Rooster, Sunflower and Pink Hydrangea

posted in: Birds, Plants, WIP | 0

Thanks to a new scanner I’ve finally been able to scan some recent work. The hydrangea blossom above was the most recently finished. Also included are this rooster and sunflower.

strutting rooster by rowntreestudio.comThe Strutting Rooster is ink and scratching on clayboard. The piece measures 5″ x 7″.

sunflower watercolor by rowntreestudio.comThis sunflower painting is watercolor on Arches 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper. It measures approximately 8″ x 10″.

I’m working on getting reproductions of all three pieces available in my Etsy shop!

Watercolor on Vellum: a Workshop with Carol Woodin

posted in: WIP, Workshop | 1

Over the weekend I attended a two-day workshop by Carol Woodin. We worked in watercolor on vellum, an entirely new surface to me (although a very old surface in art history).

Carol started off the workshop with an introduction to vellum. She brought samples and a resource list so now we all have some idea what to look for and where to find vellum if we choose to work on it again.

Vellum is processed calfskin, although parchments made of other animal skins, including deer, goat and sheep are available. They all have different characteristics to consider when selecting one for a project. For this weekend workshop Carol had personally selected some classic calfskin. It was relatively pale in color and finished on one side.

Besides having natural differences from piece to piece, vellum has a very smooth surface compared to even hot press watercolor paper. On one hand, that means that you need far less water and paint on the brush to leave a mark, while on the other hand, it’s very easy to lift paint with too much water. That’s great if you want to lift paint (to create a light spot or to correct an error), but it requires very careful control if you don’t want to disturb the layers already in place.

We started off sketching lovely apples gathered from local trees by volunteers in the group, then got down to business. Carol gave us each a scrap of vellum to practice on and a simple exercise designed to help us start understanding how paint and vellum work together. She had us start by putting down a wet wash of color to see how that worked, then had us try lifting heavily applied pigment before moving on to building a solid layer with delicate strokes and very watered-down paint. The darker green squares on my sample were each built up with many, many layers.

After practicing on vellum scraps we all moved on to our apples and worked on them for the rest of the workshop. Carol gave additional demonstrations on building color along the way. Those with more drybrush watercolor experience seemed to transition to the vellum technique more easily than those accustomed to very wet washes, but by the end of the workshop everyone had at least a great start on a painting.

Why choose vellum? Many enjoy the surface variation present in vellum. Each piece is entirely unique and can include a variety of spotting and veining. It has warm color ranging from a pale off-white to a rich honey. Goat parchment has a fascinating pebbled texture, and deer parchment can have scars from the animal’s life in the wild. I enjoyed working with vellum because I love being able to lift color easily. For someone who has a tendency to paint over highlights that lifting ability is great! I also love vellum’s translucent quality. It bring something to the painting that’s difficult for me to describe. There’s a sort of luminous quality about it.

Vellum has two big downsides: it’s an animal product (a deal-breaker for many) and it’s expensive, at least in comparison to watercolor paper. My understanding is that it’s a by-product of the food industry. Although calves aren’t being raised and slaughtered solely for vellum, there’s an ethical issue there to consider. While a standard  22″ x 30″ sheet of 140 lb. Arches hot press watercolor paper runs about six dollars, a square foot of vellum can easily cost you something in the range of $25 to $45 a square foot.

Miscellaneous vellum notes:

  • Because the material is translucent it’s a good idea to work with it on some kind of white backing.
  • Watercolor paints made with honey as a binder don’t work as well on vellum as gum arabic bound paints. M. Graham and Sennelier are two brands that can be problematic.
  • Before beginning to paint on vellum you need to remove surface oils. These oils aren’t just from your hands but can come from within the vellum itself. Rub the vellum surface thoroughly with a dry cleaning pad or white eraser. If you find that your paint is beading up, let it dry, rub the area with an eraser and continue painting. The beading should stop after you’ve rubbed the area well.
  • Kolinsky sable brushes are glorious on vellum. The soft bristles with a good, sharp point glide beautifully over the surface without scrubbing up under layers. For the techniques taught at this workshop I used mainly my 0 and 1 sable rounds, picking up my 2 occasionally. Because of the dry nature of the technique a full-bellied brush wasn’t an advantage.

A couple of places to purchase vellum:

Drawing the apple. E. R. Smith,
The sketch.
Watercolor exercise on vellum. E. R. Smith,
The practice sheet.


The first layer of paint. E. R. Smith,
The first layer of paint.
The progress so far: apple in watercolor on vellum. E. R. Smith,
The progress so far.
Dry cleaning pad. E. R. Smith,
For cleaning oils off vellum.



The Laysan Albatross Birdcam

posted in: Birds | 0

This has been an amazing year so far with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s live streaming birdcams. I was sucked into these cams two years ago when Cornell started streaming HD video of red-tailed hawks, great blue herons, ospreys and other birds, and two years later I’m just as hooked. I could go on and on about the birds and the cam program but I’m going to spare you that. Watch them and there’s a good chance you’ll be sucked in too!

This year Cornell teamed up with the Kaua’i Albatross Network and installed a cam on private property on the north shore of Kaua’i, streaming the amazing lives of a family of Laysan albatross. This year we watched Kaloakulua grow up, raised by her parents Kuluahine (Mom) and Kuluakane (Dad). She was born in late January and fledged on June 24th. Over those months we saw her explore her nest under trees and bushes on the edge of a lawn, then gradually increase her range until we sometimes needed people on the ground to go figure out where she was hiding out of cam view.

It was my great privilege to volunteer as a camera operator. I came into it late, but I joined an amazing group of people just as obsessed with the albatross as I am. I hope that next year we have another wonderful chick to follow!

The cam is off now for the season but should be back up in the winter.  If you’d like to see many, many screenshots and videos from KK’s months as a chick, check out my Twitter feed and the cam’s official Twitter feed. You can also check up on another chick (Mango) still in the area and find out about albatross news through the cam’s website.

I’m celebrating the Laysan Albatross Cam’s first season with artwork. So far I have one completed piece and I hope there will be more. The piece pictured above shows a very young KK with one of her parents. It’s meant to capture the sweet bond these birds share. The piece is small, only five by seven inches, and done in watercolor and colored pencil on paper. I’ll be making prints of this piece available for purchase with all profits going to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Cam program. Stay tuned – I’ll let you know when the prints are ready to go.

Work In Progress: Wheat Two

posted in: Plants, WIP | 0
wheat painting in progress by elizabeth r smith of
Wheat painting in progress

I continue to work on the wheat watercolor painting. You can see that I’ve gotten more work done to the bottom of the painting than the top. That’s probably because it’s about 30 inches high and I keep going back to the part that’s easier to reach! I’m gradually working my way up and deepening the color.

Thanks for looking!

Work in Progress: Wheat

posted in: Plants, Uncategorized, WIP | 0
wheat watercolor in progress by Elizabeth Smith of
Wheat watercolor in progress.

My primary project right now is a commissioned watercolor painting of a single head of wheat at about ten times life size. The entire painting is about thirty inches high by ten inches wide. This snapshot is of a small section near the base.

The wheat is slowly taking shape, one layer at a time. I hope you enjoy watching the wheat’s progress!


Muscat Grapes: Work in Progress Images and Final

posted in: Plants, WIP | 0

Because I’m going to have artwork on display at Isenhower Cellars’ Woodinville tasting room in June and July I thought it would be appropriate and fun to work on a grape image. These art table grapes because that’s the kind i found that were willing to pose for me. I took some snapshot of the work in progress:

grapes in progress one by Elizabeth Smith of
Muscat grapes in progress, view one.

As usual, I built up the color with many layers rather than putting down a single layer with the final color. I find that this allows me a great deal of control over value (relative darkness/lightness) although it does create other challenges.

grapes in progress by Elizabeth Smith of
Muscat Grapes in progress, view two.

By the time I took this third picture the piece was mostly done. There was still fine-tuning to do.

grapes in progress by Elizabeth Smith of
Muscat grapes in progress, view three.

Here’s the final, scanned and cleaned up in Photoshop for printing. When I clean something up for printing I try to make the image on-screen match the image on paper. I don’t go in and digitally touch up areas of the painting that I’m not as satisfied with unless I’m choosing to make it a watercolor/digital mixed media piece. I erase any grays (like shadows from scanning) from the white background and adjust color and contrast levels to accurately represent the original painting, and leave it at that. The image you see here is always a reduced-quality version in order to reduce download times for the website.

grapes by Elizabeth Smith of
The finished piece. 12.5″ x 10″ on watercolor paper.

Thanks for reading!



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