Sunday, July 3, 2011


I thought today I'd write about a rather complex subject - Watercolour Paper. It's taken me years to sort out what I know, and I know there's still a lot for me to learn on the subject. I won't get into the various ways Watercolour Paper is made, or the various things it is made of. Instead, I will stick with the surface and weight, and the with the brand of paper I use . . . Arches.

As you know, Watercolour Paper comes in a variety of weights, and that is based on how much a set number of sheets of paper (a ream) weigh. The paper is numbered according to how much that lot of paper weighs. The very light paper will weigh 90lb or less, while the heavy paper will be 300lb or more. That said, the usual range we see is 90lb, 140lb, and 300lb.

Someone told me recently that he had read that the 140 paper is for beginners, so why was I, an established, award winning artist who has countless shows under my belt and various gallery representation over the years, still using it? * * * * Well, there are shades to that statement.

It's true that the art school or watercolour teacher you go to will probably suggest that you get a 10 x 14 or 12 x 16 BLOCK of 140 watercolour paper. A BLOCK is a collection of 20 sheets of cold pressed paper that are lightly gummed together at the edges, attached to a hard board, and have a coloured paper cover distinctive to the brand. There is a tiny slit in the gummed edge, and the nervous art student is supposed to wield an X-acto knife with a sure hand and slice off one sheet of paper at a time. (STRESS!! ) The paper is quite thin and crisp, and needs to be taped down on a board, as it buckles like a star bucking horse the moment you put water on it.

The SHEETS of watercolour paper are, however, very different. Each sheet is 22 x 30 inches, and they come in 90lb*, 140lb, 300lb, and heavier. I've never used anything heavier than 300 as I don't have a need for anything heavier.
The 140 is a heavier and more pliable paper than that in the BLOCK , even though they wear the same number. (At a guess, I would wonder if the blocks are weighed while attached to the cardboard backing?) The 140lb Sheets of Arches watercolour paper are happily and successfully used by many professional artists, including myself. I like the way the brush feels on the paper and the way the paint goes on. The difference between the 140 and the 300 (aside from the obvious thickness) is that of how much water the paper can hold, not a difference in quality. If you are using relatively light washes and lots of dry brush, the 140 does not need to be taped, but it you want to use a generous hand with the water, you must tape it down, as it will buckle to some degree. The 300lb can take much more water. I never stretch or tape any more because I've found that the way I paint does not call for it, but this is a personal choice. I use layers of washes, but not soakers, and I don't mind a little bit of buckle. It's easy to flatten again. When I'm doing a smaller painting, I use 140, but when I do something larger than 11 x 14, I use the 300.

* The 90lb has it uses in sketches and such, but not for a full painting using lots of washes. It's just too light. I use it mostly for prints.

The other thing I've been asked about is my delight in Hot Press paper, when it seems to get "bad press" from time to time. Arches Watercolor paper comes in three finishes - Hot Press, Cold Press, and Rough. The ROUGH is very textured, and not something that is suitable to my style of painting.
The COLD PRESS is the most popular by far. It is relatively easy for an experienced artist to get interesting water colour results on this paper. It's a nice, polite paper that wants to produce a lovely painting, whether you are using 140 or 300lb. I used to use it until I discovered the Hot Press, which is more suited to my detailed style.

I've heard HOT PRESS described as slippery and slick. Not so! While some makes of paper do make a harder, "shinier" Hot Press, which I have tried and rejected, the Arches is smooth and velvety. The surface is hard enough to take a masquing fluid, and that can prevent tears when it's time to remove the masque. That's tears in both ways of pronouncing it! I've used masque with a softer paper. The results when it was removed weren't pretty! The Arches HOT PRESS takes a little more practice and some skill to use this paper to its best advantage, and I've been using it long enough to feel completely at home with it, either as a 140lb or a 300lb. It's a great paper for those who enjoy its challenges.

The painting at the top is DAWN RUNNERS, and it is an 11x14 watercolour on Arches 140 Hot Press.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Well, this was an interesting painting that was simple on the surface and presented me with one challenge after another. This is DAFFODIL FLOUNCE, an 11 x 14 watercolor on Arches 140.
First off, after using Arches 300 lb paper several times in a row, I found the 140 very lightweight. It just handles differently. I think I will still use it for smaller paintings, but for this size and up, I believe I've come to like the 300 better. As I have several sheets of the lighter paper (which is heavy enough, just not as heavy as the 300), I will be using it up - it's too expensive to let it just sit there in my paper box. But from now on, I will be buying the heavier paper.
And it is always a challenge when the artist drops a brush loaded with dark sepia paint onto a pale blue sky. Yes, well. Thank goodness I've been using this medium long enough to know a little trick or two!
Then there was the Sheltie himself. I know these dogs, I've had them all my adult life. I know how they move. But as I was working on this little guy, I realized that my photo had been taken from a 3/4 view from behind, and what I wanted was more of a profile, so the feet were not in the right position. By this time, I had too much color in place both with the dog and with the daffodils, which were also not looking as I wanted them to, so I started over.
Keeping in mind the variation from the photo that I wanted, I got going on the dog. And this time, it worked. The little fellow who modeled for me for this painting has the most wonderful gait - it's so full of animation and the joy of living. To my admittely biased mind, all Shelties move beautifully, but this guy is magic.
The first daffodils I did were OK, but too individual for my liking, so this time, I made sure to mass them, and I like the effect much better.
There is always something that can be done if things don't look right, but there comes a time in a watercolor, that if it isn't working, the only choice is to start over. I'm really glad I took the time to re do this one. I find DAFFODIL FLOUNCE to be a bright, happy painting. Hope you enjoy it too.
Available . . .. $400.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I've been spending some time this week looking over a few of the old EQUINE IMAGE magazines. In planning where I want to go, I find it often helps to look at where I've been, and what was happening 'way back when'.
In looking through these magazines, I'm fascinated to see that what was AMAZING EQUINE ART then, still is of course, but that a lot of work that I admired for the technical sparkle, although still every bit as wonderful, seems not out of the reach of my abilities now. My skills as an artist have grown. Obviously, one hopes to do just that, but it is encouraging to see it verified there on a glossy page. Even though years have passed, I'm still proud of my watercolor painting that appeared in an EQUINE IMAGE article. 'DID SOMEOME SAY COFFEE?" is a watercolor and I'm pleased with the way I handled it, but I wonder what I could do with it now.
In the ensuing years, my art journey has taken me on various paths. I've done a lot, oh, a LOT of commission work, and I've explored Acrylics and become very comfortable with Colored Pencils. And there have been very few days where I've not been in my studio for a little while at least, working at my craft.
Now as I contemplate a new chapter in my art life, I can do so with pride because I know I've put in the hours, done the research, and pushed and pushed myself until I have arrived at this new level.
And while my focus as stated in the article " I feel a great need to record the local pasture scenes, various horse events, and most of all, the magical relationship between people and animals" remains valid, that too, has morphed somewhat. I still paint horses - they are so deeply rooted in my soul that I believe I always will. But my equally great love of dogs and cats has blossomed in my art and now I find myself painting more dogs than horses, and the felines need their time too. Although my commission work is still done mainly in Colored Pencil, my old love of watercolor has taken hold almost to the exclusion of other mediums, and I'm enjoying the challenge, mystery, and complexity of this charming, demanding medium.
Looking back can be a good thing, because you can see how far you've come. Now, eyes on the present and future . . . .ready, set, PAINT!

Friday, May 20, 2011


I LOVE the whole beautiful procession of Spring. The world seems to get a little better when the fields start to green up, and soon there are snowdrops and crocuses in the garden. A little later, the daffodils arrive and then the tulips, and about that time, the trees start to look like they are wearing pale green, lacey shawls over their heads. It's that time, too, that the foals start to appear in the fields with their big curious eyes and long spindly legs. At first, they stay pretty close to Mum, but after a few weeks, the curiosity wins and they start exploring their world. No matter how many times I see them, it's still always an "Ahh!" moment for me.
Some years ago, I used to watch this little guy because he was so totally charming. Every time we'd drive past the horse farm where he lived, my eyes would find him immediately. One of the things he loved to do was to hang out by the farm house, and I've painted him having one of his impromtu visits.
"HI THERE. IT'S ME" is an 11 x 14 watercolor on Arches 300 lb paper. This little fellow is looking for a good home. Asking price, matted, $400.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


This is PHOENIX. I wanted to express my belief that beauty is something strong, and that even though ideas of what is beautiful change over time, and there are even dark times when it seems to vanish, the essence of beauty is a constant. I've chosen an Andalusian as my symbol of strong beauty, and the classical pillars to represent beauty past. The poppies are the future. Anyone who has planted corn poppies in their garden, and then decided to change their location, knows that they will always renew themselves where they decide to bloom.
PHOENIX is a 12 x 16 watercolor on Arches 140 paper. This painting is sold, but note cards are available.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


First let me say that early morning any month of the year is not my natural habitat. But we had an 8:30 am appointment, and I had to be up. Notice I didn't say "awake". But the drive into the village where we had to be, was worth the pain of being up before time. Recent heavy rains have kept the little river that runs past our house, in flood. By mid summer, it is a tiny creek in many places that you could step over, or shallow enough to walk through, but at this time of the year, it is mighty. The banks turn into watermeadows and are often filled with ducks and geese. On a sunny day, this is lovely to see, and even on a rather snarly day like this one, it's something to enjoy as we drive along. We took a different way home, and the fields of cut-back corn stalks were filled with geese. A huge flock - many hundres of them, turned the sky black as they came to land in one field so they could rest for the day and glean the muddy corn rows of left-over corn. Something startled one group who had already settled, and there was a sudden glory of wings as 50 or so birds rose like a living fan out of the stubble. Fox? All through the cut corn stalks, if we looked closely, we could see long black necks bobbing along as the geese went walk-about. There is something about geese that amuses me, although I don't particularly like coming nose to beak with them. Long necks, short geese tempers!

Friday, April 8, 2011


Each Spring that we can manage it, we go to a Maple Sugar bush, not so much to get the sweet treats, (although that is not neglected!) but to walk in the woods and let the forest work it's magic on our souls. I seldom go into the woods from mid spring to mid autumn - (possible Serpent sightings), but from late October to mid April, I feel safe to wander and look. Once we are away from the main road, the magic of the forest takes over. I can hear the wind in the trees singing and sighing and whispering old-as-time secrets in my ears, and the air has a fresh tang that is a mix of pine needles, rotting leaves, damp earth, solitude and possibilities. It exhilarates and soothes all at the same time. We walk along the sometimes muddy, sometimes icy paths into the heart of the woods and are often silent, just observing, feeling, and talking to the spirit within. By the time we leave, we are refreshed and at peace again. If you want to catch up on my shorter gratitude comments since my last full blog, they can be found on my Facebook page.