I know I’ve left y’all hanging on the Going Bananas series, but this most-recent floral watercolor painting is getting so much positive feedback on the handful of social media I’ve posted it to that I just had to do this one first. Plus, it’s a white iris in full bloom – how could I not?
The inspiration behind the painting
I never thought I would say this, but the inspiration for this came from Facebook … specifically, FB asked if I wanted to reshare an image from three years ago, an (overly) detailed drawing of an iris in full bloom. Seeing that drawing again made me realize I had never done anything else with that image, and the next thing I knew I was transferring the general outline to some watercolor paper to do it in better and in color.
Before I traced over it to transfer the lines, I did do a high-quality scan of the drawing first, so if you’d like an art print of it you can get one in the size you want. I used my first tinted charcoal (sepia) for the background, though looking at it now I can see it is both too dark and too light and didn’t provide me with the contrast I hoped to achieve. That is probably why it’s called drawing practice.
Recording the painting process
Since the little Nikon digicam died at the start of another art challenge, I was left with just using the old webcam my husband bought a few years ago when 1080p was the top-of-the-line in video. I used it for most of the four pieces in that challenge (I’ll link to it once I get those written!) and I have to admit: I love having video clips of it. In fact, I love it so much I am making an effort to do it more often. I also checked out the current top-of-the-line 4K webcam. It’s on my wishlist. (Edit: I bought it. Yeah, I am really impatient with some things.)
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this was another one of those watercolor paintings that felt as if it just flowed from my brush. I absolutely LOVE when that happens. In fact, the part that took the longest was simply getting the background dark enough to provide the right amount of contrast for the white petals. I used alternating layers of dioxazine purple and indanthrene blue, going round and round the unpainted flower until it finally looked right. Painting the iris and its stem took less than a third of the total painting time, according to the video footage.
Links to purchase
The 9 by 12 inch original painting is still available to buy through Daily PaintWorks. This artwork scanned beautifully, so you can order an art print through Pixels in sizes as small as 8×6 inch all the way up to 45×60 inches before framing. I also uploaded it to my RedBubble shop because my mother and sister like to wear my artwork. Finally, if you want an original but need a larger size, you can always commission me to do a similar painting. (I could not paint an exact duplicate even if I tried.)
Moving right along in my attempt to get caught up on blogging my 100 faces art challenge is John Chapman, a portrait of a famous American folk hero done in traditional black charcoal. You might not recognize his real name, but you have probably heard his nickname: Johnny Appleseed. He was a colorful enough character to fill up a whole book, but I promise I’ll keep this short enough to still only be a blog post in length.
Better known as Johnny Appleseed
The main points about Chapman are fanciful enough to have earned him the colorful nickname of Johnny Appleseed, which started throughout what was then called the Northwest Territory while he was still very much in his prime as a man and as a businessman. Even by early 19th century American standards, he was considered a very eccentric character, though a lot of sources shy away from the reason behind that.
In fact, I was surprised that not only did my dad not recognize the name John Chapman, but he also had never heard why he was often seen barefoot with a cooking pot as a hat. For the record, my dad was a history major in college and has lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana (where Chapman retired to, and was buried) since the mid-1970s, so it is possible to not know that Johnny Appleseed was a devout follower of the Swedish Christian mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg.
Because Swedenborg was against grafting, Chapman planted as many apple seeds as he could and nurtured them. Another factor of his legacy lies in the requirements for making a homestead claim in the region: planting a fruit orchard – even a small one – was one of the major factors that would get the homestead claim approved. So, when Johnny Appleseed came into your area with several young apple trees, it just made sense to buy some and plant them near your home. Even though most wouldn’t be good for eating straight off the tree, all could be used in making hard cider.
Only reference photograph
I could find only one historical photograph of John Chapman, and that is this one taken sometime between his birthday in March and his day of death in September of 1845. The reason there is only one is quite simple: he achieved his local legend status prior to photography being invented and becoming available to the broader public. As was the style of early photo portraiture, the photo shows most of his body as opposed to being a close-up of his face.
Portrait in black charcoal
I wanted my charcoal portrait to be only a close-up of his face, so some cropping of the original and enlarging was necessary. Then it was just a matter of gridding the crop and putting charcoal to sketchbook. I even made a cute collage showing the progression. U chose to use traditional black charcoal just because I liked the value contrast of his white hair against the black background.
Applying the after-action-review process to my charcoal portrait of John Chapman
I learned a rather useful mental tool in my time in the army, the after-action review (of course we abbreviated that to AAR). The format for it was to first summarized what happened, then to discuss three things that needed improvement, and to finish up with three things that went well. I decided to apply this to all 100 faces I draw and paint for this challenge. I may not have all the points for an official AAR, but the general practice of finding thing that could be improved and finishing up with things done well is a very practical and valid learning method.
What could be improved
The big thing that jumps out at me when looking at the finished portrait is that I either drew or shaded his face too fat. His face in the original photo is lean from his years of voluntary austere living. I probably could have shaded his beard a little better. It looks fuller in my drawing than in the photograph. I also got the one ear too low, and did not notice until just today.
What turned out well
I am pleased that I was able to catch and correct the eye placement early enough that it didn’t mess up the portrait! Given that the paper does not tolerate much erasing, that is a big thing in my mind. I was also pleased with the overall look to this drawing: this is obviously an older man with white hair. Basically, he looks like a real person, so I am counting that as a win.
Newest portraits on Facebook
Just to let everyone know: I do post the newest face I am doing on my art page on Facebook because that is part of my accountability. My page is open to all the public, not just FB members, so other than Meta wanting you to login or sign up, you ought to be able to check there and see what I’ve posted most recently. I even post in-progress scans sometimes, like yesterday’s peek at my number eight.
I’ve been in a bit of a slump this year, as y’all may have noticed. In an effort to climb out of this slump, I decided the best way to accomplish that would be with an art challenge. Rather than wait for others to coordinate their schedules, I decided to challenge myself. For a couple years now, I’ve noticed the “100 faces” art challenge, and decided it was finally time to do that. Of course, I would be starting with drawing, and that means charcoal since I decided I just don’t love graphite anymore. I also decided to start the charcoal portrait drawing portion of the challenge with a personal hero of mine from when I was a kid.
The “100 Faces” art challenge
I actually haven’t seen much about the 100 Faces challenge as far as “rules” go, just that an artist needs to draw or paint 100 faces in whatever time frame. With such broad parameters, that left me free to make up my own rules. So, I decided I would do 100 portrait drawings and paintings, and I set myself an arbitrary deadline for the end of 2023. I decided I would officially launch this challenge on July 1st, so it would be a matter of drawing or painting 100 portraits of people in approximately 182 or 183 days.
I knew I definitely did not want to do the more rigid one drawing per day as my challenge, since that has tripped me up in more than one previous challenge. Sometimes, I just have a bad day when I feel as though I am fighting each stroke of the charcoal out onto the paper. There are even some days when I actually have plans that involve leaving the property! (We’ve really become such homebodies since the lockdowns.)
Finding reference photos for drawing portraits
The first criteria for using an historical photograph is to make sure we are as sure as we can reasonably be that the person in it is who we think that is. This may seem obvious, until you look up Billy the Kid and all the disputes about whether he is or is not in all but one photo.
I should probably also mention that the reference photo idea excludes quite a few historical figures simply because the technology had to be invented before it could be used. Again, that sounds so obvious, but does exclude anyone who lived and died prior to the 1840s. (this point will become important in the next post.)
I started my search at the Library of Congress website, and found my personal hero from childhood featured at that time.
Harriet Tubman, a personal hero
I first learned about Harriet Tubman the year I was in third grade (if I recall right) by watching a documentary. At the time, I thought it was so cool to finally come across an historical figure who was a woman, and one remembered as being unusually brave. While I hadn’t taken very many history classes at that tender age of nine or ten, most of what I knew of history (Dad was a history major in college) was all centered around men doing brave things.
I actually started the first version of my charcoal portrait drawing prior to resolving to do the 100 faces challenge. I thought Harriet Tubman was the perfect subject for a portrait for Juneteenth, and intended to do the whole thing that holiday weekend. Something or other came up or distracted me that weekend, and I did not get the ball really rolling on that drawing until after the start of July.
Once I finally got rolling on it, the first portrait came together well enough. I discovered when trying to fix the one eye that this paper wasn’t an exact match to my previous sketchbook in that it did not take much erasing before it became noticeable (even though it was the same brand and specific type). So, I made a mental note that I would not be able to do much fixing of errors in this sketchbook and then moved on.
Recrop for a “closer” portrait
Once I realized I could not erase any section of paper more than once, I decided I wanted to do another version of this historical photograph. I wanted a closer crop of just her face for a more personal, intimate feel to the portrait. While the scan of the original photo is probably as high a quality as one can reasonably expect, there was still a bit of graininess to it by the time I cropped it down then enlarged it.
Since the photos from that general time period are often in sepia instead of grayscale, I thought I would have a little fun with the shades of brown in my tinted charcoal set for this second portrait. I’ve been trying to consistently post in-progress scans over on my Facebook art page, and after the first scan was posted I realized I needed to fix the features – the eyes were not even with each other and the line of the nose and mouth were off-center. Some careful erasing, and it was fixed “good enough.”
Traditional black charcoal versus tinted charcoal
Visually, the end results between the first portrait I drew in black charcoal and the second in a dark brown tinted charcoal are not very different. My very dark brown is extremely close to the traditional black, especially on the shadow areas where I tried to get it as dark as it would go.
The main difference in the “feel” of the medium comes down to how well the hard and medium black charcoal pencils hold a point, versus the softer tinted charcoal pencil. As I figure out on face number four, the tinted charcoal pencils really are not good for detail work and should be relegated to nondetail drawings or close-up portraits. It was an interesting idea, just one that didn’t translate as well as I hoped. Future portrait drawings in charcoal will be in the traditional black charcoal.
The goal of this art challenge
I have a very specific goal that I want to accomplish with this art challenge: I want to improve my people-drawing skills. I figure that by the time I get to my 100th face, whether it is a drawing or painting, I should see noticeable improvement over these first few efforts. I’ve been saying for a couple years now that I need to “knock the rust off” my people drawing skills I used to have, and finally decided to just knuckle down and do it.
The only way I will get better is by learning from my mistakes. The only way to make mistakes is to put medium to paper and “just do it,” as the old ad campaign said.
Feel free to follow along here on the blog – I will get caught up soon! – or on one of my social media accounts. I will definitely be posting to the FB page, as my friend Keashia is on Facebook and she has agreed to be my accountability partner on this project. As of writing this, I am on number seven – all charcoal portrait drawings so far, but I’ll likely try my pastels and paints at some point.
I had another idea over the weekend: I will be showing how I use my line drawings that I offer free to email subscribers. My first example is using my watercolor paints to make a lovely red rose painting.
Step one: Transfer the drawing
After I had learned that my grid lines and sketching lines might still be visible on the finished painting, I bought some graphite transfer paper. This way I can sketch it in my sketchbook, erase, and redraw however many times necessary until I am happy with the lines, then put the finished drawing onto my watercolor paper.
Because I inked the line drawing onto decent-weight watercolor paper, I actually needed to go back to the sketchbook for my original drawing. I think a standard ballpoint pen works best with the transfer paper, so some of my sketchbook pages are getting multiple colors of ink over the graphite or charcoal I use to do the drawings.
For this piece, I inked the lines with waterproof India ink. I used one of my husband’s brush pens to do it, since he has been very happy with how his drawings turn out using them. One of the brush pens is labelled in either Chinese or Korean, so I couldn’t be sure it was waterproof. The other he loves is a Pitt brand and says on the side it is waterproof India ink. I had first tried to use my calligraphy pen and ink, but the ink has dried too thick of a consistency to draw neatly.
Step Two: the background
I wanted a simple, single color for my background – and I have been just watching and waiting for the right opportunity to use this lovely teal blue that came in my QoR high chroma set. Seriously, how can someone who loves vivid colors (as I do!) not want to use this color? The only question I started with was, “How many layers to get the right level of saturation?” My answer is just one. I didn’t want it overpowering the main subject, but I also didn’t want an unpainted white.
Step Three: Get into the art zone and finish it!
I waited patiently for the background to dry completely this time to avoid paint bleed issues. Plus, the paper buckled because I wasn’t using one of the blocks (where the page edges are glued in place) so I had to wait for it get mostly-flat again. This is where the in-progress photos stop, because I got into the zone and just painted until it was time to wait for the next layer of paint to dry completely.
Working with red and green next to each other on the paper is a tricky thing in watercolor painting. If these two colors blend or bleed into each other, you can get a very unattractive color we often call mud. When you mix two colors that are opposite of each other on a color wheel, the result is somewhere between gray and brown. For a red rose with a brilliant green stem and leaves, I wanted the colors to be as clear as possible.
After this first layer dried, I went over the shadows again on both colors to deepen the shadows. Then I needed to wait for it to dry again to see if a third layer was needed. I used my Mijello Mission Gold paints for the flower itself, and this brand has very little color shift when dry.
So, with just one layer of paint for the background and two layers of paint for the rose, this turned out to be a rather quick painting! I just love it when everything feels like it is just falling into place. No need to wrestle the art onto the paper. It felt like it just flowed out from my brush.
I am almost embarrassed to note that this is only the third red rose at any stage of bloom I have painted or drawn! I must remedy that over the next few weeks. My only other previous watercolor painting of a red rose is my Red Rosebud 1, which is a small watercolor sketch of the very beginning of the petals unfurling. The other is my Red Rose I did in oil pastel on canvas board.
I will be doing at least one more of these before the month is over, so stayed tuned! Better yet, put your email address in the form and get your own copy of the printable rose coloring page and color along with me. I am feeling a new pink rose and/or white rose in soft pastel.
Once again this month, a handful of us artists who blog our art have gotten together for a virtual art walk! While there are art walks scheduled for January down here in Florida, a lot of the country is just not feeling it due to normal January weather, so why not do the art walk idea online? We have a nice selection of virtual art booths to browse.
Art walk virtual booth 1: Snowy Scenes for January
We’ll start this month’s art walk up north in snow country, where Jo Wortman of Siena Blue up in New York has posted a bit of a retrospective on her snow scenes. She does an overview of her snowy landscapes so far this winter, and compares them to paintings she did in 2022 and 2021. I can certainly see the difference, and like other commenters on her post, I think the watercolor painting where she worked from a reference photo she found on Unsplash – as opposed to following a tutorial – is her strongest in this category. It’s interesting to see how her earlier work hints at this.
Virtual art walk booth 2: Braving the cold weather
Jim Hughes lives in Minnesota, and that area gets COLD in the winter. That doesn’t seem to deter Jim in his quest to get a really good photo portrait of a pileated woodpecker. We have them down here as well, but they are definitely camera-shy. Jim unleashes his creativity to solve the challenge. He basically built a fake tree trunk and put a suet cake just inside it – close enough to his porch to get the photo he desired. Then he got up before sunrise enough mornings in a row until he was finally able to slip out onto his porch in subzero temperatures to get the shot. I think he nailed it.
Art walk booth 3: Steve Heap takes us to Hawai’i
Next booth for our January virtual art walk is where Steve Heap of Backyard Image takes us to the Hawai’ian island of Kauai. I didn’t know this landscape existed until he posted about it, but apparently Waimea Canyon is called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. He starts his virtual tour at the ocean, and follows the canyon up to the mountain top. The part I find most interesting is his observation that like the Grand Canyon in Arizona (which he has also visited and photographed) he finds it difficult to capture the grandeur in most photos. Some clouds and a few rainbows helped him get good shots though!
Ben’s Angel: Painting and poem by Dorothy Berry-Lound
Hang on to your hats, folks. Dorothy Berry-Lound‘s virtual booth is a powerful one. She shows you the painting first, then tells the moving story behind the artwork. Then she finishes up with a poem to go with this powerful painting with a moving story … and wow. I don’t think very many people will be able to forget this one. I don’t want to drop spoilers, but when you click through, be prepared for this emotionally. This is about her last visit with a dying friend, Ben.
Before you go
After browsing all these booths, I’d like to just remind you about my new idea for my email list: coloring pages drawn by me. It may seem frivolous after such a journey, but I like to say it’s the little things in life that end up mattering so much over time. I’ve decided to make the 15th of each month when I send out a new drawing y’all can print out and color, so tomorrow I will be figuring out the technical details to make this work. New email subscribers will get the current printable image once they confirm their email addresses. (Confirming your email address is an important anti-spam step that I require.)
I do hope everyone has enjoyed this month’s virtual art walk. Visit the other blogs, leave comments to let us know what you think and feel about the art, and sign up for an email list or five.