Category Archives: Watercolor

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California watercolor artist Mike Bailey once said in his workshop that artists should keep going back to their old works and find inspiration there. In the past, that’s something I rarely did. My own works used to make me sad. If they are good, I feel like I haven’t made any progress, and if they are bad, I am bad. Last year when I started my social media presence: this blog and my Instagram, I managed to go through some of what I had done with Mike’s words in mind. It took some getting used to, but after many self-pitying moments, I saw sparks. There are things that generate ideas, things that remind me of techniques I learned and forgot, and things I simply want to re-do.

One of the sparks is an old abstract acrylic painting “Waterfall”, a design still excited me:

Landscape, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30, 2017
Landscape, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30

I kept the design, but drifted away from the primary colors and brought in the fluidity of the watercolor medium. Here’s the new version:

Waterfall 2, watercolor on paper, 22 x 28 in, 2020

The new piece entered the juried Watercolor Group Show at Blue Line Arts Gallery last year and is also part of the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society 53rd annual show. SCVWS is rolling out the participating artworks on Instagram now.

The “treasure hunt” will keep going! 😁

Earlier this month I also submitted a self-portrait to Art Room Gallery’s Portrait Show, and received an “Honorable Mention.” Here’s the artwork:

Decision, watercolor on paper, 9 x 13 in, 2021

As I mentioned before I have been focusing on portrait this year. Though techniques are still my major concern, and I understand it takes far more than the a few months to grasp it, I do often think about if I could go deeper than just the face. “Decision” is an attempt to bring out a bit of the inner world of the subject.

Autumn Colors – A Throwback Series

The rich colors of the season remind me of a series I did years ago. It consists of four still life paintings, done in watercolor and ink pen. It was the first series I ever did and was done before I had any appreciation of doing things in some sort of consistency. My natural inclination is always jumping around among different things.

As I have better understanding of the creative process, I start to see the benefit of staying for a while with a particular technique, a color theme, a subject matter, a design concept, etc. It reenforces your strength, challenges your thought, and often leads to new discoveries.

Anyways, here they are:

Autumn Colors 1, watercolor and ink pen on paper, 16 x 12 in, 2015
Autumn Colors 2, watercolor and ink pen on paper, 12 x 16, 2015
Autumn Colors 3, watercolor and ink pen on paper, 16 x 12 in, 2015
Autumn Colors 4, watercolor and ink pen on paper, 12 x 16 in, 2015

The things that connect this series are techniques and subject matters. I set up some “fall” related objects and chose four settings. They are parallel to each other in terms of relationship. Another way to develop a series is to derive new pieces from the old one. I am in the process of an experiment of that and hope I will be able to show it soon.

Testing Materials (6) – Black Watercolor Paper

In the last post about materials, I mentioned that Stonehenge has a line a black watercolor paper. The official name is Legion Stonehenge Aqua Cold Press Black. It’s 140lb, and 100% cotton.

I ordered a pad and tried a couple of paintings:

Nikki, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12, September, 2020
Astrid in Design, gouache on paper, 9 x 10, September 2020

Here’s what I find out so far:

  • It behaves like a good quality 140lb watercolor paper. So in theory, you can use water.
  • However, as one can imagine, transparent color doesn’t fire well on black paper. You need a lot of pigment for a color to show, and the colors still dry lighter. So you can’t really use a lot of water.
  • Like any type of black paper, how you deal with value on it is quite counterintuitive.
  • In the first painting I used mostly watercolor and mixed in some gouache white in the highlight area. The second painting is gouache. I personally like the the gouache one better.
  • I feel like I am very lack of imagination with this paper. For the second painting, I believe I could achieve similar effect with ink resist method. While using black paper makes it easier in certain ways, ink resist could have some unexpected result. In other words, it is not particularly empowering.
  • It could be just I don’t know how to make the most out of it.

Show News

“Lamonte,” one of my 100 Day Art Challenge paintings, entered 6th Annual Figures & Faces Art Exhibition at Fusion Art Gallery as a finalist:

Portrait of Lamonte, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12 in, July 2020

“Waterfall” and “Penitencia Creek Park” entered “Landscape” show at Grey Cube Gallery as finalist:

Landscape, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30, 2017
Waterfall, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 30
Penitencia Creek Park, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in, 2019

Small steps, but moving forward nonetheless!

Orange Day

If you are on the west coast you know what I am talking about. The sky is literally orange the whole day, from Oregon to California! I painted this scenery a while ago, as a sunset scene. I mounted to a cradled wood panel, and varnished it (see my previous post about hanging with frame). I believe the varnish darkened the painting a bit, and the result is a perfect depiction of today:

Orange Day, watercolor on paper,11 x 14 in, 2020

As much as I enjoy being a prophet, I miss my neighborhood’s normal color:

Neighborhood walk 1, watercolor on paper, 9 x 12 in, 2020

Show News – “Patterns” Art Exhibition 2020

I recently submitted a couple of artworks to an online exhibition “Patterns” at Light Space & Time Online Art Gallery. One of the submissions received an honorable mention and was selected into Top 15 Artists in the “Painting & Other Media category.”

This is the painting that received the recognition:

Marching, watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 in, 2019

I also submitted one to a different category, “Photography and Digital.” I don’t really have any experience with digital art. I took a watercolor doodle and manipulated it in Photoshop Express and Procreate. It failed to enter the show, understandably, but I had a lot of fun making it:

Bubbly Dance, digital, 2020

Maybe I’ll make a carpet out of it some day!

I am taking a 2D design class this fall and learning some basics about Photoshop. Hopefully I will have some better stuffs to submit next time! 🙂

Light, Space & Time has online exhibitions of various themes and it is cheap to enter. Highly recommend for emerging artists.

Looking Out of My Window

Sometimes when I run out of ideas, I stare at the trees outside my window. Occasionally, I draw or sketch them:

Since I am a bit running out of topic recently, I turned my window scene into a couple of paintings:

Window Scene 1, watercolor on paper, August, 2020
Window Scene 2, watercolor on paper, August 2020

There are usually squirrels dancing on the branches and crows meeting on those roofs, and once in a while, I am waken up by wood peckers attacking the trunks. Some day, I will manage to catch them in my “window paintings.” 🙂

Testing Materials (4) – More Water Soluble Markers

I know Crayola is a kid brand, and I don’t think Crayola Washable Markers are made for watercolor artists. However, for your daily doodling, and small art projects, they work wonders. The markers have conical tips that allow both broad and thin lines, and the colors are quite vibrant:

I recently got hold of a different brand, Tombow Dual Brush Pen Art Markers. You can see from the way it’s packaged (Primary, Secondary, Grayscale, Portrait etc.), Towbow is for artist. With a nylon brush on one side and a fine tip on the other, you can achieve more versatile marks with it. I tried Tombow and Crayola side by side and find them behave similarly:

A few notes:

  • I used 140lb watercolor paper, and all my paintings are small.
  • The colors are quite vibrant and they don’t dry lighter. However, if you have excessive water, it will wash the ink away.
  • You can go back lifting or adding colors. If you add colors with markers when the paper is wet, remember it is much hasher on the paper than applying watercolor with watercolor brushes.
  • As for lightfastness, both Crayola and Tombow claim their colors will fade over time. So maybe not use them in your masterpieces? The prickly pear flower one (top right) was on the wall without any protection for many years and I haven’t seen any color change yet.
  • It is convenient and fun!
Jazmine, Crayola and Tombow markers on paper, 5 x 5, 2020

Experimenting with Materials (3) – Caran d’Ache

Caran d’Ache is a brand not a specific product, but I only know that now! The product is Caran d’Ache Classic Neocolor II Water-Soluble Pastels. My former watercolor teacher introduced it to me many years ago, and called it Caran d’Ache. Even though I bought a 40 colors pack, all these years, I never bothered to read the words on the package, and thus I never knew it was pastel!

I didn’t like Caran d’Ache back then. It’s waxy and leaves a mark like that of a crayon. It also won’t completely dissolve in water. I didn’t appreciate texture very much at that time, and was afraid of any mark that I couldn’t get rid of or hide. I only recently started to pay attention to marks making and textures, and how they enrich composition and set free expression. That why I decided to give the product more chances.

Here are some of ways I tried. First I just used it to sketch, and them apply water and watercolor on top of it. Toward the end, I used them to add more accents.

Catherine, draft.
Catherine, watercolor, 7.5 x 10 in, 2020

I also tried to wet the paper first, with some color, and then applied the Caran d’Ache before the paper dried. Some color bleeds more than others. In the red color figure, I went back and force a bit with the pastel and a wet brush to achieve a desirable result. In the greenish one, the paper dried quickly, and I was only able to do a drawing.

Female figure, 5 x 10 in, 2020
Female figure, 9 x 12 in, 2020

Here a lot of the design in the painting came as an after thought, and Caran d’Ache is a very convenient tool to draw out ideas. While it won’t completely dissolve, it’s easy to hide it with gouache, and it’s also effective in adding textures:

Tigger, watercolor and gouache on paper, 18 x 24in.

A few notes about Caran d’Ache:

  • It’s versatile but overall, works better in expressive drawing – where you don’t care to hide your marks.
  • It’s useful in finalizing or amending a painting,
  • I am not entirely satisfied with the way I am using it, still too careful and too timid.
  • I feel like if I am more competent with or have more confidence in my drawing skill, I could make better use of this tool.
  • I’ll keep playing with it. I have a hunch that it will set me free some day. 🙂

New Pages Added

My site zhisu.art just grows a bit with a new “Gallery” page. Please take a look and click on each image to see more.

I also updated the “About” page, now “Meet the Artist” to expose a little more about me.

Putting oneself out there is not easy, and I will do it one step a time. 🙂

Steps, watercolor on paper, 14 x 20 in, 2014