Monday, September 25, 2017

Rose Up Close

Rose Up Close, 9x12" Arches CP
In spring of 2017 I began to instruct sketching and watercolor classes at the Art Verve Academy, so when they invited me to help instruct a group of art students during an art excursion in Italy, I just could not pass that opportunity up!  I have been back only a week and I am still buzzing with inspiration for painting!

Here is one example of my latest inspired works, which is a watercolor of a rose blooming at the villa in Tuscany where we were staying.  I must say, I am really pleased with how the painting turned out!  I'd like to share with you a little of my process in creating this painting.

The first step was noticing the beautiful rose blooming in one of the planters at the villa after a few days of rain, and grabbing a couple photographs of it with my phone.  I have a new phone, a Samsung Galaxy S7, which has a really good camera on it.  Here is the photo that I liked best:

Rose blooming at our Italian villa
The light was flat due to clouds, but this allowed the rich color variations of the rose petals to be captured by the camera.

Now I could have made a painting with a composition the same as how I photographed it, a lone rose standing up out of the planter, but I didn't find the composition exciting.  The best part of the rose to me is the wonderful patterns, colors, and textures of the interior of the rose, so I decided to crop my image to compose such that the center of the flower is clearly the focus.  I love floral paintings that are more like macro photographs for this reason.

To crop the image I used the Android app called Photo Editor by i Share.  This particular app allows you to select the aspect ratio you want to crop, a very important feature for planning a painting.  In my case I wanted to do the painting on a 9x12" Arches Cold Press block I have, so I cropped the photo to my liking using the 3:4 ratio in the app.  I wanted the center of the flower to be slightly off-set from the center of the frame, and to include a bit of the leaves at the bottom.  Here is the cropped photo I decided on:

Cropped photo
Next is to start making the drawing.  I had a few options.  One is to print out the reference photo to correct 9x12" size and trace it (a bit of a feat since my paper is only 8 1/2 x 11").  Another is to make the drawing on a separate piece of drawing paper then transfer the finished drawing onto the watercolor block using Saral Transfer Paper.  I could use the grid method to improve the accuracy of my drawing that way, drawing grid lines onto the drawing paper and viewing the reference photo using an app that super-imposes grid lines.

I certainly use one of these two methods when the accuracy of the drawing is crucial, such as when I do animal portraits.  But since this is a flower full of organic shapes, accuracy is not quite as critical, so I decided to just "go for it" and draw lightly with pencil directly onto my watercolor block.  I did actually use a minimal form of the grid method.  Using an Android app for gridding called Drawing Grid Maker by Vavatch Software, I viewed the reference photo as a 2x2 grid.  Basically a horizontal and vertical centerline was imposed onto the photo.  On my watercolor paper, I made tiny tick marks in pencil at the center locations, top and bottom, and each side, as well as a tiny cross-hairs in the center of the paper.  I'd reference these tick marks as I drew my shapes compared to the gridded reference photo.  I made sure to make very light lines, and any errors I erased gently using a kneaded eraser.

With my drawing penciled in on the watercolor paper, next was to consider what paints I wanted to use.  I like to try new things, so I first explored in my color journal the primary triad of DaVinci Hansa Yellow Deep, Daniel Smith Quinacridone Coral, and M. Graham Phthalo Blue Red Shade.  I never use these colors and wondered if it was an opportunity to use them.  Once I made a color mixing chart, however, I was not pleased with the yellow and coral mixes, they were too neurtralized and not bright enough.  So I decided on my standby soft-color triad of Winsor Yellow, Quinacridone Rose, and Cobalt Blue.  I could have used my Daniel Smith Hansa Yellow Medium or M. Graham Azo Yellow.  To me, all those yellows are about the same, and are towards the "cool" end of the spectrum.  Cobalt Blue is my favorite blue for "gentle" purples.

I was feeling a little uncertain about what technique I should actually paint, considering first doing a loose 3-color under-painting wet-into-wet.  I decided against that idea because I wanted there to be white edges on the flower petals.  So I decided to paint each petal separately right from the start onto white paper.

Brushes used for the painting
Using techniques described by Birgit O'Connor (one of my favorite floral watercolorists) in a YouTube webinar on the Artists Network YouTube channel, I used my natural hair brush (DaVinci Cosmotop Mix B #12) to paint clear water to almost the edge of the petal, then paint in color to the edge of the petal using my blended-hair brush (Silver Black Velvet #10).  When needed, I softened the edges of color using the damp natural hair brush.  Birgit O'Connor says that the nature of the hairs on the brush make a big difference and are best used for particular functions in painting.  Natural hair brushes (made of sable and squirrel) are great for holding water and softening edges; blended hair brushes (made of a combination of natural hairs and synthetic) offer better control of paint.  She loves her natural hair brushes but almost never actually paints with them.  I can agree with that, I've always been frustrated when I paint with my natural hair brushes and tend to prefer my Silver Black Velvet brushes to paint with, which are a blend of synthetic and squirrel hair.

I highly recommend you view Birgit O'Connor's webinar, it's very informative.

I had puddles of yellow, rose, and blue paint on my palette and loaded my brush with them as I studied the reference photo for what colors are needed for each petal.  Brighter peaches were usually a combination of only yellow and rose, deeper reds usually a combination of all three.  I painted petal by petal, carefully noting the values in my reference photo.  I mixed a little on the palette, but in general I endeavor to let colors mix on the paper.  Once all the petals were painted, I did a lot of squinting at both my painting and the reference photo to ensure the values were correct.  I ended up deepening the color in several areas in further layers.

I painted the leaves in a couple of layers of yellow and cobalt mixtures (with touches of rose) and painted the background using the deep Indanthrone Blue mixed with Quinacridone Rose.  Once that was dry, I decided the leaves competed with the flower so I glazed over all of the leaves and background areas with another layer of Indanthrone Blue and Quinacridone Rose, to "push" the leaves back and bring the flower forward.  Painting complete!

I apologize for not photographing each stage of the painting to illustrate the process, I shall endeavor to do that next time!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Step-By-Step Painting Grand Canyon

Tapeats Amphitheater, Grand Canyon
I want to first let you know that after many years of procrastinating, I finally made several of my favorite art pieces available through Fine Art America!  Just yesterday I finally just got it done!  I don't know why I waited so long...there is nothing to lose, right?

Here is the link to the available art:  Stacy Egan Artwork FAA.

One of the pieces available for printing is this one I just completed of Tapeats Amphitheater in the Grand Canyon.  We were camped at a remote location along the north rim, Locust Point, and I only had to walk a few feet to the overlook to get this view.  I set up my camp chair and relaxed as I drew the lines and curves of the cliffs, plateaus and horizon before me.  It is truly a vast and magical place.  It took me maybe 45 minutes to an hour to complete the ink sketch in my Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook:
Locust Point view, Grand Canyon
After concentrating for so long, I decided I needed to rest and chose not to watercolor over the sketch.  And actually, I quite liked the ink drawing as is.

When I got home, I decided to trace the lines onto watercolor paper.  I first took a piece of tracing paper and placed it over the open pages of my sketchbook and traced the lines in ink.  I then used a light table to place the traced drawing under an 8x10" piece of watercolor paper and traced the lines lightly in pencil.  I then tape the painting onto a plexiglass board with blue painters tape.  Ready to start painting!

First was to paint the underpainting.  I learned this technique from studying Jonathan Frank's work (he describes his process here), and I have since been doing this awhile because I really like the gold and rosy glow that shows through after I paint on the local color.  Here is the stage of the painting after applying the underpainting of New Gamboge and Quinacridone Rose using a wet-into-wet technique:
Underpainting complete
Next I blocked out the general shadow shapes using mixes of Indanthrone Blue and Quinacridone Rose.  These represent mainly the cliff faces of the canyons below.  Also, I was ready to start painting the sky.  Ever since I learned a technique from Untamed Little Wolf for creating a starry night sky (YouTube demonstration video here) I am just hooked on creating imagined night skies in my landscape paintings.  When I was a teenager I was so entranced by our starry universe I started my university life as an Astronomy major.  That turned into a Physics degree, but that is another story.  Anyway, I am always awestruck by the night sky and how amazing the vastness and beauty of the universe is. So I created a starry night sky for this painting (though I had yet to create the stars at this stage):
Main shadows blocked in, night sky with nebula added
Next was time to add the stars to the night sky, and go to town on the local color.  To create the stars, I used white acrylic ink and a bristle brush.  I covered the landscape part of my painting with scrap paper and spattered on the white ink.  It's actually quite amazing to see the transformation as you spatter.  Next was to paint all the local color in the trees, plateaus, cliffs and distant hills.  Once I got going on this I didn't stop to make any intermediate photos, I just kept going, working different areas of the painting while others dried.  I also accentuated more shadow shapes:
Stars added, local color and trees painted in, shadows accentuated
At this point the painting was nearly done.  I let it sit for awhile propped up on my desk to look at occasionally, evaluate what needed doing yet.  As many artists say, part of it is knowing when to stop.  When I was satisfied with the watercolor, it was time to draw in the ink lines.  I also leaned this technique from Jonathan Frank and I am always amazed at how well it defines the edges in a watercolor painting.  I feel it is the finishing touch that really solidifies a painting, though it also adds a bit of surreal effect as well.  The black lines always accentuate the vibrant color I so love, almost like with stained glass.  I filled up my 0.30mm Rapidograph technical pen with black ink and began tracing the main outlines as well as minor outlines of small shapes within each feature.  It's a bit of a process but actually quite meditative.

As I worked on this painting I realized that it would be a perfect one to send to my friend Tom Martin in Flagstaff.  He is extremely experienced and knowledgeable about all things Grand Canyon, and he gave my husband so many hours of help as he planned his through-hike of the Grand Canyon along the river this year.  I wanted to give him a tangible "thank you" for all he's done for my husband and the Grand Canyon itself.  So I sent it to him in a black mat!

I hope you find this little step-by-step tutorial helpful for your own artistic endeavors!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Explorations In My Color Journal

Two-color Mixing Chart in my Color Journal
I keep a Color Journal (a 9x12" Aquabee Superdeluxe sketchbook) for when I want to explore the mixing capabilities of my paints. Yesterday I cleaned up my little black portable palette and reevaluated what paints to keep in it. A great way to understand the paints in your palette is to make a color chart.
This is a chart of two-paint mixes and serves as a quick reference for finding a way to make the colors you may be after in your painting. The black diagonal line through the pure single-paint colors is useful for telling you about the transparency of your paint. If you can see color over your black line, the paint is more opaque.
Upper right of the diagonal line are two-paint mixes that are more saturated than the comparable two-paint mixes lower left of the diagonal line. The lighter-valued mixes contain more water.
Charts like this do not tell the whole story of your paints and mixes, but are a great start. The next step would be to do a series of paint swatches that show different ratios of one paint mixed with another. You start with a pure puddle of one paint, mix in a tiny bit of the second paint, make a swatch, mix in a bit more of the second paint, paint a swatch...and continue until you have an almost pure version of the second paint. I will show an example set later in this post.
This palette is also known as a "Split Primary Palette" because as a baseline, I have a "warm" and "cool" version of each primary color. (For those who love CYM, those colors are here too in Hansa Yellow Medium, Quinacridone Rose, and Phthalo Blue Green Shade). A warm yellow, for example, is a yellow that leans towards red; a cool yellow leans towards blue. A warm red leans towards yellow, a cool red leans towards blue. A warm blue leans towards red, a cool blue leans towards yellow. In this palette my split primaries are: Hansa Yellow Medium (cool), New Gamboge (warm), Transparent Pyrrol Orange (warm), Quinacridone Rose (cool), Ultramarine (warm), Phthalo Blue Green Shade (cool).
Why have a warm and cool version of each primary? Because they allow you to mix either bright or muted versions of secondary colors (orange, violet, green). Mixing a cool yellow with a cool blue will yield a bright green; mixing a warm yellow with a warm blue will yield a more muted green. And so on.
While you can technically mix what you need from just these colors, I always include other colors for mixing convenience. Two mixing powerhouses are Burnt Sienna and Phthalo Green. When painting in nature, or even on the street, what is the most common colors one encounters? Yes, that's right, browns and greens! Well, when you need browns and greens, these two paints are a quick way to get what you need, mixed with any of your primaries. A standby for soft grays approaching faded blacks is the classic mix of Burnt Sienna plus Ultramarine. Additinally, I can get a deep purplish black with a saturated mixture of Phthalo Green plus Quinacridone Rose.
My other paint choices are also from convenience. Monte Amiata Natural Sienna is a transparent version of raw sienna, and is handy as a base for human skin and desert soil. Cobalt Blue, mixed with Quinacridone Rose, makes nice soft shadow purples, and I also like to use it for the lower portions of a blue sky. It's an expensive pigment, so I don't necessarily advise those starting out to purchase it. Finally, I regard Cobalt Teal Blue as a temporary paint to have in my palette, in anticipation of our Caribbean vacation coming up next month. It's a great color for the waters of the Caribbean near shore. I've also seen it used well for the patina for copper rust.

Graduated Color Mixing Chart
Here is a page in my color journal I just completed. My goal was to explore how to get various gradations of green when mixing two colors. Each row is a unique pairing of two paints.
I paired up my 2 yellow paints with my Phthalo Green and 3 of my most-used blue paints, yielding 8 combinations. I then paired up my Monte Amiata Natural Sienna (my earth yellow) with Phthalo Green and my most greenish blue (Phthalo Blue Green Shade). I then did the same with my Burnt Sienna.
For each row I started with a puddle of the yellow paint first, then gradually added more and more of the green or blue to my puddle, making a swatch in my color journal each time.
As I mentioned above, you can expect to get very bright greens when pairing up a cool yellow (Hansa Yellow Medium) with a cool blue (Phthalo Blue Green Shade), and indeed the color chart bore that out for me. For the most vibrant neon lime green, I can see this is achieved by pairing Hansa Yellow Medium with Phthalo Green Blue Shade.
If I want a more muted or duller green, I do well to pair a cool yellow (Hansa Yellow Medium) with a warm blue (Ultramarine)...or pair a warm yellow (New Gamboge) with a cool blue (Phthalo Green Blue Shade).
For an even more muted green, one can pair a warm yellow (New Gamboge) with a warm blue (Ultramarine). This is actually quite a dull combination therefore I don't often use it.
M. A. Natural Sienna and Burnt Sienna are considered "Earth" colors because they are earthy versions of yellow and orange, respectively. As a result, any greens you produce with these paints can look quite earthy and natural. I love to use the sienna with Phthalo Green for sagebrush-like greens, and for deep forest or olive greens I like the Burnt Sienna plus Phthalo Green mixture.
The greens from M. A. Natural Sienna and Phthalo Blue Green Shade can also be quite nice and natural-looking. But this chart shows me that when I combine Burnt Sienna with Phthalo Blue Green Shade I don't get very much green, but rather a greenish brown.
Note that Phthalo Green and Blue are quite staining and very powerful and dominant in mixtures. It takes a careful hand to only add a tiny bit of these colors in mixture...a little goes a long way!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sea Turtle Painting Finished! Recap of Steps...

Sea Turtle (15 x 22" Ink & Watercolor on Arches 140lb CP)
I declare this painting complete!  I don't have anything in mind that I think I want to add or change, so it must be finished!

It was a good experience to paint something of a larger scale than I'm used to.  I had to use larger brushes, especially in the background (including my big goat hair mop brush, my 1" flat and my 3/4" oval).  It takes courage to work larger when small feels so safe!

So I think it would be a great time to recap the progress to show the steps of the painting's development.

Sea Turtle photo by Steve Jurvetson, CC by 2.0, cropped for composition
The first step was to find a reference photo to paint from.  I have some of my own sea turtle photos but I've already made paintings from them and I wanted something different.  I discovered this one by Steve Jurvetson on Flickr ( and was delighted with the turtle's playful and engaging pose and expression.  Thank you Mr. Jurvetson for offering the photo for use via the Creative Commons CC by 2.0 license!  I cropped his original photo to a composition more to my liking.

Using grid method to create drawing
To draw the sea turtle, I taped together two pieces of 11x14" sketch paper to allow me to make a drawing to fit a half sheet of watercolor paper (15 x 22").  I drew a grid onto the paper and used an app on my tablet to overlay a grid onto the photograph.  The grid method is really useful to help one divide a big drawing into smaller sections, and get more accuracy.

Painting after two layers
I stretched my half sheet of watercolor paper onto a large (full-sheet size) of gatorboard.  My process was to thoroughly wet the paper, staple the paper to the gatorboard using a staple gun and 1/4" staples, then tape over the staples with painter's tape to make a nice clean edge for later once I remove the tape.  It is imperative that the taped area is larger than the window of my mat, so I don't have any white edges showing when I frame the painting.

After the paper dried to a nice tight flat surface, I did a first layer of painting, which was an under-layer of New Gamboge and Quinacridone Rose, both to add a little glow to the sea turtle, which will mostly be green and brown, and some reds to the background for variety in a planned sea of blue.

The second layer was the underpainting for the shell and the body (including the legs and arms), to set the baseline local color for those regions.  I also painted an underlayer for the eyes to create a glow using Quinacridone Gold (darkened with violet towards the outer edges).

Shell and leg/arm segments painted
I completed the eyes by painting the iris and pupils.  I had to look at other reference photos of sea turtles which had a better view of the eyes to get an idea of their nature, since the main reference photo from Jurvetson doesn't show them that well.

I then worked on the shell and body segments.  The paints and process were described in an earlier blog post.

Deepen shadows on body, first background layer

I took a rather long hiatus from this painting while I focused on other things, but when I came back to it the first thing I did was deepen the form shadows on the body under the shell as well as the cast shadows on the legs and arms, using mixes of Burnt Sienna, Quinacridone Rose, French Ultramarine and Indanthrone Blue.

Then I took out my big goat hair mop brush and wet the background.  I squeezed out onto a white tray little globs of four of my blue paints:  Cobalt Teal Blue, Manganese Blue Nova, Phthalo Blue GS, and French Ultramarine.  I just started working fast on making washes in the background, using my blues primarily.  I did it in regions naturally divided by the sea turtle into the frame.  While each region of wash was damp I sprinkled in some grains of coarse salt.  In the upper right region I dropped in some Quinacridone Rose.  In the bottom region below the sea turtle I dropped in some rose as well as some Burnt Sienna.

Doing backgrounds like this is always a bit intense for me, made more so because of the sheer area my brushes had to cover this time.  I do not require an even flat background (if I did, I would have masked the turtle and did the background first), but I still would rather not have hard edges in odd places.

When it was dry I like the varied colors and mottled effect due to salt and variations of the pigment-to-water ratios as well as the different blue pigments themselves.  But the background in no way felt finished.  To me, the sea turtle looked cut out and pasted onto a background that was mostly uniform in value.  I felt I should have regions in the background that are at least almost as dark in value as those in the turtle itself so that I could have more cohesion between the subject and background.  I also thought the background here is too psychedelic and needed a glaze of blue to tone it down and unify it more.

Finished painting
So that is what I did.  I squeezed out a bit of my beloved Indanthrone Blue onto my white tray and did a graduated wash on the entire background, making the sea water below the turtle darker in tone.  By the time I got to the region above the sea turtle, the paint was very dilute with water.

Again, because I like the texture, I sprinkled a bit of my coarse salt onto the wet background washes.

I was much happier with the background after that layer.  After removing the salt, I added touches of washes here and there that seemed to need it, both with the Indanthrone blue and Cobalt Teal Blue.  A bit more salt too.

The final step was the ink lines.  I used a 0.3 Rapidograph pen to draw ink lines around all the major shapes and the body and shell segments.  And I signed the painting.

I photographed all these using my Canon SL1 digital SLR, using either my 50mm f/1.8 lens or my 100mm f/2.8 macro lens.  I propped my gatorboard outside in the shade of my porch, sat my butt down on the ground and propped my elbows onto my bent legs for stabilization.  I found that "Shade" white balance was very nice, though for some of these I did a custom white balance using the white backside of the gatorboard as a reference.  I tried to fill the frame as much as possible with the painting, making sure I was squared up on the painting (to avoid distortion such as keystoning).  Set aperture to f/8, and chose an ISO (often 400) to allow a fast enough shutter speed.  I'd take a few photos and pick the most representative.

I hope this recap of my process is informative for you!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

WIP - Green Sea Turtle

WIP - body and shell segments painted
It's time for an update on my progress on the Green Sea Turtle painting (I introduced this WIP in an earlier post).  This part, painting in the body and shell segments, was super fun!

I started with the shell segments.  My first step for each segment was to paint a wash of Quinacridone Gold throughout the segment.  While the wash was wet, I dropped in some Ultramarine around the outer edges to create a wet-into-wet mixing of green.  I went in again with Indanthrone Blue for the very outer edge.  The wash was still damp by the time I introduced touches of Burnt Sienna and Quinacridone Violet.

I approached the body segments very similarly, though I was shooting for more red-brown tones rather than green for the shell.  I started with a wash of Quinacridone Gold, then dropped in mixes of Burnt Sienna and Quinacridone Violet, mostly along the outer edges.  The final step for each body segment was some Indanthrone Blue along the outer edges.  I often did not bother to wash my brush before dipping into the Indanthrone Blue, so I was actually adding a more deep blue/purplish mixture for the outer edges.

In both cases of the shell and body segment painting, I allowed the paints to mingle together in wet-into-wet fashion, with almost no brush mixing on the paper.

I am happy with how my sea turtle is coming together!  My next step is to work more of the shadow areas, particularly on the body between the head and arm.  I also plan to paint the background as a variety of blues and blue-greens, with application of salt to help create more texture, and blossoms and edges too.  I envision the surrounding water to be almost cloud-like.  We'll see how it actually turns out!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Update On My Sketch Kits

My current kit for sketch outings and travel
Sketch kits tend to evolve over time, and mine is no exception.  You get new tools, realize certain preferences, and things change.

A little bit has changed since I last blogged about my kit.  While I do like having a series of 4x6" sketches of my travels, I really do like having everything bound in a sketchbook better.  My current sketchbook of choice is the Global Arts Handbook Drawing Book (Travelogue Series), in the large portrait size (5.5x8.5").  For relatively thin paper, it holds up to even the wettest watercolor washes quite well, and never bleeds through.  There is a tiny bit of wave to the paper, but the elastic closure helps flatten the pages out.  The book has lots of pages and this helps me feel comfortable in it, freeing me to play.  I stay away from books of actual 140lb watercolor paper for this reason.

My palette has been upgraded from the Altoids tin.  I purchased an empty Schmincke tin from Sarnoff's, but I think they can also be purchased online.  I like that some of my most-used colors are full pans, yet I can also fill the pallet with several half-pan colors too.  It's nice that it has the fold-out mixing area.

I've upgraded my brushes too.  My favorite is the Black Velvet Voyage brush by Silver Brush.  I love the blend of synthetic and squirrel hairs, I really love how it handles watercolor.  I have two brushes in my kit, size 8 and size 2.  My gripe with the all-synthetic brush I used to travel with (DaVinci Cosmotop) is that synthetic hairs tend to dump water too quickly onto the paper.  This has been my experience, anyway.  The Silver Black Velvet brush is my go-to brush at home, too.

My sketch outing and travel kit
I recently got a new Lamy Safari fountain pen in the Neon Lime color, with an F (fine) nib.  I figure with such a bright fun color there would be less chance of leaving the pen when I walk away.  I hope so, anyway!  I also bought a converter and keep the pen filled up with my favorite ink, Platinum Carbon Black.  I never have issues with the ink bleeding when I add watercolors after inking.

I include a pencil because I like to start a drawing by blocking out the basic shapes or angles when I am struggling with perspective or composition.  I also have a kneaded erasure in one well of a compact lens case.  (The other well contains white gouache for any highlights I need to add).

A mini-mister spray bottle is great for moistening my paints before using them, and keeping them moist.  I live and sketch in a dry climate and this is a necessity for me.

To always have water handy I have a 2 oz Nalgene wide-mouth cup & lid.  All of this fits into an XS Eagle Creek Pack-it Sac.

My purse kit is very minimal
I also have a mini-kit that is always in my purse.  It is the bare-bones minimum kit for sketching anywhere.  It contains a 3.5x5.5" version of the Global Arts Handbook I normally use.  My paint palette is a tiny Altoids Smalls tin, containing 5 paints:  1) Hansa Yellow Medium, 2) Quinacridone Rose, 3) Ultramarine, 4) Pthalo Green, and 5) Burnt Sienna.  With these 5 paints I can make a huge variety of colors.

I have a little water brush, a Pentel Aquash Compact.  A piece of paper towel to wipe the brush on, and a Sharpie Pen completes the kit.

I hope this helps!

My purse kit

Monday, February 15, 2016

WIP - Green Sea Turtle

Second Layer of watercolor paint
I would like to share with you my process for a big (for me!) painting project I am undertaking.  It is a half sheet (15x22") watercolor painting of a green sea turtle, destined to hang in my studio.

I see green sea turtles as such a serene sea creature, and I love the warm tropical oceans that are their native habitat.  We've had the privilege of encountering them during our snorkeling and diving in the Hawaiian islands, Bahamas, and Caribbean.

My first step is to find photo references for painting.  I have a few photos of green sea turtles, but I've already made paintings from them so I went looking for something new.  Fortunately Steve Jurvetson offered a wonderful still from a movie he took in the Kona seas, and offered it under the Creative Commons license (CC by 2.0).  Thank you Steve!  One thing I really like about this photo is the playful and engaging pose of the sea turtle.

Final drawing using grid system
I needed to make a drawing on a separate sheet of paper that I could trace onto the watercolor paper.  I used the grid system to help me, drawing a 4x5 grid on two 11x14" pieces of sketch paper taped together to make it about 14x22" in size (the size of watercolor paper I will be working on).  I have an app on my Nexus 7 tablet to display photos with a grid overlaid on it.  I drew first in pencil, then inked in the final drawing.  This photo show the final drawing.

I used a light table to transfer the drawing onto a half sheet of Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper, penciling lightly.

I had to buy another Gator board because I didn't have one large enough to accommodate a half sheet of watercolor paper.  The new one will also accommodate a full sheet should I ever feel so inclined.  I used the staple method to stretch the watercolor paper:  1) wet the paper thoroughly under a facet, 2) lay onto Gator board and use a staple gun (with 1/4" staples) to staple the painting onto the board.  I placed painter's blue tape over the staples, making sure that the paint area is larger the the inner window of my mat.

Once the paper dried it was stretched nice and taunt for painting.  My first layer was a basic under-painting, applied wet-into-wet, of a warm yellow and rose.  My aim it to let warm and rose tones eventually show through the successive layers of paint.

My second layer (photo at top) is meant to begin to map the shadow areas with ultramarine and rose, and to give the shell a green undertone through the layers I will be painting later.  The eyes are generally very dark, but I added Quinacridone Gold to the center of them to hopefully help them give them glow layer.  The gold is darkened by mixes of Violet and Quinacridone Violet.

Now that I have the two layers of under-painting, I plan to begin working on the local color!