Back blogging

I had been sketching and painting (not a regular practice but as well as it can be while caring for an infant), but I haven’t blogged in a long long time. Part of the reason was paucity of time (you know, pregnancy, birth of our baby girl, and caring for the said baby :-)), another part of it was being disheartened and disappointed in my art. Times like these, it is wonderful to have encouraging friends who cheer you along, make suggestions but most importantly just be there. Thanks to Suhita for encouraging me to be gentle with myself, keep things simple and mostly importantly share my work.

Today I was able to sneak out for a couple of hours to sketch in our neighborhood. I got myself a coffee and settled down to sketch.

I did the obligatory coffee sketch to get warmed up.


Followed that by a few sketches of vignettes from the neighborhood. Here is one.


Okay, admittedly, this is not much of a blog post, but it is a start. See you all tomorrow!

Daily painting 06-11-2017 (#13)

Sometimes when I am low on inspiration and emotional energy it is hard for me to paint anything original. In times like these sometimes it helps to not challenge myself too much and just do something simple and manageable. I flip through my art books, pick a simple sketch or painting and make a quick copy. Here is one such from Edward Norton Ward's book First Impressions.


Daily painting 06-10-2017 (#12)

Things have been a little rough in my personal life this past week due to illness of a beloved family member, and it was kind of hard to get into the headspace of painting.

I am not going to beat myself up about missing a week of painting and just get rigjt back on the horse. Today I did a few exercises from Catherine Gill's book Powerful Watercolor Landscapes. Here is one which is a copy of one of her 'demo' paintings from the book.


Daily painting 05-30-2017 (#7)

Today I returned to my first love, watercolor. I chose to work from a picture of these cute sheep taken by an artist friend. I really liked the strong light and shadow in it. I have never painted sheep before, but there is a first for everything right?

I am not crazy about the rocks, and about the awful marks in the water. These are the things I might focus on next time. I lost a few of my brushes in the recent travels, and the lack of flat brishes made it difficult to add the crisp shadow edges in the rock faces. I might have to remedy that soon.

I enjoyed planning in layers, which I rarely ever do. I started with a yellow ochre wash over almost every thing other than the highlights on the sheep. When that is reasonably dry I painted the greens, followed by the shadows in the rocks and the sheep. I then deepened the rock shadows and painted the dark water.  

I will have to try this again and learn from the mistakes from today. 


Daily painting 05-25-2017 (#1)

After many weeks (or is it months?) of crazy work and travel schedule I am happy to be back to painting again. 

At this point, being staved of art for so long, I am ready paint like a mad person and also I like challenges. I was reading Carole Marine's book on daily painting and that gave me the idea to try it myself.

Good or bad, small or big, do a painting everyday and share it here - this is what I hae challenged myself. 

Today's painting is a copy of Hazel Soan's painting from her book. Master copies is a great way to learn, and I always learn a lot when I copy paintings I admire. The idea is not to make an exact copy, but is to make a study of the painting and make mental notes on the learnings while creating the study.


Daily painting 05-26-2017 (#2)

Today's master study is a copy of John Lidzey's "Flowers in the studio".

I found this painting while looking through Hazel Soan's Flower Painting Workshop book.


For tomorrow's study I want to repeat the same painting but with a little Tom Hoffmann thrown in, i.e. paint the shapes first and think about how much farther in the painting process do the elements need to be seperated.

Tom Hoffmann Melaque Workshop 2017 - Part 1 : The place and the people

It has been a week now since I returned from the workshop, but the glow hasn't faded yet. Admittedly, I had never been to Mexico before and never taken an on-location workshop before, this is my first such experience and nothing to compare it against ... but it is without doubt the most magical one week of painting for me since I started this journey three years ago (more on that a bit later).

In this post I will write about the wonderful place that is Melaque, and the people that make it so. Thanks to Laurie for most of the pictures in this post.

The place - Melaque, Mexico

Melaque is a combination of three beach front villages - San Patricio, Melaque and Villa Obregon, the entire area commonly referred to as Melaque. As far as I could tell tourism is the most important component of the economy of the area. Apparently Melaque is a popular beach vacation destination for Mexicans. The area has some ex-pat population (mainly from Canada surprisingly), some tourists from US and Canada but not too many. It is most definitely not a resort town like Cancun or Cabo. Here are a few pictures of what the town looked like. One thing you will notice in all the pictures are the wonderful shadows! This place is a painter's paradise.

The beach

The place is small enough that you can walk the entire stretch on foot. There is an unbroken stretch of walkable beach that goes all the way from Melaque, via San Patricio to Barra de Navidad. Along the way you will find the beach front dotted with shacks, restaurants and bars (that didn't seem to have walls on the front and back, except for the two walls on the sides to hold up the roof of the shack).

I am told that the water in most of the stretch is too rough for good swimming, but apparently great for surfing!

La Paloma

Most of us stayed at the lovely oceanfront boutique resort in San Patricio, La Paloma. It is located right on the beach with amazing views of the ocean from most rooms. The place really is as beautiful as in the pictures. 

View of the ocean from Room 10 of La Paloma. You can see the pool on the left and Albatros Bar on the right. Also, palm trees everywhere!

View of the beach from La Paloma. Man feeding his catch to the birds.

The resort is gated, and once you are inside it feels like a sanctuary (high-walled hacienda!). It is beautifully designed, lovely landscaping throughout and is always cool because of the breeze from the ocean. The guests are welcome to enjoy the entire property, and there are lots of little nooks everywhere for us to gather.

The food

There were tons of options to eat out, and every meal was absolutely delicious. There are restaurants and eateries all over the place, ranging from tiny pop-up shacks to restaurants catering to the ex-pat community featuring hamburgers and salsbury steaks. My favorite meals are the ones we ate in the tiny pop-up restaurants with street seating. 

As evening rolled-in it seemed like every other home turned into a pop-up restaurant, serving tacos, sopes, pazole etc.

You really didn't have to spend much money to eat a great meal in Melaque. At this place above, dinner for a group of 8 came to 235 pesos, which is equal to less than $15. The restaurants varied widely in pricing, and there were places where we spent as much as $10 per head for dinner and drinks but these were really lavish and luxurious restaurants. So yeah, things don't cost much here.

This is a small town and all they have is Food. They don't have vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, kosher etc. etc. If you have special dietary needs, best make your own arrangements.

The People

I spent a week in Melaque but still I couldn't quite get a pulse on the rhythm of the town. You could never been certain that the place you ate at the night before will be open the day after. Some places closed for a few days at once. "Maybe I will go visit uncle so-and-so today." and so they decided to close down the shop or the restaurant for the day? I just don't know :-) Children seem to be out in the streets playing at random times of the day, when do they go to school? (some said the school was in the late afternoon). There was a carnival in town and there'd be families out at night with their children on weekdays. Weekdays? On school-nights? Such a thing wouldn't be dreamt of in the bay area :-)

One thing for sure is that there is a certain sense of freeness that we have come to forget here in the US. Children play freely in the streets, stop and talk to strangers, watch us paint, all the while there is no parent helicoptering and monitoring the child. People stop and chat with you (if you speak the language anyway) in a leisurely manner with no sense of hurry. It is like when you are there you just forget to hurry. Everything is leisurely and laid-back. Everything closed down in the afternoon, the streets desolate, most storefronts shut and the town came back to life in the evening with music (music was everywhere!), children playing in the streets, pop-up restaurants outside every home it seemed like, people set their chairs out on the sidewalk and watched the passers-by and chatted with their neighbors.

Upon my return, when I was telling a colleague at work about this experience they said, "You didn't go to another place, you went to another time!". And that is absolutely true. It really was more like time travel. There were no smartphone-people walking on streets like zombies, there was little hurry about places to be and things to do. It was a therapeutic experience, a glimpse of enjoying life and finding happiness outside of "stuff" and "success".

I left my heart in Melaque

What a place! I almost do not want to post this, lest more people start going there and it ceases to be the hidden gem :-)

Floral practice

Its been a long hiatus since I last posted. The main reason for that was the Tom Hoffmann's Melaque Workshop that I was part of (I am in the process of writing blog posts about this workshop, stay tuned). Between recovering from the workshop I taught and getting ready for Tom's workshop, I just didn't have enough mental space to write.

Now that all that is behind me, I am trying to get back into my sharing mode. 

This week I am painting florals in preparation for the Floral and Still Life workshop that I am taking this weekend. I am looking forward to seeing Mike Kirschel, who was my first art teacher, a wonderful artist and teacher who has since relocated out of this area. The workshop is actually in oil/acrylic but I am going to be bringing watercolors. Mike doesn't let the medium get in the way of teaching making good art, and I really appreciate that about him. 

Anyway, getting back to practicing florals, I am really moved by the beautiful florals by Fabio Cembranelli. I have been watching his youtube videos and trying to figure out how he does what he does. There is not much information on the web about his process, so it really is becoming detective work :-)

It will take me a couple of decades to do the kind of things that Fabio does, but I learned a few things so far :

1. Strong composition with hard and soft edges, fuzzy wet-in-wet shapes juxtaposed with sharp, gestural marks with the rigger are the most important aspects of Fabio's painting. This is probably the trickiest thing of all, as it is mostly about developing the intuition about which marks are most fluent and make those decisions quickly while the paper is still wet.
2. He claims he works wet-in-wet entirely, and I have been trying to figure out what enables him to paint in this manner. One thing that I learned is that when painting wet-in-wet, using flat brushes is most helpful because they carry less water and less likely to dump a whole bunch of water on the paper causing blooms. 
3. To get the kind of luminosity and lightness of Fabio's florals, I think we need to use transparent pigments. Also since we are painting completely wet-in-wet, it is important for these pigments to be low staining as well. 

I did a few attempts today, and these two are the most successful.

Florals are easy and tricky at the same time. If you do it right, you just need a few strokes to paint a flower. But it is extremely hard to get those few strokes right, especially so in watercolor :-) 

Still, they are a good way to push the paint around during days when time is at a premium, and hope that the practice will amount to something some day.

Back to painting

I cannot be happier about the daylight savings time. It used to be dark by the time I leave work, and everything would be dreary and sadness-inducing. But now, the weather is warm and there is a good two hours of daylight left if I leave work at 5:00PM (well, this rarely happens, but I am hoping to make it a habit to leave early so I can paint. Fingers-crossed.)

Today I went out to Alviso, which is just a mile or two from home. My intention was to paint the marsh at sunset, but I got distracted by this beautifully lit Mexican restaurant on the way. I parked the car, set myself up on the sidewalk and went to work. 

Taco de oro in watercolor

Tomorrow, I will take a picture of my new sketch kit and setup. The new setup worked out beautifully and it was very compact (well, compact in comparison to my watercolor easel that is, not in comparison to my sketch kit).

Today's highlight was interacting with a lady who only spoke Thai and communicating with her in made up sign language about my painting. She told me that my painting was good :-)

Well that is all I will say for now. Tomorrow I will do a better job of taking pictures of the process and also the setup.

Orange rose

I am enjoying doing these videos. I paint for ten minutes, edit the video for an hour and then all the uploads and everything take another hour. It is time-consuming but a fun new thing that I am learning to do, which is good. I am still trying to figure out things like lighting, GoPro settings and editing the video. It will take a while for me to figure it all out, but in the meantime I better figure out how I should store the gigs and gigs of data this video-making is producing :-)

Today's painting is a quick floral study. I like doing these because they lend themselves beautifully to watercolor, the organic shapes provide a wonderful opportunity to practice brush work, incorporate hard and soft edges, and play with color. I hope you enjoy this video.


Barns on a bright sunny day

I enjoyed the video-making yesterday and wanted to see if I can do any better on timing today. And I did! Practice does make things better. It helped that I didn't have to ask internet a zillion questions about how to do simple things in GoPro Studio. 

Today's demo is of barns on a sunny day. I chose the reference from, my trusty source for copyright free high quality photographs.

I like this photograph because I could easily break the composition down into a series of shapes, which gave me confidence that this is something I can tackle in 10 minutes (I am making a series of 10 minute paintings for my youtube channel).

In this painting I wanted fewer neutrals and more warm and cool colors so I chose a palette accordingly. The colors I used were :

1. French Ultramarine
2. Carmine
3. Quin Burnt Scarlet
4. Viridian
5. Permanent Orange

The main motivation for this demo is to demonstrate that you don't have to be a slave to your reference. It is your painting, and you are free to choose the colors you want, the composition you want and free to add in elements or leave out some. Do what you want, it is your painting!

As you will see in the demo below, these were the steps I followed :

1) I left the sky white, to reflect the clear bright sunny day. I pushed the coolness of the distant mountains and added interest by using intense purples. In the closer mountains I used a combination of Viridian and purples.

2) I framed the barns with some trees that are closer than the mountains. You see that this is not actually clear in the photograph, but I liked the idea and went for it.

3) Then I mixed a dark shadow color for the sides of the barns, flooding in darker color to indicate some detail. 

4) I used Permanent Orange for the grasses, and made vertical marks with Quin Burnt Scarlet which blended together with Orange and gave the feeling of tall grasses.

5) I mixed a shadow color with French Ultramarine and QBS, and used to paint in the shadows on the ground. I took the shadows further to the left and right than I see in the reference, in order to frame the composition better.

6) The final step is adding some details, just some dark bits here and there to make the picture pop. 

All of this took no more than 10 minutes to do.

I hope you enjoy the video.

Swan demo

It has been a terribly busy week, with not much time to paint or sketch let alone play with my new GoPro. Sad, really. Finally I was able to sneak in some painting time, capture it on GoPro and got to play with video editing. It is fun and learning to do some new things, which is always good. I hope that with time things will become streamlined and it will not take as much time and effort to create these videos. 

Here's today's painting and demo video. I used only three colors here - Aureolin, Cerulean chromium and Burnt sienna. 

Michael Reardon Workshop at SCVWS

Last week I was privileged to attend the highly popular watercolor workshop by Michael Reardon. The workshop had filled up in a day, but I got on the waiting list and was lucky enough to finally find a spot at the workshop. This was my very first watercolor class/workshop, so I was quite nervous about it, but just a couple of hours with Michael Reardon put everyone at ease and we were all painting happily along for the next few days.

A bit about the instructor

Michael is a architecture illustrator turned fine artist, who works exclusively in watercolor and has a very distinct style. Check out his website and his book to see his paintings. He paints mostly landscapes, cityscapes and statues in urbanscape, and his style is spontaneous, working wet-in-wet from top to bottom. HIs choice of pigments is unusual, and so is his use of color. He is a self-proclaimed tonalist, and his use of color is as a support to a painting whose composition depends on a backbone of value. And about him as an instructor, if I had only one word to describe him I would say 'kind'. And as a beginner artist, that was important to me.

The unusual palette

DS Ultramarine blue
Holbein Cobalt Blue
DS Cerulean Chromium
DS Cobalt Turquoise
DS Viridian
DS Phthalo Green (Yellow Shade)
DS Quinacridone Burnt Orange
DS Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet
DS Organic Vermillion
DS Carmine
DS Permanent Orange

DS : Daniel Smith

As you can see he doesn't have a yellow in his palette. The closest to yellow in his palette is Permanent Orange. (Actually, I lie. He does have Quin Gold in his palette, but I have not seen him use it in any of the paintings during the workshop). His saying is that yellow almost never exists in its pure form in nature, so he doesn't need it.

One of the paintings that Micheal demo'ed in the workshop


There was a ton of good information through out the workshop, and I learned as much from watching Michael help others, as I did from his help on my own paintings. The day always started with a demo, which took anywhere between 1-2 hours depending on the complexity of the painting. Michael had a thumbnail sketch and line drawing ready to go before the day began. 

To him, the most important thing was getting the idea down in a thumbnail sketch. After he has the sketch, he doesn't look at the reference anymore. He works directly from the sketch, working top to bottom (with the watercolor paper at a slight angle, allowing the water to flow down and form a bead), manipulating the bead, taking advantage of it to keep certain areas wet, while he worked on others. He arrives at the values mapped out in the sketch in first pass, and does not go back into painted areas once the area is complete. Someone at the workshop joked that he is like a 'printer'. It is an unusual way to paint, but it keeps the painting spontaneous and fresh, and the simple statement is emphasized. 

He encouraged us to make a thumbnail sketch of our reference, and worked with us to find the most interesting composition. His emphasis throughout the workshop was on composition, and not so much on watercolor technique (transparent vs. opaque, wet-in-wet vs wet on dry etc.), which I appreciated a lot. 

If there were only five things I took away from the workshop, these five would be it :

  1. Framing is important. Just because the quarter sheet is 11x15 doesn't mean you have to use all of it. The 4 walls of the painting are the most important compositional lines in the painting, and use them effectively. A long and tall painting creates drama, vs a square painting is calm. Think about this when you plan the painting.
  2. SImplify the scene into 5-6 shapes. When you do the thumbnail sketch, you should be able to break the scene into 5-6 simple shapes. Make these shapes as interesting as possible, and pay attention to the negative shapes and corners created at the intersection of the shapes with each other or against the edges. If you are not convinced that these shapes work, then move on to another design.
  3. Think about your focal point. Find the most interesting part of your painting, the part where you want the viewer's eye to rest first, and make sure that area is only area where is pure white next to pure black. There can be value changes in other parts of painting, but the focal point is where there should be the most difference in value.
  4. Break the scene into foreground, middle ground and background. A landscape or cityscape has the most clarity when there is a sense of foreground, middle ground and background. Try to find this clarity when you do the thumbnail sketch. 
  5. Make the corners interesting. The corners are as important as the edges. If possible, make all four corners different. 

It was great to have all this drummed into us for 4 days, it meant a ton of practice and clearly some of it got through :-) Here are some of my paintings from the workshop. 

Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017!

Last year was a very good year for me. It was the year when, for the first time, I started identifying as an artist. While I realize that the road is a long one, and it will probably be a really long time before I see results, for the first time I started thinking of things in the long term. 

I usually have goals at the beginning of each year for what I want to accomplish that year and where I want to be end of the year. For the first time in a long time I have no such goals. I am feeling pretty good about how things are going and if I keep working hard at it, I believe that sooner or later everything will come together.

And to get the year started right, here are a couple of paintings I did today. 

California hills in the summertime

California hills in the summertime

Another another one in which I tried a couple of new colors - DS Bordeaux and DS Lunar black.

sunset silhouette

sunset silhouette

With a lot of hope for all the good things yet to come, I wish you all a very happy new year!  

When in doubt paint a sunset

I didn't have any great ideas for what to paint today, so I decided to try a sunset painting. At the very least I figured I will get a chance to practice painting wet in wet, glazing in layers and using some unusual colors. It was all of that and more. I am not unhappy with this painting, especially for a work day :-)

sunset in watercolor

sunset in watercolor