Sunday, January 8, 2017

You Say You Want an Evolution? (of a Painting)

Falling Snow, Rising Moon

You Say You Want an Evolution???

Ok, I couldn't resist the really bad pun reference to the Beatles song. Forgive me, it was too good (or bad) to pass up. 

The evolution I am referring to is the evolution of a painting. Many times people ask me how a painting comes about. How do I decide what to paint?  And why? 

Evolution of a Painting

The painting above was the image for our 2016 family holiday card. The painting, a watercolor, was imported into a graphics program and the words Season's Greetings were added at the lower right corner. And when people ask about the image itself I tell them that it is based on the scenery in the Pacific Northwest, specifically a misty morning in Bellingham Washington.

But the image did not start out that way. This painting was originally done as a demo piece for a class I was teaching in July at the Thousand Islands Arts Center, called Creating Atmosphere in Watercolor. And the moon rising over the trees was originally the sun. Oh--and there were no trees. Confused?? Read on.

For this particular lesson I was showing how to paint the sun by tracing a penny on the dry paper, and dropping a bit of pale yellow in the center of the circle and then adding a drop of water to the center, sending the pigment out toward the perimeter of the circle. And remember in watercolor--paint only goes where the water is, so the water stayed in the circle. The idea was to avoid painting a bright round blob that looks like it has been pasted onto the sky. After that had dried, I got the rest of the paper nice and wet and painted some diagonal lines in two shades of blue in the sky area, alternating with areas left unpainted (white). I used a paper towel to plot up pigment here and there until it looked like a group of fluffy white clouds scudding diagonally across the sky. And then I moved on to another demo and left my sun and clouds to dry.

Fast Forward to November

So my demo watercolor sat in the studio for a few months as I kept busy with other projects. But every time I looked at the painting I could see the possibility of changing some of those diagonal clouds to a line of trees covering a mountain. And the clouds resembled the mist I had seen in the mountains in Bellingham Washington one morning as we were headed to Seattle. So I chased the idea around in my head for a while and then finally in November I picked up the painting and finished it turning clouds into trees or mist and added a gently falling snow. Since I was turning the sun into the moon, I darkened the sky so that it looks more like evening.

So the painting that began as a demo for how to paint the sun, and was later influenced by a scene I remember from earlier that summer, became a winter painting of the Moon rising over a tree covered mountain.

And that is the Evolution of a Painting.


  1. How fun Joan! I may try this evolution/demo technique! I tend to have the painting in my head and pour it all out but of course it becomes its own thing - evolves - right there on the paper. Right now I'm having an affair with a Pelican.

  2. I think the best paintings are the ones that take on a life of their own as you work on them. You have one idea, the paint does something else and you go "Hey--that's so much better than what I had planned".