

Mausoleum at Glenwood

Watercolor of a mausoleumI went to Glenwood Cemetery off Washington Ave. to paint this watercolor yesterday. It’s one of my favorite places. The most beautiful place of its kind that I’ve ever seen. Opened in 1871, it’s terraced, hilly, haunting and mysterious, I get a real sense of history when I’m there. Today I craved a different subject than angels and tombstones. My thoughts turned to the many mausoleums there. I chose one on top of a very steep hillside, so steep from the road that I couldn’t get a good setup from in front. So I climbed to the top and set up my gear behind it, sitting on a low cement grave barrier. I’ve always loved the challenge of painting dappled sunlight. And a challenge it is. The sun kept going behind a cloud, but it stayed out long enough. This took me about an hour and a half to paint.

Houston Arboretum pond

watercolor-Houston ArboretumI painted this watercolor at the Houston Arboretum yesterday. It was a nice late summer afternoon and the place had quite a few people. I toted my equipment around for a while, thinking I didn’t want to spend the whole time looking for the “perfect” spot. I ended up where I usually do, at the little pond covered with lily pads. I sat on a bench with a railing and trees behind. I didn’t necessarily want the curious standing over my shoulder. Once I penciled the general shapes, I realized what a daunting subject I’d chosen. Although sunny, clouds intermittently blocked the light. And those lily pads! Dappled light, then clouds, tree shadows, sky reflection in the water. It was all very hard to visualize on paper. Once I got the first tentative washes down, I was ready to give up. To me, this is one of the hardest times to push on. I know from experience (or I hope) that at some point this will start to resemble a painting, but I’m not always mentally prepared to persevere. But I’d gone to a lot of preparation to be out there and I had looked forward to it. Before I knew it, I had laid in some darker washes for the trees and I started to have hope. But I was overwhelmed with all the detail before me, Many years ago, my drawing teacher told me to squint my eyes to better see the values. This time I did something more drastic. I removed my eyeglasses. My nearsightedness blurred the scene just enough so that I was able to concentrate on the mass shapes and colors. My confidence strengthened and I pressed on, and about an hour and a half later, just as a light sprinkle started, I was done.



Memorial Park watercolor


I wanted to get out today to paint, despite the heat. Got to the park about 4:30. It had become overcast, so didn’t have to worry about sun or shifting shadows. I also made up my mind that I didn’t have to find a perfect subject. I just walked about 100 yards from my car into the outskirts of the woods, reconnoitered a few seconds, and sat down and started painting. I had John Singer Sargent in mind. Many times when working en plein air, he didn’t much care what his subject was, he just painted what was right in front of him.

The Great Wall of “China”


This is a watercolor illustration that I painted for a promotional series to promote the printing capabilities of the company I was working for. My idea was to create a large-scale calendar and use a staged photo or illustration for each month with the theme as a visual pun on the word “wall”, since this is what the piece would be, a wall calendar.

I wanted this particular month to look like a very old Chinese silk painting. I bought a large sheet of extra-heavy litho paper, took it home and placed it in my bathtub, filled with instant coffee and water. I let it soak for a while, then let it dry. I finished up using watercolor dyes.


Dory shagged me

Sketch of goats and turkeyA few years back I went on a watercolor “paint out” to a dairy goat farm outside of Houston called Blue Heron Texas. There a young couple make wonderful goat cheese from Nubian goats and sell it regionally at farmers markets. It was a great experience. There were just about every species of barnyard critter you can imagine. Cats, dogs, pigs, chickens, and a giant male turkey by the name of Dory.

Large male turkey As I stood at my field easel, painting away, Dory sauntered up to me and began humping my leg. Not a little. A lot. This was a big turkey, and he just about knocked me off my feet. I was greatly amused, as was the young lady who was hosting us, and besides being somewhat embarrassed, decided to record the event for her blog. Dory followed me around for the rest of the day. I made a few sketches, but didn’t get much painting done. Alas, I found out a few weeks later that he ended up in a frying pot.



Trees in Memorial Park

In Memorial Park

I love nature. I went for a walk in Houston’s Memorial Park for the first time since the big drought several years ago. It had been too difficult to see the devastation. But the park’s coming back. I pulled out this watercolor I did there pre-2011. Those pines are all gone. Nature doesn’t experience time or loss. It just relentlessly goes on…and prevails. The thought gives me comfort in these uncertain times.