Turtle Tale

After success with the “blob painting” technique I wanted to go a step further. The delight of blob painting is what shows up, like images in the clouds. Starting a larger piece on better paper, my initial blobs were without intent, just color and movement. I don’t have a photo of that stage, but you can see it under the white line drawing below.

After the ‘blobs’ sea turtles appeared!
I took a bold step with deeper color to get a more under-sea feeling. I tested this in photoshop but the result was disappointing. Too busy, and I lost all the white.
So I got out the intense liquid watercolors and deepened all the blues.

Then I started in on turtle patterns. One thing I love in my reference photos is the bright aqua highlights. Since I’d killed all my what’s paper, I got out the acrylic. I always feel like I’m not making a watercolor anymore when I take this step. But, painting the fine highlights of yellow @ aqua gave me the turtles I wanted.

At this point I can see that I need more of the deeper aqua moving thru the background, indicating clear sandy bottom in places.

I didn’t want to turn this into an acrylic painting but I think I have already!

Any other ideas? I’d love your thoughts. Here or on Facebook.

The Winter Painter

NOTE: not painted with the colors described below. Leave a comment if you’d like to know what I used in this one.

There are those hardy souls who take their paintbox out into the snowy landscape; I’ve been one of them. The magic of a winter landscape is alluring, and for some of us painting on site is the best way to capture that particular beauty. To the right you’ll see one quick canvas I did by the frozen Potomac a few years ago.

It’s painted fast, with a limited palette; racing against not only my stiffening fingers but the fleeting afternoon light. I haven’t been as adventuresome this year, but below I’ve shared one of my favorite exercises, one you can do indoors or out for a quick and easy winter landscape effect.

Take just three colors: Ultramarine blue, Burnt Umber and white and squeeze them out on your palette. At least twice as much white as the other two. Take some time to mix some colors:

  • each dark color with a dab of white to bring out its hue
  • a bright light tint of umber and blue
  • 50/50 blue and umber, cut with a dab of white
  • keep going, making warm and cool greys, a range of blue tints, a range of umber tints.


This still looks kind of monochromatic on the palette, but when you begin to approach your subject, you’ll be surprised at how rich a picture this will make.

Below are two tiny landscapes painted using this technique. Think of the sunlight warming the trunks of winter trees, and the ice crystals in the sky and snow reflecting cold light. Let the palest umber be your sunlight, and let your snow shadows be quite blue. slather on the white paint to feel the heavy snow, dry brush your bare branches with warmth. Here’s what my student and I came up with:


It’s a great lesson in the essentials of landscape rendering: warm and cool, light and dark, thin and fat are the tools you are wielding. If nothing else, look what a wonderful rich black you can make with Ultra Blue & Burnt Umber. Not to mention the interesting range of greys and grays. (Is there a difference? lol, to me the ‘e’ is warm and the ‘a’ is cool. go figure.)

Cruising the web I found other subjects and mediums using just these two essential pigments. Check these out, and try it yourself!

painting on linen by Larine Chung watercolor by Van Stein acrylic portrait underpainting by John Walker