Among Dogwoods

Standing among sunlit dogwood blossoms is a treat: white petals bright against a backdrop of dappled greens, blue sky, and bird song. The moment would be perfect but for the gnats that bite the back of my neck while sketching. They force me to draw fast and loose and then retreat to the house. Still, when I look at this painting months or years from now, it will not be the insects I remember, but the long-awaited spring day and the blank sheet of paper bright with promise.
Among Dogwoods, 5×7″, watercolor on Fabriano 300lb cold press watercolor paper.

Tips and Techniques– I took advantage of negative painting techniques for this, starting with a wet in wet wash of phthalo blue, Hansa yellow medium, and quin rose over my pencil drawing. I left a lot of white for the flowers, but you can see that I wasn’t exact with every edge. Once dry, I proceeded to do a long series of varied washes to define to foliage and create a sense of depth. I find that this type of painting takes a while to develop, and doesn’t fully take shape until I add the darkest layers and final details (e.g., the moth, shadows, and red highlights on the flowers). I worked on it over the course of a week. Stepping away is not only important for letting the paint dry between layers, but helps me come back and see it fresh.

Here’s a second painting that I started that will give you a sense of what this looks like in the early stages. You can see where I’m just beginning to pick out the shapes from the pencil drawing. Patience is key!


40 Comments on “Among Dogwoods

  1. “patience is key” and “Stepping away is not only important for letting the paint dry between layers….” : both in short supply for me ! I am so eager to finish a painting that I forget to wait 😦 Thanks for the beautiful painting that shows how the two are so important!!!!

    • You bet. I go through stages of impatience with a painting like this. At some point, I just want it done and I’m ready to move on. But patience pays off in the end. Happy painting!

    • Thanks– this is the sort of piece that lends it self to a bit of explanation, especially for people who are new to negative painting. I’m learning myself and its a great technique for many subjects.

    • Thanks– I spent the day planting perennials in my garden…makes me think of your recent sketches, only I didn’t draw mine. Too much digging to do! But they will yield much pleasure in the years to come.

  2. We’ve had lots of grey, cold, rainy days this month in the south of New Zealand and the following line from your post really appealed to me, “the long-awaited spring day and the blank sheet of paper bright with promise”. How exciting! I’ve got a winter to get through first but your line was a ray of sunshine!

  3. Our dogwoods are pretty well finished, but they and the redbuds are the real harbingers of spring in our eastern forests, aren’t they? Lovely painting, and timely for me, as I am testing new WC papers by doing small negative paintings of leaves as well as vignettes of irises. Your patience reminds me how important it I should slow down and step back sometimes!

    • I think there is a place for both spontaneity and patience with painting. It’s helpful to have a sense of what both will do and to figure out the right balance for the subject (and time) at hand with each piece.

  4. Patience is key, isn’t it? I like your observation that what you’ll remember, in spite of being driven indoors by gnats, will be the beauty. It’s good that our minds work that way! 😉

    • Thanks Anna–It seemed to take me so long to finish the first that I’m not sure I’m ready to jump into the second. But I think I’ll work on it in tandem with another piece I’m eager to start. Thanks for your nice compliment!

  5. This is beautiful! Thanx for the tips . Patience is not a strong virtue for me. This is a process I’m continually working on. You give me the incentive to continue.

    • Hi Erica- That’s good to hear. It takes a little practice to get the hang of this technique, but it’s worth it. You get effects you just can’t get otherwise. Good luck!

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