Storm Front, 30″ x 22″ watercolor, 2011. $1200 or $1600 framed

I completed a new painting! It will be exhibit in the group show, “Ice” at the Artisans on Taylor gallery in Port Townsend this December.  This painting took some coaxing and patience to realize and I thought I’d share my process. My studio work involves the following stages:

  1. Vision: articulating an idea
  2. Exploration: both of palette and composition
  3. Realization: making the vision a reality

This process evolved from a quote I read in the book, Art and Fear:

“Vision is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue”

My vision for this painting is what inspires all of my recent work- a desire to contrast vast, atmospheric spaces with vulnerable elements of the polar environment- like birds and icebergs. While on expeditions in these regions, I also feel a certain meditative quiet in the relative simplicity of the landscape as compared to my life back home in the city: big skies, long horizons, and a limited palette. With my studio paintings, I’m striving to find and recreate that quiet space for myself and others.

A photo I took in Antarctica was my initial inspiration:

My palette was based on my Greenland field sketches such as this:
From my field notes, I identified colors to experiment with for a limited palette. I mixed puddles of paint until a set clicked with me: raw sienna, deep scarlet, indanthrone blue, and cerulean blue (all Daniel Smith).


Once my colors were chosen, I began making small 8″ x 6″ versions of the painting to work out my challenges before scaling things up to 30″ x 22″.

Changing Weather, 8″ x 6″ watercolor

This one I liked so much that it became a painting in its own right. It’s now framed and exhibiting in the show, “Ice Stories” at the Washington State Convention Center through January 2012. Next came this study, with the same palette mixed cooler:

Storm Front Study, 7″ x 6″ watercolor

Using this study as reference, I began working on a 30″ x 22″ sheet of 260lb Arches watercolor. Starting with wet paper, I premixed large puddles of paint and began painting the sky large brushes. I wasn’t happy with the result. Maintaining the right ratio of color was challenging, and working on the big surface area. I prepared another sheet of paper and once again, painted the sky varying my technique and palette. Still not satisfied, I repeated the process again and was closer to vision, but still not quite there. The next day, I prepared another sheet of paper while muttering to myself, “trust in process.” Looking over my initial efforts and my study, the painting and techniques suddenly clicked to me. I dove in with more confidence and completed the painting.

Painting the sky
adding texture
and finally finished!

As I worked on the final version of the painting, my drafts gave me the opportunity to practice adding additional layers of paint such as texture in the sky and water, as well as how to paint the horizon and iceberg. Here’s a sneak peak at my three drafts.

Draft 1
Draft 2
Draft 2

So that’s the realization of Storm Light! All in all, it took me about a week in my studio to complete. Visit the Artisans on Taylor gallery in Port Townsend this December and see it in person!