Monday, March 26, 2012

How long does it take to create a painting?

People often ask me how much time it takes for me to create a painting. Below, you will see the work process for the following three pieces with the time spent estimated for each step.

"Moonlight Wild" Transparent watercolor on 140 lb. paper. 22x30

"Unbroken" Transparent watercolor on 140 lb. paper. 22x30

"Free Soul" Transparent Watercolor on 140 lb. paper. 22x30

Step 1: Thumbnails
This client wanted a painting that had to do with horses. There were no reference photos or firm requests, which gave me a lot of freedom in the creative process. The first thing I do is to draw lots of little boxes and brainstorm different compositions and subjects. I might draw hundreds of these to develop ideas. This stage usually takes 1 or 2 hours.

Step Two: Pick out favorite thumbnails and develop
Now that I have my ideas on paper, I am going to choose three or four of my favorite thumbnails to explore more fully. These are still just rough sketches, but I am taking a bit more time to carefully lay out components. This part takes... oh, an hour or so, mostly because I spend a lot of time moving the shapes around and playing with different scenarios.

Step three: Research
I have solidified which ideas I want to work with, but now I need to study the subject. I need to see horses and I need to understand how they move. I take my phone out to a nearby pasture to snap some photos. This takes me an hour or so. Next, I will check out some books from the library on horses and spend some time reading looking at tons of pictures. This phase might take 4 or 5 hours. So, for research, maybe 6 hours total.

This horse wanted to eat my phone. Well, it is an Apple...

Step three: Figure out aspect ratio and develop sketches
Now I have researched my subject and I am ready to do finished sketches of the ideas that I chose. The first thing I have to do is... math. Yeah. Thanks, high school algebra! I DID use you in the "real world!" I figure out what size to cut my sketch paper in order to enlarge it to 22x30 later on without distorting the image. Next, I spend lots of time making sure the sketches are EXACTLY as I want them to appear when I transfer them to the watercolor paper. This took about 4 hours. This is longer than normal because I did three sketches instead of just one. I couldn't decide, which is nice for my client, because that means she has some purchase options.

Step Four: Head to Staples
This is the part where I spend time wishing that I had a copy center in my home. I do have to wait four hours for Staples to enlarge my sketches to the size of my paper because they were really busy, but I am not counting that in my project time. Two trips to the store and back plus standing in line amount to about an hour.

Step Five: Transfer the design to the paper
I tape Saral graphite transfer sheets together and lay them over my paper, which is pinned to the drafting board so that it doesn't slide. I then tape the copy of my sketch over the graphite paper and transfer the design. This part takes about an hour for the three paintings.

Step Six: Mix up the paint and set up materials
This part takes longer than you might think. I stir each of the 4 colors for 5-10 minutes to get it totally mixed up. Sometimes I play Words With Friends or browse Facebook as I stir, because this isn't really my favorite part. I suppose I could find some sort of meditative calm in it, but, nah.

So now I will lay out 5 or 6 towels in my pouring area and prop up a sheet of Gator board on an old shoe to make an incline. I will set up the drying area with towels, foamcore boards and yoga bolsters. I clean out my pipettes and fill my spray bottle. Next, I fill a jar with soapy water and then two more jars of clean water and move it all to the masking area. I'm going to estimate an hour to get everything set up.

Step Seven: Apply drawing gum
I look for the parts I want to leave white and I mask out those areas with drawing gum. For all three paintings, this takes about an hour.

Step Eight: Pour paint
This is the most fun part. I wet the paper and pipe the color on. I move the paper around to guide the color and then I let it run off of the edge. I spend some time wicking up the puddles with torn paper towels so that I don't get blooms. It takes me about 45 minutes to pour all three paintings, wick up the paint puddles and get them to the drying station.

Step nine: Repeat the drawing gum and pouring process
After waiting 8-9 hours for the paper to dry (unless I get impatient and take a hair dryer to it), I apply drawing gum again, pour paint again, apply more drawing gum, pour paint... For this painting, I used 4 pours, so I repeated this process three more times. This adds up to about 5 hours, give or take.

first pour
second pour
final pour
Step ten: Remove the drawing gum
I use a rubber cement pick up to remove the drawing gum from the painting. This takes 10-15 minutes depending on how much masking was there. We will say 30 minutes for all three paintings.

You can see the drawing gum peeling up to reveal the painting underneath.
Occasionally, I get a little help from my assistant with this step. Hey, even the great masters had helpers, right?

Step 11: Add details
Now I will use a scrubber and Mr. Clean eraser to soften lines and apply direct painting to add details if needed. This generally takes 2-3 hours per painting. On these, this step was about 7 hours total for all three paintings. Now they are finished!

The final verdict:
The complete project took roughly 30 hours. That is 17 hours per painting, which seems at first like it doesn't add up, but that's because I have to take into account that even if I am only painting one piece, things like brainstorming, research and running to the copy shop still take the same amount of time.

Questions? Comments? Tell me what you think. Also, be sure to connect with me on Facebook and Twitter. See more work on my website at

Sunday, March 25, 2012


These watercolor paintings are based on ultrasound images. All paintings are created on European-milled, cotton rag watercolor paper. If you are interested in commissioning a piece of ultrasound/ sonogram art for a gift or keepsake, contact me to discuss your custom watercolor painting. Standard pricing applies ($1.60 per square inch). To see step-by-step photos of how my ultrasound art is created, see Start to Finish: How Ultrasound Art is Made

To see more work, visit or connect with me on Facebook

"Aiden" 11x14 Watercolor on 140 lb paper

"A Glimpse through the Keyhole" 11x14 Watercolor on 140 lb. paper. 

"Fearfully and Wonderfully" 11x14 Watercolor on 140 lb. paper. 

"Bereishith" 20x26 Watercolor on 140 lb. paper. 

"The Stuff of Stars" 11x14 Watercolor on 140 lb. paper .

"Dreaming Inside" 11x14 Watercolor on 140 lb. paper 

"Iris" 11x14 Watercolor on 140 lb. paper

Monday, March 19, 2012

Valley Planet Cover

If you are in the North Alabama area, be sure to pick up this month's copy of Valley Planet to see some of my art on the front cover. If you are too far away to get your hands on a physical copy, you can download the electronic version for free at

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Start to Finish: Pouring Watercolor

"Eighty" Watercolor on 140 lb. paper. 16x20

People know that I create my paintings by pouring layers of transparent watercolor over drawing gum, but the process is difficult to imagine if you have never seen it. Here is a little peek into how it is done.

1. I sketch my design on the paper. Next, I take drawing gum and paint it over the areas that I want to keep white. After wetting my paper with a sprayer, I then take a pipette and squirt paint over the whole thing. It looks like this:

2. Now the first pour is dry. I will find the next-to-lightest values (not bright white, but the second brightest spots) and put drawing gum over those areas.

3. When the drawing gum has had time to dry, I wet the paper again and pipe on another layer of transparent watercolor.

4. Layer 2 is now dry and I will find the next lightest values in my painting (not bright white, not the next-to-brightest white, but the next value after that). I put my drawing gum on those areas and pour paint again.

5. Time to repeat that process one final time. Other paintings might have more pours than this, but I am happy with the range of values for this particular piece.

6. Now comes the fun part! I am going to use a rubber cement pick up to remove the drawing gum from my painting. You can see that in this photo I have removed the gum from part of the party crown and forehead:

7. Now that I have removed all of the gum, I can see what I am working with.

8. I am going to use a scrubber brush and a Mr. Clean Eraser (original only!) to soften some of the lines where the contrast is a little too harsh. To see how to recycle an old, worn-out brush and turn it into a scrubber, look here.

9. Now that things are softened up a bit, I will use a more direct painting method to tighten up some details. Sometimes I paint with color that I have scrubbed up off of the same sheet of paper to keep the color more consistent, but that's another tip for another day.

10. And now it is finished!

If you are in the Athens, Alabama area and want to come learn this technique from me, I have some classes coming up soon. You can find out more here.

To buy originals or prints, visit my website. To arrange a commissioned piece, contact me.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Watercolor Elephants

"Fortune" Watercolor on 140 lb paper. 11x14

"Triumph" Watercolor on 140 lb. paper. 11x14

"If you should meet an elephant on a summer's day.
What would you do? What would you say?
I'd say, "Good morning Elephant, how do you do?
I'm glad to meet you elephant, I'd like to dance with you."

To see more work, visit my website at

Friday, March 9, 2012

Imaginative Portraits

Under the Magical Mimosa. Watercolor on 140 lb. paper, 16x20.

People are always wanting portraits painted or drawn of their children, pets or loved ones. Usually this means that they want an artist to make an exact copy of a picture that they have. That's all fine and good but... if they have a really nice picture, why don't they just hang it on the wall already? That is what photographers are for!

Portraits that add in imaginative elements are much more interesting and fun. Don't you think so?

Add me on Facebook or visit my website to see more art.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How to recycle old brushes

Do you have old, worn-out, synthetic brushes lying around? Those brushes can be reincarnated as scrubbers. What is a scrubber? Only the most useful watercolor tool out there, second only to the Mr. Clean eraser. These stubby, stiff-bristled brushes will lift color right off of your paper.

"Oops! I painted right over my highlight!" No worries. Just wet the paper, take the scrubber brush to it and then blot with a tissue. The scrubber can also be used for effects like the ones that appear in the image above.

How do you make a scrubber? Just take one of those old, worn-out synthetic brushes and clip the bristles down to about 1/4 inch. That's it. For the painting above, I used a Crayola brush that one of my students had ruined by leaving in a puddle of glue.

Have any cool art tips? Leave a comment. To see more of my work, visit my website.