Work In Progress: Glade Creek Grist Mill, Update 11

Work In Progress: Glade Creek Grist Mill, Update 11

Last week I discussed detail in my paintings and put forward an argument for why detail needs to be saved for the most important areas. Detail in the main subject is important because it keeps focus in that area. Detail elsewhere can be distracting. That argument makes sense – except I have a great deal of trouble working under that premise. When I looked at the painting up to the point I had attained I felt there was something wrong, and that probably I had added too much detail, but then it occurred to me that there wasn’t enough detail. Not enough detail? That goes against everything I had convinced myself of. I added a bit more detail to the deciduous tree and more to the snow laden evergreen shrubs on the creek bank. That seemed to help! At the same time I looked through paintings by other artists to see how they handled details. An artist who I truly admire is Carol Evans. She lives and paints watercolor scenes on the pacific northwest coast. As I looked through her paintings, I became aware that the ones that really caught my attention, the ones that I was most impressed with, were the ones that had a great deal of detail everywhere. Although my paintings have not yet reached the impressive richness and complexity of hers, the style of our best paintings is similar – emphasis on detail. That seems to be when I’m happiest with my work. Loose brushwork has a place in my repertoire – maybe pen and ink and watercolor – but not in my watercolor or colored pencil. I’ve learned something about myself over the past couple of weeks.

After adding more branches to the deciduous tree, I put more detail into the evergreen shrubs (probably rhododendrons) on the creek bank. I broke up the snow masses some by adding more foliage. The shrubs also needed to be a bit darker, so I used a mix of French ultramarine and burnt sienna to darken the shadows. To highlight leaves here and there I used a mix of yellow ochre, new gamboge and hookers green.

I lightly penciled in the frozen waterfall. Then I added very light washes of new gamboge and permanent rose up on top of the waterfall next. All the detail on the waterfall was done with a combination of winsor blue and paynes gray. Most of the work was done with winsor blue but paynes gray was layered on to produce darker shadows. I did not mix the two colors but layered them separately. It took many layers to get the darkest values.

By next week I should have the waterfall completed over to the trees on the right and I’ll be starting on the snow and ice area below the waterfall.

IMG_1461 Glade Creek Grist Mill Update 11

Work In Progress: Glade Creek Grist Mill, Update 10

Work In Progress: Glade Creek Grist Mill, Update 10

            Using the full scale drawing as a guide I first drew in the large shrub in front of the Mill. Then, I masked out some irregular splotches to indicate snow. When the masking fluid was dry I painted in the foliage of the evergreen shrub using a small round brush and a mix of hookers green, yellow ochre and winsor blue. I varied the mix to keep the mass from having a uniform color. After the shrub was painted in I removed the masking fluid.

Because the foreground hemlock blocks out part of the shrub mass, I painted in some rough shapes to indicate the fine needle foliage of the branches and painted in a few branches as well. The branches were painted in with burnt sienna, raw sienna and winsor blue, the hemlock foliage with hookers green, lemon yellow and a bit of winsor blue. I want to keep the foliage on the lighter side so that I don’t overwhelm the Mill with a huge dark mass. I’m depending on the dark tree trunk and branches to stop the viewer from running off the right side. However, I’m not 100% sure at this point about how dark to go on the foliage. I’ll have to wait and see when I get to that part.

Next, I started painting in some of the snow down below the Mill. There, I first washed in some very light tints of permanent rose and new gamboge in the sunlit spots. When dry, I started in with the shaded areas using winsor blue and, in the darkest areas, paynes gray. The tones were built up slowly by adding more and more layers of blue until I felt they were dark enough. I was careful to avoid getting any color on the tops of the masses where the sun was hitting them directly.

Moving toward the left I penciled in the distant shrubs just below the bridge and then painted them in with the green- blue mix mentioned before.

The big mass of shrubs below the bridge came next. The shrubs were first penciled in to get the general shape and contour. Then I used masking fluid to block out areas of snow. Using the green mix, I painted in the shrub mass. Once again, I varied the tone of the green by varying the colors, to give some form to the shrubs, indicating the dark shadows here and lighter leaves there. After the shrubs were painted in I removed the masking fluid and finished up edges here and there. Winsor blue and a bit of paynes gray were added to the snow to give them some three dimensional form.

At first I made the more forward part of the shrub mass a bit lighter than the mass further back – and wasn’t happy with it. I felt the whole mass needed the same tone, so I darkened the forward part more. That seemed to help. I also didn’t want too much green to show. Darkening the mass helped that, too. By adding more winsor blue and burnt sienna I was able to darken the mass sufficiently.

The deciduous, bare tree in front of the bridge was painted in with a combination of winsor blue, burnt sienna and raw umber, and using both a pointed round and a script brush to get the thin branches near the top.

Once finished, I felt the tree lacked real character but also had to tell myself that the tree was not the center of interest. One problem I have is treating each item that I paint as a special subject, needing special treatment. If I were to make the tree very interesting it would draw attention away from the Mill, which is, after all, the center of attention.


As I look at the painting at this point I have mixed feelings about how it is presented. Although the shrub mass and snow look realistic, I wonder if there should be less detail. Less detail in everything except the Mill. I had this same problem when working on the bare tree. I felt the tree needed to be more interesting. I think that was wrong. When involved in painting an object, I forget about everything else around it, and focus on making that object look real and detailed. I think it’s necessary, when developing the composition, to determine also what level of detail each area of the painting should get, and keep that in mind when progressing through it. If I put detail into everything, then everything becomes more important. Even though I’ve composed the painting to focus on the subject, I don’t want to draw attention away from that subject by having highly detailed objects all around it. So, I think, as you move away from the center of interest, I think the detail should also decrease. Otherwise, the painting gets way too busy. Everything should look realistic, but the detail should decrease. There needs to be a balance, however. I don’t want everything too out of focus compared to the subject. As I continue with this painting I’ll have to evaluate each element and decide whether to increase or decrease the detail. Everything relates to everything around it.

So much to think about.

IMG_1457 Glade Creek Grist Mill Update 10

Work in Progress: Glade Creek Grist Mill, Update 9

Work In Progress: Glade Creek Grist Mill, Update 9

Painting the Mill is definitely the most interesting part of the project so far. It’s the focus of all the work. It’s the focal point of the painting – the main reason for the painting. It’s the subject that will have the greatest detail and – I hope – attention. The final photo in last week’s Update showed the penciled in Mill. Before painting the building I re-drew the Mill and bridge in detail because the Mill is the focus of the painting. A detailed drawing will make the painting much easier.

After adding another layer of the gray mix under the race I started on the Mill. First I layed down an undercoat to get a basic color for the Mill. Here, I mixed yellow ochre, burnt sienna, raw umber and burnt umber, made a light, watery tint and put down an undercoat. Once dry, I drybrushed in varying combinations of the same colors over the outside surface of the Mill to indicate aging and weathered wood. The wood on the Mill, depending on its exposure to the elements, over time turns from the rich reddish brown color to silver gray. It doesn’t all turn color at the same time, so after years of weathering, there is a wonderful mix of reddish browns, yellow browns and silver gray, spots and stippling, streaks and smudges. This is what I try to imitate with drybrush and wet in wet techniques.

After adding the color I used a small pointed round brush and a darker mix of the browns mentioned above to line in the horizontal siding on the left end of the Mill. Rather than make all the lines uniform (which would be dull) I made them irregular and skipped a bit, indicating rough, uneven surfaces and edges. I kept the upper edge of the line straight but made the lower edge irregular to indicate rough shadows. I also did not use a straight edge but did them freehand, adding more interest to them.

Next, the windows and doors were painted in. I used the same mixes and brush to paint the window and door trim in. To indicate depth, I used a darker color to line in the shadowed parts. When all of the outside parts were finished, I put in the dark window panes and doorways and shading under the eaves of the roof and under the window sills. For that a mix of winsor blue and burnt sienna gave a nice dark, near black, color. It was necessary to use a magnifying glass to paint in the window panes, leaving the mullions visible.

Although the back half of the left side and the back of the Mill have board and batten siding, indicating them with paint entails the same process as with the horizontal siding. I used the same color mixes to indicate weathered wood.

Once the siding was pretty much finished, I put a glaze of the gray mix over the shaded side of the Mill. At that point I wasn’t sure how much to darken it, so I left it at that. I could revisit the shading later. I didn’t want to go too dark right away because I needed the Mill sides to be easily differentiated from the background.

The water race was next. There, again, I used the same brown mixes to put in the sides and their bracing boards. After working the race, I painted in the lower, stone base, of the Mill.

After stepping away from the painting for a day I went back to look at the shading and decided another coat was in order. There wasn’t enough difference between the sunlit and shaded sides of the Mill. But if I did that I’d also have to darken the background behind the Mill and Bridge. So, I did both. This time I added another glaze on the shaded side of the Mill with Paynes grey, keeping the shading to the blue side. Adding the glaze loosened the underlying paint, so I had to go back over the detail again, after it was dry.

The supports and water wheel were next in line. The brown mix was used for the supports. Here I made sure, as with the other boards, to indicate the light and shadowed sides. The water wheel is a different color, however. There’s a bit more red in it. For that I uses a combination of permanent rose and burnt umber. (You may be wondering how I can see all this detail in the photo, and I don’t blame you. The truth is, I did some research online and came up more photos of the Mill. This helped greatly. I was able to see more of the siding, the water race supports and the stone bridge supports. All this adds to the richness of the Mill). I was careful to work around the snow on the race, the fence and the water wheel. (Not real careful because I did use white gouache where needed to bring out the white snow where necessary).

The bridge is an important part of the painting. The combination of dark and white lines help lead the eye to the Mill. I painted in the posts and railings with a mix of burnt umber and winsor blue, using a straightedge. This is where carefully drawing in the structure beforehand pays off. You can easily make a mistake with the spacing and it will show up later. I was careful to leave in the white of the snow on the railings but did use gouache white on the post tops.

A further glaze of the gray mix was added to deepen the shadows on the wheel and the lower part of the Mill, as well as under the platform near the door on the right side.

Lastly, I painted in the stone supports holding up the bridge. Burnt sienna, burnt umber, raw umber, some new gamboge made for some nice browns. I dabbed them in to indicate stones and added shading to define edges. Also used the same mix to paint in the low stone wall below the supports to the Mill race.

Just to see how the building would look I started adding some snow near the Mill. Though not completely finished I put in enough to suggest the snow on the roof, the race, the bridge, window ledges, signs and under the race. Here I used winsor blue and added some indigo blue in the shadows.

From here I’ll begin to work my way forward, painting in the frozen waterfalls, the stream banks, shrubs and trees.

IMG_1370 Update 9 IMG_1371 UPDATE 9

Work In Progress: Glade Creek Grist Mill, Update 8

Now that the background sky is in, the next step is to add the background trees. The background trees are important as a backdrop for the Mill but not important in themselves. Therefore, I don’t want a lot of detail in the trees. I want them suggested but not the star of the painting.

The first thing I did was draw in the trees and branches on the right side. Then I applied liquid masking to the bridge, the Mill, the two deciduous trees in front of the bridge, and the branches and trees on the right. Once the masking fluid was dry I mixed up a gray color for the background trees – a combination of winsor blue, permanent rose and new gamboge. I added just enough permanent rose to give the gray a sight violet tint to keep it cool. I applied the gray mix in a number of washes, wet in wet, making sure the paper was thoroughly dry in between. I also put in the washes irregularly, darker here, lighter there, to indicate the varying value changes in a grouping of trees. The areas near the tops of the trees, where the tree density thins out, I thinned he wash, leaving the light of the sky to show through.

As I added layers I defined the tops of trees here and there to add a bit of interest. A number 2 fan brush worked well here.

As I added more layers of the gray mix I darkened the lower part of the tree mass behind the Mill and the bridge to define them more. At one point, as I darkened the lower background behind the Mill, I felt the upper part seemed too light, so I added another layer near the top. The tree mass behind the Mill may need further darkening and definition, but I’ll wait until later in the painting process to decide that.

When I was satisfied with the value of the background trees I went back over it with a slightly darker value to indicate tree trunks and branches. I also spritzed some of the gray mix onto the background with a toothbrush to get more texture in.

Every once in a while I stopped painting to assess the background. Was it dark enough? Was there enough detail, but not too much? It is a bit hard to tell at this point because all I have on the paper is the sky and background trees. The tree mass takes on an importance it doesn’t deserve at this point because there isn’t anything else there. With nothing else competing with it, it becomes the main attraction. When everything else is added it will once again return to its supporting role. So I refrained from adding any more detail at this point, electing to wait until much more is added. When the Mill is in and the foreground is in I’ll then have a better idea whether to add more to the background trees. I removed all the masking from the painting.

With the background completed (for now), my next project is the Mill and bridge. The first step was to pencil in the details of the Mill – and that can be seen in the final photo. Next week the Mill should be finished – or nearly so.

IMG_1364 Update 8 IMG_1366 Update 8 IMG_1367 Update 8

Work In Progress: Glade Creek Grist Mill, Update 7

Work In Progress: Glade Creek Grist Mill, Update 7


            I’ve spent at least twenty hours developing the composition, including value and color sketches, layouts and drawing the final composition in pencil before going to the painting.

I transferred the pencil drawing to 300 lb Arches watercolor paper. The size of the painting will be 24” by 18”. I always prepare the paper by first soaking it in water (in my bath tub) for about twenty minutes, then laying it on a towel for a few minutes. After that I staple it to a board and let it dry overnight.

The sky is the first area to be worked on. I wanted to get a combination of yellow toward the right side and lower in the sky (where the sunlight is coming from) and blue. I wanted the yellow (new gamboge) to be most intense just above the background tree line and fade upward and toward the left. I mixed a dilute solution of new gamboge, enough to do the area. Since it would be easier for me to work from top to bottom, I turned the painting upside down in preparation for a graded wash. Then I wet down the entire sky area, from below the tree line to the top of the painting. With the painting turned upside down, I worked the new gamboge in wet in wet from below the tree line downward. As I moved downward I added more clear water to dilute the wash, eventually losing the yellow altogether. The wash was very light, so I did two more layers of new gamboge before I felt the color was the right strength. I was careful to make sure the paper was completely dry between layers.

Then, I turned the painting right side up and allowed it to dry thoroughly. After it was dry, I re-wet the sky area down into the yellow and, working wet in wet, did a graded wash of winsor blue into the yellow.

The next step in the painting is the background trees. That will take more time. I’m not sure how much detail to put in. It is background, after all, and not a center of interest. So, it must look like a forested area but not draw much attention. The first thing I wanted to do here is establish the base color and then I’ll work in more suggestions of trees and ground later. Looking at my color sketch and my color swatch sheet (where I test color combinations) I mixed up a combination of winsor blue, new gamboge and permanent rose. This combination resulted in a gray but with a hint of violet. There are areas where there will be lighter values, such as mid ground trees, and the two thin tree trunks on the right, as well as the roof of the Mill. These areas should be covered with liquid masking. I wanted to preserve the bridge, the rest of the Mill and much of the hemlock tree on the right as well, even though they will be darker later. This just looks better to me and is a personal preference. So I masked these areas as well.

Once the masking fluid dried, I wet the entire area of the background trees up into the sky area. Then I washed in the violet gray wet in wet with a fan brush. The wet in wet allowed for a softer edge to the tops of the trees. On the right hand side I washed out the background color behind the trees, where the ground begins.

From here, I’ll start working on the background trees more.

IMG_1364 Update 7